Preface…The Fan Logic Game…
“Who knew anybody would pay attention?” — Carl Reiner
In constructing a biography for a fictional character, what we know about them is only what we’re told by their creators…and if that information is inconsistent or incomplete, there’s nothing further that can be done…no “basis in reality” exists. As an example, on various episodes of “I Love Lucy,” Ethel Mertz neé Potter is given 3 different middle names…Roberta, Louise, and Mae…and we’re stuck with that discrepancy. To play the Fan Logic Game you assemble all known facts about a fictional character, then try to construct a consistent narrative…which may not be possible, even for something as basic as their name, as with Ethel. Still, for some of us it’s a whale of a good time…and it’s very rude to criticize somebody else’s hobby.
Funny thing is, some people do…well, Uncle Wiki does…they call it “fancruft”…excessive detail, only of interest to the most meticulous (they might say “anal”) of chroniclers. In fact, I’m sure some Wikipedians will consider this blog you’re reading now merely “an indiscriminate collection of information”…based on “things only mentioned once.” Talk about spoilsports, nez pah? Still, since Wikipedia is such a sprawling affair, francruft does creep in…for example, they mention that in the comic strip Peanuts, Violet’s last name is Gray…despite the fact that out of nearly 18,000 strips, it’s mentioned exactly ONCE. So there ya go…Now then…
156.1 Over the past several months, I watched all 158 episodes of “The Dick Van Dyke Show”…and I took notes…boy, did I take notes! Certainly I missed a few things…but full steam ahead with what I got. For family trees, characters that are seen on the show will be represented by a screen capture of the actor or actress. People who are mentioned but never seen will be represented by black circles and connected by black lines, where those connections are known or can be logically inferred. Where you see green circles and lines, that is speculation…the Fan Logic Game. So black, you can’t argue with…watch the show…it’s in there!….green you can.
156.2 Also, TDVDS ran for 5 seasons…I will cite episodes like this: 3-90, where 3 means the 3rd season and 90 is the cumulative number of the episode, from 1 to 158…this will help “position” the information as the series evolved. Finally, there is a problem with collaterals. Generally, unless they’re given last names, and sometimes even if they are, it’s impossible to know on which side of the family uncles, aunts, and cousins belong…and even the sex of a “cousin” may be undetermined.
156.3 This week we start with Millie and Jerry Helper…their trees are simpler than the Petries and Meehans…a good way to ease into the method and madness of the Fan Logic Game. And…there is this minor debate about them among some ‘crufters…which today I will emphatically settle…and don’t look so surprised!
156.4 Dr. Jerry Helper…Lives next door to the Petries in New Rochelle, NY…146 Bonnie Meadow Road. A dentist…sometimes his office is in his home, other times it’s in “the city” and he takes the train with Rob. Of course, it’s perfectly possible he has 2 offices, right? Born in San Francisco…he smokes…at one point he owns a 1958 Edsel…in one episode he wears glasses. Played by Jerry Paris (also born in San Francisco as William Gerald Paris)…Jerry Helper appears in only 35 of 158 episodes. Paris first directed episode 1-16…and the more he directed, the less he acted. We see him below, along with a toupée-less Carl Reiner whuppin’ up the peanut gallery.
156.5 And wouldn’t you know it…there is no definitive answer to the question of his actual first name. In 3-67, Rob calls him “Gerald” and he doesn’t object. In 5-156, he calls himself “Dr. Jerome Helper.” So that’s a pick ‘em. Now the Helpers were named after Jerry and Millie Schoenbaum, neighbors and closest friends of Carl and Estelle Reiner, first in the Bronx, then in New Rochelle, Westchester County. The house-hunting episode (4-119) is based on real life. The real neighbor Jerry was born in 1921, in Chicago, and I found his family in the 1930 and 1940 census records…but he’s always called just “Jerry”…if that would have been a clue.
156.6 Mildred Krumbermacher…Millie Helper…or just plain Mil…Her maiden name was mentioned twice, but never spelled out…so it could be Crumbermacher…the net is split about 50/50. But for some reason, a K is always funnier than a C, you know?. Played in 61 episodes by Ann Morgan Guilbert…that’s her high school yearbook picture above. Tap dancer with Laura in USO…her father was a presser (4-122) or a tailor (5-156)…she smokes. Early on, has an annoying habit of repeating herself…He’s awful…Jerry, you’re awful…Isn’t he awful? Fortunately, this gimmick was abandoned after the 2nd season. And Chart 543 shows what we know about Millie and Jerry’s families…
156.7 …and it isn’t that much, really. Except for Jerry and Millie…and their kids, whom we’ll get to in a moment…everyone else appears or is mentioned only once. Now I said back in 156.1 that black lines represent things actually said on the show, or that can be logically inferred…green lines are speculation. And there is a principle I use in playing the Fan Logic Game illustrated here with Millie’s niece Cynthia…called Occam’s Razor.
