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.

Born Free: A Roaring Good Time

Before we get into this month’s series, I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU to all of you who read my blog. Today is my 300th blog post. I have absolutely thoroughly enjoyed getting to know so many classic television cast and crew members, and I have learned so much the past six years. This month we are looking at “Life with Pets” blog series by learning a bit more about some of the classic shows about families and their pets. So far, we have learned about some unusual pets: monkeys, dolphins, and bears. Today is no exception; we are looking at the series Born Free which featured a lion.

Photo: imdb.com

Like Flipper and Gentle Ben, Born Free was also based on a movie titled Born Free. which was released in 1966. In 1974, it became a television series. The film was based on a true story. Considering how many people fondly remember the show, I was surprised to learn that it only was on the air from September to December.

Muldaur and Collins Photo: imdb.com

The show tells the story of George (Gary Collins) and Joy Adamson (Diana Muldaur) who lived in Kenya with their lioness Elsa. George and Joy were game wardens who helped care for wildlife. They primarily protected them from weather disasters and poachers. Part of the show’s mission was to educate viewers about animal conservation. Other cast members included Hal Frederick as Makedde; Dawn Lyn, Dodie from My Three Sons, as Reagan one of their friend’s granddaughters who lives with them for a while; and Peter Lukoye as Nuru.

In the Adamsons’ true story, Elsa and her sisters who were orphaned were treated like pets by the couple. George was forced to kill their mother when she charged him, but he later said he understood she felt threatened. Joy fed the four-day-old cubs unsweetened milk mixed with cod liver oil, glucose, bone meal, and salt. After the first couple of weeks, they took their food from baby bottles. They were allowed to roam like house pets but at night they were put into a pen of rock and sand to protect them from hyenas, jackals, elephants, and other lions.

Eventually, Elsa’s two siblings were sent to a zoo in the Netherlands, but Elsa being a runt, could not make the trip. Joy then taught her how to behave like a wild lion so she could survive with the other animals.

On the show, the episodes were a bit different. In “Maneaters of Merti,” two lions have begun killing humans, so George leads a search with villagers and game wardens to find them.

In the middle of the season, “The Flying Doctor of Kenya” aired with Juliet Mills starring as Dr. Claire Hanley who is making her first village medical tour. She needs to learn the customs of the villagers as well as how to adapt to the tough living conditions. Joy helps her get acclimated to the new job.

The theme song was composed by John Barry which was the same song used in the movie. Barry won an Oscar for the film’s soundtrack. Lyrics were provided by Don Black. Most of us remember the words to the song from hearing it on the radio. They were:

Born free, as free as the wind blows
As free as the grass grows
Born free to follow your heart

Live free and beauty surrounds you
The world still astounds you
Each time you look at a star

Stay free, where no walls divide you
You’re free as the roaring tide
So there’s no need to hide

Born free, and life is worth living
But only worth living
’cause you’re born free

(Stay free, where no walls divide you)
You’re free as the roaring tide
So there’s no need to hide

Born free, and life is worth living
But only worth living
’cause you’re born free

To walk with others... | Kate on Conservation
George Adamson Photo: kateonconservation.com

I was also surprised to learn that the show was actually filmed in Kenya. NBC put the show on Monday night against The Rookies and Gunsmoke which were both in the top 20-30% of popular shows. After 13 episodes, the show was canceled due to low ratings.

62 George and Joy Adamson ideas | george, lions, out of africa
Joy Adamson and Elsa Photo: pinterest.com

Although Joy and George were divorced by the time the television series was created, she served as a consultant for the show and supervised the stories. Sadly, she was stabbed to death in 1980, and George was shot by poachers in 1989 while trying to help a tourist.

Elsa did acclimate to the wild but visited George and Joy from time to time. She brought her three cubs to show the couple. Elsa was five when she contracted a tick-borne blood disease similar to malaria. She passed away and was buried in the Meru National Park. When Joy died, she was buried next to Elsa. George was buried in the Kora National Park in northern Kenya where he was working. He was buried near his brother and Boy, another lion featured in the film version.

The legacy of the film and television show is that the Born Free Foundation has a mission to protect the lions of Meru National Park.

Photo: twitter.com

Although I was surprised by a few things in this show, one thing I was not surprised by was its quick cancellation. For some reason, so many shows in the sixties were adapted from movies and could not be sustained as a weekly show. M*A*S*H was one of the few shows to do this well. It seems though it would be a tough thing to sustain interesting shows when you are limited to natural disasters and poachers. Here again, you would assume the scenery would almost be a character you could develop. I’m also sure it was not cheap to film the show in Africa which would make it harder to keep if it was not producing decent ratings.

While none of the shows we have learned about in the series became long-running shows, next week we wind up our series with a look at one of the enduring pet shows.