I Married Joan: Fans Said I Love Lucy

This month my blog theme is “Don’t Judge Me.” We’ll take a look at sitcoms featuring judges. The first show on the docket is I Married Joan. Debuting on NBC in 1952, the show starred Joan Davis and Jim Backus and was typically described as the marriage of a respected judge and his scatterbrained wife, Joan and Bradley Stevens. It ran for three seasons and produced 98 episodes.

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The early shows begin in the judge’s chambers where he recalls one of his wife’s wacky adventures followed by the episode and ending with the judge summing up his tale of his wife’s mishap and its similarity to a case he was working on. It was very similar to I Love Lucy; however, this show featured more slapstick comedy by Davis. Marc Daniels directed both shows. The shows also were both filmed in Los Angeles at General Service Studios and debuted October 15 (one year apart). Time hated the show—“It might have better been left on the shelf.” Variety, on the other hand, found it filled with “comic zest and vitality.”

I Married Joan was created and produced by Joan Davis Enterprises. She was a successful businesswoman and a workaholic. Joan earned $7500 a week; in today’s equivalent, that would be about $70,000 per episode. Joan was apparently not a very easy person to work for or with.  Sherwood Schwartz wrote about a third of the episodes. (He would later go on to create The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island.) He did not care for Davis and said that Joan made one of the writers stick close to her when they ran through the show because she often wanted a better joke substituted. Jesse Goldstein also wrote a third of the shows. He had written for Burns and Allen and Red Skelton.

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Other actors also complained about working with Joan. Apparently, Backus detested her because she was not kind to the crew and fellow actors. Sandra Gould (who would later appear as Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched), Hal Smith, and Hope Summers (who both showed up in Mayberry as Otis the drunk and Bee’s friend Clara) confirmed Backus’ stories. There are a couple of other stories floating around that Joan once slapped a child for asking for her autograph and threw a temper tantrum at a salon, knocking over a bottle of bleach. Backus had worked with her on radio before signing on for this role, so I’m surprised he had not been aware of her work abuses before. She was described as a bit quiet and shy in her non-work life and spent her spare time fishing, golfing, watching boxing, or reading her extensive gag files.

Rounding out the cast were Dan Tobin as their friend Kerwin, Geraldine Carr as Mabel, Sheila Bromley as Janet, Sandra Gould as Mildred and Hal Smith as Charlie.

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For seasons two and three, Joan’s daughter Beverly Wills played Joan’s sister on the show. I guess it was a family affair because Henny Backus, Jim’s wife, also had a role on one episode as Mrs. Bunker.

The plots were about what you would expect on a show from this time era. In one, Joan and her friend admire each other’s houses and decide to swap for a week which quickly cures them of their envy. When Joan finds a dress that her husband is hiding for a friend for his wife; she assumes it is for her and “alters” it–a lot. In one episode, Joan wonders what life would be like if she had never married. In another show, she realizes she doesn’t have enough chicken to serve when Brad brings unannounced guests home. Any of these plots could have come from Burns and Allen, The Ann Sothern Show, Our Miss Brooks, or The Life of Riley.

Photo: wikipedia.com

However, in one show, Joan crawls into an enormous commercial soup pot in order to spy on the kitchen crew to learn the recipe for a chef’s famous soup. As you would expect, all the ingredients suddenly begin to get thrown in all around her. Even reading this description, you can picture Lucille Ball in the predicament. Perhaps this is another reason the show didn’t succeed. It was just too similar to the top-rated show in the nation.

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Many people remember the theme-song lyrics.

I married Joan
What a girl, what a whirl, what a life.
Oh I married Joan
What a find, love is blind, what a wife!
Giddy and gay, all day she keeps my heart laughin’
Never know where her brain has flown.
To each his own
Can’t deny that’s why I married Joan.
I married Joan!

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For the entire three seasons it was on the air, it was up against Arthur Godfrey and His Friends on CBS and news shows on ABC for seasons one and two. The show did so-so in the ratings for the first season. The second season the ratings increased to the number 3 show. Part of it might have come about from the negative publicity Arthur Godfrey got when he fired Julius LaRosa. The third season Disneyland was on ABC, and the ratings declined again. The ratings were especially low in the New York market, so the show was cancelled. Howdy Doody had just gone off the air, so reruns of the show replaced the popular kids’ show in the mornings. Jim Backus had signed a three-year contract and declined to come back; I’m not sure if that contributed to the cancellation of the show or not.

Photo: wikimedia.com
With guest star Bing Crosby

Joan Davis tried to get a few other sitcoms on the air in later years; one interesting idea was for a woman astronaut who was training for a flight to the moon. She officially retired in 1959 and passed away in 1961 after suffering a heart attack.

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Jim Backus would go on to have a very successful career. He would cross paths with Sherwood Schwartz again when he accepted the role of Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island. A fun aside is that when the I Married Joan sets were later re-used, Backus’ lines were found written in various places.

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As I noted earlier, the theme for my blog this month is “Don’t Judge Me.” In that spirit, I am trying not to judge Joan Davis too harshly without learning more about her as a person. One thing I have learned in writing television blogs for so long is that several of my favorite characters were not my favorite people; I decided long ago that I could adore the character and abhor the actor. Fortunately, most of the actors in classic television were wonderful people.

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I do remember watching this show in reruns in the late seventies and early eighties. It was not really my cup of tea, but I am not a big lover of slapstick comedy. Most of the fans that bought the DVDs (91%) gave the series 5 stars and made comments like “extremely funny,” “I couldn’t stop laughing,” and “clever writing and great comic acting.” If you are an I Love Lucy fan, you should probably give I Married Joan a try. There are worse ways to spend an evening.  

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.