Friday, July 18, 2014

While I was out…


I’ll say this much for eBay: though they may be a wretched hive of scum and villainy, they occasionally redeem themselves by offering the occasional “free listing fees” promotion, and that’s why things have been so quiet here on the blog of late.  I worked like a fiend to get listings prepared for over 300 items that I am hawking right this very minute (click here if you’re curious and/or interested), which I don’t mind telling you decimated the holdings in the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives.  I told the matriarch in the Shreve household that this is it—any further requests for money and she’s going to have to do that “dancing for change” thing I mentioned in this previous post.  (This will not be easy, as her partner is notoriously tone-deaf and has to count out the steps when they’re tripping the light fantastic.)

The response to the auctions has been encouragingly positive: if on the off-chance that you bought something from me and I didn’t recognize you allow me to thank you here on the blog.  (Longtime friend of the blog Mike Galbreath procured a couple of discs for his collection, and I can share with you the knowledge that you not only tossed a few coins in my guitar case but the tin can of my BBFF Stacia, who was in dire need of extra funds herownself.  (Something cat-related—I didn’t get the full details.)  The painstakingly painful paperwork (dig the alliteration) involved in putting together the auctions has left me lazy and in need of a bit of R&R; I’ve got enough energy to complete a couple of outside assignments but it looks as if I’ll have to pre-empt Serial Saturdays for another week.  (If I’m able to complete my other work in time there might be a visit with Doris on Monday…but I make no promises.)

In the meantime, I thank you profusely for putting up with the dearth of witty, scintillating TDOY material and hopefully I’ll get things back on track soon.  If you’ve got a free moment, you can check out my birthday tribute to radio and TV’s “supermom” Harriet Hilliard Nelson at the Radio Spirits blog…and double feature reviews of The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) and Two of a Kind (1951) at ClassicFlix.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The John Ford Blogathon: The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936)


The following essay is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to The John Ford Blogathon, currently underway from July 7-13 and hosted by Vulnavia at Krell Laboratories and Anna at Bemused and Nonplussed.  For a complete list of participating blogs and the films/topics discussed, click here.  And here.  (And herehereherehere…and here.)


A famous line in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) from a reporter (Carlton Young) who’s listened with rapt attention at how tenderfoot-lawyer-now-Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) accomplished the titular task in that film sums up the oeuvre of director John Ford better than a thousand essays on his works: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”  Take, for instance, the 1946 Western classic My Darling Clementine—the epic tale of lawman Wyatt Earp.  If you took your cues from a cherished Leave It to Beaver rerun—whereupon Beav writes a book report on Dumas’ The Three Musketeers merely by watching the 1939 Ritz Brothers romp—and used Clementine as your main source…chances are your history teacher would flunk you after s/he had gotten up off the floor from laughing.  Clementine is inaccurate as all get-out…and yet it’s far more entertaining than, say, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)—which does pay a bit more attention to the historical record (even though Corral, too, fudges a few facts).

Such is the story of The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), John Ford’s biopic on Dr. Samuel A. Mudd—history’s best-known victim of circumstance.  In the Ford film, the good doctor receives a visit one night from two strangers in need of medical treatment—one of the men has a badly broken leg.  Unfortunately for Mudd, that night just happens to be April 14, 1965…and the man with the busted limb is John Wilkes Booth (Francis McDonald), who’s about to achieve his fifteen minutes of fame after popping a cap in President Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn Sr.) in Ford’s Theater, not even allowing him the courtesy of seeing the end of the play.  The next day, as soldiers are engaged in a manhunt for Booth, two of them stop by Casa del Mudd…and discover the doc’s young daughter Martha (Joyce Kay) playing with the boot that Mudd had to cut off of JWB to attend to his leg.  Mudd is arrested for conspiracy in the assassination of Lincoln, and though convicted, escapes the execution sentence afforded the other conspirators—he is instead sentenced to life imprisonment at the East Coast “Devil’s Island”: Fort Jefferson, located in the Dry Tortugas Islands off the coast of the Florida Keys.

Fort Jeff is nicknamed “Shark Island” in the film’s title because the 75-foot wide, 35-foot deep moat surrounding the military prison is teeming with the critters—as described in a tutorial by one of the prison officials, a sadistic little piece of work known as Sergeant Rankin (John Carradine).  Meanwhile, Mudd’s wife Peggy (Gloria Stuart) and her father, Colonel Jeremiah Milford Dyer (Claude Gillingwater), learn from a judge (J.M. Kerrigan) that the doc’s conviction would never stand up in a civil court; if Peg and the Colonel can get Sam to Key West, a writ of habeas corpus could facilitate a new trial and win the medico his release.  So Peggy and Colonel Dyer wait by boat as Mudd and Buck (Ernest Whitman), a former slave working at the prison, attempt an escape.  Mudd manages to make it to the ship, but Rankin and his men quickly recapture the prisoner…killing Peggy’s pa in the process.

