Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, we’re honoring the great Vivian Vance — whose 111th birthday would be July 26th — with a rarity that’s never officially seen the light of day: a 1959 pilot produced for Desilu called Guestward Ho! It was based on a book of the same name, co-authored by Mame‘s Patrick Dennis, about a sophisticated New York ad man who buys a dude ranch in New Mexico without telling his wife. Vance, attracted to the material because she spent some of her formative years in Albuquerque, was cast as the reluctant spouse opposite Leif Erickson, while Leonid Kinskey, Bella Bruck, and Ray Hemphill filled out the supporting roles. I Love Lucy‘s Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf wrote the single-cam pilot and Burns & Allen‘s Ralph Levy directed, but it was not greenlit, allegedly due to network fear surrounding former-second-banana Vance’s inability to carry her own show.
A year later, Desilu reformatted the premise with Joanne Dru now playing a New York model whose husband (Mark Miller) moves them and their son (Flip Mark) out to a New Mexico dude ranch near the town where he was raised. The rest of the cast included Earle Hodgins as the foreman and J. Carrol Naish as Hawkeye, a Bilko-esque Native American shopkeeper who’d frequently steal the show with his commercialistic scheming. That’s right, the new pilot, written by Ronald Alexander and Arthur Julian, was picked up by ABC for the ’60-’61 season, in which the series ran for 38 original episodes. I’ve seen a handful and, while there’s an obvious comparison to Green Acres — city folk as fish-out-of-water — this take on the notion has far less conflict, and thus comedy, for the wife, though not thrilled with the move, gives in easily and pretty much adapts to her new lifestyle without much complaint. And, yes, Hawkeye is around to provide some worthwhile situational laughs, but the show lacks the ensemble of oddballs that made life difficult for Oliver Douglas. The result is that everyone’s a little too happy, and the premise of a New York couple being out-of-sorts in their new environs is never well-explored.
As for the Vance pilot — which I’m ready to share with subscribers who comment below to alert me of their interest — in addition to the minimal conflict, the supporting cast is weak, and the script doesn’t give its leading lady much of the great physical comedy she was able to perform alongside Lucy. In other words, it doesn’t really display her well or capitalize upon her strengths. And while most of us here don’t doubt that Vance was talented enough to carry her own show (never mind the limited draw of her name), it’s still a disappointment to see her in a vehicle where she’s not able to shine. But, of course, with I Love Lucy as the standard, everything pales in comparison… So, here’s a taste of the pilot (the attempted star centerpiece), in honor of Vance, her love of New Mexico, and a television almost. Enjoy!
Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned for more Andy Griffith!