Mabel Albertson: What a Character!

As we wind up our What a Character series, it seemed fitting to end with Mabel Albertson, perhaps the most recognizable of our character actors. She is often remembered for playing the mother of well-known characters. Mabel was born in Massachusetts in 1901. Her mother, who was a stock actress, helped support the family by working in a shoe factory. Mabel’s brother Jack would also become a famous actor.

Photo: pinterest.com

Mabel knew she wanted to get involved in the entertainment business at a young age. When she was 13, she played the piano for $5 a performance. She graduated from the New England School of Speech and Expression.

Albertson began working in stock, vaudeville, and night clubs and appeared with Jimmy Durante. Eventually she moved to California where she became involved with the Pasadena Playhouse where Charles Lane got his start.

Photo: youtube.com

Mabel married Austin Ripley, and they had a son in 1926, but their marriage soon dissolved. Mabel decided to pursue a career in film. Although she would have credits for 27 movies during her career, her film career was not what she hoped for. So, she switched gears and tried out radio. During the 1930s, she co-starred with Phil Baker on The Armour Hour and from 1936-37, she was in Dress Rehearsal with Pinky Lee. She also did some writing for the show.

photo: imdb.com
All The Fine Young Cannibals

In 1937 Mabel married writer Ken Englund who adopted her son George. He began writing for Paramount Pictures and later would be hired by RKO, Columbia Studios, 20th Century Fox, and The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Photo: pinterest.com
Burns and Allen

Although her husband’s career was made on the big screen, her career really took off when television made its appearance. Her first role on the small screen was on the Chevron Theater in 1952. During the 1950s, she appeared in 21 different shows. Although many of her roles were on the playhouse and theater shows, she also showed up on Burns and Allen, Topper, December Bride, Bachelor Father, Jack Benny, and Have Gun Will Travel. In 1955, she was offered a role in Those Whiting Girls. She played the girls’ mother. The show was on the air until 1957.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Those Whiting Girls

Mabel became the “face” of television sitcom mothers. She played Phyllis Stephens, Darrin’s mother on Bewitched and often said “Frank, take me home, I’m getting a sick headache.” Her husband wrote several Bewitched episodes (season 1, episodes 25 and 30).

Photo: pinterest.com
Bewitched

She played Mabel, Paul Lynde’s mother-in-law on The Paul Lynde Show; she was the mother of Marilyn’s boyfriend on The Munsters, as well as Alice’s mother on Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Fans of That Girl will remember her as Don Hollister’s mother, and she was seen on The Andy Griffith Show as Howard Sprague’s mother. Her last mother role was on the New Dick Van Dyke Show as his mom.

Photo: jacksonupperco.com
That Girl

Her greatest success was in the 1960s when she appeared in 39 television shows, including Perry Mason; Ben Casey; My Three Sons; Hazel; Ozzie and Harriet; The Wild, Wild West; Daniel Boone; Gomer Pyle USMC; Love American Style; and Gunsmoke. A review for her performance on Gunsmoke is posted by jlthornb5110 on imdb.

The review states that her role of Kate Heller is one “of the standout episodes of the series with Miss Mabel Albertson giving what is nothing less than the performance of a lifetime. Beautifully written by Kate Hite, this is a powerful presentation and one in which Albertson truly shines. The climax is absolutely soul shattering and among the most dramatically emotional ever filmed for television. Miss Albertson plays it with a sensitivity and an incredible insight you will never forget. The character of Kate Heller is heartbreaking but quietly strong, a survivor of the psychological brutality of loneliness in the old west and the violence that was part of existence. Mabel Albertson gives the character everything she has within her, brings her to life, and makes her one of the most unforgettable personalities to ever appear on Gunsmoke or any other television series in history.”

Photo: cscottrollins.blogspot.com
The Tom Ewell Show

She was offered a role as a permanent cast member in The Tom Ewell Show in 1960. The premise of the show is that real estate agent Tom Potter played by Ewell must learn to live in a household of females including his wife, his three girls and his mother-in-law Irene played by Albertson. Even their dog, Mitzi, was a girl. Although Mabel’s brother Jack would be best remembered for his role on Chico and the Man, he appeared on this series with his sister in 1960. The series aired 32 episodes before it was canceled.

Photo: findagrave.com
Jack Albertson

I’m not sure where she found time for Broadway during this decade, but she was in The Egg in 1962 and Xmas in Las Vegas in 1965.

While her career began to slow down in the seventies, she was still quite busy, appearing in The Doris Day Show, Ironside, Marcus Welby, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, among others. She appeared in an episode of Arnie with her brother in 1970. She also worked with her daughter-in-law, Cloris Leachman, in the movie Pete and Tillie in 1974.

Photo: pinterest.com
Frank, I feel a headache coming on

Her family continued to attract talented actors. Her granddaughter-in-law was actress Sharon Stone.

In 1975, Mabel was forced to retire. Her memory was beginning to fail, and she was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. She passed away from the illness in 1982.

Photo: pinterest.com

Like Milton Frome, I was both sad and disappointed to learn how little information there was about Mabel Albertson. I thought I would learn more about her working relationships considering she had a fifty-year career and played iconic mother roles on so many well-loved shows.

As we wrap of this edition of What a Character! series, my hope is that you recognize and acknowledge these actors when you see them when tuning in to your favorite classic shows and remember how much they contributed to our television history. Personally, to keep Mabel’s memory alive, I think any time we are having a family situation, I will turn to my husband and whisper, “Frank, take me home, I’m getting a sick headache.”

Get Ready to Be Bowled Over: The Greatest Bowling Episodes

Along with Labor Day this year, September 3 is Bowling League Day. It’s also a good reason for me to put together a list of my favorite bowling episodes. Bowling has been a staple on television since shows first started airing. Let’s look at a few of the best ones.

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Tom and Jerry

One of the first programs to be set in a bowling alley was Tom and Jerry in “The Bowling Alley Cat” from 1942. It was originally seen in theaters and later debuted on television. A play on the phrase “alley cat,” the animated show is directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

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This is a fun setting to watch the duo’s antics. Jerry hides in a bowling ball and then skates down the alley. Tom slips trying to catch him. Eventually Jerry makes it to the end of the lane and waves from behind a pin. Tom tries to throw a ball to hit him as Jerry has to jump behind different pins to keep from getting hit. Jerry bats one of the balls back to Tom using the pin as a bat. Tom’s thumb gets stuck in a ball as he tries to release it and he is propelled all the way down the lane. Quickly acting, Jerry pulls the pin setter down and Tom looks like one of the pins. Tom drops a ball on his foot at one point trying to get Jerry out of one of the holes. These escapades continue until Tom is sent down the alley again knocking over all the pins. Jerry hops onto the desk and records a strike on his scorecard.

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Ozzie and Harriet

In 1953, in an episode titled “Bowling Alley,” the Nelsons are sitting around the living room. David and Ricky decide to go play basketball. Ozzie and Harriet are discussing how many people have colds. Harriet thinks Ozzie is coming down with one. He feels fine, but then her friend Mary stops by. The girls decide to go to the Emporium shopping. When Harriet asks Ozzie to drive them, honest Ozzie feigns a cold to get out of taking them. His neighbor Thorny stops by and convinces him to go bowling because the high scorer for the day gets a case of Ginger Ale. It’s not Thorny’s night, and Ozzie beats him four games in a row,  winning a whopping $.20. Just as the guys are changing their shoes, Thorny spies Harriet, and they make a quick get-away. Relieved, they get home before her and no one is the wiser. Of course, Ozzie is the high scorer and the next day when the pop is delivered to the Nelson home, Ozzie confesses. He calls everyone he knows to brag about his achievement.  Harriet doesn’t have the heart to tell him that the high score was her game.

 

The Flintstones

One of the most famous bowling scenes is from The Flintstones’ third season, “Bowling Ballet.”  Wilma has her work cut out for her getting Fred off to his job. When the lunch whistle blows, Fred meets Barney to practice bowling. Fred feels he is out of rhythm and his timing is off. After driving into a fence, dropping a rock on a truck at work, and having a bowling ball hit his toe, he decides he needs help. Mr. Slate tells him the employees are betting double that his team will win the bowling championship. That night Fred sees a commercial for the Bedrock Dance Studio airing the promise to help someone get their rhythm back. Fred signs up for classes. A few days later, Fred calls in sick.  The girls spy him ballet dancing in the basement. Wilma assumes he’s been seeing another woman since he’s been gone every night. Betty promises that Barney will follow him that night to make sure it’s not another woman. When Barney calls Wilma and Betty to say Fred is dancing, they assume he’s with another woman and go to check it out. Fred’s secret is out. The night of the big championship, the team faces the Rockland Rockets. Fred’s first ball is a gutter ball.  Barney puts on some music so Fred can bowl while dancing ballet, and he gets a strike. The Water Buffaloes take home the first prize.

