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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1967 – PART 1

Written By:

Alan Boon
The Flying Nun, 1967

Ah, telephemera… those shows whose stay with us was tantalisingly brief, snatched away before their time, and sometimes with good cause. They hit the schedules alongside established shows, hoping for a long run, but it’s not always to be, and for every Street Hawk there’s two Manimals. But here at STARBURST we celebrate their existence and mourn their departure, drilling down into the new season’s entertainment with equal opportunities square eyes… these are The Telephemera Years!

1967-68

Is it 1967 or 1867, because cowboy dramas still have a big hold on US TV this year, with Bonanza and Gunsmoke joined by The High Chapparal, as well as a slew of lesser successful, rightfully-forgotten shows. Andy Griffith and Lucille Ball, of course, were still riding high at the top of the TV charts, with this being The Andy Griffith Show‘s swansong season, but there were sitcoms and variety hours galore to make America laugh while its sons died in a foreign war fought purely over political ideology.

It wasn’t just a dark time for anyone with a relative in Vietnam, there was also tragedy for superhero and sci-fi fans as Batman, The Invaders, Lost in Space, The Man from UNCLE, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea also reached the end of their runs, along with The Monkees (although Head was still waiting, tantalisingly, in November 1968). Never mind, Gentle Ben and Ironside arrived to alleviate the gloom, as well as a whole load of other shows that didn’t stick around in the popular memory. This is the story of four lesser-known delights from the 1967 TV garden…

The Flying Nun (ABC): The criteria of exactly what makes for Telephemera is fluid, encompassing shows that enjoyed half a season, a full season, or didn’t even make it to air. Sometimes that fluid seeps into spaces you wouldn’t ordinarily expect to find it, such as a three-season, eighty-two-episode series starring a young Sally Field that, for a time at least, was the punchline of many a joke about an unexpected arrival. But to the world at large, The Flying Nun has been forgotten, despite – or maybe because of – its strange premise…

As the show began in September 1967, Field’s Chicago girl Elsie Etherington arrives in Puerto Rico, where she will be joining the nuns of Convent San Tanco in San Juan. As part of an order devoted to charity and education, she adopts the name Sister Bertrille, dedicating herself to helping the poor people of this impoverished US colony. Oh, and she can fly. Well, flying might be a stretch but Bertille is so slight that the coastal winds of the Caribbean island enable her to lift into the sky, often at the point where flying might help her solve the problem of the week, aided by the wing-like wimple she wears as part of her nun’s uniform.

The Flying Nun, 1967

Field had found her way into the hearts of the American public with the sitcom Gidget and ABC sought to keep her on the air after its cancellation. She initially turned down this ridiculous show but was warned that it might mark her as being difficult to work with, the kiss of death for women in Hollywood at the time (and even now). Relenting, she took up the role as created by Bewitched producer Harry Ackerman and Max Wylie from Tere Ríos’s novel, The Fifteenth Pelican. The change of title from the source material, and a series of stunts designed to drive home the fact that THIS NUN FLIES, did little to assuage her worries but Field nevertheless sucked it up and made it through three seasons before the show was cancelled in April 1970.

The Flying Nun never earned spectacular ratings, not once cracking the top thirty shows, but did have a solid following, although coming last in its timeslot during its third season was the kiss of death for the show, much to a pregnant Field’s relief. The first two seasons were released on DVD in 2006 but The Flying Nun is not currently available anywhere to watch, except for YouTube, where some enterprising soul has uploaded enough of the show for anyone to handle.

Maya (NBC): Based on the 1966 movie of the same name, Maya was exactly the sort of boy’s adventure serial that proliferated the middle decades of the twentieth century, even if by 1967 it was beginning to look a little tired and exploitative. As in the movie, Jay North plays Terry Bowen, an American teen who finds himself out in the Indian jungle with only local boy Raji (Sajid Khan, unusually cast against using brownface) and an elephant named Maya for company.

In the movie, Terry argues with his father and runs away, joining Raji on her mission to deliver Maya – a sacred white elephant – to a hidden temple. The TV show switches things up and has Terry arrive in India to join his father, only to find him missing presumed eaten by a tiger. Running away to avoid deportation, Terry and Raji set off on a quest aboard Maya (now just a regular elephant) to find his missing father.

Maya, 1967

North had made his young name playing Dennis the Menace in the 1959 CBS show and the Maya film was the first time he’d managed to escape his typecasting as an annoying young child. The TV show was seen as a chance for him to move into more mature roles, a way station for an aspiring serious actor, and he enjoyed the acclaim that came with the role. Unfortunately, North’s teen idol status did not translate into ratings and the show was cancelled after just eighteen episodes, Terry’s dad still missing.

