Friday, March 25, 2016

Favourite TV Episode Blogathon II: BILKO in "Hollywood"

THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW - "Hollywood" (1956)  Starring Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko, Paul Ford as Colonel Hall, Howard Smith as Cecil D. Chadwick, Ralph Stantley as Chick Benson, Eric Fleming as Rory Mundane, Malcolm Lee Beggs as General Merritt, Jule Styne as Himself, Robert Dryden as Sampson, Billie Allen as WAC Billie.  Directed by Al de Caprio.  Written by Nat Hiken.

Welcome to the Horn Section's contribution to the 2nd Favourite TV Episode Blogathon, hosted by our friend Terence Towles Canote at his wonderful blog, A Shroud of ThoughtsCheck out all the other entries for what we hope will continue to be an annual event, and while you're there, check out Terence's archives as well--A Shroud of Thoughts has been around since 2004 and the archives are stuffed with goodies.

THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW was a remarkably and meticulously written creation from the great Nat Hiken, who realized his vision immediately.  By the second episode, "Empty Store", the show's formula was established.  Nominal commanding officer Colonel Hall would spend most of his time trying to figure out what was really behind some seemingly innocuous Bilko request, and "Ernie" would always be one step ahead of him and everyone else.  For all the Sergeant's cunning, though, deep down, he was a softy--not a sociopath.  The series original title spelled it out for Bilko: YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH.  But on the bright side, he'd never be supplanted as the man who really runs Fort Baxter either.

I previously highlighted the first season entry Centennial, a great example of one of BILKO's most commonly used sits to set up the com--the arrival of an outsider threatening to disrupt Bilko's well-oiled operation.  Such segments were almost always home runs, whether the new arrival was a visiting officer (Centennial), a muckraking reporter (The Secret Life of Sergeant Bilko) or even a visiting lecturer (The Twitch).  The show's supporting players almost always got individual moments to shine in these episodes, which was challenging given the show's expansive cast (22 regulars were stationed at Fort Baxter at one point).

Despite the large cast, and the popularity of Maurice Gosfield's sad-sack Private Doberman, BILKO was far less of an ensemble than the military comedies it inspired (McHALE'S NAVY, F TROOP).  As suggested by its change in title during the first season, THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW was vehicle tailored to the talents of its star.

No disrespect intended for the contributions of Gosfield, Joe E. Ross, Allan Melvin, Karl Lukas, Maurice Brenner and the rest of the motor pool platoon.  But let's face it: the bulk of the show fell on Phil Silvers' shoulders--case in point, none of the above take part in this blogathon selection.  If not for appearances by Paul Ford (and an uncredited Billie Allen as WAC Billie, with no lines) no one else from Fort Baxter would appear in Hollywood at all.  This episode is truly Silvers' show wire to wire.

Hollywood is also the first of another subset of installments that showed Sergeant Bilko's inimitable skills unleashed on the civilian world outside sleepy, long-ignored Fort Baxter. ("The Pentagon is calling?  They must have the wrong number!"--Colonel Hall) The Sarge would later end up in Monte Carlo (hilariously trying out a foolproof roulette system) and on Wall Street (temporarily making a killing).  Ernie would also chisel his way into the spotlight in an army training film and an all-army special hosted by guest star Ed Sullivan.  All classic BILKO's, and all a result of the wild success of this initial furlough in Tinseltown.

To be sure, Nat Hiken was never that fond of the titular movie capital.  Television production moved rapidly from New York to Los Angeles in the late Fifties, but Hiken didn't relent and move with it until years later.  I'd imagine this quintessential champion of East Coast television delighted in penning Hollywood.

After a string of WW2 themed 'sexy' hits (like They Met in Okinawa), Chadwick's creative team sets its sights on the Battle of Kabuchi for Guns, Guts and Gals.  The higher-ups at the Pentagon would prefer that Chadwick Productions seek their moneymakers elsewhere, but General Merritt admits that non-cooperation with Chadwick Productions is a losing battle: "Chadwick will make the picture anyway, and at least this way we'll know they're wearing United States uniforms!"

