Friday, October 17, 2014

Nanny and the Professor ( 1970-1971 )

"Is it magic or is it love?"

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 ). 


This "wise and wonderful" woman arrived unannounced one day declaring herself the new nanny that Harold Everett didn't request. As a college professor, Everett did not have much time to spend keeping his children in line and a succession of incidents and the household menagerie of animals ( the pet guinea pigs, Waldo the sheepdog, and Sebastian the rooster ) drove away the last four nannies. Miss Figalilly arrived at the opportune moment to set the household in order and step in as a surrogate mother to the youngsters. 

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. 


In addition to foretelling the future, Nanny enjoyed chatting with Waldo, the family dog and sputtering around in her 1930 Model A roadster, lovingly nicknamed "Arabella" in honor of a favorite aunt. Whenever a fortuitous event occurred to benefit one of the members of the family, Professor Everett suspected Nanny had a hand in making it happen and more often than not, he was right...but he just never could prove anything. Crafty gal she was. A tinkle-tinkle of a chime let the audience know when Nanny's "magic" was at work. 

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.


Nanny and the Professor displayed the requisite bold and brightly colored opening of the 1970s, with an animated rainbow taking center stage. The shows catchy theme song was written and performed by the Addrissi brothers, a semi-popular group of the era. "You can make the impossible happen, Nanny told us. Have a little bit of faith and lots of love"......lyrics like these summarized the theme of the series.


When Nanny and the Professor was moved to Monday nights, it faced competition from Gunsmoke and its rating went down, eventually leading to the series being cancelled altogether. In 1972, the cast reunited for two animated cartoons which aired on ABC Saturday Night Movie, one of which was Nanny and the Professor and the Phantom of the Circus which had Pheobe playing a sleuth and solving a mystery at her Aunt Henrietta's traveling circus.


CAST

Richard Long ( Professor Harold Everett ) - Long had a long career before becoming the head of a family of youngsters. He started in 1946 in the film, Tomorrow is Forever starring Claudette Colbert. After a number of juvenile leads, he trotted into westerns and found a niche, before hitting it really big on television with Bourbon Street Beat ( 1959 ). After guest starring in a number of other television series he landed the role of Jerrod Barkley in The Big Valley, directing a few episodes as well. Long died of a heart-attack in 1974, just one year after Nanny ended. 

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. 


Kim Richards ( Prudence Everett ) - Richards followed in the footsteps of her older sister ( Kathy Hilton ) and entered the acting industry at the age of six. After Nanny and the Professor went off the air, the Walt Disney Studios snatched Richards away and plopped her in a series of juvenile live-action features including Escape to Witch Mountain, The Whiz Kid series, and No Deposit, No Return. During the late 1970s she guest-starred on just about every television show and also appeared as a regular on James at 15/16 and Hello Larry. Currently she is popular playing herself on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She is the aunt of Paris and Nikki Hilton.

FAVORITE EPISODES

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. 

MERCHANDISE

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. 


A lunchbox with Nanny and the gang couldn't be found, and - pooh! - there were no Nanny Barbie dolls either. However, as consolation for those who wished the series continued, William Johnston penned three paperback chapter books featuring the Everett family and Nanny. These were released by Lancer books in 1970. 

* The Milwaukee Journal, March 14, 1971.

3 comments:

  1. Very entertaining post about a TV series that I remember well. I think it benefited mightily from the charms of the two performers. It caused me to always think of Juliet Mills as a family-friendly nanny--thus, when she went for a tasteful nude swim with Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder's underrated charmer AVANTI, it was a quite a shock.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean. Juliet and Hayley both seem to enjoy doing family-friendly roles and then displaying their talent in other realms...and displaying other things too. Some roles just seem to suit the actors so well, that we always wish they really *were* those characters in real life. Pheobe Figalilly is one of those parts. I'd be really disappointed if Mills wasn't like Nanny at all in her daily life. Thanks for the comment Rick!

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  2. Oh my goodness! How have I never heard of this show? I adore Juliet Mills in "The Rare Breed," and Richard Long's Jarrod is second only to Heath in the "Big Valley" corner of my heart. Is this available on DVD? I must go look!

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