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.

Views: 3711

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I learned something new about the movie "M*A*S*H" yesterday. It was the first major studio movie to have the F-word in it.
Bullitt was the first major studio movie to have the word "bull----" in it.

Military Sitcoms Part Four

 

 

I really do intend to tackle Hogan’s Heroes, as Mr. Portelli specifically asked me about.  In fact, I spent most of yesterday afternoon researching a certain point.  But as I began to compose my next post from the military situation comedies I have yet to discuss, I found that I have considerable remarks to make about one of them, so I’ll be setting Hogan and Klink and Schultz aside for just a bit more.

 

I Dream of Jeannie (NBC, 1965-70) isn’t so much a military sitcom as it is a fantasy sitcom with a military environment.  For anybody who might have been living on a Tibetian mountaintop for the last forty-six years, the premise was this:  When his flight capsule lands on a tropical island during a training mission, astronaut Captain Anthony Nelson, U.S. Air Force accidently releases a beauteous two-thousand-year-old (but doesn’t look a day over thirty) female djinn from her bottle.  Because of this, Nelson becomes her master and, once back at N.A.S.A., the presence of the precocious “Jeannie” is the source of zany mischief for Nelson.  Over the course of the first season, Nelson’s buddy and fellow astronaut, Captain Roger Healey, U.S. Army, learns of Jeannie’s existence and both men are promoted to major.  This remains the status quo for the next four seasons.  In the middle of the sixth and last season, Nelson marries Jeannie.

 

When I watched this show as a youth, I didn’t like it.  It neither struck me as funny---ever.  Nor did it ever have any sentimental moments that would have compensated for the lack of humour.  After I grew up and became a Naval officer, going back and viewing the show resulted in even a greater dislike for the show.  In fact, as illogical as it is---it is only fiction, of course---I resent it.

 

The very premise dismays me:  a lovely but irrepressible female djinn is “owned” by a whacky astronaut and is known to his even whackier astronaut buddy.  Sure, occasionally an episode would depict Majors Nelson and Healey actually doing astronaut stuff, but it was always undermined by the sheer lack of maturity and competence they demonstrated during every other event in the show.  Every time Nelson jumped and went “Ngyahhhhhh . . . !” at witnessing Jeannie’s magic, it became that much more difficult to accept him as any sort of military man.

 

Contrast that to Lieutenant Commander McHale, or Sergeant O’Rourke, or even Master Sergeant Bilko---all of whom, for all of their shenanigans, came across as competent in their fields and leaders.  In fact, IDoJ represented a curious inversion of the usual military sitcom formula.  In most military sitcoms, you have the competent, if somewhat unconventional hero and his incompetent commanding officer.  In IDoJ, the situation was reversed; you had an incompetent hero and a very competent boss, in the figure of Doctor Bellows.  Bellows wasn’t Nelson’s C.O., but he filled that function for the show.  Reversing the traditional formula made it much more difficult for me to suspend my disbelief.

 

Hold on to that thought for a moment while I discuss the one thing the show did right.  In fact, it was something that far more sophisticated military shows, comedies and dramas, almost always screw up with consistency. 

 

N.A.S.A. is a civilian agency, and the military men who serve as astronauts almost always wear civilian garb,as do nearly all the personnel assigned there.  IDoJ wanted to emphasize the military backdrop, however, and put Nelson and Healey, et al., in uniform.  Whomever made that decision also went to the trouble of ensuring that the uniforms were accurate.  This is impressive particularly in the fact that they were dealing with two services uniforms---Nelson (and Bellows and the various generals) as Air Force, and Healey as Army.  The insiginia, decorations, and details were always correct.  This is remarkable especially after Nelson and Healey were promoted to major.  The individual uniform regs in place at the time made an Army major’s service dress uniform slightly more impressive-looking than an Air Force major’s.  Yet, the show stuck to correctness, even though the star’s uniform looked slightly less studly.

 

Even more impressive was the ribbons worn by the three principal cast members who were supposed to be in the military.  A few years back, I received an e-mail from someone who asked me if I could identify the military decorations worn by Major Nelson.  It just so happened that there are some excellent colour close-ups of Nelson and Healey and Bellows in the book Dreaming of Jeannie, by Steve Cox (St. Martin Press, 2000).  From this, I was able to study the ribbons and insignia worn by all three.

