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1965 was the year when everyone and everything on TV came back from the dead or from being lost, it seemed. But someone at NBC took the term reinCARnation a bit too literally.
With the unexpected success of 'Bewitched' and 'The Man From Uncle' in 1964, the networks unleashed an assault of way-out, fanciful shows in 1965.
'I Dream Of Jeannie', 'Lost In Space', 'Get Smart', 'Green Acres', 'The Smothers Brothers Show' (the sitcom where Tommy came back as a ghost to haunt his brother), 'F Troop', 'Wild, Wild West' were just some of the weird programs that debuted in 1965.
Outlandish as some of those series were, it was My Mother the Car that was destined to be held up in ridicule as one of the worst television series of all time.
NBC was the butt of innumerable jokes for airing the show in the first place - and leaving it there for an entire season. Still, 'My Mother the Car' was probably worth it to the network as fodder for 'Tonight Show' punchlines for the next three decades.
'My Mother The Car' followed the antics of lawyer Dave Crabtree (Jerry Van Dyke from 'Coach'), a typically hapless sitcom family man who discovers that his mother has returned from the grave as a 1928 Porter convertible automobile. It just so happens that he was looking around the used car lot for a family station wagon - on Mother's Day, no less - when he made this startling discovery.
He (naturally) buys the car against the wishes of his family, who (naturally) think he's gone crazy.
Just like another popular sitcom of the day ('Mr. Ed'), the car won't talk to anyone but Dave, so (naturally) hilarity ensues when everyone continually doubts his sanity.
Maggie Pierce was cast as wife wife Barbara, and Cindy Eilbacher and Randy Whipple played the 2.5 kids.
Avery Schreiber appeared as the show's villain, Capt. Manzini, a ruthless car collector who felt an unnatural urge to own the Porter himself. Ann Sothern ('Private Secretary') was the voice of mom.
Here's the opening and closing theme from the pilot,
Kids tuned in, but the critics were merciless.
"'My Mother The Car' tried combining the U.S. fascination with cars, sex and Mom," a scathing 1965 review in Time magazine went. "But something happened in casting: Mother (who returns to earth from celestial regions, using the car radio as a voice box) is an invisible Ann Sothern; and as for Hero Jerry Van Dyke, he has finally answered the question, what is it that Jerry hasn't got that brother Dick has?"
Fact is, 'My Mother The Car' had a terrific cast and stellar writers/creators - no less than Allan Burns and Chris Hayward, soon to be the multiple Emmy-award winning creators of 'He and She' and 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'. Maggie Pierce was particularly good as the wife and anything with Ann Sothern can't be ALL bad!
So why wasn't the series cancelled sooner if it was considered such a flop? Probably because it was effective in drawing the young viewers - the competition on the other networks were all adult dramas ('Rawhide' on CBS, 'Combat' on ABC).
Demographics was a brand new concept in 1965, the networks were looking for overall large numbers, not audience segments like they do presently - or My Mother The Car might still be on today!
(Video clips in this article are from the unseen pilot episode, provided courtesy of "Kingpin" Harold Balde.)
"When reading about 'My Mother the Car' you mentioned a Randy Whipple as one of the kids. For the past several years or so, he's been an anchor at KVAL Channel 13 in Eugene, Oregon. His biography at kval.com says he "played Jerry Van Dyke's son on an NBC sitcom." Of course, he now goes by Randall, but I remember watching him on KVAL's news when I was enrolled at the University of Oregon."
- Bill Griffiths
"I was a high school classmate of Randy and even performed in the school musical with him. He was pretty tight lipped about his work on "My Mother, The Car" but trouble seemed to follow him - on T.V. anyway.
It seems that he was responsible for breaking Red Skelton's finger in a live sketch on his famous TV variety show. Red went on and finished the show, but Randy didn't work in TV for quite a while after that.
Not too many kids in TV get two "bad breaks" in a single career.
(His third strike in showbiz came when he infected me and the entire cast of 'The Music Man" with rubella one week before opening night.)"
- A Reader
- Mastro A
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