Friday Photo Flashback

It is time for another installment of my Friday Photo Flashback. This week – a picture I didn’t even know I had.

It certainly is not a great picture of me, but it does bring back memories. The background seems dark and things behind us are hard to make out, but the people in it stir up good memories.

From left to right front row: me, Karen, and Joe. Back row: Margaret and Steve

The photo was taken at my high school graduation party. I only know this because of the clothes we are wearing (thanks to other photos from the party). It is a snapshot of an ending and new beginning for us – the end of school and the start of “real life.”

1988. The people in the photo were my best friends. Jeff would also be included in that group, and there is another photo of all of us together somewhere. The only thing that would make this a perfect snapshot of my life at that time would be Jeff in it.

I spent so much time with all of these people in high school. We always seemed to be together. it wasn’t always all of us, but you could almost be that I’d be with at least one of them!

Steve and I were practically inseparable. We spent hours in the car driving and listening to tapes I had made to “cruise” with. I’ve always said we were like Jackie Gleason and Art Carney – Ralph and Norton. I think we drove each other nuts at times, but we truly were great friends … And still are. The day was bittersweet for us because I believe the day after this photo was taken, Steve left for basic training.

Joe and I hung out almost as much, but he was always the better student and actually did his homework. A lot of the time he’d be doing that so it was just Steve and I out causing trouble. There were many times, however, that we’d all hope in the car and drive around wasting gas. I think of the three of us as the Three Amigos, or maybe the Three Stooges is more accurate. We all played cards (Pinochle) together for hours on end. Now we try to find time between our work schedules to schedule a golf outing together…

Margaret and I were as close as Steve and me. I love that she has her arm around me in this picture. We never dated – even though our folks wanted us to – but it was almost like we did. We loved each other, but never in a romantic kind of way We went to movies, dances, and dinner together and our friendship continues to this day. She is Aunt Margaret to my kids and they love her just as much as I do.

Margaret and I used to talk for hours on the phone when were in school. We still do. Both of us have long drives to work and we often chat while driving. We still vent, laugh and cry with each other. Ours truly is an amazing friendship.

Karen and I had probably just started dating when this picture was taken. She was the same age as my brother and a Freshman when I was a Senior. For some reason, she stood next to me in parade formation in marching band. It was weird because I played trumpet and she was a flute player. Not sure why we were next to each other, but it led to our relationship.

I always tried to make her laugh when we were in marching band. I usually did. As prom approached, I kind of jokingly asked if she’d want to go. She surprised me and said yes. I remember Joe and I got a limo and I think we both had top hats. I think both Karen and Joe’s date wore blue dresses. All my prom pictures are gone now, so it is hard to remember. I do have vivid memories of that night, but that is really all.

We dated for about 5 years total with a short break in there somewhere. Karen was my first love. She wasn’t my first girlfriend, but my first serious one. We had a lot of wonderful memories. She’s married now and a wonderful mother. She works hard in the medical field and I still hear from her sisters and also am friends with some of her family on Facebook. I recently DJ’d her sister’s wedding and saw her briefly. I was glad to get to say hello.

I have some wonderful memories of that graduation party. My dad gathered up members of the wedding band he had played with and they all set up and played music at the party. My Uncle Tom played drums on some songs and did some singing of old blues tunes. My cousins also joined in and played drums and guitar. It was so cool. Steve, Joe, Jeff and I all got up and sang Weird Al’s parody of La Bamba (Lasagna) like a bunch of fools.

Of course, I think of the many folks who were there, who are no longer here. My mom, my grandparents, my great grandma, my great Aunt, Steve’s dad, Joe’s mom, and so many others. Thankfully they live on in photos and memories.

It seems to me as I look at this picture that we are posing for someone else’s photo. I wonder who might have been taking it. I would certainly love to see that one. Maybe I’m wrong, though. We all don’t seem to be looking the same way. Perhaps this is just an excellent candid picture. It’s a nice candid picture where I still have hair, big glasses, and am surrounded by some of the best people I’ve ever or will ever know.

TV Show Draft Pick – The Honeymooners

For my next pick in the Hanspostcard TV Show Draft, I chose a show that is one of my all time favorites. I don’t remember when I first was introduced to this show, but I am guessing my dad had something to do with it. Early on in the draft, I chose Police Squad, which only aired 6 episodes. This show is known for its “Classic 39” – The Honeymooners.

This isn’t my first blog about the show. Some time ago, I took part in a “Favorite TV Episode” Blogathon and picked 2 of my favorite episodes to present. You can read that blog here:

When you examine 50’s TV shows, there was very little struggle involved. Think about it. I Love Lucy, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Andy Griffith Show, and Leave it to Beaver all showed families who were living in nice homes or apartments, showed no signs of financial struggles, and while there may be a misunderstanding here and there, it was mostly “bliss.” In 1955-1956, however, The Honeymooners focused on two couples from New York, who were struggling to get by.

The show focused on the lives of Ralph (Jackie Gleason) and Alice Kramden (Audrey Meadows), and Ed (Art Carney) and Trixie Norton (Joyce Randolph). One article I found on the show says this about Gleason’s Kramden character: Ralph was the get-rich-quick scheming, short-tempered, soft-hearted guy who was always striving for greatness, but never made it out of that two-room Brooklyn apartment. And that’s one of the main attractions for even the most casual of viewers: the characters are so identifiable. As Jackie himself said at the time, “Everything we did could have happened. People like the show, because we are them.”

The show began as a simple sketch on the DuMont Television Network, on the Cavalcade of Stars. The original hosts were Jack Carter and Jerry Lester, but in July of 1950 comedian Jackie Gleason took over the hosting duties. In the process, Gleason took the struggling show and turned it around to be a hit. The show, which featured comedy skits and a number of different performers each week, was broadcast live in front of a theater audience. In 1951, Jackie and his writers came up with the idea for a sketch called The Honeymooners. It was about a struggling couple living in Brooklyn who frequently fought, but in the end, there was no question that they loved each other.

Leonard Stern was a writer on both The Honeymooners and The Jackie Gleason Show. In an interview with the Archive of American Television he stated, “We started doing one sketch of The Honeymooners every five or six weeks and the response of people on the street was tremendous. So we started doing them every other week. Eventually, though, everyone, including Jackie, lost interest in the other characters in the different sketches, so we started to do them every week until the fatigue level hit its high and we’d have to take a break. I think Gleason had fun doing them, because he recognized the impact Kramden and Alice and Norton and Trixie were having on the audience. I’m not a great fan of ratings, but let me say that 53% of the total television audience was watching the show. There’s nothing like that in existence today. It was astonishing and the show itself was live. Remember, the audience of 3,000 people filled that theater. You earned your laughs. It was a resounding success and very exhilarating for all of us. It was opening night every week.”

When Gleason left the Dupont Network and went to CBS, he hosted the Jackie Gleason Show, where the Honeymooners sketches continued. In the 1952 season, the sketches usually ran between seven and 13 minutes. In the following season, and those sketches ran for a minimum of 30 minutes, and sometimes longer. Then, in the 1954-55 season, they actually filled the entire hour of The Jackie Gleason Show, and was doing so well in the ratings that it occasionally surpassed the viewership of I Love Lucy. That is almost unheard of!

In the 1955-56 season, The Jackie Gleason Show literally became The Honeymooners! It aired as a half-hour sitcom that was filmed in front of a studio audience. In total, 39 episodes were produced, and these episodes are the ones that are still being broadcast today. These 39 episodes are the ones that most people remember.

