Another Grand Scale, Titanic Storyline of an Idea, dashed on the Rocks of Shallow Sitcom Sea.
After success as a Novel, then as a one hour Play on the prestigious, live UNITED STATES STEEL HOUR in 1955, the stage play of NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS finally followed that highly unorthodox path to Broadway and to 796 successful performances between October 20, 1955 and September 14, 1957. With success like that, surely Hollywood would and did call.
Warner Brothers Pictures took the screen rights to the property and put it in the capable Directorial hands of solid comedy veteran, Mervyn LeRoy. The written pages of Mac Hyman (Novel) and Stage Play (Ira Levin) were given over to Screenwriter John Lee Mahin for the necessary adaptation and tune-up. The film boasted of having Andy Griffith as Will Stockdale, Myron McCormick as Sgt. King and newcomer Don Knotts as Cpl. John C. Brown (Physical Dexterity), all reprising their roles from Broadway. Once again, it was an overwhelming success.
So, about 5 or 6 years down the road, someone at Warner Brothers/Television Division came up with the bright idea of transforming the story to the Land of the TV Sitcom. After all, Phil Silvers had done the military comedy thing with his interpretation of SGT. BILKO in Nat Hiken's "YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH", aka "THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW". The same decade would see "McHALE'S NAVY", "ENSIGN O'TOOLE", "F TROOP" and even "BROADSIDE" (a female equivalent of McHale's Navy.). And even as they spoke, Sheldon Mayer, along with Danny Thomas Enterprises and in association with the CBS TV Network were preparing a spin-off from "THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW" to be called "GOMER PYLE, U.S.M.C." Obviously Andy Griffith would not be available to once again step into the Stockdale Shoes, and probably would be too, too expensive now. So, they set about rounding up a cast fit for this, yet another incarnation of the "Hillbilly Draft Dodger Saga." They cast amiable, general purpose actor Sammy Jackson as Will Stockdale. Harry Hilcox got the nod as Sgt. Orville King. Kevin O'Neal appeared as Will's closest friend, Ben Whitledge. The rest of the cast was rounded out by: Laurie Sibbald, Sennett Veteran Andy Clyde, Frank Ferguson (as Will's Paw), Hayden Rourke as the Colonel and others.
This time around, it was no dice! The show did not connect. And this couldn't be blamed on the Star, Sammy Jackson who tried and seemed to give it his all. Sammy, who had been in the movie cast of NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS (seen as an unnamed, uncredited recruit on board the same bus as Will and Ben.) The problem lay with the tenderizing and "dumbing down" of the humor and situations in order to make the story fit for family viewing. Hence, Will's position of Permanent Latrine Orderly, or "P.L.O.", became "Permanent Kitchen Police" as presumably family people do not have bladders or bowel movements. The character and personality of Will Stockdale is hence transformed from a good, but extremely naive, backward and uneducated Hillbilly lad into a male version of a helpful Hannah or Goodie Two-shoes. This transformation and characterization just wasn't very workable, not very appealing nor was it very funny. And that is the bottom line in any comedy.
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