October 12th: My Three Sons

How many sons do I have this season?

This is one of those shows that sits in a weird spot with us as a culture. It was on during a golden age of sit-com programming, one that was equal parts goateed-Gilligan and talking horse-friend. It then proceeded to just go on and on, rotating-out the cast, adopting the neighbors, switching from black and white to color, and offering us a glimpse into the average, white American living room during some fairly dramatic times.

We can watch the transition from Cleaver haircuts that Ike would approve of, to something shaggier and decidedly more "groovy." This was fitting, as the spirit of the 60s led them ("them" meaning the aforementioned three sons and whomever was declaring ownership of them - in this case, the guy from The Shaggy Dog, hence the haircuts) to tune-in, get dropped-out of ABC's lineup, and then turned-on by a little hippie network called CBS, which ran it for even more seasons.

Hey, I could bust chops on Frawley & The Gang all the live-long day, such is my love for this series, but we have an ep to get to, according to this list. Besides, the only thing anyone remembers at this point, 50 years later, are the toe-tapping wingtips from the opening credits. Why these were not replaced with Cuban-heeled Beatle boots with side-zippers, I cannot profess to know. Perhaps I knew the answer once, but have since forgotten it? I guess you could say that makes me an absent-minded professor? KaBOOM - oh, you chumps just got MacMurrayed so hard.

Space: Bryant Park, IL
Time: October 25th, 1962
Episode: "The Ghost Next Door" Season 3, Episode 6

"Richard Whorf-who?" you are undoubtedly asking. Well, it is little-known but now-remembered that Richard Whorf was both a cast member of Cagney's Yankee Doodle Dandy and a television director in charge of both of these last two episodes. Yes, 6 days prior to his Beverly Hillbillies Halloween Stunt-Spectacular, Whorf dealt the world this slice of Midwestern Cold War Americana, thereby owning October of 1962, and inadvertently (or maybe advertently - who am I to proclaim knowledge of his aspirations?) becoming a pioneering voice for Halloween on television

We begin with Bub (as played by television's favorite man-cherub, William Frawley) meeting the new neighbor, an older woman with a habit of talking endlessly and spinning yarns about anything remotely-related to what you were in the middle of mentioning. Ah, even in the early 60s, this brand of obnoxious human was around - there is something comforting in that knowledge, though Bub cuts right to the quick, explaining to Steve that she's just incredibly lonely. Goddammit, Bub, stop making me see people as actual humans rather than the grab-bag of neuroses and habits they continually project upon those around them - they're so much easier to dismiss like that!

Anyway, it's all a lot of set-up for Chip and his buddy, Sudsy (I am now forever going to replace the word "buddy" with "sudsy" in my vocabulary), who are getting ready for Halloween '62 in the fashion of all kids that year: rubber crone masks!

Yes, rubber crone masks were definitely to 1962 as Batman and Joker were to 1989. Through all of their efforts, the boys manage to scare exactly no one. They try the lovely Ms. Sudsy's Mom...

...they try insurance salesman, Walter Neff...

...and they eventually settle on their own faces, realizing that a couple of kids wearing rubber sweat-suits and trying to make weight before Coach totally gets teed-off was probably far more gruesome than whatever look they were initially going for.

But before the "classic mix-up" of this episode (all shows from this period were working the "mix-up" angle pretty hard, which I guess is what made it so "classic") involving the old lady next door (who has moved into a house that is said to have been long-abandoned, but whose inevitable detrimental effect on local property values was apparently not enough to ruffle Steve Douglas' feathers), we need to check out this rare, Zapruder-like footage of an actual trick-or-treating occurring, '62 style:

Again, we see minimal-to-no decorations, just as we see minimal-to-no reaction by Mr. Douglas at the sight of such horrors. This makes sense - figuring Steve Douglas to be the same age as MacMurray himself, he'd be in his early-50s at this point, meaning he's lived through the Depression and a couple of World Wars, one of which he probably fought in. "Oh, a skeleton, huh?" Steve Douglas says to the masked child on his doorstep, completely unimpressed. "You think that's frightening, try watching the flesh get burned off the skeleton of your best friend by artillery shells on Peleliu."

However, it's worth noting that this was 53 years ago and the ritual is basically still the same. We are nothing if not committed, as a people, to our goofy holidays. And I ask you, isn't that what Steve Douglas watched his best friend die in the Pacific for? As for Chip and Sudsy and the mix-up, I'll leave it to you:

Seems like a witch to me - classic case. And you tell me she talks incessantly? Hell, I'd run screaming from the house too.

In conclusion, I feel like our Impromptu Richard Whorf Tribute Extravaganza was far more successful than last week's Jane Curtin-thing. Here's to you, Richard Whorf! You were taken from our Halloween episodes far too soon - salud!