I read an article that said Jackie Gleason had actually been given a three-year contract from CBS for 78 episodes of The Honeymooners to be produced in the first two seasons. The contract also included an option for a third season of 39 more. For whatever it is worth, Gleason felt the quality of the scriptwriting couldn’t be maintained, and the show was mutually canceled by him and CBS.

A Closer Weekly article says: What’s particularly impressive about The Honeymooners living on the way it has is the fact that back in the day, there needed to be a minimum of 100 episodes of a show available so that local stations could run it five days a week. Any less made syndication difficult, since the cycle would be repeated that much sooner. But then there was The Honeymooners, with a mere 39 episodes to offer up, yet it worked. And continues to do so.

In a 1996 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Jackie was asked why the show ended. He told Carson, “We were running out of ideas. I liked The Honeymooners and I liked doing them, and I didn’t want to denigrate them by forcing scenes that didn’t mean anything. So I wanted to quit, but they didn’t believe me. They thought I had another job someplace, but I didn’t. I’m glad I did stop them, because what we had done was good and if we had gone any further, we might have spoiled it.”

Those “Classic 39” are classic for a reason. They are still funny. The situations that The Kramdens and the Nortons muddle through every week will make you laugh, cry, think, and smile. They still hold up today. Each one of them has memorable scenes and quotable lines.

In one episode Ralph tells his boss he is a great golfer and is immediately asked to go play a round with him. Now Ralph needs to learn how to play – and fast. He finds the perfect teacher in his best friend Ed Norton. In pure Art Carney fashion, Ed reads from a book that you must “address the ball,” to which he takes the club, stands in front of the ball, looks down and says, “Hello, Ball!”

An episode of the show was featured in the movie Back To The Future. When Marty McFly winds up in 1955, a family is watching the episode The Man From Space. Intending to win the $50 first prize at the Racoon Lodge’s costume ball, Ralph decides to create his own outfit. And what an outfit! After appropriating (among other things) a faucet, a pot, a radio tube and the icebox door, he presents himself as the Man from Space.

In another episode, Alice says she wants to go dancing. Ralph has Ed come over to teach him how to dance. Ralph’s outfit is hilarious (he tells Alice it is “what all us cats wear! I’m hip!”). The dance (to the song The Hucklebuck) is worth the watch.

To me, sometimes the funniest stuff can be as simple as Ralph’s face …

In another classic episode, Ralph and Norton appear on a TV commercial trying to sell their Handy Housewife Helper, a kitchen gadget that can, among other things, open cans, remove corns and “core a apple.” In the inspired, ad-lib-laden episode, “Chef of the Future” Ralph demonstrates the wonders of the gizmo to “Chef of the Past” Norton. Rehearsal goes great, but in front of live cameras, Ralph freezes up.

Art Carney was the perfect second banana. The play between him and Gleason is classic. In one episode Norton’s sleepwalking becomes a waking nightmare for Ralph. Ralph can’t get any sleep because he’s been asked to keep his pal from wandering off on late-night strolls around the neighborhood.

Another classic episode takes place at the pool hall where Ralph gets into an argument with the diminutive guy named George. “My friend is even bigger than me,” he tells Ralph. “I have a friend Shirley that’s bigger than you,” Ralph counters. But then he comes eye-to-chin with George’s friend, the towering Harvey, who challenges Ralph to a fight. This prompts Norton to observe: “He’s even bigger than your friend Shirley.”

Many of the plot lines from the classic episodes made it into the Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy novelty hit “The Honeymooners Rap.”

In the 1980’s, Jackie Gleason announced that in his vault he had found a number of Honeymooners skits from The Jackie Gleason Show that had been shot on Kinescope, which is a way of filming directly through a lens that actually focused on the screen of a video monitor. 107 of those skits were released on DVD and syndicated to television stations. These would have been shot before the “Classic 39” and two of them stand out to me.

Jackie had been a guest star on the Jack Benny show, so Jack makes an appearance in one of those “lost” episodes as the Kramden’s landlord. The rent is being raised and Ralph is mad. When there is a knock on the door, Ralph opens it and Jack Benny is standing there. The audience chuckles in anticipation. Ralph calls to Alice that “the Landlord’s here” and the audience erupts. Benny stands there quietly as Ralph reads him the riot act! He calls him a “penny pincher” (which plays into Benny’s “cheap” character”) and says that he pinches a penny so hard that when he is through “both heads and tails are on the same side of the coin!”

In another lost episode, Ralph must lose weight for work. All through the episode he is starving. Finally, he is left alone in the apartment and sitting at the kitchen table. He notices a cake pan. He lifts the lid and sees the cake. His eyes bulge and he goes nuts. As he is about to tear into the cake Alice walks in. “Everybody get back,” he yells! The brief 3 minutes of him staring at the cake before getting ready to eat it is comedy genius!

As brilliant as Jackie Gleason was as Ralph Kramden, he never won an Emmy Award for it. Art Carney, however, won 5 Emmy’s for Best Supporting Actor on The Honeymooners and the Jackie Gleason Show.

The Honeymooners influenced a huge 1960’s cartoon – The Flintstones. It is a blatant rip off of the show, and was a huge hit. It is said that Gleason considered suing Hanna-Barbera Productions because of the similarities, but decided that he did not want to be known as “the guy who yanked Fred Flintstone off the air”

The Honeymooners is over 65 years years old! Joyce Randolph, who played Trixie Norton is 97 years old and still going strong. I wonder if Gleason ever thought that those 39 episodes would still find an audience today and that they would still bring much laughter.

In 1990, Audrey Meadows joined Bob Costas on Later to discuss the show. You can see that footage here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKhMKQaqn7w

If you have never seen an episode, I encourage you to do so. The two episodes I mentioned in a previous blog are good places to start – TV or Not TV or A Matter of Record. Most are available on Youtube.

Thanks for reading!

National Twilight Zone Day

My Facebook friend, Bill, shared that today is National Twilight Zone Day!

He says,

Twilight Zone Day is mysterious, weird, surreal and perhaps a little scary. I can think of many other adjectives, but I think you get the picture. Every once in a while, you have a day like this. And, May 11th is designed to be that day.

The television show The Twilight Zone, was created, written and narrated by the late Rod Serling. It premiered on October 1, 1959. The episodes were wildly popular, stretched the imagination, and captivated viewers. The show aired from 1959-1964 and is available on DVD.

My friend Max has been reviewing each episode of the series weekly. While I wish I had time to do that, I thought for today, I would give a run down of my 20 favorites (I’m sure there are more than 20, but I jotted down the ones I like from memory and there are 20).

What I have always loved about this show is the “twist” endings. It reminds me of so many of the great old radio shows of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s!

Time Enough At Last

By far, my favorite episode of the series. Burgess Meredith is fantastic in this episode! I wrote about it in detail in another blog, which you can read here:

Some Favorite TV Episodes…

This is the eighth episode of the first season.

Quick Synopsis: A henpecked book lover finds himself blissfully alone with his books after a nuclear war.

Escape Clause

Outside of his over the top portrayal of The Mad Hatter on Batman, this is a great performance by David Wayne.

This is the sixth episode of the first season.

Quick Synopsis: A hypochondriac man sells his soul to the devil, exchanging it for several thousand years of immortality.

A Game of Pool

This episode features two amazing performances by Jonathan Winters and Jack Klugman. Like many of the Twilight Zone episodes, it has the “Be careful what you wish for” lesson …

This is the fifth episode of the third season.

Quick Synopsis: A frustrated pool champ has beaten everyone. Everyone except one man; the legend, Fats Brown. Brown is dead, and the champ can only curse his name. But guess who just walked in.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

A classic episode with William Shatner. This was redone in the Twilight Zone movie years later. Shatner’s performance is just frantic! His overacting only makes the character more insane!

