F TROOP Fridays: Number Three
F TROOP: LT. O'ROURKE, FRONT AND CENTER (Season One, Episode 32; Original Air Date 4/26/66) Starring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Melody Patterson, Frank de Kova, Don Diamond, James Hampton, Bob Steele, John Mitchum. Guest Stars: James Gregory, Marilyn Fisk. Directed by David Alexander. Written by Arthur Julian.
Major Duncan (James Gregory) arrives at Fort Courage, carrying his usual saddlebag full of trouble from territorial headquarters. A lack of candidates for commissions elsewhere has him visiting each Fort in his jurisdiction for "officer material". The Major's plan is to conduct a series of military exercises to evaluate enlisted personnel for commissions in the field. After all, Captain Parmenter (Ken Berry) was commissioned in the field at Appomattox, something that the Major is well aware of. "But we're going through with the scheme anyhow," Duncan grumbles.
One man who won't be seeking a commission is Sergeant O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker) who explains it succinctly to Agarn, citing the income from O'Rourke Enterprises that would cease as a result of the promotion. "If they made me a General I'd be taking a pay cut!"
Before we resume, I must say that while F TROOP gets a lot of flak for historical inaccuracies, they were on solid ground with the payroll distribution during THE PHANTOM MAJOR (ep. 3). O'Rourke got $17 and private Dobbs $13, which is historically accurate based on this link. So what would General O'Rourke get paid? Assuming he's a one star or Brigadier General, his salary would increase nearly twentyfold, to $315.00 per month. With 17 privates, 2 enlisted men and Captain Parmenter ($115.50 per month) that's only $51.50 short of what all of F Troop earns in a month. Legal or not, O'Rourke Enterprises is apparently one ass-kicking business.
And so the Major's search for authority figures will begin with a fitness test. Based on that pay scale from the link, you'd think everyone else would be very interested, with the possible exception of the Vice President of thriving O'Rourke Enterprises, Corporal Agarn. But, no, the words "fitness test" and "simulated battle conditions" are sufficient to trigger a parade of exemption requests. Duffy (Bob Steele) cites his old wound at the Alamo for about the 847th time, Hoffenmueller (John Mitchum) cites an ankle problem (in German) and Dobbs (James Hampton) cites a series of "dizzy spells" lately.
All those ailments will be joined by headaches, as Agarn gives them all a whack over the head with his hat. This is followed by Parmenter and Duncan demonstrating "tip top" physical condition with some obvious slapstick. Sgt. O'Rourke has the task of motivating the men into the test. "All right you yellowlegs-- this is an obstacle course and you are gonna run it!" He barks out each stop of the course at length, barely pausing for breath before ending with "and you can start now, Dobbs!".
With the obvious limitations of the era and prime time TV guidelines, Forrest Tucker can't possibly match (say) R. Lee Ermey's impressive harangues. Still, like Ermey, Tuck really did know his stuff from experience and his service background obviously paid off for scenes like this. It's true: Tuck really did serve in the U.S. Cavalry, at Fort Myers, Florida during the 1930's. And like his F TROOP co-star Melody Patterson, Tuck lied about his age to enlist. Unlike Patterson (who got to keep the role of Jane with so many episodes already in the can), Tuck was discharged when his real age was discovered. He also worked in burlesque (at the Old Gaiety in Washington, D.C.) before his 18th birthday as well. When you're 6'5", I guess it's easier to look legal.
Anyway, Dobbs is first to go, and gets off to an inauspicious start, failing to jump over the hitching rail and damaging his bugle in the process.
Hoffenmueller and Vanderbilt also fail to hurdle the hitching rail, with the latter falling into the horse trough and panicking over his inability to swim. Parmenter and Duncan fire "live arrows" during the test, but they aren't needed as the results never rise above dismal. Major Duncan calls off the test, calling it the "biggest defeat for the United States Cavalry since Bull Run".
All is not lost, however. At least not to the Major. Duncan feels that F Troop has one man "very well qualified" to be an officer: Sergeant Morgan Sylvester O'Rourke!
That night, O'Rourke brainstorms with his second in command over a way to get the promotion rescinded. Obviously, General Grant's wild success proves that drinking alone won't be enough to disqualify him. However, as it often does, Agarn's wording ("an officer and a gentleman") gives the Sarge his idea, since it's a gentleman's club circa 1866 that will be the center of the plan.