Chadwick needs a technical advisor who "fought in the Battle of Kabuchi and is still in the Army", and after a decade, only one serviceman fits the bill: Sergeant Ernest Bilko of Fort Baxter.  While the most powerful military in the world may be completely helpless to stop Tinseltown, Sergeant Bilko is a different matter.  Hollywood's unique hook is that Bilko, usually a man subverting the ultimate faceless bureaucracy--that Army--is unknowingly doing just what the Pentagon wants by simply being his scheming, conniving self.

By the time Bilko has arrived, Guns, Guts and Gals has a title change to Love in a Foxhole ("gals" is too tacky for Chadwick's sensibilities).   Technical advisor Bilko is to be a mere figurehead--the script is already written, and he'll be sent back to Fort Baxter once the publicity photos are taken.  But Chadwick's flunkies are no match for the career soldier, and neither is the producer himself once the Sergeant starts dividing and conquering.

It's a classic scene, with Bilko successfully getting under the skin of virtually everyone in the room: director Sampson (accused of keeping scuttlebutt away from "Hokey Pokey" Chadwick), the screenwriters (who Bilko claims don't even have the climactic battle on the correct location), leading man Rory Mundane (deemed perfect for the role of Sgt. Skinner once Bilko sees the "ugly mole" on his cheek) and Chadwick himself, whose films "kept our minds off the War" and possesses production skills unsurpassed "since Georgie Jessel".  Cecil D. smells a troublemaker, but Bilko (likely bluffing) already has the numbers for every gossip columnist in town (starting with Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons), so simply sending him back to Kansas won't do.

Fake and real Sergeant Ernest Bilkos
Realizing that they can't beat him, they decide to join him, and find Bilko's doppelganger to play a bit part.  Rather than "stars in his eyes", Bilko sees dollars, threatening a libel suit since he "had a full head of hair" during his tour of duty on Kabuchi.

Bilko emerges from the infighting with his own personal director's chair ("call me E.B."), a production hopelessly behind schedule, and Chadwick begging the Sergeant to get the picture rolling.  By the time handsome Mundane is playing him ("here's the ammunition?") the exasperated producer finally pulls the plug on his box-office busting war series and sends a scathing letter to General Merritt--which results in "Ernie" getting another month long furlough from his grateful commanders in D.C.

Eric Fleming as Rory Mundane

Gruff character actor Howard Smith (HAZEL) sputters and fumes memorably as Chadwick, but perhaps the funniest supporting performance comes from future RAWHIDE star Eric Fleming as his top box office attraction Rory Mundane.  Using a hilariously hammy "matinee idol" voice, Fleming's interpretation of a vainglorious Hollywood "war hero" leaves a terrific impression with barely a half dozen lines.  Enraged to learn about the real-life "scrawny, lisping" character he's playing, Mundane becomes positively livid when Bilko decides he is well cast.  While uncredited here, Fleming would return to the series as The Face on the Recruiting Poster (the intended one, anyway).

While undeniably presented as trashy (by 1956 standards), Chadwick's productions are lent a distinct touch of class with songs by Oscar-winning composer Jule Styne, who plays himself and writes "My Heart is a Burned Out Shell" for the doomed feature.  A regular at Hiken's (and Silvers') weekly gin rummy game, Styne received a whopping twelve Academy Award nominations in all, winning for 1955's THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN.

Speaking of Oscar winners, THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW soon had a technical advisor of its own not long after Hollywood aired--George Kennedy, who would parlay the duty into his first acting roles.  Kennedy's debut, The Court-Martial (from March 1956) could have easily been my choice to highlight here.

While references to Jimmie Fidler and George Jessel's career in film production haven't aged that well, and Chadwick's sarong-heavy flicks don't seem so sleazy by modern standards, Hollywood remains a hilarious skewering of the city that would replace Hiken's beloved NYC as the U.S. television capitol.  Quite a warped hierarchy: the Pentagon is helpless against Chadwick, Chadwick kowtows to the power of the press, and all of the above are completely impotent against one Sergeant Ernest Bilko.  In my opinion, the best of the episodes that had Nat Hiken's timeless military creation invading civilian life.

THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW airs on MeTV every Monday morning at 12:30 AM Central.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

TV Sidekick Blogathon: HONDO's Helpers

This is the second of two Horn Section contributions to the TV Sidekick Blogathon, hosted by Rick at the Classic Film and TV Cafe.  This three day blogathon covers Classic (pre-1990) television's greatest sidekicks; be sure to check out all of the entries to read about twenty-two of the memorable characters who never failed to make the top banana look good.

For today's entry, we stay on ABC and in a post-Civil War setting.  But we move from comedy to drama; from the midwest to the southwest; from Fort Courage to Fort Lowell; and from a uniformed Sergeant to a half-Apache army scout wearing buckskins.  Being buried in a killer time slot by ABC meant that Hondo Lane had the misfortune of a short prime time run in 1967, but he was rediscovered and appreciated in reruns.

Hondo Lane got very little help from his network, but he had plenty of assistance onscreen: his faithful dog Sam and an equally loyal fellow scout named Buffalo Baker.  
(L to R) Hondo, Buffalo and Sam

Since Lane's canine companion gets a lot of coverage in every installment of The Horn Section's HONDO episode guide, today's post will start with the formidable, funny yet often overlooked Buffalo. 

Now don't get riled up, Sam. You'll get your chance later!.

In the original 1953 HONDO film starring John Wayne, Buffalo Baker took a back seat to the titular character's canine pal, widow Angie Lowe and her son Johnny.  Sam was at his human's side at all times, and much of the film takes place at the Lowe's ranch.  Played by the burly and bearded Ward Bond (WAGON TRAIN), Buffalo came across like a physically imposing Gabby Hayes in his handful of scenes.

Ward Bond as Buffalo Baker
Producer Andrew J. Fenady moved the action to Fort Lowell for the TV series and sought to make Buffalo Baker more of a traditional sidekick, albeit one who would defy some of our expectations (starting with the loss of the whiskers).  He cast amiable character actor Noah Beery, Jr., who had been playing good-natured friends of the hero for over twenty years when HONDO premiered on September 8, 1967.

Beery's Baker
Baker ended up with a much larger role in the HONDO series.  Angie Dow (Kathie Browne) and Chief Vittoro (Michael Pate, reprising his film role), both appeared in six of the first eight installments, but Angie was missing from seven of the final nine and Vittoro from six.  In contrast, Buffalo was the only character besides Hondo Lane to appear in all 17 segments, gaining screen time as the show jelled.  While this was partly a mechanism of the action moving to the Fort, Beery's charismatic performance and his chemistry with Ralph Taeger were also factors in the expansion of his role after the pilot.

Hey, the man had to be doing something right to take screen time away from Kathie Browne!

In the two part series opener (Hondo and the Eagle Claw and Hondo and the War Cry), Beery's Baker is a fairly straightforward Pat Buttram type: beating sore loser Ed Dow at poker, struggling with his fight (a captured renegade Apache), fiercely loyal to his fellow scout, and persuading the hero to buy their beers--subsequently drinking about half of Hondo's while Lane is defending Sam from irate cowpokes.

To be fair, Buffalo is an equal opportunity mooch who also bums drinks off of Colonel Crook and a traveling medicine show salesman (in Hondo and the Hanging Town).  (Teetotaler Captain Richards is never much help for him in this department.)

Stereotypical comic relief at first look, but Buffalo defies some of the initial expectations.  He proves to be formidable assistance mentally and physically in subsequent episodes.  He's as keen an observer of humans as Hondo: correctly surmising that the telegraph owner they're assigned to protect (Hondo and the Singing Wire) is "lower than the belt buckle on a snake" and setting a crusading reporter straight about the history of Hondo and the Apache Kid

Fierce loyalty is arguably Baker's defining quality.  When Hondo chooses an insubordination charge rather than be the courier to Chief Vittoro for an ill-conceived order by wunderkind Colonel "Buckeye Jack" Smith (Hondo and the War Hawks), Buffalo is next in line--and promptly joins his fellow scout in the guardhouse.  Buffalo sells Colonel Crook on supporting Hondo's risky rescue plan in Hondo and the Comancheros even when he's facing a return trip.

Lest you think that Buffalo is blindly devoted--well, think again.  A rugged individualist himself, Baker sets Hondo straight when necessary, most memorably in a tense moment during Hondo and the Gladiators.