156.8 William of Ockham was a 14th century philosopher whose frequent and effective used of the doctrine of lex parisomoniae lead to it’s being nicknamed as his “razor”…most popularly stated 300 years later as “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”…or as we would say today “Keep it simple, stupid!” In plain English, when you have 2 equally plausible explanations, and no reason to choose one over the other, chose the one that is the simplest.
156.9 In 3-82, it’s Millie’s sister who owns the cabin on Lake Sissimanunu…and in 5-151, when Alan Brady plans to attend the Petries’ anniversary party for the Helpers, Millie invites a bunch of friends and relatives, including her niece Cynthia, who auditions a dance routine. It is not said there is a connection between Millie’s sister and niece. On the other hand, no other Krumbermacher siblings are ever mentioned. Cynthia could be the daughter of the SIssimanunu sister, or of a different sibling. Occam’s Razor recommends you not invent relatives when you don’t have to, and here we don’t have to…hence the green line, indicating speculation.
156.10 As to Jerry’s 4 cousins…well, actually 3 cousins and one cousin-in-law…there’s Sheila Marshak, his red-headed “kid cousin” who recommends a marriage councilor (3-92). Sally sees her but we don’t…we see the blonde he’s also out with, psychiatrist and family friend Dr. Toni Gagliarti. Then we have cousin Terry, who is also at the anniversary party…some on the net say “Terry Helper” but we must stick to what we see and hear on the show…your cousin need not have the same last name as you, and here he is only called Terry.
156.11 He? Truth is, we don’t see him so don’t know his sex. But in the 20th century, a whole group of surnames, used as given names for boys, were changing into girls’ names…Lynn, Joyce, Shirley, Dale, Kelly, Allison, Dana, Lindsay, Laurie, Beverly, Hillary, Vivian, etc. On TDVDS, these tended to be used for men… Stacey Petrie, Rob’s brother…Racy Tracy Rattigan, the obnoxious Brit played by Richard Dawson…Leslie “Les” Merkle*, Rob’s old army buddy turned movie director, by Michael Constantine. Women were given more traditional feminine names, so my story is that Terry’s a male…and I’m sticking to it.
* As this transition progressed, there was the unusual possibility of a father and daughter sharing the same name, and I knew of one. I went to high school with a girl named Leslie…and my father worked with her father, also named Leslie, or Les as they called him.
156.12 And the married couple Hy and Blanche are at the party as well…Millie warns Laura about them…she’s a flirt, he’s a lush…and she calls them “Jerry’s cousins”…obviously one is a cousin-in-law, no way to know which. The trouble is when Blanche asks Rob to guess who she is, he knows she is Blanche because they’ve met before (not shown on the show) and he calls her “Millie’s cousin.” What do we do with that…Millie said she’s “Jerry’s cousin.” Yes, a cousin on one side of the family can marry a cousin on the other side…unusual, but it happens. But applying Occam’s Razor, there is a simpler explanation…Rob considers any cousin of Jerry’s to be a cousin of Millie’s…by marriage…and that’s how he remembers Blanche.
156.13 Finally, how many children do the Helpers have? Really, I’m surprised there’s any debate about this…on the show, it’s stated as clear as day. In 2-44, Rob is directing a play for the PTA…Millie wants the role of Cleopatra, but they’re going to give it to the kindergarten teacher. Millie says: “Is it right for the kindergarten teacher to play Cleopatra?” and Jerry replies: “Is it right for a mother of 3…sit down, Millie.” This is the only time their exact number of children is mentioned, so there is no contradictory information. It’s 3…Patty, Freddie, and Ellen.
156.14 In the entire run of the series, Ellen is mentioned several times, but only appears twice…in 1-5 and 1-19, played by different girls. We hear about Freddie a lot, but he is only shown 3 times, all played by the same boy…you see him in Chart 543, from the car commercial Mel’s trying to direct, wearing a jersey that inexplicably reads “Metts” with 2 T’s. Early on, Richie plays with both Ellen and Freddie…as he gets older, it’s more just Freddie.
156.15 Patty is on the show only twice, but is never seen or heard…both times she is talking to an adult on the telephone from the Helper house…she is clearly older, because in 2-52 she is babysitting Richie and Freddie…”the little ones” as Millie calls them…and calls Millie at the Petries’ when they start getting out of hand. Those who think there are only 2 Helper children suggest that when they say “Patty” they mean “Ellen”…that it’s just “a mistake”…which is not how the Fan Logic Game is played…you can’t just say everything is a mistake, what fun is that? Altho, as we shall see, some things can reasonably be judged as misstatements.
