Unseen since their initial live broadcast in 1952, the first season episodes of the popular TV comedy series “Mister Peepers” is finally available on DVD. This presentation, made in conjunction with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, helps to fill a considerable void in appreciating the development of American TV comedy.
“Mister Peepers” was the gentle, mild-mannered science teacher played brilliantly by Wally Cox, a low-keyed comedian who stood out in the boisterous early years of television by the virtue of being so soft-spoken and unrushed. Whereas the other funnymen of the era, such as Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason, made their reputations with brash and loud antics, Cox never raised his voice or displayed any emotion above the level of slight bewilderment. By playing against the comic type of his day, Cox literally achieved more by doing less.
As a series, “Mister Peepers” centers on the unlikely predicaments that the quiet little science teacher gets himself into. Physical slapstick was prevalent, but Cox’s unhurried personality made the knockabout all the more amusing. Whether getting stuck in a basketball hoop or having his right hand lodged in a halibut, Cox’s Mister Peepers went about his adventures with a combination of amazement that he was in the midst of surreal madness. To pump up the volume, he was surrounded by loud jokers including Marion Lorne as the flighty home economics teacher and a young Tony Randall as a know-it-all fellow teacher.
During its run, “Mister Peepers” was among the top-watched programs of the early 1950s. But because it was not filmed, it was never ready for reruns and future generations were unaware of it. Kinescopes (16mm films taken from TV monitors of the live broadcasts) preserved the episodes, but they’ve been out of circulation for so many years that many people assumed they were lost. Their preservation is, sadly, not pristine – in some cases, the audio tracks become difficult to understand.
Still, the fact “Mister Peepers” survives in any condition is a cause for celebration. Those who recall the program from its heyday will be in for a wonderful reunion with this refreshingly original program. And those discovering it for the first time will appreciate this gentle, lovable little comedy and its one-of-a-kind star.