On an unrelated thread, Philip Portelli wrote:

 

"To the Commander: I would be very interested to hear your views on M*A*S*H, McHale's Navy, and particularly Hogan's Heroes, given your service. I know that they were comedies but I would like to hear your views, if or when you want. Heck comment on CPO Sharkey for that matter!"

 

I'll try.

 

First, let me state that, with regard to military series, both dramatic and comedic, television imposes certain necessary restraints to accuracy.  I understand this.  J.A.G. demonstrated a few of these necessary bars to accuracy.  For ten years, the two stars served in the same billets at J.A.G. headquarters (except for occasional story arcs which temporarily shifted them around).  Normal tours in the military are eighteen months to three years, at the most, and usually are two years.  So, no way that would have happened in real life.  But I understand that a popular show just can't go retooling itself with new formats and new cast members every couple of years.  So I can accept that as a necessary fictional device.

 

Also, the two stars would not have reported to the Judge Advocate General of the Navy directly, as they did in the show.  There would be a Chief of Staff and other ACOS's in the hierarchy.  But then you're talking about the expense of additional cast members, so I can accept that as a necessary fictional device, as well.

 

Those kinds of things I grudgingly give a pass to.  Other things I do not.  Things which do not affect the budget, such as improper military protocol or errors in the uniform.  These things don't cost a cent to fix, and J.A.G. had the least excuse of all shows for such mistakes creeping in.  J.A.G. had a retired rear admiral on the payroll as an advisor.  He must have been asleep through many of the episodes, though, for all the uniform mistakes---and obvious ones to anybody in the Navy---to have gotten by.

 

And, sure, many military-related series, especially sitcoms, didn’t hire a military expert as an advisor.  But you can sure bet the shows received mail from vets who watched the show and called them on errors.  So when I see mistakes of this sort appear, my estimation of the show immediately drops.

 

Now, to military sitcoms.

 

I understand, in order to evoke humour, certain aspects of military life have to exaggerated or lampooned.  But the key here---from my standpoint as a military man---is to not go beyond my willing suspension of disbelief.  Granted, the bar is higher for me than it is for someone who has never served.  And there are lots more of career civilian television watchers than there are career military television watchers.  So, if a producer wants to play the numbers game, he can go as extreme as he wants.

 

On the other hand, television history has had several military-oriented sitcoms that were successful and never strayed across my line of believability.

 

Let’s start with the two military sitcoms that are remarkable in the fact that neither one of them ever---ever---committed an error in protocol, uniform wear, or general military practice.

 

The first was Hennesey (CBS, 1959-62), starring Jackie Cooper.  This show was so remarkable that it is tied, with Father Knows Best, as my favourite sitcom ever.  It tells of a newly minted Navy physician, Lieutenant Charles “Chick” Hennesey, stationed at the Naval Dispensary in San Diego.

 

It’s a show that takes it’s humour from the characters’ reactions to simple, yet logical twists and developments in Navy life.  While Hennesey and his nurse, Martha Hale, pretty much play it straight (though they are not beyond a witty line or two), there are some characters who are “characters”---Hennesey’s commanding officer, Captain (later, Rear Admiral) Shafer, and Chief Corpsman Bronsky.  Yet, they never get so broad as to be unbelievable and underlie their minor eccentricities with remarkable humanity.  It’s a show loaded with sentimental moments, but never saccharine ones, mostly because Hennesey is just a decent, likeable man, usually right but not always.

 

As I said, Hennesey never committed a single error in military protocol, not even a situation that bordered on being impossible to really happen.  I credit this to the fact that Jackie Cooper, who also produced the show, hired a great number of military veterans as staff and he himself was a Navy veteran.  The show was also distinctive in utilising techniques infrequently seen on television then, especially in sitcoms.  It relied strongly on overlapping dialogue.  And for most episodes, it eschewed an opening credit sequence.  The show would begin with a cold open and a minute or so into it, the dialogue track go silent and the theme would play, while the credits got “painted” over the scene, which would still be going on.  Even without the benefit of dialogue, the viewer could still follow the gist of the scene. 

