Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Frontier Circus (1962)


The failure of Frontier Circus to last beyond a single season of 26 episodes certainly was not due to the efforts of the Revue Productions publicity department. Besides a December 16, 1961 TV Guide photo feature showing how they filmed the hot-air balloon shots for "The Balloon Girl" episode, which aired on January 11, 1962, the series scored two more TV Guide features in 1962--a 2-page photo spread of the three male stars and a menagerie of animals in the February 3, 1962 issue, and a biographical feature on leading man Chill Wills in the April 28, 1962 issue. But while the publicity department did its part and the casting crew lined up such A-list guest stars as Sammy Davis, Jr. in "Coals of Fire" (January 4, 1962), Mickey Rooney in "Calamity Circus" (March 8, 1962), and Red Buttons in "Never Won Fair Lady" (April 12, 1962), the script department failed to come up with much in the way of new stories, instead recycling such shop-worn plots as the shotgun wedding (used twice, in "The Courtship" [February 19, 1962] and "The Clan MacDuff" [April 26, 1962]), the Romeo and Juliet family feud (also in "The Clan MacDuff"), the ugly duckling tomboy ("Stopover in Paradise" [February 22, 1962]), the con-man takeover ("Quick Shuffle" [February 1, 1962]), the impractical pacifist ("The Good Fight" [April 19, 1962]), the jealous husband ("The Daring Durandos" [May 17, 1962]), and the quarantine story ("Incident at Pawnee Gun" [September 6, 1962]). And for a show dubbed "Wagon Train with animals" (see our post on the 1961 episodes as well as the aforementioned TV Guide photo feature), the animals rarely figure prominently in the plots, other than a six-gun-shooting chimpanzee in the final episode, which was aired 3½ months after the penultimate show obviously as a placeholder before the new season got started. Despite all the money spent on the animal acts and special effects for gimmicks like a runaway hot-air balloon, the series itself couldn't deliver on the most fundamental aspect of quality TV--a good story.

In fact, some of the stories are downright awful, beginning with the previously cited Sammy Davis, Jr. guest spot "Coals of Fire" in which Davis plays ex-slave Cato Richards who is bent on revenging the Union Army officer who shot his master. In this Confederate-friendly fantasy, Richards' master was a "good" slave owner who treated his slaves like family, while the Union officer who killed him is a sadist, so evil that it drives Richards to join the Confederate army in a support role so that he can learn how to handle firearms and gather intelligence to help him track down his target. Both Richards and Frontier Circus regular Tony Gentry tell each other that they didn't fight in the Confederate cause in support of slavery, but regardless what they may tell themselves or each other, the Civil War was fought to protect the institution of slavery. Plenty of westerns from the era attempted to whitewash the Confederacy and those who fought for it (see The Rebel, for example), but few stoop to the levels of this episode of Frontier Circus. It does, however, bestow on Wills' Casey Thompson character perhaps the best line uttered in the series when he mutters to himself that man is the only animal who will kill his own kind for reasons other than hunger. The Old South is treated as a quixotic curiosity in "The Courtship" when Gentry rides into the isolated community of New Atlanta hoping to arrange for the circus to perform there only to learn that they don't allow such entertainment in their genteel reconstruction of the Old South out on the frontier (the uncouth subject of slavery is never mentioned). And in "The Good Fight" Ben Travis rediscovers an old flame who has had her family plantation reconstructed in the Nevada valleys, again as if this is some whimsical trifle. Of course, white audiences and TV producers were completely unaware of the power of these antebellum symbols in the pre-Civil Rights Act era.

But white male superiority isn't only promoted by reminders of the Old South: "The Inheritance" (March 15, 1962) has Casey Thompson "inherit" the guardianship of a son and daughter of an old Japanese performing friend of his, but the real purpose of the episode is to denigrate the treatment of women in traditional Japanese culture. The son, Yuki, spends the first half of the episode repressing his sister Hideko--she has to sit at another table when he eats and is not allowed to speak for herself. One of the white male circus performers, Rolando, voices his approval of this arrangement before being put in his place by the "more liberated" American female circus women. When the American women help Hideko dress up in western wear, Yuki feels his heritage is disgraced but holds Ben Travis responsible and has to fight it out with him to try to restore honor, a fight he is bound to lose despite whipping much bigger men earlier in the episode. The episode ends not with a resolution to Hideko's subjugated position in relation to her brother but with Ben and Yuki fighting off the bigger ruffians and then shaking hands, the implication being that once the males have settled their differences everything else will fall into place.

The irony of this episode is that it suggests that American women have it better than their Asian counterparts when, as we covered at length in our post on the 1961 episodes, the women  on Frontier Circus are hardly liberated--they are most often damsels in distress. But in the 1962 episodes women become more devious and dangerous. In "The Courtship" southern belle Amelia Curtis attempts to lure Casey into marrying her because he bears a striking resemblance to her late father who established and ran the resurrected Old South community of New Atlanta. But she, being a woman, does not have the skill to maintain the town's economic prosperity, so she is looking for a man to take over. When he declines her offer, she threatens to seize his circus. He is only able to escape her clutches by persuading her town marshal, who has always loved her but never had the backbone to stand up to her, to put her in her place by repeatedly telling her to shut up. So much for the liberated American woman. As alluded to above, "Stopover in Paradise" recycles the worn-out tale of a tomboy who has to be shown by a man, in this case Ben Travis, how to be a woman. Saloon performer Naomi Champagne in her eponymous episode needs Ben to defend her against snooty easterners who try to convince her that historically women like Joan of Arc and Cleopatra always sacrificed themselves so that men could survive and prosper after a Mexican bandito captures Naomi and the easterners and threatens to kill them unless she becomes his paramour. While Naomi has the courage to kill the outlaw during a private dinner, she and the others need Ben's swashbuckling rescue to escape the outlaw's henchmen. In "Mighty Like Rogues" (April 5, 1962) we see bank robber's widow Ma Jukes forcing her children into a life of crime to eke out an existence after they are left destitute. In "The Good Fight" Ben's former lover Hannah Cabot is a greedy land-grabber who pushes her father in trying to drive out a sect of pacifists who own land she covets. And in "The Daring Durandos" younger sister Tina Durando manipulates Ben to sow discord between her older sister and her husband to try to break up their trapeze act so that she can reform a better version and restore the family name to the luster it enjoyed when their father was still alive. By contrast, white male manipulator Will Grady, who has made a living romancing and then fleecing a series of single women, is portrayed as a devilish old rascal in "Mr. Grady Regrets" (January 25, 1962) who is redeemed when his long-lost daughter decides to disregard his perfidious past and reconcile with him. To be fair, the aforementioned Ma Jukes is also rehabilitated by episode's end when Ben and Casey hire her as a kind of store detective to spot pickpockets circulating amongst their circus customers, but she does so only upon threat of being sent to jail and therefore separated from her children.

