Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Courtship Of Eddie's Father S1 Ep1: Mrs. Livingston, I Presume

School. Friends. Finding A Mom. Young Eddie Corbett has a full plate.

As I touched upon with the entry of The Courtship Of Eddie's Father Theme Song, The Courtship Of Eddie's Father [1969-1972] was a series that came along unexpectedly in syndication in the 1970s. It was a seminal moment as the defining series had a profound impact on my youth.

The Courtship Of Eddie's Father starred a wealth of talent not least of which began with the always incredible Bill Bixby, a young natural named Brandon Cruz, the sweet foreign touch of the Corbett family's Japanese caregiver, the sage Miyoshi Umeki and a host of other recurring characters. The casting of the series made for an almost effortless feel of warmth and affection from a series that never seemed like it had actors playing parts. The Courtship Of Eddie's Father felt like an extended family in my mind. Who knew Bill Bixby would have such an influence on my formative years through this series and The Incredible Hulk.

Don't get me wrong, Bixby and these life-shaping series never taught me anything my mother, father or grandmother wasn't teaching me throughout the 1970s, but like those films that altered our view of the world like Star Wars, these series helped some of us define who we are. Not unlike the traditional values of the period this is easily reflected in the show's title. How often do you see the word courtship utilized today?

The Courtship Of Eddie's Father did reinforce all of those things that I knew innately to be true, or that were nurtured in me by my own family. The television show was underlining all of those ethical and moral lessons that I was discovering through my own family or on my own like Eddie, played by Cruz. Most of all, The Courtship Of Eddie's Father through this warm, welcoming, lived-in cast of individuals simply reinforced those values that meant something to me. It was examining the issues and dilemmas I faced and reflected upon those events. I wasn't alone after all. It underscored kindness, understanding, love and through Bill Bixby, as Tom Corbett, not always having all the answers, though perhaps it seemed like he did. It was the not knowing that always reassured my own small mind about the bigger unknowns. "I'm trying. I'm really trying," single dad Tom would look to the sky above, whether talking to God or his lost love, Eddie's mother Helen.

The series' focus would center on Eddie's ongoing pursuit to navigate his father, Tom, into a courtship with another woman, any woman, who might just make a great new mom and make his father happy, because Eddie clearly wants both throughout the series, despite his innocence. Eddie has a big heart and is anything but selfish.

Mrs. Livingston, played by Miyoshi Umeki, is a delight and would be the final component that would really make the core of this very special series. As a Japanese woman, still learning English, she brings to the Corbett home a traditional center, a foundation of warmth and trust and wisdom that helps ground Tom and Eddie as a family bringing additional focus to what is important. The traditional Japanese culture infused into the character is juxtaposed to the non-traditional set of circumstances facing Tom and Eddie. Together, they form the nucleus of the nuclear family. She brings clarity and focus to the family. That maternal component is powerful and for children it is a particularly important component of nurture in most cases. Mrs. Livingston's role serves as that guiding instrument to Eddie allowing him to experience the essence of a nuclear or traditional family that he would be without with the absence of one parent or another.

The Courtship Of Eddie's Father aired for an outstanding three seasons and 73 episodes. It was the television adaptation of a film of the same name from 1963, and before that a book by Mark Toby, but as always Bixby made this medium something special to watch in each short, but stunning 30 minute installment. He even received an Emmy nod for his phenomenal work here in 1971 for Best Lead Actor Comedy.

So many programs that attempt the half hour timeline simply never get it right. Unlike many of today's sitcoms and many that have come and gone along the way, there was a sweetness and a gentility to The Courtship Of Eddie's Father that is often missing. Many of today's programs openly promote disrespect. It's cute you know at least that's how it's sold. There was a poignancy each week that was genuine and without becoming overly syrupy, the series delivered a powerful message to millions of single-parent homes. Okay, it got syrupy sometimes. Many of us, including myself, became the recipients of divorced America and many of us had to make sense of a whole new reality with a whole new set of new conventions in that single parent world. We all found our way in the ways that worked best for us. While Eddie was not the recipient of divorced parents, he was facing many of the same realities and questions that result from that separation.

For me, in syndication, The Courtship Of Eddie's Father was one of those answers. It was one of those cultural moments that just happened to come along and time things right. It was both an education, without knowing it, and an irresistible, lovely piece of entertainment. It spoke to me in ways I didn't fully comprehend at the time, but still resonate with me today. Shows like this one and Family Affair [1966-1971] found me and helped guide me at a time when the television became an instrument of information. Thankfully, for me, it was The Courtship Of Eddie's Father and Family Affair. Obviously, I was one of the lucky ones.

Today we begin a look back at these Bixby classics to be coupled with The Incredible Hulk series as the spirit moves me. Call it a bonus for Bixby fans. And to be honest, there isn't much out there on The Courtship Of Eddie's Father and if I can do my small part in correcting that oversight than so be it. Images and clips of this terrific little series that could are sorely limited. Let's change that.

The Courtship Of Eddie's Father, Season One, Episode 1, Mrs. Livingston, I Presume, sees viewers introduced to magazine editor and widower Tom Corbett, his son Eddie and their daycare provider Mrs. Livingston. It's fitting the first entry should spotlight the third most important character in the series. The trio is quickly ushered into our homes and welcomed with open arms thanks to a genuine affection they exhibit toward one another in this premiere and each succeeding episode.

What of Eddie's mother? It's suggested briefly in the opening that Eddie's mother died, but no details are given.

Each episode opened with a sweet exchange between Eddie and his father asking the important questions that come to the mind of a child, those things that a father and son must reflect upon at those opportune moments. "Dad, do you think you'll ever get married again?" The opening moments truly reflect Eddie's desire for his father to be happy along with well wishes for himself. The first opening can be seen here.

