Monday, September 8, 2014

Doris Day(s) #23: “The Baby Sitter” (03/25/69, prod. no #8537)

“Que sera, sera…”  Oh, if only I were supported by a large-scale musical number—the effect would be so much more dramatic.  Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is pleased to announce the return of Doris Day(s), the feature that examines every single episode of The Doris Day Show because I lost a bar bet.  This week’s installment, “The Baby Sitter,” does have a few more laughs than usual—though because they are visual gags, they’ll lose much of their impact on the blog.  But let’s begin, shall we?

Our wacky shenanigans get underway in the House of Webb, where Laird Buckley (Denver Pyle) is yelling at his two idiot grandsons to shake a leg.  It’s bowling night for Gran’pa and the kids, and Buck is concerned that their dawdling will prevent them from securing a prime lane at the Strikes ‘n’ Spares.  (Well, this is Cotina…and since there’s not much to do in that town, this would explain the crowds at the bowling alley.)  Young Billy Martin (Philip Brown), the oldest of the Widder Martin’s (Doris) offspring, irresponsibly rolls a bowling ball down the stairs where it collides with one of the railings…something you would expect from his cheese-loving brother Toby (Tod Starke).  “They’re gonna wreck this place if we don’t get out of here,” laments Buck to his daughter…so the three of them are soon on their way.

“What’s a house without children?” asks Juanita (Naomi Stevens), the family’s devoted housekeeper until they can hire another actress.  “Very quiet,” muses Doris, and there’s a dissolve to her putting away a fine dinner at the table.

DORIS: You’re the best cook, Juanita…
JUANITA: Oh…I still wish that your dad and the kids had eaten dinner here before they went bowling…
DORIS: Why?  Eating hot dogs and hamburgers…that’s half the fun!

And it’s a welcome change from their usual diet of apricot-almond clafouti, so…

DORIS: Besides—you only had to cook for me…

“Oh, thank you…thank you for making my soul-sucking existence worthwhile, my mistress…”  And after dinner…a little of the patented Doris side-eye.

DORIS: Do you hear that?
JUANITA: I hear nothing…

“I hear nothing…NOTHING!”  Oh, wait—that’s another successful CBS sitcom that aired about the same time.  “Absolute, total silence,” Doris responds.  “Isn’t it beautiful?  I think I’ll sit up all night and listen to it.”

“You know, it’s about time you took it easy,” Juanita reacts with impressive sucking-up prowess.  “Those two kids of yours can really knock you out.”  Well, if you’ve seen as many Hitchcock movies as I have, you know that one of the Master’s prominent themes is boredom invites chaos.  So let’s offer Chaos a seat by the fire and introduce the first of several guest stars this week.

Doris gets a phone call from the woman in the above screen cap, who’s certainly no stranger to the program—she’s Peggy Rea, and she’s appeared on two previous Dodo segments as her pal Grace Henley, “The Friend” and “The Clock.”  In “The Baby Sitter,” Peggy flexes her thespic muscles a bit and plays Doris’ pal Dorothy Benson.

DORIS: Oh, hi, Dorothy—hey, you must be due pretty soon, huh?
DOROTHY: Well…not pretty soon, Doris—now!
DORIS: Now?!!
DOROTHY: Well, Hal was just about to drive me to the hospital but…uh…
DORIS: Are you positive?
JUANITA (interrupting): If anybody should be positive when it’s her time, it’s Mrs. Benson!

Yeah!  What Juanita said at the risk of being fired!  Dorothy explains that there’s some trouble with the car…and though husband Hal is doing his best to play the role of mechanic, “I don’t think calling the car a lot of names is going to make it work.”

Worry ye not, Mother Benson!  Doris Martin is on the case!  Doris assures Dot that she’s on her way, and she quickly hangs up the phone as she grabs her coat out of the conveniently adjacent closet.  She puts the coat on, then takes it off, along with her sweater, and then reapplies the coat.  She then instructs Juanita to tell her father what’s happened, and to tell Billy and Toby that she’ll “be home before bedtime if I can.”  (“Honest, kids—this is not like the last time when I tried to run out on you.”)