Redemption for Mudd arrives when he’s asked by the commandant (Harry Carey) to assume the duties of the prison doctor (O.P. Heggie), who succumbs to a bout of yellow fever courtesy of a colony of mosquitoes that have taken up residence at Fort Jefferson.  Mudd himself contracts the malady, but manages in his delirious state to command the fort’s gun crew to fire upon offshore boats carrying the medicine and doctors needed to cure the “Yellow Jack.”  For his actions in stamping out the prison’s epidemic, a recommendation of executive clemency is sent to the President on Mudd’s behalf, and the film ends with Mudd and Buck reunited with their respective families.

One of my favorite bits in The Prisoner of Shark Island: Our Ganger Matthew "Stymie" Beard plays one of Buck's (Ernest Whitman) dozen rugrats.

It’s true that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, and it’s true that Booth sought medical treatment from Dr. Samuel Mudd while the actor was on the run.  It’s even true that Mudd was tried before a military court and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Dry Tortugas after being found guilty of aiding and abetting Lincoln’s assassin, and that Mudd was eventually pardoned (though not exonerated) by President Andrew Johnson for his part in stemming the tide of the prison’s yellow fever epidemic.  Everything else in Shark Island…well, it would appear that director Ford and screenwriter Nunnally Johnson started “printing the legend” with a roll of the opening credits (the notice that the film is “based on the life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd” should have a “loosely” inserted in there somewhere).

For example, Mudd’s wife Peggy and her Colonel dad never concocted a plan to provide the boat that intercepts Mudd once he breaks out of the prison (Mudd did make an escape attempt a couple of months after being sentenced to “Shark Island” by hiding aboard a visiting ship, but was quickly discovered before he got away).  Mudd’s father-in-law was already dead at the time of the film’s events, and his wife was named Sarah Frances, not Peggy.  Three of Mudd’s children disappear from the movie’s narrative (he had four at the time of his trial) and none of his actual offspring looked like the Cute Moppet from Central Casting in this flick.  Furthermore, Mudd was not thrown into an underground pit after being recaptured…and certainly not with his loyal retainer Buck, because none of his slaves were there at the prison to help him to escape.  And on and on and on.

Ford and Johnson argue the case for Mudd’s innocence by having the doctor challenge his accusers: “Does an assassin confide his plans to anyone?  Was I, a physician, in the plot because it was part of John Wilkes Booth’s plan to break his leg and need me?  Does a man, whose first devotion is no longer to a lost cause or to any flag that flies but to his wife and child, risk any act that could cause only misery and heartbreak on their innocent lives?”  Historians have been debating for decades as to whether or not there really was a conspiracy in the Lincoln assassination, and a strong argument could be made that following the event, enough hysteria was whipped up to ensnare Mudd in its web—a simple case of a man being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But like any good defense attorney, Ford and Johnson omit from the narrative that the assassination was originally planned as a kidnapping (which suggests he could have participated in the plot)…and that Mudd and Booth were more than just casual acquaintances (the two men had a meet-and-greet during Booth’s visit to Bryantown, MD in the latter part of 1864, with the actor becoming the doc’s overnight houseguest on at least one occasion).  Mudd’s failure to report this friendship cast a storm cloud of doubt over his innocence at the time.

I guess the reason why most of these fellows are in uniform is that their kangaroo suits didn't come back from the cleaners.

Knowledge of these events, however, shouldn’t detract from the viewing enjoyment of The Prisoner of Shark Island; the biopic is made quite interesting as a result of Ford’s skillful filmmaking, featuring common Fordian themes of community (the movie commences with a parade that ends outside the White House, where Lincoln makes a few remarks) and one-man-can-make-a-difference sacrifice.  What makes Shark Island so interesting to me is that Mudd’s devotion to the Hippocratic Oath (“First, do no harm”) is responsible for both his downfall (helping the fugitive Booth) and vindication (eliminating the prison’s yellow fever epidemic).  The acting is also first-rate; Oscar winner Warner Baxter has one of his truly outstanding roles as the anguished Mudd—I kind of chuckled, knowing that the thespian would return to the medical profession in the 1940s as the star of the Crime Doctor franchise.  Gloria Stuart takes what is unquestionably an underwritten part and transforms it into something luminous; her Peggy Mudd never wavers in both her devotion to her husband and belief in his innocence, and her scenes with kiddie actress Kay are positively enchanting (particularly when she struggles to explain the death of the child’s grandfather).

There are also a lot of familiar faces from the Ford stock company (brother Frances plays one of the prison guards, once again demonstrating there’s no place like Hollywood for nepotism), most notably TDOY fave John Carradine—who gives one of his most memorable performances as the heartless Rankin.  The smoke rings constantly blown by the sergeant suggest a Satanic essence to the man, and Carradine isn’t afraid to pull out the stops with that maniacally wicked gleam in his eye.   Rankin eventually falls prey to the yellow fever, and must depend on his nemesis to save his life…and fittingly receives salvation for insisting that he be the first to sign the doctor’s clemency recommendation while he shakes Mudd’s hand in sincere gratitude after doing so.  Harry Carey, an actor who worked with John Ford in scads of westerns during the Silent Era, had gone the character route at this time in his career and performs most admirably as the tough but fair prison commandant.