Most of the time, Buffalo Baker eschewed his fists to provide well-timed sidearm support in the frequent cantina fights  ("You watch--I'll referee" he advises a surly cattleman in War Cry).  But don't be fooled by his seeming reticence to throw punches: Baker is one sidekick more than capable of holding his own at fisticuffs despite seeming slight in stature (Beery was 5'11" compared to Taeger's 6'3").  Two examples: Buffalo capably handles his man in a donnybrook with villainous Tribolet's henchmen in Hondo and the War Hawks and dispatches the larger, younger L.Q. Jones one on one in Hondo and the Death Drive.

Savvy Baker is rarely helpless--it is just as likely that Buffalo will rescue Hondo as vice versa--maybe even moreso.  Baker does it twice in Hondo and the Superstition Massacre.  Baker is the only man who can stop Hondo from literally beating his wife's killer to death (Captain Richards and several troopers fail to stop Lane first) and, as Captain Richards points out, facing a murder charge.  Later Buffalo arrives in the nick of time after renegade Pimas capture Lane, saving the day a second time.  The tough old bird achieves all of this on a cane after suffering a "hollowed-out leg" from a Pima gunshot in the opening minute!

Baker also provides a timely assist in Hondo and the Death Drive when the hero faces a lynch mob led by a corrupt cattleman.  In one of Beery's finest and funniest scenes of the series, he shows Buffalo's aptitude at thinking fast by bamboozling the local authorities and engineering a jailbreak to keep the titular Drive going (and Hondo out of the hangman's noose).

Rest assured, though--while it's clear that Buffalo Baker is no bumbling sidekick, he isn't hypercompetent either.  He provides healthy comic relief on a weekly basis.  Hondo is perpetually put-upon at the cantina, since Baker always has "too much month left" after his pay runs out.  Buffalo is outwardly willing to pay Hondo back "later" for a drink today (or three), but "later" never arrives--at least, not during the seventeen adventures we see.

If Buffalo isn't drinking away his money, he's gambling with it.  He's sharp at poker, but Buffalo can't resist the temptation to make bad bets away from the cards (i.e. on himself at arm wrestling).

Yes, this bottle is on  Hondo, as usual.
Buffalo's literacy is a little shaky--he struggles to read a telegram in Hondo and the Judas but seems to have no problem with the newspaper in Hondo and the Apache Kid.  However, the grizzled scout's devotion to friends, insolvency and fondness for alcoholic beverages are all as reliable as the sunrise.

Occasionally there's a nugget about Buffalo's personal life.  Baker anxiously awaits a letter (which doesn't arrive) from the "little filly" he spent a month's wages on, prefers "carrot topped" ladies, and briefly considers a career change to bounty hunting.  That's about it for Buffalo's life away from the Fort.  For all we know, he spends every moment that he's off duty at one of the southwest's many cantinas.

And that's OK.  Noah Beery Jr.'s animated garrulity provided the perfect contrast to Ralph Taeger's ill tempered stoicism.  Beery gives the sober-faced reactor plenty to react to, providing just the right amount of levity to some rather tense stories.  Beery's signature role was yet to come (THE ROCKFORD FILES, of course, where he supported James Garner just as ably), but he was as responsible as anyone for the cult following that grew when HONDO was given its chance at rediscovery on TNT in the 1990's.

Buffalo Baker wasn't the only helping hand available to Hondo Lane.  Then again, technically he was, since our hero's other sidekick was lending a helping paw.

It's your turn, Sam!

Hondo's non-human sidekick isn't quite as mangy and feral as he looked in the Wayne film, but he's every bit as independent.  "Sam does what he wants to do" as Hondo constantly reminds us--and what he wants to do is go wherever Hondo Lane goes.

Sam doesn't depend on Hondo; his human won't allow it.  While there's talk of Sam getting fat on table scraps, we never see those leftovers coming from Lane.  Sam is consistently told to "get his own" dinner.  That usually means catching a jackrabbit, but Sam sometimes finds other delicacies.  Angie Dow's homemade apple pies, for example:

Finders keepers, right Hondo?

