McHale’s Navy: Set Adrift in a Sea of Comedy

Ahoy matey. We are currently in the middle of the “We Salute You!” blog series. Today we go behind the scenes of one of the most popular military sitcoms: McHale’s Navy.

Photo: blogspot.com

The series is centered around the adventures of a US Navy crew aboard the PT boat PT-73 during WWII. One of the best crews in the Navy, they often try to outwit Captain Binghamton (Joe Flynn) and his aide Lt. Carpenter (Bob Hastings). Stationed in the South Pacific, the crew often is involved in antics to make life more enjoyable during wartime. Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine) is fun-loving but sometimes has to reign his crew in when they go too far.

Debuting on ABC in 1962, the show sailed on for four seasons, producing 138 episodes. In April of 1962, a drama on Alcoa Premiere a/k/a Fred Astaire’s Premier Theatre aired that was titled Seven Against the Sea with Borgnine as the lead. It became the pilot for what would become McHale’s Navy.

Photo: thehollywoodreporter.com

Edward Montagne who was the producer of the new show had worked on The Phil Silvers Show. Montagne decided to turn the dramatic Seven Against the Sea into a “Bilko in the Navy” type of show. He recruited some of the actors and writers who had appeared on the prior series.

The basic plot of the show is that while these are respected, hard-working men when necessary, they have a lot of wacky schemes involving women, making money, and having fun. Captain Binghamton’s goal is to get rid of the entire bunch. The crew is said to live on an island across the bay from Taratupa, the fictional base. The geographic distance gives them extra time and more freedom to get into and out of their complicated situations.

Similar to The Phil Silvers Show, this sitcom also had a very large cast compared to most other shows.

Photo: wikiwand.com

McHale is a strong, competent leader and goes to great pains to protect his crew. He likes to wear Hawaiian type clothing when off duty. Sometimes the crew uses the PT boat to go deep-sea fishing or water skiing. When the crew has laundry, they put the clothes into a barrel with holes, add soap and drag it behind the boat. McHale speaks Japanese, Italian, and some of the local island dialects.

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Ensign Charles Parker (Tim Conway) is McHale’s goofy second-in command. McHale calls him “Chuck.” Conway captured the lovable, naïve, bungler perfectly. He often refers to his home town Chagrin Falls, Ohio which was Conway’s hometown. Parker says he worked for the Chagrin Falls Gazette. Parker is too dizzy to get much respect, and his resume is full of errors and ineptitude. For example, it’s mentioned that he crashed a destroyer escort into a dock, and he called a naval airstrike on a gasoline dump. He has all the naval regulations memorized but can’t remember his serial number. From time to time, Parker is asked by the crew to impersonate President Roosevelt when calling Binghamton.

In the first episode, Parker is assigned to the crew. We learn that they have gone through several men already who could not put up with their insubordinate behavior and one of them even had a nervous breakdown. The men like Parker and treat him better than their previous ensigns.

Conway later stated that he and Ernest Borgnine had a wonderful working relationship both on and off the set. In the late 1990s, they would voice Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy on  SpongeBob SquarePants.

Photo: pinterest.com

Captain Wallace Binghamton, who the crew calls “Old Leadbottom” because he once took a bullet in the butt, previously managed a yacht club, although at times it’s mentioned he was the editor of a yachting magazine. He is gruff and grumpy and dreams about being promoted. He spends much of his time trying to catch McHale and the boys in one of their schemes. He is blind without his glasses, so sometimes the crew knocks them off to prevent him from seeing something incriminating. One of his most-uttered lines is “Why me? Why is it always me?”

Photo: pinterest.com

A typical interaction between Binghamton and McHale follows:

Binghamton: Commander, how would you and your men like two weeks with nothing to do but play gin rummy, go surfing, have luaus with steel drum bands, dancing girls, hmm?

McHale: Two whole weeks? Woo hoo, oh that’d be a wonderful change sir. Yes sir.

Binghamton: Knock it off McHale. That’s what you do every week.