 

Not only are all three men wearing awards appropriate to the length and nature of their service, they are wearing them in the proper precedence.  They weren’t just thrown on hap-hazardly.  Somebody went to the trouble of getting that small detail---something that only fellows like me would notice---correct.

 

Keep that ribbon thing in mind, too.  Because it goes back to the thing about IDoJ that downright insults me.  And that was the show’s---and the show’s characters’---treatment of Doctor Bellows.  Many equate Dr. Bellows as IDoJ’s answer to Bewitched’s Gladys Kravitz.  But they’re not the same thing.  Gladys Kravitz was a snoop and a busybody, unpleasant to be around under any circumstances.  Dr. Bellows, on the other hand, was competent, professional, and socially likeable.  And more than that.

 

A look at Dr. Bellows' ribbons is quite revealing. Among his many decorations, he wears the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Silver Star, indicating that he performed heroically in combat. His innermost ribbon on the top row---in other words, his most prestigious award---is the Air Force Cross, the second-highest decoration that can be awarded to U.S. military personnel in the U.S.A.F.; only the Medal of Honor is higher.

 

Dr. Bellows served his country well and was worthy of respect.  It would have been nice if the show had pointed that out once in a while.  But it never did.

 

In watching the show after all my years in the Navy, I developed a great deal of sympathy for Dr. Bellows. Frankly, even though I knew he would lose out in each episode, he was the character I rooted for. Also, aware of the military culture as I am now, I cannot view Major Nelson as a complete good guy, either.

Let me explain . . . .

First of all, take a look at the character of Dr. Bellows as presented to the viewers. He is not an incompetent who, somehow, manages to occupy a position of authority, such as Captain Binghamton, of McHale's Navy, or Major Burns, of M*A*S*H, was. No, as written, Dr. Bellows was a competent, professional career officer who had served with distinction. Moreover, he was never unduly strict or cruel to either Major Nelson or Major Healey. He respected their abilities and skill as astronauts.


His one obsession was with rooting out the reason behind the bizarre things that happened to or were done by Major Nelson.


And the thing about that was Dr. Bellows was right! Major Nelson, thanks to the machinations of Jeannie, was constantly involved in something peculiar and/or---under normal circumstances---impossible.


And even here, Bellows wasn't vicious about it. He never sought to destroy Nelson's career or have him court-martialled. He simply wanted Nelson to come clean about the source of all of Nelson's chicanery. (I don't have comprehensive knowledge of the show's episodes, so there may have been an occasion or two when Bellows mentioned having Nelson court-martialled, but from the episodes I recall, he simply wanted Nelson to explain things.) Again, contrast this with a truly venal character, Captain Binghamton, who attempted in virtually every episode to either court-martial Lieutenant Commander McHale or have him cashiered from the Navy.


Of course, we all know how it went for Dr. Bellows. He would find some incontrovertible proof that Nelson was doing something impossible or wildly improbable, take it to his commanding general (Stone or Peterson or Schaeffer), only to be humiliated when, again through the magical influence of Jeannie, Major Nelson was able to "prove" Bellows wrong and make the doctor look foolish.


In most instances, after Major Nelson successfully dodged another of Dr. Bellows' accusations, there would be a scene showing Nelson and Major Healey and/or Jeannie chortling and having a good time over Bellows' embarrassment.


This is where, in my re-run viewing, I lost a great deal of respect for the character of Major Anthony Nelson. Doctor Bellows deserved better than that.


Not only from the fact that Nelson (and Healey and Jeannie) took obvious delight in humiliating a dedicated, competent officer, either. Nelson was also ruining Dr. Bellows' career.


You see, unlike in the enlisted community, competitive examinations have no part in the promotion of military officers. Military officers in all of the services are selected for promotion to the next rank by boards composed of senior officers who determine which officers get advanced on the basis of the officers' performances---their performances being reflected in regular evaluations or reports of fitness.


