Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Real McCoys (1960)

Years before the arrival of The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, and even The Andy Griffith Show, the mold for southern, country-flavored situation comedies was set by the Walter Brennan/Irving Pincus collaboration The Real McCoys, which ran from 1957-1963. Like the characters on The Beverly Hillbillies, the McCoys are a rural Appalachian family who move to California to start a new life. The McCoys hail from the fictional Smoky Corners, West Virginia and inherit farmland in the San Fernando Valley in California, where the family takes up "dirt farming," though they appear to make most of their income from selling eggs. Also like the Beverly Hillbillies, and like an increasing number of families in situation comedies during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the family has an untraditional structure, consisting of grandfather Amos McCoy (Walter Brennan), grandchildren Luke (Richard Crenna), Hassie (Lydia Reed), and Little Luke (Michael Winkelman), and elder Luke's newly married wife Kate (Kathy Nolan). The grandchildren's parents are nowhere in evidence, nor are they even mentioned once by seasons 3 and 4, which comprise the episodes that aired in calendar year 1960. The explanation for the two brothers both named Luke was that their parents were so excited at the birth of their second boy that they named him Luke, forgetting that they already had a boy with that name.

When the McCoy family moved to California and inherited their farm, they also inherited the services of musically inclined Mexican ranch hand Pepino Garcia (Tony Martinez). And several episodes also feature the recurring characters of their neighbors George McMichael (Andy Clyde) and his sister Flora (Madge Blake).

Most of the episodes revolve in some way around Brennan's character Amos McCoy, who as the patriarch of the family feels that he is entitled to run everyone else's affairs. He is intended to be seen as a comedic character, though he is opinionated, domineering, under-handed, and has an over-inflated sense of importance and abilities. In other words, he could have served as the model for Fred Flintstone. However, to the show's credit, Amos is sometimes proven wrong and has to admit it, while at others he is shown as a clever man who can outsmart those inside or outside his family. The other family members largely serve as his foils, though occasionally other characters have an episode dedicated to them, as in Luke's obsession with losing his hair in "Baldy" (December 8, 1960) or Little Luke learning a lesson about sharing his wealth in "One for the Money" (August 10, 1960).

It has been said that the themes depicted in the show reflected Brennan's values, which were extremely conservative (see his profile below). That conservatism is nowhere more evident than in the episodes that take a male chauvinist view of women, a topic touched on in three of the year 1960's 28 episodes. In "Once There Was a Man" (February 8, 1960), the McCoys are visited by their cousin Charlie, who was once a hell-raising independent character but now is newly married and completely subservient to his wife Ethel, who has just read a new book arguing for equality between the sexes in domestic responsibilities. Amos and Luke spend the episode prodding Charlie to assert himself and preventing Kate from being influenced by Ethel's ideas. By the end of the episode Ethel has been made to see the error of her ways and is ready to submit to her husband.

In "Beware a Smart Woman" (October 13, 1960), Kate, who never finished high school, decides to take an adult education class in English at the high school and drags Luke along, even after Amos has warned him that a woman with an education will only use it to make her husband feel stupid. Luke quickly sees this in action as he is made the laughingstock of the class to the embarrassment of Kate. When Kate tries to study for the final exam, Amos first tries to interrupt her, then tells her that his wife was a very smart woman because she never made him feel stupid. Kate ends up intentionally failing the exam to preserve her husband's fragile ego.

And finally in "Executive Wife" (October 20, 1960), Kate wins a blue ribbon at the state fair for her picalilly preserves and is presented a lucrative contract to market the recipe by the contest's corporate sponsor. Amos and Luke bristle at the prospect of a woman becoming the family's primary breadwinner but are ultimately saved because Kate's recipe proves to be too complex and costly to be profitable, and the corporate sponsor cancels the contract.

Another theme that comes in for regular treatment is pride in the family name of the McCoys, though it isn't clear what the family has accomplished to warrant such sentiment. Amos often uses the family name as a way to exclude others, as in the episode "A House Divided" (March 14, 1960) where Hassie tries to go around Kate's authority by asking Amos if she can go riding in her boyfriend's new car after Kate had already forbad it. Amos reminds Kate that she is not a "real McCoy" and decides to take over supervision of the two younger grandchildren. But Luke has to remind him, through a series of flashbacks, of the disastrous consequences the last time they tried the arrangement, and by episode's end Kate's authority is restored and Amos claims that she is, after all, a "real McCoy." A similar exclusion is levied on Pepino in "Pepino McCoy" (October 27, 1960) when he tries to contribute to the family's financial difficulties. After the family learns that he has secretly taken a second job as a singer in a local restaurant and chipped in all of his earnings to the family cookie jar, Amos relents and claims that he, too, is a "real McCoy."