I won’t lie—I do find a few elements of The Prisoner of Shark Island disturbing: it’s one of several films in the Ford mythology (Judge Priest, The Sun Shines Bright) that presents the post-antebellum South as an idyllic paradise oblivious to Jim Crow and those devoted to the Confederate cause are venerated even if they did lose the freaking war in the first place (Gillingwater’s Colonel Dyer prattles on about “the woah of Nawthun Aggreshun” being about states’ rights, which caused my eyeballs to do a triple lutz).  The depiction of both black soldiers and slaves is troubling, presented in that casual racism so prevalent in cinema at that time; I’m surprised Ford didn’t ask Stepin Fetchit to play the role essayed by Ernie Whitman, to be honest.  But despite all this and the discordant note sounded in the film’s “comic” ending, Shark Island is a most intriguing entry on the movie resume of John Ford, who famously introduced himself by intoning “I make Westerns.”  Fans of the director know this simply wasn’t so, and if you’re up to the challenge of watching one of Ford’s most underrated works without nitpicking like a historical scholar (guilty as charged), I recommend it highly.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Montego eBay


It pains me to have to relay this bad news…but our weekly Serial Saturdays foray will have to be postponed this week, and it looks as if we’ll lose Doris Day(s), too.  When I explained that the one-day delay in Doris’ misadventures was due to that puzzling dresser drawer incident on Facebook, many of you used the occasion to demonstrate that while 10,000 comedians might be looking for work you were more than willing to do it for free.  So I hope what I’m about to transcribe here releases your inner Henny Youngman, good people.

We’re in the middle of a dodgy financial patch here at Rancho Yesteryear—well, it’s really not as dire as it sounds, though…I mean…we’re not having to eat out of garbage cans yet.  But Mater has suggested to me that it might be prudent if we had a little extra spending money to alleviate the pain of a couple of looming expenses crises…and if you’ve been reading the blog a while, you know what that means.  Yes, it’s back to the environs of eBay with my tin cup in hand, selling off bits and pieces of the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives.  I’m not wild about doing this, seeing as how my DVD library has really taken a hit in the past few years…but I’m also not crazy about watching my parents stand outside of Publix and dance for change.  So I’ve spent the past few days familiarizing myself with the phrase “Sophie’s choice,” and believe you me—as a dedicated cinephile and DVD collector it is often heartbreakingly tragic parting with movies I’d much rather keep.

I’ll be introducing items to be sold later this evening at 9pm EDT (6pm PDT), and then in the ensuing days adding more and more discs as soon as I’m able to organize a little better.  There’s a lot of used Warner Archive product that you can capitalize on, as far as discounts go…and of course, because I have a bad habit of buying DVDs and then being painfully slow to getting around to look at them, a lot of the discs remain in an unopened state.  (I will put up a “button” on the right side of the blog that will whisk you away to my eBay auctions with winged feet once the first one starts.)

Because I have to do this, it means that the normal blogging will slow to a temporary trickle whilst I juggle my outside assignments (blogathons, RS, CF, etc.) so I hope you will be patient until these storm clouds pass.  In closing, I’d like to wish my sister Debbie the happiest of birthdays and leave you with a selfie of her and my niece, brandishing her new braces.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Doris Day(s) #22: “The Musical” (03/18/69, prod. no #8509)


(This week’s installment features an anecdote from my high school days, but mostly it’s me comin’ at ya with music and fun…and if you’re not careful, you may learn something before it’s done—so let’s get ready, okay?  Hey hey hey…)

In the Mayberry R.F.D. episode “The Church Play,” bakery doyenne Millie Swanson (Arlene Golonka) is asked by the wise old men (snicker) of the town council to assume the responsibility of directing a production whose box office proceeds will benefit the local church.  (Don’t ask which church—I believe Mayberry just had one in that town, and it was most assuredly the only proper one.)  This decision causes some friction between Millicent and the former play director, town busybody and black belt Wiccan Clara Edwards (Hope Summers), who learns that Millie was—before moving to America’s favorite television town—a chorus girl living a shamelessly libertine existence in Raleigh.  (Okay, I may have gotten a few details here wrong…only because I’m too lazy to go back and check.  By the way—the DVD release of the first season of R.F.D. reveals that the footage snipped for “Church Play’s” syndication contains only additional dialogue between Millie and the kids auditioning for parts…so we really didn’t miss too much.)

I couldn’t help but think of this episode after watching this week’s Doris Day(s) installment, “The Musical”—there are enough differences to allow the writer of “Musical,” story editor Sid Morse, plausible denialbility (“I don’t even watch R.F.D.!”)…but the borrowed concept of a simple children’s play stirring up a hornet’s nest o’controversy is still pretty much intact.  Plus, Morse used the exact same idea in a script he wrote for R.F.D.’s pa, The Andy Griffith Show in 1966—“The Senior Play,” with schoolteacher/Sheriff Taylor squeeze Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut) in the unenviable position of having to deal with a fuddy-duddy principal (played in the TAGS episode by Leon Ames).


But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  “The Musical” begins at night, as we watch laird and master of Webb Farms, Buckley Webb (Denver Pyle), pulling up outside the homestead in the family station wagon.  Nelson the Stolen Sheepdog (Lord Nelson) greets Buck by clawing at the driver’s side winder (“Take me home to Ridgemont, you wanker!”) and we can see a light on in yonder widder’s bedroom winder.  Doris pokes her head out and asks her father what he’s carrying.  “Stopped by Heiner Hoops and picked up some Rocky Road,” is his reply.  (We learned in last week’s episode, “The Con Man,” that Rocky Road is Dor’s favorite.)