 

 

That Girl

That Girl’s “This Little Piggy Had a Ball” episode aired in 1967. The show begins with a group throwing their friend Sharon a surprise party for an award she won.  However, Sharon has been called to Hollywood for an audition, so she chooses Ann to accept the award for her. Don and Ann are supposed to go bowling, so Don agrees to write an acceptance speech for her while they’re there. While Don is writing, Ann reads a bowling magazine and reads an article about a man who bowls with his feet. While demonstrating, she gets her big toe stuck in the ball. No matter what they try, the bowl stays stuck. The owner throws away the magazine because Ann is the fourth person to get a ball stuck on their foot that week. He puts axle grease on her toe but nothing he does helps her. Ann is sure the fire department can help her. The crew was at a fire, and the underwater diver who was at the station cannot find a way to help her either. Ann makes Don take her to the hospital emergency room. The doctor she sees is convinced that his doctor friend set him up and this is a prank.  When he is convinced that she is a real patient, he diagnoses her with an excited toe and gives her muscle relaxers to help her toe come loose. She is supposed to take one every half hour but her neighbor Leon, an obstrician,  realizes she took three in the first hour and he decides to cut off the bottom half of the ball so there is a flat surface and put a cast over the the rest of it, so she can walk, and they sober her up. Rob Reiner and Terri Garr show up at the banquet as acting friends and give Ann a hard time about her cast. Sharon wins the prize, and when Ann goes up to accept the award, the ball and cast fall off.

 

The Odd Couple

In 1974 the question was “To Bowl or Not to Bowl.” Felix and Oscar’s bowling team, the Bon Vivants, are battling the Kingpins for the championship game. This is the first time in five years the Bon Vivants have had an opportunity to be in the final game. The episode begins with Oscar telling everyone they need to practice every night and complaining to Murray and Vinnie about how bad they were. Felix hates the pressure and quits the team. Oscar makes it clear he’s mad at Felix, and Felix tries to get him to talk it over. When Felix still says he won’t bowl, Oscar refuses to discuss it. The other team sticks to the rule that a bowler cannot be replaced. The next night, the boys play poker. Oscar decides to play without competition to teach Felix a lesson. Felix wins the round but since there is no competition, the next round goes back to even and no one wins any money. The guys discuss the fact that Felix always has an ailment when a competition is on the line. They decide his real problem is psychological. Murray brings a healer to talk to Felix whose back is hurting. After the guys leave for the bowling alley, Felix decides to go and bowl with the team. The other team is also short a man because on of their players is getting married, so they decide each of them can substitute someone but they can’t agree on two people they can use. Part way into the game both Felix and the groom show up to finish bowling with their teams. They are down to the final frame. Felix can win with his final ball, but as he gets ready to let it go, his back goes out and the teams start arguing. Felix lectures everyone. He rolls the ball down the aisle while laying down. He wins and the team is so excited they all run off so the losing team can buy them a drink, but they forget about Felix who can’t move and has to crawl off the lane.

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Laverne and Shirley

In another season 1 episode, “Bowling for Razzberries,” the girls are in the championship game in 1976. Laverne dislikes Karen, who gives tours at the brewery and torments her. Shirley convinces her to get even with Karen by beating her team at the company bowling night. Laverne coaches the girls about their abilities during practice. Laverne doesn’t criticize Shirley because she always over reacts and takes it personally. Shirley convinces Laverne to give her some tips and when she does, Shirley quits. Shirley realizes Laverne is coming down with a cold and tries to convince her not to practice with her fever. Leonard shows up with a pink ball and his fingers were stuck in there.  He made a comment about Karen’s body, and she slammed the ball on his hand. On the day of the championship, Carmine stops by to tell them he, Lennie and Squiggy bet on their team to win. Shirley calls the doctor to stop by and see Laverne. The doctor is young and good-looking. Laverne puts on lipstick while he scrubs up. He gives her some cold medicine and tells her she needs bed rest till Monday.  To keep Laverne inside, Shirley hides all her clothes while Laverne is sleeping and joins the team again. A sergeant comes collecting clothes for the needy. Laverne tells her she has no clothes, and the sergeant gives her her clothing, keeping her cape and hat. The Hot Shotz are playing the Big Shotz. Shirley finds and old lady from the brewery to fill in for Laverne. In order to participate in the game, Laverne decides to take the medication which leaves her muscles jerky. She shows up at the bowling alley in the sergeant’s clothing. Laverne gets worse as the night goes on. In the last frame, she needs six pins to win. Squiggy, Carmine, and Lenny carry her in her chair to the lane. She wins the game for her team but is too tired to tell Karen what she thinks of her. She asks Shirley to do it and Shirley congratulates her, using good sportsmanship. The next day, Laverne tries to convince Shirley to go to Karen’s house and give her the “razzberry” Laverne wanted to the night before. Shirley calls her on the phone and does so, making Laverne proud. There are a lot of similarities between this episode and The Odd Couple episode discussed above. That’s not too surprising since Garry Marshall produced both shows.

 

 

Ellen

In “Bowl, Baby, Bowl” in 1996, the cast ends up at the bowling lane. Paige and Spencer decide to meet at the bookstore since it’s located half way between the hospital and her studio. Before Paige gets there, Spencer gets called back to the hospital. To reward the employees for their good work at the store, Ed decides to take everyone bowling. Ed is very competitive and names his bowling ball “Rolling Thunder.” The rest of them are just there to have fun, and they goof around more than bowl seriously. They attract a crowd and in the last frame, despite her lack of skills, Ellen wins. After Ellen beats him, Ed gets mad. He cancels Ellen’s day off. When she tries to talk to him, he challenges her to a game of pool at his house the next day. That morning, Paige shows up at Ellen’s to surprise Spencer with breakfast. Before they can eat, Paige has to go to the studio and Spencer gets a page from the hospital. At Ed’s house, Ellen trash talks while playing pool.  Ed wins, but Ellen is a bad loser. The next morning at the bookstore, Ellen challenges Ed to who can drink the hot coffee the quickest.  After burning their mouths, they decide on a final game of bowling to break the tie. Ed’s young daughter Emily asks to bowl for Ellen in the final frame. After saying no, Ellen gives in and hands her the ball, talking about the fact that winning is not the important thing, how you play is. Emily granny rolls the ball and wins for Ellen. Ed and Ellen call a truce but when Ed’s wife takes the girls to the arcade, the game is back on as those two run to the arcade to beat each other. The show ends with Spencer and Paige finally getting some time together.

 

Modern Family

In “Knock ‘Em Down” in 2015, Jay agrees to sub for Cam’s bowling team. Cam conveniently forgets to mention that it’s an all-gay league. Cam wants to beat his nemesis Martin Sherman. Gloria and Mitchell are bragging about how late they will stay out since they are going out on a night on the town with Haley. Cam and Jay bet them $10 that they’ll be home before they are. As Mitchell and Gloria begin dancing, Cam tells them they’re dancing to the Antique Roadshow theme. When Cam tells Jay everyone has to be gay on the team, Jay says no one will ever believe he is gay. Martin approaches Cam and tells him he’ll beat him again and hopes to see Cam try to throw a chair that is bolted down like last year which hurt his back. Jay dislikes Martin and agrees to bowl. Martin questions Jay’s being gay, so Cam tells him to “up his gay game.” Cam tells Martin Jay is acting a bit weird because he has a crush on Martin. Jay really plays up to Martin to throw him off his game. Near the last frame, Martin tries to ask Jay out and he turns him down which keeps Martin from bowling well. After they win the game, Jay talks to Martin and tells him he turned him down because he’s not gay.  Martin thanks him for revealing it and then has Cam’s team disqualified.

Meanwhile, Phil can’t sell a house in the neighborhood because the house across the street has an obscene statue in the front yard. All the neighbors hate it, including the new neighbors whom Phil and Claire dislike. That couple ask Phil and Claire to go out to dinner, and they can’t find a nice way to say no. Phil and Claire consider the couple a bit “low class.” Phil and Claire are embarrassed that the neighbors they don’t like brought their own wine. But when they wave the waiter over for glasses and he takes it out of the bag, it’s a very expensive bottle that the restaurant doesn’t have. Then they mention their son is going to Julliard for piano playing and composing.  The neighbors say they can tie rope around the statue and haul it away. Phil gets in the car and tries to stop them. As he pulls off, he doesn’t realize he’s in reverse and he backs over the statue. A policeman stops by to talk about the statue; luckily Phil knows him and they aren’t questioned.

