Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Original Script of "Down's Syndrome" from TomFontana.com

A treat for St. Elsewhere fans--Tom Fontana's very first script for television, for the show's third episode.

Writer and producer Tom Fontana.
Tom Fontana has had a long career in television which started on St. Elsewhere, and led to his critically-acclaimed dramas Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz among others. At his website, www.tomfontana.com, he was graciously posted some of his scripts for the public's enjoyment, including one from St. Elsewhere.

It's the very first script he wrote for television, back in 1982, for St. Elsewhere's third episode, "Down's Syndrome". He had previously been a playwright, and had never written television before this. The page linked below explains the background behind the episode, including how his portrayal of Down's Syndrome drew criticism from George Will, who has a Down's child.

What mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow. Here's the link:
http://www.tomfontana.com/scripts/Episode3Notes.html

If you recall the episode, you may notice a scene that was excised from the version that aired. In it, Andrew Rhinehardt's parents tell the story of how their terrorist-bomber son lost his way. IMHO, they made the right choice. What was left in--a brief comment about how he fell in with political radicals--was enough to paint the picture.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Final Mrs. Hufnagel Playlist on YouTube

Just a reminder that I've compiled all the Mrs. Hufnagel clips into a playlist on YouTube. All together, they total an hour and a half of season three St. Elsewhere goodness, and I love that you can just click the first video of a YouTube playlist and it just plays them all in a row.

Here's the link to the now-completed Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles YouTube playlist.

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 20

Elliott meets Mrs. Hufnagel's son, Alvin, and bids her a final farewell with a burial at sea.

Dr. Elliott Axelrod (Stephen Furst) brings mirth to a
grieving Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd),
with some help from Gary Larson.
At last, we've reached the final chapter in the saga of Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop), St. Eligius's most memorable patient. Dr. Elliott Axelrod (Stephen Furst), is a carrying the box that contains her ashes, which Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel) assumes contains cookies. After Elliott explains what the box is for, Wayne tries to convince Elliott that his obligation as a doctor ends when the patient dies, but Elliott feels bad for the medical mismanagement that led to her demise, and he feels that she deserves to have her burial wishes carried out with respect. Elliott intends to have a memorial service in the chapel and bury her at sea, to which Wayne responds by suggesting he just flush her down the toilet.

In the chapel, Elliott is having a solitary moment of remembrance for his departed patient when he is joined in the chapel by a despondent Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd). Auschlander is mourning the death of his old friend, Dr. George Wyler, who was featured in a three-episode arc earlier in the season. Dr. Wyler was a Nobel-winning humanitarian who worked in Africa, but ran afoul of the government in his adopted homeland, and returned there knowing that the consequences would be dire. And lo, they were--he was greeted with a hail of machine-gun fire. During George's visit to St. Eligius, he and Daniel shared some meaningful moments while playing the chapel's organ, so it was a fitting place for Daniel to mourn his old friend. Elliott approaches, and can't but giggle at the Far Side comic in the newspaper sitting on the organ ("The real reason dinosaurs became extinct"), which brings a smile to both their faces.

Alvin Hufnagel (Boyd Bodwell) bids his mother a curt
farewell before kicking his guests out of his new apartment.
Wayne and Elliott then pay a visit to Mrs. Hufnagel's apartment, which Elliott has inherited. Wayne discovers a personally autographed photo of Bobby Orr, and Elliott explains that she was a season ticket holder to the Bruins; however, the seats have been left to Ernest Borgnine. (Wayne feels that Fuji was the real star of McHale's Navy.) He finds a baseball glove that was given to her by Ted Williams, which tells Wayne he can keep. Elliott is planning on selling the stuff, or giving it away, with the exception of the gerbil, which has joined its owner in the great beyond. Then there's a knock on the door. It's Alvin Hufnagel (Boyd Bodwell), who immediately recognizes his glove in Wayne's hands. He gives Elliott a particularly dirty look.

After playing with the dead gerbil, Alvin gets down to business. "You stole mother's affection," he accuses Elliott. Elliott tries to explain how they bonded over the death of Murray Robbin, but Alvin is convinced that he deliberately charmed the old woman with the intent of being included in her will. He's hurt that she didn't leave him anything, but he's a little too sensitive to hear Wayne's criticism about never having visited. When he calms down, Alvin has to admit that they didn't get along. Elliott tries to make Alvin feel better by giving him the computer, but the dejected son wants everything, which the good-hearted Dr. Axelrod concedes without a fight. He invites Alvin along for the burial, but he's not interested, and wishes her a terse, "Goodbye, Mother."

