Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bette Davis Eyes

"I didn't bring your breakfast because you didn't eat your din–din!"

Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis)

If it is true what they say about the eyes being the windows of the soul, then Bette Davis' eyes spoke volumes in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Davis' and Joan Crawford's hatred for each other was probably the worst–kept secret in Hollywood — ever — which made them the perfect choices to play sisters who hated each other in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" which premiered on this day in 1962.

You may think that you know all about sibling rivalry. You may even think that you know all about it from personal experience. But trust me, you don't know sibling rivalry until you have seen "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Davis and Crawford weren't siblings, of course. They only played siblings in the movie. But their loathing for each other was at the heart of the movie's initial appeal.

When the movie began and the siblings were young girls, Baby Jane was the star of the family while her older sister Blanche toiled in her shadow. But as they got older, their roles reversed. Blanche (Crawford played the adult version) was the success while Jane (played by Davis) was a flop.

Blanche's career came to an abrupt end when she was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident that was shrouded in mystery. Unofficially it was blamed on Jane — who became Blanche's caretaker and lived with her in a house that had been bought with Blanche's movie earnings.

But caretaker was far from the right word for Jane. She was a mentally ill alcoholic who believed she should have been a star but that Blanche had stolen it from her. Consequently she was abusive and cruel to her sister, who told her one day that she had decided to sell the house. Jane descended further into her mental abyss, removing the telephone from her sister's room and serving her a dead parakeet and a dead rat for her meals.

Jane also became obsessed with reviving her career and began looking for a pianist to accompany her on the songs she used to sing when, as Baby Jane, she had enchanted audiences everywhere. Victor Buono, as a down–on–his–luck pianist, responded to an ad she had placed in a local newspaper and encouraged her to seek the spotlight again.

He was unaware of some of the things Jane had already done to keep her dream alive — she had severely beaten her sister and she had killed the housekeeper when she became too inquisitive.

But when he discovered Blanche bound in her bed, he left to notify the authorities.

I always felt the Buono–Davis relationship was intriguing. When I was a young reporter at my first newspaper job, one of my standing assignments was to cover the police beat. In the process, I learned a lot more about the law and law enforcement than I ever did in my college courses.

One of the things I learned was how, sometimes, two people brought together become capable of things that neither would have done alone. It's like they create a third personality. I have always seen Buono and Davis as being that way — or, at least, they could have been.

There is no telling what would have happened if they had continued to work together, but when Buono bailed, Jane took her emaciated sister to the beach, which led to the climax of the story. I won't share that with you. Everyone should see it.

And today, being Halloween, would be a good time to see it.

It wouldn't be right to wrap this up without saying a little more about the Davis–Crawford feud.

"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" was nominated for five Oscars. Davis was nominated for Best Actress, and Buono was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Neither won.

Crawford contacted the other Best Actress nominees and offered to accept the award on their behalf if they won but could not attend. Anne Bancroft, the eventual winner, took Crawford up on the offer. She was performing in a play in New York the night of the Oscars ceremony.

Davis claimed that Crawford lobbied against her with Oscar voters — in spite of the fact that an Oscar for Davis would have meant considerably more money at the box office. Both actresses had agreed to lower salaries so they could share in the movie's profits.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Unholy Matrimony

"Ever hear of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire? That was our crowd."

Jennifer (Veronica Lake)

It would be an understandable — but false — conclusion that "I Married a Witch," which premiered on this day in 1942, was the genre predecessor to TV's Bewitched. I've always felt it had more in common with "Bell, Book and Candle," which, in turn, was probably more of an inspiration for Bewitched. But that is really just my own opinion.

The story dated back to the famed witch hunts of colonial days. Two witches (Veronica Lake and Cecil Kellaway) were burned at the stake after being denounced by Frederic March. The witches' ashes were buried beneath a tree to imprison their spirits. Lake put a curse on March and his descendants — they would all marry the wrong women.

And, as the movie showed through the generations, March's descendants (all played by March) did indeed end up with the wrong women. One of March's descendants, who was living at the time of the Civil War, opted to sign up to fight in the war rather than stay at home with his wife.

Then one day lightning split open the tree, and the spirits were freed. Lake and Kellaway, who played her father, went looking for the latest member of March's family. He was running for governor and was about to marry perhaps the greatest shrew of them all (Susan Hayward).

The wedding was to be held on Election Day — a little publicity stunt dreamed up by March's soon–to–be father–in–law.

It was a slapstick love story in the same kind of mistaken–identity way as "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Lake originally intended to torment March, but she ended up accidentally drinking a love potion that had been meant for him — and she became determined to help him in any way she could.

Her father was against helping anyone in March's family so he and Lake were at cross purposes. It seemed he would win out when Hayward found March and Lake embracing and called off the wedding. Her father embarked on an 11th–hour campaign against March in all of his newspapers, and March went from a heavy favorite to a heavy underdog.

But Lake turned things around, engineering a unanimous landslide for March in which even his opponent didn't vote against him.

Who would need to collude with the Russians — or anyone — with a lover who could do that?

(In hindsight, it is rather astonishing that Lake was able to generate a persuasive on–scene attraction to March. She didn't have much good to say about working with him. "He treated me like dirt under his talented feet," Lake said. "Of all actors to end up under the covers with. That happened in one scene, and Mr. March is lucky he didn't get my knee in his groin."

(March didn't regard "I Married a Witch" to be a highlight of his career, either. He said it was the worst experience he had ever had.)

Considering the chemistry that Lake and March had on the screen, it can be a bit of a letdown to learn that they really didn't care for each other. But that is the magic of Hollywood, isn't it? They certainly weren't the first co–stars who couldn't stand each other — nor were they the last.

It is hard to know which, if either, was right, but the evidence I have seen suggests that Lake was the problem. Actor Joel McCrea was considered for the role that eventually went to March. He was even announced as the lead actor in the movie, but he backed out, later claiming it was because he did not want to work with Lake again. The two had been paired in 1941's "Sullivan's Travels."

Well, she may have been hard to work with, but she got results.

The slapstick nature of the story was aided by what I thought was one of Cecil Kellaway's most enjoyable performances — and the South African character actor had a lengthy movie resume that included a rather brief but still memorable role in "Harvey".

"I Married a Witch" received one Oscar nomination — for Best Dramatic Score — but lost to "Now, Voyager."

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Never Underestimate Country Wisdom

Mayberry had been dealing with a string of cow thefts when the Andy Griffith Show episode — "The Cow Thief" — aired on this night in 1962.