Meanwhile, Haley tells Gloria and Mitch that they can’t go out for a few hours because no one goes out till 10 and the band sometimes doesn’t go on till midnight. As Mitchell and Gloria wait to go out they are already falling asleep. They start dancing to stay awake. When Haley comes back with wristbands they are sound asleep. They get up and go to the club with her but realize they can’t stay up any longer and leave.

 

These episodes are a handful of the shows that aired during the 75 years between 1942 and 2015, but they are my favorites. Other shows that featured fun bowling episodes are Happy Days, Looney TunesMike and Molly, Roseanne, The Big Bang Theory, and The Brady Bunch.

If you can’t find any of these great shows to watch today, gather a few of your friends together and get a game of bowling in. Have a ball! Just keep your toes out of it.

Go Green, Green Acres That Is

In the 1950s, a lot of the top shows were set in residential or suburban areas:  Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, the Donna Reed Show, and December Bride to name a few.  In the early 1960s, the rural sitcom became the hottest genre.  In 1963 The Beverly Hillbillies was #1, Petticoat Junction was #4, and The Andy Griffith Show was #5. Filmways offered Paul Henning the chance to produce a new rural show with no pilot necessary.  Filmways was created in 1952, and the company was behind many successful shows including The Debbie Reynolds Show, The Pruitts of Southampton, Mr. Ed, The Addams Family, and Cagney and Lacey.

Paul Henning approached Jay Sommers to create the new rural comedy. Sommers based the series on a radio show he had written in 1950 —  Granby’s Green Acres.  Granby was based on a book, Acres and Pains by S.J. Perelman. The radio show only lasted for 13 episodes and starred Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet. Granby was a former banker who moved to the country to run a farm.  He also had a daughter, and the general store owner was a major character, Will Kimble, played in the first episode by Howard McNear. A couple of titles proposed were Country Cousins and The Eddie Albert Show, but the final decision was Green Acres.

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Green Acres ran on CBS from 1965-1971 with solid ratings. It produced 170 episodes, all filmed in color.  Richard Bare directed most of the shows. At the end of each episode, Eva Gabor would say “This has been a Filmways presentation dahling.”

While the Beverly Hillbillies took a family out of the mountains and put them in Beverly Hills, Green Acres went with the opposite scenario.

The premise of the show was that Oliver Douglas  who had been a busy attorney in New York City decides he wants to move to the country to run his own farm. His wife Lisa  does not agree. He buys a farm unseen in Hooterville. We are never told where Hooterville is, and I think everyone has their own idea of which state it might be in. The house and farm are more run-down and dilapidated than Lisa ever imagined in her worst nightmare.  The citizens of Hooterville are a quirky set of characters.

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The debut show was done as a documentary narrated by John Daly, a former newscaster and the host then of What’s My Line.  Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor appeared on What’s My Line later in the fall as a thank you to Daly. As you can see below, Oliver’s mother is horrified by his choice.

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The theme song is memorable and tells the backstory of the Douglases:

Oliver: Green Acres is the place to be – Farm living is the life for me –Land spreading out so far and wide – Keep Manhattan, just give me the countryside.

Lisa: No, New York is where I’d rather stay – I get allergic smelling hay – I just adore a penthouse view – Darling, I love you but give me Park Avenue

Oliver: The chores

Lisa: The stores

Oliver: Fresh air

Lisa: Times Square

Oliver: You are my wife

Lisa: Goodbye city life

Both: Green Acres, we are there

Snippets of country and New York city were shown while the stars sing, and ends with both of them in the same pose as “American Gothic” by Grant Wood.

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Like the Andy Griffith Show, the series worked because of the interaction between these Hooterville citizens who become believable for us. Let’s meet the cast of characters.

Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) – Oliver is intelligent, hard-working, and practical to a fault.  He has to deal with a kooky wife, a disapproving mother (played by Eleanor Audley who was only 5 months older than Albert), and the quirky neighbors that surrounded him. However, Oliver has a respect for the wisdom these people have about farming and rural life.  Despite the fact that he seems to be the only sane person in the valley, it’s obvious he truly has an affection for the folks he lives with.

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Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) – Lisa grew up in a wealthy Hungarian family. Her misuse of the English language is one of her endearing qualities. She has a hard time adjusting to farm life.  In one episode she is using a stapler to fix Oliver’s socks.  While Oliver is telling her how woman for centuries have sewn socks, Fred Ziffel, the most experienced farmer in Hooterville enters the room and tells her he notices she is mending socks; his wife does it the same way. Despite the fact that Lisa did not want to leave the city, she adapts to living in the country quickly and develops an understanding with the neighbors Oliver never attains.

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Eb Dawson (Tom Lester) – Eb is the farmhand who lives with the Douglases.  He comes off as naïve, but we understand Eb is much smarter than he lets on.  He is always trying to get less work for more money.  He calls them Mom and Dad which Lisa loves but drives Oliver crazy.

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Mr. Eustace Haney (Pat Buttram)- Mr. Haney is the unethical and dishonest salesman who originally sold Oliver the farm, which belonged to his family. He is always showing up to sell them something they need at outrageous prices. [Pat Buttram was Gene Autrey’s sidekick in the movies and tv; Smiley Burnette, Charley, who runs the Cannonball, the local train on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, was Autrey’s sidekick in radio and movies and  Buttram replaced him when he moved on.]

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Sam Drucker (Frank Cady) – Sam was a busy guy; he ran the general store, he was the newspaper editor, was the only printer in town, he was part of the volunteer fire department, he was the justice of the peace, and he’s the postman. Apart from Oliver, he was the smartest and most sane person in the valley, and he and Oliver often commiserated about the crazy life going on around them.

Hank Kimball (Alvy Moore) – Mr. Kimball was the county agricultural agent who was supposed to help Oliver adjust to farming. He often loses his train of thought and rarely follows through on the news or information he is supposed to relay.

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The Monroe Brothers – Alf (Sid Melton) and Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield) are a brother and sister team that Alf portrays as brother and brother in order get work. Their projects are never finished on time, and rarely finished the right way.

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Fred and Doris Ziffel (Hank Patterson and Barbara Pepper/Fran Ryan) – the Ziffels were successful farmers.  They had no children, but they had a pet pig that they considered a son.

 

Arnold Ziffel – Arnold Ziffel was their pet pig and one of the most intelligent people in Hooterville. He understands English, attends the local grade school, lives inside in his own bedroom, can sign his name, and is a bit addicted to television watching, especially westerns. A new pig was used each season because they grew so fast. The Union demanded the pigs be payed $250 a day and were trained by Frank Inn. In 1967 Arnold won a Patsy award.

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Some of the other animals featured on the show included Eleanor the Cow; Bertram the rooster; Alice the hen; and Mr. Haney’s dog, Cynthia, a basset hound who had a huge crush on Arnold.

Green Acres had its fair share of guest stars including Parley Baer, Robert Cummings, June Foray, Alan Hale Jr., Elaine Joyce, Gordon Jump, Bernie Kopell, Al Lewis, Rich Little, Al Molinaro, Pat Morita, Jerry Van Dyke, and Jesse White.

The show was 25% surrealism, 25% satire, and 50% just plain fun.

Some of the running gags on the show were the fact that people, except Oliver, could see the credits running, and Lisa often commented on them. A lot of the jokes were at Oliver’s expense.  He was the only one in town who could not understand Arnold’s grunts. Also, whenever Oliver got passionate about something, he went into a monologue, usually patriotic, and everyone but him could hear fifes playing.

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Lisa’s hotcakes were good for many projects, just not eating. The Douglases had a feud with the phone company because they were supposed to move their phone inside.  Whenever they had to use the phone, Oliver had to climb up a phone pole to talk. Oliver had a Hoyt-Clagwell tractor which was usually breaking down, catching on fire, or falling apart.

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We also had the stark extremes of sophisticated New York living and rural life.  Lisa continued to dress in beautiful gowns and furs.  They slept in a huge, expensive bed, with an elaborate chandelier over their heads, but their closet had no back so neighbors walked in on and off. The fire department marching band often practices at Sam Drucker’s store but for all five years whenever they practice, they only know one song, There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.

Although Lisa continues to threaten to move back to New York City, aided and abetted by Oliver’s mother, we know she loves him and will never leave without him.  Despite their arguments, Lisa and Oliver are frequently seen kissing and hints are given about them retiring to their room together. In real life, Albert and Gabor were dear friends and they are both buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Tom Lester, Eb, credited Albert with helping him as an actor and being a surrogate father to him; the two remained close friends until Albert passed away.