One of the more interesting topics covered in the show deals with attitudes toward the aged. Though he is 69 years old, Amos believes that he is as capable, if not more so, than anyone younger than he. In "Father and Son Day" (November 19, 1960), he insists on competing as a teammate with Little Luke in a series of father-and-son contests being held locally and even claims that he and Little Luke will win all the prizes. But after his suggestions for old timey games like bobbing for apples are turned down and he has to train for what he calls "muscle games" like tug-of-war and baseball, he comes up lame and has to let Luke serve as Little Luke's partner. And in "Smothered in Love" (December 1, 1960), Amos resents what he calls "molly-coddling" by Luke and Kate after they are guilt-stricken after visiting the family friend Mr. Albright in his luxurious retirement home. Amos argues that when people are so attentive and try to do everything for him, it only makes him feel older than he already is.

Eventually, the success of its descendant, The Beverly Hillbillies, was a key factor in the cancellation of The Real McCoys. Despite a January 23, 1960 cover story in TV Guide that depicted the show's cast as a mutual admiration society, Nolan left the show after the 1961-62 season in a contract dispute (her character was killed off), and the series was dropped by ABC but picked up for one more season by CBS as simply The McCoys. Reed's and Winkelman's characters were also written out of the series, and when the show's ratings sagged when matched up against Bonanza, ABC did not bring it back for the fall of 1963. But The Real McCoys paved the way for some of the more memorable comedy series of the 1960s.

The theme song for the show is sung by country music legend Jimmie Rodgers and was composed by longtime show-tune icon Harry Ruby, who teamed with Bert Kalmar to write such hits as "Who's Sorry Now?", "I Want to Be Loved by You," and "Three Little Words." However, no credit is given for the composer of the score for each show. Besides Ruby, only music supervisor E.C. Norton receives credit at the end of each episode.

The first four seasons have been released on DVD by Infinity Entertainment.

The Actors

Walter Brennan

Brennan is the only actor to have won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor three times, including the very first time the honor was awarded in 1936 for his role in Come and Get It. He was driven to film acting after losing a fortune during the Great Depression on real estate he had acquired in 1920s California. He had started his entertainment career with some early work in vaudeville before listing in the military in World War I. Though he was not wounded during the war, exposure to poison gas damaged his vocal chords, leaving with the high-pitched tone that became his trademark and led to his being cast in old-man roles while still in his 30s. As an up-and-coming actor in 1925, he was befriended by Gary Cooper and the two would often appear at casting offices as a team. They would memorably star together in the 1940 film The Westerner and again in Sergeant York the following year.

Politically, Brennan was an ultra-conservative, backing former Alabama governor and segregationist George Wallace in the 1968 presidential election because he felt that Richard Nixon was too liberal. He believed that the anti-war and civil rights movements in the 1960s were the work of communists and reportedly was delighted by the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. After The Real McCoys ended its run, he starred in the western drama The Guns of Will Sonnett from 1967-69 and played the role of Andy Pruitt on the series To Rome With Love during 1970-71. He died from emphysema at the age of 80 on September 21, 1974.

Richard Crenna

Crenna grew up in Los Angeles, the son of a pharmacist and a hotel manager, and graduated from USC with a degree in Theatre Arts. His dramatic career at age 11 when he appeared on the radio series Boy Scout Jamboree, one of several radio shows he did. The last of these was Our Miss Brooks, which Crenna stayed with when it transitioned to television in 1952. After The Real McCoys ended, he starred in the series Slattery's People during its two seasons in 1964-65 and received two Emmy nominations. He also won an Emmy for his role in the TV movie The Rape of Richard Beck as well as a Golden Globe nomination. He also appeared in a number of films, including The Sand Pebbles, Wait Until Dark, and as Colonel Sam Trautman in the first three Rambo movies. From the 1970s through the 1990s, he starred in such TV shows as All's Fair, It Takes Two, and Pros and Cons, as well as the mini-series Centennial. He was playing the role of Jared Duff in the Tyne Daly series Judging Amy at the time of his death in 2003.

