Nov 26, 2012

Nanny and the Professor

There are two kinds of servants on tv.
1. The world-weary, laconic observer of the lunacy (Hazel, Beulah, Geoffrey on Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Benson on Soap).
2. The "breath of fresh air" whose joie de vivre revitalizes a failing family (Mr. Belvedere, Charles on Charles in Charge, Tony on Who's the Boss, Fran on The Nanny).

Nanny and the Professor (1970-71) which became a must-see because it aired between The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, was an early example of the "breath of fresh air" type.

Phoebe Figalilly (Juliet Mills), a proper British nanny, complete with deerstalker cap and Inverness cape,  sweeps in like Mary Poppins to take control of the household of stuffy English professor Everett (Richard Long of The Big Valley, rumored to be gay, shown here working out with gay icon Rock Hudson).

His kids: intellectual teen Hal (David Doremus), athletic preteen Butch (Trent Lehman), and baby of the family Prudence (Kim Richards).

Nanny draws from the "I've got a secret" genre by teasing at having magical powers, though nothing is ever stated openly.

For instance, in "Spring, Sweet Spring," Nanny thinks a family picnic would foster togetherness, but everyone has other plans.  Then a series of humorous accidents and coincidences push them, one by one, to the park, where the picnic is set out for them.

Mostly girls liked Nanny and the Professor, drawn to Nanny's independence, courage, and penchant for deflating masculine egos.  But there were several points of interest for gay boys.

1. The opening song sounded distinctly like the two boys were attracted to the Nanny ("soft and sweet, warm and wonderful...oohh, our magical mystical Nanny!").  But heterosexual desire was at a minimum: Hal liked a girl in one episode, and Butch, never.  Professor Everett, in fact, actively fled from several girls anxious to snare him.  He could easily be read as gay.

2. Hal was a shy, intellectual, gay-vague outsider, like Peter on The Brady Bunch.

3. There was no beefcake, but my friend Dan thought that Hal was cute, and there were several dreamy guest stars, including Van Williams and Vincent Van Patten.

After Nanny, David Doremus retired from acting, and now manages a mobile electronics company.  Trent Lehman tragically committed suicide in 1982.  Juliet Mills has been very active in movies and on tv, notably as a dizzy witch on the soap Passions (1999-2008).