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There are many cross-overs with Petticoat Junction and the Beverly Hillbillies. Sam Drucker was featured in both Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. Some of the characters visited each other on various episodes. It is funny that Bea Benaderet starred in Petticoat Junction as well as the radio show Granby’s Green Acres which means Green Acres was based on her radio show and was a spin-off of her television show. In 1968, a Beverly Hillbillies Thanksgiving Show united cast members from all three shows.

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With 170 episodes, it’s hard to come up with the best five, but after looking at various polls and tv guide reviews, I will do my best to represent the majority’s votes:

“Music to Milk By” – Eb wants to win a radio contest and he has to listen day and night which cuts into his chores, especially when the cow swallows the radio.

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“I Didn’t Raise My Pig to be a Soldier” – Arnold Ziffel gets a draft notice. Oliver acts as his attorney before the draft board. They are assuming Oliver is making fun of them with the pig and the real Arnold is elsewhere. After a lot of explanations and some time in jail, Oliver convinces them Arnold is really a pig.  The end of the show has Oliver back before the draft board because Ralph Monroe, a woman, who they think is a man, has been drafted.

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“The Hooterville Image” – The town agrees Oliver needs to do chores in overalls. He has been farming in a vest and dress shirt. They finally convince him to become more accepted by switching his attire until they see the overalls Lisa’s dress designer came up with.

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“The Computer Age” – Ralph Monroe joins a computer dating service. Oliver and Lisa disagree on whether that is a good idea. Oliver thinks it is. He also thinks computers are the best way to run a farm. To prove her point, Lisa uses the service to see if she and Oliver would have been paired up.

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“A Star Named Arnold is Born, Parts 1 and 2” – Arnold appears in a play at the local theater. Lisa arranges for an old friend to give him a chance in show business. In the second part, Lisa and Oliver chaperone his trip to Hollywood to star in a motion picture.

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Oddly enough the top four were all from season 2, and “A Star Named Arnold Is Born” is from season 3.

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In Spring of 1971, Green Acres was still pulling in good ratings.  However, the Rural Purge of 1971 got rid of all shows that had country leanings whether they were audience favorites or not.

 

In full disclosure, I loved Petticoat Junction growing up, and I could not stand the Beverly Hillbillies.  I thought Green Acres was okay but if I missed it that was okay too.  As I’ve gotten older, I still love Petticoat Junction, and I still don’t care for the Beverly Hillbillies, but I have developed a much greater appreciation for Green Acres.  If a show was capable of having a sense of humor, this one did.   It never took itself seriously.  Eddie Albert was willing to be the straight guy to the rest of the ensemble. The character interaction worked, and no dialogue came off as too zany.  The citizens might not have always agreed or understood each other’s lifestyles, but they had affection and respect for each other. Lisa’s reading the credits and different characters addressing the audience brought us in on the jokes and made us part of the Green Acres family. Now when I watch the show, I laugh out loud – a lot! I don’t laugh at the characters, I laugh with them. For being a rural sitcom, this show has some sophisticated humor.  If you have not watched the show in a while, you owe it to yourself, as well as the cast and crew who created it, to get to know the folks in Hooterville.

 

Why I Love My Three Sons and My 3 Sons

 

Happy Birthday to me! Since it is my birthday today, I decided my gift to myself was to write about my favorite television show, My Three Sons.  The show was on the air from 1960-1972, for a total of 382 episodes. It debuted on ABC, and in 1965 it moved to CBS. The show was based on a widower, Steve Douglas, who is an aeronautical engineer trying to raise three boys after his wife’s death.  Her father, Bub, moves in to take over the housekeeping duties.

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Although Don Fedderson often gets credit for developing My Three Sons, the show was created by George Tibbles and produced by Don Fedderson Productions. When the series moved to CBS in 1965, the latter network assumed full production responsibilities (in association with Fedderson Productions) until the end of the series in 1972. CBS now holds the series’ copyright.

George Tibbles wrote for a variety of shows and penned the Woody Woodpecker Song, recorded by Kay Kyser. Some of the episodes he wrote for My Three Sons include “Chip Off the Old Block” (1960), “Bob in the Ointment” (1960), “Countdown” (1960), “Birds and Bees” (1961), “Tramp the Hero” (1961), “Mike in Charge” (1961), “Bud Gets a Job” (1962), “Stage Door Bub” (1964), “Charley and the Kid” (1965), “Brother Ernie” (1965), “Moving Day” (1967), “Robbie Loves Katie” (1967), “Inspection of the Groom” (1967), “The Great Pregnancy” (1968), and “Instant Co-Worker” (1969).

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Peter Tewksbury directed the first season. These early episodes held to no specific generic type, so that any episode from one week to the next might be either comedic or dramatic. Tewksbury’s episodes are also unusual for their use of cross-talk (a way of having the voices of off-screen characters heard in the background of the soundtrack, just under the voices of the main characters). Using this clever directorial twist, Tewksbury realistically portrayed the chaotic, fast-paced, and ever-changing sequence of events that was the daily routine of living in the Douglas household.

An example of Tewksbury’s use of cross-talk is the fourth episode, “Countdown,” which chronicles the Douglas family’s attempts to wake up, prepare for the day, have breakfast, and get out of the house by a common, agreed-upon time, all carefully synchronized to a televised rocket launch countdown – to comical and often ironic effect. Once the entire family was ready, they realized it was not a week-day and they had been running around like crazy for nothing. Tewksbury returned to directing feature films after concluding the season because the producers could not handle his perfectionist attitude, which was costing thousands of dollars in lost time and reshoots.

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The succeeding director, Richard Whorf, took over the reins for one season and was in turn followed by former actor-turned-director Gene Reynolds from 1962 to 1964. James V. Kern, an experienced Hollywood television director who had previously helmed the “Hollywood” and “Europe” episodes of I Love Lucy, continued in this role for two years until his untimely death in late 1966. Director James Sheldon was also contracted to finish episodes that had been partly completed by Kern to complete that season. Fred De Cordova was the show’s longest and most consistent director of the series (108 episodes) until he left in 1971 to produce The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Earl Bellamy rounded out the series as director of the show’s final year.

When the show was first created, potential writers were told to emphasize the following elements: originality, simplicity, honesty, legitimacy, natural comedy, seriousness of premise, scope and character development.

I love the first episode – it not only established the family relationships, but set the direction the comedy would take. This was a family who might tease each other unmercifully but also knew they could always count on each other no matter what the situation was. The family members were far from perfect but they were realistic.

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One of the most memorable parts of the show was the theme song. Lawrence Welk’s version of the instrumental theme song, written by Frank De Vol, peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961.

In 1960, Fred MacMurray was one of the most respected and highest-paid actors in Hollywood.  It was almost inconceivable that he would star in a television show. The role was originally offered to Eddie Albert who turned down not only this role, but Wilbur Post on Mr. Ed as well. MacMurray took on the role when he was guaranteed that he would only have to spend 65 days a year filming the show. What was referred to as the MacMurray Method was 65 days of consecutive taping with the rest of the cast having to film around these scenes later. He was also given a 50% ownership in Don Fedderson Productions.

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MacMurray was a very down-to-earth guy.  His grandfather immigrated from Scotland.  He was born in Illinois in 1908 and grew up in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. He worked in a canning factory and for an American Legion band, went to Carroll College, and earned money playing in a band there. After his first wife, Lillian Lamont died, he married June Haver, a former actress who left a convent to marry him.  They adopted twin daughters. They had a 200-acre ranch on the Russian River and his interests included his workshop, building picture frames, painting water colors, golfing, watching some television, and cooking. Hedda Hopper’s description of him was, “He’s as down to earth as applesauce or the boy next door.”

When Barry Livingston was asked about him, he said, “He was basically a guy from the Midwest, Midwest sensibilities, and even though he was super, super wealthy, just really had modest taste and just really wanted to be accepted as your average Joe.  I mean, he drove a Pontiac station wagon that happened to be our sponsor. . . his wife would pack a brown-paper-bag lunch.”

Steve Douglas was known for his cardigan sweaters. Steve was always ready with guidance, gentle words, and loving wisdom.

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William Frawley, best known as Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, accepted the role of Bub. He was an expert on barbershop quartets. In 1958, he made an album, “Bill Frawley Sings the Old Ones.” He was 68 in 1961 and had spent 28 years in Hollywood, 46 as a performer.  He grew up in Burlington, IA where his father sold real estate.  At 21 he landed a job in a musical chorus in Chicago. He married in 1916, divorcing Louise in 1927 and never married again. In 1933, he moved to Hollywood with a long-term Paramount contract. His old friends include Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Gallaudet.

