Nanny and the Professor: The Mary Poppins of the 1970s

We are starting off the new year with a blog series taking a closer look at some of our favorite families. Between Mary Poppins and The Nanny, we had Nanny and the Professor. A lot of my friends don’t remember this show, but it was part of the ABC lineup for two years. It began its life on Wednesday nights in 1970 followed by The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and then Room 222. The second season, it moved to Friday nights airing after The Brady Bunch and before The Partridge Family. The short third season found the show on Monday nights up against Gunsmoke and Laugh In which surely set it up for failure.

The cast Photo: closerweekl.com

AJ Carothers and Thomas Miller created the show for 20th Century Fox Television.  Carothers was best known for his Disney movies, and this show has that same type of atmosphere. English-born Phoebe Figalilly (Juliet Mills) is hired by Professor Harold Everett (Richard Long) to be the housekeeper and nanny for this three children: very intelligent Hal (David Doremus), prankster Butch (Trent Lehman), and musical prodigy Prudence (Kim Richards) who had a pet rooster named Sebastian. Juliet Mills, sister to Parent Trap star Hayley Mills, was offered the role after auditioning in England. An open casting call was done for the role in London.

Nanny became very close to the three children, and she and Professor Long had a subtle romance. You could tell there was chemistry, and he began working less and hanging out with the family more often.

Nanny had a great intuition, but we were always left wondering if there was more to her secret knowledge than we were aware of. While the Professor hired her, she showed up unannounced for the job. Sometimes she hinted at being much older than she looked. One of the running gags of the show was that she always knew when people were at the front door or on the phone before the doorbell or phone rang. She also seemed to be able to communicate with animals including the kids’ dog Waldo. She also fixed up and drove around in a 1930 roadster which she named Arabella in honor of her favorite aunt.

Nanny had a lot of relatives who showed up at the Everett household from time to time. Uncle Alfred (John Mills, Juliet’s father) entertains the children with this stories and human flying act. Aunt Justine (Ida Lupino) and Aunt Agatha (Majorie Bennett) arrive in a hot air balloon. Uncle Horace (Ray Bolger) claims to be able to make it rain. Aunt Henrietta (Elsa Lanchester) comes with the circus; in another episode she helps get rid of a ghost.

Arabella Photo: ebay.com

Fun fact, the background music was taken from My Favorite Martian. The theme song was called “Nanny” and was written and sung by The Addrisi Brothers. The song is:

Soft and sweet
Wise and wonderful
Oooh our mystical magical nanny

Since the day that nanny came to stay with us
Fantastic things keep happening

Is there really magic in the things she does
Or is love the only magic thing that nanny brings

You know our nanny showed us you can make the impossible happen
Nanny told us have a little bit of faith and lots of love

Phoebe Figalilly is a silly name
And so many silly things keep happening
What is this magic thing about nanny
Is it Love Or is it Magic

The show might be done, but much of the merchandise that was used to promote the show still exists. Colorform sets, coloring books, paper dolls, comic books, View Master reels, and several books are available on ebay.com

Even though the move to Monday night could not have been good for ratings, Mills said the cast was stunned when the show was canceled. In a July 22, 2019 interview with foxnews.com, she said, “I think we were all shocked, actually, and not ready to move on.” She said she does not regret starring in the show, and that the cast was “wonderful, really, very professional and very good. She said the show had a special place in her heart. “I’m proud of it and have very, very happy memories of it, she said. “I’m still recognized all over the place for that as much as anything I’ve ever done, which is extraordinary. People just hear my voice and they turn around, ‘Hey Nanny.’”

Although Nanny and the Professor might not be as well known as other shows of its decade, it deserves to be remembered. Even though it never hit the 100-episode target for syndication, the show was played on other networks after it was canceled. I could not find any network showing reruns or anywhere to stream the show, and the DVDs are currently not available on Amazon but they are available on other DVD websites. It might be worth searching for to have a marathon weekend binge some cold, winter weekend.

Is It A Western? A Spy Show? A Thriller? No, It’s The Wild Wild West

There was no specific category for the Wild Wild West when it first debuted in 1965.  Part western, part spy show, part thriller.  Now, it might be called steampunk. Westerns had been extremely popular through the 1950s and into the 1960s, but in the mid-1960s, the spy genre was gaining ground. Creator Michael Garrison combined the two. Secret Service agents Jim West (Robert Conrad) and Artemis Gordon (Ross Martin), work for President Ulysses Grant and travel the country by luxury train, the Wanderer.  Oh yeah, and they have a ton of technology to make the job more exciting. Artemis is a master of disguise.  Like James Bond, they had clever gadgets on hand, beautiful women in the wings, and delusional, but brilliant, enemies to fight against.

Photo: decades.com

The series debuted in 1965 and ran for four seasons, resulting in 104 episodes. Unfortunately, Garrison died a year into the show and didn’t live to see its completion. The show was filmed at CBS Studio Center. The 70-acre lot was used for Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and Gilligan’s Island as well.

The theme song was written by Richard Markowitz. The intro had an animated sequence that continued to be filled in throughout the show. This was quite unique to this program.

Conrad claimed to be the 17th actor to audition for the role of James West. Originally, Rory Calhoun was announced as the co-star. Conrad wore three-inch heels to hide that he was only 5’8”. Due to his height, the casting office was barred from hiring women over 5’6” for the show. The first few episodes used stuntmen, but Conrad felt that it slowed production down too much, so he volunteered to do his own stunts. During season three, he fell from a chandelier and hit a concrete floor, leaving him with a concussion and weeks of hospitalization for dizziness.