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Binghamton’s aide is Lt. Elroy Carpenter who is also inept. He talks too much and is clumsy. He often gets the brunt of Binghamton’s tirades.

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McHale’s crew is composed of Quartermaster George Christopher (Gary Vinson), Radioman Willy Moss (John Wright), Torpedoman’s Mate Lester Gruber (Carl Ballantine), Motor Machinist Mate Harrison Bell (Billy Sands), Gunner’s Mate Virgil Edwards (Edson Stroll), and Seaman Joseph Haines (Gavin MacLeod). Houseboy Fuji (Yoshido Yoda) was often found cavorting with the crew. He is boyish, fun loving, and loyal to McHale. Fuji was a deserter from the Japanese Navy, but the captain knows nothing about his existence. In exchange for not living in a POW section, he acts as houseboy for the crew.

Photo: groovyhistory.com

Although the crew is always chasing women and trying to throw parties that they can invite them to, McHale has several romantic relationships during the show. Nurse Molly Turner (Jane Dulo) from New Jersey is always trying to trap him in a serious relationship. Two other love interests are Kate O’Hara (Joyce Jameson) and Maggie Monohan (Jean Willes).

Photo: tumblr.com
The great Don Knotts

A lot of guest stars dropped anchor on the show including Jerry Colonna, Bernard Fox, Pat Harrington Jr., Arte Johnson, Ted Knight, George Kennedy, Don Knotts, Bernie Kopell, Sue Ane Langdon, Marlo Thomas, and Raquel Welch.

Photo: lingerandlook.com

The PT-73 is almost like a character on the show. It was a 72-foot type II Vosper motor torpedo boat. The war ended before the boat (PT-694) could be sent to Russia, and it was then purchased by Howard Hughes. He loaned or sold it to Universal Pictures.

Photo: Wikipedia.com

The set of the Pacific Ocean naval base was built on the back lot of Universal Studios.  After the show went off the air, it became an attraction on the studio tour.

In one episode, McHale replaces Binghamton temporarily during an inspection and learns what a hard job he actually has. While that gives him some respect for the captain, they still don’t see eye to eye. Sometimes Binghamton tries to get them legitimately transferred for a scheme and other times he is not above inventing a story such as the time he tried to get them sent away by telling a psychiatrist that they are suffering from combat fatigue.

Photo: pinterest.com

For the final season, the crew, including Fuji, is transferred to Italy to the coastal town of Voltafiore. Many plot twists come about from the crooked Mayor Lugatto and the quirky residents. The move probably came about to be able to add some additional plot lines but it was perhaps too far-fetched for viewers, and the show was cancelled.

The show had a consistent schedule for most of its run. The first season it was on Thursday night up against The Twilight Zone and Hazel. The second and remaining seasons it was on Tuesday nights against Red Skelton on CBS and a variety of shows on NBC, including the forgettable Redigo and You Don’t Say, as well as The Man from UNCLE, Hullabaloo, and Dr. Kildare.

Photo: moviepostershop.com

During the run of the show, two big-screen movies were made based on the series: McHale’s Navy in 1964 and McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force in 1965. Borgnine was unavailable for the second film due to a schedule conflict. The first film brought in a respectable $2,250,000 and the second netted $1,500,000.

Photo: ebay.com

McHale’s Navy was a popular show both in the 1960s and in syndication. It may have been one of the first shows to produce related merchandise. Trading cards, comic books, a board game, 3-ring binders, and a model of the PT-73 were some of the items available to its fans. The show was well-written and the characters were fun and quirky. Unfortunately, a show like this can only sustain so many similar plots before it begins to feel like you’re watching repeats.

Photo: flickr.com
Revell :: McHale’s Navy :: PT 73 Boat

The show is currently on Antenna TV Saturdays from 7-8 pm eastern time. It is also available on DVD. Take some time and enjoy getting to know McHale and his PT-73 crew.