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Timothy Considine played Mike, the oldest son on the show. He was a former child actor and young adult actor of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He later became a writer, photographer, and automotive historian. Considine’s most noted acting roles were in the 1955–1957 Disney TV serials Spin and Marty (he played Spin) and The Hardy Boys (he played older brother Frank opposite Tommy Kirk as Joe), both of which appeared in 15-minute segments on the Mickey Mouse Club; and in the Disney motion picture The Shaggy Dog. Considine is an automobile historian, photographer, and writer who specializes in motor sports. He is the author of The Photographic Dictionary of Soccer, The Language of Sport, and American Grand Prix Racing: A Century of Drivers and Cars. He has also filled in for the late William Safire as writer of the “On Language” column in The New York Times Magazine.

Tim Considine quit the show after arguing with Don Fedderson.

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Don Grady, who played middle son Robbie and was the brother of actress Lani O’Grady, got 8 times the fan-mail the other boys did, mostly from young girls. Grady was born Don Louis Agrati in San Diego, California, the son of Mary B. (née Castellino), a talent agent, and Lou Anthony Agrati, a sausage maker. He grew up in Lafayette, California before being signed by Walt Disney and leaving the area. He graduated from Burbank High School in 1962.

Grady appeared on 20 different tv series before 1972, including two episodes of Love American Style. During production of My Three Sons, Grady appeared with his own band The Greefs on the series, writing two original songs for the show.

After My Three Sons ended in 1972, Grady pursued a musical career. His works included music for the Blake Edwards comedy film Switch, the theme song for The Phil Donahue Show and for EFX, a Las Vegas multimedia stage show which starred Michael Crawford, David Cassidy, Tommy Tune, and Rick Springfield. As a stage performer, he starred in the national tour of Pippin and had roles in Godspell and Damn Yankees.

He passed away in 2012 from cancer.

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Stanley Livingston took on the role of Chip (Richard), originally the youngest son. He was named for the scientist Stanley Livingston. His parents moved from Baltimore to LA to open a furniture store. He was one of the kids riding trikes and fire engines on “You Asked for It.” In 1957, he was recommended as a double for Jon Provost on Lassie by Mrs. Loven, who taught him to swim. Tina Hill was his first agent, and Lois Auer was his first drama coach. He and Barry were neighbor kids on Ozzie and Harriet.

By age 11, he earned $20,000 a year. He shared that, “The food on My Three Sons is lousy. The prop man cooks it. The eggs are sticky and the potatoes are lumpy.  It’s so bad we try to get eating scenes on the first take.”

John Stevens was a production/coordinator in 1961. In TV Guide in 1962, he was quoted, “Because of the way we shoot around MacMurray, filming My Three Sons is a jigsaw puzzle for an adult. We once shot all the scenes in the upstairs hall and bedroom from 21 scripts, one after the other. In one, Stanley would have to be happy over something in a comedy, and five minutes later, said in a melodrama. I never once saw him rattled, confused or upset.”

In 1965, the fourth season, Frawley retired due to poor health, dying a year later. Wm Demarest, Bub’s brother, the boys’ uncle and a former sailor took his place. To explain Considine’s absence, Mike married his long-time girlfriend and accepted a job as a college professor. Ernie entered the family and was officially adopted.

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William Demarest started in show business at age 9. He was involved with vaudeville, Broadway, movies (150) and television. In 1899, he and his brothers were musicians. He played the cello, wearing velvet suits, Rubinstein played the piano, and George the violin. He was born in St. Paul in February 1892 and then moved to New Jersey where his parents separated. Later in life he went to LA and entered the army during WWI, eventually becoming a sergeant. In 1927, he was a Warner’s New Comedy Find. In his first picture, Finger Prints, a silent, he was a gangster. He appeared in 24 movies in two years. He appeared in The Jazz Singer and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Jolson Story. In 1930, he headlined a bill with an orchestra, the CA Collegians who had a sax player named Fred MacMurray. In 1933, he went back to Hollywood and stayed. He was a talent agent before appearing in Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. He can’t remember how many movies he did, but his 100th was Pardon My Past with MacMurray. They were also in Hands Across the Table. His retirement plans were to move to a home he and his wife Lucille had on the 12th fairway at Canyon Country Club in Palm Springs.

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Barry Livingston debuted on the show as Chip’s friend Ernie, an orphan. Barry began his career as a child actor in the late 1950s. He considers his film debut a role he won as one of the sons of Paul Newman in the film Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (1958) with his older brother Stanley who by this time was already working as a child actor. He was let go from the film when he was told that he needed to get glasses to successfully correct his astigmatism. His first professional onscreen appearance was in a small, uncredited role in the 1961 film The Errand Boy, followed by roles in The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, on The Dick Van Dyke Show and (as “Arnold Mooney,” son of banker Theodore J. Mooney portrayed by Gale Gordon) on The Lucy Show. In 1965, he joined the cast of the ABC sitcom My Three Sons as next door neighbor Ernie Thompson.

His older brother, Stanley Livingston, was already a series regular as Chip Douglas. Livingston joined the cast permanently (his character was adopted into the family, keeping the show’s title intact) and remained with the series until its end in 1972.

After the series run of My Three Sons ended in 1972, Livingston continued his acting career with 142 acting credits.  Most recently he appeared as a jury member in Trial and Error.

In October 2011, Barry Livingston released his anecdote-filled autobiography, The Importance of Being Ernie (Citadel Press) — detailing his career from My Three Sons to Mad Men and beyond.

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To boost ratings, the family moved to Hollywood, CA in 1967. The family’s home in California was previously featured as the farm in Gene Autry’s 1940 musical Melody Ranch. Located on the Republic Pictures backlot, the barn was given a suburban facade in the 1950s. It wasn’t that far from Gilligan’s lagoon, which was also on the lot.

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Robbie meets his future wife in California, and they eventually marry and have triplets. The triplets posed some issues.  They had to find two sets of twins so three could be on camera and one on reserve.  They had to be born between June 17 and 24, have light hair, blue eyes, and be California residents.  They could only be on the set for 2 hours a day, in front of the camera only 20 min and each exposure could not last more than 30 seconds due to the bright lights.

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Tina Cole played Katie but she was not a rookie on the show. She previously appeared on three other episodes as three different characters before taking the role of Katie Miller Douglas. She was also a member of the Four King Cousins, a subgroup of the King Family Singers. In 1963 she played the minor (uncredited) role of Ruth Stewart in Palm Springs Weekend, a spring break party film set in Palm Springs, California. After leaving television, Cole was the director of the Sacramento Children’s Theatre. She was an acting coach at the John Robert Powers acting schools in Roseville and Elk Grove, California and in 2013 returned to on screen acting. She has several movies coming out in 2017.

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In 1970, another change occurred in the family. Steve goes to school to talk with the substitute teacher about Ernie.  After being gone hours, with Ernie extremely worried, Steve comes home only to realize they never even brought up Ernie’s behavior and they had another date scheduled. They ended up marrying, and Barbara’s daughter Dodie moves into the house.

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Beverly Garland had a long acting resume when she accepted the part of Barbara. Her hobbies were flower beading and crewel work. She starred in her first show Decoy in 1958 in New York where she played a tough police woman. Born Beverly Fessenden in Santa Cruz, CA in 1930, she was an only child. She took violin lessons. At 18 she married Bob Campbell, 20 in Vegas. They divorced 4 months later. She worked odd jobs, summer stock, and commercials. She married Richard Garland but they divorced in 1953. In that same year, she won an Emmy for Medic. She appeared in a variety of shows – Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Dr. Kildare, and The Farmer’s Daughter. She married Fillmore Pajeau Crank, a widower with two kids in 1960, and the couple had two more children.

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Dodie was played by Dawn Lyn, the real-life sister of 80s pop idol Leif Garrett. Dawn Lyn made her acting debut at the age of four. She was the original Prudence in the pilot for Nanny and the Professor. By the time the pilot sold, Dawn had been released from her contract and cast as Dodie in My Three Sons. The Nanny producers sued unsuccessfully to get her back. She worked steadily to financially support her family until her mid-teens. She says at that time her petite stature began to work against her.

Dawn decided to branch out of acting and has done many things over the years, including owning a boutique on Pier 39 in San Francisco. Though she has not actively pursued acting, she has not totally closed the door on the idea either.

Later in the season, Chip elopes with his girlfriend Polly Williams.

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In 1964, Ronne Troup, who played Polly, was working as a television background extra appearing (uncredited) in some fourth season black-and-white episodes of My Three Sons in classroom scenes featuring co-star Don Grady. She also worked as an uncredited extra in classroom scenes on Gidget. She appeared, uncredited, as a teen party guest in the Bob Hope film I’ll Take Sweden in 1965. In 1966, she made her film debut as part of the all-girl ensemble in Columbia Films’ The Trouble with Angels, where she is prominent in the graduation scene. In December 1966 (at age 21), she was cast as Sister Bertrille and had begun filming the pilot for Columbia/Screen Gems’ The Flying Nun when she was dropped after the studio’s first choice Sally Field finally agreed to accept the role.