Mayberry was a rural town with several farmers in the area, and the mayor was determined to get this case solved. To that end he summoned an investigator from the state capitol to help Andy (Andy Griffith) and Barney (Don Knotts) crack the case.

The investigator had some pretty good observations to make, but let me tell you something. I grew up in a small town that was really only a slightly larger version of Mayberry. As an adult, I have lived and worked in much–larger cities. Based on their respective realities, city and country have their own ways and logic that aren't necessarily transferable to the other. Neither is wrong. It is just that neither is adequate as a one–size–fits–all kind of thing.

And so it was in this episode. Applying city logic, the investigator made some observations that even Andy admitted made "good sense." But Andy was a country boy, and this case required a country eye, not a city eye.

Andy's country eye had spotted the presence in town of a vagrant named Luke (Malcolm Atterbury), and he had let Luke know that Andy knew he was in town. Andy kept an eye on Luke, but he never mentioned what Luke had done in the past. My guess is that it had something to do with theft because Luke apparently jumped to the top of Andy's list of suspects — quickly.

The investigator, of course, had no reason to suspect Luke. If he saw him in the street, he would no doubt mentally dismiss him as one of the town's residents. Nothing more, nothing less.

He certainly wouldn't have thought about Luke based on the forensic evidence in which he placed so much faith.

The investigator had determined, after examining footprints that had been found at the scene of one of the thefts, that there were three men involved — one who was of about average weight and two others who were much heavier. That made sense, based on the forensic evidence.

But Andy always thought outside the box, and he realized there was a set of footprints that was missing — the cow's. Putting two and two together, Andy guessed that Luke was putting shoes on cows to throw others off the scent.

But, without any real evidence, it was simply a guess — and not a good one as far as the mayor (Parley Baer) was concerned.

See, Andy had set Luke up, allowing him to overhear his conversation with a farmer about keeping his new cow secure — and to call him at the office if he was needed because Andy said he would be working late.

Truth is they were baiting the hook, and Luke took it.

Andy had summoned the mayor, the investigator and Barney to the farmer's home to wait and see if Luke showed up. After Andy explained his conclusion, the mayor said it was a harebrained scheme and stormed out, calling for the investigator and Barney to follow him. The investigator did so without hesitation, but Barney wasn't convinced and was slower in following.

A few minutes later Barney returned and told Andy that he'd been about to leave when he remembered another time when the mayor of Mayberry accused Andy of having a harebrained scheme.

"Do you remember?" Barney asked. "That was when you had the idea of making me your deputy."

Andy's confidence in Barney had been justified. They made a good team — albeit one that was a bit unorthodox.

And Barney's faith in Andy was proven to be justified even if Andy's methodology was also a bit unorthodox. Luke's calls for help summoned them to the barn, where they discovered that a "nearsighted old man" had tried to put shoes on "an ornery old bull."

I guess there are a few lessons to take from this episode.

Primarily, never dismiss country wisdom as being inferior to city wisdom. Country wisdom is founded in experience and observation of the natural world. It is logical. In the words of an insurance company's advertising, "We know a thing or two because we've seen a thing or two."

Andy had seen a thing or two.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

An Unpopular Idea

In October 1972 All in the Family was in its second full season and in the midst of what would be a five–year reign at the top of the national TV ratings.

Everyone, it seemed, was watching, and it gave the writers a bully pulpit any president would envy. They responded with a series of episodes that continually broke new ground in American comedy.

The episode that aired on this night in 1972, "The Bunkers and the Swingers," dealt with the subject of wife swapping — a topic that was rarely mentioned on TV at that time.

Lee Kalcheim, Michael Ross and Bernie West won a Primetime Emmy for their writing in this episode, which gave a different spin on freedom of speech and protecting the expression of unpopular ideas (or, in this case, lifestyles).

Edith (Jean Stapleton) had found a magazine on the subway and had been drawn to the recipe section — not noticing that the magazine was about the wife swapping lifestyle. Next to the recipes she found a "swap section" — classified ads seeking couples for rendezvous although they appeared to be worded as ambiguously as possible. The ad that drew Edith's attention spoke of a couple seeking another couple to "swap good times."

Edith responded, and the wheels were in motion for the couple (played by Rue McClanahan and Vincent Gardenia) to pay the Bunkers a visit.

But Edith shared the information with Gloria (Sally Struthers), who immediately realized that the couple's intentions were not what Edith thought they were, and she shared the information with Mike (Rob Reiner), insisting that he had to do something. He resisted.

"How am I going to explain wife swapping to your mother?" he asked.

"Just tell her in plain, simple English," Gloria replied.

"Well, you tell her in that English!" Mike said.

Mike and Gloria had tickets to see the ballet so they couldn't stay to explain things to Edith. But Mike sent a telegram to the couple telling them to cancel their plans to visit.

He didn't realize that the couple was already en route to the Bunkers' and arrived only minutes after Mike and Gloria left.

Archie wasn't sure what to make of them, but he warmed up to them when they gave him a box of prime cigars. And Edith was given perfume — Chanel No. 5.

"That's their highest number," she told Archie.

Turned out the guests were trophy winners in an annual dance contest, and they used that as a way to break the ice with the Bunkers.

But the Bunkers eventually learned the couple's true nature, and Archie was livid. He told them they were communists.

McClanahan's character tried to explain to Edith. Their marriage "didn't seem to matter anymore," she said. "We were drowning. Swinging saved us!"

Edith replied, "I think I would rather have drowned."

The couple left, a somewhat tragic figure even though Gardenia's character said a familiar line to students of history. It would do today's students well to remember it.

"I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Forty–five years after Gardenia spoke that line on All in the Family, it is a timely reminder of the way that unpopular ideas are being stifled on America's college campuses. The story was a reminder of why we have freedom of speech in this country. Popular ideas don't need protection. Unpopular ideas do.

Well, McClanahan and Gardenia's figures were tragic in this episode, but their futures weren't. Both had bright futures in the All in the Family universe. McClanahan went on to co–star on Maude, which was the first All in the Family spinoff, before becoming a regular on The Golden Girls.

Gardenia — in a different role — was the Bunkers' neighbor for a couple of seasons, but his primary vocation was in the movies. He was even nominated for an Oscar at the same time he was playing Frank Lorenzo in 1973.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Don't Let It Be Forgot ...

"Merlyn told me once: Never be too disturbed if you don't understand what a woman is thinking. They don't do it often."