The repeated occurrences in which Nelson undermined Bellows---who was properly reporting peculiarities which might have, without appropriate explanation, significant bearing on either Nelson's mental competence or security status---left Bellows looking, in the eyes of the general, as obsessed, at best, or incompetent, at worst. Either way, most certainly, the general would lose faith and confidence in Bellows' ability to perform at a higher rank. The exasperated statements made by General Peterson after yet another Bellows humiliation give rise to the almost certainty that Bellows' reports of fitness would be reduced. (And in the vehemently competitive arena of officer promotion, it doesn't take much of a downcheck on a single fitness report of a particular officer to take him out of the running for promotion.)


So, virtually every week, we saw Nelson and Healy gleefully congratulate themselves on further destroying Dr. Bellows’ chances for promotion.

  

This wasn’t funny, nor properly an example of comeuppance; it was cruel.  It’s difficult, for me at least, to be entertained by a show in which the “heroes” are blithely inconsiderate of someone who is acting not of malice, but out of a sense of duty.  This is why IDoJ insults me.  I can accept incompetent C.O.’s and goofy sidekicks and slackers.  But the idea that the “hero” takes pleasure in ruining a man who was doing no more than, properly, attempting to determine the truth, violates my sense of right and wrong. 

 

Yeah, I know, it’s only a television show, and a situation comedy, at that.  I’m not supposed to take it seriously.  But the fact that the show took such cruel delight in repeatedly humiliating a character that didn’t deserve it just rubs me the wrong way.


I would have loved to see an IDoJ episode given this treatment:


In the opening scene, Bellows informs Nelson and Healey that he is retiring. Later, privately, Nelson and Healey show this news is a source of great relief for them and they are happy at the idea.


What Bellows did not tell Nelson and Healey, though, is that the reason he is retiring is because he has been passed over for promotion to brigadier general because of the negative remarks entered by his commanding generals over constantly being "wrong" about MAJ Nelson. In fact, there is a brief scene between Bellows and the general, in which, in a personal moment, the general says, "You were a shoo-in for your star, Alfred, until you started all of this Nelson business. I just don't understand why . . . ."


Bellows, of course, has too much integrity to tell Nelson the reason behind his retirement, but Nelson finds out the truth through some other source. Now Nelson and Healey feel great regret. This would be a great scene in which to underscore Bellows' distinguished service and his basic decency. They determine that Bellows should be promoted, that they owe it to him. (Besides, as an add-on thought, as a brigadier general, Bellows would be transferred to another command, so Nelson and Healey would be free of his suspicions, anyway.) And, of course, thanks to the magical manipulations of Jeannie, Bellows is ultimately selected to brigadier general.


This would lead to a particularly good scene between Bellows and Nelson. Bellows would know (as any real-life military officer knows) that it would be easier to steal a nuclear missile than to get a promotion board to change its mind. Thus, the good doctor is well aware that whatever agency is behind all of Nelson's other bizarre actions is behind the sudden reversal of the promotion board's decision.


"I don't know how, major . . . I never do," says Bellows, "but, somehow, you've done it to me, again."


"No, sir," replies Tony. "This time, I've done it for you."


They shake hands. Unspoken between them is the fact that Bellows knows that Nelson has some secret, and Nelson knows that Bellows knows, but for the moment, both men have called a truce on the issue.


The epilogue would show both Nelson and Healey reporting for work, discussing how strange it will be not to have Dr. Bellows---sorry, General Bellows---around anymore. They are both surprised to discover that Bellows hasn't been transferred at all. (Insert some plausible military reason why the Air Force kept Bellows in Cocoa Beach.)


Bellows says knowingly to Nelson, "I'm sure that with the past forgotten, there won't be any more 'strange occurrences' around here, will there, major?"


"Uh, of course not, Doctor Bellows--uh--general--uh--sir!" replies Nelson, the look on his face showing just how unlikely it is that there will be no more "strange occurrences".


That's how I would've done it, anyway.

...Maybe this is discussed somewhere in thisl ine , but wasn't Hennessy distinguished by the background concept that Hennessy had graduated last in his class at - Annapolis , I would've had to've been?? , so , since I'm still thinking " West Point " maybe it's an Army-based series ( that I have only read of in histories of American TV broadcating , never seen ) , not Hennessy ???????????

  He GRADUATED , remember...and I suppose this was before " the rot set in "/general academic grade inflation happened , so !!!!!!!!!!!

Interesting stuff, Commander - I watched the show alot when I was a kid, and never really put alot of thought into the situation in the comedy, mostly at an age where I knew that Barbara Eden in a harem girl outfit was real interesting to me for some reason, though I hadn't quite figured out why. (I figured it out eventually.)  I haven't seen it in more than 30 years - I dimly remember a "reunion" movie  with Wayne Rogers taking Larry Hagman's place. It's actually kind of funny - there were many of those old shows where I just blithely accepted the premise without thinking it through.

 

Now I wonder why Nelson didn't have Jeannie render all of the USSR's nukes inert.  Maybe the Reds had a magical being on their side somewhere.

The Baron said:

Now I wonder why Nelson didn't have Jeannie render all of the USSR's nukes inert.  Maybe the Reds had a magical being on their side somewhere.


The Crimson Genie-mo


Commander Benson said:

Military Sitcoms Part Three

 

 

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to crank out a lengthy post on the military comedy shows I put at the bottom of the pile.  Hogan’s Heroes I will definitely address next time, along with C.P.O. Sharkey, since Mr. Portelli asked about that one specifically. 

 

But I also don’t want to wait too long before returning to the topic, so I will take this time to belt out some comments on what is I think---I didn’t check to verify---the earliest military situation comedy:  The Phil Silvers .Show.

 

Let’s address one thing right out of the gate, to minimise confusion:  The original title of the show was You’ll Never Get Rich, but after it became a runaway hit, the title changed to The Phil Silvers Show.  Most folks know it simply as, and refer to it as---“Sergeant Bilko”.

 

Now, I rarely do this; the anal-retentive part of my nature usually prohibits it, but for purposes of ready understanding, I will refer to the show as Sgt. Bilko.  When it’s in italics, I’m referring to the show; in regular font, I mean the character.  This isn’t just for you guys.  In 1963, Silvers took another shot at a television series, calling it The New Phil Silvers Show.  It was a redeux of his first show, with the same premise, except that instead of an Army non-com in charge of a squad of soldiers, Silvers played a factory foreman in charge of a shift of workers.  Essentially, though, he was Sgt. Bilko in mufti.

 

Most viewers figured “Why watch the new show, when we can watch reruns of the old Phil Silvers Show, which was done better.”  The ratings were embarrassing, so mid-way through the season, the show changed formats.  It didn’t help, and the series expired after one season.  Now, I do know the difference, but whenever I see The Phil Silvers Show, my mind goes to the second one.  So it’s easier for me to call the old show Sgt. Bilko, as well.

 

I didn’t like Sgt. Bilko.  Truth to tell, it wasn’t badly written; it had some funny moments; and after it became a hit, displayed an expensive production standard.

 

I didn’t like it because of Phil Silvers.

 

Now let me be clear.  I never met the man, but from everything I’ve heard about him, off-camera, he was a fairly nice guy.  No saint, of course; none of us is.  But I probably would have enjoyed an evening with him as a guest in my house. 

 

It’s his on-screen persona that I didn’t care for.  I never cared for his fast-talking, overly unctuous, yet implicitly insincere character.  And, as CK and Lee Houston pointed out, once Silvers made his mark with Bilko, he never played anything else, no matter what the rôle.  I never understood, even as a kid, how anyone could fall for such a transparently phoney guy.

 

And, of course, to make it work, Bilko’s marks had to be nimrods, the worst of which being his usual foil, Bilko’s commanding officer, Colonel Hall (played, admittedly to perfection, by Paul Ford).  COL Hall was the first of a long parade of bumbling sitcom C.O.’s, and probably the worst.  He made Captain Binghamton look like Bull Halsey.

 

But, again being candid, setting aside my detest for such a character type, there were some things laudable about the show.  Or things at least the writers were intelligent enough to incorporate.

 

In general, much of the dialogue---usually not Silvers’, but occasionally so---was funny.  The cast was large and to accommodate that, the writers often employed overlapping dialogue and much of the aside stuff was humourous, and more so, because it sounded realistic.