In 1968, she played the role of Leslie Hayden in Danger Island, the cliffhanger serial that was featured on the Banana Splits Adventure Hour children’s program on Saturday mornings.

She appeared on Family Affair in 1970 in the episode “Desert Isle: Manhattan Style.” She was subsequently offered the role of Polly Williams Douglas, wife of Chip Douglas on My Three Sons, a role she played for two years (1970–72). In the Season 4 episode of The Partridge Family entitled “Hate Thy Neighbor” (1973), she appeared as Donna Stevens, the daughter of the new family who move in next door to the Partridges.

She continued acting through the 1990s.

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I have always felt that My Three Sons doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It consistently focused on character development. Problems do occur in the Douglas household – the boys fight and call each other names.  Real problems come up. The show ran for 12 seasons. The issues were the ones we all faced growing up – not often major but important to young people.

The show survived cast and location changes without sacrificing quality. Bub left and Charley came on board. Mike got married and moved away so Ernie took his place. The family moved from New York to California.  Robbie met Katie, went to college, and had a family of his own. Chip married and moved out of the house. Steve eventually remarried also, gaining a daughter.

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I grew up with the Douglas family and appreciated what I learned from the show.  Many critics of the show complain about it, along with many of the 1960s sitcoms, being too warm and fuzzy. I do understand that some kids in the 1960s and 1970s were exposed to awful home situations with abuse or addiction, but that was not reality for most kids.  I too experienced living with alcoholism and the strain it caused on my parents’ marriage, but most of the issues I had to deal with were the same ones as the kids on the show:  why the boy I liked didn’t know I existed, that I told a white lie to get out of doing something I didn’t want to do, or that a friend had said something to hurt my feelings.  That was reality for me and my siblings.

The characters were fully developed and became friends and people we chose to spend time with every week. This show was on when I was born and continued on the air until I was in 7th grade – that covers a lot of nurturing lessons during those needy years. The writers did a lot of fun quirks I don’t see on other shows.  On one show I remember, Charley playing Solitaire and almost every time someone walked in the room, they pointed out a move.  It was not addressed, but continued to happen just like in real life.  In one episode, Ernie was trying to do something in the background; I forget what the actual detail was, but he was struggling to accomplish it as the other characters interacted.  His issue was never referred to; it was just there. I also appreciate in this era of shows where it isn’t unusual to spend thousands and thousands of dollars each episode on costumes, My Three Sons was more realistic.  The cast got a wardrobe for the season.  You would see them wearing the same clothing over and over just like we did.

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After I grew up, the show continued to resonate with me, although I later identified more with Katie and Robbie and later with Steve. Steve Douglas was always a father figure in my life. On our first date, Dan and I went back to my place and watched My Three Sons which TV Land aired later at night. When I became pregnant with our first child, I gave him a Steve Douglas cardigan to announce the event. I began to collect My Three Sons memorabilia, including a radio that sat in the Douglas kitchen, even though we only had two boys.  Nine years after our first son was born, we found out we were unexpectedly pregnant, and I did end up with three sons.  Our youngest was named Seth, for a variety of reasons:  Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve, but also because Seth Bryant was the founder of Bryant Park where the Douglas boys grew up. My Three Sons will always have a special place in my heart, and it’s one of the shows I can watch episodes over and over and find something new each time.

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The Perennial Popularity of 1960s Christmas Shows

Ask a variety of people from ages 6-106 and they will tell you it’s just not Christmas until they have seen Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman.  They may have other favorites on their list but all ages can agree on these four.  In our house, The Ozzie and Harriet Nelson episode, “Busy Christmas” is a given every December. Recently I heard sportscaster Bill Michaels say that he saved a night for hot chocolate and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We all have those “other” shows that are on our must-see list. However, even with the Nelson show, the animated specials from the 1960s have to be seen at least once or there’s not as much fa-la-la in the house.  Let’s look at each of the four.

 

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1964

Rudolph is born to Donner the Reindeer and Donner’s wife. He is discovered by Santa to have a shiny, glowing red nose. Donner, regardless of Rudolph’s defect, trains him to be a normal reindeer with skills such as gathering food and hiding from the “Abominable Snow Monster,” a giant, furry white beast. To hide Rudolph’s nose, Donner puts dirt on it to cover it with a black coating. This causes Rudolph to talk in a funny accent. Rudolph joins his peers at the Reindeer Games, where he meets Fireball, who is initially friendly and Clarice, a female spectator who takes a liking to Rudolph. Clarice’s flirtation inspires Rudolph to perform better than all of his peers at flying, but in his excitement he knocks the black cover off his nose, revealing a red glow that causes Fireball and the others to turn against him; this distraction, in turn, prompts the coach (Comet) to ban Rudolph from the Reindeer Games. Clarice remains loyal to him, only to be ordered by her father not to shame the family by associating with “a red-nosed reindeer.”

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Rudolph soon runs into Hermey, an elf who was forced out of his job at the North Pole’s toy factory; Hermey showed a total lack of interest in the toy making and singing aspects of being an elf and instead wanted to pursue dentistry. They come to the conclusion that they’re both misfits and decide to run away together. On their aimless journey, they run into Yukon Cornelius, the self-described “greatest prospector of the North” who nevertheless seems to never find any silver or gold, and attempt to stay away from the Bumble, an abominable snow monster. Their journey leads them to the Island of Misfit Toys, where toys go when they are abandoned by their owners. King Moonracer, the winged lion that lords over the Island, refuses to let them stay there permanently, instead telling the trio to return home and tell Santa Claus of the toys’ plight, in exchange for one night’s stay on the island. Rudolph refuses the offer and, fearing for his friends’ life, runs off alone.

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A now older Rudolph, still unable to find a place in the world, returns home to the North Pole, only to find that his family and Clarice had left to look for him and are now about to be eaten by the Bumble. With the help of Hermey and Yukon, who have come to look for him, they lure the Bumble away and pacify him by knocking him unconscious and allowing Hermey (with dental skills he has acquired by reading books) to remove his sharp teeth. Everyone eventually returns to Santa’s workshop, where a dismayed Santa Claus breaks the bad news that the weather is too bad to take the sleigh out and that Christmas would be canceled. Santa changes his mind when he notices Rudolph’s red nose and asks Rudolph to lead the sleigh team, which he happily accepts.

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965

The special begins on a frozen pond, put to use as an ice rink by the Peanuts cast, who skate together as the song “Christmas Time is Here” is heard over the opening credits.

It’s Christmas season, and Charlie Brown is depressed. He confides in Linus this fact, citing his dismay with the over-commercialization of Christmas and his inability to grasp what Christmas is all about; Linus dismisses it as typical Charlie Brown behavior at first. Brown’s depression and aggravation only get exacerbated by the goings-on in the neighborhood. Though his mailbox is empty, he tries sarcastically to thank Violet for the card she never sent him, but Violet just uses the opportunity to put Brown down again. Eventually, Charlie Brown visits Lucy in her psychiatric booth. Lucy, after presumptively diagnosing him with various phobias and admitting she wants real estate as a Christmas gift, determines that Charlie Brown needs more involvement and recommends that he direct a Christmas play. On his way to the auditorium, he finds Snoopy decorating his doghouse for a neighborhood lights and display contest. Continuing onward, he runs into his sister Sally, who asks him to write her letter to Santa Claus. When she hints at having an extremely long and specific list of requests, and says she will accept money as a substitute (“tens and twenties”– a massive amount for a child of Sally’s age in the 1960s), Charlie Brown becomes even more dismayed.