King Arthur (Richard Harris)

"Camelot," which premiered 50 years ago today, was hindered from the start by the movie's times.

A few years earlier, in an interview, former first lady Jackie Kennedy equated her husband's presidency to Camelot. The recording of the songs from the musical had been one of his favorites, she told historian Theodore H. White, saying that she wanted her husband to be remembered by the standards of Camelot — "well–meaning, fallibly human but ultimately idealistic."

I don't know if that is how people, more than 50 years after the president's assassination, think of the Kennedy years, but the connection didn't exist when he was assassinated in 1963. At that time, "Camelot" was a successful Broadway musical, but most Americans had probably never seen it.

That probably wasn't important, though. As film critic Roger Ebert pointed out in his review of the movie, "Camelot never really existed, so everybody can invent his own."

Ebert also pointed out that Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave were "just about the best King Arthur and Queen Guenevere I can imagine."

As I say, most Americans had probably never seen the musical, but lots of folks saw the movie. It was the 11th highest–grossing movie of 1967 — but, ironically, the theatrical rentals were insufficient to show a profit. I guess the rental charge was so high many theaters had trouble making the money back on ticket sales — of which there obviously were many.

After all, it cleared more than $31 million at the box office, which is a lot of money today but was an awful lot of money in 1967. Clearly, the public was interested in it — an interest that could be explained, in part, by how much airplay songs from the musical had received, and, again in part, by the star power of the cast.

But I think it was probably fueled mostly by the link between the story and the slain president — and all the emotions that stirred up. Oh, sure, there were some who were drawn by the music — which received an Oscar — but I have long believed most of the interest stemmed from Jackie Kennedy's interview.

Incidentally "Camelot" won a couple of other Oscars, too, but none for acting. In fact, none of the actors were even nominated.

While the music might have been inspirational for a Kennedy legacy, it probably was best for Kennedy's admirers not to pay close attention to the details of the story — which featured a love triangle that involved the king, the queen and Sir Lancelot (Franco Nero).

Given the stories about the president, his brother and Marilyn Monroe, that might not have gone over well if it had been discussed at any length.

I have long believed that Jackie Kennedy, like Priscilla Presley, was responsible for much of her husband's public image after his death.

Anyway ...

I'll not spend time and space discussing the story — which was already rich with ironies before the theatrical rentals failed to turn a profit — because I think most of us already know the story of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.

What I will say, though, is that some of those things that you might not necessarily notice in other films — like costume design and art direction — you will notice in "Camelot." The Academy certainly did, rewarding both with Oscars.

"Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment
That was known as Camelot."

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Everybody Loves Raymond

"Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."

Several characters

"It's not that Raymond Shaw is hard to like. He's impossible to like!"

Frank Sinatra

Most people today probably think of kindly Jessica Fletcher of TV's Murder She Wrote when they think of Angela Lansbury. They don't think of her as anything even remotely bordering on evil.

But her performance in John Frankenheimer's "The Manchurian Candidate," which premiered on this day in 1962, was ranked No. 21 on the American Film Institute's list of the silver screen's greatest villains.

Lansbury could do evil characters, and Mrs. Iselin was clearly evil, brainwashing her son (Laurence Harvey) to be used as a pawn to further her husband's political ambitions. Well, they were her ambitions for him, and I gathered that no one ever refused Mrs. Iselin anything. At least, not for long and no more than once.

Manipulative might be a better word for Mrs. Iselin. But her son, Raymond Shaw, resisted, and that was the source of some problems.

He was an obvious choice to be the Manchurian candidate; with his psychological profile, he was perfect for the part of a brainwashed assassin trained to do the bidding of his American handler — Mrs. Iselin — in a Cold War suspense thriller that hit America's movie screens at the same time that a real–life suspense thriller — the Cuban Missile Crisis — was playing out on America's TV screens.

"The Manchurian Candidate" was about a complex international Communist conspiracy, but for Mrs. Iselin, it was all leading up to the assumption of the presidential nomination by her husband. How it was to be achieved, though, is one of those things a viewer must see for himself so I will avoid giving away any of the details of the story — the same goes for the way that Frank Sinatra's character helped Raymond cast off the shackles that bound him.

I will say, though, that, if like Janet Leigh (who played Sinatra's love interest), you come in in the middle, chances are good that you will miss something.

But even if you watch it from start to finish, you may end up like me. I had to watch "The Manchurian Candidate" several times before I finally got a full grasp of the story. Some movies are like that.

Brainwashing was a new concept in 1962 and it remains a misunderstood condition today. It was developed during the Korean War, which is when the events in this story began. There were so many timely elements in the story as well as elements that became timely in hindsight — the political assassinations (and attempts) in the last half–century, including the assassination of President Kennedy a little over a year after this movie's debut and the lingering suspicion that Kennedy's assassin was a real–life Manchurian candidate.

Indeed, in every high–profile attack on a famous person, the suggestion is made by someone at some point that the perpetrator was some kind of unsuspecting agent. That suggestion is more plausible in some cases than others, but it is an indication of the lasting influence of "The Manchurian Candidate."

Frankenheimer's brilliant direction managed to convey so much in a movie that really was ahead of its time. I've always felt one of the best examples of his distinctive style came early in the film when the men in Shaw's unit believed they were in a ladies' garden club meeting — but the attendees were actually Russian and Chinese brass.

It was a chilling movie that told a story that continues to be relevant today — perhaps even more relevant today than it was then.

Lansbury was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but she lost to Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Bette Davis' Finest Performance?

"Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars."

Charlotte (Bette Davis)
Ranked #46 on the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 movie quotes

Of all her film roles, Bette Davis' performance in a movie that premiered 75 years ago today, "Now, Voyager," has to rank among her best.

And even after 75 years, it is a story that surely resonates for some, perhaps many, living today. I think it will continue to be relevant after we're gone — and that will keep Davis' performance relevant as well.

Under the oppressive thumb of a domineering mother (Gladys Cooper), Davis played a frumpy spinster who suffered from neuroses; she was unattractive and overweight, but with the assistance of her doctor (played by Claude Rains), Davis' character really bloomed, becoming an independent and refined woman.

At her sister–in–law's urging, Davis went on a cruise before returning to her mother's home. While on this cruise she met a married man (Paul Henreid) who apparently would have divorced his manipulative wife if not for his devotion to his young daughter.

Fate intervened when the two found themselves stranded on a mountain together for five days following a car crash. They discovered that they were falling in love but decided it would be best if they didn't see each other again.

