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.
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 Entertainment.com, 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.