This is the third episode from the fifth, and final season.

Quick Synopsis: A man, newly recovered from a nervous breakdown, becomes convinced that a monster only he sees is damaging the plane he’s flying in.

The Masks

Little known fact: This episode was directed by actress, Ida Lupino (who starred in a season 1 episode I will mention next).

Greed and vengeance are the central theme in this episode. The ending remains one of my favorite twists.

This is the 25th episode of the fifth and final season.

Quick Synopsis: Wealthy Jason Foster is dying and he invites his greedy heirs to a Mardi Gras party where they must wear the masks he specially had made for them or else be cut off from their inheritance.

The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine

Ida Lupino and Martin Balsam star in this episode. While I wouldn’t call this a time travel episode, it does focus on living in your past.

This is the fourth episode of the first season.

Quick Synopsis: Barbara Jean Trenton is a faded film star who lives in the past by constantly re-watching her old movies instead of moving on with her life, so her associates try to lure her out of her self-imposed isolation.

Back There

Since I mentioned time travel, this is one of my favorite time travel episodes. Russell Johnson (the Professor on Gilligan’s Island) is the time traveler in this episode.

This is the thirteenth episode of the second season.

Quick Synopsis: At a prominent club in Washington, D.C., a socialite argues about whether it would be possible to change history by traveling back in time. When he leaves the club he finds himself in 1865, on the night that President Lincoln will be shot.

The Odyssey of Flight 33

Ok, sort of another time travel story. The captain is played by John Anderson. Always thought he had a great voice!

This is the eighteenth episode of the second season.

Quick Synopsis: Passing through the sound barrier, a commercial airliner inadvertently travels back in time.

Living Doll

Great performance by Telly Savalas. I’m not going to lie, this episode is one that creeped me out!

This is the sixth episode of the fifth and final season.

Quick Synopsis: A frustrated father does battle with his stepdaughter’s talking doll, whose vocabulary includes such phrases as “I hate you” and “I’m going to kill you”.

Eye of the Beholder

The beautiful Donna Douglas appears from under the bandages in this awesome story. I guess I just gave away the ending …..

This is the sixth episode of the second season.

Quick Synopsis: A young woman lying in a hospital bed, her head wrapped in bandages, awaits the outcome of a surgical procedure performed by the State in a last-ditch attempt to make her look “normal.”

The Fever

I always loved Everett Sloane as an actor. He is great as the angry gambler in this episode. How can you not freak out at the fact that the slot machine has followed him to his room?

This is the seventeenth episode of the first season.

Quick Synopsis: A middle-aged man catches gambling fever from a slot machine that he believes is calling his name.

To Serve Man

The great Richard Kiel is featured as Kanamit in this episode with the great twist ending.

This is the twenty-fourth episode of the third season.

Quick Synopsis: An alien race comes to Earth, promising peace and sharing technology. A linguist and his team set out to translate the aliens’ language, using a book whose title they deduce is “To Serve Man.”

Quality of Mercy

A MUST watch! How things would be different if we looked at it from the other side. Dean Stockwell is great in this episode.

This is the fifteenth episode of the third season.

Quick Synopsis: Hot-shot new Lieutenant Katell tries to make his mark on the last day of World War II in the Pacific and gets a unique perspective on his actions.

Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

Great cast in this one! Jack Elam, John Hoyt, Bill Erwin, Jean Willes, and John Archer all star in this episode which cashes in on the Martian craze.

This is the twenty-eighth episode of the second season.

Quick Synopsis: Following a frantic phone call about a crashed spaceship, two policeman try and determine who among the passengers of a bus at a snowed-in roadside diner is from another world.

A Nice Place to Visit

Another classic twist ending. Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French of Family Affair) is Mr. Pip. Little known fact: Cabot was reluctant to dye his brunette hair and beard blonde, since the peroxide used for it ensured that the color would remain for about six months.

Great story and again, a be careful what you wish for…

This is the twenty-eighth episode of the first season.

Quick Synopsis: When bad guy Henry Francis Valentine dies in a shootout with police, he wakes up in the next world where his every wish is granted forever, and ever.

Nothing in the Dark

This episode stars a young Robert Redford. I saw the ending coming a mile away, but it is still a good one to watch.

This is the sixteenth episode of the third season.

Quick Synopsis: An old woman has fought with death a thousand times and has always won. But now she finds herself afraid to let a wounded policeman in her door for fear he is Mr. Death. Is he?

Nick of Time

Another over the top performance by a frazzled William Shatner! Good stuff. Watch for Batman’s Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) as the mechanic in this episode.

This is the seventh episode of the second season.

Quick Synopsis: A pair of newlyweds stopping in a small town are trapped by their own superstition when playing a fortune telling machine in a local diner.

Deaths-Head Revisited

Powerful episode here. Great performances by Oscar Beregi Jr. and Joseph Schildkraut!

This is the ninth episode of the third season.

Quick Synopsis: A former German SS captain returns to Dachau concentration camp and begins reminiscing on the power he enjoyed there, until he finds himself on trial by those who died at his hands.

One For the Angels

Ed Wynn was known as a comedian, but he gives a marvelous dramatic performance here! Murray Hamilton is great as Mr. Death.

This is the second episode of the first season.

Quick Synopsis: A pitchman is visited by Mr. Death and is forced to get his priorities in order.

Night of the Meek

A wonderful, feel-good episode to wrap up my twenty favorites. Art Carney is just brilliant in this episode. The episode looks weird because it was one of only a few episodes that were shot on video tape in hopes of cutting production costs. Don’t let the quality take away from a wonderful episode!

This is the eleventh episode of the second season.

Quick Synopsis: After a derelict Santa Claus is fired on Christmas Eve, he finds a mysterious bag that gives out presents. With this bag he sets out to fulfill his one wish – to see the less fortunate inherit the bounties of Christmas.

Did I miss your favorite?

Tell me your favorite episodes in the comments! Happy International Twilight Zone Day!!

Holy Batman Day!

After a few serious blogs, I decided I needed to write about something a little bit less … deep.  This is about a silly and campy a topic as I can come up with.

Depending on the source, either September 15 or September 21 was National Batman Day.  Either way, I missed it.  It was to celebrate 80 years of the Caped Crusader.  Batman first appeared in the comics in 1939 and has been keeping the folks of fictional Gotham City safe from the onset.

Yes, there have been many different versions of Batman throughout the years, but for me, the version that will always remain my favorite was created in 1966.

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I was not yet born when it first aired on TV, but I watched it faithfully with my brother in reruns.  To be honest, as a kid watching this show, I had no idea just what the show did to pop culture in 1966.  It was HUGE!  Radio stations used the infamous Neal Hefti theme song for their jingles.  People were using onomatopoeias in every day conversations, along with “Holy” catchphrases!  Batman was everywhere!

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The phrase “Same Bat Time.  Same Bat Channel.” were used in everyday language.  It was a reference to the fact that the first episode would end with our heroes caught in a trap.  Certain death awaited the Dynamic Duo.  The cliffhanger episodes ended telling veiwers to tune in tomorrow to see IF they can escape (which they always did!).

The 1966 Batman was quite different than what had been seen on screen or in the comics.  The producers of the show did it with a campiness that was at times, just plain silly.  One has to wonder if the cast had been different, would it have worked?