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Charlie Brown arrives at the rehearsals, but he is unable to control the situation as the uncooperative kids are more interested in modernizing the play with dancing and lively music. Thinking the play requires “the proper mood,” Charlie Brown decides they need a Christmas tree. Lucy takes over the crowd and dispatches Charlie Brown to get a “big, shiny aluminum tree.” With Linus in tow, Charlie Brown sets off on his quest. When they get to the tree market, filled with numerous trees fitting Lucy’s description, Charlie Brown zeroes in on the only real tree on the lot—a tiny sapling. Linus is reluctant about Charlie Brown’s choice, but Charlie Brown is convinced that after decorating it, it will be just right for the play. They return to the auditorium with the tree, at which point the children (particularly the girls and Snoopy) ridicule, then laugh at Charlie Brown before walking away. In desperation, Charlie Brown loudly asks if anybody really knows what Christmas is all about. Linus, standing alone on the stage, states he can tell him, and recites the angels’ message to the shepherds from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verses 8 through 14 … ending with “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

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Charlie Brown quietly picks up the little tree and walks out of the auditorium, intending to take the tree home to decorate and show the others it will work in the play. When he arrives, he stops at Snoopy’s decorated doghouse, which now sports a first prize blue ribbon for winning the display contest. He puts an ornamental ball on the top of his tree; the branch, with the ball still on it, promptly flops over to one side instead of remaining upright, prompting him to declare “I’ve killed it” and run off in disgust at his perpetual failure. Linus and the rest of the group, along with Snoopy, quietly arrive outside Snoopy’s doghouse. Linus goes up to the tree and gently props the drooping branch back to its upright position, wrapping his security blanket around the tree. After they reconsider their previous stance, they add the remaining decorations from Snoopy’s doghouse to the tree and start humming “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Charlie Brown returns, surprised at the humming and the redecorated tree, as his peers greet him with a joyous “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” The entire group joins to sing the first verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” as the special ends.

 

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 1966

The Grinch is a bitter, grouchy, cave-dwelling creature with a heart “two sizes too small” who lives on snowy Mount Crumpit, a steep high mountain just north of the town of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos. His only companion is his unloved, but loyal dog, Max. From his cave, the Grinch can hear the noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Annoyed, he decides to stop Christmas from coming by stealing their presents, trees, and food for their Christmas feast. He crudely disguises himself as Santa Claus, and forces Max, disguised as a reindeer, to drag a sleigh to Whoville. Once there, the Grinch slides down the chimney and steals all of the Whos’ Christmas presents, the Christmas tree, and the log for their fire. He is briefly interrupted in his burglary by Cindy Lou, a little Who girl, but concocts a crafty lie to effect his escape from her home.

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The Grinch then takes his sleigh to the top of Mount Crumpit, and prepares to dump all of the presents into the abyss. As dawn breaks, he expects to hear the Whos’ bitter and sorrowful cries, but is confused to hear them singing a joyous Christmas song instead. He puzzles for a moment until it dawns on him that “maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more” than just presents and feasting. The Grinch’s shrunken heart suddenly grows three sizes. The reformed Grinch saves Max from possible death and returns all of the Whos’ presents and trimmings and is warmly invited to the Whos’ feast, where he has the honor of carving the Roast Beast.

 

Frosty the Snowman, 1969

One day in a school shortly before Christmas, an inept magician named Professor Hinkle is hired to perform for the children. Following this, the children go outside for recess and build a snowman, whom they name Frosty. However, Hinkle’s rabbit Hocus Pocus, escapes from the building while wearing his hat, which the children decide to put on top of Frosty’s head. To their surprise, the magic of the hat causes Frosty to come to life.

This delights the students, but after seeing that the hat is actually magic, the agitated Hinkle wants it back. The children refuse to turn it over to him, but he eventually gets it. After he leaves, Hocus returns the hat to the children, thus bringing Frosty to life for the second time. The children are very happy with their new friend, but the temperature is rising and Frosty must leave for somewhere that is colder. Frosty explains that the only place he won’t melt is the North Pole. They parade through town to the train station, shocking passersby and a policeman. When they get to the station however, they find that they do not have enough money to buy tickets to the North Pole. So, Karen, Frosty, and Hocus sneak into the back of a train headed north. Hinkle also sneaks aboard, determining to get his hat back.

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While Frosty is safe from melting in the refrigerated car, Karen is freezing so the group leaves the train and Hocus gathers a group of woodland creatures to build a fire for her. Frosty knows that it is best if Karen is brought home and he and Hocus decide to enlist the help of Santa Claus to transport her there. Hocus leaves to search for Santa, but Hinkle comes back and tries to take Frosty’s hat by force. Frosty and Karen make a getaway from Hinkle, and race down the hill to a small greenhouse used to grow poinsettias. Frosty carries Karen inside where she will be warm and safe. However, Hinkle has followed them on foot and locks the door after Frosty and Karen go inside.

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Hocus brings Santa to the greenhouse only to find Karen crying over a melted Frosty. Santa explains to Karen that Frosty is made of Christmas snow and can never melt away. He then opens the greenhouse door which revives Frosty. However, Hinkle arrives, once again claiming that the hat is still his. Santa scolds Hinkle for being greedy, warns him that if he takes the hat, he will never get another Christmas present from him for the rest of his life. Hinkle begs for another chance and Santa tells him that if he starts acting nicer and writes a formal apology, he might reconsider and possibly give Hinkle a new hat for Christmas, to which an overjoyed Hinkle runs home to write his apologies. Afterward, Santa takes Karen home on his sleigh and brings Frosty back to the North Pole, keeping his promise to her that Frosty will return every year when Christmas snowfall comes around.

What is it about these specific shows that have earned them staying power for 50+ years? I think that there are five factors that ensure their must-see status.

One, each has special music we associate with the show and Christmas, in general.  “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is the song the animation is based on.  A Charlie Brown Christmas features “It’s Christmas Time,” along with the rest of the soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. Who could forget the words to “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch”?  And of course there is “Frosty the Snowman.”

Two, the animation is well done, colorful, and eye-catching, great voices, and exceptional characterizations.

Three, each Christmas special has a lesson. Rudolph teaches us it’s not only okay to be different; those gifts are what makes each of us unique and special. Watching Charlie Brown, we learn that over-commercialization is not the theme of Christmas.  Seems like a lot of us still need to learn this lesson. The Grinch becomes aware that Christmas is not about things, but a feeling of joy. Frosty provides an awareness that Christmas is a magical time and incredible things can happen.

Four, the shows are still marketed.  Part of the success of these shows can be explained by the advent of DVDs.  However, other Christmas specials are available on DVD without the staying power of these four.  Just looking at my Christmas tree reminds me of the potential marketing each of these shows still enjoy. I have several ornaments of the characters on the Rudolph special; we have an entire set of Peanuts Christmas ornaments; a talking Grinch graces our tree that was purchased last year; and we have several Frosty ornaments.

Five, nostalgia might explain some of the popularity but new generations of kids continue to be caught up in the joy of watching these shows year after year.  There were several Frosty sequels and a Rudolph sequel that never attained the popularity of the original shows. It’s more the feeling that they instill in us.

I’m not sure about you, but in looking back over the Christmases of my life, I can’t recall a lot of the gifts I’ve received, although there were many special presents. For me, when I reflect back on Christmas and what makes it heart warming there are several things that come to mind:  attending church late at night on Christmas Eve with the candles and the Christmas hymns, listening to my favorite Christmas songs, the colored lights on houses and trees, the department store windows that were decorated when I was little, and decorating frosted cookies.  It’s those feelings that are conjured up again when I watch these four specials.  I was only 3 when Rudolph came out and I was 8 when Frosty debuted, but I can’t recall a Christmas without these shows.

There are not a lot of things I have been able to count on being there with me for over 50 years, but these four shows are on that list. Watching my grandson the day after Thanksgiving when he was watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas makes me happy that he expressed the same feelings about these shows and hopefully his children will as well.

I hope you’ve been able to enjoy these shows this year, but I have to end this because I have a few Christmas specials to catch up on.

A Haunting We Will Go

The leaves are full of color and falling off trees, and every Friday night brings the sound of cheering and marching bands at high school football games.  That must mean that Halloween is right around the corner.  Sadly, the real evidence that Halloween is coming is all the Christmas decorations for sale in the stores, but that’s another discussion.

Let’s look at some of the best Halloween episodes from my favorite television shows from the past fifty years.

The Brady Bunch – “Fright Night” 1972

This spooky episode aired October of 1972.  The girls wake up in the middle of the night by mysterious sounds and a ghost hovering outside their window.  When their parents investigate the mystery, and find the attic window open, they assume it was the wind making a rocking chair move.  What they don’t realize is that the boys were pulling a prank on the girls. Marcia suspects the boys, so the girls come up with a prank of their own that includes having the boys sleep in the attic. Mike and Carol put a stop to the pranks. Alice mentions that she does not scare easily, so the kids team up to put her to the test. Alice thinks a burglar is in the house, and when she sees a bust that Carol has been sculpting of Mike for an art contest, she hits it, thinking she has the thief. Carol and Mike come home in the middle of the melee, lecture the kids, and take their allowance for two weeks as a punishment.

 

Cheers – “Fairy Tales Can Come True” 1984

It’s Halloween at Cheers and the regulars come in costume.  Cliff as Ponce de Leon starts up a conversation with a woman dressed as Tinkerbell.  They dance to “Moon River” and in character, they easily charm each other.  The next day when they are supposed to meet out of costume, Cliff gets the jitters.  “Tinkerbell” finally calls to say that she is nervous for the same reasons, and she slowly comes down the stairs to meet Cliff.  They pick up where they left off, dancing to “Moon River” as themselves. The subplot has Frasier out of town so he suggests Sam and Diane go to the Boston Pops concert as friends, their first time alone together since their break-up.