“Groovy,” is Doris’ reaction.  (Far out.)  And so let’s hie ourselves to the kitchen to dish up a little, shall we?

DORIS: Hey, that was a great idea!  I didn’t have much for dinner, I’m hungry…
BUCK: Well, you usually are where ice cream’s concerned…

With the metric tonnage of sweets consumed in that household I’m stunned to learn they didn’t have it for dinner.

DORIS: How was the school board meeting?
BUCK: Oh, pretty good…we voted to have the brakes realigned on the school bus…

Sounds like a practical decision.  Buck interrupts this conversation to ask Doris if she can “eat two,” and she responds “I can eat four.”  (Ice cream scoops, they’re talking about.)  “Start with two,” Buck tells her.

BUCK: And instead of a raise, we agreed to have Elmo Jensen’s title changed from janitor to custodial engineer…
DORIS: How’d he feel about that?
BUCK: He quit…

Way to stick it to The Man, Elmo!  (This is a little premature—Buck explains that “He’ll be back—he always is.”)

BUCK: Oh…uh…incidentally…the elementary school kids are going to put on a stage show…
DORIS: Oh yeah?
BUCK: Big musical…
DORIS: Oh…
BUCK: All the proceeds are going for the traveling library…
DORIS: And that’s a good cause…
BUCK: Sure is…
DORIS: I wish I could help out…

*Ping!*  And so you shall!  Doris finds out her wish has been granted when Buck lets her know he “volunteered” her to oversee the production.

DORIS: Now what did you do that for?  I don’t know anything about producing and directing a musical!

Oh, come on, Dodo—surely you must have learned something during Romance on the High Seas.  Or My Dream is Yours.  Or It’s a Great Feeling.  Buck argues that the PTA loved the way Doris took charge of the Christmas pageant, which produces the old-familiar-Doris-side-eye:


So Buck tells Doris to stick a sock in it and just eat her ice cream, prompting her to observe “No wonder you brought it home.”

“You didn’t raise a dummy for a father,” he brags.  And the scene shifts to the hallowed halls of Cotina Elementary and the office of Eric Ekstrom, school principal…played by this week’s special guest…


Give it up for Ray Teal!  One of radio and television’s busy character thesps, Teal is best known on the small screen as Sheriff Roy Coffee on the long-running Bonanza, but his guest appearances and recurring roles also number TV classics as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Wagon Train, Maverick, Cheyenne, Wide Country, 77 Sunset Strip and Lassie.  Members of the TDOY faithful might remember that Ray played a henchman in Don Winslow of the Navy (1942) whose attempt to take over in the last chapter soon set sail on The Great Lake of Fail; he also had a teensy role as Joe Burke in Raiders of Ghost City (1944).  His movie appearances include The Black Arrow (1948), Ace in the Hole (1951), The Wild One (1953), The Desperate Hours (1955), Decision at Sundown (1957), Gunman’s Walk (1958), Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and Chisum (1970).

EKSTROM: Doris, I’ve known your dad for more than forty years…

“…and to be completely honest, I never liked that son of a bitch.”

EKSTROM: …and when he tells me that you’re just a little better than Oscar Hammerstein…

“Oscar Hammerstein?  I’m better than Oscar Levant!”

EKSTROM: Well, I’ve got to assume that…uh…you can give an adequate performance of ‘Chopsticks’ on the piano…
DORIS (laughing): That’s about it, too…
EKSTROM: But the important thing is that with you at the helm…I’ll know that the show is in good hands and that it will be done in good taste…
DORIS (getting to her feet and shaking Ekstrom’s hand): Thank you—I’ll do my best…
EKSTROM: I’ll be looking forward to seeing the show…

“You’ll love it—it’s called Oh! Calcutta!  And with that, it’s back to the ranch as Dor and her loyal domestic Juanita (Naomi Stevens) hunt through a trunk in the attic for costumes and props to use in the production.  I’ll skip over most of this, owing to the fact that Juanita’s role—as always—is underwritten and unfunny; there is, however, an interesting exchange between the two women after Juanita locates this cardboard stand-up…


JUANITA: Remember when your father made this?
DORIS: Hawaiian night at the Rotary!  He looked like Hilo Hattie, didn’t he?

…would appear to be a subtle way to suggest that Juanita has always been a fixture around the Webb household—and we know this is simply not true.  Let’s get to the real reason for this attic scene, shall we?

DORIS: …I want to ask you a very important question…
BUCK: Shoot!
DORIS: Do you think that two hundred dollars for the sets for our musical is too much?
BUCK: Two hundred dollars?!!
DORIS: Two hundred dollars…
BUCK: That’s ridiculous!
DORIS (to Juanita): Isn’t that what I said?
BUCK: Who gave you that estimate?
DORIS: Oh…you know…
BUCK (muttering): Two hundred dollars…
DORIS: I think they’re raking me over the coals…look, if you made it—what would it cost?
BUCK: Well, no more than a couple of dollars’ worth of lumber and a little elbow grease…

*Ping!*  Your wish has been granted, Buck Webb!  Yes, the man who stated earlier “You didn’t raise a dummy for a father” has found himself roped into designing the sets for this extravaganza, and Doris asks him if he and ranch hand Leroy B. Semple Simpson (James Hampton) can get started right away.  I’m sort of ashamed that I laughed at this, only because I’m amused by the revelation that Doris is so all-powerful it takes very little effort to manipulate a pliable mind like her dad’s.