 

Many episodes were done without a laugh track.  Particularly one tour-de-force episode which has only two cast members---Cooper, as Hennesey, and guest star Don Rickles as a chief petty officer.  The TV Guide entry for this episode probably read:  “Hennesey gives a C.P.O. a reënlistment physical.”  Because that’s all it was.  But the dialogue keeps you so riveted that you don’t realise that nothing else takes place.

 

As in many other Hennesey episodes, something pointed out early on comes back as the clincher in the end.  And for this episode, throw away any previous conceptions of Don Rickles.  He performs with nuance and subtlety.  And in the last shot, which shows him walking toward the camera, away from the examining room, he looks and moves like every thirty-year C.P.O. I ever met.

 

Personal Sidebar:  I was a tadpole when Hennesey aired and it was the first exposure to the Navy that I ever had, and from it, I got the idea that maybe the Navy wouldn’t be such a bad place to spend my life.

 

Fast-forward to 1999.  It was Christmas Eve, and I was in my stateroom, lying on my rack, on board the flagship Blue Ridge, in Yokosuka, Japan.  I had just been assigned to the staff of Commander, SEVENTH Fleet, and the Good Mrs. Benson, having a good job that neither of us wanted her to sacrifice, was back home in the States.  The ship was quiet, practically deserted, except for duty personnel, everybody else home with his wife and family.  And I started thinking about all the events that led me to that particular point, at that particular time.

 

I followed that thread all the way back to Hennesey, which I hadn’t thought about in years.   It was about mid-night, Christmas now, when I got an idea.  I was going to write Jackie Cooper a letter, telling him how his show had been my first inspiration to join the Navy and how much satisfaction my Naval career had brought me.

 

Right then, I went down to my office and wrote.  Getting his mailing address wasn’t difficult---Cooper was still famous enough and, hey, I worked for an admiral.  And I mailed it.

 

About three weeks later, there was something on my desk from mail call.  It was a letter from Jackie Cooper, written in his own hand.  He said that my letter was one of the nicest Christmas presents he had ever received.  He was glad that Hennesey had been such an inspiration to me.  And, to me, the most important thing he wrote was that “of all the things I’ve done as a producer, director, or actor, Hennesey is the thing of which I am proudest.”

 

(The same night I also wrote and sent a letter to his Hennesey co-star, Abby Dalton, that produced some interesting results.  But that’s another story, for another post.)

 

 

 

The other error-free military sitcom came much later in television’s history, but has many of the same qualities as Hennesey.  That was Major Dad (also CBS, 1989-93).  As Hennesey was for Jackie Cooper, Major Dad was obviously a labour of love for Gerald McRaney.  While the central premise was different---die-hard Marine Corps officer meets and marries a liberal-minded lady journalist with three daughters---it shared Hennesey’s impeccability in showing both the light side and the serious side of military life, including the grimness of combat, without diluting either.  Like Hennesey, some of the regular characters were slightly eccentric but never beyond feasibility and were always underlaid with professionalism and competence. 

 

Major Dad wasn’t a “quiet” sitcom, like Hennesey.  It played comedy a bit more broadly and cranked in the generational humour with the three daughters.  And it vested Major MacGillis with a Marine Warrior image that the plots both validated and poked fun at.  It also plumbed the sentimentality well a bit more deeply, along with adding the cuteness factor of pint-sized youngest daughter, Casey.

 

It’s telling that the then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Al Gray, appeared in a guest spot on the show.  The Marine Corps usually doesn’t go in for that kind of thing, unless they respect a show.

 

Since I’ve rambled on here, Philip, let’s make this “part one”, and I’ll get to some of the military sitcoms you specifically mentioned on the next go ‘round.

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As to the Deck Log, I'd do what Mark Evanier sometimes does on his blog--he makes the correction but indicates that the material has been updated. You're right, you don't want to leave mistakes, because your columns are fairly evergreen and before reference points, but you also don't want to leave people looking silly when they correct an error in the replies that doesn't appear in the original post any more.

I sometimes was tempted by that, when someone reported an error in a post I put up at CBG. I figured I could go back, change the error, and then post a response that said, "I have no idea what you mean. Maybe you misread what I wrote." 

Every time I was tempted, my Silver Age training told me that I couldn't change the past, and I didn't want to become a phantom!

