Monday, April 4, 2011

My Mother the Car: One of the Worst Shows or Cult Classic?

Everybody knows in the second life
We all come back sooner or later
As anything from a pussycat
To a man eating alligator
Well you all may think my story
Is more fiction than it’s fact
But believe it or not my mother dear
Decided she’d come back

As a car . . .
She's my very own guiding star
A 1928 Porter, that’s my mother dear
‘Cause she helps me through everything I do
And I’m so glad she’s near

My mother the car
My mother the car

- My Mother the Car theme song,
Lyrics by Paul Hampton

To watch a video of the opening and closing themes of My Mother the Car, click on the link below.

Prime television has seen its share of quirky shows.  There has been a TV comedy about a man who talks to a horse (Mr. Ed).  There has also been a series about a nun who uses her starched white cornette to soar through the air (The Flying Nun).  The strangest premise for a show in TV history, however, may have been a show about a talking automobile.  It was not just any car.  Oh no, it was a 1928 Porter.  The car’s voice was not just any voice either.  It was the voice of the car owner’s deceased mother. 
My Mother the Car was a short-lived series which aired from 1965 until 1966 on the NBC network. Only thirty episodes of the show were ever produced. Jerry Van Dyke played the hapless Dave Crabtree, a small-town lawyer with two children (Cindy and Randy).  Crabtree’s wife, Barbara, was played by Maggie Pierce.  On a visit to a used-car lot to purchase an inexpensive second-hand car, Dave is inexplicably drawn to an antique 1928 Porter.  When he takes the wheel, the car speaks to him and informs him that it is the reincarnation of his departed mother, Gladys Crabtree.  Although discouraged by family and friends, Dave buys the car because he doesn’t want to lose “Mother.”  It turns out that Dave is the only who can communicate with the car and hear what it has to say.

1928 Poter

In one of her most offbeat roles, Ann Sothern, who died in 2001, provided the voice for the talking car.  Sothern had been a big star for many years when My Mother the Car appeared on television.  She played private secretary Susan McNamera on Private Secretary from 1953 to 1957.  From 1958 until 1961, she starred in her owned titled series, The Ann Sothern Show, in which portrayed Katy O’Connor, the assistant manager of an upscale New York hotel.
My Mother the Car had a resident villain.  He was Dave Crabtree's nemesis, Captain Bernard Mancini.  Mancini was an antique car collector who coveted Dave’s Porter and was always attempting to procure it from him.  The role of Mancini was played by Avery Schreiber who died in 2002.
Jerry Van Dyke was originally offered the part of Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island.  When he turned it down in favour of the starring role in My Mother the Car, Bob Denver was given the part instead.  Both shows were rather silly, but for some reason, Gilligan’s Island became a huge hit.  It ran from 1964 until 1967.  My Mother the Car, on the other hand, was ridiculed and panned savagely by critics and viewers.  It was cancelled after one season. 

In 2002, TV Guide named My Mother the Car the second worst program of all time (The Jerry Springer Show won top honours).  Nevertheless, My Mother the Car has not been forgotten and has become a veritable cult classic.   Some have even argued that the show was ahead of its time and was unable to exploit the youth market.

I can’t help but wonder how Jerry Van Dyke feels about his decision to forgo Gilligan’s Island.  He may have become as famous as his older brother, Dick.  Well, at least he went on to play the role of assistant coach Luther Van Dam on the hit sitcom Coach. That’s not too shabby.
It’s interesting to note that the creators of My Mother the Car, Allan Burns and Chris Hayward, also collaborated on Get Smart, The Munsters and Rocky and Bullwinkle.  In the 1970s, Burns went on to become the co-creator of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Chris Hayward died of cancer in 2006 at the age of 81.

The Crabtree Family

Just in case you were wondering, the 1928 Porter’s California licence plate number was PZR 317.
- Joanne


  1. I loved every episode of "My Mother The Car" and even built the model kit, but I was five years old. It's not the "Worst. Television. Series. EVER," it's no more ludicrous than "I Dream Of Jeannie" or "Bewitched" but it didn't have a snowball's chance up against its competition. If they'd used Joan Crawford instead of Ann Southern as Gladys Crabtree's voice it could have been "Mommie Dearest The Car." ("NO! UNLEADED! GASOLINE! E*V*E*R!") One of the original 1928 Porter cars (there are two) is up in the Great White North. ("Ma Mere A Moteur?" Zut alors!)

  2. I was 5 Years Old when this show came on the air and I remember it fondly and never understood why it wasn't on the following season (I guess I was too young to understand about cancellations) Anyway, I recently acquired the series on DVD and was surprised to discover the show was in color (we only had a B&W TV in 1965) while most shows from that era filmed their first seasons in B&W and only switched to color if they got popular. I was also surprised to learn that there are 30 episodes for one season. I've watched most of the episodes now and I kind of suspect the episode about half way through the season that had the scenes that made fun of the many advertisers that used "Brand X" as their foil back in those days and encouraging folks to buy "Brand X" may not have gone over too well with the networks advertisers and they may have pushed the network to ditch the show along with its star who lead those scenes. I have always been a Jerry Van Dyke fan, probably because of this series and was glad he finally got his shot at success with "Coach". It's just too bad we didn't see much of him for all those years in between. He would have been good as Gilligan too!