Jun 10, 2013

Gays Next Door in 1972: The Doris Day Show

In 1972, we watched a sitcom called The Doris Day Show, mainly because it was squeezed between the beefcake-heavy Here's Lucy and Sonny and Cher.  It was a Mary Tyler Moore clone, a workplace comedy centered on Doris Martin (Doris Day), a hip, sophisticated journalist for Today's World magazine, living in San Francisco and dating a number of cute guys (including Patrick O'Neal and bisexual rat packer Peter Lawford, left).

And, in a television first, there was a gay couple living next door!  Lance and Lester (Alan Dewitt, Lester Fletcher) were often referred to, and appeared in the November 27, 1972 episode, "The Co-Op."  I didn't catch the flamboyant stereotypes, and no one used the word "gay" -- I wouldn't hear the word on tv until 1976 -- but I saw that two men had found a way to live together, escaping the heterosexist mandate .  Could San Francisco be a "good place"?


Doris Day got her start in the light musical comedies of the 1940s, but she made her mark as a liberated woman in a series of Camelot-era sex comedies with suggestive titles: Pillow Talk (1959), It Happened to Jane (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), That Touch of Mink (1962), The Thrill of it All (1963), Move Over Darling (1963).  Her usual costar, gay actor Rock Hudson, helped her tiptoe around the boundary between not knowing that gay people exist and knowing but not saying.




But her sitcom began as a hayseed comedy!

In its first season (1968-69), The Doris Day Show was Green Acres: City girl Doris, a new widow, moves to her father's ranch with her two sons, Toby (Todd Starke) and Billy (Philip Brown, below, who would go on to a successful career as a soap hunk), plus a ranch hand (James Hampton, right) and a housekeeper.  It aired on Tuesday nights, just after another relic of the 1950s, The Red Skelton Show.

Doris hated hayseed -- she didn't even know that her husband Martin Melcher had signed her up for it.  So in the second season (1969-70), she made some changes: the program became Tammy, without the beefcake. Although still living on the ranch, Doris commuted into San Francisco, where she worked as a secretary for Today's World magazine.  She got two quintessentially urban coworkers, McLean Stevenson and Rose Marie.

In the third season (1970-71): Doris and her sons lived in an apartment over an Italian restaurant in San Francisco (Ranch?  What ranch?), where she got a gay-vague next door neighbor (Billy DeWolf).

By the time my family and I started watching, the transition was complete: Doris was a sophisticated career woman, Ms. instead of Mrs., who had always been single (Kids?  What kids?).  And she managed to finagle some gay neighbors out of the network, something Mary Tyler Moore was never able to do.