So after Doris and Juanita high-five Dor’s cleverness, we venture out to the barn where Buck is mixing up some paint and Leroy entertains the audience by doing this visual comedy bit:


That’s Leroy’s impression of Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah, in case you were stumped.  Leroy then begins a soliloquy on his hobby of collecting movie magazines, and schools his employer on the lingo of the movie biz:

BUCK: Don’t get carried away…this ain’t Hollywood, you know…
LEROY: Movie Town
BUCK: What?
LEROY: Movie Town, U.S.A…that’s what the folks who work out there call it…
BUCK: They do?
LEROY: Uh-huh…I read about it in one of my movie magazines…
BUCK: Uh-huh…
LEROY: They give you a lot of inside facts, you know…
BUCK: Uh-huh…
LEROY: Like…uh…you know how Granite Quarry got started?
BUCK: Like who?
LEROY: Granite Quarry…he’s been in lots of pictures…like…uh…”The Friendly Germ from Outer Space”…and…uh…”Lost in the Bottomless Pit Under the Ocean”…

“The Monster That Devoured Cleveland”—you remember Gran.  I transcribed this dialogue because it has an unmistakable Mayberryian rhythm about it; in the TAGS version, “The Senior Play,” it’s Andy and Goober (George Lindsey) who are dragooned into building and decorating the sets, and the two men have a similar movie conversation…only it gives Goob an opportunity to do his patented bad impressions, including Cary Grant (“Judy Judy Judy…”).  The dialogue exchange is also necessary because of an amusing callback joke by Doris which will become apparent in a sec.

BUCK: I don’t guess I saw those
LEROY: Well, he was a small town boy, too…he wanted to see the world, so he took a lot of hard jobs like…uh…a merchant seaman…and…uh…truck driver…and…dress designer…well, anyways, he’s out in Hollywood…
BUCK: Dress designer?
LEROY: Uh-huh…

Leroy goes on further to explain that Mr. Quarry was discovered seated in a drugstore by a talent scout and that’s, as Paul Harvey always said, “the rest of the story.”  “Well, that’s the way things happen out in Magic Town,” he says cheerfully.

“I thought you said it was Movie Town,” returns Buck.  “Oh, well—sometimes we call it Magic Town,” his sidekick offers stupidly.

The scene soon shifts to Buck and Leroy in the hallowed halls of Cotina Elementary, clumsily carrying in the sets that they laboriously worked on when they meet up with Doris.


DORIS: Oh!  You finished the sets!  Hey, that’s great—you didn’t have to bring them down…I could have sent the boys…
BUCK: Well, I had to bring Leroy in for the movie anyway…
DORIS: Oh, yeah?  Well, put ‘em right here—what are you going to see, Leroy?
LEROY: Oh, it’s a cowboy picture…
DORIS: Yeah?
BUCK: With Granite Quarry…
DORIS: Oh, I dig him—he’s a good dress designer…

Hey…on this show, you take laughs wherever you can find them.  “Well, as long as I’m here,” Buck starts as he heads for the auditorium, “I might as well take a look-see…”

DORIS (blocking the entrance): No, you don’t!  Oh no, you don’t—you can’t go in there…it’s a closed rehearsal…
BUCK: But I’m family…and I built the set!
DORIS: Well, I know that…and I thank you for it…but you can’t go in…excuse me…

Doris opens and closes the door quickly, then admonishes Leroy “no peeking!”  “That’s gratitude for ya,” Buck grumbles as the two men walk back down the hall.  On the way, they meet up with Principal Ekstrom, who asks them both “Well, what are you two doing in school?”  (Eric, for all you know Leroy may still be attending Cotina Elem.) 

As Leroy exits, so as not to be late for his moon pitcher, Buck and Ekstrom discuss the show and how it’s coming along.  When Buck informs his pal that he’s persona au gratin as far as watching the rehearsal goes, Ekstrom decides to exercise his principatorial prerogative and supervise the production…so Buck follows him into the auditorium.

The curtain is closed when the two men enter the auditorium, and we can hear a bit of hubbub back stage—Doris acknowledges this when she emerges front and center (“Would you please be quiet—you’re making so much noise!”).  She then notices that Buck and Ekstrom have made themselves to home in a row of seats.

DORIS: What are you two doing here?
BUCK (as he removes his hat): Tell her!
EKSTROM: Well, we didn’t think…that is…Buck didn’t think that you’d mind if we…well, we just watched…

And Principal Ekstrom throws Buck under the bus!  (Good thing they’re at school, where there are buses a-plenty.)

DORIS: Can’t wait, huh?
EKSTROM: Well…
DORIS (as she joins Ekstrom laughing): Boy…you two are worse than Billy and Toby!