Adam West played Batman (and Bruce Wayne) and Burt Ward was Robin (and Dick Grayson).

batman and robin

The Commissioner Gordon of 1966 is SO unlike the Gordon of Fox’s Gotham.  He is played by the great Neil Hamilton.  Chief O’Hara is played like the stereotypical Irish cop from so many movies and radio shows by character actor Stafford Repp.

Batman_'66_-_Gordon_and_O'Hara

In the comics, Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, had been killed off before the show began.  Needless to say, his death was reversed.  He is played to perfection by Alan Napier.

alfred

Aunt Harriet Cooper was played by Madge Blake, who many will remember from Leave it to Beaver.  Blake fell ill during the show and appeared less and less.

madge

In season 3, the two day back to back episode format was abandoned and the character of Batgirl (who was really Barbara Gordon, daughter of the Commissioner) was introduced.  She was played by the amazing Yvonne Craig.

Yvonne_Craig_as_Batgirl_insert_courtesy_Craig

Outside of the campiness of the show, I think what made it such a hit was the villains.  Batman in the comics introduced readers to many of the Batman “staple” villains and so they were known to Bat-fans already.  Personally, I need to give kudos to whoever did the casting of the villains for the TV show!  In all honesty, it is hard for me to imagine anyone else playing these characters (although some have done quite well).

When you watch the show, you will notice that when a villain is on screen, the camera always shoots them at an angle.  The reason is that it was to convey that the villains were a bit off kilter or “crooked”.   By the end of the first season, Batman was such a big hit that celebrities were lining up to be villains.  Many stars just wanted to be ON the show (which explains some of the cameos).  While there are many villains, here are some of my favorites:

Cesar Romero – The Joker. Romero was known for playing romantic Latin lovers in many movies.  When asked to play the Joker, he refused to shave off his trademark mustache.  The cast him anyway and they painted the makeup over his mustache!  Look at the picture below and it is clearly visible.  His over-the-top performance as the Joker and his amazing laugh made the character so much fun to watch!!

Caesar_Romero_Joker

Frank Gorshin – The Riddler.  Gorshin had starred in over 20 films by the time he was cast in Batman as the Riddler.  Those included That Darn Cat, Where the Boys Are, and The George Raft Story.  He was popular in night clubs and on TV and was an amazing impressionist (He did one of the BEST impressions of Burt Lancaster!).  As the Riddler, he was like a cat high on catnip!  He was all over the place!  His laugh was perfect for the role.  The laugh was supposedly inspired by Richard Widmark’s character in 1947’s Kiss of Death.

riddler

Burgess Meredith – The Penguin.  Burgess was called “one of the most accomplished actors of the century” and I would tend to agree.  There is very little that I have seen him in where he is not amazing to watch!  He and Cesar Romero are tied for the most appearances on Batman.  As the Penguin, he is just marvelous!  Penguin trivia:  Burgess had stopped smoking prior to taking the role.  He developed the “quack”ing to hide the fact that he wanted to cough because of the smoke.  Word is that he was so popular on the show, the producers ALWAYS had a Penguin script waiting for him.

burgess penguin

Catwoman – Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt.  Hands down, Julie Newmar is my favorite!  Her sultry voice fits the character.  The way she flirts with Batman, you can tell there is something there, but it can never be because one is good and one is evil.  Julie was a star on Broadway (and Tony Award winner) before Batman. She did many guest appearances on TV too (F-Troop, Route 66, Columbo, and more).  Her Catwoman costume is in the Smithsonian!

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Eartha Kitt makes my list because her take on Catwoman is SO different from Julie’s.  Her growl and the way she rolls her “r’s” is reason enough for her to be mentioned.

eartha

Notice: Julie raised the belt on the costume a bit – so it enhanced her figure.

David Wayne – The Mad Hatter.  I always liked David Wayne as an actor.  He appears in one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes and was in many movies by the time Batman cast him.  He appeared in four films with Marilyn Monroe and also appeared with Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap.  Like the other villains, Wayne is over-the-top is his portrayal of the Mad Hatter.  His exact pronunciations of words with such great diction makes his performance that much more believable. How can you not dig his crazy hat with the eyes that pop up to hypnotize his victims to steal their hats?!

mad hatter

Vincent Price – Egghead.  Vincent Price was a star!  He was the Saint on radio, he had appeared in who knows how many movies, and narrated Michael Jackson’s Thriller!  Egghead was a villain that must have been created for the show, as I don’t know that he ever appeared in a comic book.  He was a super intelligent villain, maybe the smartest.  His language consisted of “eggy” puns.  He was just fun to watch.

egg

Rudy Vallee – Lord Marmaduke Ffogg and Glynis Johns Lady Penelope Peasoup.  I really don’t know why these two make my list.  They only appear in Season Three of the show and it does not take place in Gotham City.  The episodes take place in the fictional town of Londinium.  The entire Gotham crew, including Batgirl, are there (yet no one connects the fact that Batman shows up at the same time Bruce Wayne is visiting!).  I remember these episodes for a couple things – the fact that his pipe can fog up an entire town (or so it seems) and Robin is almost stung by this huge, and obviously fake, bee.  Watching Vallee in this role, you can see (like almost all villains) that he is having a lot of fun with the character.

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Shelley Winters – Ma Parker.  Here is another example of an actor/actress who just is amazing in anything she plays (check her out in Night of the Hunter).  Shelley Winters is brilliant as Ma Parker (an obvious parody of the real Ma Barker and her crime family).  She’s crazy and shows a wide range of emotions throughout her stint on Batman.  I really wish they had brought her back for more!

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Honorable Mentions – Mr. Freeze was played by three different actors – all very differently.  George Sanders, Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach all took turns in the role.mr freeze

Milton Berle – Louie The Lilac – Uncle Miltie as a bad guy?  Yep.

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Victor Buono – King Tut.  Talk about an over-the-top performance!  Victor is said to have loved playing this role.  He said it gave him the ability to have fun and just be silly.

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Ethel Merman – Lola Lasagna.  What?!  Ethel Merman!?  Yep.  Bonus – she’s in an episode with the Penguin.

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Liberace – Chandell and Harry.  This one is just silly, which is why I love it!  Chandell is a criminal (known as “Fingers”), but only a criminal because he is being blackmailed by is evil twin brother Harry.  Liberace alone is enough, but Liberace playing a dual role – LOL!!!

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There were many other celebrities who played villains on the show – Art Carney, Cliff Robertson, Van Johnson, Carolyn Jones, Joan Collins, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Roddy McDowell, Ida Lupino, and SO many more!  All were great, but really only good for one stint.  The villains really made the show fun to watch.

The wait was long for the show to finally make it to DVD/Blu-Ray, and when it was released, I ran out and bought it!  As silly as it is, I still will watch it and love every minute of silliness!  Happy Belated Batman Day!

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Some Favorite TV Episodes…

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This blog is my entry in The Fifth Annual Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon, which is being hosted by Terence Towles Canote and his site, “A Shroud of Thoughts.” Terence has also written a book entitled “Television: Rare and Well Done – Essays on the Medium”.  He writes about TV’s “Golden Age”, westerns, the spy craze of the 1960’s, and a whole lot more.  It is available on Amazon.

His page can be found at: www.mercurie.blogspot.com/

The guidelines for this Blogathon stated that the shows being written about must be at least 25 years old, so you couldn’t write about anything after 1994. There are many participating in this blog and you can read their entries here:

http://mercurie.blogspot.com/2019/03/the-5th-annual-favourite-tv-show.html

To the tube ….

