Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Forty years ago tonight, a TV baby started to make his appearance in what was, perhaps, the most anticipated birth on TV since Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky. (I say started because this was the first episode of a two–episode story.)
It was on All in the Family, the top–rated program in America in the 1975–76 season. Fans of the show knew that Gloria (Sally Struthers) had been pregnant and was due to deliver in the late fall, but, as viewers learned on this night in 1975, Gloria was two weeks overdue. She was remarkably calm, given the situation; even so, Mike (Rob Reiner) tried to get her mind off things by taking her out to dinner at an Italian restaurant.
In fact, it was while they were drinking some wine that Gloria told Mike she was in labor. But I'll get back to that in a minute.
Archie (Carroll O'Connor) wasn't thinking about Gloria's problems. He was obsessing over a minstrel show at his lodge in which he was supposed to be a participant — but he desperately did not want to do it.
A couple of his lodge brothers came over to drag him to the lodge, but Archie resisted. He tried everything he could think to try, and his lodge brothers began to talk about having him kicked out of the lodging, threatening him with the loss of his benefits — a life insurance policy with "a cash value of $90" and a burial plot that would be weeded twice a year. Archie didn't want to lose any of that so he swung back to the lodge — until he was told he would have to do the minstrel show.
Then he swung back in the other direction.
Well, Archie wound up dressing up in blackface to do the minstrel show, but the news that his daughter had gone into labor gave him the perfect excuse to skip out.
It wasn't perfect as far as his buddies were concerned, and they threatened him with expulsion as he left the building. "You're going to have a lot of grandchildren," one of his buddies told him, "but this is a big show!"
(In fact, this turned out to be Archie's only grandchild. Mike and Gloria moved to California a few years later, and their characters could have had another child, but there were never any reports of one.)
Meanwhile, back at the Italian restaurant ...
Gloria and Mike had gone into a couple of pay phone booths — if you're too young to remember those, it's OK; you can't find pay phones anymore anyway; they're prehistoric relics now, I guess — well, Mike and Gloria went into phone booths that were old–fashioned then. The kind with glass doors that you closed to give yourself a little privacy.
Keep that in mind. It's important.
Mike called Edith (Jean Stapleton) and told her the news. She made a beeline for the lodge to get Archie. Mike opened the door of the booth and stepped out into the restaurant.
Gloria called the doctor and told him she was on her way. Then she stood up and tried to open the door — but it wouldn't open. She tried to calmly inform Mike that she was stuck.
Mike seemed to react rationally — at first. "You're not stuck," he said soothingly to Gloria. "These doors are a little bit sticky. They can be opened. There's no problem. Trust me." He tapped on the door a couple of times, then swung around and, in an hysterical voice, shouted, "She's stuck! My whole family is stuck in a phone booth!"
As the episode ended, viewers saw Gloria, still in the phone booth — only it was on its side. Emergency workers were trying to extricate her.
And her contractions, which had been 20 minutes apart, were now 10 minutes apart. Mike was hysterical, and Gloria was calm, answering a call from her doctor and explaining to him that she was still in the phone booth.
Viewers were left to await the resolution of the episode the following week.
And that was a television cliffhanger circa 1975.