Jeepers, Creepers, It’s Mister Peepers

Mister Peepers was one of the first popular sitcoms.  It aired from July of 1952 until June of 1955. The show starred Wally Cox as Robinson J. Peepers. Peepers was a junior high school science teacher. A great cast surrounded him including history teacher Harvey Weskit (Tony Randall), Harvey’s wife Marge (Georgann Johnson), county nurse Nancy Remington (Patricia Benoit), English teacher Mrs. Gurney (Marion Lorne), and athletic coach Frank Whip (Jack Warden). (In the pilot, the coach was played by Walter Matthau.) Peepers developed a relationship with nurse Nancy, and her parents (Ernest Truex and Sylvia Field) also became part of the cast.

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The show featured some slapstick as well but it was not the primary form of humor. In one episode, the uncoordinated Mr. Peepers was playing basketball in the gym alone and somehow got stuck in the basket. In order to fulfill the evening obligations that he promised, he brings Mrs. Gurney’s flower club into the gym so he can lecture to them about potting soil while playing chess with a rival school’s champion as promised to Mr. Gurney.

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Mr. Peepers is kind. In one episode, after injuring his finger, absent-minded Mrs. Gurney tries to help by bandaging it.  In addition to using half a roll of tape, Robinson informs Nancy that she bandaged the wrong finger.

Mister Peepers is a likable guy. He has some eccentric characteristics which make us like him even more. For example, he has an elaborate ritual to get his locker to open; on bring your pet to school day, he has to hide a cow; and sometimes he does things we all want to. On one episode, he comes upon a hopscotch board on the sidewalk and just like we would want to do, he plays it not realizing his girlfriend is watching him. However, Robinson has a bit of rebellion and sarcasm that keeps him from being too much of a goody-two-shoes.

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Tony Randall’s character Harvey was supposed to be a small role, but the producers liked him so much he became a regular. He is best friends with Robinson but they couldn’t be more different. Harvey is a lady’s man. However, Mr. Peepers only has eyes for Nancy even though it takes her a while to realize he is interested in her. The couple ties the not in 1954, producing a huge ratings boost.

In real life, Cox was experiencing the same situation when he married Marilyn Gennaro about the same time. When Benoit became pregnant in real life, she was also pregnant on the show.

When the Peepers found out they were having a baby, American Character Dolls Co wanted to make a “Peepers Baby Doll” in 1955. Polling indicated that viewers were hoping for a girl, so it went into production. Mister Peepers was cancelled before the doll debuted, but the company sold it anyway, although they did change the name.

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The show was aired live with an audience of 2500 at the New Century Theatre in New York. Preserved on 16mm kinescopes, there are currently 102 of the original 127 episodes in existence.  The kinescopes are being preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and a DVD set has been produced.

The Ford Motor Company needed a summer replacement on Thursday nights so Mister Peepers debuted then. NBC decided it was too much pressure to do a live show, so it was cancelled. Fans were irate. After 2000 people called to complain and 15000 letters were received, the network had second thoughts, but their schedule was full.

MR. PEEPERS — Aired 09/15/1953 — Pictured: (l-r) Wally Cox as Robinson Peepers, Tony Randall as Harvey Weskitt (Photo by NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

However, that fall, an opening occurred when Doc Corkle was cancelled after only three episodes. How bad does a show have to be to get axed after three episodes in 1952? I don’t know, but the summary of the show is that “Doc is a dentist plagued with money problems, teenage daughter problems, and a screwball stepsister Melinda.”

It says a lot about the quality of Mister Peepers that it was rated so highly and watched by so many fans because it was up against Private Secretary with Ann Sothern and The Jack Benny Show on Sunday nights. Tough competition.

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Critics liked the show and it was nominated for best situation comedy for the Emmys in 1953, 1954, and 1955. Wally Cox, Tony Randall, and Marion Lorne were all nominated as well. Each of the years the show was nominated it went up against Our Miss Brooks, Burns and Allen, and I Love Lucy which won in 1953 and 1954; Make Room for Daddy won in 1955. NBC made Wally Cox postcards which they handed out to tourists on the lot.

Wally Cox was an interesting guy. He was a brilliant man who studied acting with Stella Adler. His roommate was Marlon Brando whom he had been best friends with since grade school. His mother and grandmother were writers, and his dad was in advertising. Before he was able to earn a living in acting, he taught the lindy hop for $1.50 a lesson and made cuff links and tie clasps. While doing part-time jobs, he began doing standup at clubs like The Blue Angel and Village Vanguard.

Unfortunately, a lot of people will remember him only for his appearances on Hollywood Squares and as the voice of Underdog the cartoon hero. He was also famous for a Jockey Shorts commercial when he quipped, “Outside I might look like Wally Cox but inside I feel like Tyrone Power.” He passed away much too early, dying from a heart attack at 48.