A Bachelor Party For Everyone

Each month I would like to take a look at one of my favorite sitcoms.  November’s show is Bachelor Father which ran from 1957-1962. Bachelor Father is one of my all-time favorite shows. With its sophisticated writing, realistic relationships, and elegant lifestyle, I can find something new each time a re-watch an episode. Before Steve Douglas (My Three Sons), Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show), Bill Davis (Family Affair), Phil Drummond (Different Strokes), and Danny Tanner (Full House), Bentley Gregg took on the responsibility of raising his niece after her parents were killed in a car accident. Somehow he was a lucrative lawyer in Beverly Hills, raised a respectful and intelligent niece, participated in civic affairs, and never let any of it cramp his dating life, well rarely. Part of his success can be attributed to Peter, his houseboy who was the “Mother” of the family and kept the household running smoothly.

Starring John Forsythe as Bentley Gregg, Noreen Corcoran as Kelly, and Sammee Tong as Peter, the series debuted on CBS in September 1957, airing alternate weeks with The Jack Benny Show.  In 1959, the show moved to NBC, and the final season in 1962 it aired on ABC. The program was based on a radio episode, “A New Girl in His Life,” which was heard on General Electric Theater in May of 1957. During the show’s run, 157 episodes were filmed, all in black and white. While there was a revolving cast of beautiful women on the show, the other regulars were Kelly’s best friend Ginger played by Bernadette Withers, Kelly’s boyfriend Howard Meecham played by Jimmy Boyd, and their dog Jasper.

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The character of Bentley Gregg was based on two well-known Beverly Hills bachelors.  Their names were combined for this character. No serious thoughts were given to creating a steady relationship for Bentley by the writers because he had an aversion to marriage, so Kelly was the only permanent woman in his life.

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John Forsythe was born Jacob Lincoln Freund in Penns Grove, NJ the son of a Wall Street businessman.   He later moved to Brooklyn and went on to school at the University of North Carolina. After college he was hired as the announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He signed a contract with Warner Brothers in 1943. Eventually he moved his family to California in order to give them a stable home life. He starred in two other sitcoms in the 60s, The John Forsythe Show in 1965-66 and To Rome with Love in 1969-71. He is best known as the voice of Charlie on Charlie’s Angels and the role of Blake Carrington on Dynasty. He died April 1, 2010 of pneumonia at 92.

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Noreen Corcoran was suggested by Ronald Reagan for the character of Kelly, because he felt she was believable as a typical 13-year-old. She began appearing in films in 1951 and was on various television episodes before getting the role of Kelly. After the show ended, she made a few appearances on shows including Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, and The Big Valley and appeared in the movie Gidget Goes to Rome. In 1963 she released the musical single “Love Kitten.” In 1966 she began an 11-year association with the Lewitzky Dance Company. She passed away January 15, 2016 of cardiopulmonary disease at 72.

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Sammee Tong had been a stand-up comedian. Forsythe insisted that Tong be a major character on the show, and the banter between Bentley and Peter was similar to that of Steve Douglas and Uncle Charlie or Bills Davis and Mr. French. Although “Peter” spoke broken English, Sammee Tong spoke excellent English. Tong’s first film was Happiness Ahead in 1934. He appeared in more than 30 films and 40 television programs between 1935 and 1965. He was a good friend of Mickey Rooney’s and played his friend on the sitcom Mickey which was cancelled in 1965. By that time Tong was deeply in debt due to a gambling problem, and he committed suicide October 27, 1964 at age 63. His last appearance was posthumously as Cook in the 1965 film Fluffy.

Some of Bentley’s women were played by actresses who would go on to become famous including Whitney Blake, Donna Douglas, Barbara Eden, Sally Kellerman, Sue Ane Langdon, Joyce Meadows, and Mary Tyler Moore.

Male guest stars included Jack Albertson, Parley Baer, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Bill Bixby, Ronnie Burns, Richard Deacon, Joe Flynn, Howard McNear, Sid Melton, Ryan O’Neal and Harry Von Zell.

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Harry Ackerman produced the first season and was replaced by Everett Freeman for the rest of the series’ life when Ackerman went on to work for other sitcoms, including Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. The show was sponsored by American Tobacco which made Tareyton cigarettes and American Home Products which marketed Anacin, Dristan, and the Chef Boyardee line.

