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Friday, May 12, 2023

F TROOP Fridays: "A Fort's Best Friend is Not a Mother" (1966)


F TROOP Fridays: Number 37                  

F TROOP: "A Fort's Best Friend is Not a Mother" (ABC-TV/Warner Brothers 1966) Season One, Episode 31.  Original Air Date: April 19, 1966.  Starring Forrest Tucker as Sgt. O'Rourke, Larry Storch as Cpl. Agarn, Ken Berry as Captain Parmenter, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, Frank deKova as Chief Wild Eagle, Don Diamond as Crazy Cat, James Hampton as Bugler Dobbs, Bob Steele as Duffy, Joe Brooks as Vanderbilt, Ivan Bell as Dudleson, Ben Frommer as Papa Bear.  Guest Star: Jeanette Nolan as Mrs. Parmenter.  Written by Ed James and Seaman Jacobs.  Directed by Seymour Robbie.

The latest visitor to Fort Courage is the wife of General Thor X. Parmenter, sister in law to Colonel Jupiter Parmenter, and of course mother of one Captain Wilton Parmenter.  Mrs. Parmenter intends to stay with her son for a few days en route to California, but after getting a good look at Wilton's quarters and girlfriend Wrangler Jane the General's wife decides to extend her stay--to keep her son away from things "far more dangerous than wild Indians". 

"I made a General out of your father and I can make a General out of you!"

With twin goals to pursue: bringing son Wilton equal in rank to her husband and thwarting Jane's attempts to get wifed by Wilton, Mrs. Parmenter digs in with gusto.  Side by side with her son from reveille and performing twice as many inspections (i.e. mess hall, barracks, Duffy's mustache), the General's wife wakes up sleepy little Fort Courage.  It's only a matter of time before her snooping uncovers O'Rourke Enterprises, so the Sarge decides to convince her that the Fort is a powder keg that can go off at any second.  As always, O'Rourke half solves the problem--Momma Parmenter is headed off on the next stage, but she's alerted the family friends in D.C. that the Captain is to be transferred with her!

"She wants us to dig a moat!  Who we fightin', Robin Hood??"

After a visit from the Captain's Uncle in Iron Horse Go Home, we find out this time that A Fort's Best Friend is not a Mother, as the Parmenter matriarch proves to be the biggest threat of all potential family members to the Fort Courage status quo.  As played by Jeanette Nolan (later to headline her own western sitcom, GUNSMOKE spinoff DIRTY SALLY), Mrs. (no first name) Parmenter is smothering mother one line, stern disciplinarian the next.  With her husband's stature, even O'Rourke is wary of her wrath, as she can go places that no officer encumbered by military decorum can. 

"Horace Greeley had a terrible sense of direction!"

A mother's touch can only go so far, though, and General Custer was far more successful in turning Wilton into a feared figure (Old Ironpants).  The General had the advantage of getting Parmenter away from the men for two weeks--with home field advantage here, the Captain exasperates Mom by being "entirely too familiar" with his subordinates.  O'Rourke is correct in figuring her prim and proper Philadelphia sensitivities will be overwhelmed by a "wild" west town, but doesn't figure on her discomfort taking The Great White Pigeon away.

"The town needs you, I need you, the whole West needs you!"

"You're right.....but what'll I tell my mother?"

Not to worry, the Sarge figures out a way to satisfy his adversary's ambition while assuaging her fears with another well-placed Hekawi attack.  Or more precisely, plans for one.  The Council of War is one of the show's funniest sequences, and Corporal Agarn is to be commended for having the stones to impersonate Geronimo so soon after claiming to have killed the warrior almost resulted in the Corporal's own demise (Our Hero, What's His Name?).  

In the end, Captain Parmenter impresses Mom sufficiently with his forcefulness to reclaim his command from her, and apparently one trip out West was enough for her as Nolan was another one and done guest star.  We later learn she has a daughter though, as Wilton's sister Daphne visits for the second season's Miss Parmenter

But that's in the future.  F TROOP's initial season displays a show at its peak with three episodes left in that batch, but about to lose its co-creators: this was the penultimate episode for James and Jacobs (The Day The Indians Won).  While they lost their power struggle with producer Hy Averback, the writers went out with several high notes.  A Fort's Best Friend is Not a Mother is F TROOP at the height of its comedic potency, marred only by the rather tiresome re-use of DODGE CITY footage for the staged "brawl" at O'Rourke's saloon.  The move to color would fortunately take away the temptation away to do it again (and Warner's almost certainly would have without it).