In all honesty, I could have written about countless episodes from countless shows. I may actually try to make it a point to write more about single episodes of shows in the future.  For this blog, there were TV episodes that immediately came to mind and the issue for me became “Which one should I write about?”  I narrowed the list down to four, and Terence said it was perfectly ok to write about all of them!  The shows I have chosen will give you a glimpse of early TV in the 50’s, classic Sci-Fi from the 50’s, and a groovy look at the 70’s.

Three of the four shows that follow are sitcoms.  One of the shows is a drama (which I will talk about more before that episode’s write-up).  I believe TV Guide once said that a good sitcom needed some specific things:  Good characters (even if they are static and predictable), an interesting and relatable plot, structure, believable dialogue, and conflict.   The sitcoms I am writing about certainly have each of these things.  I’d like to add one more element to this:  a pay-off.  Like a good joke, some of the most memorable episodes have a great pay-off at the end.  Some pay-offs are better than others.  Some pay-offs are funny, some are serious, some simply make a point.  Watch for each of these elements as you read about my four choices.

The Honeymooners

The Honeymooners first appeared on TV as a short sketch on the show Cavalcade of Stars on October 5, 1951. When the show moved to the CBS network and became The Jackie Gleason Show in 1952, the sketch continued.  It became a full half hour sitcom in October of 1955 and ran for 39 episodes, which are now referred to as “the Classic 39.”

The show was about Ralph Kramden, New York bus driver, and his wife Alice. They live on a tight budget in a rundown apartment. Ed Norton, a sewer worker, and his wife Trixie live upstairs.  Ralph and Ed are great friends – they bowl together, belong to a lodge, and work together on “get rich quick” schemes. (If this friendship sounds familiar – yes, this show was the blueprint for the cartoon, The Flintstones!) The first TV episode I am writing about is Show #1 of the Classic 39 – TV or Not TV.

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The Honeymooners – TV or Not TV (Originally aired October 1, 1955)

Trixie tells Alice that their TV set is broken, and they need to get a new one. Alice points out that while they are getting their second TV, the Kramdens have never owned one.  Trixie suggests that Alice try to butter Ralph up by giving him the “pipe and slippers” routine.  She tells her to go out of her way to make him feel special and then, when the time is right, ask him for a TV.

When Ralph gets home, Alice puts the plan in action. She brings him slippers, calls him “sweetums” and “Sweetheart face”, brings him the paper, and is acting more loving than normal.  Ralph is immediately suspicious.  He figures she is being extra nice so he won’t go bowling or that her mother is hiding somewhere in the apartment.  She insists that this is not the case and asks what she can get him to drink.  His response is priceless, “Let me have what you’re drinking.  I want to get loaded, too!”

Once she feels he is comfortable, she says, “Oh, by the way, Ralph…” to which he immediately jumps to his feet! “Ah ha!  I knew there was a ‘by the way’ in there somewhere!  What’s ‘by the way’?”  She tells Ralph that the Nortons are getting a new TV and wants to know why they don’t have one yet.  Alice says that Ralph goes out at night to play pool, go bowling, or go to the lodge he belongs to while she is left to look at the ice box, the stove, the sink, and the four walls of her kitchen.  She pleads, “Well, I don’t wanna look at that icebox, that stove, that sink and these four walls.  I want to look at Liberace!”

When Ed Norton comes in, Ralph immediately yells at him and calls him a troublemaker.  He says that because they are getting a new TV, Alice wants one, too.  Ed confesses to Ralph that he was actually hoping that he could borrow some money from him.  He tells Ralph that the new TV’s are expensive and he really can’t afford to get a new one and no one will give him any more credit. This is when Ralph gets an idea that leads to the wonderful comedy of this episode.

Ralph says that he can’t afford a new TV and Ed can’t afford on either, so he says they can both pool together their money and buy one together.  He says it will solve all their problems.  Ralph can still go bowling, Ed can watch his Captain Video shows, and Alice can watch TV while he is away.  Ed begins to question why the TV automatically ends up at the Kramden’s house.  So Ralph suggests flipping a coin to see where the TV ends up.  “Heads I win, tails you lose,” Ralph says.  It comes up tails – so Ed loses.  Ralph pockets the coin and when Ed suddenly says, “Wait a minute” Ralph thinks Ed has figured out he’s been duped.  Nope.  He just wanted his coin back.

In the next scene, Ed is in front of the TV watching Captain Video.  He is wearing his space helmet, adjusts his disintegrator gun, and recites the Captain Video Pledge.  This is the final straw for Ralph.  He says that for three days he has watched nothing but “space shows, westerns, cartoons, and puppet shows” and tonight he wants to watch a movie.  He turns on a romantic movie and in the middle of it, Ed calls it silly and switches the channel back to Captain Video.  Ed then switches it back to Captain Video. It is like two school children fighting back and forth.  Ralph finally yells at Ed to “get out” and Ed reminds him that half of the set is his, and if he goes, half the set goes with him.

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They finally look in the paper to see if there is something that they both can agree on.  They find a boxing match to watch and once it is on it looks “fuzzy”.  Ed suggests that Ralph take the antenna and move it around the room.  He has Ralph move all over and out into the hallway.  One he is out in the hall, Ed locks him out, switches the channel to Captain Video, puts back on his space helmet and listens to Ralph banging on the door!

The next few scenes are among my favorites.  We see Ralph in front of the TV dozing off while watching a movie.  Alice calls to him from the bedroom and says he needs to get to bed because he has to work in the morning.  He shouts back that he is watching The Late Show.  He continues to doze and Alice again calls to him.  He finally gets up and turns the TV on.  His eyes are half closed, and instead of walking through the bedroom door, he walks into the hallway.  In a very funny moment, we hear a bunch of crashing and banging.  Alice runs out of the bedroom to find Ralph walking back in holding his head.  He simply says, “I fell down the stairs.”  As they walk in the bedroom, Alice yells at him for staying up late instead of going to bed.

What follows is one of the best scenes in this episode.  All is quiet and the door to the Kramden’s apartment opens and in walks Ed.  He is in his robe and pajamas and carrying a bag.  He turns on the TV and we hear the announcer say, “And now for the Late, LATE, show.”  Ed pulls out a huge submarine sandwich from the bag and begins to eat as some scary music plays from the TV.  While Ed is eating, there are gunshots and a woman screaming from the TV.  Ralph comes flying out of the bedroom and sees that Ed is watching TV.  He is furious and tells Ed to get out of the apartment.  Ed again argues that he owns part of the set. The argument continues and Alice comes out of the bedroom.

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When Ralph laments “Why does all of this happen to me?” Alice reminds him that he is the one who was too cheap to buy a TV and so he conned Ed into going in on a set with him, so he could get one for half price.  Alice then says that she doesn’t understand them.  She reminds them that they are good friends and they don’t have any troubles when they bowl or shoot pool together.  She asks them why they can’t get along now.  This, of course makes them both feel awful and they apologize to each other.  Ed asks Ralph if he can stay and watch the end of the movie.  When Ralph hears about the movie, he pulls up a chair next to Ed.  As the movie plays, they both doze off and fall asleep.

Alice returns to the kitchen and finds both men asleep.  She gives them both a blanket and says, “I’ve gotta admit it, Ralph.  For once in your life, you’re right.  We should have never gotten a television set.”

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One of the reasons this is one of my favorite episodes is because of the scene where Norton sneaks in to the apartment to watch his movie.  Jackie Gleason did not like to rehearse.  He read the script and performed it once – when the camera was rolling.  When you see this scene, you will notice Art Carney begins to laugh when Ralph comes running out of the bedroom.  It was the first time doing the scene together and it cracked him up.  It is such a quick moment, and you really have to watch Carney when it happens.  The pro that Art was, he is able to recover quickly and finish the scene.

