Monday, October 3, 2011

"THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW" @ 50 - ROB, IS THIS A (WEIN)RIB?


Today marks the 50th anniversary for 'The Dick Van Dyke Show'. It was the brilliant notion of my blogging buddy Ivan over at "The Thrilling Days Of Yesteryear" (Link to the left, my Buddies and Sallies!) to host a blog-A-thon centered around 'The Dick Van Dyke Show', but which also spreads its love to all things Van Dykish.

This is one small contribution to the many entries whose links you'll find warehoused there......

A lot of the bloggers taking part today are focusing on one particular episode. Me, greedy lump on a blog that I am, I chose three:

"Buddy, Can You Spare A Job?"
"The Sam Pomerantz Scandals"
"The Impractical Joke"

But all three have one thing in common - the guest star was Lennie Weinrib.

Over the five wonderful seasons of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show', the writers not only fleshed out the core cast of characters (Rob, Laura, Buddy, Sally, Richie, Mel, Alan, Millie, and Jerry), but provided so many amazing characters who either made just a handful of appearances or were even just "one-shots" - Edwin Carp probably tops the list, but there were also Big Max Calvada, Vito Giotto, Lyle Delp, Blackie Sorrell, Stacey Petrie, Kolac the Twiloite, and of course, Pickles Sorrell and Herman Glimpsher.

But my favorite was Jackie Brewster, played by Len Weinrib in the episode "Buddy, Can You Spare A Job?" It was a scene that lasted only ten minutes - if that! - but it's a routine that's forever burned into my swiss cheese of a mind.
Weinrib might be better known for his work as a voice artist in many TV cartoons and Sid and Marty Krofft puppet shows. And the most famous of these roles must be that of 'H.R. Pufnstuf'. But it's Jackie Brewster that tops the list for me.

Weinrib appeared in three episodes of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' and with each one, supposedly he was a different character. Definitely they each had different names: Jackie Brewster, Danny Brewster, Phil Franklin. However, I'd like to put forth the argument that they were all the same man. (Jackie Brewster - Danny Brewster? Not much splainin to do there!)

[For those of you who have never visited Inner Toob before, let me give you the run-on sentence tour - Toobworld Central celebrates the Toobworld Dynamic, the belief that most of what we see on TV actually takes place in the same alternate universe, following in the tradition of Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp's "Incompleat Enchanter" stories, Marvin Kaye's "The Magic Umbrella", Craig Shaw Gardner's Cineverse trilogy, and Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Family Tree. Now, most TV creators are focused only on the worlds they have created for their series, so it's up to Toobworld Central to find ways to make them all mesh into one happy family of a tele-mosaic, or as they might say in the Dominion of 'Deep Space Nine', "The Great Link". The Toobworld concept of Earth Prime-Time is similar to the Tommy Westphall Universe, and more power to them, but the rules are a loose and a bit sloppy around here.]

So, getting back to Jackie Brewster.... Remember Jackie Brewster? This is a blog post about Jackie Brewster........
Lennie Weinrib first shows up as Jackie Brewster in "Buddy, Can You Spare A Job?" In that episode, Buddy Sorrell found a way (with the help of his nemesis Mel Cooley) to break his contract with 'The Alan Brady Show' so that he could take the head writer's job at a rival TV show. But the deal falls through and he asks Rob Petrie and Sally Rogers to help him get back in the good graces of Mel Cooley so that he could get his old job back.

The only thing was - Mel was finally happy to be rid of his personal "Yeeuccch" after years of being tormented with baldy jokes. Eventually Rob and Sally hatched a scheme to find somebody even worse than Buddy in attacking Mel. (Sally: "I thought Jack The Ripper was dead!") It had to be somebody so merciless in needling the show's producer that Mel would have no choice but to ask for Buddy's return.
They decided the perfect candidate for the job (Jackie: "Sort of a mercy killing.") would be nightclub comic Jackie Brewster. Not only was he probably an insult comic along the lines of Don Rickles, but he had plenty of experience in throwing zingers back at the hecklers in the audience. Although they were fairly certain that Mel had never been to a nightclub in his life (which I found hard to believe even when I saw this as a kid), they couldn't take the chance that he might have heard of Jackie Brewster, so during the introductions Rob stammered the name of his new "writer" as Jackie Brew-Brew (or Bru-Bru, if you prefer the Olde World spelling.)

It wouldn't be the only time Jackie Brewster underwent a name change in that tiny corner of the TV Universe in which 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' dwells. Two years later, in the early summer of 1963 (although "The Sam Pomerantz Scandals" aired in March of that year), Jackie was now headlining at the Catskills resort owned by Rob's old army buddy Sam Pomerantz. But here he was known as Danny Brewster.
It's simple enough to splain away - he must have decided that as a first name for a comic, "Jackie" was too over-used in the market, and might lead to some confusion... especially for talent scouts who were looking to book comics on the late night talk shows (a goal for many up-and-coming comics back in the day!) You had Jackie Gleason, Jackie Mason, Jackie Vernon, even Jack E. Leonard. Plus Jack Benny, Jack Paar, Jack Carter..... A guy named Jackie Brewster could get lost in the sauce.....

So he changed it to Danny Brewster. To me, it feels like a name that would come with its own cluster of confusion - Danny Thomas, Danny Kaye, and in Toobworld only, Danny Williams. But maybe he thought it would work for him.....  

At any rate, he must have changed it not long after the "Jackie Bru-Bru" incident, because by the time the gang met up with him again, they already knew him as Danny Brewster and were comfortable with calling him by that name. (You don't hear any of them slipping up and calling him Jackie, anyhoo. What do you mean, that's because it wasn't written that way? That's not the way we operate in Toobworld!)