That sure looked like considerable damage done to the saloon just to scare the Captain's mother into leaving.  A new mirror and, well, every bit as much damage to the watering hole as was done in O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly (and of course, the film DODGE CITY).  Plus, the scheme backfired, so whatever the cost to repair the place (mirrors, glasses, etc.) was all in vain.


Despite obvious consortion with the enemy, the Sarge is probably in the clear thanks to the deflection of allowing himself to be burned at the stake by the savage Chiefs.  Who would suspect a man endangering himself like that?


Vanderbilt's enlistment was purely accidental, Duffy remains a bachelor, and most of all, buglers do NOT tell General's wives what to do.


Wilton's mother certainly looks down her nose at the "wild" natives, but to be fair, she's that way with everyone.  She calls Fort Courage the most peaceful town she's ever seen though, so maybe things are spicier back east than we could have surmised from Lucy Lanfield's visit.  

Jeanette Nolan gets the same room to run that was given other 'name' guest stars, and has a field day with some wonderfully loony lines from James and Jacobs.  Clumsy stock footage during her town tour is really the only drawback here, and the Council of War is just one of the highlights--others are Jane's subtle tug of war with her future(?) mother-in-law over an oblivious (as always) Wilton and Nolan's scrutiny of the troops.  It all adds up to another hilarious first season outing.  (***1/2 out of four) 


hobbyfan said...

I believe we're seeing the definition of "helicopter mom" with this story.

And I remember seeing Dirty Sally when that came along. I was about 10-11 when that aired on CBS.

Hal said...

Helicopter Mom fits Mrs. Parmenter to a T, yes. Too bad Nolan never reprised the role, and it would have been real fun to see Wilton's General father visiting with her.

One interesting thing about Dirty Sally, at least to me: it greatly improved the ratings in its time period in 1973-74. Cancelled Colucci's Dept. was the lowest rated show of the entire season at 6.0. Dirty Sally scored a 17.8, in 44th place, and while no threat to Sanford and Son in that time period was a solid second, beating The Brady Bunch (cancelled that year). I know Westerns were out of fashion in '74 but seems to me that Sally did well enough to be considered more strongly for a return considering the competition was the # 2 show on all of TV.

Walter S. said...

Hal, good and enjoyable write-up of "A Fort's Best Friend Is Not a Mother." Jeanette Nolan is a delight in this episode and in everything she was ever in. I think she is one of the best character actresses of all time. She was really top-notch in any role that she took on.

I remember DIRTY SALLY(1974) and I think that it was a good show. Also, I think that you make an interesting point about its cancelation by the suits at the CBS Network. What did they put in its place that fall against SANFORD AND SON? PLANET OF THE APES the tv show, which placed 66th and was canceled at mid-season and was replaced by KHAN! which placed 80th. Stranger still, that tv season of 1974-75, was the cancelation of 26th rated GUNSMOKE at the end of the season. GUNSMOKE had tied with CBS' MEDICAL CENTER, which wasn't cancelled. Apparently, the suits at the CBS Network didn't want any more Westerns on the air.

I remember when Jeanette Nolan first appeared as Dirty Sally Fergus on a two-part GUNSMOKE titled "Pike". Part One aired on March 1, and Part Two on March 8, 1971. I didn't recognize her until the end credits of Part One. The makeup artist and hair stylist really did a good job with her and of course she didn't wear her teeth. I've read where this two-parter received more positive fan mail than any other episode of GUNSMOKE. Hence the producers' idea for a spin-off series. The next tv season Dirty Sally Fergus(Jeanette Nolan) returned in the episode "One for the Road." It was aired on January 24, 1972. The new series DIRTY SALLY premiered on January 11, 1974. The two-part "Pike" was rerun on GUNSMOKE on December 31, 1973, and January 7, 1974, as a lead in for the spin-off series. 13 episodes were aired and were rerun during the summer.

I think CBS should have given DIRTY SALLY a second season and made it an hour show, instead of 30 minutes, but it didn't. As far as I know the show has never been aired again after July 19, 1974, in the USA and Canada. The show was aired in the United Kingdom in 1975 and Australia in 1976. I don't know if it has been shown anywhere since then. The CBS Entertainment Group division of Paramount Global probably still owns the licensing rights to the show, but I doubt if they will do anything with it. Although, you never know.

Hal said...

Thanks for reading Walter! Great points and I would like to be able to give DIRTY SALLY a second look. Hopefully it resurfaces somewhere at some point like other 70's obscurities.