Confession time: I’ve been spending most of my copious free time sitting around watching television reruns than tackling the massive backlog of movies currently present in the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives. This morning—I’m kind of ashamed to admit this—I sat through a TVLand mini-marathon of Beverly Hillbillies episodes from 1970, a time when the sitcom warhorse was running on fumes. My rationalization for watching these is that Phil Silvers guest-starred as a con man in several of them, and while he had positively nothing to work with it’s tres, tres difficult passing up the opportunity to watch him in action. (There was an added bonus: TDOY fave Kathleen Freeman was on hand as Silvers’ wife.)
One of these episodes, “The Clampetts in Washington” (09/22/70), had an actor playing a guard at the White House and I began to worry that my capabilities to spot character actors on a dime had diminished because I couldn’t come up with the individual’s name. Finally, it dawned on me—it was Richard Erdman, who you may have seen as “Hoffy” in Stalag 17 (1953) and the sleepy photographer in The Blue Gardenia (1953), which just wrapped up on TCM about a half-hour ago. (Erdman is also in the 1951 noir classic Cry Danger, where he has one of my favorite movie quotes in response to Jean Porter’s query “You drinkin’ that stuff so early?”: “Listen, doll girl, when you drink as much as I do, you gotta start early.”) The great news is that Erdman is still with us, and he’s even got a semi-regular role as an old codger named Leonard on NBC’s Thursday night sitcom Community.
In the meantime, it looks like RTV has become my best friend again: The Jack Benny Show, Bachelor Father, McHale’s Navy—it appears I’ll watch anything with a laugh track. I’ve embarked on a project in the evenings involving my mother’s portable DVD player (which she brought over to the house for my use) in which I’m watching every single episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show from the Image Entertainment box sets.
Speaking of Dick Van Dyke, Georgia Public TV had an interesting installment of Pioneers of Television on last Friday that dealt with situation comedies that Mom and I sat down and enjoyed. The show had to resort to some public domain footage for some of the shows (notably the clips of The Lucy Show and Make Room For Daddy) but for the most part the material was fresh; I enjoyed seeing Pert Kelton in an early Honeymooners sketch and the Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith Show excerpts just provide prima facia evidence that both series remain the gold standard for sitcoms today. I’m not certain why they included the Danny Thomas show at the expense of other family comedies (Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, etc.) but I suspect it was because it provided an easy segueway to the Griffith material. Check your local public television listings if you missed this; I have a feeling it will probably be on again.