It's apparent from the beginning there's nothing sappy about this relationship between a man and his dog.   When Hondo is captured by renegade Silva in Hondo and the Eagle Claw he simply tells Sam to "beat it"--an order that the faithful canine obeys.   Sam's rare display of affection (he licks his human's hand) during the subsequent Hondo and the War Cry has Lane wondering if the dog has stumbled into some "loco weed".

While Sam is an appealing scene-stealer, he isn't an impossibly Heroic Dog. Sam still contributes whenever possible during a scuffle.  Whether Hondo is battling no good thieves.....

......or renegade Apaches....

.....Sam has a knack for finding that one adversary who is terrified of dogs, and exploiting the weakness.  Sam takes his man out of the action as thoroughly as Deion Sanders ever did.

The scratches on Sam's nose tell you he's taken a licking and kept on ticking, and we see it firsthand when the courageous canine takes the battle to Hondo's fiercest foe, the vicious and psychopathic Apache Kid (Nick Adams):

Sam also rivals Buffalo's ability to come through in the clutch.  Hondo's furrier sidekick has a knack for distracting gunmen who get the drop on Lane (most notably in Hondo and the Mad Dog), and makes the rescue in Hondo and the Superstition Massacre possible by showing up at Fort Lowell with Hondo's eagle claw.

Sam the therapy dog.  Where's his vest?
Sam has a lot more to offer than just faithful companionship and courage in battle; he's no Lassie, but he is versatile in his own right.  In Hondo and the Death Drive he offers adept assistance to herding dog Maria during a sheep drive, and might well have himself a girlfriend by episode's end.  Sam also proves to be a great therapy dog for Johnny Dow after his mother Angie is kidnapped by banditos in Hondo and the Comancheros.

And like most dogs, he likes to play fetch.  Difference is, Sam is always fetching Hondo's horse.

A lovable dog is always going to steal scenes from even the funniest humans.  Storylines too.  Buffalo was never the focal point of a plot during HONDO's brief run, while Sam was twiceHondo and the Mad Dog saw him as the only witness to a murder, which led the killer to use a hydrophobia scare in an attempt to eliminate the canine before he can lead Lane to the body.  Hondo and Sam end up getting each other out of jams by segment's end, but forget about our rough hero getting maudlin after the close call--Sam is still hunting his own dinner as we fade out.  Unlike Buffalo, Sam never asks for anything, except to share in his owner's adventures.

Did I say his owner?  I almost forgot--Hondo consistently disavows ownership of Sam.  Not because he doesn't want the responsibility.  No, Lane explains that he treasures Sam's independence.   Hondo and the Gladiators gives us clarity before the series wrapped up (only two episodes remained).  After Hondo's statement that Sam "belongs to no one but himself" is taken at face value outside the comfortable confines of Fort Lowell, the canine is drugged and dognapped by a sadistic showman intent on turning Sam into a pit fighter.  For once, the tough exterior cracks just a bit and we see how Hondo really feels about his four legged friend.  I haven't reviewed this one yet in my episode guide, so--no spoilers.  I'll just say that for a show about a gruff loner, HONDO could sure produce emotionally resonant moments.

Sam had a lot to do with HONDO developing its TNT following.  A show with a smart, brave dog had to be appealing to the Saturday morning audience.  Particularly older kids, since Fenady was careful not to exaggerate either quality.

With a mere seventeen episodes, HONDO is one show that leaves you wanting more.  Buffalo and Sam both helped make those segments that we do have highly rewatchable.

If you'd like to catch HONDO, you're in luck if you have Dish Network or a Roku:  HONDO: THE COMPLETE SERIES is currently streaming at Warner Archive Instant and also airs every Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM Central on GetTV.  

Sunday, March 06, 2016

TV Sidekick Blogathon: F TROOP's Corporal Randolph Agarn

This is the first of two Horn Section contributions to the TV Sidekick Blogathon, hosted by Rick at the Classic Film and TV Cafe.  This three day blogathon covers Classic (pre-1990) television's greatest sidekicks; be sure to check out all of the entries to read about twenty-two of these memorable characters who never failed to make the top banana look good.

For today's entry, we visit the pride of Passaic, New Jersey.  Betty Lou's hero.  The Joe Biden of O'Rourke Enterprises--Corporal Randolph Agarn.