The one female who manages to hold her own against the male stars of Frontier Circus is Stella Stevens' balloon entrepreneur Katy Cogswell in "The Balloon Girl." Initially she comes off as another damsel in distress when her hot-air balloon crashes into a hotel in the town where the circus is playing, and she has no money to pay for repairs. Ben and Tony, both finding her attractive and wanting to woo her, offer to have their circus hands repair her balloon if she agrees to join them as a performing act. She agrees, but has no intention of sticking around once the repairs are made (thus casting herself from damsel in distress to manipulative female), but when she takes off she does not realize that Ben has rigged her balloon to only go so far, forcing her to land in the wilderness, where he is easily able to find her and tries to convince her that it is no place for a lady because of the many dangers, in other words, returning her to the role of damsel in distress. However, he overreaches when he recruits a trio of faux Indians, who have been performing with the circus but then walk out in a pay dispute, to scare her into thinking it is best to return to the safety of the circus. When she sees the same "Indians" sneak back into camp, she recognizes that Ben has played her, and once again she takes off in her balloon, though this time Ben does not see it coming, and she leaves behind a note for him saying that she was as honest with him as he was with her. Casey tries to make lemonade out of the episode by pointing out that the name of their circus is plastered on the side of her balloon, meaning they will receive advertising wherever she goes, but it is clear that for once Ben has been outmaneuvered at his own game. Perhaps had the series used a little more of that humility it may have found more success.


The Actors

For the biographies of Chill Wills, John Derek, Richard Jaeckel, and J. Pat O'Malley, see the 1961 post on Frontier Circus.


Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 11, "Coals of Fire": Sammy Davis, Jr. (shown on the left, "The Greatest Living Entertainer," starred in Porgy and Bess, Ocean's 11, Robin and the 7 Hoods, A Man Called Adam, Sweet Charity, Salt and Pepper, The Cannonball Run, and Cannonball Run II and played Chip Warren on One Life to Live and Eddie Phillips on General Hospital) plays former slave Cato Richards. R.G. Armstrong (Police Capt. McAllister on T.H.E. Cat and Lewis Vendredi on Friday the 13th) plays former Union Army Capt. Uriah Foster. Chief Yowlachie (aka, Daniel Simmons, starred in Tonio, Son of the Sierras, With Sitting Bull at the Spirit Lake Massacre, The Paleface, Ma and Pa Kettle, and The Pathfinder) plays an Indian chief. Larry J. Blake (the unnamed jailer on Yancy Derringer and Tom Parnell on Saints and Sinners) plays the circus band leader. 

Season 1, Episode 12, "The Balloon Girl": Stella Stevens (shown on the right, starred in Girls! Girls! Girls!, The Nutty Professor, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Silencers, Where Angels Go Trouble Follows, and The Poseidon Adventure and played Lute-Mae Sanders on Flamingo Road, Phyllis Blake on Santa Barbara, Jake on General Hospital, and Doreen Krudup on Strip Mall) plays balloon entrepreneur Katy Cogswell. Chick Chandler (Toubo Smith on Soldiers of Fortune and Barney Hogan on One Happy Family) plays her ground man Luke Turlock. Claude Akins (Sonny Pruett on Movin' On and Sheriff Elroy P. Lobo on B.J and the Bear and on Lobo) plays Indian actor Powcheek. Hal Needham (Hollywood's highest-paid stuntman who invented numerous stunt devices, was a double for Richard Boone and Burt Reynolds, and directed Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, and Cannonball Run) plays his performing partner Ralph Wexler.

Season 1, Episode 13, "Mr. Grady Regrets": Charles Ruggles (shown on the left, starred in Charley's Aunt, The Girl Habit, If I Had a Million, Alice in Wonderland, Ruggles of Red Gap, Bringing Up Baby, and Son of Flubber, voiced Aesop on The Bullwinkle Show, and played Lowell Redlings Farquhar on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays ex-con Will Grady. Anne Helm (starred in Follow That Dream, The Interns, and Honeymoon Hotel and played Molly Pierce on Run for Your Life and Mary Briggs on General Hospital) plays his daughter Rosa Blanchard. Lillian Bronson (Mrs. Drake on Date With the Angels) plays the woman who sent him to prison Dorothy Barker. Crahan Denton (appeared in The Parent Trap, Birdman of Alcatraz, and To Kill a Mockingbird) plays lawman Marshal Beckett. Michael Forest (starred in Ski Troop Attack, Atlas, and The Glory Guys and was the voice of Capt. Dorai on Street Fighter II: V and Olympus on Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue) plays Grady's former cellmate Roy Clatter. Dorothy Neumann (Miss Mittleman on Hank) plays Dorothy's neighbor Mrs. Hoskins. Tim Graham (Homer Ede on National Velvet) plays farmer Williams. S. John Launer (Marshall Houts on The Court of Last Resort and the judge 33 times on Perry Mason) plays prison Warden Martine.

Season 1, Episode 14, "Quick Shuffle": Gilbert Roland (shown on the right, starred in Men of the North, She Done Him Wrong, The Sea Hawk, The Gay Cavalier, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Around the World in 80 Days) plays card hustler Luke Santos. Patricia Barry (Kate Harris on Harris Against the World, Lydia McGuire on Dr. Kildare, Adelaide Horton Williams on Days of Our Lives, Peg English on All My Children, and Sally Gleason on Guiding Light) plays saloon girl Amy. Carl Benton Reid (starred in The Little Foxes, In a Lonely Place, Lorna Doone, and The Left Hand of God and played The Man on Burke's Law) plays circuit Judge Salem. George Mitchell (Cal Bristol on Stoney Burke) plays a New Mexico sheriff. Myron Healey (Doc Holliday on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays a card player. Richard Reeves (Mr. Murphy on Date With the Angels) plays card player Gruber.

Season 1, Episode 15, "The Courtship": Jo Van Fleet (shown on the left, Oscar winner starred in East of Eden, I'll Cry Tomorrow, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Cool Hand Luke, and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas) plays southern belle Amelia Curtis. Jeannette Nolan (starred in Macbeth (1948), The Big Heat, Tribute to a Bad Man, and The Reluctant Astronaut, did voicework for Psycho, The Rescuers, and The Fox and the Hound, and played Annette Devereaux on Hotel de Paree and Holly Grainger on The Virginian) plays her sister Amanda. Henry Jones (Dean Fred Baker on Channing, Owen Metcalf on The Girl With Something Extra, Judge Jonathan Dexter on Phyllis, Josh Alden on Mrs. Columbo, Homer McCoy on Gun Shy, B. Riley Wicker on Falcon Crest, and Hughes Whitney Lennox on I Married Dora) plays New Atlanta Marshal Harry Longstreet. Willard Waterman (see the biography section for the 1961 post on Dennis the Menace) plays New Atlanta leading citizen Parker. Sheila Bromley (Janet Tobin on I Married Joan and Ethel Weiss on Hank) plays his wife. Lloyd Corrigan (starred in A Girl, a Guy, and a Gob, Hitler's Children, Captive Wild Woman, The Bandit of Sherwood Forest, and Son of Paleface and played Papa Dodger on Willy, Wally Dipple on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Ned Buntline on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Uncle Charlie on Happy, and Professor McKillup on Hank) plays New Atlanta citizen Willis.

Season 1, Episode 16, "Stopover in Paradise": Carolyn Jones (shown on the right, appeared in House of Wax, The Big Heat, The Seven Year Itch, The Tender Trap, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and How the West Was Won and played Morticia Addams on The Addams Family, Marsha, Queen of Diamonds on Batman, and Myrna Clegg on Capitol) plays cattle rancher Amy Tyson. Robert F. Simon (Dave Tabak on Saints and Sinners, Gen. Alfred Terry on Custer, Frank Stephens on Bewitched, Uncle Everett McPherson on Nancy, Capt. Rudy Olsen on The Streets of San Francisco, and J. Jonah Jameson on The Amazing Spiderman) plays her foreman Jess Bailey. Adam Kennedy (Dion Patrick on The Californians and Brock Hayden on The Doctors) plays her ranch hand Sam Hagen. Jackie Russell (Peggy Connolly on The Joey Bishop Show) plays contortionist Janet Olsen. 

Season 1, Episode 17, "Calamity Circus": Mickey Rooney (shown on the left, starred in Captains Courageous, Boys Town, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Words and Music, Babyface Nelson, and Breakfast at Tiffany's as well as numerous Andy Hardy movies and played Mickey Mulligan on The Mickey Rooney Show, Mickey Grady on Mickey, Oliver Nugent on One of the Boys, Henry Dailey on The New Adventures of the Black Stallion, and Talbut on Kleo the Misfit Unicorn) plays circus clown Arthur. Howard McNear (see the biography section for the 1961 post on The Andy Griffith Show) plays small-town Judge Stuart. Parley Baer (see the biography section for the 1961 post on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) plays the town sheriff. Dennis Rush (Howie Pruitt on The Andy Griffith Show) plays a boy who wants to see the circus. 

Season 1, Episode 18, "The Inheritance": Alan Hale, Jr. (shown on the middle right, played Biff Baker on Biff Baker U.S.A., Casey Jones on Casey Jones, and The Skipper on Gilligan's Island) plays ruffian Lait. Donald "Red" Barry (shown on the near right, played Red Ryder in the movie serial The Adventures of Red Ryder, and played Lt. Snedigar on Surfside 6, The Grand Vizier and Tarantula on Batman, Capt. Red Barnes on Police Woman, and Jud Larabee on Little House on the Prairie) plays his partner Martin. Wally Brown (shown on the far right, appeared in Notorious, The Left Handed Gun, and The Absent-Minded Professor and played Jed Fame on Cimarron City and Chauncey Kowalski on The Roaring '20's) plays Primrose Sheriff Tom Bender. Sid Tomack (Jim Gillis on The Life of Riley) plays saloon owner Toby. Peter Leeds (Tenner Smith on Trackdown and George Colton on Pete and Gladys) plays circus knife-thrower Rolando. 