Davis returned to her home where her family was amazed at her transformation. Her mother was determined to get Davis back under her thumb and tried to resume her abusive treatment of her daugher; Davis was just as determined not to be subjugated again, and her experience with Henreid gave her the courage to pursue a life of independence. In fact she was just about to marry another man when a chance meeting with Henreid caused her to break it off.

Then meeting Henreid's daughter changed her plans. The young girl reminded Davis's character of herself. Neither had been wanted by their mothers, and neither enjoyed the love of their mothers.

That tends to be a toxic combination for most people in that position. To counter the effects Davis took the young girl under her wing.

Davis was permitted to remain in the young girl's life — with the understanding that her relationship with Henreid would remain platonic.

Then, at the end, came Davis' famous line that can be seen at the top of this post. It says that Davis' character had accepted the fact that she couldn't have everything she wanted — but she was grateful for what she had especially when you consider what she had to overcome to acquire it.

Davis was nominated for Best Actress but lost to Greer Garson in "Mrs. Miniver." Cooper was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (the first of her three nominations), but she lost to Teresa Wright, who also appeared in "Mrs. Miniver."

Max Steiner won an Oscar for his music score.

'Saints in Surgical Garb'

"Three hours ago, this man was in a battle. Two hours ago, we operated on him. He's got a 50–50 chance. We win some, we lose some. That's what it's all about. No promises. No guaranteed survival. No saints in surgical garb. Our willingness, our experience, our technique are not enough. Guns and bombs and antipersonnel mines have more power to take life than we have to preserve it. Not a very happy ending for a movie. But then, no war is a movie."

Hawkeye (Alan Alda)

Even long–time fans of MASH may not have noticed, but there was a policy that existed for more than half of the series' run — the laugh track that was always present in scenes that showed The Swamp or the mess tent or the colonel's office (or anywhere else) was not present in the operating room.

That was a sign of reverence and respect. The operating room is a serious place so, even though the surgeons cracked as many jokes in the O.R. as they did outside it, there was no laugh track there.

It was not always that way. It was a policy that evolved and was actually a compromise. See, the creators of the series — Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds — didn't want a laugh track at all. CBS rejected that but ultimately agreed to a compromise in which the laugh track was omitted from operating room sequences.

In a way, the episode that aired on this night in 1972, "Yankee Doodle Doctor," gave the show's fans a peek into the future.

Not that there were that many fans in 1972, anyway. The show was in its first season and wound up rated #46 when the season was over. It appeared to be on its way to cancellation, but it got some traction from summer reruns and was rescued. It was in TV's Top 10 every season for the rest of its run.

But that was still in its future when "Yankee Doodle Doctor" aired 45 years ago tonight.

As the episode opened, it became clear to the audience that an Army documentary was going to be made about the 4077th.

And as the episode unfolded, it became clear to Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) that it was pure propaganda, right down to the insipid narration that Frank (Larry Linville) did, which referred to the surgeons at the 4077th as "saints in surgical garb," and they wanted nothing to do with it.

But after they had sabotaged the finished film — driving the director from Special Services and the unit's commanding general (Herb Voland in a recurring role) away — Hawkeye and Trapper convinced Col. Blake (McLean Stevenson) to let them make their own movie.

And what a movie it was.

With the help of Radar (Gary Burghoff) and Nurse Cutler (Marcia Strassman), they made a slapstick feature that paid homage to the Marx Brothers — with Hawkeye dressed as Groucho and Trapper as Harpo. Radar played a patient who was being "operated on" by Hawkeye — with a saw.

It probably goes without saying that, given the slapstick nature of the movie Hawkeye and Trapper produced, the laugh track was used liberally.

But not in the final scene. In that scene, Hawkeye, seated next to an actual recovering patient, delivered the monologue that is reproduced at the top of this post. No laugh track was used — well, nothing funny was said in that segment so it would have been strange if one had been used. But it gave viewers a taste of what it would be like to watch MASH without a laugh track.

OK, that last scene wasn't in the O.R. But it was in post–op. Close enough.

Strassman, who was making her second appearance on MASH, seemed to be destined to be a cast regular, but she left after the season ended. I haven't been able to find out why, but she went on to land several significant parts on TV and in the movies.

She died of cancer three years ago this Tuesday.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Self-Image Re-Imagined

Mary (Mary Tyler Moore): Tell us, Miss Mary Jo Beth Ann Lou, what are some of your favorite hobbies?

Rhoda (Valerie Harper): My favorite hobbies are cheerleading, liking people and living in America.

In the 1970s Valerie Harper as Rhoda on the Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the best role models for girls and young women.

The star of the show, Mary Tyler Moore, was portrayed as the epitome of the modern single working woman, but as the associate producer of a local TV newscast, she occupied the elite end of that spectrum. Besides she was beautiful and always wore clothes that accentuated her physical beauty. She was hardly typical of the young women of her generation although she did inspire many to pursue their dreams. She was a pioneer in a male–dominated field, and she was to be commended for accomplishing what she did in a way that was perceived as nonthreatening. But she was not typical.

Rhoda was more representative of modern single working women. She was a window dresser at a department store, and she didn't have a covergirl body although the baggy clothes her character wore made it hard to see that she really was more shapely than viewers were led to believe. A native of the Bronx, Rhoda had a brash way of speaking and a boisterous personality.

That was a lethal combination for Rhoda. People were even less attracted to such a character then than they are today.

Still, Rhoda was a revolutionary character in modern television. She was a role model for all the girls who lived in the real world where imperfections and shortcomings of any kind could be and frequently were obstacles to success. Rhoda seemed to revel in her acceptance of that world and her place in it.

Once, for example, Rhoda was invited to "go downtown and goof on people." She asked what that meant and was told it meant to "walk around, act weird, hope somebody notices."

"That's my life, kid," she replied.

Another time, at a social gathering, Rhoda introduced herself as "another person in the room."

So it was a little disappointing 45 years ago tonight when, in the episode "Rhoda the Beautiful," Rhoda seemed to cave to the segment of the culture that values appearances over everything else, that judges the book's cover, not its content.

In the episode Rhoda had been participating in a weight–loss program and had shed 20 pounds. She looked great, so great in fact that she was chosen to be a contestant in a beauty pageant at the department store where she worked.

But Rhoda was having a hard time accepting the new and improved version of herself. She had been struggling with weight issues all her life as so many people do. It was part of her personality — and it was a handy excuse when she failed at something. What would she do now?

