- My Mother the Car
My Mother the Car
My Mother the Car title screen
Genre Fantasy sitcom Created by Allan Burns
Written by Allan Burns
James L. Brooks
Directed by Rod Amateau
Starring Jerry Van Dyke Voices of Ann Sothern Theme music composer Paul Hampton Opening theme "My Mother, the Car", sung by Paul Hampton Composer(s) Ralph Carmichael Country of origin United States Language(s) English No. of seasons 1 No. of episodes 30 Production Producer(s) Rod Amateau Editor(s) Richard K. Brockway
Camera setup Multi-camera Running time 22–24 minutes Production company(s) Cottage Industries, Inc.
United Artists Television
Broadcast Original channel NBC Audio format Monaural Original run September 14, 1965– September 6, 1966
My Mother the Car is an American fantasy sitcom which aired for a single season on NBC between September 14, 1965 and September 6, 1966. A total of thirty episodes were produced by United Artists Television.
Critics and adult viewers generally panned the show, often savagely. In 2002, TV Guide proclaimed it to be the second-worst of all time, just behind The Jerry Springer Show. In 2010 The O'Reilly Factor recorded its viewers as listing it as the worst show of all time. The show's co-creator, Allan Burns, went on to create some of the most critically acclaimed shows in television history, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Lou Grant. Renowned television producer James L. Brooks, who later collaborated with Burns on these series, created, among others, Room 222 and Taxi, and served as executive producer of The Simpsons (which later parodied the show in the "Lovematic Grandpa" segment of The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase), got his start in television sitcoms on My Mother the Car when he was called upon to rewrite a script for an episode of the series. The other co-creator of My Mother the Car, Chris Hayward, produced and wrote for Barney Miller during its first several seasons.
The show follows the exploits of attorney David Crabtree (played by Jerry Van Dyke), who, while shopping at a used car lot for a station wagon to serve as a second family car, instead purchases a dilapidated 1928 "Porter" touring car. Crabtree heard the car call his name in a woman's voice, which later turned out to be that of his deceased mother, Gladys (voiced by Ann Sothern). The car, a valuable antique, is a reincarnation of his mother who talks (only to Crabtree, of course) through the car's radio. The dial light flashed in sync with "Mother's" voice. In an effort to get his family to accept the old, tired car, Crabtree brings it to a custom body shop for a full restoration. The car was originally coveted by a collector named Captain Manzini even before its restoration, but Crabtree purchases and restores the car before Manzini can acquire it.
For the rest of the series, Crabtree is pursued by the avaricious Captain Manzini (Avery Schreiber), who is determined to acquire the valuable automobile from Crabtree. In a running gag characterizing his shifty nature, Manzini (who resembles a 1920s silent film villain) always mistakes Crabtree's name when speaking to him. "Now, then, Crabapple..." "That's Crabtree." "Whatever."
Others in the cast included Maggie Pierce as wife Barbara and Cindy Eilbacher (the sister of Lisa Eilbacher) and Randy Whipple as the kids, Cindy and Randy.
My Mother the Car belonged to the genre of "wacky" TV sitcoms popular at the time that featured supernatural characters and cartoonish situations, such as Bewitched and My Favorite Martian, but it failed and for many years afterward was widely ridiculed as the quintessential "worst show of all time," though many competitors have vied for that title since then. It did not help that the highly respected Dick Van Dyke Show, starring Jerry's brother, was still on the air at the time on another network. Audience demographics was an emerging science in the mid-1960s. My Mother the Car was a hit with younger viewers, but no one at the time knew just how to exploit the youth market with a live-action sitcom.
The show was created by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward, who had better success with Rocky & Bullwinkle, The Munsters, and Get Smart (which debuted the same season). AMT, Aluminum Model Toys, a well-known producer of plastic model car kits, introduced a 1/25-scale kit of the Porter in late 1965.
The composer of the theme music was Paul Hampton. It was used on an episode of Arrested Development also called "My Mother, the Car".
The “1928 Porter” which is “My Mother the Car” was largely a fiction. Real Porter cars did exist: The first was a steam automobile (Boston, Massachusetts, 1900–01) and the second a powerful luxury car made (Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1919–22) from parts left over from production of Finley R Porter’s FRP. By the 1960s, both cars were extinct.
When shooting of a sit-com pilot at the MGM-TV studios required an antique car, assistant prop man Kaye Trapp leased the producers a 1924 Ford T-tub rod he recently bought from his friend and its builder, Norman Grabowski, “father of the T-bucket” and bit actor. Both Grabowski and the car had earlier appeared in the B-comedy Sex Kittens Go to College (1960). The touring auto sported diamond-tufted naugahyde upholstery, oversized white tonneau, plush black carpeting, chrome windshield braces and half-moon hubcaps. Trapp and studio special effects man Norm Breedlove (father of land-speed-record-setter Craig) set to work modifying the car to give it a distinctive look, including elongated engine compartment, palladian-style brass radiator with “Porter” script, running-board-mounted spare tire, outboard fuel tank and antique cane-clad trunk. (It was later fitted, as needed, with special effects hardware such as an oil tank drip to simulate a smoking engine and "tear ducts" in the headlamp bezels.) Off-camera operation of electrics was by umbilical cable. The signature features gave it an anachronistic look, resembling cars of earlier eras.
The power train was the rod-grade 283 cu in V8 (Chevrolet small-block) engine mated with Powerglide automatic transmission. The ‘Porter’ was registered (as a modified Ford) in 1964 with the contemporary yellow-on-black California license plates PZR 317 evident throughout the show's run. Though it bore a few design similarities with the FRP Porter, which may have suggested the tv car’s moniker, it is rumoured that it was named after the show’s production manager, W A Porter.
When series production was approved, the Grabowski rod was retained as the ‘hero’ car, and a second—-‘stunt’, or special-effects—-car was commissioned and built by celebrated car customizer George Barris, whose Barris Kustom Industries licensed it to AMT for model kit production (an inaccurate rendering) and also toured it after series wrap with other of his creations. The stunt car, not conventionally driveable, was ingeniously equipped with apparatus to let Mother "drive herself" via a system of levers and mirrors operated by a short human driver concealed on a tractor seat below the removed rear floorboards. It also had other special mechanical features such as gimbaled headlamps.
Both cars had the dashboard-mounted radio head with flashing dial light through which Mother "talked" (though only to her son). These scenes were filmed with a stand-in; Ann Sothern’s voice was dubbed to the soundtrack in post-production. Generally, the hero car was used for driving shots and close-ups, and the stunt car for long shots and special effects sequences. Either was available as a stand-in in case of mechanical breakdown on set. Though made to represent one car, they can be distinguished by minor details, and actually appeared together in one episode.
Additionally, a third car was used in filming, representing both the dilapidated car-lot Porter of the pilot and, in another episode, a “1932 Porter”. This car may not have been complete, and its existence and whereabouts are unknown.
The hero car, long in the collection of Harry Costa (South San Francisco, California), is currently in the ownership and operation of David Bodnar (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). The stunt car was once owned by casino giant William Harrah, who had one of the largest special-interest and antique auto collections (Reno, Nevada) of all time. After Harrah's death in 1984, the auction catalogue advertised the lot as having a carnation red body with white top and created from parts of a Model T, a Maxwell, a Hudson and a Chevrolet. Following ownership by Rear View Mirror Museum (Nags Head, North Carolina) and later Herbie's Antique & Classic Car Museum (Mount Pleasant, South Carolina), the stunt Porter is currently on display in Star Cars Museum (Gatlinburg, Tennessee).
- Jerry Van Dyke as Dave Crabtree
- Maggie Pierce as Barbara Crabtree
- Ann Sothern as 1928 Porter (Gladys Crabtree)
- Avery Schreiber as Captain Bernard Manzini
- Cindy Eilbacher as Cindy Crabtree
- Randy Whipple as Randy Crabtree
Episode # Episode title Original airdate 1-1 "Come Honk Your Horn" September 14, 1965 1–2 "The De-Fenders" September 21, 1965 1–3 "What Makes Auntie Freeze" September 28, 1965 1–4 "Lassie, I Mean Mother, Come Home" October 5, 1965 1–5 "Burned at the Steak" October 12, 1965 1–6 "I'm Through Being a Nice Guy" October 19, 1965 1–7 "Lights, Camera, Mother" October 25, 1965 1–8 "The Captain Manzini Grand Prix" November 2, 1965 1–9 "TV or Not TV" November 9, 1965 1–10 "My Son, the Ventriloquist" November 16, 1965 1–11 "My Son, the Judge" November 23, 1965 1–12 "And Leave the Drive-In to Us" November 30, 1965 1–13 "For Whom the Horn Honks" December 7, 1965 1–14 "Hey Lady, Your Slip Isn't Showing" December 14, 1965 1–15 "Many Happy No-Returns" December 21, 1965 1–16 "Shine On, Shine On, Honeymoon" December 28, 1965 1–17 "I Remember Mama, Why Can't You Remember Me?" January 4, 1966 1–18 "Goldporter" January 11, 1966 1–19 "The Incredible Shrinking Car" January 18, 1966 1–20 "I'd Rather Do it Myself, Mother" January 25, 1966 1–21 "You Can't Get There From Here" February 1, 1966 1–22 "A Riddler on the Roof" February 8, 1966 1–23 "My Son, the Criminal" February 15, 1966 1–24 "An Unreasonable Facsimile" February 22, 1966 1–25 "Over the Hill to the Junkyard" March 1, 1966 1–26 "It Might as Well Be Spring as Not" March 8, 1966 1–27 "Absorba the Greek" March 15, 1966 1–28 "The Blabbermouth" March 22, 1966 1–29 "When You Wish Upon a Car" March 29, 1966 1–30 "Desperate Minutes" April 5, 1966
The current owner of the show is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer which bought United Artists in 1981. All 30 episodes are available for viewing on hulu.com. The first five episodes are available on YouTube.
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