Kathy Nolan

Born Jocelyn Schrum in St, Louis, MO, Nolan broke into television acting at the age of 20 appearing in the role of Cousin Liz on the show Jamie in 1953. After the show ended in 1954, she had a handful of appearances on other shows and an occasional movie before landing the role of Kate on The Real McCoys. As mentioned above, she left the show after the fifth season due to a contract dispute, but re-emerged in 1964 as Lt. Anne Morgan on Broadside. Thereafter, her appearances were steady, if not plentiful, on a host of other shows, but she distinguished herself by being elected the first female president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1975. Her most recent acting appearance was on an episode of Cold Case in 2008.

Lydia Reed

A child actress born in Mitchell Field, NY, Reed first appeared on TV at age 8 in 1952 in the TV movie Doctor Serocold. She made other occasional TV appearances and acted in feature films The Seven Little Foys, High Society, and the B-movie horror film The Vampire before landing the role of Hassie on The Real McCoys. After the show ended, she left acting, married, and became a mother, living, ironically enough, in the San Fernando Valley in California.

Michael Winkelman

A child actor, like Reed, Winkelman first appeared on the show The Great Gildersleeve at age 9 in 1955. He mixed a series of acting appearances on TV and in films like The Big Knife, The Indian Fighter, and Ride Out for Revenge throughout the 1950s before landing the role of Little Luke on The Real McCoys. After the show ended, his appearances were few, on The Danny Thomas Show and Mr. Novak in 1963, Kraft Suspense Theater in 1964, and one episode of The Munsters in 1965. He joined the Navy during the Vietnam War and later worked as a groundskeeper at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. He died July 27, 1999 at age 53.

Tony Martinez

Martinez was a mambo band leader born in San Juan, Puerto Rico who went to New York to study at the Julliard School at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He also studied acting and made a few film appearances in the 1940s and 1950s before being pursued by producers the Pincus brothers for The Real McCoys. One of those films was Rock Around the Clock in which Martinez appeared with his band. After The Real McCoys finished its run, he appeared in single episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., F Troop, and My Favorite Martian. Beginning in the mid 1960s, he appeared for nearly 40 years in the role of Sancho Panza in the Broadway production of Man of La Mancha. He also served in the 1980s as executive director of the Puerto Rican Institute of Motion Pictures. He died of natural causes at age 82 on September 16, 2002.

Andy Clyde

Scottish-born Andy Clyde, who played the role of neighbor George McMichael on The Real McCoys had an acting career that dated back to the 1920s when he appeared in silent Mack Sennett comedies and stayed with Sennett's studio through the transition to talking pictures. He moved over to Columbia Pictures in 1934, signed by Jules White, who also directed and produced The Three Stooges, and remained a comic short-film actor with the studio until 1956, outlasting every other act except the Stooges. His television career began when he appeared in the recurring role of California Carlson on Hopalong Cassidy in 1952. He also had repeat appearances on Circus Boy and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin before landing his role on The Real McCoys. But even while playing George McMichael on The Real McCoys, he still found time to handle recurring roles as Homer Tubbs on The Texan, Pa McBean on The Tall Man, and Dr. Parkinson on Dr. Kildare. After The Real McCoys, he appeared as Grandpa Jim Anderson on the TV version of No Time for Sergeants and as farmer Cully Wilson on Lassie. He passed away at age 75 on May 18, 1967.

Madge Blake

Born in Kinsley, KS, Blake's father was a Methodist minister who disapproved of her interest in acting, but she used another family connection, being the niece of actor Milburn Stone, to help her land acting roles. During World War II, she and her husband worked in Utah on construction of the detonator for the atomic bomb and performed such jobs as testing equipment destined for the Manhattan Project. Her first film role came at age 50 in the Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy comedy Adam's Rib in the uncredited role as Mrs. Bonner. She had many other film roles, most uncredited, throughout the 1950s, including playing gossip columnist Dora Bailey in Singin' in the Rain. Starting with her role as Flora McMichael on The Real McCoys, Blake had a series of memorable supporting TV roles, including Mrs. Mondello, mother of Beaver's friend Larry Mondello, on Leave It to Beaver and as Aunt Harriet Cooper on Batman. She also appeared on The Jack Benny Show as the president of his fan club, constantly interrupting his performances, and Mrs. Barnes on The Joey Bishop Show. She died at age 69 on February 19, 1969. 

