Sitcom kids aren’t often very appealing. They’re usually either blandly realistic and serve solely as plot devices, or they’re ridiculously smart, self aware, and integral to the show’s comedy (for better or worse). Rarely does a child actor and his/her character come across as both realistic and entertainingly bright.
One of the rare examples of just such a combination can be found in the series The Courtship of Eddie’s Father which stars Bill Bixby as the father and Brandon Cruz as little Eddie. In ran for three seasons in the late sixties/early seventies, and was based on the 1963 film starring Glenn Ford and Ron Howard (which in turn was based on a novel by Mark Toby). Warner Archive has begun releasing the series to MOD DVD (manufactured on demand) starting with the Complete First Season.
I can’t speak for seasons two and three yet, but the show’s first 26 episodes are some of the most charming, witty, and warm television I’ve seen in some time. The father and son relationship is captured beautifully in both dialogue and visuals, but mostly in the stellar performances of the two stars. Bixby and Cruz seem at home with one another and play off each others expressions and tones perfectly. It’s sweet, funny, and smart, and has quickly become one of my favorite shows from decades past.
Father and son walk along the Southern California shore talking about… stuff. Eddie (Cruz) asks his dad (Bixby) if he’ll ever get married again, but more importantly, if he does can Eddie stay the way he is or will he have to start over again too? It’s a sweetly perfect intro to a series that sees plot lines come and go but always returns to the core story of father and son making do and trying to move on after the loss of their mother/wife.
The intro’s style, the two of them walking or playing while a conversation between them is laid over the scene, is used each episode and returned to as an outro as well. Sometimes the short conversations reference the story or lessons learned from the current episode, but just as often they’re simply brief exchanges that highlight the strength, honesty and openness of the father/son relationship.
Eddie and his father, Tom, are the leads, but there are a couple repeat players who appear in just about every episode of season one. Mrs Livingston (Miyoshi Umeki) is their beloved housekeeper who looks after the boy (and man) and always refers to Tom as Mr. Eddie’s Father. Umeki was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, and it’s easy to see why. She’s warm and intelligent, and the show never stoops to using her nationality as a punchline. Norman (James Komack) is a co-worker of Tom’s whose sole purpose on the show is to get laughs, but behind the scenes Komack was also the show’s creator and frequent director.
A common theme throughout the show is Eddie’s quest to find a suitable wife for his dad. He invites attractive woman home to stay, plays up his dad as a “kind, generous, and handsome” man to anyone who’ll listen, and generally just creates situations that lead to dates. One of the first season’s best examples of this also shows the show’s willingness to comment on potentially controversial social issues too.
The episode “Guess Who’s Coming for Lunch” sees Eddie talking about his new friend who only has a mother who happens to be a model, so Tom invites them over for dinner wink wink nudge nudge. Color him surprised when he opens the door to find a beautiful black woman on the other side. The show could have played it safe and ignored the racial divide or it could have turned it into a major plot point and lecture, but instead it treats it in a believable and humorous way. The two adults go about their date after a brief pause on Tom’s part, and some comedy develops between the two boys. Her son claims the fun thing about being black is that you don’t have to wash very often, and the following morning he starts calling Eddie’s father Uncle Tom…
This is a show that could easily play on TV today (if people’s taste could be trusted), and it’s one that folks with kids could happily share with the little ones as they grow. It’s funny, sweet, and feels incredibly fresh for a four-decade-old series. The worst thing that could be said about it is that Harry Nilsson’s theme song (“Best Friend”) plays way too often in a given 22-minute episode, but it’s still a fitting song for the show. If you’ve never seen it, give it a chance. If you have, then here’s your opportunity to own season one so you watch it, memorize it, and plan for the eventual death of your child’s mother. (Or just enjoy the damn show on a purely entertainment level.)
Warner Bros has released The Courtship of Eddie’s Father: The Complete First Season via their Warner Archive collection. It’s a manufactured-on-demand title, but the show looks as good as it ever did when it originally aired in 1969. All 26 episodes of the first season are spread across four discs. As is the norm with Warner Archive titles there are no extras included.
The Bottom Line
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father is a sweet show that succeeds, unsurprisingly, on the strength of the relationship between Bixby and Cruz and their respective characters. Bixby moved on after three seasons of the show and eventually found a home with his most well known character, Dr. David Banner on The Incredible Hulk. It seems fitting that the soft spoken, mild mannered scientist would be played by such a “kind, generous, and handsome” man.