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The show was filmed at Revue Studios and produced by Forsythe’s Bachelor Productions. The episodes were filmed at 4024 Radford Avenue in Studio City and the exteriors were shot at 120 Colonial Street, Backlot at Universal Studios. The end of Colonial Street was also known as New England Street. In the photo below, the house at the right was the Bachelor Father house.  The Cleaver house from Leave It to Beaver was across the street. The Gregg family lived at 113 Rexford Drive in Beverly Hills.  Bentley’s office was Room 106 in the Crescent Building on Crescent Drive in Los Angeles.

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The theme song, “Bachelor Father” was written by David Kahn and Johnny Williams, today known as John Williams, the famous movie composer.

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Vincent Dee was the costume supervisor, Florence Bush was the hair stylist, and Leo Lotito Jr. was the make-up artist.

Dialogue From Bachelor Father

Season 2 / Episode 1: – Bentley and the Finishing School

Kelly Gregg: Peter, I cleaned my room.
Peter Tong: What you tryin’ to do – ruin your reputation?

Season 5 / Episode 36: – Bentley Takes it Easy

Bentley Gregg: [regarding his upcoming home vacation] First and foremost, I’m going to do absolutely nothing.
Peter Tong: If you get tired doing nothing, I’ll be glad to help out.
Bentley Gregg: It’ll be nice to have an expert around.

Season 4 / Episode 33: – Kelly’s Charge Account

Kelly Gregg: I’ll have you know I walked right through Kessler’s this afternoon, and all I bought was a hair net. I just wanted the thrill of signing for something.
Peter Tong: You be careful. Remember, charge account like ocean. One step too far – you go under.

Season 4 / Episode 2: – Kelly Learns to Drive

Bentley Gregg: Don’t you think that you’ve been vacillating enough?
Peter Tong: That depend.
Bentley Gregg: On what?
Peter Tong: What vacillating mean.

Season 3 / Episode 5: – Kelly’s Idol

Peter Tong: Hello, Mr. Gregg. You’re home early.
Bentley Gregg: Peter, I’ve just spent eight of the most miserable boring hours of my life with one the most beautiful girls in this town.
Peter Tong: Sometime even Mickey Mantle don’t get to first base.

Fun Facts

Jimmie Boyd (Howard) recorded the 1952 Christmas song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

Ginger’s last name changed three times during the run of the show.  She was referred to as Ginger Farrrell, Loomis, and Mitchell.

Ginger was played by Bernadette Withers. Jane Withers was her aunt, and Jane was best known as Josephine the Plumber.

In Episode 5 of Season 4, Linda Evans (then Linda Evenstad) played one of Kelly’s girlfriends who had a big crush on Bentley. She would later play his wife on Dynasty.

During the five years of the show, Bentley had five different secretaries: Vickie, Kitty 1, Kitty 2, Suzanne, and Connie; could he have been related to Murphy Brown?

Some of the episodes can be seen on youtube.com. Antenna TV had Bachelor Father on its schedule but it was replaced in 2015. We can only hope they will bring it back soon and that the show will finally be given its due and released on DVD so we can once again enjoy the Gregg family and friends.

Below is the list of episodes by season.

Season 1

  1. Bentley And The P.T.A. (9/29/1957)
  2. Bentley versus The Girl Scouts (10/6/1957)
  3. Bentley And The lady Doctor (10/13/1957)
  4. Date With Kelly (10/20/1957)
  5. Uncle Bentley keeps His Promise (10/27/1957)
  6. Bentley And The Baby Sitter (11/3/1957)
  7. Uncle Bentley And The Aunts (11/10/1957)
  8. Bentley And The Revolving Housekeeper (11/24/1957)
  9. Bentley And The Talent Contest (1/5/1958)
  10. Bentley, The Homemaker (1/19/1958)
  11. Bentley And His Junior Image (2/2/1958)
  12. Uncle Bentley Loans Out Peter (2/16/1958)
  13. Bentley And The Social Worker (3/2/1958)
  14. A Sister For Kelly (3/16/1958)
  15. Waiting Up For Kelly (3/30/1958)
  16. Woman Of The house (4/13/1958)
  17. Peter falls In love (4/27/1958)
  18. Bentley’s Prospective Son-In-Law (5/11/1958)
  19. Bentley’s Clubhouse (5/25/1958)
  20. Uncle Bentley And The Matchmaker (6/8/1958)