Season 1, Episode 19, "Naomi Champagne": Constance Ford (starred in A Summer Place, Home From the Hill, All Fall Down, and The Caretakers and played Ada Lucas Davis Downs McGowan Hobson on Another World) plays saloon performer Naomi Champagne. Richard Conte (shown on the left, appeared in A Walk in the Sun, 13 Rue Madeleine, Call Northside 777, Ocean's 11, and Lady in Cement and played Jeff Ryder on The Four Just Men) plays outlaw Don Diego Montoya. Alex Montoya (Miguel Morales on The High Chaparral) plays his henchman Juan. Roberto Contreras (Pedro on The High Chaparral) plays his henchman Pablo. Robert H. Harris (Jake Goldberg on Molly and Raymond Schindler on The Court of Last Resort) plays stove company owner John Haskill. Marguerite Chapman (starred in Spy Smasher, Parachute Nurse, Pardon My Past, Man Bait, and The Seven Year Itch) plays his wife Theresa. Neil Hamilton (starred in The Great Gatsby (1926), Why Be Good?, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), and Brewster's Millions, was the host of Hollywood Screen Test, and played Commissioner Gordon on Batman) plays their friend Jason Glass.

Season 1, Episode 20, "Mighty Like Rogues": Glenda Farrell (shown on the right, starred in Little Caesar, I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Johnny Eager, The Talk of the Town, and Kissin' Cousins and played Torchy Blane in 7 feature films) plays pickpocket ring leader Ma Jukes. Joby Baker (David Lewis on Good Morning, World and Col. Harvey Mann on The Six O'Clock Follies) plays her elder son George Washington Jukes. Jena Engstrom (daughter of actress Jean Engstrom) plays her daughter Betsy Ross Jukes. Roger Mobley (Homer "Packy" Lambert on Fury) plays her younger son Andrew Jackson Jukes. 

Season 1, Episode 21, "Never Won Fair Lady": Red Buttons (shown on the left, starred in Sayonara, Hatari!, The Longest Day, Stagecoach, and The Posiedon Adventure and played Henry Wadsworth Phyfe on The Double Life of Henry Phyfe, Al Baker on Knots Landing, and Jules Rubadoux on ER) plays Casey's former commanding officer's son Earl Youngblood. Paul Newlan (Police Capt. Grey on M Squad and Lt. Gen. Pritchard on 12 O'Clock High) plays his father Gen. "Iron Pants" Youngblood. Gloria Talbott (starred in The Cyclops, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll,  and I Married a Monster From Outer Space and played Moneta on Zorro) plays lion tamer Pamela. Richard Reeves (see "Quick Shuffle" above) plays a dissatisfied lemonade customer. 

Season 1, Episode 22, "The Good Fight": George Macready (Martin Peyton on Peyton Place) plays pacifist preacher John Duncan. Kenneth MacDonald (played the judge 32 times on Perry Mason, played Col. Parker on Colt .45, and appeared in several Three Stooges shorts) plays one of his followers Canfield. Jason Evers (shown on the right, starred in The Brain That Wouldn't Die, House of Women, The Green Berets, and Escape From the Planet of the Apes and played Pitcairn on Wrangler, Prof. Joseph Howe on Channing, and Jim Sonnett on The Guns of Will Sonnett) plays ranch foreman Judd Halleck. Kenneth Tobey (starred in The Thing From Another World, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and It Came From Beneath the Sea and played Chuck Martin on Whirlybirds and Russ Conway on I Spy) plays Rockville Marshal Sam Walden. William Fawcett (Clayton on Duffy's Tavern, Marshal George Higgins on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, and Pete Wilkey on Fury) plays the Rockville postmaster. Gordon Jones (appeared in The Green Hornet, Flying Tigers, My Sister Eileen, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and McLintock! and played Mike Kelley on The Abbott and Costello Show, Pete Thompson on The Ray Milland Show, Hubie Dodd on So This Is Hollywood, and Butch Barton on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) plays circus roustabout Jase.

Season 1, Episode 23, "The Clan MacDuff": James Barton (shown on the left, appeared in The Shepherd of the Hills, Here Comes the Groom, Golden Girl, and The Misfits) plays Scottish patriarch Angus MacDuff. Jackie Russell (see "Stopover in Paradise" above) plays his daughter Patricia. John Considine (brother of Tim Considine, played Grant Capwell on Santa Barbara) plays member of feuding clan Robin MacNeil. 

Season 1, Episode 24, "The Race": Edward Andrews (shown on the right, appeared in The Harder They Fall, Elmer Gantry, The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, Advise and Consent, and The Glass Bottom Boat and played Cmdr. Rogers Adrian on Broadside and Col. Fairburn on The Doris Day Show) plays collector of men Duke Felix Otway. Skip Homeier (appeared in Arthur Takes Over, The Gunfighter, Sailor Beware, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and played Lt. Dan Raven on Dan Raven and Dr. Hugh Jacoby on The Interns) plays his Prussian "pawn" Col. Rastatt. Harry Carey, Jr. (starred in Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Mister Roberts, and The Searchers and played Bill Burnett on The Adventures of Spin and Marty) plays horse race competitor Anderson. Jim McMullan (Officer Don Burdick on Chopper One, John Moore on Beyond Westworld, and Sen. Andrew Dowling on Dallas) plays horse race competitor Charlie. Don Haggerty (Jeffrey Jones on The Files of Jeffrey Jones, Eddie Drake on The Cases of Eddie Drake, Sheriff Dan Elder on State Trooper, and Marsh Murdock on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays Broken Bowl Marshal Walworth. 

Season 1, Episode 25, "The Daring Durandos": Nehemiah Persoff (starred in The Wrong Man, Al Capone and Some Like It Hot) plays trapeze aerialist Paco Durango. Margarita Cordova (shown on the left, played Rosa Andrade on Santa Barbara and Carmen Torres on Sunset Beach) plays his wife Maria. Anita Sands (later became astrologer to the stars and a self-help guru) plays her younger sister Tina. David White (Larry Tate on Bewitched) plays legendary circus owner F.X. Farnum. Jackie Searl (began as a child actor, appearing in Tom Sawyer (1930), Huckleberry Finn (1931), Alice in Wonderland (1933), Great Expectations(1934), and Little Lord Fauntleroy) plays revenge-minded cowboy Cal Soper. 