DORIS: What else did I want to tell you?
JUANITA: Goodbye?
DORIS: Goodbye!  (She runs out the door)
JUANITA (calling after her): Take it easy, Doris—and don’t panic!

A syndication-mandated dissolve finds Doris tooling along in the family station wagon, which is moving forward in fits and starts as if it’s out of gas.  The problem is, the car is out of gas—but fortunately for our heroine, a knight in shining armor is driving by and Doris flags him down.

“Hal Smith!” as they say on radio.  Yes, character great Hal Smith makes the second of four appearances on The Doris Day Show, having previously appeared on “Let Them Out of the Nest.”  Hal’s character in that episode was referred to in the credits as “The Drunk”—but in “Baby Sitter,” he actually gets a proper name.  “Is that you, Mr. Peavy?” Doris asks incredulously.  As you might expect, I got a hearty chuckle of this because I immediately thought of Summerfield’s beloved druggist from The Great Gildersleeve, and how the show would have adopted a much darker tone if Peavey (different spelling) had developed a drinking problem like Old Man Gower (H.B. Warner) in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

DORIS: Oh, am I glad to see you!  (She steps back after catching a whiff of alcohol fumes) Whew!  Mr. Peavy—you shouldn’t be driving in that condition!
PEAVY (slurring): Well, you don’t expect me to walk in this condition, do you?

As we have learned from so many episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Hal Smith was unsurpassed when it came to playing inebriates.  His delivery of that line was a thing of beauty, and one of the few laugh-out-loud moments I’ve experienced since I started watching this show.

DORIS: You promised the Sheriff that you wouldn’t drive when you were drinking!
PEAVY: No no no—I promised I wouldn’t drink while I was driving…and I haven’t touched a drop since I got behind the wheel…

I realize that in a more enlightened age, drinking and driving isn’t all that damn funny (I lost a very good friend in college to a driver in another car who was shitfaced behind the wheel).  Somehow, Smith is talented enough to make me forget.

DORIS: Mr. Peavy…this is an emergency
PEAVY: Emergency? (He starts toward his car) Right—I’ll take care of it right now!
DORIS: Let me tell you what it is!
PEAVY (tapping the side of his head with his finger): That’s good thinking…

Doris explains to Peavy that she’s run out of gas and that she’s on an errand of mercy to the Benson’s—so her plan is to drive to a gas station in his car and then drive back to fill her tank.  The schnockered Peavy has a better idea—why not siphon some gas out of his car into her tank, and she can be on her way that much more quickly?  Peavy will back his car up to Doris’s tank, and she admonishes him to be careful…prompting him to wag his finger and intone “Careful is as careful does.”  (Oh, I wish Hal were on this show more often…we could use the laughs.)

There’s some funny physical comedy with Peavy pulling up and then back to Doris’ car as if it were being driven by a stuntman (which it probably was), and then as he’s getting a siphon hose out of his trunk he manages to fall inside and the trunk lid shuts.  I thought the episode would then take a detour and focus on Doris’ difficult efforts to get the trunk open but she actually opens it with relative ease.  Inside the trunk, Peavy has fallen fast asleep.  Doris finds the hose and starts to siphon (I hope she brought along some Altoids for that gas breath), draining every last bit of petrol from Peavy’s tank.

DORIS: Mr. Peavy—I’m taking all your gas…
PEAVY (as he climbs out of the trunk) Why would you do that?
DORIS: So you can’t drive—now, listen…you come and get in my car and go to the Benson’s with me and we’ll have somebody pick you up…
PEAVY: Oh, but I can’t do that—I can’t leave Mathilda here alone…she gets lonesome
DORIS: I can’t let you drive in this condition!
PEAVY: Certainly not!
DORIS: Well, then what do you want to do?

Peavy tells Doris to continue on towards Benson Manor, and in the morning she can come back by with some gasoline…because he’ll be spending the night with Mathilda (his car), thank-you-very-much.  Doris thanks her benefactor and drives off…and Peavy manages to fall back into the trunk, the lid slamming shut behind him.  While Doris gets points for being civic-minded enough to keep a menace like Peavy off of Cotina’s highways…it’s possible she may have been negligent when the Sheriff comes by the next day and finds Peavy’s dead body in Mathilda’s trunk.

