Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Today’s post, which serves as an early celebration of the late Buddy Hackett’s birthday (on August 31), I’m finally getting around to sharing my thoughts on some of the best episodes of Stanley (1956-1957, NBC) a single-season Max Liebman sitcom that aired live from New York three weeks out of every month — at a time when scripted programming was moving away from liveness (and New York). Buddy Hackett starred as Stanley, a newsstand clerk at a swanky New York hotel, who went through life with all the energetic immaturity that typified Hackett’s persona throughout his career. In early episodes, Paul Lynde voiced he role of the hotel manager, and starting with the fourth episode, Carol Burnett was brought in as Stanley’s fun, but understanding girlfriend, Celia. There was a lot of talent behind the camera as well; David Brown directed each episode, and the regular writing staff included Lucille Kallen, Woody Allen, Neil and Danny Simon, and Arne Sultan (credited as Arnie Sultan).
The entire series of 19 episodes, preserved on kinescope, has been released on DVD. Having seen each installment, my simple opinion is that Stanley is just the kind of fare you’d expect from a show starring Buddy Hackett: silly, shticky, and rarely more than mildly funny. (But exactly the opposite of what you’d expect from a show written by the high powered writers rattled off above, right?) Yet there’s something unqualifiedly captivating about the show’s buoyant energy, no doubt enhanced by the liveness (which fascinates me in ways that words couldn’t even do justice), that renders any shortcomings in the shockingly ordinary scripting forgiven and forgotten. Meanwhile, the program’s unmitigated enjoyment factor peaks every time that Carol Burnett is on the screen, Yes, she certainly steals the show away from our birthday boy, but the duo works surprisingly well off one another; the best stuff occurs between these two jovial characters — they’re youthful and uncomplicated, free of any dark inner shadings that would ordinarily yield comedy, but in this case would clutter up the show’s primary draw: it’s simplicity.
So I have picked a few of the most enjoyable episodes (referred to with their DVD titles) to highlight here. They’re all directed by David Brown, and as usual, I list them here in airing order.
01) Episode 4: “Celia Goes To A TV Show” (Aired: 10/22/56)
Stanley is jealous when Celia goes mad on live TV for a crooner.
Written by Russell Beggs, Lucille Kallen, and Woody Allen
Carol Burnett makes her debut in this installment, which is unquestionably the funniest of the entire series. The episode not-so-subtley sends-up the Elvis phenomenon when Celia breaks into convulsions on live TV over a debonair pop star. Naturally, this makes Stanley incredibly jealous (a theme that transcends through more than a handful of the offerings) and sparks a fight between the two. My favorite!
02) Episode 7: “Blonde Bandit” (Aired: 11/19/56)
Stanley fears that Celia won’t believe his story about behind held-up by a blonde crook.
Written by Lucille Kallen
Probably a triumph in premise more than anything else, this story-heavy episode nevertheless features an amusing extended sequence in which Stanley is held-up at gunpoint by a pretty blonde woman in the showers, making him late for a date with Celia. Unfortunately, this has occurred just after Celia has chastised him for his tardiness. But will she believe his story? Amusing silliness.
03) Episode 16: “The Fights” (Aired: 02/11/57)
A misunderstanding ensues when Stanley lies and breaks a date with Celia.
Written by Lucille Kallen
The premise for this episode has Stanley roping in Celia’s friend, played by recurring Jane Connell, into a lie he tells Celia in order to break their date and attend a fight. Celia then jumps to the erroneous, but not unanticipated, conclusion that the two are carrying on behind her back, yielding a very funny scene where she gathers the three together for a tension-filled dinner. Burnett is hilarious here.
Other fun episodes include: “Stanley’s New Personality,” in which Stanley wants to stand up to Celia’s mother, “Stanley’s A Lawyer” [a.k.a. “Planning A New Years Party”], in which Stanley and Celia argue over New Years plans, “New Years Party,” in which the couple are separated on their way to a New Years party, “The Celebrity,” in which Stanley brags to Celia and her friends about his celebrity buddies, and “Stanley’s Surprise Party,” in which Stanley learns that Celia intends to throw him a surprise party.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Hercules!