Season 2

  1. Bentley And The Finishing School (9/14/1958)
  2. Parent’s Night (9/28/1958)
  3. Bentley Leads A Dog’s Life (10/12/1958)
  4. Bentley & the Teenage Siren (10/26/1958)
  5. Bentley & Peter’s Teacher (11/9/1958)
  6. Bentley And The Wedding Bells (11/23/1958)
  7. Kelly’s Mad Crush (11/7/1958)
  8. Bentley’s Big Case (12/21/1958)
  9. Bentley’s Economy Wave (1/4/1959)
  10. Decisions, Decisions (1/18/1959)
  11. Bentley And The Kleptomaniac (2/1/1959)
  12. A Phone For Kelly (2/15/1959)
  13. Bentley, The Proud Father (3/15/1959)
  14. Bentley’s Aunt Caroline (3/29/1959)
  15. Bentley, Man Of Steel (4/12/1959)
  16. Bentley And The Motorcycle (4/26/1959)
  17. Bentley The Star Maker (5/1/1959)
  18. Bentley, The Organizer (5/10/1959)
  19. Bentley And The beauty Contest (5/24/1959)
  20. Bentley, The Hero (6/7/1959)

Season 3

  1. Peter Meets His Match (9/17/1959)
  2. Bentley & the dog Trainer (9/24/1959)
  3. The Case Against Gisele (10/1/1959)
  4. Bentley And The Gullible Guitarist (10/8/1959)
  5. Kelly’s Idol (10/15/1959)
  6. East Meets West (10/22/1959)
  7. Bentley And Grandpa Ling (10/29/1959)
  8. Kelly, The Golddigger (11/5/1959)
  9. The Rescue Of Rufus (11/12/1959)
  10. A Key For Kelly (11/19/1959)
  11. Bentley’s Double Play (11/26/1959)
  12. Bentley And The Brainy Beauty (12/3/1959)
  13. Bentley Plays Cupid (12/10/1959)
  14. Kelly’s Secret (12/17/1959)
  15. Bentley Goes To Washington (12/24/1959)
  16. Kelly, The Politician (12/31/1959)
  17. Bentley, The Gentleman Farmer (1/7/1960)
  18. Bentley And The Combo (1/14/1960)
  19. Bentley And The Bartered Bride (1/21/1960)
  20. The Blonde Issue (1/28/1960)
  21. Bentley And The Majorette (2/4/1960)
  22. Bentley, The Model Citizen (2/18/1960)
  23. The Fishing Trip (2/25/1960)
  24. The Fortune Cookie Caper (3/3/1960)
  25. Kelly And The College Man (3/10/1960)
  26. Kelly, The Career Woman (3/17/1960)
  27. Bentley’s New House (3/24/1960)
  28. Bentley, The Stage Mother (4/7/1960)
  29. The Woman’s Angle (4/14/1960)
  30. Bentley Meets The Perfect Woman (4/21/1960)
  31. Bentley And The Travel Agent (4/28/1960)
  32. The Very Friendly Witness (5/5/1960)
  33. Bentley And The Blood Bank (5/12/1960)
  34. A Man Of Importance (5/19/1960)
  35. Bentley And The Beach Bum (5/26/1960)
  36. Where There’s A Will (6/2/1960)
  37. Bentley’s Birthday Gift (6/9/1960)

