“Albright—you’re fired!”


Here in Athens, I get an independent station on my CharredHer cable service that originates out of Atlanta—WATC-TV, channel 57. WATC’s programming is very heavy on religion, both local and from satellite (its claim to fame is that it produces more local non-news programming than any other station in Atlanta), with a bit of educational and family shows thrown into the mix…and of course, the inevitable in-the-middle-of-the-night, it-pays-the-rent infomercials.

watcI’ll confess I don’t watch WATC much, but on occasion I’ll drop in around the 3pm hour because they roll out a bunch of public domain television favorites. For example—this being Wednesday—The Beverly Hillbillies is scheduled at 3:00 (and if those mooks over at HTF who complained about the quality of the MPI Hillbillies releases ever got an eyeful of these horrible prints they’d quit their bellyaching quicker’n you can say “Dash Riprock”) followed by The Lucy Show at 3:30. Tomorrow, it’ll be The Lone Ranger and Shotgun Slade taking over for the Clampetts and Lucy…and Fridays they really get wild with One Step Beyond and Four Star Playhouse.

Tuesdays are sort of odd because they run a Daniel Boone repeat in the 3-4 time slot…and to my knowledge (though this seems more like a case for BobH) Boone’s still under copyright. But since WATC does get some of their programming from World Harvest TV (which runs Daniel in a weekday slot at the same time…sister Kat gets it on her DirecTV), maybe they worked out a deal where they’re allowed to visit the good people of Boonesborough once a week.

Gale Storm and Charles Ferrell, the stars of My Little Margie

Mondays are my particular favorite because WATC kicks off the PD proceedings with some of the 1951-59 episodes of Dragnet, and even though I’ve practically seen them all (or own them on DVD) there’s something reassuring about being able to kick back and watch good ol’ Joe and Frank violate civil liberties in black-and-white, the way the television gods intended. But after Friday and Smith wrap up their half-hour, Channel 57 makes an awkward segue into another oldie but goodie…My Little Margie.

I did a post on Margie about four years ago and while I touched on the television series my main concentration was on the radio version of the sitcom, which ran almost as long as the TV version…only the radio show was heard over CBS Radio (beginning December 7, 1952 and continuing until June 26, 1955). I watched an interview with star Gale Storm not too long ago, and she was just as perplexed as everyone else as to how the radio Margie stayed at CBS; true, the TV version began there (as a summer replacement for I Love Lucy), but then moved to rival NBC in October. (She observed that she and Charlie Ferrell, star of Seventh Heaven, were asked by CBS to do the radio series, so I guess the Tiffany network held no grudges.)

Most television shows from the 1950s originated in radio…but My Little Margie is one of a handful of exceptions where it was the other way around. Gale Storm and Charles Ferrell reprised their sitcom roles, with Gil Stratton, Jr. playing Margie’s boyfriend Freddy.

As a youngster, My Little Margie reruns seemed to run like tap water…so I guess it was appropriate that the station responsible for my indoctrination into life with the Albrights was WTAP-TV, the NBC affiliate in Parkersburg, WV. Margie is one of those shows where you really don’t have to devour the whole package…if you’ve seen one or two episodes; you’ve pretty much seen them all. But I caught one the other day on the Atlanta station that just…well, freaked me out is the most diplomatic way I can put it.

In “Vern’s Mother-in-Law” (02/02/55), Margie’s father, Vern (played by Charlie Ferrell, star of Seventh…all right, I’m stopping now), and his boss George Honeywell (Clarence Kolb) have once again had to rescue the headstrong Margie—this time before she caused a panic at her bank. Vern reminisces how his mother-in-law (who Margie was named after) was just like his impetuous daughter, and in flashbacks the two men tell Margie about “Grandma” and how she made it a bit rough on her future son-in-law by making him jump through a series of hoops so that she can be convinced he’s the right guy for her daughter.

The inagural My Little Margie comic book, which Charlton published for 54 issues between 1954 and 1964 (long after the show went off the air).

Gale Storm not only plays Grandma in this outing (with some not-too-convincing age make-up) but she also takes a second role as her mother. There’s a scene where Vern comes a-courtin’, and he leans over to give his future wife a kiss…and I’m praying “Oh, ferchrissake…please…please…please don’t let him french her because she’s his freaking daughter!” Fortunately, he just gave her a peck on the cheek…but it was touch-and-go there for a minute.

To be honest, I’m not entirely certain why I’m willing to stop channel-surfing when I see My Little Margie on my TV screen. It certainly isn’t going to break any new ground in comedy (well, I suppose the episode I described might be the subject of a few dissertations…all of them disturbing) and though I thought Storm-as-Margie was cute (especially when she’d do the “Margie gurgle”: Gr-r-r-r-r-r-r…) Ferrell had a tendency to grate on me with his Boston accent. Plus: I never could see what she saw in her boyfriend Freddy (Don Hayden); he seemed like the type of guy for which “Employee of the Month” at Shoe World would be his greatest achievement in life. I guess it just brings back memories of dumb, simpler times when a successful sitcom format meant showcasing twenty-one-year-old girls (though Storm was 31 at the time) who had precious little to do than make trouble for their father; to paraphrase Neil Young: “Kitsch never sleeps.”

Charlie Farrell, “star of Seventh Heaven,” as the running gag on The Jack Benny Program went.

When Margie was cancelled in 1955, Storm went on the record as saying “enough is enough” as far as a regular TV series was concerned. She made quite a few appearances on television variety shows, including one in 1954 where she sang a song that caught the attention of Dot Records executive Randy Wood…who signed her to a recording contract that yielded pop hits like I Hear You Knockin’Ivory Tower and Dark Moon.

Oh, and yes, she was a bit premature with the refusal to not star in another TV series. But I need to call recess, and this is as good a stopping point as any.

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