Another syndication-mandated dissolve, and Doris arrives at the House of Benson.  Dorothy’s husband Hal is peering under the hood, still trying to find the right incantation to make the car go.  Let’s take a moment to familiarize ourselves with the actor playing Mr. B. because while this is his first visit in the Doris-verse it will not be his last.

Pittsburgh native Paul Smith’s film debut was an uncredited role in 1945’s Adventure, and after that he appeared in a number of classic films including Retreat, Hell! (1952), You for Me (1952), There's Always Tomorrow (1956), Screaming Eagles (1956), The Deadly Mantis (1957), Loving You (1957) and The Left Handed Gun (1958).  Smith’s usual vocation in movies and TV shows was a cop (I’ve seen a number of Bewitched reruns in which he’s walking a beat) and he was fortunate to land regular roles on Fibber McGee & Molly (as the McGee’s next-door neighbor), Mrs. G. Goes to College (aka The Gertrude Berg Show), No Time for Sergeants and Mr. Terrific.  But his best-remembered boob tube gig was on the sitcom we’re discussing right now: in the second season of The Doris Day Show, Paul played the part of Ron Harvey, the associate editor of the magazine at which Doris lands a job (her boss is played by McLean Stevenson, and TV vet Rose Marie plays Harvey’s assistant), Today’s World.  Smith retired in the mid-1970s, though he could have done us all a favor if he had opted for retirement before landing the regular gig on Doris—his Ron Harvey, an unfunny “ladies’ man,” has my vote for one of the most obnoxious characters ever created for a sitcom.

Now that I’ve poisoned your mind about Ron Harvey even before we’re moved on to this show’s sophomore year, let’s continue:

DORIS: Hal, where is she?  Why aren’t you with her?
HAL: Oh—she’s inside, Doris…but it’s not done…
DORIS (interrupting): How’s she doing?
HAL: Oh…she’s holding her own, I guess…
DORIS: Okay… (She runs toward the house)
HAL: Oh…I mean, she’s fine!

What Hal has neglected to tell Doris is that Dorothy’s labor was simply a false alarm, according to her doctor.  Dot tried to call Doris to let her know, but Juanita informed her she was already on the way.  When Doris enters the house, she finds Dorothy serving up a gargantuan turkey to her four kids—yes, you read that right…four kids.  (Apparently Hal has confused Dottie’s vay-jay-jay with a clown car.)

“Well, I guess I’ll go home,” says Doris resignedly, even though Dorothy invites her to stay for dinner.

DOROTHY: Doris, it was so sweet of you to come over here…I just can’t…
DORIS: Don’t mention…
DOROTHY (succumbing to a labor pain) Whoa!  Whoops, this is it!

Project Bun in the Oven is back on, folks!  “I’ll go call the suitcases and put the doctor in the car,” says Hal nervously—but Doris quickly surmises there’s going to be a problem.  “Dorothy,” she says, “somebody has to stay with the kids and somebody has to take you to the hospital…now I can’t do both!”  Oh, Dor—you’re always expected to do it all!

DORIS (as Hal comes racing back into the kitchen with Dorothy’s things): Hal—you take Dorothy!
HAL: Right!  (He runs out the door)
HAL (running back inside to collect his wife): Dorothy…
(They leave)
DORIS: Bye…and good luck!  Don’t forget to call me!

Well, now that we’ve run the parents off, let’s introduce everybody to the four friggin’ kids Hal and Dot already have

This is the boy in the family, Adam.  He’s played by child actor Ted Foulkes in the first of two appearances on the Dor show—he later turns up in a different role in the third-season episode, “The Father-Son Weekend.”  His TV credits include episodes of Adam-12, Bewitched and The Bob Newhart Show; Ted also appeared in a 1969 pilot for a show called Houseboat starring Arthur Hill (later of Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law) as a reporter living on the titular vessel with three kids and a housekeeper (sounds like somebody was trying to turn the 1958 Cary Grant-Sophia Loren romp into a series).

