Over at ESPN, Jayson Stark put together a tremendous oral history on Vin Scully's career entitled "The Man. The Voice. The Stories." It's the retrospective one wants as Scully's never-to-be-seen again career comes to close after 67 seasons behind the Dodgers mic.
Stark's piece, however, is missing one important detail. At no point does it get into Vin Scully's forgotten season as the narrator of "Occasional Wife," a half hour NBC program that ran for 30 blessed episodes in 1966-67. What's that, you're unfamiliar with Scully's sitcom work? Well, let's all take a stroll down Hollywood memory lane, shall we?
"This is a modern fable of the big city…"
So began Vin's intro for the "Occasional Wife" opening credits. Naturally, it set the stage for a show with this awesomely ridiculous premise. Swinging Manhattan bachelor Peter Christopher (Michael Callan) finds himself in a pickle. Like say fellow Lothario Don Draper, he loves the ladies, but unlike the artist formerly known as Dick Whitman, he respects the sanctity of marriage too much to take a wife he'll inevitably cheat on. (Or maybe, he's too cheap. Or hates sharing his closets. Or swings both ways. Does it matter? Not really!) The problem is, the C-Suite squares won't let him move up the corporate ladder at the Brahm's Baby Food Company if he's unmarried. Could you imagine a single man selling strained peas? Oh, the scandal!
Christopher's solution? Hire hat check girl Greta Patterson (Patricia Harty) to pretend to be his betrothed when needed — an occasional wife, if you will — in exchange for an apartment two floors above him and money for art school. Throw in a character named Man-in-the-Middle, who literally watches Greta go up-and-down the fire escape, and well, what could possibly go wrong?
You've probably already guessed, everything. The "plots" included a phony wedding, sham marriage counseling, and someone catching Greta canoodling with another dude. All the expected tropes of a cut-rate middling sitcom. Although to be fair, at first, the show had decent ratings and garnered a few solid reviews according to TVObscurities.com:
Jack Gould of The New York Times praised Patricia Harty, calling her "a young lady of such totally becoming naturalness and winning appeal that she made a viewer more aware of what was right than wrong" with the premiere episode. While he pointed out that the series featured "the most fragile type of storyline" he nevertheless suggested it might become "the best half-hour variation on married life since 'Bewitched'."
And a fair number of not so rosy critiques:
The Washington Post's Lawrence Laurent called the premiere "a sure cure for insomnia. It beats sleeping pills and is guaranteed not to be habit forming."
But we aren't here to debate the merits of "Occasional Wife." Because there aren't any. The only interesting factoids are that it was one of the first shows to go without a laugh track — you really don't know what you got 'til it's gone — and that a beloved, yet oddly uncredited, Los Angeles Dodgers announcer lent his mellifluous Irish lilt to the wacky weekly shenanigans.
Let's take a look at Vin's wonderful work in "The Rivalry" episode, which aired on September 27 1966. Here's the opening scene, in which Scully introduces our hero thusly:
"It was a day like any other day in Peter's life, full of hopes, dreams, and anxiety. In this case, the anxiety was caused by his office rival, Wally Frick, a gifted tattle-tale and a dangerous backstabber."
In a nutshell, Frick (played by Jack Riley, who killed as one of TV's all-time weirdos, Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show) is a weasel trying to steal Christopher's ideas and get in good with the boss when they're both invited to his Connecticut country house. Up in the woods, Peter and Greta do the counterfeit couple thing, and there's a subplot with her boyfriend Bernie and an escaped murderer from a nearby prison… Yadda, yadda, yadda, we want more Scully.
"As the evening wore on, Peter and Greta wore out. In fact, eventually, so did Wally, who finally fainted after singing the entire chorus of The Mikado, in Spanish. With Friday night ruined, Greta wasn't taking any chances with the rest of the weekend"
The conclusion to the episode doesn't feature any of Vin's sweet voiceover… but by all means if you need to know how it plays out. Let's wrap up this little detour with the beginning of "The Promotion," air date October 18, 1966, a 100 percent rehash of the show's aforementioned-in-the-opening-credits premise, which scientifically proves a long-held national belief.
"Peter Christopher, the so-called happy husband. Have you ever seen such a contented look? Of course you haven't. So far, so good. But wait… Greta, the so-called happy wife. Why do they have separate apartments? Because they're not really married. The pretense is for Peter's boss, Mr Brahms. Brahms loves marriage because marriage produces babies and babies eat Brahms baby food. See? Well you will…"
"Occasional Wife" is proof positive Vin Scully can make anything sound beautiful.