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Somewhere during my adolescence, in the late 1970s, I saw an episode or two of Mr. Peepers. Apparently it was briefly in syndication at that time. I finally got a chance to see an episode as an adult this week, when I found it and three other "forgotten" 1950s sit-coms on a CD at a used bookstore.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the show was even better than I had remembered. Unfortunately, the video seemed to have been copied from badly deteriorated kinescope images. I assume these are all that survive of this show and others. (Too bad more people didn't get Desi Arnez's idea of paying to have the shows put on real film!) Despite the condition of the film, it is still a great joy to watch. The cast's artistry shines through, despite the sometimes jerky film movement.
Of course Wally Cox was born to play Mr. Peepers, the mild-mannered junior high science teacher. A young Tony Randall was entertaining as a co-teacher, as was the wonderfully eccentric Marion Lorne, who would later gain fame as Aunt Clara, the senile witch on Bewitched. Jack Warden wasn't in the episode I watched, but I'm sure he was perfect as the coach. Veteran character actress Ruth McDevitt was hilarious in this episode as Mr. Peepers' doting mother. (I knew I recognized her; I knew her as elderly Miss Emily on Kolchak: The Night Stalker 20 years later!) Despite the ragged condition of the old kinescope images, the comedic timing is apparent. Cox patiently zips and unzips pouches in an attaché case on the first day of school, only to have his mother insist he double-checks to be sure he packed his toothbrush. As Peepers and his sister (Jenny Egan) leave amidst Mom's continued "You'll miss your bus!" exhortations, they see her mouth something from the window. Unable to make out what she wants, they go back to the door and wait for her to open it. "Hurry! You'll miss your bus!" was what she wanted to say (again)! Lorne had already perfected the scatter-brained, "senior moment" mannerisms of Aunt Clara. In this episode, she informs the class that she will recite a poem she wrote and that she had recited to her classes on the first day of school every year for 30 years. After the first line, it becomes apparent that she cannot remember the poem. After several hilarious false starts and finally a stammering fluster, she tells the class to busy themselves while she finds the written copy.
Other than the poor image quality, the only other things that might bug a modern viewer are the old-fashioned opening and closing (ala George Burns, Dobie Gillis, etc.) and the canned laughter. Overall, the show is still a winner and ought to be picked up by TV-Land or someone.
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