11 November 2011 | BrianDanaCamp
Amusing sitcom tailored for an old Hollywood hand
As a fan of Dennis O'Keefe from his varied Hollywood movies (HI DIDDLE DIDDLE, THE FIGHTING SEABEES, T-MEN, etc.), I was curious to see his short-lived sitcom and recently picked up a low-cost public domain DVD with four random episodes of the show: "It's Only Money" (#11, Dec. 1, 1959); "The Regency Club" (#26, April 5, 1960); "Dimples" (#27, April 12, 1960); and "June Thursday" (#32, May 10, 1960). All four episodes amused me and I found O'Keefe's character, Hal Towne, a Broadway gossip columnist ("All Around Towne"), well suited to the kind of light leading man embodied by O'Keefe. Towne's also a single dad with a young son, Randy (Ricky Kelman), and a no-nonsense live-in housekeeper nicknamed "Sarge" (Hope Emerson). Add his press agent love interest (Eloise Hardt) and his harried assistant (Eddie Ryder) and you've got a five-character regular cast that was more than sufficient for the plots conjured up for these episodes. In each of them, Towne's vanity generally gets the best of him, to the point where you wonder how he gets any work done and why his dyspeptic employer (glimpsed in one episode) keeps paying him.
In "It's Only Money," a rash of counterfeit bills circulating in the neighborhood propels Towne to investigate on his own, harassing a shifty neighbor two doors down, while ignoring the nice old couple next door, whose counterfeiting press is cleverly disguised amidst regular household items. In "The Regency Club," the attentions of a manipulative society woman with an ulterior motive go to Towne's head and he starts dressing up and making new lifestyle demands on Randy and Sarge. In "Dimples," a grandmother on Towne's floor intercepts a mash note sent by Randy to her granddaughter and thinks the elder Towne meant it for her and, flattered by the attention, reacts accordingly. It's pretty funny and Zasu Pitts, a onetime silent star who plays the grandmother, is an old hand at this kind of comedy. One of the kids makes a comment about older men and younger women that would never make it into a sitcom today.
In "June Thursday," Towne decides to show off how influential he is by pushing the career of Gretchen Clayhipple (Patricia Blair), an aspiring actress working as a Cigarette Girl at his club, except that he gives her a new name--dubbing her "June Thursday" in his column—without bothering to tell her! A rival columnist (Jerome Cowan) smells hoax and demands to meet Miss Thursday, an arrangement that proves difficult when the girl heads back to her rural hometown in frustration, prompting a trip to hillbilly country by Towne and his assistant, Elliot. The backwoods stereotypes are poured on thickly as Towne attempts to communicate with the actress's family, a bunch of Li'l Abner/Hatfield-and-McCoy-types who shoot at "revenooers" without a second's hesitation. Yet, in "The Regency Club," the ultra-rich are portrayed with equally outlandish stereotypes, with one Lord Haverstock continually peppering Towne with questions, comments and reprimands in a thick, unintelligible upper-class British patois. It's all pretty ridiculous, but is played with such flair by O'Keefe and the supporting players that I couldn't help smiling throughout. I enjoyed watching the normally unflappable O'Keefe flail about.
Eloise Hardt deserves note for playing the press agent, Karen Hadley. She's a mature and attractive professional who's smart and clever and often comes up with the solution to Towne's dilemmas. That Towne takes her interest in him for granted and throws himself after whatever female character passes through the landscape shows what a fool he is.
The IMDb synopsis describes O'Keefe's character as a "Los Angeles widower," even though it's pretty clear from the episodes I saw that Towne lives and works in New York. In "June Thursday," he compliments the budding actress on her recent performance in an Off-Broadway show and assures her she'll be on Broadway very soon. This dialogue would make no sense in a Los Angeles setting. The old-money social elite depicted in "The Regency Club" doesn't quite exist like that in new-money L.A. Also, the animated opening credits definitely portray a New York street setting and O'Keefe and his son and housekeeper live in what is obviously a Manhattan high-rise apartment.
Dennis O'Keefe was one of those all-purpose leading men who specialized in light comedy (HI DIDDLE DIDDLE, BREWSTER'S MILLIONS), but could also be found in film noir (RAW DEAL, T-MEN), war movies (THE FIGHTING SEABEES), westerns (PASSAGE WEST), crime (CHICAGO SYNDICATE), horror (THE LEOPARD MAN), musicals (SENSATIONS OF 1945), and globe-trotting adventure (DRUMS OF TAHITI). He started out as a bit player in 1930 and worked steadily for a decade before becoming a leading man, mostly in lower-budgeted studio pictures. He got better parts after the war, but after 1955 most of his work was in television. This show marked his last leading role. He died at the age of 60 in 1968, largely forgotten by then.