Season 1, Episode 26, "Incident at Pawnee Gun": Joe Maross (Fred Russell on Peyton Place, Capt. Mike Benton on Code Red, and Dr. Blakely on Dallas) plays saloon owner Al Buchanan. Kathie Browne (shown on the right, played Angie Dow on Hondo and was Darren McGavin's second wife) plays his employee Mauvereen. Paul Carr (Bill Horton on Days of Our Lives, Casey Clark on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Dr. Paul Summers on The Doctors, Ted Prince on Dallas, and Martin Gentry on The Young and the Restless) plays an aspiring hit man. Kenneth Tobey (see "The Good Fight" above) plays rival saloon owner Frank Mitchell. Walter Sande (appeared in To Have and Have Not, A Place in the Sun, and Bad Day at Black Rock and played Capt. Horatio Bullwinkle on The Adventures of Tugboat Annie and Papa Holstrum on The Farmer's Daughter) plays rancher Shanghai. Robert Foulk (Ed Davis on Father Knows Best, Sheriff Miller on Lassie, Joe Kingston on Wichita Town, Mr. Wheeler on Green Acres, and Phillip Toomey on The Rifleman) plays blacksmith Logan. Robert Lowery (starred in Criminal Investigator, Revenge of the Zombies, The Navy Way, The Mummy's Ghost, and They Made Me a Killer and played Big Tim Champion on Circus Boy and Buss Courtney on Pistols 'n' Petticoats) plays New Orleans Marshal Taggart. John Pickard (Capt. Shank Adams on Boots and Saddles and Sgt. Maj. Murdock on Gunslinger) plays his deputy Murdoch. John Hart (appeared in The Buccaneer, Jack Armstrong, and The Ten Commandments and played Nat "Hawkeye" Cutler on Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans,  was Clayton Moore's replacement on The Lone Ranger from 1950-53 when Moore was in the midst of a contract dispute, and played Narbo on Rawhide) plays his deputy Fred. William Phipps (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays a cowboy manning a line shack.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Mister Ed (1962)


After initially struggling to get anyone to even give their talking-horse TV show a chance, including leading human actor Alan Young, when Mister Ed became a sudden success after its debut in early 1961, producer Arthur Lubin and lead writer Lou Derman had a new problem--how to keep it going while keeping it fresh. Lubin told TV Guide in a March 31, 1962 cover story that his idea was at first rejected by the networks because it was "a one-joke show," but as we documented in our post on the 1961 episodes, the first season expanded on the one joke of a talking horse by covering man's relationship to animals in a thoughtful way. By the middle of the second season as 1962 dawned, however, the series started to veer away from that more intelligent approach and began pursuing cheaper laughs, such as bringing in celebrities in episodes that had little to do with Ed the horse and his relationship to owner Wilbur Post.

The trouble begins with the first episode of the year, "The Wrestler" (January 7, 1962), which features ballet-themed professional wrestler Ricky Starr, whose contract Roger Addison acquires from his manager to complete a real estate deal. Young reveals in his memoir Mister Ed and Me that Lubin, who knew nothing about sports, signed Starr thinking he was the professional boxing champion of the world rather than the much less prestigious so-called professional wrestling champion, which Young notes didn't last long. Even as a wrestler Starr was a novelty act because he had earlier studied ballet and incorporated ballet moves into his wrestling act, effecting an effete persona that trounces his Neanderthal opponents. This episode includes previously recorded footage of Starr in the ring, and Ed has very little to do as Carol and Kay overfeed Starr's character Tiger Davis and then have to get him back into shape by having him work out with them and their ballet teacher. Lubin was so enamored of Starr that he brought him back for a second episode early in Season 3, "The Bashful Clipper" (October 18, 1962), as a former beautician who has switched over to horse grooming because he became intimidated by his female human clients. Ed again has a minor role in this episode, helping Starr's character Chuck Miller abandon his animal grooming and resume styling women's hair by kicking him to change his mind about animals being more docile than women. A sizable chunk of the episode has Wilbur mugging and attempting to style an influential fashion columnist's hair when Chuck gets cold feet as his new salon opens. Young seems to forget about painful episodes like this one in his memoir when he reminisces, "That's one of the secrets behind Mister Ed. It never pretended to be something it wasn't." The Ricky Starr episodes prove that the series often lost its way, and not all the episodes were comedy gold.

The same can be said for the other celebrity-based episodes from latter Season 2--"Zsa Zsa" (January 28, 1962), "George Burns Meets Mister Ed" (February 18, 1962), and "Clint Eastwood Meets Mister Ed" (April 22, 1962). The Zsa Zsa Gabor episode is based on the flimsy premise that her manager has lined up a movie for her in which she has to ride a horse but she is deathly afraid of them, so when she rents a house near the Posts and Wilbur meets her, he offers to use Ed to help her overcome her fear of horses. The episode also recycles the trope of Wilbur selling or parting with Ed (see the Season 1 episode "Wilbur Sells Ed" and the later Season 3 episode "Horse of a Different Color" in which Ed plans to join the circus), which Zsa Zsa ultimately refuses to go along with once she sees how affectionate the two are with each other. George Burns was executive producer on Mister Ed, so it is no surprise that he is featured in an episode, but he never actually meets Ed, despite the episode's title, because he only talks to him on the phone. Young misremembers in his memoir that Sharon Tate made her TV debut in this episode, whereas she actually did so in the Season 4 episode "Ed Discovers America" in the fall of 1963. According to Young's memoir, Clint Eastwood agreed to appear in an episode because he owed Lubin a favor, and while the episode does include a memorable scene in which Eastwood offers to show Wilbur how to get his horse to behave only to have Ed lie down as soon as Eastwood mounts him, a sizable chunk of this episode has the Addisons and Posts enacting a hammy western spoof under Eastwood's direction.

Undoubtedly the most disastrous episode of 1962 is the Season 2 finale "Ed, the Matchmaker" (April 29, 1962), which was actually intended to be a pilot for a sit-com based on the character of 15-year-old boy crazy Emmy Lou Harper, a kind of female Dobie Gillis. Ostensibly, the Harpers are another new set of neighbors for the Posts (a plot device also used in the aforementioned "Zsa Zsa" episode as well as "Ed's New Neighbors" [March 25,1962]). Ed enjoys spying on them, but he has little involvement in their lives until the end of the episode when he volunteers, posing as Wilbur on a phone call, to haul Emmy Lou's boyfriend-to-be's broken down car to the drive-in so that she can finally get a date with him. The bulk of the episode is spent with Emmy Lou trying to get the attention of said boy, grocery deliverer Arthur who is always eating and talks with his mouth full so that he is incomprehensible (talk about a one-joke gag), and then trying to overcome the many obstacles in actually going out on a date due to Arthur's continually faltering automobile. Thankfully, the series was never purchased, but Mister Ed, despite Young's later observation that it never deviated from what it was, had already begun recasting itself as a kind of father-son sit-com with Ed's character becoming more and more of a bratty manipulator.

Besides constantly raiding Roger Addison's apple trees next door, in "Horse Wash" (February 4, 1962) Ed begins calling Wilbur "dad," and when Wilbur replies he is not his father, Ed says he adopted him. In this episode Ed is fixated on losing weight to impress a Mexican filly and repeatedly sneaks out of his stall and gets himself filthy jogging in the park, which is why he eventually ends up at a car wash when Wilbur refuses to clean him again. In "Ed, the Beachcomber" (April 1, 1962) Ed becomes upset when a newspaper editorial says the horse has no place in modern society, so he runs away from home to hang out with beatniks squatting on some beachfront property that Addison owns, reinforcing the idea that Ed sees himself as a misunderstood teenager. In "Lie Detector" (April 8, 1962) Ed lies to Wilbur about spilling the inkwell on his desk in the barn, thereby ruining a set of architecture plans Wilbur has been working on. Wilbur uses a lie detector invention that Addison is thinking of investing in to prove Ed is lying and then locks him in his stall to punish him, only to have Ed break out and run away from home again, though he leaves Wilbur a note on where to find him. But Ed's worst behavior is on display in "Horse Party" (November 15, 1962) when he sends Carol, Kay, and their women's club to the home of another club member whose child has chicken pox and tricks Addison intro driving out of town thinking he has been invited to give a lecture on gardening so that he can clear the Posts' yard for his birthday party which he cajoles Wilbur into hosting with a half dozen horse guests, streamers, and a birthday cake. Wilbur is unaware of Ed's machinations until Carol and her group return after being told by the mother with the sick child that she never phoned anyone saying her child had only a rash from eating strawberries, but Ed tries to absolve himself by pleading to Wilbur that he is only a 9-year-old child. The writers of Mister Ed apparently think we will find Ed's bratty behavior funny because he is a horse rather than a human, but this undercuts their argument advanced in earlier episodes of the series that a horse deserves to be treated with the same consideration as his human counterparts. You can't have it both ways.

In fact one of the better 1962 episodes, "Ed Gets Amnesia" (September 27, 1962), works because a knock on the head makes Ed think he is not a horse (never mind the insane premise that the blow to Ed's head comes from Wilbur storing metal pails on high shelves and the rafters of Ed's stall). In his efforts to restore Ed's sense of himself, Wilbur visits a vet who sees nothing strange about treating pets like humans but then thinks Wilbur is crazy when he tells him his horse thinks he is human and that Wilbur thinks this because Ed, a horse, told him so. Wilbur then gets the idea that if he pretends to have amnesia himself and is treated by a human doctor, he can use this treatment on Ed, since Ed thinks he is human. Of course when Wilbur levels with the human doctor on what he is up to, the human doctor thinks he is crazy as well. This is the sort of humor that made the series such a hit in its first season, but even the best jokes told repeatedly eventually lose their freshness. Another episode with great comic potential is "Wilbur the Masher" (December 13, 1962) in which Ed whistles and catcalls an attractive filly only to have its rider think that Wilbur is flirting with her. However, the acting and direction of guest stars Coleen Gray and Paul Langton as the offended horse rider and her husband is too hammy to be effective, and the resolution of Wilbur claiming that he has a bashful friend who was hiding behind a tree doing the whistling and catcalling, and then Ed supposedly verifying the story by calling the female horse rider and confessing, doesn't wash. For example, why would the female horse rider and her husband be offended by this behavior from Wilbur but not his bashful friend?

Even with its struggles to sustain a one-joke premise and digressions into sit-com blandness, Mister Ed is often bolstered by the always amusing performance of Larry Keating as sourpuss cheapskate Roger Addison, who usually delivers the best lines and whose delivery always makes them better. From his portrayal of an inept early Massachusetts governor in Ed's retelling of the Thanksgiving origin story in "Ed, the Pilgrim" (November 22, 1962) to his attempt to use Ed to drive off his horse-allergic mother-in-law in "Ed and the Allergy" (October 25, 1962), Addison is just as devious and manipulative as Ed, but he makes no attempt to excuse his own bad behavior. He embraces his caddishness, and we embrace him for it. Sadly, he would be with the series only 1 more year before succumbing to leukemia. The show would never be the same without him.