“Now hold on there, daughter…we know how to eat with a knife and fork, for one thing…”  Doris sits down in a seat in front of Buck and Ekstrom and calls out to the kids backstage: “Everybody ready?”  She then directs a “Mrs. Sheldon” to raise the curtain and…a little travelin’ music, Mr. Spear!


The kids start out with a badly written number about the days when couples danced the minuet—writer Morse took the exact same number from TAGS’ “Senior Play” and inserted it here, allowing two of the kids to stand behind these wooden cut-outs.  (I think the reason why they did this is because in “Senior Play,” the two performers reveal rock ‘n’ roll duds under “breakaway” clothing and the tinier tykes in “Musical” may not have been that coordinated to pull them off, literally speaking.)  Yes, just when you think this is going to be a nice, pleasant boring musical number…


…WHAMMO!  It turns into an episode of Hullaballoo, with the kids doing their wild rock ‘n’ roll dances and everything!  (With abbreviated costumes, as Howard Sprague once memorably pointed out.)

Doris and Buck are enjoying the spectacle, while Principal Eric looks as if he regrets having the salmon loaf at lunch.

EKSTROM: Stop this, Doris…at once
DORIS: Stop what?
EKSTROM (pointing at the stage): That…I said stop it…immediately

He was probably expecting something along the lines of The Pajama Game.  Ekstrom is serious—either Doris stops the show or he will.  So Doris tells the kids to take ten, and after they’ve scattered she asks what’s the dealio.

DORIS (following the principal to the auditorium door): Mr. Ekstrom, what’s wrong?
EKSTROM: Doris, I’m very disappointed in you…I could never permit an exhibition like that to go on in any school that I’m principal of…
DORIS: An exhibition like…you mean the dancing?

“Look, I realize those kids have the coordination of drunken rhinoceroses, but…”

BUCK: Are you kiddin’, Eric?
EKSTROM: Now you stay out of this, Buck—this is between your daughter and me…you can call it dancing if you like…I call it disgraceful…with the dress, movements…

“It’s getting me aroused…and that can’t be good!”

DORIS: All children dress and dance that way, Mr. Ekstrom…
EKSTROM: Not in my school, they don’t…not as long as I’m principal…and if that’s your idea of the kind of show you want to put on—forget it!  There will be no show!


Poor Doris!  Quelle disappointment!  Ralston-Purina break, everyone!

Back from commercial, Doris has the unenviable task of telling the kids in the musical that Principal Boogerface has put the hammer down on their hotsy-totsy terpsichorean display, and they are quite disappointed.  A young tyke named Freddie (Gary Dubin) suggests to Doris that if she talks to Mr. Ekstrom again perhaps he will change his mind.  The actor playing young Frederick has an interesting (always reliable) IMDb resume—he began his moppet acting career with recurring roles on Bracken’s World and The Partridge Family…but two of the most recent credits on his CV (sweet baby carrots, I only wish I were making this up) have him essaying the title roles of The Jizzmaster (2012) and The Jizzmaster 2 (2012).  (Perhaps Principal Ekstrom knew something we didn’t at the time.)

Anyway, the kids continue to whine and gripe in such loud, shrill tones that dog owners are wondering why their pets are covering their ears in pain…so Doris finally agrees to talk to Ekstrom about reinstating the Cotina Elementary Revue.  In the meantime, we’re back at Rancho Webb and a clearly cheesed-off Juanita is serving actual food to Buck, Billy (Philip Brown) and Toby (Tod Starke) while swearing in her native tongue.

BUCK: If you’d talk English we’d know what’s upsettin’ you…
JUANITA: Your friend—the principal…
(Outside the house, a car horn honks)
BUCK: Oh…there she is…well, if Ekstrom’s makin’ you mad why take it out on us?
JUANITA: I can’t help it!  I’m furious with that man for stopping the show after Doris and all those kids worked so hard…and you and Leroy, you built all those sets…besides—who else do I have to take it out on?

Doris enters with a cheery “Yoo-hoo!” and carrying some packages—hearing Juanita speak Spanish, she asks “What are you so mad about?”  So Juanita explains the reason for her anger, and Doris can relate—that’s why she went shopping, because she’s pissed.

BUCK: Will you stop it—I feel guilty enough
DORIS: What are you guilty about?
BUCK: This musical…and it’s all my fault…I never should have got you involved
DORIS: Oh, that’s silly…

“But on the other hand…this was your idea, you asshole…”  It’s frustrating for Doris, no doubt.  “What bugs me,” Doris declares as she sits down to grub, “that money would’ve meant so much to the traveling library.”  (Not to mention the Traveling Wilburys.)

BUCK: What Ekstrom needs is a…good boot in the tail…
JUANITA: Well, I wouldn’t go that far…but…
DORIS: I would…
TOBY: What’s a boot in the tail?
BUCK (after Doris shoots him a look): Uh…eat your dinner…
DORIS: Anyway…I just have to have another chance to talk to that man…I really do, because this is ridiculous…
BILLY: What’s ridiculous?
DORIS: Nothing, honey—eat your dinner…
BUCK: The way he feels right now, he wouldn’t trust you to lead the Pledge of Allegiance…
DORIS: Look—I promised these kids that I would try…and I’m not just going to let them down…and you have to help me…
TOBY: Help you do what, Mom?
DORIS: Nothing, honey—eat your dinner…

“Let’s don’t talk about it while we’re eatin’,” finishes Buck, as the scene dissolves to the front yard of Webb Farms—Toby and Billy are badly shooting hoops while Doris looks on; Buck just happens to ride up in Ekstrom’s car.  Now, keep in mind that Doris is in for a bit of work here…because her Jedi mind tricks aren’t going to work as easily on Eric as they do on her idiot father.