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The second TV Episode I am writing about is also an episode of the Honeymooners and was also part of the Classic 39.  This episode gives us a look at the Norton’s apartment.  Compared to the Kramden’s, the Norton’s look like they are doing much better financially.  It is much nicer, it has a much more updated feel, and he has a machine to record records (which had to cost him a pretty penny).  We also get to see just how much Ralph and his mother-in-law dislike each other, which is one of the reasons this episode is a favorite of mine.

The Honeymooners – A Matter of Record (Originally aired January 7, 1956)

Ralph is excited that he has two tickets to the Broadway hit play, “Murder Strikes Out.”  It is a play that has everyone talking!  It has a chills, thrills, and a surprise ending! Ralph is excited because he has always promised to take Alice to a real Broadway show and he can finally do it.  He tells her to get dressed because they are going to make a date of it.

Alice asks if the tickets are for that night and Ralph tells her they are.  She tells Ralph that she cannot go because her mother is coming over for a visit.  He cannot believe that she would give up a night to go to a real show because her mother is coming.  She tells him that it is impossible and that she cannot go because he mother is going to arrive any minute.  She suggests that Ed Norton go with him.  Ed agrees and goes up to change.

Ralph is more and more angry at the thought of Alice not going because of her mother.  It is obvious that she and he do not get along with each other.  He cannot believe that he is going to the play with a “space cadet” because of her mother.  He bad mouths her and Alice says that she knows her mother isn’t the easiest person to get along with and tells Ralph that is no reason to act the way he is.  He tells her that he acts that way because “Your mother is a blabbermouth.”

This word is obviously not one that Alice likes at all and tells Ralph to stop calling her that.  He replies, “All right, you’re the expert on crossword puzzles.  Give me another word for blabbermouth.”  He then explains why he dislikes her so much.  He tells Alice that from the moment she arrives until the moment she leaves, she’ll be talking about why she should have married one of her other boyfriends, why he is so fat, and why there isn’t new furniture in the apartment.  He says she is nosy and “if there is one thing I hate, it’s a nosy blabbermouth!”

With this Alice delivers an ultimatum.  “Now listen Ralph.  I am warning you for the last time. You call her that once more, and when my mother leaves here tonight, I just might go with her.” Ralph tells her he won’t say a word to her or her mother.  Alice says that would be fine because there won’t be any arguments that way.  Ralph then asks, “You think because I don’t say a word, there won’t be an argument?  I’ll bet you a million dollars that she won’t be in this apartment three minutes before she starts an argument! I won’t have to say a word!”

With this there is a knock at the door and Alice’s mother comes in. As she enters, in a very funny move, Ralph grabs the alarm clock and sets it for 3 minutes.  He holds up three fingers to Alice as if to say, “She’s got three minutes!”  As soon as mother is in the door, she complains that Alice lives too far from the subway.  She slams Ralph by saying that she guesses that they can’t do better with the rent they can afford and how important it is to have a husband who is a provider.  She then says that Alice looks think and accuses her of not eating – she even goes a step further to slam Ralph by insinuating that maybe she’s not getting enough of the food in the house.  With each little jab, Ralph gets more uncomfortable and rolls his eyes.

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Just as predicted, Alice’s mother then begins to talk about an old boy that “used to be crazy” about Alice.  She tells him how tall and handsome he is and then jabs at Ralph again saying, “I guess a man doesn’t have to get fat if he doesn’t want to.”  She then goes a step further and says “of all the boys you brought to our house, he’s the only one I had any use for.” (Ralph had obviously been to her house – so we have yet another jab at him.)

Alice pours her mother a cup of coffee and asks Ralph if he wants some, but he just grunts (keeping his promise not to say a word).  Her mother asks what’s wrong with him, and Alice tells her he is fine and that he is going to the Broadway show.  When she tells her mother the name of the show, she brushes it off and simply says “oh that.”  Ralph continues to be agitated as Alice’s mother says that her neighbor has seen it.  She goes on about how it was supposed to be suspenseful and give you chills and thrills, and then says, “and all that stuff about ‘don’t tell your friends the surprise ending.’  Well it was no surprise to Mrs. Finley (the camera is on Ralph as Alice’s mother is about to spoil the whole thing). She knew the whole time that it wasn’t the uncle who committed the murder – it was the husband!”

What follows is the moment that brings this episode to my list of favorites:

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As if on cue, as soon as Alice’s mother ruins the ending of the play, the alarm clock rings.  The three minutes are up and Ralph is done.  He stands up and slams his hand on the alarm clock to shut it off.  He turns to his mother and in classic Jackie Gleason style yells, “YOU.  Are a Blabbermouth!  A Blabbermouth!  You!  Blabbermouth!” and then tells her to get out!  Throughout his rant Alice is trying to get him to stop.  Alice’s mother get’s up and leaves.  Ed walks in as Alice walks out.

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Ralph tells Ed that Alice’s mother ruined it all for him.  He tells Ed the outcome of the play.  That doesn’t bother Ed, who still wants to go.  When Ralph questions why he’d want to go now that he knows the ending, Ed says he’ll watch it right up to the end and then get up and walk out.

In the next scene, we see Ralph sulking because Alice is still at her mother’s house.  She’s been gone 5 days and Ralph is miserable.  He tells Ed that if he could find a way to talk to her, he would pour out his heart to her and she’d forgive him.  Ed has an idea.  He pulls out a recorder and tells Ralph he can record an apology on a record and that way, Alice will know exactly how sorry he is.

As Ralph begins to apologize to Alice.  He tells her how miserable he is without her there.  He then even apologizes to her mother.  As he does so, he says that “she doesn’t mean the things she says.  It’s just her nature. She doesn’t mean to be mean.  She’s just born that way.”  The more he talks about his mother-in-law, the more angry he becomes.  It’s like he is reliving the entire moment all over again.  As he continues, he gets louder and angrier.  “When she spilled the beans about the end of the play, I shouldn’t have got mad at that.  I should’ve expected it from her. I know how she is.  It’s never gonna be any different Alice! She’s gonna be the same old way, Alice!  She’s a Blabbermouth! ….”

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Ed jumps in and stops him and asks him what he is doing.  He explains that every time he thinks of her mother he flips. He tells him to stop thinking about her mother and to think about Alice.  Ed puts his last blank record on the recorder, leaves the room at Ralph’s request and Ralph records a very heartfelt apology.  We really see the tender side of Ralph as he records this.  When he is done he calls Ed back into the room.  Ed begins to cry because he has been listening.

Ralph gives Ed Alice’s mother’s address and he addresses the envelope.  Ed asks his wife to hand him the record from the recorder, and she hands him the first record! In the next scene, Ralph is questioning Ed – Did he send it?  Did he send it to the right address? He cannot figure out why Alice hasn’t come home.  There is a knock on the door and it is one of the members of Ed’s stickball team.  He tells Ed that one of the members can’t play the next day because he has the measles.  The boy also says that Ed’s wife told him he’d be down with Ralph and that she was upstairs talking to Alice.

Ralph is excited because she is in the building and MUST be coming home.  He tells Ed to go back upstairs so he can be alone when Alice comes back.  He thanks him for mailing the record.   When Alice comes in, she is quiet.  Ralph asks if she got the record and says he meant every word.  She looks at him and says, “So my mother was born mean, huh? It’s in her nature, huh?  Once a blabbermouth always a blabbermouth ….”  She tells him she is glad he sent her the record because now she knows how he really feels and leaves. Ralph pleads as she leaves and tells her she got the wrong record.  After she is gone, he calls up to Ed Norton to come down.  He wants to tell him “how it came out.”  As the scene fades out, Ralph is smacking the stick from the stickball boy on the kitchen table awaiting Ed’s arrival.

