Uncle Martin Was Everyone’s Favorite Martian

From Fall of 1963 to Spring of 1966, you could watch My Favorite Martian on television every week; I’m sure he was your favorite Martian too.

Photo: uncleodie’s.com

John L. Greene created the plot and developed the characters for the show produced by Jack Chertok. The plot was that a 450-year-old extraterrestrial anthropologist, who was not small and green, collides with an air force plane. A young reporter, Tim O’Hara (Bill Bixby) is returning home after an interview at Edwards Air Force Base and sees the crash. Tim takes the Martian (Ray Walston) home and refers to him as Uncle Martin, although his real name is Exigius 12 1/2. Tim agrees to protect his identity while he repairs his spaceship.

Photo: neatorama.com

Besides being an anthropologist, Uncle Martin is an inventor, which sometimes causes headaches for Tim. A time machine sends him and Martin to other times and brings Leonard da Vinci and Jesse James back to the present. A molecular separator allows Martin to take apart the molecules of one object and rearrange them into something else like a squirrel to a human. Another product lets Martin save memories in a pill form to relearn later.

In addition to his inventions, Martin has some unusual powers. He is telepathic and can read and influence minds; he can levitate objects with his index finger, communicate with animals, both freeze or speed up objects or people, and can raise two antennae to become invisible. Raising the antennae was done with a transistor under his collar.

Luckily Tim’s landlady, Lorelei Brown (Pamela Britton), is a bit scatterbrained. She and Uncle Martin have a bit of a romance but it never gets serious since Martin knows he must leave the planet.

Photo: youtube.com

The network didn’t like Chertok’s scripts, so they hired Sherwood Schwartz (later known as the creator behind Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch) to doctor the plots.

The theme music was composed by George Greeley and performed by Paul Tanner, a former member of Glenn Miller’s band. Tanner used an electro-theremin which could later be heard on The Beach Boys’ hit “Good Vibrations.”

The first two seasons were filmed in black and white with the third being shot in color.

Photo: uncleodies.com

Season one found My Favorite Martian ranked tenth overall. This was a surprise to me because it was up against The World of Disney. By the end of the second season, it was down to 24th but was renewed for a third year. Ratings declined significantly in the third season; often mentioned was the redundant storylines. If kids were still watching Disney, adults might have split their viewership. In it second season, this show was on at the same time as Wagon Train and in its last season it was up against Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

For only being on the air three years, the show had a lot of after lives. Saturday morning cartoons were all over the place during this decade. One of the cartoons to debut in 1973 was My Favorite Martians featuring Martin; his nephew Andromeda, or Andy; Tim; Mrs. Brown; and her boyfriend Detective Brennan. The animation series relied on scripts that had been written for a potential fourth season but never used.

In 1999, the show also came to the big screen starring Christopher Lloyd as Martin and Jeff Daniels as Tim. Walston has an appearance as another Martian trapped on Earth, although a lot of the ET characteristics had changed from the original concepts.

Gold Key Comics developed a comic book series around the show and published nine issues between 1963 and 1966.

The series debuted during the time that merchandising was beginning to increase greatly. This show resulted in a board game, a magic set, a paint-by-numbers kit, a spaceship model kit, and a beanie hat.

One fun fact I learned was that the spaceship prop used in the series was bought by magician David Copperfield for $100,000 in 2018.

Although My Favorite Martian will not go down as one of the best sitcoms in the golden age of television, it was important as one of the first sci-fi television shows. Most fans cite their special effects as pretty impressive for the time.

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The first two seasons were filmed at Desilu and the great Sheldon Leonard directed the pilot. It would have been interesting to see the progression of the show if he had stayed on the payroll. He seemed to have an intuition for developing realistic and likable characters. Ray Walston later regretted taking the role of Uncle Martin.  He said he did it for the money but felt it typecast him for many years. However, he did say that he enjoyed working with Bixby, and they became life-long friends.

Let’s end with one of their conversations that show how this series turned comedy upside down.

Tim: I thought you could give my article on ESP a special slant.

Martin causes Tim to stand at an angle through telepathy.

Photo: blogspot.com

If you want a special slant on early sci-fi, give this one a try, but save yourself some grief and leave season three in the box.

Viewers Found Best of the West “So-So of the West”

As we continue the “Living in the Past: Timeless Comedies,” we travel back to the frontier for Best of the West. Like the show we discussed in my last blog, When Things Were Rotten, this series was also a rapid fire of gags, puns, and one-liners.