-- MSA

As one might expect, this is a problem news organizations continually grapple with. But the responsible thing to do is to correct the text. Some do this well, but correcting the text and appending a note above (and sometimes also below) the article, briefly describing what was changed ("In the fourth paragraph, the reference to the Silver Age Superman's given name should have been spelled 'Kal-L.' "). Some even, in the description of the error, provide a link to the paragraph where the change was made.

 

Mr. Silver Age wrote:

This gets to be a real problem with Web sites, because many consider their information to be fluid and constantly evolving. They can update it at any time, so having errors isn't a problem, as they will slowly be weeded out.

That's better than not responding to errors of course, but it also means they often have a lower standards for checking things before they post. And once they post, stuff gets spread quickly with errors that just build. Lots of people just cut and paste, expanding the problem.

As someone who has worked mostly in print, I always figure I get one shot to get things right, and it's important not to be wrong, as then that information will always be out there wrong. That's part of the reason I've never been big on crediting uncredited comics in my columns. If I get it wrong based on the information someone could change tomorrow, I'll be wrong forever and adding to the problem.

 

 

One editor I worked with at an on-line news operation (I worked there under a confidentiality agreement, but its initials are "A.O.L.") always held the view that he had an absolute responsibility to be right the first time; the notion that "it's online, so we can fix it later" wouldn't fly with him.
Commander Benson said:
Gomer Pyle and his buddies never seemed destined to head to Viet Nam, even after the ’65-and-after ramp-ups.  Oh, there were episodes in which they were involved in training or war games, but there was never a serious mention of Gomer and his platoon being deployed.

 

 

It seems pretty obvious why.  No doubt producers Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas merely wanted to present a light-hearted situation comedy.  It was meant to be escapist fare, and they didn’t want to cast a pall over it by mentioning an on-going war, particularly after it started making the nightly news.

 

But, factually, it’s a real leap.   Certainly, even during WWII, every serviceman didn’t get sent overseas to do the fighting.  There are still crucial jobs to be performed over here---training, procurement, logistic support, weapons construction.  Not only do you need officers to oversee all of that, but there needs to be support personnel----clerks, motor-pool mechanics, aviation mechanics, medical people, supply people.  So every enlisted man doesn’t go over and get shot at, either.

 

But here’s the thing:  Gomer Pyle wasn’t a clerk or a supply orderly or a mechanic (though that’s probably what he should have been doing).  Pyle’s military occupation specialty (MOS) was infantryman.  And there’s only one job for infantrymen---to go out and fight the enemy.  Certainly there would be a training pipeline, but it wouldn’t take the five years that the show ran to get him to Viet Nam.

 

So, no, it wasn’t realistic.  Then, lots of things about Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. didn’t reflect the true culture of the Marine Corps.  But not sending Gomer to Viet Nam was probably the biggest deviation from the truth.


I seem to recall that Major Dad did an episode that specifically addressed why these soldiers didn't get sent to the Persian Gulf War. Basically, it said there are crucial jobs to be performed stateside, and, like it or not, that's what your assignment is.

Thanks, Craig and CK.  I did just what you suggested---I revised the text of the Deck Log entry, but added a footnote indicating that Luke Blanchard provided the accurate information.

 

That satisfies me on a number of levels.  Foremost, it provides the straight gouge.  Second, it gives credit to Luke where credit is due.  And by noting it in the article, it doesn't look like I'm pulling a fast one and making the readers wonder what the blazes Luke is talking about in his comment.

 

I agree with that editor you mentioned, CK---the responsibility is to get it right the first time.  That I have the luxury of going back and fixing mistakes doesn't obviate it.  But if a gaffe slips in, at least there is a way to repair it and credit the fellow who caught it.

ClarkKent_DC said:
I seem to recall that Major Dad did an episode that specifically addressed why these soldiers didn't get sent to the Persian Gulf War. Basically, it said there are crucial jobs to be performed stateside, and, like it or not, that's what your assignment is.

 

You recall correctly, CK.  In the episode "The Name is Over Here" (airing on 04 February 1991), three long-retired Marine non-coms appear before Major McGillis' boss, Brigadier General Craig, and make an appeal to get back into uniform and ship out to the Persian Gulf.

 

This induces a feeling of shame in MAJ McGillis, along with the other members of the staff, First Lieutenant Holowachuk and Gunnery Sergeant Bricker.  But in the major, in particular, because, as seen in the first season, he used to be the commanding officer of an infantry training command.  Now, they are stuck behind desks at a supply command.

 

All three of them prepare requests for transfer to the fighting until BGEN Craig points out that the rôles they serve in expediting vitally needed materièl to the troops at the front is critical to the success of the war.  And that is where they are needed the most.

 

Let's try this again:

 

As one might expect, this is a problem news organizations continually grapple with. But the responsible thing to do is to correct the text. Some do this well, but correcting the text and appending a note above (and sometimes also below) the article, briefly describing what was changed ("In the fourth paragraph, the reference to the Silver Age Golden Age Superman's given name should have been spelled 'Kal-L.' "). Some even, in the description of the error, provide a link to the paragraph where the change was made.

 

A correction of a correction. How embarrassing ... 

Military Sitcoms Part Five

 

 

Finally, I’ll be getting to my long-postponed remarks on Hogan’s Heroes.  But first, I want to make a few comments on another show Philip Portelli mentioned---C.P.O. Sharkey, starring Don Rickles.

 

For a long time, I felt that Don Rickles was a one-note Johnny, with his insult comedy routines.  He is fall-on-the-floor funny with them, to be sure, and I know that the man for real is genial and mild-mannered.  But I never gave him credit for range---the few movies I had seen him in were simply “insult Don” scaled back---until I saw him in that episode of Hennesey that I mentioned 'way back when I started this thread.  It took several minutes.  You sit there, waiting for his sudden explosion of bombast, and then it dawns on you---it’s not coming.  I won’t say he’s Spencer Tracy, but he is capable of remarkable nuance and empathy as a performer.

 

Rickles himself has stated that his style of comedy doesn’t really fit in with a scripted television show.  His first two attempts at television success, both titled The Don Rickles Show---a variety show in 1968 and a sitcom in 1972---seemed to bear that out; neither show lasted longer than one season.  In 1976, Rickles gave it another try, with C.P.O. Sharkey (NBC, 1976-8).

 

Here, Rickles portrayed Chief Petty Officer Otto Sharkey, in charge of a recruit company at the San Diego Naval base.  Sharkey was sharp-tongued, abrasive, and contentious.  Beneath it all, however, he truly cared about turning the new recruits into good sailors for the fleet.  The character served Don Rickles and his talents well.  Running roughshod over inexperienced recruits, naïve to the ways of the Navy, served as an audience-acceptable platform to indulge in his bombastic, insulting comedy style.  At the same time, Sharkey’s private moments, when he showed that he actually cared for the welfare of the newbies assigned to him allowed him to flex his acting muscles.

 

There was a running subplot that began in the first episode, when Sharkey’s beloved commanding officer retires and is replaced by a female C.O., Captain Quinlan.  The chauvinistic Sharkey turns in his papers for retirement, until he realises that he can’t turn his back on the new recruits coming through the door.  Still, the first season shows Sharkey resenting the milder, more sympathetic approach of CAPT Quinlan.  The sub-plot continues, kinda sorta, in the second season, when CAPT Quinlan is replaced by a male C.O., CAPT Buckner, a seasoned “old Navy” veteran.  For Chief Sharkey, though, it proves to be a case of “be careful what you wish for”, because Buckner is even louder, more domineering, and more abrasive than Sharkey himself.

 

C.P.O. Sharkey gets a few points from me for being the one time, in a scripted show, that I ever saw Don Rickles truly funny.  Not all his remarks were gems, but in any given episode, about one-third to one-half of them evoked laughter out of me.

 

However, the negatives bring the needle back down to zero, or maybe a little below.  My biggest complaint was like so many shows of the ‘70’s that depicted military folks, they didn’t look like military.  Oh, Rickles would pass a personnel inspexion, no problem.  But the rest of the cast---the younger recruits---with their blow-dried, collar-length, over-the-ears hair styles and their tailored, too-tight uniforms looked exactly like what they were---1970’s actors dressed up in uniforms.  It immediately knocked you out of the fictional conceit of the show.

