The Ghost and the Bonaduce

Mrs. Muir and the Ghost

by Dawn McElligott

A few days into my new job, a fellow employee stood behind me and introduced himself. When I turned around to see him, I was astonished. He looked just like Captain Gregg from “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” the late 1960s TV sitcom. The captain, by the way, was a very handsome Irish actor, named Edward Mulhare (1923-1997).

My co-worker, who shall be nameless, reminded me of a show with oodles of chemistry between the actors. First there was the chemistry between Captain Gregg and one of his new housemates, Carolyn Muir, played by Hope Lange. As a little girl watching the show, I aspired to look like Hope Lange when I grew up. The actress’ beauty in her thirties, made me look forward to mid-life.

Her character, Carolyn Muir, was the perfect blend of refinement and friendliness. The actress had a regal bearing. Every week, Carolyn Muir presented herself in classically chic outfits by Evan-Picone. She had enough mettle to manage life as a single mom (before we started calling them single moms). Carolyn Muir never gives in to self-pity and won’t let her children do it, either.

As a man, (masculine entity?) the Captain’s ghost finds her pluck attractive, but as a remnant of a bygone era, he is also repulsed by it. Her strength seems masculine to him and unbecoming. Their arguments were high spirited but always ended with a deepening, mutual fondness.

Captain Gregg also had an ongoing battle with his nephew, Claymore Gregg, played by the inimitable Charles Nelson Reilly. Considering the Captain appears to have died in about the 1860s’ and the show is taking place 100 years later, Claymore Gregg seems too young. He should be at least 70 years old but he appears to be in his late 40s. The numbers didn’t add up and it always bothered me as a viewer. Claymore Gregg is stuck with the maintenance of the house, Gull Cottage. To save it, Claymore rents it to Carolyn Muir and her children, thus upsetting the ghost.

Claymore Gregg is a type of seaside Ichabod Crane. He is the town clerk and Carolyn’s landlord. He has bookish authority that comically tries to replace strapping masculinity. The actor, Charles Nelson Reilly, played effeminate and nervous to the hilt. While never flirting with Mrs. Muir, he still showed an interest in her.

Claymore was often scheming to pilfer Mrs. Muir out of whatever funds she could scrape together. Whenever Captain Gregg caught on to one of his nephew’s schemes, he’d make his displeasure exceedingly well known and the audience would see Charles Nelson Reilly at his best as the fumbling, neurotic conniver, running for his life from Gull Cottage.

Danny Bonaduce on PARTRIDGE FAMILY

Carolyn’s two children were the impossibly cute, 9-year old Candace and six-year old Jonathan Muir, played by Kellie Flanagan and Harlen Carraher, respectively. The children were scripted to behave a tad too well to be believable but they added a reason for Carolyn to worry and for the ghost to show himself as a caring partner for her. In real life, the former child actors reported to various sources that they garnered fond memories of their time on the set.

In a May, 2014 article by “Remington S” on Madmen, Kellie Flanagan said “My primary memories working with the two wonderful actors, Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare are that everyone smoked, all the time and everyone laughed a lot.”

Close to fifty years after the show’s cancellation, it remains popular. Flanagan volunteered an explanation. “I believe part of the reason for the show’s popularity is simply that it’s a really good show. Well written, intelligent dialog, a female character lead who was living on her own as a writer, raising two kids, a sassy housekeeper and nutty Claymore and that hot, unattainable Captain!—the mix of talent in the show is delicious. “

One of the writers was the late Joseph Bonaduce. In an episode by Bonaduce, entitled, “Jonathan Tells It Like It Was,” Jonathan Muir wins an essay contest at school for his composition on the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.

Jonathan’s essay was based on the notion that the United States prospered as a result of a strong friendship between Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. In the show, Jonathan’s told he will be presented with an encyclopedia set at a ceremony in town. A few days beforehand, Captain Gregg gently tells Jonathan that Adams was antagonistic, to say the least, toward Franklin.

