Is Nanny's influence over the Everett household purely magic, or love? This is the question posed to the audience in the titular song of the opening credits of each episode of Nanny and the Professor. After a brief viewing, it's easy to answer that question. Nanny's "powers" of magic rarely extend beyond a few bursts of ESP - answering the doorbell and telephone before it rings, anticipating someones thoughts or desires, and knowing the names of strangers before being introduced - but her power of love goes a great deal beyond that.
Nanny and the Professor was a half-hour television series that debuted on January 21, 1970 as a mid-season replacement for The Flying Nun. It enjoyed a very successful debut and was picked up as a full season series...which ran until it was most regrettably cancelled midway through its third season. The show focused on the daily trials and tribulations of a suburban widower, Professor Harold Everett ( Richard Long ) and his three spunky children - scientific Hal ( age 12 ), playful Butch ( age 8 ) and little Prudence ( age 4 ). Most of their trials were minor and all of their tribulations were resolved by the resourcefulness and abstractly level-headed thinking of their beloved housekeeper/governess/cook/pet caretaker : Phoebe Figalilly, better known as Nanny ( Juliet Mills ).
Nanny always knew her priorities and would never let her charges sway from what was right or wrong or most important in life. Namely, the values of honesty, truth, and goodness of heart. Hardly the qualities possessed by a witch, which is what some near-sighted neighbors almost considered her to be. Nanny was just a woman wise beyond her years with an upstanding character that undoubtedly stemmed from her fine upbringing and the sage advice passed down to her from her innumerable relatives.
Like a rudder, she steered the family through safe waters and always guided their way with patience understanding....all without them being aware of her influence. Well, until her fiancee Cholmondeley Featherstonehaugh ( pronounced "Chumley Fenshaw" ) arrived on their doorstop to whisk her away in holy matrimony. Then they realized just how good a nanny they had and her importance to the family.
Whether she was helping to preserve an old tree from being chopped down, or making a teacher realize what it is he wants in life, or befriending a lonely hobo, Nanny trotted around in her Inverness cape and hat, setting the neighborhood problems aright.
Nanny and the Professor was the brain-child of screenwriter and playwright, AJ Carothers, who was best known for penning four Walt Disney films in the 1960s ( including The Happiest Millionaire ). Its premise was clearly inspired by Mary Poppins ( 1965 ), one of Walt Disney's greatest successes at the time. Producer David Gelber arranged to have a pilot film made with Juliet Mills in 1968, but it turned out to be a fantastic flop. Eight months later she was called back to film another pilot, this time with an entire new cast and it came out much better, with ABC putting it on the shelf to bide its chance to air.
"I've been in the business long enough to know failures and disappointments", Mills remarked at the time, "so when I heard we were going in as a mid-season replacement, I just counted on 14 weeks of work [in Hollywood]"*. But not surprisingly, the show became a success and those weeks turned into three seasons.
When Nanny and the Professor was originally aired it was sandwiched between The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family during ABC's Friday night line-up. Amusing as those two sugar-pop confections were, Nanny and the Professor offered much more nourishing entertainment. In each episode Nanny delivered one particularly poignant phrase which summarized a valuable lesson to be learned. Like Aesop's fables these episodes scattered seeds of wisdom to the listeners while providing an entertaining scenario to make it appetizing for children.
In the same format as Family Affair, its story-lines often featured parallels between the children and the main adult character, drawing in both youngsters and their parents and featured a number of fine guest stars that adults could familiarize with. Most of these guest stars portrayed relatives of Phoebe or Harold. They included Elsa Lanchester as Aunt Henrietta, Ida Lupino as Aunt Justine, Margarie Bennett as Aunt Agatha, Ray Bolger as Uncle Horace, John Mills as Uncle Alfred, Robert Sterling as Harold's brother Benjamin, and Van Johnson as his brother Robert. There was also a pleasant appearance in one episode by Lee Merriwether as Harold's former girlfriend.
Juliet Mills ( Phoebe Figalilly ) - the lovely Juliet stemmed from a great acting family which included papa Sir John Mills, and baby sister Hayley Mills. Juliet, the lily blossom of the bouquet, got her start as a child actress appearing in her father's picture In Which We Serve as an 11-month year old baby. In 1958 she got her first starring role on stage in Five Finger Exercise and was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance. Although she made a number of films ( notably The Rare Breed ), she found her place in television and enjoyed great success in the 1960s in guest starring roles before she was cast as Miss Figalilly. During the 1970s she appeared in the Emmy award winning miniseries QB VII and had a recurring role on NBC's Born Free. Today she continues to keep busy on television ( From Here on OUT ) and appears on stage periodically.
David Doremus ( Hal Everett ) - Doremus was thirteen years old when he landed the role of Hal on Nanny and the Professor. He had performed in a few television commercials before trying out for the part, even though his real aspiration was to become a dentist. After the series ended, he appeared on The Waltons as George Haines, boyfriend of Mary Ellen Walton. Doremus retired from acting in the early 1980s and today is a businessman working in the mobile electronics industry. He is the father of four children.
Trent Lehman ( Bentley "Butch" Everett ) - Lehman appeared in a few roles on television ( Gunsmoke, The Christine Jorgenson Story ) before being cast as Butch in Nanny and the Professor at the age of nine. After the show he headed home to Colorado to get a job near his family. His girlfriend convinced him to move back to California but once there a series of setbacks led to despondency and Lehmen committed suicide in 1982, at the young age of 20.
The Scientific Approach ( S1 - Ep4 )
The Professor invites a lady psychologist home to dinner and finds that she does not react well to Nanny's flights of fancy.
The Astronomers ( S1-Ep5 )
With his dad's old telescope, Butch makes an astronomical discovery that shakes the scientific world.
An Element of Risk ( S1-Ep12 )
Prudence is heartbroken when her favorite balloon gets busted and decides she does not want to blow up the new one for fear that it too will be destroyed. Meanwhile, the Professor finds he does not want to meet his old highschool sweetheart, because he rather remember the good days then face the change.
Back to Nature ( S2-Ep5 )
Professor Everett, the children and Nanny head off to the woods to enjoy a weekend camping.
One for the Road ( S3-EP13 )
Hal convinces his dad that he is responsible enough to take his first solo bus trip to visit his uncle, but he discovers he may not be responsible enough to get beyond the bus depot.
Like most television shows of the 1970s, Nanny and the Professor had a plethora of great merchandise released in conjunction with the show. Most of these items were geared towards youngsters and included colorform sets, coloring books, comic books, paper dolls and Viewmaster reels.
* The Milwaukee Journal, March 14, 1971.