BUCK: The pickup quit on me in town, so Eric offered to drive me home…
DORIS: Oh!  That’s nice…thank you…how about a cup of coffee?
EKSTROM: No, thanks…I really have to be getting back to town…

“I’ve got the dreams of a few ambitious seniors to crush, so…”  But you know our Doris—she is a persistent dame, and she finally lures the principal into her home, where the three of them sit around the kitchen dining table for a nosh.

DORIS (offering Ekstrom a cookie): Why don’t you have one?

“Well…isn’t this supposed to be y’all’s dinner?”

EKSTROM (taking one out of the jar): I’ll do that…
DORIS: Aren’t they good?
EKSTROM (passing the jar): Here, Buck…
DORIS (clearing her throat): Um…Mr. Ekstrom…I know that you didn’t just happen to drop in today…but…um…since you are here…do you suppose that we…could discuss the show a little more?
EKSTROM: Doris, I really don’t think there’s anything to discuss…I’m certainly not going to change my values…

“Well…suppose I were to tell you those cookies were laced with hashish?”  No, Dor—your pathetic baked goods bribe is not going to work on Mr. Ekstrom, who—if my past experience with school principals is any indication—is not going to quit being a douchenozzle simply because you plied him with a cup of java.  Despite Doris’ insistence that the times, they are a-changin’, Ekstrom remains resolute.  “I’m a very simple person—I believe in right and wrong,” he pontificates.  He later goes on to say: “That performance you approved of is highly symptomatic of just about everything that’s wrong with this generation.”  It’s true.  People try to put us d-d-down…just because we get around.

EKSTROM: A mocking of the old ideals…a flaunting of their new morality…
DORIS: Mr. Ekstrom, they’re not flaunting a new morality…the kids are flexing their muscles…they’re trying to find out who they are…and where they’re going…
EKSTROM: So we just let them run around loose like savages?

Dude…it’s an elementary school play, not freaking Lord of the Flies.

DORIS: Oh, no…that’s not what I mean at all—what I’m trying to tell you is that…we have to give them freedom to grow…and you’ve got to let them learn to think for themselves…you can’t force them into…pre-packaged molds!

What better way to teach impressionable minds to “think for themselves” and not become “pre-packaged molds” but in elementary school?  I ask without a trace of sarcasm.  (Here’s an oldie but goodie: “I pledge allegiance…to the flag…”)  Sorry, Dor…you fought the good fight on this one—but Ekstrom represents The Man, and no one ever defeats The Man.  (Just ask ex-janitor Elmo Jensen.)  “If there are enough people who think as you do—that I’m stifling their children—they can very easily have me fired,” explains the mealy-mouthed Eric.  “But until that happens, there will be none of what you call freedom to experiment in my school!”  Jawohl, Mein Haupt!

As he’s leaving, Ekstrom remarks that they liked to dance in his generation, too—“but we didn’t feel we had to jump all over the place like a bunch of fools to enjoy it…we did it with dignity.”  (Dignity, always dignity.)

DORIS: He’s a stubborn old goat!
BUCK: You can say that again…and you’re not about to change his mind…
DORIS (slamming her fist on the table): No sir!  We’ve worked too long and too hard…and there’s not one thing wrong with that show and you know it!

“He shall bend to my will—because I’m Doris Freaking Day!”  As he observes Doris stewing in her own juices, Buck makes this offhand comment: “He talks about dignity…he’s forgotten about the time he won the Black Bottom contest at the Blue Moon.”


*Ping!*  Buck, you magnificent bastard—you have set in motion the most diabolical scheme of Doris Martin’s to ever hit Cotina!  There’s a dissolve to the school auditorium, where it is pandemonium backstage.  A little girl named Gloria complains to Doris that her dress is torn, and she’s played by moppet actress Michelle Tobin, who later landed roles on such short-lived series as The Fitzpatricks, Grandpa Goes to Washington and California Fever.  But you are not going to believe the serendipitous item on her show bidness resume…


…she plays the Wicked Witch in the Mayberry R.F.D. episode “The Church Play!”  TV is magic, my chillun!

Another panicky kid is upset because he forgot his lines, and it’s up to Doris to present an ocean of calm.  No, it’s not like this is opening night or anything—she’s conducting a dress rehearsal in the hopes that Principal Ekstrom will have that stick up his ass surgically removed.

DORIS: Thanks for coming, Mr. Ekstrom…
EKSTROM: Doris, the only reason I’m here is because of my longtime friendship with your family…

“Did I mention how much I can’t stand your father?  And those kids of yours—‘I like cheese’—do yourself a favor and enroll them in shop classes as early as possible.”  All Doris asks is that Eric sit through the entire show before making his decision.  Showtime!