Season 4

  1. Kelly, The Matchmaker (8/26/1960)
  2. It Happens In November (9/7/1960)
  3. Jasper The Second (9/15/1960)
  4. Kelly Learns To Drive (9/22/1960)
  5. Trail Separation (9/29/1960)
  6. Mystery Witness (10/6/1960)
  7. A Crush On Bentley (10/13/1960)
  8. Peter Gets Jury Notice (10/20/1960)
  9. Hilda The Jewel (10/27/1960)
  10. How To Catch A Man(11/10/1960)
  11. Bentley Cracks The Whip (11/24/1960)
  12. Bentley And The Big Board (12/1/1960)
  13. Dear Bentley (12/15/1960)
  14. Bentley And The Lost Chord (12/22/1960)
  15. Ginger’s Big Romance (12/29/1960)
  16. Bentley The Angel (1/5/1961)
  17. Bentley Goes To Europe (1/19/1961)
  18. Bentley And The Woodpecker (1/21/1961)
  19. The Greggs In Rome (1/26/1961)
  20. The Greggs In London (2/2/1961)
  21. The Greggs In Paris (2/16/1961)
  22. Encore In Paris (2/23/1961)
  23. There’s No Place Like Home (3/2/1961)
  24. Bentley Swims Upstream (3/9/1961)
  25. A Man Among Men (3/16/1961)
  26. Peter’s China Doll (3/23/1961)
  27. Bentley And The Counterspy (3/30/1961)
  28. Peter Plays Cupid (4/6/1961)
  29. Bentley And The Great Debate (4/13/1961)
  30. Bentley And The Nature Girl (4/20/1961)
  31. Bentley’s Mad Friends (4/27/1961)
  32. Hilda Rides Again (5/4/1961)
  33. Kelly’s Charge Account (5/11/1961)
  34. Bentley Builds A Pool (5/18/1961)
  35. Bentley Slays A dragon (5/25/1961)
  36. A Favor For Bentley (6/1/1961)
  37. Kelly Gets A Job (6/8/1961)
  38. Kelly’s Tangled Web (6/15/1961)
  39. Bentley’s Barbecue (6/22/1961)
  40. Drop That Calorie (7/6/1961)

Season 5

  1. Kelly’s Graduation (9/21/1961)
  2. King’s English (10/3/1961)
  3. Rush Week (10/10/1961)
  4. Kelly And The Free Thinker (10/17/1961)
  5. A Party For Peter (10/24/1961)
  6. Never Steal An Owl (10/31/1961)
  7. Bentley’s Catered Affair (11/7/1961)
  8. House At Smuggler’s Cove (11/14/1961)
  9. Peter’s Punctured Wedding (11/21/1961)
  10. Star Light, Star Not So Bright (11/28/1961)
  11. Bentley And The Time Clock (12/5/1961)
  12. Birth Of A Song (12/12/1961)
  13. Deck The halls (12/19/1961)
  14. The Law And Kelly Gregg (12/26/1961)
  15. How To Throw Your Voice (1/2/1962)
  16. Kelly, The Yes Man (1/9/1962)
  17. Gold In Them Hills (1/16/1962)
  18. How Howard Won His “C” (1/23/1962)
  19. Pinch That Penny (1/30/1962)
  20. Blossom Comes To Visit (2/6/1962)
  21. Bentley And The Homebody (2/13/1962)
  22. Summer Romance (2/20/1962)
  23. Hong Kong Suit
  24. Will Success Spoil Jasper? (3/6/1962)
  25. The Twain Shall Meet (3/9/1962)
  26. Strictly Business (3/13/1962)
  27. On The Old Camp Ground (3/20/1962)
  28. A Visit To The Bergens (3/27/1962)
  29. The Richest Cat (4/3/1962)
  30. Bentley Goes To Bat (4/17/1962)
  31. Kelly’s Engagement (4/24/1962)
  32. Kelly, The Home Executive (5/1/1962)
  33. Blossom Time At The Greggs (5/8/1962)
  34. What Men Don’t Know (5/15/1962)
  35. Marry Thy Neighbor (5/22/1962)
  36. Bentley Takes It Easy (5/29/1962)
  37. Boys Will Be Boys (6/5/1962)
  38. Divided House (6/12/1962)
  39. Peter, The Medicine Man (6/19/1962)
  40. Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight (6/26/1962)