 

The plots were generally too broad to accommodate anything close to the real-life military, but sometimes they hit the mark.  By almost all accounts and sources I’ve checked, the episode rated the funniest was “The Court-Martial”, originally airing on 06 March 1956.  This is the famous episode in which a chimpanzee, as a result of a series of snafus, is inducted into the Army.

 

I viewed “The Court-Martial” again a few years back, and admittedly, not only is it funny, but it pushes but doesn’t break the willing-suspension-of-disbelief barrier.   In setting up the situation, it’s established that, in order to groom himself for promotion, COL Hall has set a goal of inducting the record number of recruits in a two-hour period.  To that end, he has streamlined the induction process and refuses to let anything slow down the flow of recruits.  On that basis, the implausible gaffes which would permit a chimpanzee to pass all the wickets---physical exam, psychological evaluation, and so forth---are rendered plausible.  Barely, but enough.  It also helps that, throughout, Sgt. Bilko, for once, is trying to do the honest thing, by pointing out the error to the various officers throughout the process.  But, being under orders from COL Hall to proceed as fast as possible, they blow Bilko off.

 

The show also makes it plausible that a man like Bilko would rise to the rank of master sergeant in the Army.  If one studies the decorations he wore on his uniform, one sees a Combat Infantry Badge, a Bronze Star, and an Army Commendation Medal, among others.  The CIB is a qualification an infantry man earns for serving in a unit that was actively engaged in combat.  The Bronze Star is the U.S. military’s fourth-highest award for bravery under fire.  And the Army Commendation Medal is awarded for sustained heroic or outstanding performance.

 

Now, the first impulse is to be cynical and assume that Bilko managed to con his way into getting those decorations.  But at various times, the show makes it clear that he most likely earned them legitimately.  One show makes reference to a time during World War II when Bilko braved machine gun fire to obtain water for his parched unit pinned down under attack.  There was another moment when some of his men, having obtained his service jacket, marvel at the fact that it shows, during wartime, Bilko was a brave, responsible leader.

 

So the implication is, when it counts, Bilko could be as capable and brave as any man in combat.  In this respect, he was like the character of Sergeant O’Rourke, from F-Troop---who was also a chiseler and a conniver, but when he or his men were really up against it, his true worth came to the fore.

 

And this leads to the last intelligent handling of Bilko.  In most of the case, Bilko’s scams never paid off for him.  This was usually because of one of two developments.  Sometimes, his scams would backfire and end up costing him as much or more than if he had never run it in the first place.

 

But quite often, they would fail to pay off because Bilko was never quite able to eradicate his deeply buried sense of decency.  At the end, when he could just walk away with his profit, if it resulted in a hard penalty for his mark, or some other innocent, he would turn around and make things right.

 

And there were even occasions when he did something just because it was the decent thing to do.  The episode “The Colonel’s Reunion” (airing 17 February 1958) saw this sort of thing occur.  In a rare display of competence, COL Hall is able to shut down all of Bilko’s gambling operations.  Then Bilko discovers that the colonel has turned down an invitation to attend a reunion of the officers of his old wartime regiment.  Bilko learns the reason that COL Hall is staying away is because Hall is self-conscious of being not as successful as his former peers.

 

To get back at the colonel, Bilko arranges it so that COL Hall has to attend the reunion and he finagles his way into going along, so he can witness the colonel’s embarrassment first hand.

 

At the reunion, Bilko has reason to arrive at the event before COL Hall and, overhearing, he discovers that the colonel is held in disdain by his former comrades, all generals now.  They look upon COL Hall as incompetent and he is, privately, the butt on cruel remarks.  Struck with sympathy for his C.O., Bilko undertakes a charade which redeems Hall in the eyes of the generals and restores the colonel’s respect.

 

This is the moment which redeems Bilko in the eyes of the viewer, as well.  It is similar to the Andy Griffith episode “Andy on Trial, in which Barney Fife delivers a bravura testimony which eradicates the charges against Andy and restores him as sheriff.