The girl on the right is Elizabeth, the oldest of the Benson brood—played by kidlet thesp Julie Reese.  Julie’s only other notable boob tube work is an appearance in The Brady Bunch episode “My Sister’s Shadow,” in which Jan Brady (Eve Plumb) is filled with middle child angst because her older sister Marcia (Maureen McCormick) is tres popular and Jan…is not.  The moppet on the left is the one who made good—that’s a young Alicia Christian Foster as Jenny Benson (even then, homegirl was keeping it androgynous).  We, of course, know her as Jodie Foster, two-time Academy Award-winner for Best Actress.  To my knowledge—and I need to qualify that, ‘cause I know I’m going to hear about it in the comments—this was the first TV appearance in which Jodie didn’t have to be related to someone on the show (I am, of course, referring to her roles in the early Mayberry R.F.D. episodes “Youth Takes Over” and “The Church Play”).

Finally, we get to the prerequisite cute kid—this is Lynnell Atkins as young Rachel Benson.  Atkins’ other resume item—according to the (always reliable) IMDb—is an appearance in Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)…which is basically a Doris Day movie, except Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda are in it.

The four Benson kids are squabbling over the dinner turkey—each of those adorable children wants a leg, and in an age of genetically-unmodified food that’s just an impossible task.  Doris attempts to play referee, by the way.

Yes, this little family conflagration produces a little Dodo side-eye.  With a dissolve, we find Doris putting away the dinner dishes in a dishwasher as Elizabeth finishes gnawing on a turkey leg.  “Do you know you’ve had three plates of food?” Dor asks her in a fat-shaming fashion.  (“Look at your mother, ferchrissake!”)  “If you eat any more, you’re going to pop!” 

Doris has just made young Elizabeth think of popcorn, and she asks “the babysitter” if they can have popcorn for dessert.  (Just like the Martin household!)  She clears away Lizzie’s plate, and then prepares the dishwasher with a little detergent.

Out in the living room, Doris enters to a scene of complete pandemonium.  Adam is screaming at the top of his lungs because Jenny has appropriated his marbles.  Rachel is staring at a western approximately three inches from the set, so Doris moves her back to the set manufacturer’s recommended distance of “not ruining your eyes.”  While Dor attends to these two problem children, Jenny sneaks out to the kitchen and hides Adam’s marbles in the dishwasher.

At the same time, Elizabeth has got popcorn on the brain…

…finding a bag of kernels, she deposits them in a large pot one rarely sees outside of a prison picture or a movie set in the military.  She dumps the entire contents into the receptacle—what could possibly go wrong in this scenario?

Breaking up a fight between Jenny and Adam in the living room (“Now go to neutral corners”), Doris runs to the phone when it rings…and it turns out to be the completely useless Hal.  As Doris attempts to talk to him on the phone, Elizabeth informs her that there’s popcorn on the way (and how!) but Doris is only half-listening.  Doris also asks Liz to start the dishwasher “like a good girl.”  (As opposed to a bad one?)

ADAM: She won’t tell me where she hid my marbles!
DORIS (sotto voce): I should tell your father—that’s what I should do!  Be quiet!  (Back to the phone) Hal? (Interrupted by Adam’s screaming again) Oh, Hal…would you wait one second please?  Just one second…Jenny…now tell him where you hid his marbles…
JENNY: In the dishwasher…
DORIS: Now was that so hard to admit?

Ms. Foster then demonstrates why she has two Oscars on a bookshelf at home…

…and that’s when the penny drops for Ms. Day.  “In the dishwasher?” Dor cries out.  She throws down the phone (with Hal still on the other end) and races out to the kitchen…where she not only has a marbles-in-the-dishwasher crisis going on, but it looks like they’re about to get 3-5 inches of popcorn.

Cue the sad trombone!

DORIS: Look at this!  You’re all going to clean up this mess!  I don’t know who’s responsible for all of this…but you’re all going to clean it up…and I’m going to tell your father!

That “I’m-going-to-tell-your-father” jazz is probably something those little bastards have heard too often in the past…which is why they continue to behave like hellions.  Doris then realizes “their father” (that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt) is still on the phone!