The Actors

For the biographies of Alan Young, Connie Hines, Larry Keating, Edna Skinner, and Allan Lane, see the 1961 post on Mister Ed.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 2, Episode 12, "The Wrestler": Ricky Starr (shown on the left, professional wrestler and ballet dancer) plays wrestler Tiger Davis. Milton Frome (starred in Pardners, The Delicate Delinquent, and The Swinger and played Lawrence Chapman on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays his manager Barney Harris. Miriam Nelson (choreographer for films such as High Time, Cat Ballou, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and Cactus Flower) plays ballet teacher Miss Canfield.

Season 2, Episode 13, "Ed's Bed": Jack Kruschen (appeared in The War of the Worlds, The Apartment, Lover Come Back, and Freebie and the Bean and played Tully on Hong Kong, Sam Markowitz on Busting Loose, Papa Papadapolis on Webster, and Fred Avery on Material World) plays a motorcycle policeman. 

Season 2, Episode 14, "Ed, the Beneficiary": Raymond Bailey (shown on the right, see the biography section of the 1961 post on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) plays lawyer Howard Dieterle. Lee Goodman (part of the comedy duo Goodman & Kirkwood, Oscar-nominated co-producer of documentary feature With These Hands) plays Addison's physician Dr. John Reynolds.

Season 2, Episode 15, "Zsa Zsa": Zsa Zsa Gabor (shown on the left, starred in Lovely to Look At, Moulin Rouge (1952), Death of a Scoundrel, and Queen of Outer Space) plays herself. Jack Albertson (starred in Days of Wine and Roses, Kissin' Cousins, The Flim-Flam Man, and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and played Lt. Harry Evans on The Thin Man, Walter Burton on Room for One More, Lt. Cmdr. Virgil Stoner on Ensign O'Toole, and Ed Brown on Chico and the Man) plays Kay's brother Paul Fenton. Berry Kroeger (appeared in Black Magic, Gun Crazy, Hitler, and Demon Seed) plays Zsa Zsa's agent Jack Brady. Reed Howes (one-time Arrow Collar Man model and silent film leading man in features such as High Speed Lee, Lightning Romance, The Snob Buster, and Romantic Rogue) plays a ship's officer. Betty Conner (Jill McComb on The Young Marrieds and Anne Cooper on Gidget) plays Zsa Zsa's assistant Suzette.

Season 2, Episode 16, "Horse Wash": Barry Kelley (starred in The Asphalt Jungle, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Love Bug and played Mr. Slocum on Pete and Gladys) plays Carol's father Mr. Higgins. Herb Vigran (shown on the right, played Judge Brooker on Gunsmoke) plays car wash owner Joe Burke. Karl Lukas (Pvt. Stash Kadowski on The Phil Silvers Show, Scotty on Family Affair, and Carl the maintenance man on St. Elsewhere) plays car wash worker Harry.

Season 2, Episode 17, "Ed, the Horse Doctor": Hank Patterson (Fred Ziffel on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction and Hank Miller on Gunsmoke) plays veterinarian Dr. Evans. Robert Carson (Mr. Maddis on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and the narrator on Navy Log) plays racing horse trainer Whitey Morgan.

Season 2, Episode 18, "George Burns Meets Mister Ed": George Burns (shown on the left, starred in The Big Broadcast, Many Happy Returns, College Humor, the Oh, God! franchise, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and played himself on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The George Burns Show, Wendy and Me, and George Burns Comedy Week) plays  himself.

Season 2, Episode 19, "Ed's Word of Honor": Earle Hodgins (Lonesome on Guestward Ho!) plays a carnival barker. Nick Stewart (appeared in Go West Young Man, Cabin in the Sky, Stormy Weather, Carmen Jones, and Hollywood Shuffle and played Lightnin' on The Amos and Andy Show and Willy-Willy on Ramar of the Jungle) plays a carnival customer.

Season 2, Episode 20, "No Horses Allowed": Neil Hamilton (shown on the right, starred in The Great Gatsby (1926), Why Be Good?, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), and Brewster's Millions, was the host of Hollywood Screen Test, and played Commissioner Gordon on Batman) plays neighbor Harvey Ainsworth. Ted Eccles (Tooly on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, Bobby Chandler on General Hospital, and Brad on Dr. Shrinker) plays his son Bobby. C. Lindsay Workman (see the biography section of the 1961 post on The Donna Reed Show) plays TV director Russ Fuller. Olan Soule (Aristotle "Tut" Jones on Captain Midnight, Ray Pinker on Dragnet (1952-59), Cal on Stagecoach West, the Hotel Carlton desk clerk on Have Gun -- Will Travel, and Fred Springer on Arnie and voiced Batman on The All-New Super Friends Hour, Challenge of the Superfriends, The World's Greatest SuperFriends, and Super Friends) plays makeup man Max. Bill Baldwin (the narrator on Harbor Command and Bat Masterson and the announcer on The Bob Cummings Show) plays the TV station announcer.

Season 2, Episode 21, "Bald Horse": Percy Helton (Homer Cratchit on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays veterinarian Dr. Evans. Henry Norell (Henry Slocum on Oh! Those Bells) plays horse owner Herbert Saxon.

Season 2, Episode 22, "Ed's New Neighbors": Willard Waterman (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1961 post on Dennis the Menace) plays Addison house buyer Edward Douglas. Shirley Mitchell (Yvonne Sharp on Sixpenny Corner, Kitty Devereaux on Bachelor Father, Janet Colton on Pete and Gladys, Marge on Please Don't Eat the Daisies, and Clara Appleby on The Red Skelton Hour) plays his wife Hortense. Jimmy Garrett (Jerry Carmichael on The Lucy Show) plays their son Timmy.

Season 2, Episode 23, "Ed, the Beachcomber": Joe Conley (Ike Godsey on The Waltons) plays a press photographer.