"Think BILKO!"  That was the motto on the set of F TROOP, the side-splitting military farce that was the spiritual heir to the original Nat Hiken/Phil Silvers classic.

It was Larry Storch himself who revealed this tidbit during his DVD commentary for the episode Bilko Joins the Navy for THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW's 50th Anniversary Boxed Set.  It's somewhat ironic that it was Storch confirming the extent of Fort Baxter's influence on Fort Courage, for the mere presence of Storch's iconic Corporal Randolph Agarn represented a key way in which F TROOP one-upped its inspiration: Sergeant Morgan Sylvester O'Rourke had a far superior sidekick to either of Ernest T. Bilko's henchmen.

I mean, could Barbella or Henshaw do this?? I think not!

Not to dismiss the solid efforts from Bilko's Corporals (played by Allan Melvin and Harvey Lembeck), but how many times did either of Bilko's right-hand men steal an episode--or even a single scene--from the star?   Did that ever happen?  While BILKO had a fine, high energy ensemble, the show's star dominated the proceedings week after week.   Neither of Fort Baxter's two-stripers left the indelible impression given by Larry Storch as Corporal Agarn.

Most familar to TV audiences at the time for his recurring role as Charlie the Drunk in Nat Hiken's BILKO followup CAR 54, Storch was originally up for the role of Sgt. O'Rourke.  Forrest Tucker won that role (and headlined the series) but the producers couldn't bear to let Storch go, so the role of Agarn was created specifically to team the comedian with long-time film star Tucker.

And....TV history was made.

As the assistant schemer and Vice President of O'Rourke Enterprises, Agarn was a classic second banana.  The quintessential sidekick--let us count the ways:

Like his Hekawi counterpart Crazy Cat (Wild Eagle's apprentice), Agarn wishes to prove his ability to run the show.  Unfortunately, while Randolph is every bit as devious as O'Rourke, he's nowhere near as bright.

Agarn gets fleeced when the Sarge isn't around, Dahling!

He gets his chance while O'Rourke is on assignment in Play, Gypsy, Play, and forms a temporarily lucrative partnership with titular gypsy Zsa Zsa Gabor (who has Jackie Loughery as one of her sidekicks).  Temporarily, because Agarn ends up conned out of his half of the profits by the traveling Hungarians.

Undeterred, the Corporal again tries to go it alone as the Brian Epstein of his day in That's Show Biz, managing the Bedbugs.  The guitar-driven music group is too far ahead of their time for the saloon circuit, but once they reach the Hekawi camp, they find the Natives to be a much more progressive and appreciative audience.  Alas, Agarn is in over his head again, making the disastrous choice to let the Bedbugs go and manage the bickering Termites instead.

Agarn ends That's Show Biz back at Fort Courage, and the Bedbugs end up knighted in England.  Some guys are Vice President for a reason--it's a good thing that Agarn didn't end up taking over O'Rourke Enterprises in How to be F Troop Without Trying.

The Peter Principle is also on display when Corporal Randolph Agarn is briefly kicked upstairs, becoming Fort Courage's top ranked NCO.  In Lieutenant O'Rourke, Front and Center Agarn finally gets his opportunity to make Sergeant when O'Rourke is temporarily commissioned by Major Duncan.  The promotions of Agarn and Dobbs manage the unthinkable--actually making F Troop less competent than before--but O'Rourke is able to re-establish the status quo by episode's end.

Agarn is a Bumbling Sidekick at times (such as when he blows up the NCO Club in The Courtship of Wrangler Jane) and a Cowardly Sidekick even more often ("He who quits and runs away lives to quit another day!").  He might not be very adept at thinking on his feet (i.e. hiding the whiskey in a less than ideal location in The 86 Proof Spring).  But lest you start to question Agarn's usefulness to O'Rourke's side business, the Sarge himself can set you straight.

When faced with losing his Vice President to a 99 year prison sentence (The Day They Shot Agarn), O'Rourke goes after a dangerous criminal alone to exonerate his buddy, admitting: "I can't run O'Rourke Enterprises without your shifty, conniving help!"  Indeed, Agarn brings loyalty and a unique set of skills to the usually thriving side business.  He's more than just the guy who waters down the whiskey (a.k.a. putting the chaser in the bottle).