The next scene opens with Ed entering Ralph’s apartment.  Ralph angrily tells him to leave.  He calls him a menace and tells him to leave.  Ed informs Ralph that Alice is coming back.  He took the right record over to Alice’s mother’s house and played it for her.  He tells Ralph that she cried and cried and forgives him.  He tells Ralph that she is on the way home, and will be bringing him a steak for dinner.

There is a knock on the door and it is someone from the Health Department.  He asks if there are any children living there.  Ralph says no.  The doctor explains that there is an outbreak of measles in the building and names off the children who have it – all of who are on Ed’s stickball team.  The doctor asks if Ralph has ever had the measles and he says no.  He gives him a quick exam and says he has them now, and explains that he probably caught them from hanging around Ed.

When Alice finally arrives home, she is prevented from entering by the Health Department doctor.  Ralph begs the doctor telling him that he hasn’t seen his wife in three weeks.  Ralph reluctantly tells Alice to go back to her mother’s until the outbreak has subsided.  Ed tells Ralph how impressed he is, sending his wife away so she don’t get the measles, especially when he really wants her there.  He says how sad it is tat he’ll be there alone to cook and clean.  Ralph grabs the stick, begins to slam it on the table and says, “She didn’t leave me with the mess, stickball coach!” and yells at Ed to put on the apron.

I think that this is just another example of a great story and great writing.  The story has twists to it (wrong record mailed, catching the measles) and we get to see not only the typical angry Ralph, we get to see the tender side and just how much he and Alice love each other.  We also see some wonderful gestures from Ed as Ralph’s friend.  It is just a great all around episode with some very touching and very funny moments.

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My third pick for favorite TV Episodes comes from the pen of Rod Serling.  It also comes to us from The Twilight Zone.

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Personally, I think Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone was such a big hit because of the formula it followed.  Each episode started with a sort of teaser – something to introduce you to the characters or the situation.  This was usually followed by a narration by Rod.  You then have “Act 1” which furthers the story and identifies the “conflict”, if you will.  “Act 2” the characters try to resolve the conflict, we are led to the climax, and the fake or false resolution and the pay-off/twist at the end.

This is far from original, as many radio shows in the 1940’s followed this same format.  You can give a listen to Suspense, The Mysterious Traveler, or The Whistler to find examples of this.  Rod, obviously listened to a lot of radio growing up to the radio and was influenced by this.  He used some of the same elements as he wrote shows for the Twilight Zone.

If you had to pick a show from the Twilight Zone series that exemplified a “classic” episode, Time Enough At Last would easily be one of the choices.  It has characters we connect with and feel for, it has a plot that is believable (and very possible at the time it aired), very real dialogue (Rod was very particular about making sure the words spoken by the actors were genuine), and a very ironic twist at the end.

The Twilight Zone – Time Enough At Last (Originally aired November 20, 1959)

As the story opens, we are introduced to Henry Bemis (played by the amazing Burgess Meredith), a bank teller who sees the world through “Coke Bottle” glasses and loves to read.  As a matter of fact, he is reading on the job, and his reading has caused him to not give enough money to his customer.  He is so enthralled by the book he is reading, he even asks his customer if she’s read it.  He goes on about the characters and the story, but by the time he looks up from the book, she has already left.  No one seems to be as interested in the book as he is.

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Reading on the job is taking a toll on his work.  He is reprimanded by his boss, the bank president who tells him to read on his own time.  He is told that is he is caught reading on the job again, he can basically look for another job.  Reading is also getting him in trouble at home.  His wife detests that he spends so much time reading and has basically told him it is not allowed at home.  His wife is a real witch who says that when he is reading he is “sacrificing conversation”. (In all honesty, she isn’t very pleasant and I can’t imagine conversation with her being pleasant either.

She tells Henry that they are going to visit friends.  He grabs a book from under a couch cushion and sticks it in his jacket pocket.  His wife asks him what is in his pocket and he acts like he has no idea.  It is a book of poetry.  She asks if he would like to read her something from it.  He gets excited that she is interested to hear poems and he opens the book to find that she has gone through with a pen or pencil and scribbled out every word on every page of the book.  He is visibly upset by this and she grabs the book and rips out the pages and throws them on the floor.  He drops to the floor and begins to scoop them up.

I love the opening narration from Rod Serling:

“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself – without anyone.”

The next day, we see Henry look at the clock, grab his book and newspaper, put up his “this window closed” sign, and he heads off to read at lunch.  We see him walk to the basement, he enters the bank vault, pulls the door shut and sits down to read.  The newspaper headline foreshadows what is to come:  “H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction”

While in the vault, Henry is knocked unconscious by a huge shock wave.  When he wakes up, he walks upstairs to find total desolation.  The bank is in ruins there is complete destruction.  As he wanders outside, we hear the eerie sounds of howling winds and see a smoldering landscape.

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As he wanders through what is left of the world, the Rod Serling narration returns:

“Seconds, minutes, hours, they crawl by on hands and knees for Mr. Henry Bemis, who looks for a spark in the ashes of a dead world. A telephone connected to nothingness, a neighborhood bar, a movie, a baseball diamond, a hardware store, the mailbox that was once his house and now is rubble; they lie at his feet as battered monuments to what was but is no more. Mr. Henry Bemis, on an eight hour tour of a graveyard.”

As he continues to walk and examine the rubble, he finds what is left of his mailbox.  He calls to his wife, but there is no answer.  It is becoming more and more obvious that he is the last man on earth.  On the bright side, there is plenty of food.  There are cans of food available in the remains of grocery stores.  Sadly, he is alone.  He even states that the “worst part” is “being alone”.

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As time continues to pass, despite Henry telling himself that it’s ok, he is desperately searching for someone – anyone!   He wants to find something to do and someone to do it with. He stumbles on what is left of a sporting goods store and on the ground he sees a revolver.  He thinks of the terrible loneliness, picks up the revolver and decides to commit suicide.  As he puts the gun to his head, and notices in front of him the remains of the public library.

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He runs to find books – hundreds of books!  He picks them up and reads off titles and authors.  He has hit the jackpot!  He can get lost in the stories of romance, adventure, and more!  There is no one to tell him whether he can or cannot read!  No one is there to tell him what to read and what NOT to read!  He has found the mother load of books and they are all his for the reading!

He stacks the books into piles.  He has 12 piles for every year.  Each pile contains the books that he will read for that month.  He has piles for years to come.  He has planned it out and is excited to know that he will be able to spend the rest of his days lost in books.  He was a man who never had enough time to read.  As he sits on the library steps he says that “the best thing is there’s time.  There’s all the time I need.  All the time I want.  Time.  Time.  Time!  There’s time enough at last!”

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We see Henry Bemis in a moment of perfect jubilation, and it all changes in the blink of an eye.  He sees a book on the stairs, and as leans down to reach for it, his glasses fall from his face and the lenses break.  He searches for them with his hands and eventually finds the frames.  He lifts them up and the lenses, which are cracked, fall out and fall to the ground.  In the classic Twilight Zone twist, Henry says simply,  “That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. There was time now. There was all the time I wanted…! That’s not fair!” He bursts into tears, surrounded by books he will never be able to read.

