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.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: Fifty Years After Getting the Pink Slip

The late 1960s and early 1970s might have contained the most diverse television shows than any other era. In 1968, there were the rural comedies like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies; there were the standard sitcoms, My Three Sons, Get Smart, That Girl, Bewitched; there were the remains of a few westerns including The High Chaparral, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke; there were crime and thrillers such as Hawaii Five-0 and Mission Impossible; there was the crime/western in The Wild, Wild West, there were gameshows on at night including Let’s Make a Deal, The Dating Game, and The Newlywed Game; there were sci-fi shows like Star Trek and The Land of the Giants; family shows like Lassie; and even Lawrence Welk.

In addition, there were a couple of shows that were a bit edgier and introduced more  provocative concepts and themes. The Mod Squad featured three teens who were helping solve crimes in lieu of jail time, and then there was the almost-impossible-to-describe Laugh In.

Photo: neatorama.com

Similar to Laugh In was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which also debuted in 1967 featuring Tom and Dick Smothers. It had more of a variety format to it but it had the same topical and satirical humor.

Photo: retrokimmer.com
The Who

In addition to poking fun at politics, the war, religion, and current issues, you could tune in to the Smothers Brothers for some of the best and sometimes controversial music in the industry. Performers such as Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Cream, Pete Seeger, and The Doors appeared on the show.

Photo: metro.com
Jefferson Airplane

The show aired Sunday nights against Bonanza on NBC; ABC aired The Sunday Night Movie in its first season and Hee Haw in its second season.

The series had some of the best writers on television: Alan Blye, Hal Goldman, Al Gordon, Steve Martin, Lorenzo Music, Don Novello, Rob Reiner, David Steinberg, and Mason Williams. Reiner and Martin both commented on the show in an interview by Marc Freeman in the Hollywood Reporter 11-25-2017 (“The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at 50: The Rise and Fall of a Ground-Breaking Variety Show”).  

Reiner relayed that “you had two cute boy-next-doors wearing red suits, one with the stand-up bass and the other with his guitar. They looked like the sweetest, most innocent kids. You got drawn to them, and then they hit you with the uppercut you didn’t see coming.”

Photo: tvbanter.net

Martin elaborated “When you have the power wrapped up in innocence, it’s more palatable. They were like little boys, but you also had Dickie there to reprimand Tommy when he would make an outrageous statement. It’s like the naughty ventriloquist dummy who can get away with murder as long as the ventriloquist is there to say ‘You can’t say that.’ It’s the perfect setup for getting a message across.”

Photo: pinterest.com
Jack Benny

In addition to the musical acts, hundreds of celebrities appeared on the show between 1967 and 1969, including Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, George Burns, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Barbara Eden, Nanette Fabray, Eva Gabor, Shirley Jones, Don Knotts, Bob Newhart, Tony Randall, Ed Sullivan, Danny Thomas and Jonathan Winters, along with so many others.

Part of the show was the brothers’ ongoing sibling rivalry about whom their parents liked best. They also began to add political satire and ribald humor. Pat Paulsen delivered mock editorials about current topics such as the draft and gun control, and in 1968 he had a mock presidential campaign.

Photo: rollingstone.com
Pat Paulsen for president

Church sermon sketches poked fun at religion. The show lampooned many of the values older Americans valued, often delivering anti-establishment and pro-drug humor. No one was given an exception, and the show lambasted the military, the police, the religious right, and the government.

Battles over content were ongoing with the network. The network pulled Pete Seeger’s performance of his anti-Vietnam War song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” They nixed Harry Belafonte’s song, “Don’t Stop the Carnival” because it had a video collage behind him of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.

Younger viewers were tuning in, and despite the conflicts, the show was picked up for a second season. The network insisted they receive a copy of the show at least ten days in advance for editing. In April of 1969, William Paley canceled the show without notice. Some sources contend it was canceled by CBS president Robert Wood. Some sources cite the issue with unacceptable deadlines and others mention Tom Smothers lobbying the FCC and members of Congress over corporate censorship that brought about the firing. The brothers filed a breach of contract suit against the network and after four years of litigation, a federal court ruled in their favor, awarding them $776,300.

Photo: blogspot.com

Here’s a typical joke from the show that was not as controversial.

Tom: You can tell who’s running the country by how much clothes people wear, see?

Dick: Do you mean that some people can afford more clothes on, and some people have . . . less on? Is that what you mean?

Tom: That’s right.

Dick: I don’t understand.

Tom: See, the ordinary people, you’d say that the ordinary people are the less-ons.

Dick: So, who’s running the country?

Tom: The morons.

The Smothers Brothers elicited humor that was as topical, influential, and critical as anyone had ever heard before on television. Fifty years later, both the network and the brothers realized everyone over-reacted. If the Smothers Brothers had tried to play by the rules a bit, they would not have lost their platform to continue to help change what they saw as a messed-up culture.

Photo: Wikipedia.com

The CBS executives felt the program created too much controversy. In their defense, politicians, especially Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, exerted a lot of pressure on the network. Remember this was a time of three networks and ads are what produced the profits to fund shows. The network received a boatload of hate mail daily about the program and, when viewers begin talking boycotting advertisers, executives sit up a bit straighter and listen.

The Smothers Brothers Show, a less controversial series, debuted in 1975. They had two specials on NBC later and another CBS series in 1988 but never regained the influence they had in the sixties. However, the show did help pave the way for a future that permitted, and later embraced, shows with controversy beginning with All in the Family, continuing with Saturday Night Live, and recently seen on shows such hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Although the comedy spouted on the show would seem quite tame by today’s standards, the show had an important part in the history of television and the rights of free speech.

Photo: wvxu.com

I have seen some DVDs out there from this show, but they are pricey. Recently I saw season two going for $190. I do see Laugh In on Decades quite often, so perhaps The Smothers Brothers might show up somewhere too, although I’m not sure this show would hold up as well as Laugh In, but the musical performances would be fun to see.