Over at the Captain's quarters, Parmenter is already in his pajamas and nightcap at 7 P.M. Preparing his mousetraps before bedtime, he's caught off guard by Wrangler Jane's visit. Hey, it makes sense. She can't close the General Store much earlier than that. The men are nowhere to be seen, so there's no worry about Jane wanting hanky panky in front of them this time.
Even with that frequent concern of his out of the way, the Captain is as virginal as ever. He covers up and resists Jane's offer to "tuck him in"(!). Parmenter is even undeterred by advice from Jane's wise old grandmother: "If you go to bed with the setting sun, you'll surely miss a lot of fun!" No offense to Benjamin Franklin, but Jane's grandmother sounds a lot more convincing on that "early to bed, early to rise" topic.
Wilton finally convinces Wrangler to leave (as the boys watching yell "Why??") and speaks sternly to her when he hears another knock a few seconds later. But this time it is the returning Major Duncan, who doesn't buy Parmenter's claim that "Jane" is his horse. Duncan's twinkling "sure you do" response and his anecdote regarding his "wise old grandmother" indicate to us that Major Duncan's gruff exterior while he's on duty is at odds with his personality in private. Duncan is no humorless ramrod like THE NEW I.G.'s Chester Winster. He'd be just as disappointed as we are in Wilton if he'd seen her send the lady away.
As it is, what he does see from Parmenter is enough of a letdown to him: mild scolding for tracking mud, borderline O.C.D. cleanliness, and most painfully, mousetraps on the windowsill. It's enough to make you realize O'Rourke and Agarn are on the wrong track with this scheme, something they'll have to find out the hard way. The frantic Corporal comes in to let Duncan know that he has something "urgent" to show him as Act One comes to a close.
Act Two fades in on the Hekawi camp and that urgent matter: their Playbrave Club. Corporal Agarn and Major Duncan note the goings-on with the expected astonishment.
A beautiful "Playbrave Squirrel" dances onstage to the lively sounds of The Tomahawk Trio while Crazy Cat (Don Diamond), menu in hand, greets the newest customers. Also notable is the tobacco selling Squirrel Girl, played by Marilyn Fisk, who was Mrs. Forrest Tucker from 1961 to 1985.
As the band plays on, Major Duncan reminds us that he's no Major Winster. "I'd sure like to help that little squirrel gather acorns for the winter!" Suffice to say I think he'd have been far more receptive to a maiden's kiss than Winster was. Parmenter too for that matter. But leave it to Agarn to ruin the Major's fun, since his "role" is to play the killjoy. "We are here to arrest Sergeant O'Rourke!"
Leave it to Chief Wild Eagle (Frank de Kova) to explain. "Sergeant in here every night! He has membership card Number One in Playbrave Club!" Now, I'm calling B.S. on the first statement. If he's there every night, then who's watching the saloon? Is Good Old Pete the bartender entrusted with it night after night? Knowing the Sarge, I doubt it. He's a hands-on executive from every indication.
Perhaps the Playbrave Club was created just to fool Major Duncan? I kinda doubt that. This is the first time we've seen it, but it has all the earmarks of a legitimate Wild Eagle brainstorm (swingin' band, scantily clad Hekawi ladies). But shouldn't the Sarge be sharing in the intake, since he and Wild Eagle are partners? And wouldn't this venture be cutting into the saloon's night time profits?
Well, thinking it over, this is far from the first Hekawi business venture we've seen that appears to be independent of O'Rourke Enterprises. And come to think of it, while we see dancing girls and tobacco sales, we notably don't witness any alcohol sales or drunkenness. That would explain why it wouldn't be in direct competition with the saloon, and also why this Major wouldn't have a problem with the club. Regardless, the Playbrave Club didn't last long--only this one episode--so maybe expenses (or prohibition) did it in. I will say I'm sorry we never saw it again....
Back to the action, as Agarn justifies his snitching to the Sarge: "I'm a buddy second, but I'm a soldier first!" Sergeant O'Rourke stands ready to take his punishment.....
And ends up commissioned Second Lieutenant O'Rourke. Duncan explains that leadership is the reason. "Any man who can lead me to a place like this is officer material!" The Major also drops a, well, major hint in O'Rourke's lap when the Sarge gently protests and cites Parmenter as an example. "The Army is looking for men, not housekeepers!" The usually sharp Sarge is too stunned to notice the answer right in front of him, so there's nothing to do but enjoy the dancing Squirrels as the band plays on.