But to Rhoda's credit, she stayed on her diet. She was in her maintenance phase, which apparently meant continuing to avoid all the things she had been avoiding since going on the diet. That led to one of the funniest scenes in the episode.

Rhoda walked into Mary's apartment while Mary was eating a candy bar. Embarrassed, Mary put the candy bar down, but Rhoda insisted that she finish it. So that is what Mary did — but she soon regretted it because Rhoda asked her questions about it, telling Mary that she had forgotten what chocolate tasted like. So Mary had to describe the candy bar to Rhoda. When she was finished, Rhoda said, "That's the best candy bar I ever watched."

Even as the list of semifinalists for Ms. Hempel was narrowed and Rhoda remained in contention, she continued to put herself down. It annoyed Mary to the point that she chided Rhoda for not allowing herself to enjoy the experience.

"It's not so easy to say nice things about yourself," Rhoda protested, and that was something to which I could certainly relate. I remember on my first newspaper job, one of my first assignments was to write an article about myself, introducing myself to the readers. While I had a list of accomplishments of which I was proud (still am, for that matter), I really struggled with that article. It took me longer to write than any article I've ever written, even the ones that dealt with complex subjects.

Rhoda was right. It isn't easy for many people to speak — or write — about themselves. I guess it seems immodest to most.

There was an element of disappointment there, too, I suppose. When Rhoda became one of the contenders for Ms. Hempel (Hempel's Department Store being where she worked), she had been counting on a negative reaction from Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) as the basis of an excuse for not winning.

But Phyllis threw her a curve, insisting that she was beautiful and an obvious choice for Ms. Hempel.

To Rhoda's great surprise, she won the pageant — and gave hope to the seemingly hopeless.

You know, she might have been a pretty good role model in this episode after all.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Adapting Thomas Hardy's Best Novel

"A woman like you does more damage than she can conceivably imagine."

Francis (Terence Stamp)

Nearly everyone I know would tell you that I always recommend reading a book before watching its movie version. It has always been an article of faith with me that a book is better than any movie that is based on it.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and "Far From the Madding Crowd," which premiered in Britain on this day in 1967 (and opened in theaters across the United States two days later), was an exception to that rule. At least, in my opinion.

It followed Thomas Hardy's 1874 novel pretty closely. Well, I thought so. In some ways, it may even have been better than the book (albeit somewhat condensed in places). I know others who feel that way.

But I also know others who think the movie is inferior to the book, which some people think was his best. There are plausible arguments to be made on both sides.

So I just want to make a couple of observations on this, the 50th anniversary of the movie's debut.

First, Julie Christie had been making movies for several years but was still in her 20s when she made "Far From the Madding Crowd." She played Bathsheba, a beautiful but vexing woman who inherited a prosperous farm and found herself the object of the affections of three very different men.

Christie's performance was splendid and deserving of an Oscar nomination, but it didn't receive one. Must have been hard to get one of the five Best Actress nominations that year with Katharine Hepburn ("Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"), Audrey Hepburn ("Wait Until Dark"), Anne Bancroft ("The Graduate") and Faye Dunaway ("Bonnie and Clyde") turning in award–worthy performances that year.

(Katharine Hepburn was the winner, by the way.)

In a talented cast, Christie stood out — and that's saying something when the three men who pursued her were played by Peter Finch, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp.

The other thing that stood out was the sweeping cinematography that so beautifully captured the countryside where the story took place. It was gorgeous, and each time I have watched this movie I have seen something new to admire. The cinematography deserved an Oscar nomination, too.

But the only Oscar nomination that "Far From the Madding Crowd" received was for Best Original Music Score, honoring the work of British composer Richard Rodney Bennett, but Elmer Bernstein took home the trophy for his work on "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

Oscar nominations are like inductions into halls of fame, though. Some are deserved; some are not. It's really a matter of personal preference and bias.

And cinematography is not something I usually get worked up about.

But the cinematography in "Far From the Madding Crowd" truly was exceptional.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On Aging and Making Commitments

I'm not really sure why I like the episode of Frasier that first aired 15 years ago today.

Except that, as always, the writers for the show had a unique take on their theme — which, in this case, was the twin themes of aging and commitment.

Which, I suppose, are really just subsets of the more general topic of life, which is probably more accurately defined by the phrase "it's complicated."

Now, that's real reality programming — even if it is in a fictional context.

The episode — "Kissing Cousin" — centered on a visit from Roz's cousin Jen (played by Zooey Deschanel). Jen was a younger but just as free–spirited version of Roz (Peri Gilpin). In fact, Roz once babysat for Jen and took the opportunity to school her in Roz's rather bohemian ways. The two became close, and Jen, like many disciples of an avant–garde role model, took it to extremes.

Jen was negative about, well, just about everything, but all of it couldn't be explained simply by the mindset Roz had encouraged. Jen had that judgmental certainty of the rightness of every thought she had and every position she took that often seems to be the hallmark of youth.

And older viewers must have suspected that, had they been given the opportunity to watch Jen's character evolve as she got tossed around by life (as all lives inevitably must be), they would have seen her abandon most of her preconceived notions about how life is and should be.

But Jen never made another appearance on Frasier so viewers will never know what became of her. They can only speculate based on their own experiences and knowledge.

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) put up with it longer than one might think his narcissistic personality could, but he finally had enough when Jen told him that Freud had been "proven wrong about everything." The strongly Freud–influenced Frasier could not resist the urge to set her straight.

Otherwise, Frasier was to be commended for an atypically restrained response that anyone who has had to contend with Millennials must admire.

But he could get some distance from Jen. He wasn't with her 24 hours a day the way Roz was, and Roz, who was 38 in the episode (Gilpin was actually 41 when it aired), couldn't keep up with her twentysomething cousin.

And the all–nighters with the globe–trotting Jen were wearing Roz down.

While Frasier seethed privately over Jen's attitudes, the perennially prissy Niles (David Hyde Pierce) was willing to chalk them off to youthful exuberance, ironically noting that "we were all that way" and "it passes."

To older observers, the young always seem to have everything, and that can be frustrating for those who have lost a step or two.

The truth is that no generation has it all, and Millennials, in spite of their reputation for being technology–savvy, have their own obstacles to overcome. Many are more resistant to rites of passage, like leaving their parents' homes, than their predecessors.

