I know this is going to be hard to believe…but during the early portion of my childhood, I was not the same kidlet who vegetated in front of a TV set that you all know and love today. (Whoa…talk about an awkward pause.) I enthusiastically participated in outside activities, particularly those of the variety that only really got going until after sundown, which was usually the signal for my mother to start calling my name to come inside…about the same time I developed a hearing problem, if memory serves. (“Honest, Mom…I didn’t hear you calling me.”) You remember how it was: if you had to cease “play” at that very moment, the world as we know it would come to an end—and besides, sleep was for fops and popinjays.
But on Thursday nights in the summer of ’72, Mom only had to say one thing to me to ensure I would abandon plans for any all-night outside excursions. “You’re going to miss My World and Welcome to It,” she’d sing out. WHOOSH! I would be inside the house faster than you could utter “A Unicorn in the Garden.”
CBS was airing My World and Welcome to It that summer—reruns of a very funny situation comedy that had originally aired over NBC from 1969 to 1970. (My longtime blogging compadre Linda has a wonderful website devoted to this TV series, which you can find here.) The show, inspired by the work of humorist-cartoonist James Thurber, was critically-acclaimed, had decent ratings, and was even going to be renewed for a sophomore year…but CBS cancelled The Red Skelton Show that same season, and once NBC snagged Skelton they had to make room for him on the schedule by cutting loose one of their shows. My World and Welcome to It was the unfortunate candidate. I’ve joked in the past about how I’ve held this against Skelton all these years but my good Facebook chum “Dr. Film” insists that by the time NBC realized they’d made a lulu of a boo-boo (My World grabbed Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series and star William Windom) it would have been prohibitively expensive to “get the band back together,” so to speak. Of course, eight-year-old me didn’t know this at the time: I just thought it was a clever, entertaining sitcom.
The men responsible for putting My World and Welcome to It on the air were writer-director Melville Shavelson (Where There’s Life, The Great Lover), writer-producer Danny Arnold (Barney Miller), and executive producer Sheldon Leonard. My World is one of my DVD Holy Grails, but writer Stephen Winer clued me in on Facebook a good while back that the odds of the show getting a DVD release were remote because the legal issues involved would make Perry Mason throw up his hands and mutter “Damned if I know.” So, if you want to nostalgically revisit a show that was way before its time, your best bet is to get in touch with your friendly neighborhood bootlegger or do a little spelunking on YouTube.
The closest we’ve gotten to a legitimate DVD release of My World is the 1972 film The War Between Men and Women, which I sat down with yesterday (I purchased it a month or so back from Deep Discount DVD, who no doubt enthused after I smashed the “purchase” button: “Ivan…bubie…it’s been so long…”). Shavelson directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Arnold (who produced); it stars Jack Lemmon as the Thurber-like Peter Wilson, who has a “meet cute” with bookseller Theresa “Terry” Kozlenko at an ophthalmologist’s (Severn Darden) office (both are wearing dark sunglasses because their pupils have been dilated). Peter, a sardonic bachelor with an intense dislike of women, dogs, and children, nevertheless falls in love with Terry who has both canines and kiddies in spades—three offspring from a former marriage comprised of Caroline (Lisa Eilbacher), Linda (Lisa Gerritsen), and David (Moosie Drier). The couple ties the knot and despite some friction with the reemergence of Terry’s irresponsible first husband (Jason Robards) they make a go of what is admittedly an unconventional familial situation…until the reason for why Peter was at the eye doc’s in the first place threatens to make things even rockier.
I’d be the last person to suggest that The War Between Men and Women is an ideal substitute for My World and Welcome to It (even though the movie’s title—culled from one of Thurber’s best-known books—was also the title of one of the TV show’s episodes). But I genuinely like the movie; the protagonist, Peter Wilson, is more like the real-life Thurber (who had bad eyesight from a childhood accident and drew on ginormous sheets of paper with a crayon) and the feature film has a skosh more “bite” than My World. I also like that they recruited My World’s Gerritsen to play Linda, who is an absolute joy and has a wonderful rapport with star Lemmon.
I will admit this, though: I never completely buy Lemmon in the lead role. Jack has such a strong screen image as the All-American Nebbish that some of Peter’s characteristics, like his streak of misogyny, don’t always ring true with one of my favorite actors. (Wilson, before he’s domesticated by marriage, is also a slovenly housekeeper—something that’s a little difficult to accept from the thesp famous for playing Felix in The Odd Couple .) War isn’t a perfect movie; it’s uneven (I think Linda tabbed it “lukewarm”) in that it sometimes loses its footing over whether it wants to be a saucy romantic comedy or a cuddly family romp. And while I bow to no one in my love for Jason Robards, his Steven Kozlenko (Terry’s ex) is an obnoxious character—his scenes “bonding” with Peter come across as forced and unfunny. (I did giggle at the scene where he revives Wilson with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, though.)
Robards’ female co-star in A Thousand Clowns (1965) was Barbara Harris, a longtime Thrilling Days of Yesteryear favorite that admittedly is one of the main reasons why I love this movie. I have not seen every motion picture on Babs’ c.v., but I do know that of what I have watched she’s never given a bad performance. (Among my favorites: Clowns, Plaza Suite, Nashville, Family Plot, Freaky Friday, Movie Movie, Peggy Sue Got Married…and on and on and on.) Harris’ turn as Terry is a fantastic one; you really do believe that she’s in love with Peter despite his being a real jerk at times. I also appreciate many of the film’s supporting performances including Darden’s ophthalmologist and TV veteran Herb Edelman as Lemmon’s publisher. (The cop who asks Lemmon and Harris to move along when her dog decides to drop another a puppy in the middle of the street is played by producer Arnold.)
Reaction to The War Between Men and Women was mixed; critics felt that some of the wisecracks (while funny) were not representative of Thurber and noted the wrap-up on War is a little on the sticky side. Thurber’s widow Helen (who had given her approval to do My World and Welcome to It) liked War, however, and the finished product got a Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen. Released to DVD by Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment in 2014, War saw a Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber in 2016.