One of the most charming aspects of Eddie is his unquenchable desire to manipulate women or his father in the hopes of securing him a new wife and himself a new mother.

Taking a look back at this series has only opened my eyes once again to how well produced it was for its time. The writing, use of music and editing is strong from the very beginning.

Creator James Komack, who plays recurring playboy character and photographer Norman Tinker, manages to slide or transition between comedy and drama on a dime. Walking that line is a very difficult proposition. His work, those involved and the actors chosen make the magic happen.

In fact, Komack, the guiding hand to The Courtship Of Eddie's Father actually directed Star Trek: The Original Series, Season Two, Episode, 17, A Piece Of The Action. What a tangled television web we weave. To make the television connections even more interesting, even ST:TOS' Herbert Solow [Man From Atlantis] oversaw production of the Bill Bixby series here.

I was also pleased to see the very retro fashion approach to the women that would often come in and out of Tom Corbett's life. Like Star Trek: The Original Series from the period, The Courtship Of Eddie's Father never shies away from vibrant color or a short skirt. That's one component I didn't recall, but seeing it again has me pleased it has aged very well.

On the music front, rare do we see a theme song for a series set such a defining tone for a program, but Best Friend by singer/ songwriter Harry Nilsson did just that. That song manages to capture the essence of the series father-son bond in just two short minutes and would thematically link the tone of the series throughout its run.

Eddie and "Mr. Eddie's Father" visit the exhibit for Forbidden Planet. In thirty short minutes, there are many wonderful moments. The basic premise here is that Tom rushes home to keep a date with his son whom he nearly needs to postpone with due to the pressures of work. Mrs. Livingston can't stay and ultimately Tom must relent to taking his son out, because it's the right thing to do.

The two actually visit an exhibit. Appropriately, and in keeping with our science fiction themed blog, Tom and Eddie visit an MGM studio tour featuring Forbidden Planet.

It's during this visit that Eddie lures a girl named Dolly back to their home even inviting her to sleep over placing his father in a very delicate situation.

Mrs. Livingston arrives in the morning to a waking Dolly creating appearances that are not exactly what they seem. Young Eddie attempts to explain how the lady ended up at their home and suggests his father is teaching him how to pick up women on his behalf. Mrs. Livingston is appalled as only Mrs. Livingston can be.

It's moments like these where either Eddie's father is imparting wisdom to his son or his son, like all young kids, teaches his father a thing or two. The kid is indubitably precocious.

The tender series really touches a whole host of issues that were prevalent in the day. Part of me can't help but notice the more things change the more they stay the same to use an expression. And truth be told, things have changed a good deal as well. I couldn't resist unwrapping the arrival of The Courtship Of Eddie's Father on DVD-recordable from Warner Bros.. It called to me. This is like an unexpected Christmas gift, because the thought of The Courtship Of Eddie's Father EVER arriving on DVD seemed like something of a pipe dream. Additionally, the gift of technology allows us to show classics like this series to kids. Contemporary programming standards and lax at best, and it's often altogether devoid of anything appropriate, save for the lack of mini-skirts. It's funny, but language, violent slapstick is far more acceptable today, while women as objects seems to have taken a backseat. Certainly instances crop up that were politically acceptable decades earlier. You'll know them when you hear them. They cause an immediate reaction when you do.

Nevertheless, my healthy obsession for all things Bill Bixby did not disappoint and you would be wise to give this family show a chance given the fact we have the option. My nostalgic affection for it aside, my own kids immediately took to it. It certainly won't have the psychological impact for them that it did me with the security of two parents at their side, but it's a welcome diversion from everything else thrown out them from the Disney channel and Nickelodeon.

Listen I make no apologies if I'm overly partial to the sentimental or if I appear stunted in my nostalgic viewing experience. To that I say, to each his own. And based on the the current crop of television on evidence today, there's nothing to suggest The Courtship Of Eddie's Father is inferior to any degree based simply on age. In fact, much of it is far superior as sitcom material goes. Yes, you can do far worse in 2011.

Mrs. Livingston, I Presume: B+. Writer: James Komack & Richard M. Powell. Director: Alan Rafkin.

Characters: Bill Bixby [Tom Corbett]/ Brandon Cruz [Eddie Corbett]/ Miyoshi Umeki [Mrs. Livingston]/ James Komack [Norman Tinker]/ Kristina Holland [Tina Rickles].

Actress footnote: Miyoshi Umeki [1929-2007]. Mrs. Livingston. Miyoshi Umeki's role was significant opposite Bill Bixby and Brandon Cruz known for her sweet reference to Tom Corbett as "Mr. Eddie's Father." She was a very important component to the chemistry of The Courtship Of Eddie's Father with her soft, sweet, traditional Japanese woman awakening to American culture each episode. Umeki had a remarkable life as an artist. Born in Japan, Umeki became an American immigrant after World War II. She enjoyed a steady career as a singer in the 1950s recording many singles for RCA Japan [1950-1954]. She also released several recordings for Mercury [1955-1959] in the states. As an actress she was the first Asian American to actually win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Sayonara [1957], starring Marlon Brando. In 1958 she was nominated for a Tony Award and a Golden Globe in the film adaptation of the musical she was nominated for, the Flower Drum Song. Remarkably, for all her talent, she only appeared in four films [1961-1963] following her Academy Award. Later, following her role as Mrs. Livingston on The Courtship Of Eddie's Father [1969-1972], for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe, she retired from acting. Sadly, like Bixby years earlier, Umeki passed away from cancer-related complications.

No comments: