Many folks find summer an ideal time to head outside and enjoy a round of golf. I've never been one of those people; the last time I played, it took me 3 tries to get the ball past the windmill and into the clown's mouth. The television stars of yesteryear certainly liked the pastime, though. Legend has it that Bing Crosby turned down the iconic role of Lieutenant Columbo because filming the series would interfere with his golf game. Fred MacMurray negotiated a shooting schedule on My Three Sons that let him do all his scenes at once and then take off, partly so he could hit the links more often (and let's face it, mostly just because he could). There was even a 1960s television series called Celebrity Golf.
TV characters also enjoy their golf, and I thought that by revisiting some notable episodes, I would gain a new appreciation of the sport. What I found was shocking: In the world of classic television, this pastime exposes some of the most unappealing aspects of human behavior. Golf on the small screen is a conduit to murder, destruction, and worst of all, fudging scorecards.
Perry Mason, 'The Case of the Golfer's Gambit': I sometimes visualize a 'lost' final season in which Perry thinks, 'Why do I work so hard when I win all my cases,' blowing off all his clients to go play golf. In this one, Perry defends an innocent golfer accused of murdering an arrogant rival.
The fun episode begins with a country club tournament being broadcast on the radio for some reason. And you thought there was too much sports programming today! It gives us an excuse to enjoy the classic hushed tones of an announcer calling the tense conclusion. Young Jim Harrell offers Chick Farley a piece of innocuous info about the green, and Farley reports him for giving advice -- a penalty that gives Chick the narrow win.
This Farley is a real piece of work, and there is no shortage of suspects when he's killed with Harrell's club. I may not like watching golf, but I like watching Nancy Kovack, who guests in this one along with the likes of Harry Townes. However, Dennis Patrick's amped-up portrayal of the despicable Farley is one of the big selling points.
The other is the way Mason treats district attorney Hamilton Burger on the witness stand. Because Farley was on the phone with fellow club member Burger when he was murdered, Perry gets to tell his rival, 'So your only relevant testimony is that concerning the exact time of the murder and what Farley actually said. The rest is inconsequential and immaterial.' The look on Mason's face as he exposes the hapless Burger says, 'Ahh, this is why I love being an attorney.' The lopsided exchange is reminiscent of Tiger Woods winning the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 strokes (OK, I totally had to look that up).
The Flintstones, 'The Golf Champion': This episode also opens with a club tournament, and Fred makes an outstanding shot out of a dinosaur's mouth. You never see that at Augusta National. Another thing you never see at the Masters is a club executive yanking the fabled green jacket off the winner's back, but here Barney runs up and swipes a trophy from the victorious Fred.
Apparently, no member is entitled to a trophy if he has not paid his dues (I say 'he' because I'm pretty sure it's all or mostly men, so there's something Bedrock does have in common with Augusta). Fred is months behind, so, 'No dues, no trophy,' says Barney. Hey, if Fred was so delinquent, why let him compete at all?
This story is full of bad feelings and harsh words between the two buddies. While Fred practices in his backyard, a surprisingly nimble Barney sneaks in and steals the golf ball, the club, and the tee! In an attempt to get revenge by making Barney envious, Fred throws a conspicuous party with pals Malcolm Quartz and the immortal Joe Rockhead. Despite the guests singing a rousing chorus of, 'What's the matter with Flintstone? He's all right,' Fred gives the 'freeloaders' the boot when he realizes Barney's out of town and isn't hearing it.
It's up to Wilma and Betty to get the guys back together. After the commotion in this episode involving death threats, a violent act using the trophy, and Barney's new pet 'dog' attaching his jaws to Fred's posterior, I wouldn't blame them for asking the boys to stick to bowling.
The Honeymooners, 'The Golfer': Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton actually work together when an ambitious Ralph sets up a golf date with his boss despite having no idea how to play. This episode is famous for two things. One is Ralph's awesome golfing outfit, which gets a deserved laugh from the studio audience. As Ed says, it's 'divine:' Plaid pants, a gaudy hat, and a sweater that could win first (worst?) prize in an office holiday party.