The next day, Lt. O'Rourke's is less than 24 hours away from what has to be at least a 70% pay cut. Sergeant Agarn's words of comfort: "We know different--but the Major thinks you're great"! No time to ponder the success of an "Agarn Enterprises" or whether Corporal Dobbs might get in on the business. While waiting to see the Captain and make a last minute plea to stay, O'Rourke and Agarn overhear the conversation that shows them the error of their ways (and the clue both missed the night before).
"There's another Officer I can bunk with, Parmenter--Lieutenant O'Rourke! He's a man's man. You can be sure he won't be greeting me in his nightcap with a feathered duster in his hand!"
Oh, really? Think again, Major!
Tuck's ability to overact with style is well documented throughout F TROOP's run, but his ability to underplay effectively gets overlooked. Here, he completely transforms himself into a taller and gentler Parmenter. Soft-spoken, rapidly mopping up after Major Duncan, beaming as he wears Lieutenant's bars on his night shirt ("I'm just so proud") and letting Duncan know that his wise old grandmother told him "cleanliness is next to Godliness".
And of course, rebuffing the Major's idea that they should go up to the Playbrave Club. Mousetrap? No, the Sarge isn't troubled by mice. Only bears.
"I'd let you lie on the bed, Major, but I just made it." It's enough to get those pesky Lieutenant's bars off his shoulders for good, sending Duncan back to spend the night with "Captain 'Blood n' Guts' Parmenter"! All that's left is a coda the next morning, in which Agarn, Dobbs and Hoffenmeuller are also relieved of their temporary promotions, once again bringing F TROOP full circle so we can finish where we started.
FIVE THINGS YOU LEARNED:
Wrangler Jane's grandmother was Dodge City's highest paid Dance Hall girl. Who wishes they could have seen her act? (Raises hand)
In addition to legal blindness and hearing problems, Private Vanderbilt also suffers from "horseshoe pitching elbow".
The Tomahawk Trio was held over for four weeks at Little Big Horn. Obviously, snagging them for the Playbrave Club was a real coup. I wonder if they ever crossed paths with The Bedbugs?
Major Duncan sawed the rockers off his grandmother's chair as a boy. The reason why almost makes you wish they'd given him a spinoff series. James Gregory did return in Season 2 as "Big Jim" Parker at least.
And, as mentioned earlier, we now have a confirmed minimum that the President of O'Rourke Enterprises earns in a given month. We saw the impressive payroll in THE PHANTOM MAJOR but heard no specifics, other than that it surpassed the Army payroll(!).
WISE OLD HEKAWI SAYING:
Surprisingly, none this time. All the wisdom is left to the wise old grandmothers of Captain Parmenter, Wrangler Jane, Sergeant O'Rourke and Major Duncan. We got four sayings in all. Jane Angelica Thrift's grandmother would likely have the most popular advice.
NUMBER OF TIMES O'ROURKE COULD HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH TREASON:
Surprisingly for Season One, also none this time. Frequenting the Playbrave Club won't hurt him either, not with the Major there as Wild Eagle's honored guest.
PC, OR NOT PC?
Depends on how sexist you find the Playbrave Club and its squirrels. Hey, at least the ladies aren't being called the other word that starts with the letter "S", right?
The terrific run of episodes closing out Season One continues. However, the conclusion seems a little too pat, with Major Duncan awfully quick to conveniently give up on O'Rourke's promotion (the denouement in TOO MANY COOKS SPOIL THE TROOP worked better IMO). That said, you could give this an extra half star for the riotous Playbrave Club alone, and Wrangler Jane is far more risque than usual with Wilton. If they didn't quite "go yard" to straightaway center with LT. O'ROURKE, they did get it well inside the left field foul pole at least five rows into bleachers. (**** out of four.)
F TROOP currently airs on Me-TV Monday through Thursday at 9:30 ET/8:30 CT
YOUTUBE BONUS: While we're highlighting the second (and first credited) of her three F TROOP appearances: Did you know there's a six part interview with Marilyn Fisk Tucker from 2012 on YouTube? Here's Part One:
And regarding the Forrest Tucker question that everyone wants to hear answered, that's below, in Part 6. Needless to say, Not Safe For Work: