BOOTLEG FILES 381: “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” (1968-70 TV series starring Hope Lange, Edward Mulhare and Charles Nelson Reilly).
LAST SEEN: A few episodes can be found on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Once-popular program that seems to have vanished.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Someday, with luck.
Last week’s column, as you may recall, focused on a zany 1973 TV commercial starring Charles Nelson Reilly as a singing banana. (Yes, that was considered normal in the 1970s.) In writing the column, I recalled Reilly’s role in the TV series “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” That was one of my favorite programs when I was a kid – I used to watch it when it was in syndicated reruns in the 1970s – and I was nostalgic to revisit its episodes. However, a quick spin around Amazon.com came up with nothing. The show, it seems, never made it to DVD.
Ah, but a visit to the collector-to-collector treasure chest known as iOffer.com produced a number of fan-created DVDs featuring unauthorized collections of the series’ episodes. And, thus, a new addition to The Bootleg Files was created!
“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” was part of a peculiar trend in 1960s sitcoms, where a light brand of science fiction was used to mix low-level special effects with lowbrow comedy. Beloved programs like “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” – as well as less-than-beloved crap like “My Mother, The Car” – were staples of the decade. But if a witch and a genie could score ratings, why couldn’t a ghost?
20th Century Fox produced “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” in 1947 as a film starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. The film provided a sweetly comic story about the impossible love between a young woman and the ghost of a salty sea captain. The studio’s television production unit felt this old chestnut could be warmed up as a weekly sitcom. In order to broaden its appeal, the original property was updated from Edwardian London to contemporary New England.
The casting of the show’s leads was, on the surface, somewhat unusual because neither actor was particularly well versed in comedy. Irish actor Edward Mulhare was better known for tough guy roles in films including “Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer” (1955) and “Von Ryan’s Express” (1965). Taking on Rex Harrison’s role for the small screen marked the second time that Mulhare followed in the British star’s steps: he replaced Harrison as Henry Higgins in the Broadway production of “My Fair Lady.” But the studio insisted that Mulhare’s character retain a physical resemblance to Harrison’s Captain Gregg in the 1947 film, so the blonde and clean-shaven Mulhare had to wear a fake beard and dye-darkened hair for the series.
In gaining the role of the widowed Mrs. Muir, Hope Lange enjoyed a chance to jump-start her stagnant career. Lange came to prominence in the mid-1950s as a contract player at 20th Century Fox, and she earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the scandalous “Peyton Place.” For a while, she seemed to do no wrong – leading roles in “The Young Lions,” Frank Capra’s “Pocketful of Miracles” and the Elvis drama “Wild in the Country” were among her most prominent films. By the mid-1960s, however, Lange’s film career abruptly tanked. With no big screen prospects available, Lange accepted this small screen role.
Perhaps recognizing that Mulhare and Lange would not be able to carry a comedy series on their own, the producers expanded the cast to include a pair of reliable character actors with a penchant for mirthful scene stealing. White-haired Reta Shaw was recruited as Mrs. Muir’s wisecracking housekeeper Martha, while Charles Nelson Reilly was cast as Claymore, Mrs. Muir’s landlord and the great-nephew of Captain Gregg. A great deal of mileage was squeezed out of Captain Gregg’s chronic indignation of having the neurotic Claymore as a descendant – and since profanity was verboten on network TV, the show’s writers allowed Captain Gregg a wave of oceanographic insults to pour on Claymore. Thus, Claymore was called a “miserable barnacle,” a “cowardly codfish” and a “larcenous sea slug” by the agitated ghost.
In order to appeal to a younger audience, the widowed Mrs. Muir was given two adorable kids and a doggie named Scruffy (who, in real life, was rescued from an animal shelter just two days ahead of being euthanized). While the program may have seemed a tad out-of-touch with the groovy late 1960s, Mrs. Muir was presented as a modern, economically self-sufficient woman (a writer) who ran her home without male financial assistance – and in one episode, she even ran for political office.
As an aside, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” was one of four sitcoms that debuted in 1968 where the central character was a single working mother raising children” Lucille Ball’s “Here’s Lucy,” The Doris Day Show” and the groundbreaking Diahann Carroll series “Julia” also provided a sisterhood of independent women.
“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” relied on a number of guest star appearances to keep its stories fresh. Most of these stars were best known for the TV work – including a pair from 20th Century Fox’s “Batman” series, Stafford Repp and Yvonne Craig. Occasionally, there were some surprises: Mark Lester from the Oscar-winning film “Oliver!”, singer Harry Nilsson and a young Richard Dreyfuss turned up along the way.