The other hallmark of 'The Golfer' occurs after Norton reads that the first step in golf is to 'address the ball.' Attempting to show Ralph how it's done, he walks over to the pincushion they are using as a stand-in, bends down, and with a flourish of his hand, says, 'Hello, ball!'
It's top-notch stuff as usual, and I love the fact that instead of going to the park, or anywhere else, really, they practice in the Kramdens' cramped apartment. Seeing Ralph swing a golf club like a right-handed Babe Ruth swinging for the fences is a riot. I won't reveal the outcome of this one except to note that despite multiple opportunities to admit he can't actually play, Ralph can't resist proving he's got 'a biiiiig mouuuth!'
The Munsters, 'Country Club Munsters': Herman is overjoyed to win family membership to the local country club in a TV contest. However, the hoity-toity board members are reluctant to allow commoners into their joint, and sure enough Grandpa and Lily are kicked out before Herman even gets a chance to play the links.
Somehow, though, Herman and Eddie make it to the course the next morning, totally unnoticed (for an exclusive club, this place is sorely lacking in security), and we actually get to see some golf, if you can call it that. I think the authorities might call it 'felony vandalism.' It's a bad sign when, inside the mansion, a wild practice shot ricochets about 10 times, landing in Grandpa's ear, but it's worse out on the course. Herman's lumbering movements make Ralph Kramden look like Annika Sorenstam, and he inadvertently destroys greens, holes, sand traps, and I wouldn't be surprised if off-camera he smashes up a barstool or two trying to get a martini at the '19th hole.'
One notable moment comes when Herman tells Eddie the first step is to address the ball. He bends down, waves, and says, 'Hello, ball!' I guess with a good enough antenna, they can pick up Honeymooners reruns on Mockingbird Lane.
The rest of the family checks out a newspaper story about the devastation some unknown monster caused at the golf course when Herman walks in and announces he's decided to withdraw his membership because he won't jeopardize his family by putting them in such a dangerous environment. Most golfers lie about their shots, their scores, and their handicaps, but Herman has already mastered the more advance step of lying to his family about the game. He'll probably be in fine form when he demolishes the public course next weekend.
Leave it to Beaver, 'Beaver, the Caddy': I apologize to all honest golfers for that remark about lying, but most of what I know about golf I learned from TV and it's not a pretty picture. When Beaver lands a gig caddying at a country club, he participates in a 00 match between two big shots. His golfer, Mr. Langley, is so desperate to win the bet he has Beaver alter the scores on the scorecard here and there, giving a kind of 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink,' and enforcing the deception with a .00 tip afterwards.
Beaver struggles with his conscience. He doesn't want to report Langley and get him kicked out of the club, but he doesn't want to be party to a crooked game. After thoughtful discussion with Wally, Beav eventually confronts Langley, and we learn the moral: That cheapskate should have done a lot better than a 1% tip if he wanted to buy Beaver's silence.
No, actually a guilty Langley decides to make things right...sort of. He doesn't admit to the club he cheated, but he arranges a rematch, this time telling Beaver to add strokes to his score rather than shave them. So two wrongs make a right?
I was so confused by the values of 'Beaver, the Caddy,' that I sought guidance from the previous season's 'Ward's Golf Clubs,' in which Beaver 'borrows' his dad's driver, not realizing Ward broke it earlier and was planning to replace it. A panicked Beav buys a new club himself, proposing something like a 23-year installment plan, instead of confessing. I wonder if this anecdote about Beaver's ethics had made its way round the club when Ken Langley was looking for a caddy.
I Love Lucy, 'The Golf Game': Our tangled web of deceit continues with Lucy and Ethel trying to break their husbands' obsession with the sport. Now, normally I would criticize the gals for scheming to take joy away from their hubbies, but I admit Ricky and Fred are insufferable, chattering on about their games, practicing in the hallway, and so on.
Lucy and Ethel invite themselves to a match, and the boys realize one of the best things about golf is it gives them an excuse to get away from their wives. So, naturally, they decide to 'teach them a lesson' by making up ridiculous rules to scare them off. Yeah, how dare Lucy and Ethel want to spend time with their husbands?
