Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Best Beatlemania Episode



Paramount's DVD release of Petticoat Junction: The Complete First Season has given me the opportunity to see a bunch of episodes I never saw before (the black-and-white episodes weren't syndicated, and the second half of the first season wasn't released on the Henning estate's previous DVD. This show is rightly regarded as the weakest of the Paul Henning Rural Trilogy, but as usual, the black-and-white episodes are better than the color ones, and this set contains some very good episodes -- mostly the few that Henning wrote himself. (Henning didn't run Petticoat, preferring to concentrate on running The Beverly Hillbillies.

The standout, which I'd never seen before, is "The Ladybugs," written by Henning and his Beverly Hillbillies writing partner Mark Tuttle and directed by none other than Donald O'Connor; inspired by Beatlemania, Uncle Joe organizes the girls (and guest star Sheila James from Dobie Gillis as the fourth member) into an all-girl group with Beatle wigs and ladybug sweaters. As Linda Kaye Henning (Betty Jo) and Pat Woodell (the black-and-white Bobbie Jo) explain in their introduction, this aired on March 24, 1964, little more than a month after the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan for the first time, and as a promotional tie-in, the girls appeared on the actual Ed Sullivan Show as the Ladybugs. The Sullivan footage is not on this DVD, unfortunately; since Paul Brownstein did the special features, I assume he either couldn't find it or couldn't clear it.

It's a funny script, as Henning's scripts usually were, but what surprised me the most was how good-natured it was about the Beatles phenomenon. Not just at the time but for years after, most pop-culture references to the Beatles were fairly derogatory -- remember Allan Sherman's "Pop Hates the Beatles." But this episode is different, even though it was made when the Beatles fad was almost completely new and unexpected. Of course it makes fun of the Beatles and the screaming reactions of their fans (Billie Jo rounds up some cute boys to scream and faint at their act the way girls do in Beatles audiences) and their hair and the rock n' roll business, with Jesse White as a bolo-tied concert promoter who calls himself "Colonel Partridge" -- get it? -- and wants to sign up the Ladybugs even though he hates rock music. But the girls, and young people in general, are not mocked for liking this kind of music, and they get to take a few digs at their parents for not understanding the fad. ("Mom's idea of a hip group," sighs Bobbie Jo, "is Guy Lombardo.") All the satire is genial and gentle with none of the nasty, what's-with-these-crazy-kids tone you usually got in TV episodes about Beatlemania. I just don't think it was in Paul Henning's nature to be nasty about anything; his writing is always so free from malice, and that's one of the things that makes his work hold up so well.

And when it's time for the Ladybugs' big performance in front of their invited audience of screaming boys and Colonel Partridge, Henning actually bothered to clear a real Beatles song for the girls to sing. So while the scene makes fun of this new musical fad, it also assumes that this is a song the audience might enjoy hearing for two and a half minutes.





The song is intact on Paramount's DVD, by the way. And I'm not really sure who's supposed to be who, except that (after an earlier argument about who gets to be Ringo) Betty Jo is their Ringo.

I hope this DVD sells well enough for us to get the second season (the last in black-and-white), when Henning installed his friend and fellow radio veteran Jay Sommers as head writer. Sommers co-wrote nearly all the episodes in the second season of Petticoat Junction, laying the foundation for the style of his own show, Green Acres.

13 comments:

Larry Levine said...

What I remember most about Petticoat Junction is how the two older daughters regenerated more often than Doctor Who.

J. Bennie said...

With that hair, Shiela looks like Kurt Russell.

John said...

Any show that has Charles Lane as a recurring character can't be all bad.

And if it weren't for the stupid believe local TV stations and syndicators had back in the 1970s that nobody would watch black and white reruns if color episodes were available, "Petticoat Junction" would have a far better reputation that it's ended up with, due to the absence of the B&W seasons (it's not quite the day-and-night difference between the B&W episodes of "Bewitched" and how that show ended up, but close).

Mike said...

Considering that Beatles music is probably the most expensive to license for DVDs, and that Paramount is notorious for music-subsitutions on its TV shows on DVD, it's pretty surprising this scene is intact. Though, since it sounds like the whole episode sort of built towards a final music scene like this, it probably would have been impossible to include the episode without this scene.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

This episode was been previously released on VHS as part of Columbia House's short-lived Petticoat Junction series of releases, and it is pretty entertaining. I bought it on DVD from someone in the "Grey Market" business and was surprised to find the episode so watchable (in terms of quality).

burlivespipe said...

Due to the timing, would the inclusion of the Beatles' song be possible because their agent/rights holder didn't totally foresee the whole global Beatlemania thing and didn't protect the property in the language? I'm still a little confused about the whole timing of this episode -- if it appeared five-six weeks after Sullivan, how close to the Sullivan show debut was it actually filmed? That seems to be quite a quick turnaround, since most episodes were likely written by or near the start of the season (or at least a more than a few months in advance)...

Chicago Joe said...

So far as "Beatlemania" fad episodes go, The Dick Van Dyke Show did a very funny episode about a Beatles-type band (played by real-life British Invasion stars Chad & Jeremy) that was very funny and featured a screaming horde of teenage girls to rival any manifestion of that subculture in 1964.

Anonymous said...

The Garry Moore Show did a lacklustre Beatles parody bit with a fake band called "The Bedbugs", also in 1964. The Beatles became more of a concrete generational divide than Elvis had been in 1956.

Jorge Garrido said...

I fucking hate The Beatles.

stevef said...

According to the DVD set, "The Munsters" aired an episode on March 18, 1965 that featured the Standells. Not only did they play The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as their feature, but they open the scene with something apparently called "Do The Ringo." The Standells were virtually unknown at the time, unless you lived in Boston. Their biggest hit and only chart topper "Dirty Water" was still a year in the future.

The Man behind this cross pollination is the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, who also represented Chad and Jeremy among others. His goal in the early days was to spread the word. I'm sure "The Munsters" couldn't afford The Beatles, so they had to settle for a Standell stand in.

Anonymous said...

That same 'get the word out' lack of foresight is what resulted in B movie producer Walter Shenson owning the negative to "A Hard Day's Night": UA had him handle this quickie movie by what everyone then figured to be a flash-in-the-pan pop group, and the rest is history.

Anonymous said...

I love all those Beatlesque sitcoms...and imagined one that doesn't, as far as I know, exist:

http://mog.com/emscee/blog/145041

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