Photo: wikipedia.com

Westerns ruled the airwaves in the 1950s, but with the demise of Gunsmoke in 1975, the cowboys shows had all ridden off into the sunset.  The Best of the West made its debut in 1981. The show, created by Earl Pomerantz, was a parody of the previous decades of oaters. Civil War veteran Sam Best (Joel Higgins) moves his family from posh Philadelphia to Copper Creek at the western border in 1865. He was not your typical western hero—more of a city slicker.

Photo: imdb.com

A store owner by trade, he knew little about guns or fighting. After arriving in the town, he accidentally scares off The Calico Kid (Christopher Lloyd), one of the “bad guys,” and the townspeople lobby him to be their mayor.

Sam’s nemesis is Parker Tillman (Leonard Frey), who runs the saloon with a slew of other bad guys, most notably his sidekick Frog Rothchild Jr. (Tracey Walter). With Sam are his southern belle wife Elvira (Carlene Watkins) and his smart-alecky son Daniel (Meeno Peluce). Sam is also friends with the town doctor, Jerome Kullens (Tom Ewell), who is a bit of a lush.

Photo: imdb.com

Sam reminds me a bit of F-Troop’s Will Parmenter. He’s a likable guy placed in a situation that he did not pursue. Sam’s family is not happy in their new setting. They had gotten used to the comforts of a big city. Elvira is beside herself because she can never get the dirt off the floor, until Sam reminded her it was literally a dirt floor.

Photo: imdb.com

The plots on this show were a bit similar to many of the story lines we became familiar with from decades of westerns. In one show the doctor’s mail-order bride is described as having a vivid personality with a past to match. In one episode, Sam and Tillman try to convince the railroad company to connect with Copper Creek. Another example is when Sam shoots himself in the leg and the jail begins to fall apart, and the town reconsiders his ability to lead them, or the classic tale of Elvira and Daniel exploring a cave that is booby-trapped and ready to collapse around them.

Photo: imdb.com

The show never seemed to catch on with viewers. It was hard to fault the writers. David Lloyd, Sam Simon, and Earl Pomerantz were working together on Taxi, and they would go on to write for Cheers in 1982.

Photo: imdb.com
Dixie Carter

The show also had some amazing celebrity guest stars: Dixie Carter, Chuck Connors, Andy Griffith, Al Lewis, and Betty White.

Photo: imdb.com
Andy Griffith

For a while, parodies like Airplane! were all the rage, and maybe the fad had just played out.

Perhaps, western fans, with their fond memories of growing up with Bonanza and The Rifle Man, just weren’t ready to make fun of their childhood shows.

Photo: imdb.com
Betty White

It was hard to find information about the show. As you can see in these photos, the majority of them came from imdb.com; there just aren’t many photos out there otherwise.

ABC didn’t outright cancel the show, but they took a lot of time trying to decide whether to renew it or not. In the meantime, Joel Higgins got tired of waiting and accepted the role of Edward Stratton on Silver Spoons. With the star gone and the ratings mediocre, the show ended after 22 episodes.

Photo: pinterest.com

Silver Spoons would be the show that brought Joel Higgins success. However, he had an interesting career. He graduated from Michigan State with a degree in advertising. He went to work for General Motors for six months. When he enlisted in the Army, his title was Special Services Sergeant in Charge of Entertainment. This role seemed to redirect his path. Post-Army life, he was busy with both television roles and theater performances. He also started a business with two friends. They wrote more than 200 jingles for a variety of products, including Kool-Aid, M&Ms, Schwepps Soda, and Coors beer, as well as several themes for shows such as Life with Lucy, one of Lucille Ball’s many shows.

Photo: imdb.com
The Calico Kid

His family members Carlene Watkins and Meeno Peluce never found their “Silver Spoons.” Carlene had been on The Secret Empire in 1979. After Best of the West, she would go on to be part of the cast of five more shows–It’s Not Easy, Mary, The Tortellis, Dear John, and Bob–none of which lasted very long. Peluce was part of the Bad News Bears from 1979-80 and later would land a regular role on Voyagers from 1982-83. He did make appearances on many shows, including Silver Spoons in 1984.

Photo: collider.com

Many viewers seem to have fond memories of this show. If you want to see what the show was like, CBS-DVD released the show as a manufactured-on-demand DVD in 2017. While this series might not portray the best of the west, it certainly was not the worst of the west either.