Doris calls out to Mrs. Sheldon again, and the woman dutifully raises the curtain—but you just know she has to be getting tired of this nonsense.  (“I’ll curtain you, you sorry little tramp.”)  The musical starts almost exactly the same as the previous time, but this time instead of minueting…


…”Charleston…Charleston…made in Carolina…some dance…some prance…I say…there’s nothin’ finer…”  Yes, Doris has revamped the material to reflect those halcyon days of flappers and sheiks…of Model T’s and bootleg whiskey…and of Black Bottom contests at the Blue Moon.  Ekstrom sits through a few minutes of this charade, and then he’s got things to do, people to see, trash to haul, corn to hoe…

EKSTROM: You can stop them now, Doris…
DORIS (turning around in her seat): Mr. Ekstrom—you promised!
EKSTROM: I’ve seen enough…

Another ten-minute break for the dancing tykes, and Doris takes the intermission to lay into Ekstrom about reneging on his promise to sit through the entire show before making his decision.

EKSTROM: But I already know what you’re trying to tell me…
DORIS: No, you don’t know what I’m trying to tell you!  And I’m very sorry that you’ve taken on such an attitude!

Dodo…cool your jets, cupcake!  All Ekstrom is trying to say is that he’s had a Road to Damascus conversion and he now realizes he was being a big silly about the whole musical.  “I insist that you do the show,” he tells her quietly.  “As is.”  Hooray for Doris!

So the kids come back out and shake their groove thing again as those dirty old men watch from their auditorium seats.  “Buck…tell me something,” observes Ekstrom.  “Did we really look that silly?”


“You can say that again, Buster,” Buck punchlines—though it’s sort of hard to hear him from the collective rolling of eyeballs out there in YesteryearLand.  Here’s why—this is not the way it works in real life.  Principals never admit they’re wrong unless someone’s threatened a lawsuit.  Let’s step back into the WABAC machine and set the dials to 1979—it’s December, and I’m a junior at Ravenswood Penitentiary High.

The Drama and Choral Departments put on some skits/musical numbers as some sort of Christmas pageantry deal, and one of them was a horrible sketch in which two people who looked nothing at all like Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy feebly decided to imitate the greatest movie comedy team of all time.  My memory has thankfully forced out most of the sketch’s content, but I remember the Stan-impersonator continually scratched his head as if he needed a dandruff shampoo and the Ollie-impersonator was just horrible.  They didn’t even have the decency to wear derby hats, ferchrissake.  (Full disclosure—I did not like “Ollie” much, because he once tried to shove a match up my nose while I was forced to blow it out while blindfolded…an incident I describe in this blog post.)

They performed the sketch one time for the morning class, but when they were putting on the second show for students in the afternoon the Laurel & Hardy sketch had gone missing.  Now, I’d like to think our principal was appalled at the besmirching of these comedy greats, and censored the routine in protest.  (“Not only are you two expelled, but I don’t even want to hear of you sneaking back for the reunion.”)  As it turned out, it was pulled because our principal thought it in bad taste—but only because one of the characters in the sketch was dressed the same as the kidlets in a previous screen capture, as a flapper.

Our principal—fondly referred to by the student body as “Red Dog” because he was a ginger, and when he became enraged his face matched his hair perfectly—apparently was not familiar with the pop culture of the 1920s because he did not realize the girl was a flapper; he used the other “fl” word, “floozy.”  (To be honest—I think if he could have gotten away with it, he would have used a word that stands for trouble…with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for “prostitute.”)  Red Dog had taken it upon himself to see that our tender psyches were not scarred not our morals sullied, and he told the drama teacher the L&H tribute was right out!  Again—no total loss because the sketch was for shit…but it did amuse the hell out of me because I knew what a flapper was and the principal didn’t.  (Also, too: I had developed my strong anti-censorship stance by this time.)  If I had to put a happy ending on this, I’d point out that Red Dog was replaced in my senior year by another principal who learned my name rather quickly…but those are stories for another day.

Okay, quick coda wrap-up: the Webb family—even Juanita and Leroy—have returned from the entertaining musicale; several members of the family are carrying paper bags and Doris is holding a bouquet of roses that Principal Ekstrom apparently bought her (and will later have to explain to Mrs. Ekstrom).  I know you think I’m making this up—but in those paper bags are donuts and cookies, and the adults are going to have them with hot chocolate topped with whipped cream.  (You can’t tell me these people have a normal sleep schedule.)

Everyone is most complimentary about Doris and the success of the show, and her father states matter-of-factly: “I bet you wouldn’t mind doin’ another one, would ya?”

“I don’t know,” replies Doris, “I’d have to think about that twice.”  No time, Ms. Director—Buck has volunteered you for the annual show at the lodge! 


Oh, Doris—will you ever win?

Next time, on Doris Day(s)…I know, you’re probably gobsmacked to hear me say this—but “The Baby Sitter” is actually a funny outing.  (Sadly, most of the laughs are visual—so you won’t get to enjoy them.)  Character actors Peggy Rea and Hal Smith make return appearances (as different characters, natch) but the main attraction is a young actress who would later win two Academy Awards…and who we know from previous stints on our beloved Mayberry Mondays.  We urge you to join us!