For many this is said to be an economic condition, heavily influenced by the Great Recession and related external factors, but that does little to explain the behavior of older Millennials like Jen, who had been living in places like London and Florence — and planning a trip to Vietnam because "Americans have never even heard of it" — years before the economy imploded.

I'll admit that most Millennials probably couldn't afford to live the way Jen did in 2002 — but her lifestyle seemed to have an appeal for the station manager, Kenny (Tom McGowan). Recently separated from his wife and still working in an office filled with boxes containing his possessions (because Kenny's experience had been that permanent jobs were temporary), Kenny had his issues with commitment. And Jen was free of such bonds.

Jen encouraged him to be more impulsive, but when he did so and then tried to arrange to travel with her to Vietnam, she revealed herself to have her own problems with commitment. She always traveled alone, she told Kenny, because of an experience she once had. The audience was left to guess about the nature of that experience, but one can reasonably imagine that it involved someone who had feelings for Jen that she did not return.

That seems to be at the heart of many such human conflicts.

That person was probably another Millennial, not as mature as Kenny, who handled Jen's rejection quite well, shrugging it off and expressing the hope that they would run into each other in Asia — and, after she left, he began to unpack the boxes in his office.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

An Ode to Journalism, Be It Fake or Yellow

We can do 'The Innuendo'
We can dance and sing
When it's said and done we haven't told you a thing
We all know that crap is king
Give us dirty laundry!

It is easy these days for people whose lives have not been involved in journalism the way mine has to believe that sensationalism and yellow journalism in the media are new.

But I could have told you back when I was an undergraduate studying journalism that neither is new.

On this day in 1982, Don Henley (initially of Eagles fame) released a solo single called "Dirty Laundry" that criticized the media of that time. If you listen to the lyrics, you must conclude that little has changed.

(Actually, the song was from an album titled "I Can't Stand Still," which had been released two months earlier.)

I studied print journalism in college, then practiced it in the real world. And it was an article of faith in every newsroom I was ever in that broadcasters weren't really serious journalists — that, in the words of the lyrics from the song, they only had to look good (while they read what someone else had written for them, either from the hard copy or from a teleprompter). Being "clear" was not required.

I don't know if the song fits in the modern–day debate over "fake news," but if fake news exists it is merely an outgrowth of the kind of journalism Henley criticized in the song.

I liked the song because, even though I hadn't been in the business long when "Dirty Laundry" was still being played on the radio, I knew enough about it to know that bad news will happen on its own. It doesn't need any help from journalists, whether they are legitimate journalists or not, and I have always despised those who try to stir things up needlessly.

And I also enjoyed a little tidbit that only journalists would know. There's a line in the song that goes "Is the head dead yet?" The song, as I understand it, was largely inspired by the media coverage of the deaths of John Belushi and Natalie Wood — but that particular line has a real role in newspaper history. It asks whether the major headline story (or head) is ready to go. If a head is dead, it means it is all set and is being printed — and it is too late to make a change.

I suppose that yellow journalism is the same thing as fake news. It depends on the label you want to slap on journalism that uses little, if any, research or facts and is presented in the most sensational, eye–grabbing way possible.

And that kind of thing has been going on in America since at least the 19th century and the days of Pulitzer and Hearst.

If it preceded that time — and I am sure it did — journalism historian Frank Luther Mott probably could have told us. He wrote the textbook on American newspapers from 1690 to 1940 that was used in most college journalism history courses for many years — and, for all I know, may still be in use in some classrooms today.

But Mott died in 1964. Not that he would be likely to still be around today. After all, he'd be over 130. Still, it would be good to hear his insights about modern journalism. No doubt he would be able to compare this time in journalism history to another period, whether it qualified as yellow journalism or required a different label.

And Mott, who led journalism departments at the University of Iowa and University of Missouri, was good at naming things. For example, he was responsible for the term "photojournalism."

He didn't coin the term "yellow journalism," but he did define it so I am sure he would have some thoughts to share on fake news — or whatever it is.

Absent Mott, though, you can listen to "Dirty Laundry" and get an idea what broadcast journalism was like 35 years ago.

And, as I said earlier, you will realize that things really haven't changed that much.

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Moral Conscience of All in the Family

People often forget how groundbreaking All in the Family was. And much of it was because of Edith (Jean Stapleton). She was never the dingbat Archie said she was. She was, in fact, the conscience of the show.

A couple of days ago I wrote about how the sitcom addressed sexism — at a time when it wasn't really a topic of conversation. We live in a time when a woman has been nominated for president and three women sit on the Supreme Court; the subject matter of that episode probably seems quaint to many people who weren't around when All in the Family was on the air.

Ironically Edith wasn't the conscience of that program, but the theme of the series evolved so that, five years later, Edith was the moral influence on the family.

Forty years ago today, All in the Family took on homosexuality, another topic that wasn't popular in the 1970s — and, in its typical fashion, did so in an unexpected way.

As the episode "Cousin Liz" began, Archie (Carroll O'Connor) and Edith had traveled to New Jersey for the funeral of one of Edith's cousins, Liz, who had died unexpectedly. As the Bunkers prepared in their motel room to go to the service, Edith lamented the fact that Liz had never married and Archie revealed that he had once had a crush on Liz.

"What did you do about it?" Edith asked.

"I kissed her," Archie replied.

"Was that all?" Edith asked.

"She wouldn't do nothin' else," Archie said.

No one — Archie, Edith, the audience — realized how much that said about who Liz really was.

Homosexuality simply wasn't brought up in those days. Roommates of the same sex were presumed to be in a platonic relationship, perhaps sharing a place to live to save on expenses; at least that is how it was always presented on TV. In Liz's case, she had been living with a woman (Veronica Cartwright) for a couple of decades, but everyone in the All in the Family universe assumed that, being low–paid teachers, they did so to save money.

Well, that may have been part of it, but in truth they were lesbians. The fact that they kept the true nature of their relationship secret is entirely consistent with the way things were in those days. Even Edith didn't know about her cousin's sexual orientation.

But she was about to find out.

As Liz's closest living relative, Edith stood to inherit a valuable tea service that had been in the family for years and had been in Liz's possession when she died. So she brought it up with Liz's roommate at a post–funeral reception.

But Liz's roommate asked Edith if she could keep it, explaining that she and Liz had shared tea in the afternoons after school. It was a time they eagerly anticipated each day, a time that was set aside just for them.

When Edith pressed her on the matter, Cartwright tried to explain that she and Liz had been lovers, telling Edith that their relationship was "like a marriage."