Season 2, Episode 24, "Lie Detector": Richard Reeves (Mr. Murphy on Date With the Angels) plays livestock worker Charley. 

Season 2, Episode 25, "Clint Eastwood Meets Mister Ed": Clint Eastwood (shown on the right, see the biography section for the 1960 post on Rawhide) plays himself. Kathleen Freeman (Katie on Topper, Marilly on Mayor of the Town, Bertha Krause on The Bob Cummings Show, Flo Shafer on The Beverly Hillbillies, Kate Harwell on Funny Face, Iris Belmont on Lotsa Luck!, and Mrs. Brezinski on Generations) plays his housekeeper Katie. Donna Douglas (Barbara Simmons on Checkmate and Elly Mae Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays his girlfriend.

Season 2, Episode 26, "Ed, the Matchmaker": George O'Hanlon (shown on the left, played Joe McDoakes in dozens of shorts with titles that begin with So You Want or So You Think, played Calvin Dudley on The Life of Riley, Artie Burns on The Reporter, and was the voice of George Jetson on The Jetsons) plays new neighbor George Harper. Jeff Donnell (Alice on The George Gobel Show, Evelyn Driscoll on Dr. Kildare, and Mrs. Bennett on Julia) plays his wife Martha. Linda Henning (Betty Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies, on which she was also the voice of Jethrine Bodine, and Mrs. Mallory on Sliders) plays their daughter's friend Penelope. Peter Brooks (Hank Ferguson on My Three Sons) plays grocery delivery boy Arthur. Albert Carrier (appeared in Tender Is the Night, Fitzwilly, and Scarface) plays Italian movie character Roberto. 

Season 3, Episode 1, "Ed Gets Amnesia": Richard Deacon (shown on the right, see the biography section for the 1961 post on The Dick Van Dyke Show) plays veterinarian Dr. Baker. C. Lindsay Workman (see "No Horses Allowed" above) plays physician Dr. Cathcart.

Season 3, Episode 2, "Wilbur, the Good Samaritan": Jerry Hausner (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Mr. Magoo Show) plays newspaper circulation manager Mr. Hunt. Kevin Brodie (son of actor Steve Brodie) plays Wilbur's newsboy Joey. Karl Lukas (see "Horse Wash" above) plays policeman George. 

Season 3, Episode 3, "Wilbur and Ed in Show Biz": Chick Chandler (shown on the left, played Toubo Smith on Soldiers of Fortune and Barney Hogan on One Happy Family) plays elephant trainer Mr. Hodges.

Season 3, Episode 4, "The Bashful Clipper": Ricky Starr (see "The Wrestler" above) plays former beautician Chuck Miller. Barbara Morrison (appeared in From Here to Eternity, Don't Knock the Twist, and Papillon) plays newspaper fashion editor Doris Manning.

Season 3, Episode 5, "Ed and the Allergy": Isabel Randolph (Mrs. Boone on Meet Millie, Ruth Nestor on Our Miss Brooks, and Clara Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show) plays Kay's mother. 

Season 3, Episode 6, "Horse Sense": Neil Hamilton (see "No Horses Allowed" above) plays book publisher Mr. Boyd. Gale Robbins (shown on the right, singer who appeared in The Barkleys of Broadway, Three Little Words, and Calamity Jane) plays literary critic Miss Meed. Henry Hunter (Dr. Summerfield on Hazel) plays Roger's golfing friend Bill.

Season 3, Episode 7, "Wilbur in the Lion's Den": Charles Lane (shown on the left, appeared in The Milky Way, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Lady Is Willing, The Music Man, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, and The Gnome-Mobile and played Mr. Fosdick on Dear Phoebe, Homer Bedloe on Petticoat Junction, Foster Phinney on The Beverly Hillbillies, Dale Busch on Karen, and Judge Anthony Petrillo on Soap) plays real estate developer Charley Foster.

Season 3, Episode 8, "Horse Party": Rolfe Sedan (Mr. Beasley the Postman on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and Mr. Briggs the Postman on The Addams Family) plays party rental shop owner Mr. Fairchild. Joe Conley (see "Ed the Beachcomber" above) plays singing telegram boy Frank.

Season 3, Episode 9, "Ed, the Pilgrim": Grandon Rhodes (Mr. Vanderlip on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Dr. Stevens on Lassie, Dr. J.P. Martin on Bonanza, and the judge 16 times on Perry Mason) plays pilgrim Smythe. Norman Leavitt (shown on the right, played Ralph on Trackdown) plays pilgrim Holly. Rodd Redwing (appeared in Rancho Notorious, Son of Geronimo: Apache Avenger, The Pathfinder, and The Mole People and played Mr. Brother on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) plays Indian brave Fleetfoot. Frankie Darro (starred in The Mayor of Hell, Wild Boys of the Road, Little Men, and played Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet) plays delivery man Henry.

Season 3, Episode 10, "Disappearing Horse": Karl Lukas (see "Horse Wash" above) plays policeman Charlie.

Season 3, Episode 11, "Ed and Paul Revere": Hans Conried (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1960 post on Rocky and His Friends) plays sculptor Igor Korzak.

Season 3, Episode 12, "Wilbur the Masher": Coleen Gray (shown on the far right, starred in Kiss of Death, Nightmare Alley, The Killing, The Vampire, The Leech Woman, and The Phantom Planet and played Muriel Clifford on McCloud) plays horse owner Betty Gordon. Paul Langton (shown on the near right, played Leslie Harrington on Peyton Place) plays her husband Frank.

Season 3, Episode 13, "Horse of a Different Color": Hugh Sanders (appeared in That's My Boy, The Pride of St. Louis, The Winning Team, and The Wild One) plays circus owner Mr. Armstrong.