Notable Guest Stars

Season 3, Episode 22, "Cousin Naomi": Verna Dalton (Hilda Crocker on December Bride and Pete and Gladys, and Mrs. Day on The Jack Benny Program) plays the McMichaels' insufferable cousin Naomi Vesper. Jimmy Cross (Jesse the Elevator Man on How to Marry a Millionaire) plays an unnamed cab driver. 

Season 3, Episode 24, "The Talk of the Town": Eddie Quillan (Eddie Edson on Julia and Poco Loco on Hell Town) plays Bert the barber. Percy Helton (Homer Cratchit on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays his customer Nathan. 

Season 3, Episode 25, "Once There Was a Man": Hal Baylor (Bill Thompson on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays cousin Charlie McCoy. Doris Singleton (Caroline Appleby on I Love Lucy, Susie on Angel, and Margaret Williams on My Three Sons) plays his wife Ethel. 

Season 3, Episode 26, "Weekend in Los Angeles": Dick Elliott (shown on the left, played Officer Murphy on Dick Tracy and Mayor Pike on The Andy Griffith Show) plays Doc Thornton, member of the Order of the Mystic Nile. Jon Lormer (Harry Tate on Lawman, various autopsy surgeons and medical examiners in 12 episodes of Perry Mason, and Judge Irwin A. Chester on Peyton Place) plays fellow member Sam Watkins. Addison Richards (starred in Boys Town, They Made Her a Spy, Flying Tigers, and The Deerslayer and who played Doc Calhoun on Trackdown and Doc Landy on The Deputy) plays corporate CEO R.T. Overland. Peter Leeds (Tenner Smith on Trackdown) plays jargon-spouting Mr. Wilson.

Season 3, Episode 27, "First Date": Lynette Winter (Larue on Gidget and Henrietta Plout on Petticoat Junction) plays Little Luke's date Agnes Maypole. Sherry Alberoni (Debbie Potter on The Tom Ewell Show and Sharon James on Family Affair) plays Little Luke suitor Mary Lou.

Season 3, Episode 28, "How to Discover Oil": Marjorie Bennett (starred in Kiss Me Deadly, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Promises, Promises, and The Love God? and who played Birdie Brockway on Lassie and Mrs. Kenny on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) plays Amos pursuer Amanda Comstock. 

Season 3, Episode 30, "Foreman of the Jury": Max Showalter, aka Casey Adams (shown on the right, starred in Niagra, Dangerous Crossing, Indestructible Man, The Monster That Challenged the World, and How to Murder Your Wife and played Gus Clyde on The Stockard Channing Show) plays phone company lawyer Mr. Meredith. 

Season 3, Episode 31, "One for the Money": Carol Veazie (starred in The Catered Affair, Designing Woman, and Baby the Rain Must Fall and who played Mrs. Maude Endles on Norby) plays newspaper customer Mrs. Mulligan. 

Season 3, Episode 32, "That Was No Lady": John Eldredge (starred in The Woman in Red, The Murder of Dr. Harrigan, and The Black Cat and who played Harry Archer on Meet Corliss Archer) plays the reverend. Don Chastain (starred in The Black Godfather and who played Jim Thompson on The Debbie Reynolds Show and Rick on Rhoda) plays Kate's dance partner. 

Season 3, Episode 33, "The Tycoon": Robert Karnes (Max Fields on The Lawless Years and Deputy D.A. Victor Chamberlin on Perry Mason) plays egg co-op president Dave Sawyer. Mike de Anda (Ciego on The Big Valley) plays Mexican farm hand Rodriguez. 

Season 3, Episode 34, "Where There's a Will": Estelle Winwood (starred in Quality Street, This Happy Feeling, The Notorious Landlady, and Dead Ringer and who played Aunt Hilda on Batman) plays antiques dealer Hortense. 

Season 3, Episode 35, "The Jinx": Sterling Holloway (shown on the left, starred in The Merry Widow, Career Woman, and A Walk in the Sun, did voice work for many Walt Disney films like Dumbo, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book and the voice of Winnie the Pooh in various titles, and played Waldo Binney on The Life of Riley and Buck Singleton on The Baileys of Balboa) plays distant relative Orval McCoy.

