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This series was about a somewhat grumpy and uptight banker, Cosmo Topper, and the ghosts which only he could see or hear, George and Marion Kerby. The Kerbys would often try to get Cosmo to loosen up and enjoy life, but more often they would complicate it. Written by
Mathias Banner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ghostly Neighbors, Alcoholic Spectral St. Bernard, a lot of Sexual Titilation and Innuendo, Upsetting Dignity and Top Physical Comedy on Sunday Evenings!
The various adaptations of one particular work invariably invite comparisons. This sort of forces us to bring out our own sense of judgment and to analyze this or that. Some good examples of this phenomenon would be: the various JAMES BOND Films, the multitude of TARZAN Movies and Thorne Smith's TOPPER, which found adaptation on Television as well as the Movies.*
First of all, let's get this point straight; I haven't read any Topper Stories, nor anything else by author, Mr. Smith. Whatever knowledge that has been gained here is from the filmed versions.
As I understand it, though, the Thorne Smith Topper stories were sort of farce, bedroom farce of the first magnitude. The racy, "adult" humor of the times was the order of the day. Even consideration of Sex with a Ghost is considered there. But, not to worry; for it was all in good "clean" fun; in contrast to today's super explicit everything. It's all a matter of contrasting two core values of implication vs. specificity, subtlety or the obvious.
As for the basic premise, the "set-up", if you will; we learn that Mr. And Mrs. Cosmo Topper* are about shopping around for a house to buy to be their new abode. Upon inspecting the house of former owners, George and Marion Kirby. The Kirbys are now deceased, having been killed by either a. an Automobile Accident, or by having been caught in an avalanche in Switzerland, while on a Skiing Vacation trip.
It was the latter "origin" that was the TV version, and it was referenced often during the series run. One reason for constant reminders of the fatal accidental deaths of the Kerbys claimed another life, a native Swiss named Neal. He came with the Spectral Couple to the U.S., staying with them and displaying great loyalty. For, if you already didn't know, Neal an ectoplasmic form of an alcoholic St. Bernard Mountain Rescue Dog.
The use of the only sometimes visible St. Bernard was a great source of laughs, mainly of the Sight-Gag variety. A much used recurring happening had a water bowl sized Dry Martini disappearing before our eyes as it was being lapped-up by the invisible Canine. The unseen dog was amplified by the slurping, slobbering of a doggie drinking, very effective.
The main characters of the show were Cosmo Topper, a stuffy Bank Vice President(Leo G. Carroll), his Wife Henrietta(Lee Patrick,**Effie in Bogey's MALTESE FALCON '41), Bank President Mr. Schuyler (Thurston Hall) and 'Buck' (Neal, St. Bernard). Just about each and every story had complications between the players and some outside influence.
A couple of favourite episodes of this writer are: the one where Cosmo, who is a temporary amnesia victim, is mistaken for an English Pro Wrestler, 'Lord' or 'Sir' Something or Other. Topper winds up in a "Grudge Match" with 'Blackbeard the Gouger'(Henry Kulky). Another involves Henrietta's entering a breakfast jingle contest for a Cereal called "Original Oats".
Possibly the most amazing and unsung elements of the "TOPPER Series" was the high level of versatility displayed by the actor with the title character role. Mr. Leo G. Carroll possessed that sort of chameleon-like ability that was also a gift of fellow Brit, Alec Guinness. And that is he had a uncanny skill in being able to play roles of far-flung types, and to lose themselves, being hard to recognize them. Their characterizations are so thorough and varied that they seem to truly be different persons.
And when you see the physical comedy that Mr. Carroll displays is so natural and matter-of-factly performed that we fail to recognize his mastery in this field. Just watch a show or two and observe any stunt that involves the unseen Ghosts pulling, pushing or otherwise controlling 'Toppy's"* bodily movement. You'll see what I mean.
One point that is so obvious between then(1950's)and today may be summed up with two (2) words. And they would be "Political Correctness". So much of the humor and situations would seem to be dated and jump out at us saying so,tho unnoticed in its day.
The most glaring example of the changes in our society lie in the show's sponsor, Camels Cigarettes. Of course cigarette advertising has been verboten ("forgiven" in German, Schultz!)over the Radio & TV for about the last 40 years. But then the cast regulars often did commercials for their sponsor. And the old TOPPER Show featured program closing spots with Anne Jeffreys & Robert Sterling (Mr. & Mrs. Sterling in real life). And they would be reading from a list of various Veteran's Hospitals that Camels were being sent that week, all while puffing away, filling the set with cigarette smoke.
And it seems like only Yesterday!***
NOTE: * The 3 movies made for theatrical release and exhibition were TOPPER(1937), TOPPER TAKES A TRIP (1938) and TOPPER RETURNS(1941), all from Hal Roach Productions/UNITED ARTISTS Corporation.
NOTE: **For whatever reason, Mrs. Topper's name is 'Clara' in the Feature Films and 'Henrietta' on the TV Series.
NOTE:***A made for TV Movie TOPPER (1979)made and was aired that year, and was a probable "Pilot" for a new series.It starred Kate Jackson & Andrew Stevens(as the Kirbys)and, now get this, JACK WARDEN as Cosmo Topper!!! Well, it's small wonder it failed to materialize as a series!!
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