HAL: Doris…what’s going on?  Is anything wrong?
DORIS: No…everything’s just fine…

“Hal…with the new arrival on the way…you probably wouldn’t miss some of these other kids, would you?”

DORIS: …everything is just great…
HAL: You’re sure now?  There’s nothing wrong with the kids, is there?

“Nothing that a couple of exorcisms wouldn’t fix…”

DORIS: No…the kids are just fine…yeah…uh…never mind that—was it a boy or a girl?
HAL: Neither…
HAL: Well, I mean—the doctor said nothing’s going to happen until tomorrow…
DORIS (wailing): Tomorrow?!!

I think this is the best Dodo side-eye yet.

HAL: Look, I’ll get back as soon as I’m sure Dorothy doesn’t need me and let you go home…
DORIS: Oh, no!  No, no Hal—I wouldn’t think of it…

If it were me, I’d be telling Hal to get his ass home with all deliberate speed.

DORIS: I’ll stay with the kids and you stay with Dorothy…
HAL: Well…if you’re sure that’s okay…
DORIS: Right…everything is…everything is just (Sound of dishes breaking in kitchen) perfect…right, Hal…toodle-oo!

And wacky music out for a commercial.  (You’re a glutton for punishment, Dor.)

Back from the Ralston-Purina break, we find Buck chatting up Dor on the telephone as Billy, Toby and Nelson the Liberated Lapdog listen in.

BUCK (on the phone): Well…then you’ll be staying overnight, huh?  (Pause) Yeah…uh…tell me something—how are the four little Benson angels?  (Pause, then he chuckles) That’s what I thought…

Very funny moment in this episode, because it’s a hint that these Benson kids have acquired a reputation in Cotina as being problem chillun, and Doris—despite her desire to always do good—was an idiot to agree to watch them.

BUCK: You need any help?  (Pause) You know, you’re getting more like your mother all the time…stubborn!

I would probably have gone with “brainless.”  Buck then tells her that if she comes through this okay, he’ll let her have for a week first dibs on a living room couch that the two of them always race to claim after supper.

TOBY (after Buck hangs up): Isn’t Mom coming home tonight?
BUCK: Well…no…Dr. Mitchell says the baby’s going to be a little late getting here, so your mama’s gonna stay over there tonight…

I don’t know who this Mitchell guy is—but I would think any kid born of a jackal would have veterinarian Doc Carpenter (from “Buck’s Girl” and “The Tournament”) attending.

TOBY: Well…I don’t like it…
BILLY: You know somethin’, Tobe?  You’re selfish—Mom’s always around…it’ll do her some good to get out of the house for a change…right, Gran’pa?

Impressive feat of kissing up, William!  “I think it’ll do her a lot of good to get out of the house for a change,” Buck replies, unable to conceal a sh*t-eating grin.  “Let’s make some hot chocolate, huh?”  (“Juanita!!!”)

So let’s see how Dor’s “vacation” is going, shall we?

Doris is giving li’l Rachel a bubble bath—which delights the youngster to no end, because she do love bubbles.  She keeps egging Doris on for more, but Doris explains there’s quite enough in the bath.  Unfortunately, what the bath does not have on hand is clean towels—so Doris instructs the little girl not to move while she goes off in search of some.  (I’ll spare you what I thought was some rather gratuitous child nudity.)

Awww…isn’t that cute!  Rachel is pouring some blackish liquid into the tub to make “more bubbles”!  She then ventures down the hall and past the closet where Doris is hunting for towels—Doris does not see her naked charge as she moseys down the foyer and upon returning to the bathroom, Dor starts frantically searching for Rachel in the tub…

…pulling her arms out, it looks like she’s now wearing gloves—but she’s not.  “She couldn’t have been that dirty,” Doris says to herself…then she pulls the empty bottle that contained the contents Rachel dumped in the tub.  “Shoe polish!” she wails.