Season 3, Episode 36, "The Delegates": Jon Lormer (see "Weekend in Los Angeles" above) plays lodge member Sam Hawkins. Billy Bletcher (starred in Babes in Toyland, The Wizard of Oz, and Chatterbox and who provided voice work for many cartoons) plays lodge member Willis Butterfield. 

Season 3, Episode 37, "The Gigolo": Minerva Urecal (shown on the right, played Dean Bradey/Bradley on The Ray Milland Show: Meet Mr. McNulty, Ma Bowie on The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Tugboat Annie Brennan on The Adventures of Tugboat Annie, and Mother on Peter Gunn) plays McCoy mortgage holder Bertha Spangler. Harvey Stephens (starred in Maid of Salem, Swing High, Swing Low, and Abe Lincoln in Illinois) plays lawyer Mr. Denkes. 
 


Season 3, Episode 38, "Teenage Wedding": Edward Everett Horton (shown on the left, starred in Alice in Wonderland, Top Hat, The Merry Widow, Shall We Dance, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and Arsenic and Old Lace, played Roaring Chicken on F Troop, and was the narrator for Fractured Fairy Tales on Rocky and His Friends) plays Hassie's fiance's grandfather J. Luther Medwick. Dave Willock (starred in Let's Face It, Pin Up Girl, and The Fabulous Dorseys and who played Lt. Binning on Boots and Saddles, Harvey Clayton on Margie, and was the narrator on the animated Wacky Races) plays the courthouse clerk. 

Season 3, Episode 39, "McCoys Ahoy": Denver Pyle (shown on the right, played Ben Thompson on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Gradnpa Tarleton on Tammy, Briscoe Darlingon The Andy Griffith Show, Buck Webb on The Doris Day Show, Mad Jack on The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, and Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard) plays Navy shipyard commander Captain Fred Miller. 

Season 4, Episode 1, "Beware a Smart Woman": Parley Baer (Mayor Roy Stoner on The Andy Griffith Show, Darby on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Mayor Arthur J. Henson on The Addams Family, and Doc Appleby on The Dukes of Hazzard) plays English teacher Mr. Venable.

Season 4, Episode 2, "Executive Wife": Jerome Cowan (starred in Shall We Dance, Victory, High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon, Miracle on 34th Street and many Blondie movies and who played John Larsen on The Tab Hunter Show) plays Prize Foods representative Mr. Prentiss.
Season 4, Episode 3, "Pepino McCoy": Vito Scotti (Capt. Gaspar Fomento on The Flying Nun, Gino on To Rome With Love, and Mr. Velasquez on Barefoot in the Park) plays restaurant owner Carlos.
Season 4, Episode 4, "Father and Son Day": Ray Kellogg (Deputy Ollie on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and various policemen, security guards, and bar employees on The Red Skelton Hour, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Lucy Show, Mister Ed, and many others) plays games committee member Frank. Chick Chandler (Toubo Smith on Soldiers of Fortune and Barney Hogan on One Happy Family) plays games committee member Roy. 
Season 4, Episode 5, "Farmer or Scientist": Alan Hewitt (shown on the left, starred in That Touch of Mink, Days of Wine and Roses, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and played Det. Bill Brennan on My Favorite Martian) plays science teacher Mr. Webber.
Season 4, Episode 6, "The New Librarian": Sara Seegar (shown on the right, starred in The Last Curtain, Dead Men Tell No Tales, and The Music Man and played Eloise Wilson on Dennis the Menace) plays librarian Miss Feeney.
Season 4, Episode 7, "Smothered in Love": Charles Seel (Otis the Bartender on Tombstone Territory, Mr. Krinkie on Dennis the Menace, and Tom Pride on The Road West) plays retiree Sam Albright.
Season 4, Episode 8, "Baldy": Forrest Lewis (Mr. Peavey on The Great Gildersleeve) barber Al. 

Season 4, Episode 9, "The Hermit": Elisha Cook, Jr. (shown on the left, starred in The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, The Great Gatsby (1949), and The Killing and played Francis "Ice Pick" Hofstetler on Magnum P.I.) plays Harry the Hermit. Dean Harens (SAC Bryan Durant on The F.B.I.) plays a psychiatrist who examines him.
Season 4, Episode 10, "The Legacy": Howard McNear (shown on the right, played Floyd Lawson on The Andy Griffith Show and Jansen the Plumber on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show) plays nosy mailman Joe Finnerty.

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