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Although Wally Cox was not Mister Peepers, their humor was similar. Cox wasn’t brash but he experienced life with a quiet subtle manner and was a genuinely funny guy. In discussing his time on the show, Cox said, “Mr. Peepers put me on the map and I love him.” I’m sure like many actors who were stereotyped early in their career, it was a bit of a love/hate relationship.  I’m sure you will love him too if you are able to watch some of the episodes.  Retro TV aired them in the past, but I don’t see the show on its current schedule. I also found the DVDs on amazon.com. Happy viewing!

Trick or Treat? The Halloween Episodes of Bewitched

Happy Halloween! It doesn’t seem right to discuss Halloween episodes without considering the series that made witches fun—Bewitched. During its eight years from 1964-1972, Bewitched produced five Halloween episodes.  Let’s discuss each of these shows in more depth.

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The Witches Are Out – 1964  (Episode 7, Season 1)

The show opens with Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and three of her aunts, including Clara (Marion Lorne), in her living room complaining about humans’ tendency to portray witches as ugly old crones. Endora, (Agnes Morehead) absent, is apparently in France where she is said to spend every Halloween avoiding the holiday. Darrin (Dick York) is designing a campaign for a company that makes Halloween candy.  The client, Brinkman, wants a stereotyped ugly witch for his logo.  When Sam sees the sketches for the new campaign, she and Darrin have a fight. He designs a beautiful witch instead, and when the client does not like it the next day, and Darrin refuses to design a logo with an ugly witch, Larry (David White) fires him. Feeling bad about Darrin losing his job, the aunts and Samantha pay a visit to Brinkman while he is sleeping.  They turn his phone into a snake, “twitch” him to a spot where he is ready to be shot by the Foreign Legion, and finally turn him into an old witch before he begs forgiveness and agrees to show them in a favorable light. The next day he has Darrin rehired and uses the beautiful witch. Things turn out great for everyone because it turns out fathers buy most of the Halloween candy, and they like the beautiful witch so sales skyrocket.

Fun Fact:  This is Aunt Clara’s first appearance in the show.  She mentions her door knob collection and when Brinkman wakes up the next day, all 150 of his door knobs have been taken. In real life, Marion Lorne did have a door knob collection.bewitched-7

Trick or Treat – 1965 (Episode 43, Season 2)

This was my favorite Halloween episode. Endora (Agnes Moorhead) wakes Sam up to tell her to be ready to go to the “sacred volcano” in four hours for Halloween.  Sam refuses because they are having the Tates and a client and his wife for dinner. While they are talking later, Sam gets a box of ugly witch decorations delivered.  Endora is furious thinking that it came from Darrin; actually it was sent by Larry and made by the client’s company. Endora goes to visit Darrin at work. He tells Endora he will not encourage Sam to go the volcano.  Later that night as they are waiting for their company to arrive, Endora turns herself into a little girl in a gypsy costume, played by an adorable Maureen McCormick. When Darrin opens the door to give her candy, she tricks him and turns him into a werewolf.  Sam immediately retrieves her mother as the little girl, and Endora pretends to forget the spell.  Sam makes her sit in the den to think about it.  As they are entertaining their guests, Darrin is in and out of the room, cutting his long nails when they grow, and running upstairs to shave his face and hands.  When he becomes a full-blown werewolf, he goes outside to hide and runs into Larry and the client.  The client loves the “costume”.  When Darrin goes upstairs to “change,” Sam tells her mother that she is behaving just like the stereotype witch humans portray them as and to the one person who believes in them.  Endora changes Darrin back to himself, turns back into herself, and stays for dinner.

Fun Fact:  Maureen McCormick also appeared on I Dream of Jeannie and My Three Sons before becoming a regular on The Brady Bunch.

 

Twitch or Treat – 1966 (Episode 81, Season 3)

Endora creates a house across the street from Sam and Darrin so she can hold a Halloween party there. Darrin forbids it, so she changes the party to Sam and Darrin’s house. Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde) arrives early and has most of the funniest lines in the show. Mrs. Kravitz (Alice Pearce) goes to spy on the house for Halloween, and Uncle Arthur twitches her back to her own front door.  When she turns around, she sees a man arriving at the Stevens’ home with a cat which he changes to a beautiful woman.  She calls the city councilman running for re-election to tell him there is something fishy in the neighborhood he needs to deal with.  The rest of the show occurs at the party.  When the councilman and his manager come to the door, Uncle Arthur has them walk through it only to be in the backyard.  This happens several times and then they try a window and the same thing happens so they can’t get to the party.  During their predicament, the cat/woman decides she likes Darrin and curls up at her feet and asks him to scratch behind her ears; he of course has no idea she’s a cat.  The councilman finally gives up and goes home.  The girlfriend is turned back into a cat at midnight.  At that point, Endora recites her “The Night Before Halloween,” but Arthur keeps interrupting with funny lines, and she gets so annoyed she puts him in the middle of a fountain and takes her guests to the Riviera.  One of the best moments in this show is when Sam waves and says “Hi Willie,” and we see Willie Mays across the room.  Darrin, surprised and speechless, finally asks if that is indeed Willie Mays.  Sam says of course, and Darrin asks if he is “you know”, and Sam says “with a career as amazing as his, could he be anything else.”

