||THE PRUITTS OF SOUTHAMPTON
Sitcom about the Pruitts, a supposedly incredibly wealthy family living on Long Island.
17 episodes of 30 minute duration. ABC. 1966-67.
It's close to criminal that Phyllis Diller was never able to find a weekly series that could have truly showcased her considerable talents. Years before Joan Rivers, Roseanne, Ellen DeGeneres and others, Diller was the first modern woman to find success in stand-up comedy. Her wild hair, her unusual dresses and her often-present cigarette holder made her unusual at a time when beautiful was in. But Diller, a housewife and mother before making it big as a comic, succeeded with her now-classic routines about her lack of housekeeping skills, her less than glamorous appearance and her fictional husband "Fang".
Television audiences first met Diller on a 1957 installment of Groucho Marx's classic quiz show You Bet Your Life. She then went on to a series of films (including "Boy, Did I Get A Wrong Number" and "The Private Navy Of Sgt. O'Farrell", both with pal Bob Hope). She also was a regular on the top variety shows of the day, including Hope's specials.
In 1966, ABC-then running third in a three-network race-decided Diller could become its signature female comedy star, much like Lucille Ball was for CBS. The network turned to Filmways Productions, the studio responsible for Mr. Ed; The Beverly Hillbillies and The Addams Family. Based on the book "House Party" by Patrick Dennis, The Pruitts Of Southampton centered on Phyllis Pruitt, a widowed Long Island, New York socialite who discovered she owed the federal government $10 million in back taxes. The Internal Revenue Service, in an unusual move, allowed Phyllis and her family to live in their 60 room Southampton mansion, as long as they didn't tell the world they were broke. (Seems the IRS was worried about a stock market crash if the news had leaked out. Definitely a fantasy.)
The great film character actor Reginald Gardner played Phyllis' uncle Ned Pruitt; Pam Freeman was her daughter Stephanie. Others in the cast included Gypsy Rose Lee as nosy neighbor Regina Wentworth; Charles Lane as Mr. Baldwin of the IRS; and Grady Sutton as butler Sturgis. Although the show was filmed in Hollywood, exterior shots of the Pruitt mansion were actually those of the famed Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina.
The situations, such as they were, involved Phyllis and the household adapting to cleaning, cooking and doing other things around the big house without any money. It was rather predictable fare, but The Pruitts Of Southampton had one of the catchiest theme songs of any sitcom in US history. Written by the great Vic Mizzy, who also wrote the themes for The Addams Family and Green Acres, the "Pruitt" theme was sung by Diller, Gardner and Freeman. Even people who barely remember the series can remember the lyrics, with Ms. Diller dancing and skipping around the mansion:
(DILLER): Howcha do, howcha do, howcha do, my dear
What a lovely surprise, nice to see you here
(GARDNER): All the bills have been long overdue my dear
(DILLER): File them under I.O.U.
Howcha do, howcha do
Well, HELLO, it's you
Like my dress, like my beads
Aren't they marvy-poo?
(FREEMAN): They belong to the Internal Revenue
(DILLER): And they've got us eating stew
(CHORUS): The Pruitts Of Southampton
Live like the richest folk
But what the folk don't know
Is that the Pruitts are flat broke!
(DILLER): Howcha do, howcha do, howcha do, my dear
(GARDNER) : We are out of champagne and I'm stuck my dear
(DILLER): Ask the butler to lend you a buck my dear
Howcha do, howcha do, howcha do
The Pruitts Of Southampton was not a success. Opposite CBS' venerable Red Skelton Show and theatrical movies on NBC, the show scraped the bottom of the ratings (as many ABC series of the period did). ABC still had faith in Diller, but not the format. So in January 1967, the "Pruitts" became The Phyllis Diller Show. She was still Phyllis Pruitt, but this time to earn money, she took in an assortment of boarders. They included former Addams Family star John Astin and comic Marty Ingels as handyman Norman Krump. (Astin and Ingles had co-starred in the critically liked but low-rated 1962 comedy I'm Dickens, He's Finster.) Paul Lynde (who also appeared as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched) was fellow border Harvey. The new format and cast didn't help; "Pruitts/Phyllis" went off the air on September 1st, 1967.
In the fall of 1968, Diller returned to series television. This time around, she hosted an NBC variety series called The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show. Comics Norm Crosby and Rip Taylor were regulars, along with a singing and dancing group called "The Curtain Calls". But up against ABC's Sunday movie showcase and CBS' Mission: Impossible, Beautiful Phyllis Diller aired its last episode three days before Christmas 1968.
Phyllis Diller continued her stand-up comedy routine, appeared on other series and became a spokeswoman for a variety of commercial products; in 2002 at age 85, she retired from live comedy and touring. But she never headlined a television series in the U.S. again. Pity.
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