 

Nor did the sets or behaviours of the “recruits” or the never-anything-more-than-superficial protocol displayed come close to what real recruit training is like.  Heck, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. came closer to accuracy.

 

If one isn’t a veteran, I imagine it’s easier to buy into the premise of the show and enjoy it more.

 

 

And now, Hogan’s Heroes (CBS, 1965-71) . . . .

 

Unlike many, I was not outraged or offended over the idea of setting a situation comedy in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp during World War II.  (A great many of the people who wrote CBS to complain about Hogan’s Heroes for that reason were confusing a prisoner-of-war camp with a concentration camp---two very different things.)   It’s difficult to see a problem in concept when, every week, we saw Colonel Hogan and his band do significant damage to the German war effort and make fools out of his Nazi captors, and Nazis in general, to boot.

 

The general concept was inspired:  Allied P.O.W.’s using a stalag in the heart of Germany as a base from which to conduct sabotage and interdiction against the Nazis.  There was just enough in the premise, as it was initially presented to slip it by my willing suspension of disbelief.  The commandant, Colonel Klink, has risen to the level of his incompetence, and deep down, he knew it.  From his decorations, it is clear that he served with distinction earlier in his career, during World War I, but he was in over his head now, and he knew it.  His fear of being sent to the Russian front kept him from questioning the fact that he maintained a remarkable record as a stalag commandant---zero escapes.

 

Sergeant Schultz, the leading non-com of the camp, simply wanted to serve out the war in the relatively safe duty of overseeing the stalag guard, and unless the attempt involved him directly, should a prisoner escape, the axe would fall on Klink and not him.  Neither Klink, nor Schultz, were hostile personally toward the prisoners.

 

These were just the kind of men that Colonel Robert E. Hogan, U.S. Army Air Forces, senior P.O.W. and head of the operation, wanted in place, so as a quid pro quo, no Allied prisoner ever escaped from Stalag 13---officially.

 

From that standpoint, I could accept the premise---as long as the show didn’t push it too far.  Unfortunately, it did.  But I’ll go back to that in a minute.

 

As far as the question of “was the show funny?”, my own answer is:  not too often.  If you read my response to Doc Beechler’s question about The Dick Van Dyke Show, you saw how I broke down the term “situation comedy” into two distinct categories.  In my opinion, Hogan’s Heroes could be classified as a “situation comedy”.  In other words, it drew the majority of its humour from the situation and not from the natural wit of the characters themselves.  I’ve never really found that kind of humour funny.

 

As far as the star, Bob Crane, goes, I always found him a bit too glib and breezy to be likeable.  And a show has an uphill climb if one doesn’t like the star.  To a lesser extent, I have the same criticism of the rest of his crew.

 

Mind you, I didn’t want the show to be like the “Ascension of Saint Hawkeye” seasons of M*A*S*H, but the actors playing Hogan and his Heroes rarely displayed any kind of gravitas about all the death and destruction they wrought or the dire situations they occasionally found themselves in.  Every once in a rare while, Hogan’s Heroes did make the attempt, though.

 

In a second-season episode, “The General Swap” (airing 06 January 1967), USAAF General Aloysius Barton, the general in charge of all Allied daytime bombing operations, is captured and brought to Stalag 17 for temporary holding, until he can be interrogated in Berlin.  COL Hogan is ordered to arrange for General Barton’s escape.  In order to do so, Hogan goes through his usual schmoozing with Klink and Schultz.  To Barton, who is unaware of Hogan’s true mission in the stalag, it appears that Hogan is coöperating with the enemy.  The general severely dresses down Hogan, deploring his lack of efforts to escape, and calls him a traitor.

 

It’s a different Hogan we see for the rest of the episode.  Even though he knows he and his men are filling a vital rôle, Hogan was stung by the general’s words and a sense of guilt gnaws at him for the remainder of the half-hour.  It’s not pronounced; it’s not Hamlet; but it was nice for once to see everything not all nice and airy for the colonel.  I wouldn’t have wanted a steady diet of it, but more plotlines like this would have grounded the series better.

 

And I have to admit, the conclusion of “The General Swap” leads to the one sentimental moment for me in the entire series.  Through their usual machinations, Hogan has arranged for the Nazis to swap General Barton for a captured German field marshal.  As Barton is prepared to be driven away to the exchange point, Corporal Newkirk ignores security and privately informs the general of their true purpose in Stalag 13.  Barton sees Hogan standing by the barracks, among his men, unable to look the general in the eye.

 

“Hogan!” barks the general.  Hogan looks up.

 

And General Barton salutes him.

 

Now, admittedly, Hogan’s Heroes was a mild farce, so I didn’t have much trouble looking the other way when the kind of things the Nazis really would do---especially when, as shown in later episodes, they began to get suspicious of how many German war disasters seemed to involve Stalag 13—such as reassigning the prisoners to other, separate P.O.W. camps.

 

But, at least for the first couple of seasons, Hogan’s Heroes didn’t push the envelope too far.  Most of the operations they pulled off were believable---sometimes, just barely---within the established restraints.  But in the later seasons, as happens to many television shows, the writers ran out of fresh ideas, so they retreaded old plotlines, only making them more outrageous.  That’s when my “oh, come on!” meter started hitting the red line.

 

By way of example, I’m going to bring up something that we have discussed before, on the old board, I think it was.  But I’m on firmer ground, now.

 

In that earlier discussion, I stated that the show had reached that red-line level when it started dressing Staff Sergeant Kinchloe up like a German soldier to go out on sabotage missions.  Some of you responded that you didn’t think that ever happened, that Kinch only posed as a German, usually Hitler, over the radio or telephone.  Yet, I was positive that I remembered Kinch dressed up as a German soldier and passing himself off as one among real Germans.

 

I went so far as to contact authoress Brenda Scott Royce, who wrote Hogan’s Heroes: Behind the Scenes at Stalag 13 (Renaissance Books, 1998).  I asked her if she recalled any episode that put Kinch in a German solder’s uniform.  She replied that, yes, she remembered the same thing, but couldn’t identify a specific episode, and her notes from the books were stashed in some remote corner of her attic.

 

Since, at the time of that earlier discussion, I couldn’t provide chapter and verse to validate my memory, I let the matter go without dispute.

 

Last week, as I was preparing my comments on Hogan’s Heroes, I researched this point as thoroughly as I could, and having no luck---until I stumbled upon some fellow’s blog, in which he provided a mini-review of the series.  The gist of his commentary was the same as mine is here, and he made it a point to mention that, in the fifth season of the show, Kinch was going out in the field dressed as a German soldier quite often.  It was his “jumping the shark” moment for the show, as far as he was concerned.

 

Unfortunately, that blogger didn’t provide any specific episode information, outside of putting them in the fifth season.  However, he did do one thing which, I believe, validates my memory.  He posted a screen capture of Kinch dressing up for a mission as a German soldier:

 

 

 

That settles it for me, anyway. 

 

Clearly, by the last couple of seasons, Hogan’s antics were getting too ridiculous to even accept as farce.  But there is one ameliorating thing to consider.  The Good Mrs. Benson first mentioned this to me years ago.  And the Baron mentioned the same thing several dozen posts back.

 

What if . . . Colonel Klink was aware of Hogan’s operation all along?

 

It makes sense.  Klink knew that, as long as Hogan was in operation, there would be no escapes from Stalag 13, which would keep him secure in his cushy job as commandant and away from any front-line combat.  And then, after a certain point, Klink couldn’t admit that he knew, else the Gestapo would hold him complicit in Hogan’s acts of sabotage and, most likely, stand him up before a firing squad.

 

The idea that Klink wasn’t quite the nincompoop that he looked, that he was deliberately looking the other way, would give credence to some of the more outlandish plots.  Not all of them.  But some.

 

It would still have to be one extremely dark night for a real German to believe that Kinch was a fellow soldier.

The reason I mentioned CPO Sharkey was that I watched that as an eleven-year old and Don Rickles scared the heck out of me! There was something unsettlingly sinister about him yet compelling at the same time. Looking back, I was probably being a hockey puck!

Any doubts about the correctness of Hogan's Heroes didn't occur to me until I really watched The Great Escape and Judgement at Nuremburg  as a teen. As a child, things seem so innocent! But maybe we should judge the show by that innocence.

...I remember the " punk rock episode " of CPO Sharkey - where the punkette that one of the boys meets at the Dickies:-) show ends up in Navy garb at the end , so that's a happy ending , Cmdr. , for you , right ???????????
...And , there was the punchline to a certain memorable Mad Magazine spoof of HH !!!!!!!!!!!

Lee Houston, Junior:

"I did see Phil Silvers during an extended guest stint on The Beverly Hillbillies and will concede that the guy was a good comedian. But between that and his role in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, is con artists all he ever played?"

A real riot is A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.  Phil Silvers has a small role in there... and as far as con men go, he is put to shame by Zero Mostel. If you're familar with Silver's schtick, it makes his scenes all the funnier to see someone else do TO HIM what he always does to someone else.

Growing up, I watched a number of "military" sitcoms.  Among them, McHALE'S NAVY (I'm strongly of the opinion that every actor on this show was never quite a funny as they were on this show), HOGAN'S HEROES (on my short list as one of the funniest shows ever made), F TROOP (ditto), and later, M*A*S*H (I hate to say it this way, but in the long run, the show really did lose something when Wayne Rogers left).  Dad also used to watch COMBAT (which was anything but a comedy).  I used to hear about "Sgt. Bilko" all the time... but I think it was gone before I ever had a chance to see it.  After decades, I recall once seeing ONE episode of it on TV... and I was floored.  It immediately joined my ranks of "funniest TV shows ever made"... and to this day, I've only ever seen that one episode.  By the way, amidst all the big-buidget feature films remakes of old TV shows, I DID really love the SGT. BILKO film.  By my book, one of the best things Steve Martin ever did (along with DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID and THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS).

Back in the early 80's, I actually did a tribute to F TROOP as part of my GALACTON 2230 parody comic.  Forrest Tucker & Larry Storch were both so easy to capture on paper!

Mr. Silver Age:

"I watched Hogan's Heroes all the time, for which I have no excuse. It's really pretty offensive when I think about it any more. I'm surprised it even got on TV back then, and it'd have no chance today."

My Dad told me that when HOGAN'S HEROES first appeared on TV, a lot of people were up in arms protesting it, complaining, "How can you make fun of P.O.W. camps???"  (Remember, the same sort of complaints led to the demise of AMOS AND ANDY, and CAR 54 WHERE ARE YOU?  "Funny" is "funny".)

However... my Dad, when he first arrived in France (just after the cease-fire), his first assignment there was as a POW guard-- guarding German soldiers. I guess this is why he could relate to the show, and liked the character of Shultz so much.  Dad always stressed that the show got one thing RIGHT-- the difference between "Nazis" and "regular Germans".  And this was always a running theme in episodes, especially whenever Major Hochstetter of The Gestapo was around.  Even General Burkhalter HATED Hochstetter!! Everyone else was just AFRAID of the bastard.  No way to run a "real" army. (Or a "real" country.)

Colonel Klink was always shown as an idiot, who apparently got to his rank more from family connections or dumb luck than skill or drive.  Klink was always in the middle-- trying so had to prove he was a "good German", but mostly to those HE was afraid of himself. I feel sure he didn't want to be in the war, and was probably happy to be of on the sidelines, guarding prisoners who wewre ALSO out of it now. (OR SO HE THOUGHT...!!)

Of course, Schultz represented the "regular Germans".  He didn't want to be in the army. Because I came in late (as with most shows I watched as a kid), something it took me many years to figure out was that Schultz actually KNEW what was going on, right from the start. I was shocked when I saw the pilot episode (or was the 2nd episode) when they stole a bomber and went on a bomning run over some factory... and Schultz was on the plane with them!!! Suddenly, I realized exactly WHY he always kept insisting "I know NUSSINK!  NUSSINK!!!"  He didn't WANT to know.  Because if he DID know, and was found out, he'd be shot with the rest of them.  It's amazing when I think how I never figured this out as a kid.

One of the most memorable moments on the show, for me, was an episode where they thought the war might be over soon.  They began to talk about what they planned to do after it was over.  It turned out, Schultz had been the owner of the biggest toy factory in Germany.  I could really see that!  No wonder he was such a nice guy.

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