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As powerful as this is, what makes the ending even more powerful is the final narration of Rod Serling:

“The best-laid plans of mice and men – and Henry Bemis, the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis – in the Twilight Zone. “

It’s interesting to note that the final narration may be a tip of the hat to actor Burgess Meredith’s acting credits – he was in the 1939 movie “Of Mice and Men”.  Rod Serling must have liked him as he, and Jack Klugman each starred in 4 episodes of the series.  He is also in the episodes Mr. Dingle The Strong, The Obsolete Man, and Printer’s Devil.  he also appears in the Twilight Zone movie.

Why is this one of my favorite TV episodes?  To me it is just perfect.  I don’t care how many times I see it, I am always blown away at the ending – and ending that I know is coming, and yet, still love it.  It is a masterpiece!

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My final entry to this blog is a selfish one.  For 30+ years, I worked on the radio as an on air personality.  So I guess it makes sense to give a nod to one of the greatest “radio” oriented TV shows, WKRP in Cincinnati.  This sitcom is funny to watch whether you work in radio or not.  It’s a bit funnier if you work in radio, because you truly know someone just like each of the characters of this show!

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While in radio, I worked as a Program Director (Andy Travis’ job on the show), Promotions Director, Music Director, Assistant Program Director, Production Director, and even held the position of General Manager (Arthur Carlson’s job on the show) for a short time.  Usually, the Promotions Director and the Program Director get together to come up with an promotional idea for the station – usually a giveaway or something like that.  A Salesperson (Herb Tarlek on the show) then goes out to find a sponsor to tie in with the promotion.  It is then executed on the air with the personalities (Dr. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap on the show).

This episode made my list of favorites because, first of all, it has all the great things that a good sitcom should have (mentioned above), second, I’ve had to deal with radio promotions that didn’t go as planned, the pay-off of this episode is one of the greatest in television, and finally, the premise of the show is based on a real event!  Over the years, the origins are not quite clear, but MOST of the stories say that a radio executive named Clarke Brown who said that an Atlanta radio station did a similar promotion where the turkeys were given away.

As I stated, the pay-off to this episode is so good, it really is the reason why it makes all the “best of” lists.  The story is a slow go to get there.  The first act of the episode sets up the premise and it isn’t until halfway through the show that we start to see where it is going and finally get to the pay-off.

WKRP in Cincinnati – Turkey’s Away (Originally aired October 30, 1978)

General Manager Arthur Carlson just wants to be a part of things.  His mother owns the radio station and he is managing it.  He is nosing around the on air studio, he is asking questions of everyone and Program Director, Andy Travis is hearing all about it.  “You gotta do something about Mr. Carlson…”

The station had just recently flipped formats to a rock format, and Mr. Carlson is starting to feel left out of the day to day operations, and a bit unappreciated.  He seems to be up in everyone’s business.  We learn that Mr. Carlson has come up with a Thanksgiving promotion and only he and Herb know about it.  There is a lot of concern among the staff, but Andy is ok to let Mr. Carlson have his promotion.

As the stage to the second act is set, Les Nessman, WKRP’s newsman has now been brought in to go to the spot where the “event” will happen and broadcast live.  We still don’t know what the secret promotion is!  We just know it will be big and Les will do a play by play.

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The pay-off begins when Les begins his broadcast from the Pinedale Shopping Mall. As he begins to broadcast, we see Dr. Johnny Fever, Venus Flytrap, Andy Travis, and Bailey Quarters in the studio listening to the broadcast.  Les begins by saying:

“I’m here with hundreds of people who have gathered to witness what has been described as perhaps the greatest turkey event in Thanksgiving Day history. All we know for sure is that in a very few moments there are going to be a lot of happy people out here.”

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It is obvious by his play by play that he has really no idea what is about to happen either.  He says he hears the sound of a helicopter.  Andy is also intrigued as he asks those around him, “A helicopter?”

In a very funny moment, Les says there is something being pulled behind the helicopter.  It is a banner.  “and it says H a p p y… T h a n k s… giving… from W… K… R… P!” What is funny to me (as a radio guy) is that he reads it, and even though he works for the station, he drags out the call letters one at a time…..” Even the people in the studio at the station are trying to help him drag out the call letters!

Note:  The Hindenburg was a huge airship that literally exploded and the disaster was broadcast on radio.  When the writers wrote Les’s broadcast, they had that broadcast in mind.

For what happens next, here is the script of Les’s broadcast courtesy of http://www.imdb.com:

Les Nessman:  “What a sight, ladies and gentlemen. What a sight. The ‘copter seems to circling the parking area now. I guess it’s looking for a place to land. No! Something just came out of the back of a helicopter. It’s a dark object, perhaps a skydiver plummeting to the earth from only two thousand feet in the air… There’s a third… No parachutes yet… Those can’t be skydivers. I can’t tell just yet what they are but… Oh my God! They’re turkeys! Oh no! Johnny can you get this? Oh, they’re crashing to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! This is terrible! Everyone’s running around pushing each other. Oh my goodness! Oh, the humanity! People are running about. The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! Folks, I don’t know how much longer… The crowd is running for their lives. I think I’m going to step inside. I can’t stand here and watch this anymore. No, I can’t go in there. Children are searching for their mothers and oh, not since the Hindenburg tragedy has there been anything like this. I don’t know how much longer I can hold my position here, Johnny. The crowd… (Silence)”

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Richard Sanders, who plays Les, is brilliant in this scene.  You can totally see the horror in his face as he realizes what is happening.  That, along with his wonderful read of the dialogue, makes this a very believable story!

Johnny Fever, in shock as are the rest of the staff in the studio, turns on the microphone once he realizes they have lost communication with Les and in a brilliant live ad-lib says:

“Thanks for that on-the-spot report, Les. For those of you who’ve just tuned in, the Pinedale Shopping Mall has just been bombed with live turkeys. Film at eleven.”

We then see Jennifer, Andy, and others fielding complaint calls.  Les walks in and he is stunned and in a state of shock.

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When asked what happened, Les replies:

“I don’t know. A man and his two children tried to kill me. After the turkeys hit the pavement, the crowd kind of scattered but, some of them tried to attack me! I tried to jam myself into a phone booth. Then Mr. Carlson had the helicopter land in the middle of the parking lot. I guess he thought he could save the day by turning the rest of the turkeys loose. It gets pretty strange after that.

When Mr. Carlson and Herb walk in to the station, they look like they have been through hell.  Their clothes are torn, there are feathers on them, and they look disheveled.  Mr. Carlson is in disbelief!  He tells the staff that he doesn’t understand how it didn’t work.  He tells them that he had planned it out down to the last detail. He went as far as to say, “It was perfect!”.

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Mr. Carlson and Herb walk into his office and the rest of the staff continue to ask Les about what happened.  Terrified, Les says that it was like the turkeys mounted a counter attack and were “organized”.  The credits of the show begin to appear on the screen and then we have the classic pay-off.  Carlson emerges from his office and says the ten words that make this episode a classic:

“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”

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As I said, it was a slow build up, but the pay-off remains one of the most quoted lines from the show.  As mentioned earlier, the episode is based on a real radio station event.  In real life, the turkeys were thrown off trucks to listeners, and sadly, the results were about the same.

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I chose these episodes after thinking on it for about 5 minutes.  In that time I came up with about 15 episodes and narrowed it down to these.  After I made the decision, I realize that I could have written about my favorite episodes of Perry Mason, Sanford and Son, Mission: Impossible, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Get Smart, The Monkees, and the list goes on and on….  These were just the ones that hit me immediately.  I suppose it is nice to know that I will have a few in the bank for next year’s blogathon.

I want to thank Terence for indulging me and allowing me to write about four episodes instead of one.  Thank you for reading!

How about you?  What is YOUR favorite classic TV episode??