It’s a shame because Maya was filmed entirely on location and made good use of local actors in supporting roles, unusual for the time. Still, with Ron Ely setting pulses racing in Tarzan on the same network, it’s possibly a case that America already had its fill of jungle-based adventure. North’s career as an adult actor mostly failed to take off, despite some game tries interrupted by a spell in the Navy, and by the mid-1980s he was a regular talk show guest warning of the dangers of child stardom. Maybe it would have been different if he’d just found his dad…

He & She (CBS): Meta before much of the world even knew what that meant, He & She tells the story of Dick Hollister (stage actor Richard Benjamin in his breakthrough role), a cartoonist who must deal with the problems that come with his most successful strip Jetman being turned into a TV show, particularly the lead actor played by Jack Cassidy. Jetman was a thinly-veiled poke at the success of Batman, although there is nothing to suggest that Adam West was half the egotist that Cassidy’s Oscar North was.

Completing the cast was Paula Prentiss as Dick’s wife Paula, a social worker whose work life brought as much to the show as her husband’s, and a collection of wacky neighbours, including firefighter Harry, a proto-Kramer who would appear in their apartment via a gangplank from the firehouse across the street, played wonderfully by Kenneth Mars.

He & She, 1967

He & She was created by Leonard Stern, a writer-producer on Get Smart (and also one of the creators of the Mad Libs word game), who brought in The Munsters creators Chris Hayward and Allan Burns to oversee the series. Their mature approach to the sitcom, bringing in issues of the time to test the young couple, was something novel and would later find an audience with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, co-created by Burns and mining similar seams.

With Green Acres as its lead-in, He & She debuted on September 6th 1967, occupying a Wednesday night slot vacated by Gomer Pyle, USMC when it moved to Fridays, but never really managed to hold onto the audience delivered by the talking pig comedy, who were obviously not after comedy this sophisticated. There are plenty of episodes to be found on video-sharing sites and it’s well worth your time to track them down.

Garrison’s Gorillas (ABC): Everyone knew The Dirty Dozen was going to be a blockbuster hit when it was released in 1967 and it wasn’t just down to its star-studded cast. The rights to EM Nathanson’s novel had been snapped up in 1963, two years before it became a bestseller on publication, and the story of a group of convicts given the carrot parole if they helped the war effort against the Germans had an irresistible allure to an America unsure of just whether its soldiers could be called heroes any more…

Arriving just three months after The Dirty Dozen hit cinema screens, Garrison’s Gorillas took the same premise and gave it a slight twist for TV. These criminals weren’t the worst the US prison system had to offer, they were recruited for the skills that had gotten them into trouble in the first place. So Cesare Danova’s con man could be relied upon to talk the gang into any situation they required, safe cracker Rudy Solari was on hand to fix or destroy, cat burglar Christopher Cary could steal whatever they needed to complete their mission, and Native American switchblade expert Brendan Boone was their muscle.

Garrison's Gorillas, 1967

Leading the group, and ready to execute them should they desert, was Lt Craig Garrison (Ron Harper, later one of the astronauts in Planet of the Apes), directing their activities from their base in London and recruiting other cons as the mission required it. The show didn’t have the raw power of The Dirty Dozen but did hit the mark for some, with TV Guide’s Cleveland Armory calling it “ludicrously one-sided, a second-hand idea, and third-degree violence, (but) a first-rate show.”

Weirdly, Garrison’s Gorillas gained a huge following in China during the 1980s when Communist Party officials were said to have rescheduled meetings around broadcasts of the show, but it remains largely forgotten in the West, despite guest appearances from the likes of Jack Klugman, Telly Savalas, John Saxon, and Larry Storch. Its twenty-six episode run is available to watch on the internet, however, uploaded – naturally – by a Chinese YouTuber.

Next time on The Telephemera Years: More forgotten fare from the Summer of love!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: 1966 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1968 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1969 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1971 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1973 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1975 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1977 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1978 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1980 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1982 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1984 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1986 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1987 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1989 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1990 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1992 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1995 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1997 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2000 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2003 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2005 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2006 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2008 (part 1, 23, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Irwin Allen

Titans of Telephemera: Stephen J Cannell (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: DIC (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Hanna-Barbera (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Sid & Marty Krofft

Titans of Telephemera: Glen A Larson (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Quinn Martin (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Ruby-Spears

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