Also, by this time Mel and Jackie - now Danny - Brewster had come to terms with the subterfuge used to get Buddy his old job back. Mel may not have liked it, but I think he had resigned himself to be the foil for Buddy's jabs.

In this episode we got a taste of Danny Brewster's act, which contained a lot of impersonations (many of which would be called out by the audience - so long as they chose from the card he prepared). In rapid succession, egged on by his old pal Buddy, Danny ran through the following litany of impressions:

Eliot Ness (as portrayed by Robert Stack)
Jack E. Leonard

Bobby Darin
Dean Martin
Ed Wynn
Jack Paar
Jack Benny
Shelley Berman
Frankie Fontaine's character of Crazy Guggenheim
Jimmy Cagney
JFK

Unfortunately, he never got to go on that night to do the show - Rob knocked his front teeth out with a tennis ball out on the courts. (Luckily the gang all pitched in to help with good old-fashioned "Hey Kids! Let's put on a show!" enthusiasm.)

It may be that the accident gave Danny Brewster the time to evaluate the choices he made in his life, and whether or not he was cut out for the grind of always being on the road, hoping people would laugh at his jokes in smokey nightclubs. (And that billboard proclaiming him the greatest comedian in the world? Maybe he was only trying to convince himself with that.)

As Muskie Muskrat would say, "It's pozz'ble, just pozz'ble" that he finally accepted that he was meant to follow a different path. And so he gave up the act and took up the vocation he studied in school - he became an accountant.

He also changed his name again. Apparently the "Brewster" was an invention as well, since we next see him as Phil Franklin in "The Impractical Joke". At a party at Sally's house, Buddy introduced him as Phil Franklin, not only Buddy's accountant, but a practical joker par excellence.
As for the surname of "Brewster"? Perhaps he used that because it was the name of his hometown, Brewster, New York. And if so, it's likely he knew a girl just two years his junior there by the name of Ann Marie (of 'That Girl' fame)..... 

One last O'Bservation I have on the life of Phil Franklin, AKA Jackie Brewster AKA Danny Brewster......

When Rob suggested that they could get Jackie Brewster to participate in their scheme to get Buddy back on staff, Sally mentioned that he was a good friend of hers. And yet she followed that up by wondering if he was in town and if he would do it.

Now, New York's a big city, and there are eight million stories - yeah, you get the idea. So it's understandable if Sally didn't know Jackie was back from being on the road to appear at some clubs in the Big Apple. But if she was such a good friend of his, shouldn't she have known he would be willing to help out a friend? Jackie does say later that Buddy's his buddy and that he would do the same for him. Sally should have known that.

Unless she was using the term "Good Friend" in an altogether different context.....

We know Sally would eventually marry - after the series ended, and probably not until Mrs. Glimpsher passed away which loosened the hold she had on her son Herman. Sally would often bemoan her single status and would go out on plenty of dates, hoping to find Mr. Right.

I think it's pozz'ble that occasionally, she settled for Mr. Right Now.

Jackie Brewster may have been one of the gentleman callers who found their way into Sally's bed, sharing it not only with her, but with Mr. Henderson her cat.

I'm not saying Sally was a "back-alley crab muffin" (a term coined on 'Better Off Ted') - I think it's great that she did have an active sex life. But society mores were different back then and people couldn't be so open about their personal lives; the era of sexual liberation, the summer of love, was still several years away.

So Jackie could have been more than just a "Good Friend". And after he helped zing Mel into submission, maybe he was ready to pick up where they once left off in their casually permissive relationship.

Rob: I don't know whether to thank you or to kiss you!
Jackie: If you really want to thank me, let HER kiss me!
Sally (running into his arms): Oh, Jackie!

And then again, maybe I'm just reading too much into that....

I really wish I could find that one scene on YouTube for you to see Jackie Brewster perform expert surgery on Mel Cooley. But I'm sure nobody here would mind watching the full episode?



Like I said at the beginning, Lennie Weinrib was a great talent, and it's a shame not many realize that because so much of his work was done in the vocal field only. But hopefully this small tribute to his appearances on 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' serves to spread the word.
"Anybody who would die for a practical joke deserves to get his laugh."
Rob Petrie
'The Dick Van Dyke Show'


BCnU!

One last note to marvel over Lennie Weinrib: According to a tribute written by Mark Evanier after Weinrib passed away in Chile a few years ago, the part of Jackie Brewster was originally written for Don Rickles, but another commitment prevented him from doing it.  (He would later get to shine in a two-part story as Lyle Delp.)  Then Shecky Greene was offered the role....


Shecky got to rehearse for three days as Jackie before the police suddenly showed up at the studio and took him away in handcuffs for some infraction of the Law or another.  And that happened just before the day of taping.

Enter Lennie.  He was signed to do the role at 2:00 in the afternoon and was taping it by 7:00 that night!  If you've seen the episode by now, you'll know how incredible that had to be!

3 comments:

Lisa said...

Really wonderful appreciation of this talented actor! To me he looks like one of the Ritz Brothers -- a big compliment!

Loving all your The Dick Van Dyke Show posts and can't wait for all of them!!

Unknown said...

lennie was my grandpa :)

Toby O'B said...

Then I know my missing his incredible talent can not compare to how much you miss him. I hope you liked the tribute to his characters on this show and that you know how many of us out there are fans of his.

I just saw him the other day in a supporting role in an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents". It's always a pleasure to come across his performances......