Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film Tuesday

Today is Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films and/or Other A/V (phew!) day. A weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. Head on other there when you have a moment and check out what other overlooked films, etc, other bloggers are talking about today. It's usually a very esoteric and fun list.

Back in the seventies (1976 - 1977)Norman Lear (the genius behind ALL IN THE FAMILY, among other innovative an occasionally contentious network series)created one show that was judged too hot to handle by all the networks so it was sold directly to syndication. The episodes then showed up late nightly at around 10:30, supposedly after anyone impressionable had gone to bed.

Of course compared with what shows up regularly on the networks and cable today, MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN was light stuff. But back then it was daring and demented enough that no one quite knew what to make of it. I suppose it was kind of shocking, but most of the time I was laughing too hard to be outraged. I mean, it was a very strange show, but also very funny.

Basically a soap opera parody (shot on video), MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN was played straight-faced for laughs (but no laugh track) with often serious undertones such as wife-beating, mass murder, racism and other assorted social and personal ills that, back then, no one with any couth really talked about. At least, not in public. You would think with having lived through the 60's we'd all become inured to shock, but no. It was still possible to make our jaws drop.

The critics embraced the show of course, probably just to be contrary. But it did find its audience and became an improbable hit only stopping production when the star, Louise Lasser (once Mrs. Woody Allen), decided to leave after the second season.

Louise Lasser was such an odd sort of actress but very much in the Woody Allen mold. Kind of an ugly duckling but not - there was always something strangely appealing about her. She had a big toothy smile and during the run of the show, wore braids and girly-girl sort of dresses to accentuate the fact that Mary Hartman was an innocent trapped in the decadent world of Fernwood, Ohio.

Her husband Tom (Gregg Mullavey) could be a lout and a bully and spent a great deal of his time proving it. Oh, he was odious. The show revolved around the unhappy Mary's day to day struggle with life and the scourge of yellow waxy build-up, not to mention the odd assortment of wacky (and not always in a good way) family and friends, including the squeaky-voiced Dody Goodman as Mary's mom.. Link

Mary Kay Place comes over for coffee.

Mary's best friend Loretta Haggers (the wonderful Mary Kay Place) was a country rock star wannabe with  loony racist views that somehow didn't make you dislike her. In a way, she was an innocent too, sort of like a dodo, though certainly more worldly than the unhappy Mary. Loretta was married to Charlie, played by a bald string bean of an actor named Graham Jarvis. Such an unlikely pairing, but it was a fun beauty and beast sort of thing.He was wild about her toes.

The show began with it's plaintive call to arms, "Mary, Hartman, Mary Hartman...!"   Dody Goodman's voice, I think, followed by syrupy soap opera music. Link

The first show featured a mass murderer loose in Fernwood. You didn't know whether to laugh or not because the storyline was so NOT what anyone would have expected and the fact that Mary eventually gets taken hostage by the armed killer made for some uneasy moments.

But a lot of it was very toungue-in-cheeky so we waited to see what would happen next. Parts of the show often made me think of SNL skits stretched into this continuing saga of discontent in Ohio. But somehow it all worked pretty well. Though poor, hapless Mary was often the butt of strange doings.

As the Retrospace blog says: "Picture Days of Our Lives directed by David Lynch..." Yeah, that sort of says it all.

Mary and her sister Cathy (Debralee Scott) read an eye-opening book.

Speaking of eye-opening - that's Mary's grandfather exposing himself. Turns out he's the Fernwood Flasher.

The show had a very strong cast - not a clunker in the bunch - and distinguished itself by casting against type. No one was movie-star beautiful or handsome so that kind of added a weird sort of verisimilitude to the outrageous doings.

The DVDs are currently available on Netflix and I suppose are for sale on Amazon or elsewhere. It's possible the show just ins't funny anymore, I think maybe it was a thing of its era. Still, I recall it fondly.


  1. Well, nice on Yvette, there's a show I haven't though about in a long time. Believe it or not, I have only ever watched this in Italy - that's right, dubbed into Italian! Still funny though. Incidentally, that was very tongue-in-cheek of you referring to Lasser as being in the 'Woody Allen mould', seeing as she was the first Mrs Allen ...