“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” on the whole, was rarely a laugh-out-loud funny series – even Lange would complain in an interview that the program missed a number of original comic opportunities involving the ghost’s interference in the characters’ lives. But the show had a certain charm and eccentricity, and the chemistry between Mulhare and Lange was highly addictive – the actors achieved more passion in their quite glances than most performers could ever achieve in full-throttle romancing. The most memorable episode, titled “Medicine Ball,” enabled Mrs. Muir to dream herself into Captain Gregg’s era, thus allowing the pair to finally engage in physical contact. This was one of the most beautifully romantic episodes ever produced for a sitcom.
But that is not to say the show was lacking in humor. Reilly’s manic comedy gave the series most of its laughs, with the inept Claymore as the butt of lightly amusing (if vaguely predictable) jokes. Shaw’s exasperated housekeeper stole the show with her caustic commentary on the bizarre events that swirled around her.
The series debuted on NBC in 1968, but was abruptly cancelled after one season. A hue and cry from the show’s fans and an Emmy Award for Lange helped resurrect the show for a second season on ABC. Lange won a second Emmy the following year, but the network also abruptly pulled the plug after a single seasonal spin. However, the series became a staple of the rerun circuit via syndication to local TV stations around the U.S. in the pre-cable days.
So whatever happened to “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”? A website called TVShowsOnDVD.com reported a “rumor” in March 2006 that MPI Media Group was going to release the program on DVD. But that never came about. Later on, there was talk that Sean Connery was going to play Captain Gregg in a film remake of the program, but that never happened.
Today, anyone who wants to see “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” would have to purchase one of those unauthorized collector-to-collector DVDs on iOffer.com or squint their way through the less-than-pristine VHS dubs that can be found on YouTube. This, of course, stinks – “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” was a pleasant series and it would be wonderful if a new generation could discover it in properly restored commercial releases. But until that happens, let’s be glad that the bootleggers are busy keeping the show alive.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!
I have loved this show since it’s original broadcast in 1968, and over the last few years. Collected more than one taped from tv set.
When I found out about the legit release from Australia, did I order it? You bet! The all region dvd player I had to buy to play them cost less than the two seasons did, buti don’t care. I got the e mail today that my dvd’s are on the way, and I am doing the ultimate happy dance!
For some reason, the studio seems reluctant to release this series on DVD, apparently because it fell short of the required 50 episodes. There are forces at work however who are encouraging the release. The late William Self once head of the studio was one of those who pushed for it’s release. We can only hope that in an industry that prides itself on “give the public what it wants” will eventually understand that there is a very large segment of the public that wants this.
the ghost and mrs muir is finally getting a release in australia in april 2014!!!!!
This is was like what happened with Dark Shadows and Dan Curtis. Everyone made copies of the show and sold them. Then Dan Curtis found out and realized he could be making money releasing the show on VHS and eventually DVD, and he did. Could someone have an address where one can contact the people who own the rights to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and get them to release this show on DVD????? GMM fans have been waiting for years and the time has come to release the show from its prison!!!!
The ill-fated TV seris “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” is a classic in the same vein as “Dark Shadows” or “The Lone Ranger,” with a loyal fan following that has grown weary and disillusioned that the series never made it to DVD. It had class, smart humor, originality, romance, fine actors, and thoroughly entertaining episodes. Could MPI Media Group just make a sound investment and release this beloved TV series (both seasons, please) I really don’t want to invest in a bootleg version.
This is a wonderful series that has stood the test of time and is still entertaining and relevant. Lead actors provide better performances and chemistry than their contemporaries in most family sit/coms. This show’s original run wss cut short by poor programing decisions not the quality of the production. I’m truly disappointed it hasn’t found its way to DVD yet.
Please put the tv series The Ghost & Mrs Muir on dvd for the public to buy. If they can do Get Smart and F Troop on dvd why not this series. I have the complete set of these others which are pure classics.
There’s an active GaMM loop on Yahoo and plenty of fanfiction.net action. If you want to complain about the lack of DVD action, go to Amazon.com and leave a comment where the DVD is supposed to be!
What is the matter with these people, they make a good, clean, fairly intelligent semi comedy series, and they are willing to let it rot in a vault somewhere. There is a new generation of people who are disgusted with quasi-porno shows, blue language and the ilk, we need a show like this to show that funny CAN be clean, not foul! I can’t stand network programming anymore, would rather watch re-runs of Pawn Kings or Swamp People!!At least you learn something. Is anyone listening???? I’m waiting!! Coralie Dreyer