 

As most of you know, I love moments like this.  Most of these touches which tempered Sgt. Bilko’s negative traits came from the typewriter of Sgt. Bilko’s producer and lead writer, Nat Hiken, who understood that the character would have to display some redeeming qualities to keep the audience’s sympathy.  Hiken left the show before the start of the final season, and subsequent writers didn’t always keep this mind.  Consequently, there were episodes in which Bilko was a complete horse’s ass from start to finish.  These were not well received.

 

So, on the whole, You’ll Never Get Rich/The Phil Silvers Show/Sgt. Bilko had a thread of quality which kept it from being a terrible effort.

 

I just didn’t like it.

 

...Wasn't it officially on-screen titled " Sgt. Bilko " ( or the longer version ) in some rerun incarnations , anyhow ?????????

Commander:

First off, based upon your post, I cannot defend the actions of Nelson and Healey, except in light of the fact that they were just trying to keep Jeanie secret and were never intentionally out to "get" Bellows.

Otherwise, if not for Jeanie, I suspect that Healey would have washed out of the astronaut program long ago, and that Nelson would of had a better time of it without her.

I do think there might have been an episode or two where Jeanie actually did something for Bellows without him knowing it. But even if my memory is right, then you know there had to be 'consequences' or else there would have been no episode.

Also, in fairness to the show, not everything that happened was the result of something Jeanie did. Sometimes her evil sister Jeanie (also played by Barbara Eden) appeared because she wanted Major Nelson all to herself and nothing was going to stop her (within the TV guidelines of the day) from obtaining her goal.

 

And although this thread is supposed to be a discussion of military sitcoms, I hope at some point you review NCIS, if not NCIS Los Angeles as well, for the parent show has been on long enough that some of the recent episodes have addressed the issue you raised during your brief review of JAG about "keeping the exact same team together" after so long.

...Oh , BTW , for military comic books of a " comic " kind , anyone remember Joe O'Brien - I believe . -'s GI JUNIORS , published by Harvey during the Silver Age ????????? Although I know , there's another...........

I never equated I Dream of Jeannie with a military theme, though it obviously was. It was more like Male Fantasy Theatre! You have Barbara Eden in 60s Victoria's Secrets and she obeys your commands!! There was also My Living Doll with Julie Newmar as a beautiful, sexy robot who obeys your commands! This was updated in the 90s as Mann and Machine with Yancy Butler as a beautiful, sexy robot cop.

Not to mention other gorgeous fantasy women from Buffy, Angel, Charmed, Hercules, Xena, Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise. Just to throw out a few names! 

I've discussed this at another venue, so I'm familar with what you're talking about, and you've got your facts slightly twisted.

 

Charles "Chick" Hennesey never attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  For one thing, he would have been too old for acceptance, given his established age in the first episode.

 

As established in various episodes over the years, Hennesey first served in the Army, as an enlisted man, during the Korean War.  After the end of his enlistment, he went to college under the G.I. Bill and then entered medical school.  Upon getting his M.D., Hennesey accepted a commission in the Navy.

 

Where you are getting confused is from the exchange of dialogue between Hennesey and his first meeting with his commanding officer, then-Captain Shafer.   CAPT Shafer conducts the interview with a brusque tone full of starch.

 

"My name is Shafer.  I'm the senior medical officer of this base.  Does that impress you?"

 

"Yes, sir," replies Hennesey.

 

"I've been a Navy doctor for twenty-four years," CAPT Shafer continues.  "I have three children.  I graduated Harvard next to last in my class.  Where'd you go to school?"

 

"U.C.L.A., sir."

 

"Where'd you intern?"

 

"Los Angeles County Hospital."

 

"General practitioner?"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"How long you been in the Navy?"

 

"About--uh--eight hours, sir."

 

"How long you been a doctor?"

 

"About nine hours, sir."

 

"Why'd you pick the Navy?"

 

"It picked me, sir."

 

"Ever been on a battleship?"

 

"No, sir."

 

"Ever been on a cruiser?"

 

"No, sir."

 

"Can you identify water?"

 

"In daylight, I can, yes, sir."

 

"You're pretty smart, huh?"

 

"No, sir," Chick replies.  "As a matter of fact, I was last in my class, sir."

 

"Well, it finally happened!  After twenty-four years in the Navy, I've found a doctor dumber than me."  (smiling) "Welcome aboard, Hennesey."