Photo: artworkproduction.ca

Ross played over 100 different characters during the run of the series. He sketched out the ideas for the characters himself and then worked with the make-up artists to get the right look. During the fourth season, Martin broke a leg when he dropped a rifle, stepped on it, and rolled his foot over it. When the shell ejected, it burned his eye. Ross also suffered from a heart attack in 1968. Several other agents “filled” in for Martin while he recuperated.

Photo: writeups.org

Considering the show was only on for four years, it featured a number of guest stars including Ed Asner, John Astin, Jim Backus, Ed Begley, Victor Buono, Jackie Coogan, Yvonne Craig, Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Elam, Norman Fell, Bernard Fox, Mary Frann, Beverly Garland, Alan Hale Jr., Boris Karloff, Richard Kiel, Ted Knight, Harvey Korman, Martin Landau, Sue Ane Langdon, Peter Lawford, Ida Lupino, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Phyllis Newman, Leslie Nielsen, Carroll O’Connor, Pat Paulsen, Suzanne Pleshette, Richard Pryor, Don Rickles, Pernell Roberts, Katherine Ross, William Schallert, Vito Scotti, Ray Walston, Jesse White, and Keenan Wynn.

The train was also a co-star of the show. The spies had two different trains. The first was used for season one when the shows were filmed in black and white. It was a Sierra Railroad No. 3 which was not built until 1891, a mere technicality I guess. The Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works built it in New Jersey. Footage was shot in Jamestown, California. This same train was the Cannonball in Petticoat Junction.

Photo: metv.com

The shows filmed in color featured a train decorated with green and gold and it was full of fun gadgets. This one was built in 1875 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. It was used in many films over the years.

Photo: tripadvisor.co.uk

Both these trains are on display at the Nevada State Railroad Museum. They were only featured in exterior shots. The interiors of the trains were designed by art director Albert Heschong with set decorator Raymond Molyneaux. It reportedly cost $35,000 in 1965. To put this in perspective, the average house in 1965 cost less than $4,000! The train was as resourceful as West and Gordon. A remote control under the table could immediately lock the door. A statue turned upside down unlocked a wall safe. A telegraph set was hidden in a book on the desk. Pistols could be fired by activating a fireplace switch. The pool table had exploding balls while cue sticks could fire bullets.

Photo: tvoftheabsurd.com

Many of the guest stars were villains in the show. The most famous villain was Dr. Miguelito Loveless played by Michael Dunn. He had a recurring role, appearing on ten episodes. He always managed to escape at the end of the show. West and Artemis never did catch him, and a TV movie filmed later relays that he died in 1880 from ulcers brought on by the stress of his plans always being foiled by West and Gordon.

Like Batman, Jim West always seems to have the right gadget at his disposal when he needs it. Some of his more fun props included a sleeve gun as well as a gun concealed in his heel. He also occasionally carried a blowtorch in his heel. Passkeys were stored under his lapel. He kept a variety of fuses sewn into hems in his clothes. To descend into a pit or be hoisted up on a roof, he had a hand-held motor-driven winch. Glass cutters which often are useful were available. Wires placed in his hat had many uses. Battery-powered drills helped the boys escape metal cages. His kit bag held a large balloon. A miniature player made villains think shot guns were being fired. Of course, every smart secret service man wears a bulletproof vest and is always equipped with tear gas or smoke bombs. They even had a cigar that would produce smoke when thrown on the ground and a coin that exploded when exposed to heat.

Photo: thegoldencloset.com

There typically were two fights in each episode choreographed by Whitey Hughes. Following the 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, a National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence was formed. Violence on television was listed as one of the problems, and The Wild Wild West was cited as a violent show. So, despite high ratings, the series was cancelled near the end of its fourth season as a concession to Congress over television violence.

Photo: antiquatednotions.typepad.com

However, the show was then released into syndication and at one time was listed on 99 different local channels, so the violence on television was not curbed by its cancellation.

Several books and comic books were created based on the show. In 1979, the two stars returned to television with a movie, The Wild Wild West Revisited. In 1980, they showed up again in More Wild Wild West. Rumors existed that the duo would do a reboot of the series, but Ross died in 1981 so it never came to fruition.

A movie was made in 1999 based on the original show, but it was not received well. Will Smith later expressed regret for his role in the film. The Golden Raspberry (Razzie) is awarded to the worst films. When the 1999 film was awarded five Razzies, Conrad accepted them on behalf of the movie to show his displeasure with the remake.

Photo: stupendouslyamazinglycoololdtv.blogspot.com

The show’s success primarily stemmed from the fact that Artemus and West trusted each other completely, and their banter and technological gadgets made the show a pleasure to watch. And did I mention, the boys loved women on and found a romance on every show. We’ll let the characters have the last word:

Artemus Gordon: “Naomi. ’My sweetness’. That’s what Naomi means in Hebrew, did you know that ?”

Naomi Buckley: “Really ? And what does Artemus mean ?”

James West: “It means ’He who wastes little time‘.”

Photo: filmscoremonthly.com

Artemus Gordon: “I didn’t know you liked toys.”

James West: “Toys, no. Dolls, yes.”