  2. I think it was very much a show of that era. I think it would be hard for today's audience to know how to take it.

  3. Patti, I'll have to disagree...most of the series on Adult Swim are the grandchildren of MARY HARTMAN squared, and their esthetic is spreading across the comedy scene. Your fave PORTLANDIA is on the edge of that.

    And certainly I dug FERNWOOD 2-NITE, AMERICA 2-NITE and even the other, less commercially and artistically successful (sfnal) soap from the Tandem shop, ALL THAT GLITTERS.

  4. Times have indeed changed. This was a "forbidden" TV show in my home when I was growing up. I used to sneak watching it on a TV I had in my bedroom. I had a radio that played TV audio and I plugged in an earphone to the radio to listen, turned down the volume on the TV, and put a towel in front of my bedroom door to keep the glow of the TV screen from spilling under the crack of the door and giving me away. Then I had to laugh into a pillow. I think I got caught once or twice.

    A few years ago I rented a few of the episodes in a fit of teen age nostalgia. I think you're right - this show was of its era. It lost most of it's "forbidden-ness" and didn't seem funny to me at all. I'm sure it would be seem very tame in these times.

  5. I can only just barely imagine it in Italian, Sergio. What a hoot!

    It was hard enough to figure out sometimes in English. Ha!

  6. Todd, I only vaguely remember Fernwood. SO many shows have gone into the memory bank never to be withdrawn again...

  7. I agree John, kids today would probably just go, 'huh'? It's pretty tame in comparison.

    I was old enough to watch (with my ex) unashamedly. Ha.

    I'll never forget - 'Condos for Christ.' I can say no more.

  8. Oops, Patti, I skipped over you. I think you and I agree though on it's being a show of another era. Even if it spawned other shows as Todd would have it.

  9. I somehow missed the first run of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

    Saw it later on reruns and then watched dvd's of the shows with a neighbor and I laughed so much.

    This was a brilliant show and the cast was fantastic. Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place and Dody Goodman were brilliant.

    I could watch this show now and I would probably laugh again.

  10. Don't you suppose the Coen Brothers watched Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman?

  11. Yvette, this is completely new for me. I hadn't even heard of it. Thanks for writing about MARY HARTMAN, though.

  12. We watched it! That's the first place I ever heard the word 'condo' as in 'Condos for C.' And didn't Loretta just adore her fella?!
    Such a great, great writeup.

  13. Kathy: I think seeing them for the first time, not knowing what to expect is probably a good thing. Although I have a feeling I'm going to get the DVDS from Netflix just to see if I can still laugh at at something from the 70's that was so bizzaro.

  14. I don't know, Mark. I've never seen any Coen Brothers movies all the way through. But from what I've read of them - probably. :)

  15. Thank you, Nan! Yeah, that phrase always makes be smile. It was, I think, the first time I'd heard of it too. At the very least, in that context. I still think of it when I see certain things happening in today's world. It's cemented in my mind.

    Yes, that was the thing - Loretta was wild about that plain little guy and it made all the difference. It was a great relationship despite the oddities.

  16. Prashant: Oh, this would NEVER have translated too well though Sergio says he watched it in Italian and laughed. So who knows? :)

  17. I was fairly young when this was on TV but I do remember watcing it and being surprised by most the subject matter...and puzzled by soem of it :)

    At first I thought that Billy Crystal got his start in this show, but I looked it up and it he was on the equally quirky show "Soap"

  18. The only thing I remotely know about 70's TV is the aforementioned Norman Lear, The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie.

    The lead looks like an overgrown Pippi Longstocking (hair) but based on your write-up this sounds like something I would be interested in catching. Glad to hear that it is on Netflix!

  19. It's all camp, all parody of life in working-class suburbia. Everything is said tongue-in-cheek.

    Viewers have to take it as social satire of a certain type of life in a certain type of community. Things are exaggerated for comedic effect.

    I must rewatch this show. I think I'd laugh a lot.


Your comment will appear after I take a look.