 

Dick Van Dyke – “Ghost of a Chantz” 1964

After Mel mixes up reservations at a lodge, Rob, Laura, Sally, and Buddy are forced to spend a night at an allegedly haunted cabin. They were told it’s haunted by Amos Chantz, who disappeared three years before, presumed to be murdered. Dispelling the haunted theory, the four friends take the cabin only to find a fireplace that lights itself, a creaky door, a rocking chair that rocks itself, and a mysterious face in the mirror.  Everyone but Rob is abducted by hooded figures. Anyone who watched Scooby Doo probably saw the end coming.  Suddenly, the face in the mirror becomes Mel Cooley and he reveals that the group was set up for a new hidden-camera program called “Sneaky Camera.”

 

Friends – “The One with the Halloween Party” 2001

Monica and Chandler decide to host a Halloween party. Monica wants him to dress as the Velveteen Rabbit, his favorite childhood book, but all she can find is a pink rabbit, more like Harvey.  His costume doesn’t seem so bad next to Ross who is Sput-nik, a cross between a satellite and a potato. Phoebe and Monica come as Catwoman and Supergirl and get into an argument about whether Ross or Chandler would win a fight.  Ross and Chandler have an arm-wrestling match and it goes on so long that Ross asks Chandler to let him win and he does. Rachel, in the meantime, is handing out candy to children.  She bores the first group with a fashion story, and when one girl finally likes her, she gives her all the candy and is forced to give money to the rest of the trick-or-treaters.  Finally Gunther arrives with more candy. Rachel decides she might not be ready for motherhood.

 

Happy Days – “Haunted” 1974

Ralph hosts a Halloween party each year, and this year he wants to hold it at the old Simpson House, rumored to be haunted. He asks Richie to check out the house when he takes Joanie to her Junior Chipmunk meeting.  At the house, Richie thinks he sees a headless ghost in the closet.  Richie goes to the party nervously.  He comes as a skeleton, Potsie is Superman but with an “F” on his chest, Ralph is Alfred Hitchcock, Fonzie is the Lone Ranger and his date is Tonto. Potsie and Ralph set Richie up with a date which turns out to be the dressed-up dummy in the closet which scared Richie originally. The show ends with Marion and Joanie sorting candy.  One good line comes from Howard who says that their carved pumpkin looks like Aunt Bessie.

 

Home Improvement – “The Haunting of Taylor House” 1992

This show is made up of a lot of small, funny moments. On “Tool Time”, Tim carves a pumpkin and instead of a small knife, uses power, always a disaster. At home, Tim turns the basement into the Catacombs of Terror, his version of a haunted house. Tim dresses as a woman, Jill as a carrot, Brad as Raggedy Andy, and Mark as his father.  Brad’s girlfriend, dressed as a biker chick, brings another guy to the party because she thinks Brad was insensitive. Tim makes it his mission to scare the poor boy as often as possible.

 

M*A*S*H – “Trick or Treatment” 1982

Halloween night 1953 finds the gang of the 4077th at a party at Rosie’s with Hawkeye as Superman, B.J. as a clown, Margaret as a geisha girl, Col Potter as a cowboy, and Klinger as Al Capone. Winchester, who doesn’t care for Halloween, is on surgical duty. Two marines need treatment, one for getting a pool ball stuck in his mouth and one who tried to punch an electrical fan at the party.  Party plans are put on hold when wounded arrive.  One man appears to be dead and has a toe tag.  However, Father Mulcahy realizes he is alive before the grave registrars take him away.  Like most M*A*S*H episodes, this one as some laugh-out-loud moments with bittersweet realizations of life in the trenches.

 

Mr. Belvedere – “Halloween” 1986

The subplot is that George, the always funny Bob Uecker, is about to join the Happy Guys of Pittsburgh on Halloween night, but George and Marsha discover the club has a dark side. Heather comes into the kitchen with a sexy French maid costume that her parents forbid her to wear to the school party.  When they leave the house, she puts it on anyway.  When she comes home and her parents are in the living room, she is wearing a suit of armor.  She tells them she disobeyed them and the senior guys gave her so much attention that she traded costumes.  Before we learn whom she traded with, her brother Kevin enters the house telling her she owes him as he is dressed as a French maid. Out of character, Mr. Belvedere goes wild toilet papering a house while taking Wesley trick or treating.

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Modern Family – “Halloween” 2010

Claire has decided to go all out completing a haunted house.  Phil, after learning their neighbors just divorced, worries that he needs to be more spontaneous to keep their marriage healthy.  His attempts all fail. Mitchell is happy to learn he can wear a costume to work, but after wearing Spiderman, quickly pulls a suit on over it when employees say only losers wear costumes. Gloria is mad at Manny and Jay making fun of her accent. When the haunted house starts, nothing goes right.  Alex is a bad actor as a prisoner, Cam keeps talking about his traumatic Halloween story, Jay can’t get the timing for the special effects, and Gloria has adopted an “English” voice. When trick or treaters are not scared, Claire walks out. Phil goes to talk to her and realizes their marriage is fine.  She was consumed by the haunted house because other family members have taken over Christmas and Thanksgiving which she used to host, and all she has left is Halloween. By the time they get back inside, the rest of the family has fixed the problems with the haunted house.

 

Newhart – Take Me to Your Loudon” 1987

George wants to dress up for the holiday, so he talks Dick and Joanna into having a party. George shows up as the Cowardly Lion, Dick as the Tin Man, Joanna as Vampira, Stephanie as a Princess, and Michael as a Canadian Mountie. This episode featured a take on Orson Wells narration of “The War of the Worlds”. Michael replays the radio episode, thinking everyone knows what it is, but many of the town residents believe they are being invaded. The town thinks Bob is the alien infiltrator.  He tries to explain it’s an old radio gag. When Darryl, Darryl and Larry show up and hear what everyone thinks, Larry says even he wouldn’t fall for that.

 

Ozzie and Harriet – “Halloween Party” 1953

Ozzie is not in the Halloween spirit.  His neighbor Thorny reminds him about all the fun holidays they’ve had in the past.  The boys decide that the problem is nobody plans anything so they take over preparations for the party. Ricky shows up in a skeleton costume because it makes him look thin and people feel sorry for him and give him more cake and ice cream at the school Halloween party. Ozzie comes to the party as a devil and Thorny is a Scotsman. Their wives let the guys know they just forgot two minor details: a location for the party and food!

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Yes Dear – “Halloween” 2001

On Halloween night, Greg has to wear a hot dog costume because that’s what Sam picked for him when he and his mom went to look for costumes.  Sam is a kitten and Kim a genie. Sam is scared by a neighbor.  When she says she’ll get candy, it’s the cue for her son to jump out of the bushes as a Wolfman. Sam begins crying, and his parents decide to get revenge on the family. They do the polite thing and write a letter.  They hide to watch the family’s reaction, only to see the couple laugh hysterically.  They decide to get eggs, toilet paper, and shaving cream instead.  Unfortunately, they had grabbed hard-boiled eggs, and they break a window.  To avoid being caught, they hide in the family’s car in the backseat. As they’re hiding, the mother hops in the car to drive to Las Vegas.

One thing I learned from reviewing these episodes, is that writers have a hard time coming up with creative Halloween titles; hence the title “Halloween” for one-fourth of these shows and the unimaginative “Halloween Party” and “Haunted” for two other episodes. If you want to celebrate Halloween by watching some of these fun shows, you’ll have to invest in DVDs.  Antenna TV is showing the Addams Family all day on Halloween and a variety of episodes on Sunday.  The only episode from this blog they have scheduled is Mr. Belvedere. Me TV will show “Trick or Treatment” from M*A*S*H on Sunday night.  On Halloween they are running their normal schedule but including Halloween episodes when available, so you can see the Brady Bunch’s “Fright Night.”

Before leaving Halloween episodes I do have to give a big shout-out to Last Man Standing for their Halloween show this year.  In order to get the family to abandon having Halloween parties, Mike talks everyone into dressing as each other, realizing that this will cause numerous hard feelings and no one will want a party in the future.  The party starts out that way but then the family has to tell Vanessa she was fired due to expenses and as they all gather around to make her feel better, she is so happy that she declares they will have a party every Halloween.  The impersonations they cast does of each other and the detailed costumes are worth watching the show for.

Next week on Halloween, we’ll take a closer look at the Halloween episodes of Bewitched.