Elliott delivers Mrs. Hufnagel to her final resting place.
In a moving final scene, Elliott delivers what he hopes are appropriate final words, from Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake:

Fleet foot on the correi,
  Sage counsel in cumber,
Red hand in the foray,
  How sound is thy slumber!
Like the dew on the mountain,
  Like the foam on the river,
Like the bubble in the fountain,
  Thou art gone, and for ever!

He pours out her ashes, and bids a final "Goodbye, Mrs. Hufnagel," before tossing the rose from his lapel in the water.

And so ends the saga of Florence Hufnagel, ashes to ashes, dust to dust:

There's one last bit of Hufnagel mythology left over. In the season six episode, "Night of the Living Bed", which aired three days before Halloween, 1987, Mrs. Hufnagel is believed by many at St. Eligius to be making her presence known once more. The room where she died seems to be haunted, its lights and TV flicking on and off on their own. Eventually, the bed starts shaking, the floor starts shaking, and the floor opens up and pulls the bed down with it. But it turns out not to be a haunting--the magnetism from the new MRI machine installed on the floor beneath was just too much for the old facility to handle.

So that doesn't quite count as another appearance. As the Gluck family always said: "it is better to be despised than forgotten."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Another Season 2 Episode of St. Elsewhere to Watch for Free

Our friends in Europe come through again... The same YouTube channel that houses the first two episodes of season two are also featuring the episode six from season two, "Under Pressure". This is a favorite of mine, as it marks the first appearance of Mr. Entertainment (Austin Pendleton), the singing janitor, and psychiatrist Dr. Michael Ridley (Paul Sand).

Also in this episode: "The Troubles" come to St. Eligius in the form of young Irish patient Eddie Carson (Eric Stoltz); Nurse Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) gets arrested the day before her breast reconstruction surgery; Eve Leighton (Marian Mercer) recovers from her heart transplant surgery; Dr. Craig (William Daniels) has a secret admirer and security threats; Dr. Westphall (Ed Flanders) is tough to be around.


Enjoy it while it lasts! Thanks to jalplaj.

Update, June 24, 2013: The channel's gone, and the videos along with it. It was fun while it lasted.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 19

Mrs. Hufnagel is gone but not forgotten as Elliott meets with her lawyer, who is settling her estate.

Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) admires Dr. Elliott
Axelrod's (Stephen Furst) size 10EEE wingtips.
The nineteenth installment in the saga of Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop), the late doctor-tormentor extraordinaire, is much shorter than the previous two installments, but even though the sickly old woman has left the corporeal realm, she still manages to impose on the staff of St. Eligius.

Dr. Elliott Axelrod (Stephen Furst) is dressed in a suit, which the wise-cracking Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) comments upon by asking "who died?"

"Mrs. Hufnagel," Elliott deadpans, explaining that the lawyer handling the late patient's estate asked to meet him that night. Elliott is expecting to have been willed something, to which Victor warns, "Whatever it is, you don't want it. The old bat didn't own anything, a ham radio, a couple of gerbils, maybe..." But the goodhearted Axelrod still thinks it pays to be nice to patients.

Elliott meets with Bradford Norton (Michael Fox), senior partner of the law firm Norton & Inch, which had represented the family since Goody Gluck's first Salem Witch trial. It turns out the only beneficiaries named in Mrs. Hufnagel's will were Elliott and a reptile park. Mrs. Hufnagel, ever the early adopter of technology, recorded a video will, enabling Florence Halop to make one final appearance on the show.

Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) leaves Elliott with words
of wisdom: "Try not to use me as a benchmark to judge
other women."
Never one to miss the opportunity to cut someone down, she acknowledges that it must have been hard for Elliott to make friends with "that Mack truck tire around your waist." In a classic comedy device, she accuses Elliott of having a schoolboy crush on her, and when he protests that he didn't, she correctly predicts on video that he would complain, and responds from the beyond "You did, too! Shut up, chubs." But she liked that he cared about her, and that he cried on her shoulder when Murray died. She leaves him with the Gluck family creed--"It is better to be despised than forgotten."

Then they get down to business--her estate was worth $250,000. Elliott gets everything left after $75,000 goes to Earl's Reptile Park, and they deduct medical bills, mortgage costs, gambling debts, helicopter rentals ("Florence was quite an aviatrix"), state and federal inheritance taxes, and legal fees resulting from "a regrettably undecided lawsuit against American Samoa." That leaves $137.65 for Elliott, which should be enough to cover the boat rental and a breakfast special, as he has been entrusted with disposing of her ashes at sea.

Here's Mrs. Hufnagel's final appearance on St. Elsewhere, in "Tears of a Clown":



I've left in the final shot which includes a glimpse at the relationship between Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse) and his college-student girlfriend Clancy Williams (Helen Hunt), who has been reduced to being his babysitter now that Jack has to redo med school on top of his duties as a resident. The argument that erupts in this scene leads to the end of their relationship. I love St. Elsewhere's long, continuous shots that would flow into the next scene.

