Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers Day 2008 – Not The Mama

The second part of our Mothers Day post today is about people who aren't actually mothers (well with one sort of exception). Instead, these are people who have been thrust into the maternal role by circumstance. After all a staple of sitcoms, particularly in the 1960s was the single parent household where the single parent was a man, usually a widowed father, who needed someone to fill the role of a mother for his child or children. And that, with a couple of exceptions is what we're dealing with here.

Fran Fine – The Nanny: Okay, so Fran became the mother – or rather the step-mother – when she married Maxwell Sheffield, and then later had her own twins in the final episode of the series. That doesn't matter, because Fran really was the surrogate mother for the three Sheffield kids, Maggie, Brighton, and Gracie. She adapted her role to the child she was working with. She became a big sister/best friend to the eldest, Maggie; a motherly confidant to middle child Brighton who was the only son; and a replacement mother to the youngest, Gracie. And yet the role of Fran as mother replacement was not all consuming. She still had time and the inclination to deal with her own family and her friend Val, to work together with Niles the butler, to spar with her rival C.C. Babcock, and of course flirt shamelessly with her boss which eventually led to her actually becoming the mother of the kids that she already thought of as her own.

Aunt Bee Taylor – The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD: Aunt Bee was the maiden aunt of Sheriff Andy Taylor who comes to live with her nephew and his six year-old son Opie, after their last housekeeper left to get married. Initially Opie didn't like Aunt Bee but by the end of the first episode he becomes reconciled to her and indeed very quickly comes to love her, or at the very least like a grandmother. Aunt Bee was actually a maternal figure for both Opie and Andy: for reasons which were never revealed in the show (this was after all made in the continuity sparse 1960s) she also raised Andy as a boy. While Aunt Bee had never married, it wasn`t as though she had given up. She had a number of romantic entanglements, although most of the early ones tended to be with unsuitable men. Aunt Bee was an excellent southern style cook, although less than successful in canning. Eventually, when Andy marries his long time sweetheart Helen Crump, Aunt Bee leaves the Taylor Home and became the housekeeper for another widowed father, farmer and town councillor Sam Jones and his young son Mike (played by Jodie Foster`s younger brother Mike; Jodie made her first appearances on Mayberry RFD). She stayed with Mayberry RFD for the first two seasons of that series, dispensing advice and fried chicken. There`s a bit of irony in that while Aunt Bee was a warm and loving woman, the actress who played her – Frances Bavier – is generally remembered by people who worked with her report that she was generally cool and frequently difficult to work with who felt that her acting abilities (she had been on Broadway and in a number of films) were underappreciated. In particular her relationship with series star Andy Griffith was often difficult to say the least.

"Granny" Daisy Moses – The Beverly Hillbillies: Although she's usually called "Granny Clampett" by those who don't know any better, Granny was really the mother of Jed Clampett's late wife Rose Ellen. According to producer Paul Henning this was done so that she could be overruled, which was something that he didn't think that they could do if she were Jed's mother and therefore the family matriarch. Even so she was still a matriarchal figure for the Clampett-Bodine young'uns and very much a "spare the rod and spoil the child" type at that. Her particular target was usually Jethro who was twice her size, but could still be brought to obedience with a hickory switch. She worried about Elly May being an old maid – why that gal was over 14 years old and not married – and feuded with her next door neighbour Mrs. Drysdale. She made moonshine – sorry "rheumatis medicine" – and fancied herself to be a fair country doctor and expert on herbal remedies. And her vittles, while they seemed far less appetizing that what Aunt Bee would cook up, were certainly satisfying for her kin folk. And if they repulsed the city folk, well that was just too bad.

Hazel Burke – Hazel: Veteran stage and screen actress Shirley Booth had won an Oscar and three Tony Awards before she first appeared on TV in 1954 and who first appeared on Broadway in 1925, but today is probably best remembered for her portrayal of Hazel on the show of the same name. Hazel wasn't a mother replacement – the Baxter family, for whom she worked as a live-in maid, had a full complement of parental units – she was a mother supplement. In fact many of the episodes feature Hazel in a conflict of wills with George Baxter (Hazel had worked for Dorothy Baxter's family before she married George, and knew enough not to do something that foolish). Still it was the relationship with the Baxters' son Harold where the right to be included in this list was earned. Harold basically worshipped Hazel, sometimes going to her before he went to his father, probably because Hazel usually seemed to know more than he did. And the kid may not have been far wrong – George may have had the book smarts but Hazel had the practical "kid's stuff." She could play ball, was a high average bowler, and in her spare time coached the New York Giants. Okay, she didn't actually coach the Giants, she just sent the plays (usually based on the Statue of Liberty play) one of which was actually used. When the series switched from CBS to NBC in its fifth season Don Defore and Whitney Blake (who played George and Dorothy Baxter) were dropped, with the explanation that they had been transferred to the Middle East. Hazel and Harold went to live with George's brother Steve, his wife Barbara, and their daughter Suzie, another child for Hazel to be idolized by. That version of the series lasted just one year.

Giles French – Family Affair: Okay, now I know that Mr. French lacks some of the attributes normally associated with a mother figure – specifically he's not a woman. Still when you look at the duration of Family Affair this "gentleman's gentleman" rather smoothly shifted into what amounted to the maternal role in the show. French cooked for the children made sure they did their homework, looked after them when they went to the park, cared for them when they were ill and made sure that Buffy had Mrs. Beasley. He was obviously always at home and present when they needed him. He rejected the concept that he was essentially a nanny but he was elated by and suffered with Buffy, Jody and Cissy in their various triumphs and setbacks. Most of all, while he probably would never admit it so overtly, he loved them like a parent.

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