A Romantic Guy, I: Five From THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! I hinted to my followers about six months ago that I was going to do a post on The Bob Cummings Show (1955-1959), and today I’m finally getting around to it. For those who are unaware, The Bob Cummings Show was a sitcom that premiered in January of 1955 on NBC. It starred Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, an aviator bachelor and Hollywood photographer. He lived with his widowed sister, Margaret (Rosemary DeCamp) and her teenaged son Chuck (Dwayne Hickman). Also in the cast was Bob’s homely secretary Schultzy (Ann B. Davis), who was smitten with her playboy boss. Schultzy’s recurring friends were played by Kathleen Freeman, Rose Marie, Elvia Allman, and most memorably, Nancy Kulp. Other frequent guests included Bob’s old Air Force buddy and the object of Margaret’s affection, Paul Fonda (Lyle Talbot), Bob’s henpecked friend Harvey (King Donovan) and his wife Ruthie (Mary Lawrence), and Chuck’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Francine (Diane Jergens). 

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After the abbreviated first season, the show spent Seasons Two and Three on CBS, before returning to NBC for its final two years. Paul Henning, of future The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres fame, was the creator, and the series bears structural similarities to the later shows — namely with ongoing story arcs and a continuity that’s almost absurd for 1950s television. Though often silly, the scripts were MUCH more mature than most of the other programming at the time, with horny Bob becoming involved in many risque and adult hijinks. This character had sex, and the audience knew it. Yet, there’s always a bit of tongue-and-cheeek involved, and nothing is ever taken too seriously.

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You may know the show as Love That Bob, which was the series’ title in syndication (to avoid confusion with Cumming’s later attempted comeback series). Several episodes from the last seasons have entered the public domain and have been made available and various cheap PD sets. I personally have a collection of approximately 50 episodes that includes about 25 episodes from the first three seasons, and 25 from the last two. In today’s post, I want to share with you five of my favorite episodes. (Remember, this isn’t a “best of” list, since I have’t even seen half of the total produced installments.)

 

01) Season 1, Episode 13: “Mrs. Montague’s Niece” (Aired: 03/27/55)

Busybody Mrs. Montague tries to trick Bob into marrying her portly niece.

Written by Paul Henning & Bill Manhoff | Directed by Rod Amateau

This early episode features Elvia Allman as an obnoxious friend who tries to fix Bob up with her overweight niece. The script is very funny, though often at the expense of Bob’s date. The objectification of women provides much of this series’ humor, and though sexist and dated, there’s a certain honesty and courage in the storytelling — anything for a laugh. And there are plenty here!

02) Season 1, Episode 18: “Choosing Miss Coffee Break” (Aired: 05/01/55)

Bob plays a trick when he’s asked to judge a beauty contest where first prize is a date with Bob Cummings.

Written by Paul Henning & Bill Manhoff | Directed by Rod Amateau

Many collectors have confused this episode for a fifth season public domain episode in which Bob judges a beauty contest. But this is, in fact, a first season installment that introduces the character of Pamela Livingstone (Nancy Kulp) — a hysterical foil for Bob and whose merits can not be told by mere words. This is an uproarious early episode, and Miss Kulp is superb.

03) Season 3, Episode 19: “Bob Tangles With Ruthie” (Aired: 02/14/57)

Bob tries to keep Ruthie from dominating Harvey when she insists that Chuck stop seeing her niece.

Written by Paul Henning, Shirl Gordon, Phil Shuken, & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Cummings

This fascinating episode features a unique take on the “battle of the sexes” — typical sitcom fodder — by having the war occur between a bachelor and his buddy’s domineering wife. The choosing up sides scene is a riot, and the extended dream sequence is funny in its kooky sophistication. Bob is certainly a male chauvinist, but Cummings makes him likable. Plus the script is ripe with laughs!

04) Season 3, Episode 29: “Bob Meets Miss Sweden” (Aired: 04/25/57)

Bob is left alone with Miss Sweden and her chaperones: Schultzy, Margaret, Bertha, and Pamela.

Written by Paul Henning, Shirl Gordon, Phil Shuken, & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Cummings

There were lots of great one-liners in this episode, but I think hands down the funniest moment occurs when bird-watching Pamela Livingstone ferociously makes out with Bob on the plane. Davis, Freeman, and Kulp make quite a trio, and even Miss Sweden (future recurring character) gets to shine as she bests Bob by pretending not to speak English. Great fun!

05) Season 5, Episode 13: “Bob Plays Margaret’s Game” [a.k.a. “Margaret Plays Bob’s Game”] (Aired: 12/23/58)

Bob brings a model home for dinner, only to learn that Margaret cleaned out the kitchen before she left on her date.

Written by Paul Henning & Dick Wesson | Directed by Bob Cummings

As the only public domain episode in today’s post, this was actually the first installment I saw of this series. Shockingly, this amazingly simple premise comes from the final season. I was instantly impressed by the show’s wit, its obviously adult humor, and the interaction between playboy Bob and the ensemble players. (Were that every episode had a script of this caliber!) Very well written.

 

 

Come back next Wednesday for a new Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!

3 thoughts on “A Romantic Guy, I: Five From THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW

  1. Pingback: Spring Break Research RECAP (I of II) | THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!

  2. I have an ongoing episode guide at my blog. The non-PD episodes are getting harder to find. This really was ahead of its time, the only other “edgy” sitcom of its era was BILKO, and the writing was pretty consistently excellent until the final season which is more hit-and-miss. Cummings himself directed about 75 episodes, and he really showed talent behind the camera. It’s a shame that he didn’t continue in that capacity after this series. Badly needs to be picked up by a MeTV type station and certainly the early seasons need release on DVD/Blu (though I think 1957-58 is the show’s best batch of episodes). The quality of the writing is really impressive when you realize they were producing 36 to 38 episodes per year!

    • Hi, Hal! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I agree with you; I think what makes THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW stand out — even above the aforementioned THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW — is that it’s very clearly a comedy intended for adults, with none of the typical concessions made for the possibility of reaching a younger viewing audience. In the 1950s, this is a rarity.

      As for quality… having only seen about 65-70 episodes, I don’t feel that I can make a comment about seasonal superiority. However, what I can say is that, with most of the end of Season Four and the beginning of Five circulating in the public domain, we get a good sense of the show’s consistency during this time (1958). And for so late in the series’ run, its comedic reliability is quite impressive. I am unable to claim the same of the early years right now — but that’s only because there’s not enough of them available to make a judgment as to their consistency. Hopefully that’ll change one day, but…

      Unfortunately, I think the possibility of THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW finding renewed attention in syndication or on home video has declined considerably within the past few years. With the industry currently on pins and needles in the wake of MeToo and several other social reckonings, I think the show’s era-specific view of the sexes will be hard to sell in today’s marketplace — with the general public seemingly uninterested in separating the inherent relatability of human interaction, which transcends the decades, from the period details that, as with every single show from every single era, guarantee that the scripts are locked into a unique moment in time.

      That is, even if the target audience (which includes folks like you and me) is able to derive some appreciation of the show from its historical value — and not hold this inevitability against the characters or their comedy — I don’t see many of the decision-makers thinking it’s financially lucrative to remaster or revisit the series at this particular moment in time. And that’s a shame because aside from said historical value, there’s a lot of humanity… and some great character-driven comedy, too.

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