Other trivia:
  • The Salem Witch Trials took place in 1692. It has been established that Gluck family (Hufnagel is her married name) came to America shortly after the Mayflower, which made the passage in 1620. Goody would have been lucky to have legal representation, as most accused were not afforded the opportunity. The Trials forced the legal system in the new colony to tighten up its game, like not allowing testimony involving specters as evidence, requiring proof and not just hearsay, etc.
  • I didn't recognize him at first, but I am familiar with veteran character actor Michael Fox (1921-1996) from his role as Saul Feinberg on the soap The Bold and the Beautiful in the nineties. Fox was the one who forced Family Ties/Back to the Future/Spin City star Michael J. Fox to use his middle initial in his stage name.
  • The Gluck family creed is a personal favorite line of St. Elsewhere writer Channing Gibson.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 18

Mrs. Hufnagel checks out of St. Eligius one last time, and William Daniels picks up an Emmy.

"Cretan" Nurse Lucy Papandrao (Jennifer Savidge) tries to fix
the bed for Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop).
In Edward Copeland's 30th anniversary retrospective, this section covers the show's most memorable recurring character, the acid-tongued patient who just wouldn't go away, Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop). The show's writers had come to love writing the "Hufnagel Spot" in each episode, delighting in spinning out insult after insult at the expense of the show's main characters.

At this point, she's been re-admitted at least six times, each time with a more serious ailment. But the show's medical adviser insisted that in real life, a patient spending that much time at a hospital would have one of two fates: either she'd get better and be gone for good, or she'd succumb to her illness(es), and be gone for good. Left to the whims of St. Elsewhere's writers, the choice was clear.

In "Murder, She Rote", Mrs Hufnagel is recovering from open-heart surgery to repair an aneurysm. She buzzes the nurses' station, where Nurse Lucy Papandrao (Jennifer Savidge) is loath to answer yet another call from the abrasive patient. Hufnagel had been trying to adjust the bed so she could sit up, but like most things at St. Eligius, the bed malfunctioned. In her annoyance, she addresses Lucy as "cretin," but then covers by claiming she was referring to Nurse Papandrao's ethnicity, as her descendants hailed from the Isle of Crete. After calling the Greeks "a distrustful lot" and getting a shot in at Aristotle Onassis, Mrs. Hufnagel does something uncharacteristic: she thanks Lucy for the help.

Her bed has malfunctioned again, this time at the foot end, when Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) arrives to check up on the post-op patient. You know she's not doing well when she mistakes the pale blond doctor for his colleague, Dr. Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington), and says her chest feels "like Buddy Rich's snare drum." Victor needs to check her potassium levels, but Hufnagel refuses to be pricked with a needle, and then confuses her doctor for a former regular customer at the diner she owned with her husband (called Flo & Eddie's). She complains about the food, which she claims is causing the bubbles in her head (like Lawrence Welk). Ehrlich, already late for rounds, loses his last shred of patience and leaves, her potassium levels unchecked.

Luther (Eric Laneuville) finds no pulse, and St. Eligius claims
another victim.
Once again, we see Nurse Papandrao get another buzz from Hufnagel's room, but this time she ignores it. Orderly Luther Hawkins (Eric Laneuville) is making the rounds, collecting garbage. This sets up one of St. Elsewhere's most memorable images -- this time, her bed malfunctioned on both ends, and she's trapped in the folded-up bed. But she's not moving. Luther checks her pulse and her arm goes limp, call button still in hand. Finding no heartbeat, he calls a code.

When we return from the act break, it's official -- after 17 episodes and 40 minutes of resuscitation efforts, Mrs. Hufnagel is dead. On the way to the morgue, Luther informs Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels) that one of his patients has passed away. When Luther explains that her cardiac arrest may have been triggered when she was swallowed up by the bed, Chief of Services Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) can't help but burst into laughter. Dr. Craig doesn't find losing a patient so funny. Director of Medicine Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders) agrees that the case had been manhandled from the start, but Craig goes a step further -- she "was murdered, same as if she'd been knifed in an alley," and he is determined to see that the guilty parties pay.

In surgery, Dr. Craig tells Ehrlich that he didn't see notes on Hufnagel's chart and informs him that she died ("with a snarl on her face...crushed by her bed like a clam," adds anesthesiologist Dr. Vijay Kochar (Kavi Raz)). Craig doesn't accept Victor's excuses for not cutting through his patient's anxiety and checking her potassium levels, and Craig hasn't ruled out Kochar as a suspect, either. He warns them that they'd better have their alibis together at the mortality conference.

Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels) doesn't appreciate the
conclusion that Dr. Jacqueline Wade (Sagan Lewis) has
reached.
Dr. Jacqueline Wade (Sagan Lewis) and an unnamed pathologist perform Hufnagel's autopsy, and Jackie admits that for the first time, she doesn't care about a patient dying. She has found what likely caused her cardiac arrest -- the papillary muscle ruptured. When she reminds Dr. Craig that he nicked it during surgery, distracted by Ehrlich whining about cake frosting, he is aghast at the suggestion that he had made such an error. He insists that it must have been a pre-existing defect, and that the post-op notes he dictated after the procedure will reveal the truth (in his mind, that it must have been Wade who did it).

Later in his office, he listens to the tape. After jumping ahead a few times, he hears his own voice say the words he didn't want to hear: "detected small surgical nick on the mitral papillary muscle..." After ducking a phone call and re-listening a couple of times, he pulls the cassette out of the tape recorder and destroys it. He tries to go about his work, but he can't forget what happened.

The mortality conference begins, and Dr. Annie Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes) feels like she's in an Agatha Christie novel where everyone is a suspect. Ehrlich offers remorse for ignoring Mrs. Hufnagel's distress when he last saw her, but Dr. Craig is unusually forgiving (though he does tell Kochar, a frequent target of his abuse, to "book a passage to India"). After Dr. Chandler presents the first case, the matter of Mrs. Hufnagel's death is raised. Mark insists on handling it himself.

Here's the clip of Mrs. Hufnagel's blackly-comic end, Dr. Craig's determination to find who's to blame, and (at the thirteen-minute mark) the mortality conference where he must face the music.


Ladies and gentlemen, your 1985 Emmy winner for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, William Daniels.

What I love about this story is that Dr. Craig insisted that he would give hell to whomever was responsible, and despite his ego, he holds true to his word. He may be brutal and demanding, but I have to respect him for eventually fessing up and holding himself to the same standard he holds others.

Some trivia, and by "trivia", and I mean trivial... The case Dr. Chandler presents at the mortality conference refers to the death of one Jeffrey Sagansky, a 32-year-old executive who collapsed in his screening room on Friday night between 8 and 10. I did a bit of research to figure out this joke.

Jeff Altman, Mitsuyo Nemoto and Keiko Masuda, a.k.a.
Pink Lady and Jeff. Anyone know which one is Mie and
which one is Kei?
Jeff Sagansky was the network TV whiz kid who served as NBC's Senior VP of Series Programming from 1982 to 1985. Under the guidance of CEO Grant Tinker (co-founder of MTM Enterprises with his wife Mary Tyler Moore) and especially President of Entertainment Brandon Tartikoff, NBC went from being the last-place laughingstock that gave the world Supertrain and Pink Lady in 1979 to the home of classy fare like Hill Street Blues and The Cosby Show, while still pleasing the masses with the likes of The A-Team and Knight Rider all the while. In the 1982-83 season alone, NBC launched the 80s classics Cheers, Family Ties, St. ElsewhereRemington SteeleThe A-Team, Knight Rider, Silver Spoons and Mama's Family. None of their new shows the following season survived, but they struck gold with The Cosby Show in 1984-85. That pushed them into second place, and the peacock network reached first the following year.

Tartikoff and company had their misses, too (like Manimal, or the decision to cancel Buffalo Bill). One of those weak spots was NBC's 1984-85 Friday night schedule, which featured two new series: the sci-fi fantasy V from 8 to 9, and the violent police action-drama Hunter from 9 to 10. V turned out to be a major flop with critics and viewers--not good when you're making the most expensive series ever produced at the time, at a cost of one million dollars per episode (and yet still filling it out with stock footage).

Hunter had the misfortune of being scheduled against CBS's juggernaut Dallas, but halfway through the year, executive producer Stephen J. Cannell held a private screening of an unaired two-part episode for Tartikoff in an effort to convince him that the show needed more time to attract viewers. The network boss agreed, put the show on hiatus for two months, and brought it back on Saturday nights, where ratings slowly began to climb. The following year, the show was retooled and became even more popular, and it stayed on the air for seven seasons.

Hunter's Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer.
I'm guessing the in-joke is that the writers felt that  Sagansky's position at NBC became untenable after Cannell convinced Tartikoff that Hunter deserved another chance in a better time slot, coupled with the disaster that was V, or something like that. Things worked out just fine for Sagansky, though; he left to become President of Production and later President of TriStar Entertainment.

One of my goals with this blog is to tell the stories behind these quirky, arcane references. Why? Because I can. Thank you, Internet. For me, St. Elsewhere was the Ulysses of television. Just substitute a baby boomer's television-filled youth for literature.