Drawing upon his personal knowledge of Franklin’s grandson, Temple Franklin, Captain Gregg imparts this information gently on Jonathan Muir, in a private chat. It’s an exquisite “father” and son moment.

(A quick fact check shows that William Temple Franklin, a/k/a Temple Franklin, died in 1823, in Paris. If the Captain died in his 40s around 1860, then he would have had to have gleaned all this information, in Paris, from Temple Franklin, by the end of 1823. Sorry, once again the numbers still don’t add up.)

Having firmly and willingly suspended disbelief, viewers can discern that Captain Gregg is using his real life perspectives from the past to discount Jonathan’s book learning that had cast the rapport between Franklin and Adams in a cozier light.

Learning from Captain Gregg of Adams’ antagonism toward Franklin, Jonathan Muir tries to revise his essay publicly with the truth. When Jonathan recites his redacted version of the composition, Rutledge Adams, a distant relative of John Adams, hears Jonathan refer to his ancestor as a “fink.” Joseph Bonaduce’s son, Danny Bonaduce, playing the runner up in the contest, also hears the insult and tries to capitalize on it. Only about ten years old at the time, Danny Bonaduce steals the scene as the prototype of a character he would play later; a scheming, ambitious child.

Rutledge Adams, a man with connections, starts shaking things up for the young essayist, Jonathan Muir, his family, the school and the town of Schooner Bay. Jonathan is sent home from school and called “un-American” by the children. It is decided by the judges that he will not win the encyclopedia set unless he recants his newly discovered facts and reads his original version at the town’s upcoming ceremony.

This conflict opens the door to two possibilities. First it poses a moral dilemma, something not done enough in today’s sitcoms. Secondly, it creates an opportunity for a moment of reflection for the main characters. Towards the end, Jonathan, Carolyn and Captain Gregg take a stroll along the beach to compare the values of truth and gain. It’s another element missing from current sitcoms because it’s a cinematic scene where some portions have no dialogue, only music and silhouettes of people against the seashore gilded by the setting sun.

After the cancellation of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” Danny Bonaduce made his debut as Danny Partridge in “The Partridge Family.” As a growing viewer, I immediately noticed the chemistry between his character, the scheming young boy and the band’s manager, Reuben Kincaid, played by Dave Madden. I took a solemn vow to reunite the two actors for my own sitcom, when I grew up.

With the passing of Dave Madden in 2014, I lost that opportunity forever. Yet as I watch vintage TV on YouTube, I’ve been wondering. Lately, I’ve been watching episodes of “Get A Life,” starring Chris Elliott. I sometimes wonder if Elliott could be the new Dave Madden? Could he play opposite Danny Bonaduce with similar chemistry for a sitcom? What would I call it? A thoroughly unoriginal thought and title comes to mind: “Grumpy Old Men.” They’re approaching that age. Planning is still speculative but I guarantee one thing: They’d make a helluva lunchbox!

Dawn McElligott is a graduate of the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Her screenplay, Lady of the Lake, recently placed 2nd in the Feature Length Screenplay category in the 2016 Terror Film Festival.

“From “CHEERS” to “GRIMM” Bound by “FAMILY TIES”


Part III of “My Life as a Couch Potato: The Spuds Have Eyes”
by Dawn McElligott

On April 5th of this year, NBC renewed “GRIMM” for a 6th Season. The show has everything I like: shadows, surprises and romance but it has not done particularly well in ratings. Its April 15th broadcast only bought in 3.75 million viewers. With misgivings for my own future, I live vicariously through Grimm’s stars. Every year they’re surprised and grateful to see the series renewed and every year I vow to keep writing scripts that may become my own series.

My pursuit has been a long journey, beginning as soon as I could read the credits on “I Dream of Jeannie.” However, by the late 1970s, network TV was being criticized for poor quality and the death knell began to toll for the half-hour sitcom. Still a teenager, I began to wonder about my vocation. Yet, when I began college, two shows debuted, letting the world know that the sitcom was alive, well and— necessary.