That was hard for Edith to understand. Her concept of marriage was a traditional one, but her faith in love transcended that.

Edith had many memorable moments during the series' run, but some of her finest were in the episode that aired on this night in 1977.

She told Cartwright that she was sorry she knew the truth — not because she didn't approve but because Cartwright had lost the love of her life, and that grieved a kind soul like Edith's. And she told Cartwright she could keep the tea service because she really was Liz's next of kin — a status that has only been legally recognized in the United States in recent years.

But Archie would be a problem. Once he knew the value of the tea service, he had to have it — or, at least, had to have the money it would bring.

When Edith told him the truth about Liz's relationship, he threatened legal action, which would have meant the end of Cartwright's teaching career. That didn't bother Archie.

"Who the hell wants people like that teachin' our kids?" he bellowed. "I'm sure God don't! God's sittin' in judgment ..."

"Well, sure he is," Edith replied, "but he's God. You ain't!"

(I've always thought that is pretty good advice for anyone who presumes to speak for God on anything. And, in my experience, far too many do presume to speak for God.)

Then she shamed Archie for considering what amounted to blackmail, saying "I can't believe you'd do anything that mean."

Edith's assumption of the role of the family's moral conscience had been in progress for quite awhile, but I think it reached a turning point with this episode. Within the next few episodes, Archie — who had been a bigot's bigot from the start — moved so far to the center that he was taking on the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan. That was almost certainly the result of Edith's influence.

But the story of Archie's confrontation with the KKK is a story for another day.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Solving a Riddle

"A young boy and his father were in a car accident. Both were injured and rushed to the hospital. They were wheeled into separate operating rooms and two doctors prepared to work on them, one doctor for each patient.

"The doctor operating on the father got started right away, but the doctor assigned to the young boy stared at him in surprise. 'I can't operate on him,' the doctor told the staff. 'That child is my son.'

"How can that be?"

The riddle

Good television is many things.

Mostly, I suppose, it is a reflection of its time. Watching an episode of a classic TV series is often like looking into a window to the past. Sometimes it reflects the reality that the writers and producers may have wished was so — but wasn't really. Other times, though, it can be brutally, unflinchingly honest.

And an episode of All in the Family that first aired on this night in 1972 — "Gloria and the Riddle" — holds up a mirror in 2017 to show just how far America has come (and how far it has yet to go) in its attitudes about certain things. In this case sexism.

Forty–five years ago, Gloria (Sally Struthers) had her family stumped by a riddle she had picked up while working with a friend of hers for what was known at the time as women's lib. You can see the riddle at the top of this post.

The answer to the riddle — that the surgeon who couldn't operate on the injured boy was the child's mother — seems to leap out at you in 2017, doesn't it? But it wasn't so obvious in 1972. I recently saw a survey of schoolchildren who were told the riddle, and a majority identified the surgeon as being the boy's mother. I doubt that the results of such a survey would have been anywhere close to that in 1972.

And the answer that most of the remaining children gave definitely wouldn't have been given by many (if any) respondents in 1972 — that the boy had two fathers.

Certainly sexism still exists today, but it is also beyond dispute that doors that were closed to women in 1972 are no longer closed to them in 2017.

In 1972 there weren't many positive role models for young women outside of the traditional ones. Well, successful ones, that is. The women's liberation movement promoted the idea of women achieving in previously male–dominated fields, but that idea really hadn't taken root in American thinking yet.

Girls and young women, for example, could admire and be proud of the achievements of the space program, but it would be more than a decade before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space.

In the years that have passed since that time, many women have flown on space missions, and some have died there.

Any American could (and still can) take pride in Supreme Court decisions and opinions, but until Sandra Day O'Connor was nominated to replace Potter Stewart in 1981, only males could realistically dream of occupying a seat on the highest court in the land and writing legal opinions that would influence millions of lives.

Today women occupy three of the nine seats on the Supreme Court.

And, in 1972, no woman had ever been on a major political party's national ticket. There have been three since — Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin were their parties' first female nominees for vice president, and Hillary Clinton was the Democrats' first female presidential nominee last year.

No woman has been elected president or vice president — but that will change eventually, just as it did for Catholics and blacks.

Change comes slowly sometimes, and it depends upon many variables — not the least of which is the messenger.

On this night in 1972 All in the Family was the messenger.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Salesmen Under Pressure -- Or Is That Redundant?

"I subscribe to the law of contrary public opinion. If everyone thinks one thing, then I say, bet the other way."

Ricky (Al Pacino)

The Chicago-based real estate office in "Glengarry Glen Ross," which premiered on this day in 1992, probably could be any office in any business anywhere.

It certainly resembled offices in which I have worked (even though I have never worked in real estate) — a fairly small staff liberally laced with profanity (because the script did have so much profanity, I understand the cast jokingly referred to it as "Death of a Fuckin' Salesman").

The layout reminded me of the newsroom at a daily newspaper where I once worked. The editor had a little glassed–in office from which he could observe everything that went on in the newsroom — but nothing that went on in his office could be heard from outside when the door was closed (at least it couldn't be heard clearly). It was pretty much the same in this real estate office, where, in telephone conversations with prospective customers, the salesmen would pose as wealthy investors who were in town briefly but could juggle their commitments to allow for an in–house visit with a lead who had already proven to be hesitant or financially unable to invest in land.

It was a familiar ploy, but everything was familiar to the salesmen in "Glengarry Glen Ross." The salesmen had seen all these leads before and knew they were dead ends. It was frustrating. You could hear the frustration in their voices. You could see it in their eyes. I guess they continued to play the game in the hope that the outcome would change.

What did Einstein say? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The only reason that wouldn't apply in this case is the salesmen in "Glengarry Glen Ross" didn't think anything would change.

Why did they continue to play the game? Maybe they harbored an ill–defined hope that maybe a miracle would occur. Or maybe it was all they knew.

Profanity was about all the salesmen in "Glengarry Glen Ross" had left — the leads on which their livelihoods depended were worthless.

They were men under pressure, intense pressure, and it has been my experience that people who are under pressure are more apt to do things they might not do otherwise, like resort to profanity (if not worse). Such a situation is not improved when the people in charge look for ways to ratchet up the pressure.

And the boys downtown found a way to do precisely that — in the person of Alec Baldwin, who was sent to announce to the salesmen the latest sales contest. The salesman with the top sales for the week would win a car. Second place would be a set of steak knives. Third place was a pink slip. Thus, the top two would be retained. The other two would be terminated.

