The Ghost Busters 1.4 – Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Missed it completely: that’s Lennie Weinrib as the werewolf in tonight’s episode of The Ghost Busters. In my defense, while Weinrib was an incredibly prolific voice actor – and writer: he wasn’t just Pufnstuf’s voice, he co-wrote every one of the TV episodes – he didn’t have too many on-camera roles. Apart from Magic Mongo. So it’s a pretty weak defense. I mean, if you see this guy on television, “say, that’s Magic Mongo!” should be about the first thing on your mind.

Weinrib is joined in this episode by Nora Denney, who was probably best known for playing Mike Teevee’s mom and accompanying her rotten kid to the tour in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and you’d better believe we’re going to watch that movie when Daniel’s a little older. (Note: We did.) Denney gets to play a depressingly Hollywood gypsy – crystal ball, somebody’s idea of a regional accent – but it does result in a terrific line, when Kong tells Tracy to show some manners, “and get the old bat a chair.”

As we’ve seen before in kidvid, there’s a disconnect between what the program shows us and what the script tells us. This was apparently our heroes’ toughest case yet, but that’s not true at all. Apart from Spencer having another battle with the filing cabinet that refuses to open the correct drawer, they barely break a sweat this time. Still, Daniel adored it, chuckling all the way through the cabinet fight and Weinrib’s dog impression. I’m glad that he likes this show so much.

The Ghost Busters 1.3 – The Canterville Ghost

I certainly didn’t expect to watch The Ghost Busters and be surprised by anything, but that’s Ted Knight as the ghost of the week, Simon de Canterville. He had a regular job on The Mary Tyler Moore Show when this was taped; I wonder why he did this job. I guess that since they probably only needed him for two days, one to read and rehearse and one to tape, it didn’t bite into his schedule too much. Marie suggested blackmail.

Also in the cast this week: Kathy Garver, who had played Cissy in Family Affair, and Len Lesser as a jewel thief in a zoot suit. Lesser had dozens of one-off parts for decades, but is best known as Uncle Leo in Seinfeld.

I’m intrigued by how the use of guest stars affected production, because I suspect that it’s the tradeoff for the cheap, cheap, cheap reused sets instead of the much more elaborate ones employed by the Kroffts. Since the Kroffts used the same repertory of actors throughout a 17-episode season and never changed costumes, they could erect one large set, shoot all of the scenes for all of the episodes on it, dismantle it and build the next big one. But since Filmation had new actors arriving once or possibly even twice a week, they couldn’t tear anything down. Some of the scenes may have been shot all at once, like the location filming of Larry Storch and Bob Burns getting a new assignment from Zero. They probably did all fifteen of those in one long day, but the studio stuff was probably freshly taped every episode with the guest actors.

Daniel is still loving this show, and laughing from start to finish. He loves the slapstick, and this time they pulled a “short” pun – not electrical, a pair of boxers – which had him roaring. I really like the way that Tracy keeps defying physics with some magical power only to have Kong ignore the magic that just happened and tell him to quit clowning around.

The best gag this time: looking for something brave and bold for Simon de Canterville to do and break the old curse, Tracy draws a sloppy picture of a stick figure and a tall shape. Kong translates the scribbles thusly: “Climb Mount Everest blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back? No, he can’t do that, his ears would pop!”

The Ghost Busters 1.2 – Dr. Whatsisname

This episode is so named because Zero’s message is garbled and our heroes don’t realize until the final faceoff that their opponent is Dr. Frankenstein, played by Bernie Kopell, who was Sigfried in Get Smart and a hundred other roles in a hundred other shows.

The message is garbled because this week, it’s in a cream pie and it has too much frosting for the message to come through clearly before it self-destructs, leaving Tracy with a face full of pie. He’s the first; before the show’s over, the three leads and the two guest stars all get pies in the face.

Daniel absolutely adores the slapstick mayhem like this. He liked the Krofft shows just fine, with some reservations about the villains, but this is very clearly second to Thunderbirds as his favorite show so far. He just howled with the pies in the face and all the surreal gags about Tracy’s magic powers. Tracy – we’re told this week that he is “sensitive” about mentions of the Empire State Building, as his grandfather was King Kong – has a bag from which he pulls bombs with lit fuses, and bottles of seltzer water to extinguish the fuses. He can also draw a picture of a fridge, and then open it to give Spencer a bottle of pop and a bologna sandwich. All the while, Daniel just roared with laughter.