I adored “CHEERS” from the beginning. It had Diane, the well-spoken lady, in an awful bind. Her education should have qualified her for a good job but the only work she could find was in the neighborhood bar. She didn’t fit in. Sam, the bar owner, was an athlete. Like most of the patrons, he lacked a college degree. For Diane to be accepted, she’d have to play down her education. Her family is revealed as cold, causing Diane to wrap herself up in education. In the new setting, Diane’s security blanket was causing her pain.

My parents earned a living without four-year degrees. From grade school on, my mother told my sister and me to avoid college and anything resembling feminism. My mother’s plan for me involved high school graduation, a couple of glamour years as a flight attendant and then marriage. Fabulous.

I felt Diane’s struggle. Her main problem was not financial because like so many other TV characters working minimum wage jobs, she was able to maintain a decent apartment without a roommate. Ridiculous, but that’s another story. Diane’s chief complaint was social. She kept trying to show her care for others but they rejected her, mostly as a pre-emptive strike against a more educated woman. I lived through her struggles but the character was older than me at the time.

Another show on NBC depicted two characters closer to my own age: Mallory and Alex Keaton on “FAMILY TIES.” Like my own situation, Mallory was often at odds with her mother, Elyse. Mrs. Keaton was an architect and Mallory was the kind of ditzy glamor girl we hadn’t seen since the 1950s. It was part of the show’s main conceit: adolescents of the 1980s were surprisingly more conservative than their liberal parents.

“This Year’s Model,” an episode in Season Two, highlighted the mother-daughter conflict. When Mallory persuades Elyse to participate in a modeling contest with her, she’s shocked to find her mother outperforming her throughout the competition. Adding insult to injury, Elyse is chosen to star in a “Proper Penguin” frozen food commercial, to be filmed in their home. The commercial will not at all involve Mallory. As the commercial’s being taped, heartbroken Mallory constantly interrupts the shoot. The teenager shamelessly concocts excuses to steal the camera from her mother. The commercial ends up being shot in 34 takes.

After production wraps, Elyse confronts Mallory. Their conversation opens up the first heart to heart discussion I ever recall seeing on TV, between a mother and daughter, outside of “ALL IN THE FAMILY.” It’s an honest conversation where Mallory says, “Sometimes I feel like such an outsider.” The scene is posted on YouTube and labeled “The Competition,” where a male viewer commented on that line saying, “I’m so glad that I discovered this show.”

While the occasional conflicts between mother and daughter on “ALL IN THE FAMILY” often centered on hot-button political issues, this one on “FAMILY TIES” involved common emotional friction between a mother and her unmarried youngster. Mallory cries during this scene, breaking ground for me as a writer. The successful series was giving me permission to let my characters cry during a sitcom. Thriving sitcom writers draw from moments of heartache. Comedy arises through the unexpected humiliations of the protagonist. Viewers release tension by laughing and learning, if nothing else, that they’re not alone in their disappointments.

Series Creator, Gary David Goldberg, had been one of my idols until I learned of his involvement in a class action suit against ageism in Hollywood. Fifteen years ago, Janet Shprintz chronicled accusations against Goldberg in a Variety magazine article. By that time, Goldberg was producing “Spin City.” The plaintiffs alleged that the producer said “… the program had no writers on the set over the age of 29—by design.” For the record, Goldberg was 56 years old when the story was published.

In 2013, Gary David Goldberg died of brain cancer. While imperfect, the TV legend is still admirable for achieving various distinctions, including two Emmy Awards and for naming his production company, “Ubu Productions” after his Labrador retriever, “Ubu Roi.” As a fellow dog lover, I continue to write, seeking unchartered territory in women’s lives, knowing the characters can and should be as human as possible, and hoping that now, in 2016, other producers will be more open to staffers of any age.