That's supposed to be kept hush-hush!

In just the second episode (Don't Look Now, One of Our Cannon Missing) we find out the depth of that loyalty as well as one of those oft-used talents.  Technically treasonous acts are frequently required to keep the Hekawi merchandise plentiful, and after loaning out the cannon goes awry, Agarn risks the additional charge of impersonating a General to set things straight.  And not just any General, but THE General:

Could it be?  Why, yes  it is Sir!  GENERAL GRANT!

Agarn's ability to don disguises is right up there with Artemus Gordon's.  George Washington?  Check.  A member of the Hekawi?  No problem.  A Shug?  Likewise.  One of the wanted Colton brothers?  Aces.

Even donning drag for the cause would bring a full commitment from the self-described 'crooked Corporal".

Corporal Agarn also had a genuine knack for giving his boss the needed inspiration to solve the duo's latest dilemma.  One of the best examples occurs in Bring on the Dancing Girls.  Larcenous Dan Larson takes over the key component of O'Rourke Enterprises--the Fort Courage Saloon--through blackmail.  Larson proceeds to bring in the titular dancers and overcharge outrageously.  "At those prices he won't go out of business until the building collapses!"  Agarn's astute observation is all O'Rourke needs to engineer a rigged "building inspection".

"Agarn, I don't know why everyone says you're so dumb!"  F TROOP's most famous catchphrase always popped up in reaction to the Corporal's ability to catalyze.  While Agarn would always give that perception some justification by taking several minutes to realize the insult, O'Rourke's point remained.

It might not be unquestioned (Agarn usually protested exposure to the more serious charges like desertion or fraud) but it was loyalty.  And one of prime time's great friendships to boot.  Even when the tantalizing opportunity to gain that third stripe was staring him in the face, Agarn would flawlessly execute O'Rourke's plan to maintain the profitable status quo at Fort Courage.

And, to be fair, some of O'Rourke's schemes did come with fringe benefits.

Go Randolph...go Randolph.....
While Agarn fit all the classic attributes of a first-rate second banana, the actor playing him actually transcended the status.  Legendary stalwarts like Art Carney, Don Knotts and Jason Alexander always received their Emmy nominations in the Supporting category, but Larry Storch's 1966-67 performance got him nominated for the Emmy as Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.  Yes, Agarn finally ascended to Top Banana status in the end, and whenever you watch F TROOP, you'll see it was an honor well deserved.  Enough to make a grown man cry.

Well, then again, I guess just about anything was enough to make Agarn cry.  Maybe he wore his heart on his sleeve sometimes, but after a half century of near continuous reruns, it's safe to say he belongs on any list of television's truly legendary sidekicks.  Corporal Randolph Agarn, we salute you!

Thanks, fellas!


The Day They Shot Agarn: Randolph never seems to win a raffle, but he does "win" the booby prize of escorting dangerous prisoner Matt Delaney to territorial prison.  The result jeopardizes O'Rourke Enterprises and Agarn's life as he faces the firing squad in Delaney's place.

The Singing Mountie: Agarn disappears for the final half of this installment, but it's OK, because it gives us ample time with his lookalike Cousin Lucky Pierre Agarniere.  The best of Storch's three dual roles, and Paul Lynde guest stars.

The Courtship of Wrangler Jane: Agarn is a smoothie wooing Janie away from the Captain, but he's no cad--it's for the good cause of making him jealous enough to propose.  And yes, it's to set up another money making scheme by moving the Captain in evenings.  "All I want is for you kids to have a lifetime of happiness--off the post!"

Is this man a smoothie or what?

Too Many Cooks Spoil the Troop: Corporal Agarn is a lousy cook, but he's willing to grab a cookbook and learn when the opportunity arises to pad the army supply list with saloon items.  Unfortunately, Major Duncan really likes the food at Fort Courage.....

The Ballot of Corporal Agarn: Our boy Randolph gets the deciding vote in the race !  And if you think his vote is for sale,'re right.

Look for those five Storch-centric installments and other memorable Agarn moments on MeTV!  F TROOP currently airs on Me-TV for a full hour each Saturday morning at 5 AM ET/4 AM CT and on Sunday mornings at 7 AM ET/6 AM CT.