Filmation was on my mind, because my best mate Dave was in town for Anime Weekend Atlanta, and he performs/hosts/curates the perennial Friday night event Anime Hell at this and a few other cons around the country. Dave likes to occasionally remind his audience how awful American TV animation was, and among the things he cherry-picked this year was the opening of The Kid Super Power Hour. Filmation’s animation was most often world-endingly crappy, and some of their live-action shows that we’re going to watch down the line I remember as being slow and preachy, but this show is revealing itself to be absolutely the funniest thing in the world for a four year-old. You should watch some episodes in the company of one.

The Ghost Busters 1.1 – The Maltese Monkey

In 1975, CBS tossed out about half of their Saturday morning cartoons in favor of a two-hour block of live-action programming. They bought one new show, Far Out Space Nuts, from Sid and Marty Krofft, but the others in the fall of ’75 came from Filmation, who’d proven themselves with the hit Shazam! the previous year. CBS bought The Secrets of Isis as a sister series to the Captain Marvel show, as well as this very silly, very goofy, largely unloved and mostly forgotten program. If there hadn’t been a mammoth hit film a decade later with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as four completely different “ghostbusters,” sparking a war between two lousy daytime cartoon tie-ins calling themselves “real” versus “original,” I bet even fewer people would remember this show.

So The Ghost Busters stars Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch, best known from a great sixties sitcom called F Troop, as Kong and Spencer, and Bob Burns, in one of his gorilla costumes, as the remarkably talented Tracy. Every week, many of the same things happen. Either some ghosts show up to commit some crimes, or some humans raise some ghosts to commit some crimes, and an unseen fellow named Zero sends our heroes a self-destructing message to stop the mild mayhem.

Filmation was working with a ridiculously tight budget, and they didn’t throw it out the window like the Kroffts did. This show looks like they didn’t even spend what little they were given on it. There’s no time for retakes, no money for new sets, and I just love the huge echo of the cavernous studio when the characters are meant to be outside.

But it all works because Storch and Tucker are just so darn good together. They’re phenomenally fun. They look like they’re the best friends in the world, having an absolute ball working together and treating this stupid show with respect and good humor. You’re not watching The Ghost Busters for novel plots and unique takes on classic comedy, although this may have been Daniel’s first exposure to the old Scooby Doo hallway with four doors on either side and everybody running back and forth through them, and he just howled with laughter. No, you’re watching this show to watch two pros having a blast, with oddball, nonsensical jokes and riddles, mumbled asides and funny arguments about Limburger cheese sandwiches. And also to watch how Tucker somehow always manages to use his pinky finger and his index finger for two totally separate movements at the same time. How does he do that?

One big thing that distinguishes the Filmation shows from the early Krofft ones is the use of guest stars. Each week, there are some familiar faces slumming it in the show for some laughs and a few bucks. Surprisingly, Jonathan Harris doesn’t show up in this series, as he did on quite a few other Filmation programs, but he was probably busy on the studio’s Uncle Croc’s Block, which aired on ABC, while this show was taping. This time out, the guests are Johnny Brown, who was best known as the building super on Good Times, as the criminal Fat Man, and Krofft regular Billy Barty as his associate the Rabbit. Brown is doing a pretty cute impression of Sidney Greenstreet, particularly in the way he’s always mopping sweat with a handkerchief. Barty’s not really doing Peter Lorre, though. He’s just being Billy Barty.

But interestingly, Sid and Marty Krofft found themselves responding to Filmation’s process, starting with Space Nuts, which was their first show to regularly employ guest stars. Compared to the recognizable faces that Filmation employed, most of Space Nuts‘ guests were unknowns, but they did land freaking John Carradine for one of those. Apologies for this lone diversion into that series when I’m meant to be talking about Ghost Busters, but absolutely nobody can figure out how in the world Sid and Marty pulled off a casting coup like that.