I’m with you, Dor—what responsible parents leave a bottle of shoe polish lying around so a four-year-old could carelessly swallow its contents and I think I just answered my own question.  Doris runs downstairs in search of Rachel, and finds Elizabeth, Jenny and Adam playing “Cowboys and Indians.”  “Paleface, die!” shrieks Adam as he hits Doris with a rubber-tipped arrow that lands in the middle of her forehead.  The three children then run around Dor with a rope, tying her up.

DORIS: Stop it!  Now has anyone seen Rachel?  Now where is she?
JENNY (crossing her arms): How we know you not speak with forked tongue?

Adam’s blowing of a bugle after this reminds me of Fort Courage’s lovable Hannibal Dobbs…which then reminds me we are spared the indignity of putting up with Leroy B. Semple Simpson in this episode.  (I told you it was a good one.)  Escaping the clutches of the bloodthirsty kids, Doris goes back upstairs and finds Rachel back in the tub.

“Funny bubbles!” she squeals.  Never a woman with a gingerbread house around when you need one.  “Well, we’ll just have to start all over again,” Doris responds resignedly.  “Where’s the bleach?”  (“Once more into the bleach, dear friends, once more…”)

Doris finally gets all of the Benson rugrats into bed without having to play “See-How-Long-I-Can-Hold-This-Pillow-To-Your-Face.”  She plans to relax with a cup of tea—laced with that good brandy Hal’s uncle sent for Christmas—when Elizabeth comes downstairs, asking for some extra blankets because the kids are cold.  Doris herself is a little chilly, and is trying to get the fireplace started—that’s when Elizabeth explains that her dad has trouble with it all the time, and has to jiggle this little handle to unclog it.

Those of you who’ve seen I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951) probably won’t be too shocked at Dor’s little foray into blackface here.  There’s one last indignity in store for our heroine: as she rummages around in an upstairs closet looking for blankets for the chillun, Elizabeth closes the door on Doris…and wouldn’t ya just know it—there’s no handle on the inside.  Doris tries to rouse Elizabeth without waking the other kids…and finally just says “F**k it”—she puts some blankets down on the closet floor and decides she’s earned a nap.

If Doris were to wake up to find that the Benson kids put her in a situation similar to the close of The Vanishing (1988)…this would officially be the best Doris Day Show ever.  Sadly, we are not that lucky; Hal finally returns home and, with the kids, opens the closet to find Doris passed out on the floor.  (For some odd reason…it would make more sense if young Jenny were in there with her.  Yes, I went there—and I’d gladly do it again.)  He tells her Dorothy had a boy…but to be honest, I don’t even think Doris cares at this point.

ELIZABETH: Mrs. Martin—we were here…why didn’t you yell for us to help you?
DORIS: Honey…I suddenly realized that I was in the safest part of the house…

Coda time!  It’s pretty much what you’d expect—Doris and Buck are playing a game of checkers, but since Do can’t keep her eyes open (Operation Benson left her wiped) she’s going to call it a night and she heads upstairs…and into the linen closet for some blankets.  I probably don’t have to tell you what happens next.

Yes, Toby the Cheese Boy closes the door and the knob comes off on Doris’ side.  When she calls out to Buck, the doorknob on the other side comes off in his hand as well.  “Doris…uh…uh…I’ve got to go to the barn and get some tools to take the pins out of the hinges,” Buck explains.  “I’ll be right back—you just hang on in there!”

Oh, Doris…will you ever win?

Next time on Doris Day(s)—an episode that I actually found amusing, even though it’s nothing you haven’t already experienced on better sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show (and of course, there will be some Dukes of Hazzard jokes in the write-up).  “The Still” also features great contributions from old-time radio veteran Barney Phillips as this sheriff we keep hearing about, and peerless performances from Florence Lake (Mrs. Kennedy!) and Jesslyn Fax.  Join us, won’t you?


hobbyfan said...

A little tip on Barney Phillips. Around the time of the Doris Day Show, Phillips was a voice actor working on the Three Musketeers seg of the Banana Splits. He'd also appeared on original TV version of Dragnet in a few eps early on. Made the rounds as a guest star through the 60's at least.

Stacia said...

Never a woman with a gingerbread house around when you need one.

Ha! I like how she just let those little bastards fend for themselves, even after learning they played with the stove and toxic substances.