Fun Fact: Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz, played by Alice Pearce and George Tobias, played Mr. and Mrs. Fenimore  in the Doris Day movie, The Glass-Bottom Boat in 1966.  Paul Lynde was also in the movie. The Kravitz house on Bewitched later became the house for The Partridge Family.

 

The Sane and Safe Halloween – 1967 (Episode 115, Season 4)

Samantha reads Tabitha a Halloween story before bed.  The Stevens have decided to raise Tabitha as a human with the same traditions and books other children her age have. When Sam leaves the room, thinking her asleep, Tabitha brings three of the book characters (an elf, a goblin, and a jack o’lantern) to life. Once again, Samantha refers to Endora being in France where she spends every Halloween. Samantha makes Tabitha a leopard costume.  Across the street, Gladys Kravitz (now played by Sandra Gould because Alice Pearce died from cancer) is fixing her nephew’s costume, a jack o’lantern that is identical to the character from Tabitha’s book.  She explains to him why they are not going to the Stevens’ home for candy. While Sam and Tabitha go trick or treating, the three book characters catch up to them.  Thinking they are friends of Tabitha’s, Sam invites them along.  At the first house, the woman handing out candy suddenly has a beard.  Sam reprimands Tabitha, thinking she used her powers to do that. At the next house, someone freezes the man handing out candy and the elf grabs a bunch more.  Now Sam is really mad and tells Tabitha she has to go home and right to bed. When they get home, Sam sees the open book with the characters missing and puts two and two together.  She goes back to look for the characters.  In the meantime, Gladys’s nephew who runs away from her sees the three characters, and they decide to play a joke by sending the other jack o’lantern back with Gladys.  Sam arrives shortly after and makes all three characters go home with her. In the meantime, the jack o’lantern with Gladys throws a pie at a woman handing out dessert and Gladys takes him home.  When they get home and she can’t remove his head, she gets worried.  When he gets a chance he runs off. In the meantime, Sam realizes she has Gladys’s nephew. When she goes to look for the real jack o’lantern, the elf turns the nephew into a goat.  Just in time, Sam gets home, has Tabitha put the three characters back in the book and then turns the goat back into a boy just as Gladys comes looking for him. Luckily, he can’t remember the evening at all.

Fun Fact: Although we never hear them, the Bewitched theme song had lyrics.  Singer Steve Lawrence recorded a version of the song and lyrics.

 

To Trick or Treat or Not To Trick or Treat – 1969 (Episode 177, Season 6)

The show opens with Sam making final fittings to Tabitha’s princess costume.  Endora pops in and gets mad when she sees witches’ costumes.  Sam tells her she is heading up UNICEF in the neighborhood. Endora and Darrin get into an argument about trick or treating.  Neither will give in and Darrin (now played by Dick Sargent) insults Endora.  When he gets the office, he realizes that he is slowly becoming a witch.  He heads home and apologizes, so Endora returns him to normal, but then he insults her again and she turns him back into a witch. Sam agrees not to trick or treat for UNICEF if Endora fixes Darrin.  In the meantime, Larry is upset because their client’s wife is head of UNICEF and is mad Sam quit.  Darrin tells Sam she can’t fight his battles.  After Sam and Tabitha leave to trick or treat, he takes the UNICEF kids out.  Sam and Tabitha see him and help out.  While they are at the school UNICEF party, the client and his wife think Darrin looks so good as a witch, they want that for their new trademark.  They make lotion and the witch is the “before” look. When they get home, Sam tells Endora that she’s given the stereotype witch more publicity than most people. Endora restores Darrin to normal, and Darrin introduces Sam, the “beautiful” witch to the client who likes the idea and uses the good witch as the “after” photo for their lotion. This was the weakest episode of the bunch.  Apparently, the writers could not come up with a new idea because they did an almost identical writing of the first Halloween episode.

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Sad Fact:  Dick York had a seizure on the set on season five.  He had excruciating back pain from an injury he sustained making a movie in the 1950s.  He stepped down from the show, never received royalties from reruns, and died on welfare. When Dick Sargent replaced him, the show never referred to Uncle Arthur, Aunt Clara, or the Kravitzes again.

 

The first four Halloween Bewitched episodes are treats and well worth watching.  The last episode is a trick, and like the series itself the last three years, is tired and lacking interest.  Skip that show and watch The Glass-Bottom Boat instead. If you’re looking for an unusual theme party, play the episodes that feature Uncle Arthur and use the best one-liners as part of your menu and decorations.

See you in November.