156.16 But the relative ages confirm Patty is older…Ellen is said to be Richie’s age, in Richie’s class at school, and Freddie is a year older. So “Ellen” can hardly be baby-sitting Richie and Freddie! The question is, was there time for the Helpers to have an older daughter? Now I don’t like doing time-lines, because they are almost always completely irreconcilable…how many years married, how many years working together, things like that tend to be all over the board, and not just on TDVDS…but I’ll take a stab at it.
156.17 Rob and Laura were married while he was stationed at Camp Crowder in Missouri. None of their parents were invited, a bone of contention on more than one occasion. Thus episode 4-104 is a flashback to when Laura first met Rob’s parents…they have only been married a few months, and at that time Millie and Jerry are already married. After Rob got out of the service, he worked in his hometown of Danville, Illinois for 2 years (4-124) before moving to New York to work with Alan Brady. And he was at his new job for only a couple of months when Laura announces she’s pregnant…in the writing staff’s old office (2-37).
156.18 And in 1-15, Millie is pregnant with somebody while Laura is pregnant with Richie. The time is near, and Rob has been going to bed at night fully clothed, to be ready for the trip to the hospital…he learned this trick from Jerry, who did it, according to Millie, for Ellen. Trouble is, Freddie is older than Ellen, so who is Millie pregnant with? If she’s already had Ellen, the youngest, then they’ve run out of kids! She must have meant Patty or Freddie…so she really did misspeak…using a name they were planning for this baby. See what I mean about time-lines!
156.19 At any rate, the existence of older sister Patty now boils down to how long Rob was in the Army, and I confess I don’t have the answer to that, if it’s known at all. But if he stayed in another year, then worked in Danville for 2 years…that would give Millie and Jerry 3 years to have Patty and Freddie…and the Richie and Ellen pregnancies could then coincide. That way, Patty would be 2 years older than Freddie…or if Rob stayed in for 2 years, 3 years older. Seems downright plausible to me. But there is one last puzzle.
156.20 Jerry says “mother of 3″ in episode 2-44, the 14th episode of the second season. Freddie and Ellen were established early in the first season…but Patty, on the phone, didn’t come along until 8 episodes later, 2-52. So how do we wiggle out of that one? Well, several possibilities occur to me…the episodes could have been filmed in a different order than that in which they were broadcast. Or it might have been assumed as a premise of the show that the Helpers had 3 children, and as of 2-44 the third one simply hadn’t been mentioned yet. Or there might have been an earlier reference to Patty and I missed it! But I have a more interesting explanation, and it goes back to the very first episode, 1-1, which was also the pilot.
156.21 And in the pilot, and only in the pilot, the Petries had different next-door-neighbors! That’s them below, Sam (Michael Keith), Dot or Dottie (Barbara Eiler), and their 15-year-old daughter Janie (Mary Lee Dearing)….no last name given…some assume it was Susman or Sussman…as in Janie Susman, the “girl down the street” who babysat for the Petries’ lawyer Marvin Birmingham in 3-91, altho neither of those characters were ever seen. And not for nothing, but there is another neighborhood Janie, played by Wendy Wilson, who goes crazy for the Redcoats in 4-114, altho her mother’s name is given as Carol.
156.22 And here’s another case where the Fan Logic Game allows, in my opinion, something to be chalked up to a slip of the tongue…in the first half of the pilot, Janie is not seen, and is mentioned only once, by Rob, as a babysitter for Richie…and he calls her “Jeanie.” In the second half of the show, when she is present, she is addressed as “Janie” a total of 8 times, by Laura, Rob, and her father. So it’s fair to say her name is Janie…whether “Jeanie” was misspoken by Dick Van Dyke the actor, or was a mistake in the script that nobody caught, is a good question.
157.23 But…to come to the point, Janie does babysit Richie in the pilot, she and her parents do live next door, and Richie goes to school with and plays with her unseen younger sister, Ellen! So perhaps “mother of 3″ comes from the fact that somebody remembered that “Ellen” next door had an older babysitting sister…except the neighbors in the pilot had no last name…all the more reason to speculate they were Susmans…and never Helpers! Ann Morgan Guilbert said that she and Jerry Paris were recruited when it was decided the neighbors should be played by comedic actors, which Keith and Eiler were not. Back next week with more…same time, same channel…
“The Andy Griffith Show” had that early 60s Mercury Comet, with the slanty tail-lights, that pops up episode after episode. TDVDC had this chess set…usually on the Petries’ dining table, altho once it finds its way to a ski lodge. And one time, Rob and Jerry actually play a game. It’s Rob’s move, but his mind is on other things…I hope he notices his king’s in check from Jerry’s squid-headed bishop.
This set is called Ganine Gothic, after Peter Ganine, the sculptor who designed it in 1947. It proved enormously popular, and was still available from the Sears Wishbook two decades later. Oddly enough, a more traditional set is shown at Alan Brady’s apartment in the pilot episode, below…and never again.
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