You can tell I haven't spent a lot of time on the links, because I think the made-up 'rules' look kind of fun. They involve leap frogs, hopping on one foot, pitching the ball under your leg...It's kind of like when Calvin and Hobbes used to play 'Calvinball'--make it up as you go along, never play the same way twice. The boys' ruse is revealed, though, when of all people, THE Jimmy Demaret appears on the course, and Lucy and Ethel try to get HIM to follow those rules. Can you imagine? Jimmy Demaret!
OK, I had no idea who Jimmy Demaret was, but he was a star in his era, a multiple-time Masters winner and a hall of fame golfer. The Ricardos and Mertzes are certainly impressed. When Lucy realizes the boys were duping them, she enlists Demaret's help to -- you guessed it -- teach the boys a lesson! There are more lessons in this series than in Our Miss Brooks and Room 222 combined. 'The Golf Game' is a good showcase for Lucille Ball's physical comedy as well as a good representation of the kind of shenanigans these couples always pulled. Someday, if golf is desperate to get those coveted younger viewers, maybe we'll see the PGA start to implement innovative rules like all the players putting on the green at the same time.
Bewitched, 'Birdies, Bogies, and Baxter': One of the central tenets of Bewitched, the one that always irks me, is Darrin's insistence Samantha not use her magical powers to improve their lives. Yet when a golf date is set up with Darrin, boss Larry Tate, and a potential big client named Joe Baxter, well...Darrin relaxes his attitudes a bit.
Macdonald Carey plays Joe Baxter as a brash jock type who loves bragging about his own golfing prowess. After hearing the weary Mrs. Baxter wish that Joe would lose just once, Samantha gets involved and boosts Darrin's skills, despite the fact a nervous Larry assumes the firm will lose Joe's business if they don't let him win. Later, Samantha confesses her role in Darrin's performance, and he reveals he knew all along the hole-in-one and the miraculous 'tin can shot' weren't his own doing.
And Darrin's fine with that! If Samantha were to give them a bigger house or Darrin a bigger paycheck, oh, no, that's not right. But when she makes him look like Jimmy Demaret on the course (see, I'm learning), that's just fine! It's an amusing episode, but once again, Bewitched is full of deceptive characters doing sneaky things, and I have trouble finding a likable one in the whole bunch. Mrs. Baxter seems like a sensible woman, though.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, 'Dave's Golf Story': Surely the wholesome, righteous Nelsons don't engage in the kind of violence and dishonesty these other television characters do, right? Well, we can count on Ozzie, Harriet, Ricky, and Dave, but what about Wally?
Wally and Dave are enjoying a golf outing when Dave shoots a remarkable hole-in-one. They haven't even moved past that hole before Wally is saying, 'I was here! I saw it!' as if he was at Dealey Plaza when the presidential motorcade passed through.
David is reluctant to talk up his experience for the school paper until he sees Susan (Diane Jergens), the female editor who runs the features section. He decides to pitch his story about the hole-in-one, only to find it was already submitted as a first-person account...by Wally! When confronted, Wally doesn't exactly admit to taking credit for his pal's achievement, but he can't really deny it, either. So David decides not to go to Susan and expose his friend, but rather do a deception of his own. He pumps her younger brother for a family story, and then shares it with Wally so he'll submit it and make a fool of himself when she realizes it's her own story.
Yeah, that sounds MUCH simpler than telling her the truth, doesn't it? The only hitch is Wally attempts to even things up by turning in the story with Dave's name on it. When Susan sees what happened, she asks the guys what's going on, but instead of being infuriated with them for making a mockery out of her publication, she makes nice with Wally and agrees to a date with Dave. Presumably Susan then introduces both of them to the rest of the staff: Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, and Janet Cooke.
Despite my limited experience with golf, I know it's a game of integrity, sportsmanship, and fair play. I just don't detect much of that from the sport as it's portrayed on television. If I ever decide to take up the pastime, I'll get my lessons elsewhere. I will remember one thing I've learned, though: how to address the ball. Hello, ball!
Rick Brooks is the proprietor of Cultureshark, a blog in which he uses an often irreverent approach to express his reverence for the classics and the un-classics.