 

 

That exchange was taken directly from my review of the first episode, which I just watched and transcribed.  Now, it's possible---the facial expressions and tone of voice suggest that he was poking fun with Shafer---that Hennesey was being accurate when he said he had graduated last in his class.  But the climax of the episode strongly indicates otherwise.

 

Hennesey is summoned to a destroyer to handle a medical emergency.  Down in a machine space, a sailor has gotten his arm trapped in a flywheel.  The arm is twisted around the bone and is pretty mangled.  Hennesey starts to give the sailor something to deaden the pain, but the man knocks the hypo out of Hennesey's hand.  The man refuses to let Hennesey give him any injections.  "You'll put me to sleep and when I wake up, my arm will be gone."

 

Hennesey comes up with another idea.  While he is putting it in place, CAPT Shafer arrives with Nurse Hale.  Shafer demands to know why Hennesey hasn't anaesthetised the man.  When Hennesey replies that he couldn't, Shafer begins to bellow.  Hennesey cuts him off with a "Please, sir.  I've got an idea and I think I know what I'm doing."

 

Through a clever use of some axle grease and a massively muscled boatswain's mate, Hennesey gets the sailor free, without having to amputate the arm.  The man is taken to sick bay, with Hennesey following to treat him.

 

CAPT Shafer remains behind, spouting angrily to Nurse Hale about Hennesey's insolence.  Hennesey has a lot to learn about the Navy, he says, and about showing the proper respect to senior officers . . . .

 

Then he stops and smiles, nodding toward sick bay.

 

"You know," says Shafer, "I really don't think he was the last in his class."

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Houston, Junior said:

Commander:

First off, based upon your post, I cannot defend the actions of Nelson and Healey, except in light of the fact that they were just trying to keep Jeanie secret and were never intentionally out to "get" Bellows.

Otherwise, if not for Jeanie, I suspect that Healey would have washed out of the astronaut program long ago, and that Nelson would of had a better time of it without her.

I do think there might have been an episode or two where Jeanie actually did something for Bellows without him knowing it. But even if my memory is right, then you know there had to be 'consequences' or else there would have been no episode.

Also, in fairness to the show, not everything that happened was the result of something Jeanie did. Sometimes her evil sister Jeanie (also played by Barbara Eden) appeared because she wanted Major Nelson all to herself and nothing was going to stop her (within the TV guidelines of the day) from obtaining her goal.

 

And although this thread is supposed to be a discussion of military sitcoms, I hope at some point you review NCIS, if not NCIS Los Angeles as well, for the parent show has been on long enough that some of the recent episodes have addressed the issue you raised during your brief review of JAG about "keeping the exact same team together" after so long.



I understand that Nelson and Healey weren't out to get Dr. Bellows directly, that they were simply trying to preserve the secret of Jeannie. But at what cost? Destroying a man's career and good reputation? That was supposed to be one of the main running gags of the show. But they didn't present Bellows as a man who deserved it; it was just the opposite, in fact. So here, the end doesn't justify the means.

Going by their personalities, neither Healey, nor Nelson were competent enough to serve as astronauts---except when it was necessary to the plot to make them so. (It was slightly different for the first eight or nine episodes, when Roger Healey was depicted as a serious individual who kept raising his eyebrows over his buddy Tony's zany antics. When Bellows' part was enlarged to take over that purpose, Healey became the goofy sidekick, just a few episodes before he discovers Jeannie's existence.)

And, yes, you're right: not all the doings were Jeannie's fault. But those occasions were in the minority. Nelson and Healey came off as horse's asses in their treatment of Bellows in the vast majority of instances. A couple of times when it wasn't their doing doesn't let them off the hook.

I'm afraid I can't review NCIS or NCIS Los Angeles.  I've never watched either show.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Welcome!

No flame wars. No trolls. But a lot of really smart people.The Captain Comics Round Table tries to be the friendliest and most accurate comics website on the Internet.

SOME ESSENTIALS:

RULES OF THE ROUND TABLE

MODERATORS

SMILIES FOLDER

TIPS ON USING THE BOARD

FOLLOW US:

OUR COLUMNISTS:

Groups

© 2021   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service