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The Ghost Busters 1.15 – The Abominable Snowman

The main guest star in the last Ghost Busters episode was a guy named Ronnie Graham, and what an interesting career he had. He was an occasional actor, probably best known as Rev. Bemis on Chico and the Man, but was also a writer, with credits as far afield as M*A*S*H on one extreme and The Paul Lynde Halloween Special and The Brady Bunch Variety Hour on the other. Here, he plays the Ghost Busters’ final nemesis, Dr. Centigrade, who wants to implant a warm heart into the abominable snowman’s body.

Well, I’m kind of sad that we finished up the show, on the one hand because Daniel really, really enjoyed it, but also because the special features on the DVD reminded me that this was arguably the only truly fun live-action Saturday morning show that Filmation produced. They did several other live-action programs in the 1970s, several of which we intend to look at down the line, and one of the features on the disk is a “coming attractions” of all the other shows that BCI / Entertainment Rights / Ink & Paint released from the Filmation library. The cartoons were all awful, and the dramas were dour and earnest. But The Ghost Busters, despite its zero budget and forced repetition of gags around the same three sets and one location, was charming, silly, ridiculous, and often unpredictable. It was a fun show, and I’m glad that they made it.

One last note about Filmation, a gag this time involves Tracy’s clock radio being set to play “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. Since Filmation had made the Archie TV cartoon, I figure that they were cut a deal on the licensing!

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The Ghost Busters 1.13 – The Vikings Have Landed

I found myself liking the show trope of the ghosts talking before they actually materialize and show themselves with this episode, because Erik the Red is played by the unmistakable Jim Backus, who was Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island and the immortal voice of Mister Magoo. So when he started yelling, I said “I know who thaaaat is…” Backus did quite a lot of kid-friendly work in the 1970s in addition to prime-time roles. His time on Gilligan made him high-demand from just about every producer in town. You never asked “What’s Jim Backus doing in a cheap show like this,” because he was in every show, regardless of budget or audience.

Daniel adored this episode, which has series-best hallway gags (all five principals end up colliding in the middle) and filing cabinet gags. The trick to the filing cabinet this time is that it has to be shoved from behind to open, and it’s bolted to an exterior wall. Fortunately, Tracy’s grandfather was known for climbing the Empire State Building. This leads to a completely unexpected gag when Tracy makes a second trip outside the building to walk around. I wondered what he was up to, and had a very good laugh when the gag pays off.

Joining Backus in this trip back from the afterlife is an actress named Lisa Todd as Brunhilda. Of course that’s her name; there aren’t any other Viking names for women on television. She doesn’t seem to have had a very long career, but she was a “Hee Haw Honey” for most of four seasons in the seventies.

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The Ghost Busters 1.12 – Only Ghosts Have Wings

Even Daniel couldn’t embrace this episode. Even with the low expectations of this show, with so little changing from week to week, it’s a pretty dry one. I enjoyed Larry Storch’s impression of James Mason, into which he keeps lapsing, and Daniel seemed to most enjoy this week’s variation on the filing cabinet gag. This time, the trick to opening the door is unscrewing the cap on a half-gallon jug of milk!

The special guests this week are Robert Easton, who, in a really curious career curve, had been the voice of Phones in Gerry Anderson’s Stingray a decade earlier, but he just steps back and lets Howard Morris, playing the Red Baron, steal the show. Morris was one of Filmation’s regular voice actors – he and Larry Storch played the three main roles in The Groovie Goolies – and something tells me this is not the last time that Daniel and I will watch him employ a silly German accent…

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The Ghost Busters 1.10 – The Vampire’s Apprentice

Daniel just loved this episode. Tie a rubber bat to a string and dance it around a graveyard and you’ve instantly won the hearts and minds of little boys. All the usual gags – the self-destructing tape, the file cabinet – had him giggling and rolling around on the sofa. The Ghost Busters may do the same thing every episode, but four year-olds have no complaint with it.

A vampire episode was perhaps inevitable, but they had a lot of fun with it. Count and Countess Dracula are henpecked and grouchy, long out of love with each other. Dracula is feeble and completely pathetic, needing “lighty-light” stories; his wife wonders whether any of her old boyfriends from the old country might still be available.

Dena Dietrich is best remembered for spending the 1970s playing Mother Nature in a long series of commercials for Chiffon margarine (here’s one), but Billy Holms only had about a dozen very small credits to his name. They’re really amusing together. It’s a shame that the Draculas didn’t make a comeback in a later episode!

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The Ghost Busters 1.8 – Which Witch is Which?

Daniel didn’t quite get upset with this episode, but he did fret a little bit. Ann Morgan Guilbert, playing the Witch of Salem, puts Tracy in a trance and has him march around doing her bidding. He pouted and curled up next to me, worried about the big ape. Then, because her dimwit assistant, with the terrific name of Gronk, has messed up the concoction in her cauldron, her next spell accidentally swaps Tracy’s mind with Spencer’s. This leads to the odd sight of Bob Burns’ ape costume’s mouth opening and closing for human speech to be dubbed over the movements. I didn’t expect that, but it relieved Daniel tremendously to see some more dopey slapstick.

Overall, this wasn’t quite as entertaining as the previous episodes, although there is a great bit where Spencer lobs an invisible book – The Life of Claude Rains – over his shoulder and breaks a vase. Huntz Hall is endearingly stupid as Gronk; it’s tough to decide whether Gronk or Spencer is the bigger dimwit.

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The Ghost Busters 1.7 – A Worthless Gauze

So a reader asked which Ghost Buster is Daniel’s favorite, and the answer, of course, is Tracy. This time, Tracy is practicing to be a stage magician, which is awfully convenient, in that kids’ TV way, because the ghost of the Egyptian Queen Faroh is looking for an immortal magician called Simious, who looks like an ape. He’s supposed to have the secret of immortality.

I’ve described some of Tracy’s oddball stunts, which Spencer and Kong see with their own eyes but never seem to acknowledge, as “magic.” This gets paid off this time, as Tracy is practicing the “cut a rope in two and pull it back out as one” trick. He drops the two halves in his hat, and then levitates out a trumpet, to which several colored handkerchiefs are tied, and finally the two halves, tied together. Kong sneers that he can’t do magic despite what he’s just witnessed, because the halves are tied.

Even though he laughed through the entire episode, Daniel insisted that the best part of the episode by far was the final gag, in which Tracy’s stage magic goes awry and he makes himself and Spencer disappear completely, somewhat ruining their intended surprise entrance to Kong’s birthday party. For whatever reason, the sight of the office door opening and closing by itself was his favorite among more than a dozen gags, although the message from Zero self, and the subsequent self-destruction, got a mention as well. He loves it “when Tracy makes an explosion!”

Faroh is played by Barbara Rhoades, who spent decades doing dozens of these taped-in-a-day roles, appearing in very small parts in pretty much everything, including four separate characters in four separate episodes of McMillan and Wife. She seems to have retired after a run of twenty episodes of the soap opera One Life to Live in 2011.

Queen Faroh’s mummy – she has to have a mummy – has the most peculiar superpower. Apparently, anybody he touches turns into a mummy as well. I scratched my head, trying to remember whether I’d ever heard of such a thing in fiction, until Tracy hands the mummy a flower and it instantly dies. Kong calls that – that! – mummification. I think “turns into a mummy” was an awkward compromise offered when CBS’s Broadcast Standard department told them they couldn’t use words like “kills.”

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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.

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