The announcement caused considerable angst among the salesmen in the office. Jack Lemmon played a salesman who had once been the best but had fallen on hard times. He may have been under more pressure than anyone else with an ailing, hospitalized daughter. His character certainly elicited the audience's sympathy, but there were others — Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Al Pacino — who were fighting their own battles.

This was a period when Lemmon, who had already enjoyed a long and distinguished career, had some of his finest moments on the silver screen. His work in "Short Cuts," is often overlooked — and, to my great regret, I overlooked it when I wrote about that movie a few years ago (which was a mistake because his character's monologue on his infidelity must certainly rank among the best moments he ever had) — but "Glengarry Glen Ross" preceded it and contained some equally impressive performances.

In one scene Lemmon spent an evening at the home of a reluctant client who clearly did not want to invest. Lemmon knew it was a dead end, but he persisted until the man physically ejected Lemmon from his home. Desperation had driven both men to the inevitable.

In another scene, Lemmon tried to buy the new premium leads from office manager Kevin Spacey but ultimately could not because Spacey demanded payment up front.

The new leads were on everyone's minds. They were the leads that promised deals that could be closed — and Lemmon, under pressure, stole the leads and sold them to a rival. That led to another great scene between Lemmon and Spacey — in which Lemmon's role in the mysterious disappearance of the leads was revealed.

Lemmon deserved more recognition for his work. He did win Best Actor in the National Board of Review's D.W. Griffith Awards, but Pacino received the movie's only Oscar nomination, losing Best Supporting Actor to Gene Hackman in "Unforgiven" — but winning Best Actor for "Scent of a Woman."

Perhaps Lemmon got the last laugh. His character was the inspiration for Ol' Gil Gunderson, the real estate agent on The Simpsons.

And that may be the more lasting legacy.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Having Faith in Somebody

Opie (Ron Howard): I told Mr. McBeevee I'd be right back.

Andy (Andy Griffith): Who?

Opie: Mr. McBeevee. You don't know him. He's new around here. I just met him this mornin'.

Andy: Oh.

Barney (Don Knotts): Oh, a newcomer in town, eh? Where's he live at?

Opie: I met him in the woods.

Barney: What's he doin' in the woods?

Opie: Well, mostly he walks around up in the treetops.

Barney: He walks in the tree ... Mm hmm. I suppose he's invisible, too.

Opie: No. Mr. McBeevee's easy to see, especially his hat. He wears a great, big, shiny silver hat.

Not everyone likes the episode of the Andy Griffith Show that first aired on this night in 1962, but I have always liked it because it so beautifully summarizes the father–son relationship between Andy (Andy Griffith) and Opie (Ron Howard).

The episode was called "Mr. McBeevee," which was the name of a telephone lineman (Karl Swenson) Opie had befriended in the woods.

The story began with Opie and Andy playing a game that parents undoubtedly have played with their children since time began — the game of pretend, of make–believe.

Opie had an imaginary horse he had named Blackie, and Andy was playing along with the game one morning. When Barney (Don Knotts) showed up, Andy and Opie spoke so convincingly of Blackie that Barney never doubted that Blackie was real, running out in the yard to see Opie's new horse.

Then Andy advised Barney that Blackie was "on the invisible side."

Barney was a little put off, believing himself to have been the victim of a practical joke, but he got over it — until later when Opie came to the courthouse telling of a new friend he'd made, one who walked in the treetops and wore a "great, big, shiny silver hat."

Andy and Barney believed Mr. McBeevee was make–believe, too — until Opie came home with a hatchet that definitely was not imaginary. He claimed Mr. McBeevee had given it to him.

That was something Andy couldn't understand so he instructed Opie to take the hatchet back where he found it and leave it there.

Turned out Mr. McBeevee was real — and Opie described him in the only way an 8–year–old boy could, but Andy and Barney couldn't comprehend. It was a classic failure to communicate.

Anyway, Mr. McBeevee took the hatchet back, acknowledging that Opie's father probably had been right to insist that he return it, but he wanted to give Opie something for doing some odd jobs for him so he gave him a quarter. (That may not sound like much in 2017, but it was a small fortune in 1962, at least in a boy's eyes.)

In the meantime Barney told Andy that he did believe Mr. McBeevee was real. Opie had already provided information that would be difficult for a child to make up, and Barney was going to get a more complete description using a technique of the law enforcement officer's trade — an eyewitness description.

At first it went well, but then Opie spoke of how Mr. McBeevee "jingles ... like he has rings on his fingers and bells on his toes." Barney pressed him on that point, and Opie conceded that Mr. McBeevee didn't really have rings on his fingers and bells on his toes. The jingling came from the "12 extra hands" that hung from his belt.

That was how Mr. McBeevee had described the tools he used in his work, but Andy and Barney had no way of knowing that. Opie's description of Mr. McBeevee was a source of endless amusement for Andy.

Then Opie showed them the quarter Mr. McBeevee had given him, and things changed. Andy couldn't believe the person Opie had described had given him a quarter. Opie suggested that they go to the woods and talk to Mr. McBeevee, and Andy agreed to do that. So they went to the woods.

Unfortunately for Opie, Mr. McBeevee had gone to get a colleague to help him with a task so he wasn't where Opie expected him to be, and Andy believed Opie had gotten into the habit of "stretching the truth a little out of shape."

When they returned to their home, Andy sent Opie up to his room and followed him there later, intending to punish him for lying.

Their conversation, in my opinion, was one of the great scenes in sitcom history.

Andy told Opie that he could avoid punishment if he admitted that Mr. McBeevee was imaginary. But Opie couldn't say that. Mr. McBeevee was real. "Don't you believe me, Paw?" he implored his father.

Andy sighed. "I believe you," he said and went downstairs, where he told Barney and Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) that he hadn't punished Opie.

When Andy told them that he had told Opie that he believed him, Barney protested that what Opie had told him was impossible.

"Well," Andy replied, "a whole lot of times I've asked him to believe things that, to his mind, must have seemed just as impossible. ... I guess it's a time like this when you're asked to believe something that just don't seem possible, that's the moment that decides whether you got faith in somebody or not."

Barney wanted to know if Andy believed in Mr. McBeevee.

"No," he insisted, "but I do believe in Opie."

Later, of course, Andy's faith in his son was justified when he met Mr. McBeevee in the flesh.

I have said many times that I thought Andy Taylor was the best father on TV, better than any who came before or who have come along since. This episode proved it.