Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"Tweety and Ralph"

Description: Beale must decide if Ralph, the "Birdman of St. Eligius", is fit to be released along with his mate Tweety. The search for the source of Legionnaires' continues. Fiscus, traumatized by his recent assault, starts carrying a handgun in the ER. Cavanero befriends a young woman facing a hysterectomy. Ellen Craig deals with the elusive Dr. Barnum.

"Tweety and Ralph" is the 8th episode of season 1 of St. Elsewhere.
Originally aired December 21, 1982.
Teleplay by Elizabeth Diggs
Story by Joshua Brand & John Falsey and Elizabeth Diggs
Directed by Mark Tinker


Dr. Craig has received another message from the elusive
and fictional Dr. Pat Barnum.
8:42 AM at the nurses' station... Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels), flanked by Dr. Ben Samuels (David Birney) and Dr. Vijay Kochar (Kavi Raz), has received another message from the elusive Dr. Pat Barnum. After Craig leaves, Ben expresses his confusion. He's been the one leaving messages from Barnum as a joke, but he didn't leave this one. Vijay confesses that he decided to get in on the prank.

Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) passes by with Dr. Annie Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes). He's struggling to understand why a patient would have a "coming out party" for her hysterectomy. Nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) notices that Orderly Luther Hawkins (Eric Laneuville) is tired. He was up until 5 AM, and he's also got a box with holes in the lid.

Rosenthal checks in on the pregnant psych patient Jane Sondell (Laraine Newman), who's consumed with food cravings. Helen describes her first pregnancy, during which she gained 45 pounds and a set of stretch marks.

Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd), having returned from his vacation in Mexico, is standing in the sequestered ward five with Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders), who briefs him on the developments of the Legionnaires' Disease outbreak that occurred while Daniel was away. They haven't yet found the source of the contamination.

Luther has a medical inquiry for Dr. Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington). He's wondering if animals, such as pigeons, can suffer from psychosomatic disorders.

Dr. Cavanero and Dr. Samuels are descending the stairs. Annie spent the weekend sailing the coast of Bar Harbor with her new beau, Patrick. Ben is impressed that she chose pleasure over work. Patrick also cheered up a young girl who was a patient of Annie's. Ben hasn't felt that way about someone since he was newly married and Chateaugay won the Kentucky Derby.

Cavanero visits dancer Leslie Stevenson (Molly Cheek), who's in for a hysterectomy. Her room is decorated for a party. Annie is coming to her party, and asks if she can bring her Chubby Checker records, given that she excelled in a twist contest in her youth. As Cavanero leaves, the look on Leslie's face suggests she's not as comfortable with the procedure as she's been letting on.

Dr. Beale attempts to defuse the standoff between
Ralph and Bill the security guard.
In a storage room, security guard Bill Austin (Charlie Robinson) has orders to dispose of the nest that has been built out of stolen medical supplies by avian-delusional psychiatric patient Rockin' Ralph (Richard Marcus), but Ralph is defending his territory by pelting Bill with building materials. Psychiatrist Dr. Hugh Beale (G.W. Bailey) arrives to mediate the situation. When asked if he would move his creation, the unstable Ralph unleashes a squawk and a torrent of paranoid verbiage: "Cuban speculators are buying up all the 'E' tickets at Disney World! Provocateur! Defoliator! Free Rachel Carson!" Beale tells Bill that he'll take responsibility if he lets Ralph keep the nest in its place for the time being. Ralph squawks and struts in triumph.

In the cafeteria, Annie is discussing Leslie Stevenson's case with Dr. Wendy Armstrong (Kim Miyori). The hysterectomy is necessary because of her stage 2 cervical carcinoma. Wendy is not a fan of the paternalistic Dr. Allenson, the attending physician on the case, who doesn't seem to think it's a big deal to remove a woman's uterus. Annie's mother went into early menopause after her ovaries were removed. Cavanero feels like Leslie is someone she could be friends with. Wendy suggests that there would be a lot fewer surgeries if it were men who were affected.

At another table, Ehrlich has a stack of textbooks to peruse ahead of a lecture by Dr. Craig on pediatric cardiac surgery. Chandler suggests he "take the offensive"--ask some obscure, intelligent question to impress Craig and head off any questions. Chandler sees Craig heading their way and gets in on the fun. "But, if I were you, I'd ask Dr. Barnum. Yeah, you see, he's the only one who could understand the complexities of a case like this." Craig stops to listen, and Victor drops his textbooks on Craig's feet.

In the psych ward, Ralph explains the ins and outs of nest-engineering to Jane. Unlike the academics who study the topic, Ralph got his hands dirty and built one using materials from his environment. Jane refuses to raise her child in an open-topped nest, not even for science. But a two-storey house in Essex would be just fine.

Luther approaches Ralph. He thinks his pigeon, Julius, has a psychological problem. They take Julius to a supply closet for a closer look. Luther raises racing pigeons for sport, and the competition is fierce. Ralph asks for some mercurochrome, mineral oil, and cotton swabs. He inspects Julius further, and finds a thorn that was wedged under Julius's wing, out of reach. Luther asks how Ralph knows so much about birds. Ralph replies, "I am a bird."

Dr. Craig is disappointed by Ehrlich's hollow attempt to
In a lecture room, Dr. Craig is discussing tetralogy of Fallot. Victor tries Phil's method of asking a question to demonstrate his knowledge of the subject, but he's not prepared for Dr. Craig's follow-up question. Craig begins explaining, and calls Ehrlich a moron. "You think I wouldn't know a loaded question? Residents have been trying to get away with that kind of crap ever since Semmelweis first washed his hands. I'm disappointed. I thought you were better than that."

Craig asks Chandler, who knows the correct explanation. Samuels, also in attendance, checks his watch. A moment later, a page is heard over the intercom, calling Dr. Pat Barnum to the ICU. While Craig's back is turned, Samuels nods to a doctor across the table, who then gets up and leaves. Craig becomes flustered, thinking he's just missed the elusive Barnum. He quickly excuses himself and chases after the man, giving everyone a good chuckle.

Jane is waiting in Dr. Beale's office. He doesn't see any reason why Jane needs to stay in the hospital. Jane admits that she can't leave Ralph behind, and she thinks he's ready to be out in the world with her. Beale doesn't agree. Jane cites Ralph's exemplary academic achievements, and Beale acknowledges that Ralph is highly intelligent, but doubts that he can handle day-to-day life. Jane wants Ralph to have a chance. Beale suggests taking them out to dinner, but reminds Jane that on Ralph's last day pass, he was gone for a week and returned with slit wrists. Beale, nonetheless, will grant Ralph this test, and Jane is grateful for the opportunity.

Dr. Auschlander regales Westphall with a big-fish story from his vacation. Donald gets a phone call from the CDC in Atlanta. They found the source of the Legionnaires' Disease, in the head of an auxiliary shower off ward five used for patient overflow. They can re-open the ward.

Beale is in an elevator with Rosenthal and Ralph's nest: Beale is letting Ralph keep the nest in his room. As odd as Jane and Ralph's situation is, she's optimistic that Jane's instincts will ensure a positive outcome for their baby. The elevator doors open, and Helen leaves to greet Ellen Craig (Bonnie Bartlett).

Ellen is aware that Mark is in surgery, but she's seeking someone else, and spots him: Dr. Ben Samuels. She wants to talk somewhere private, and they adjourn to the doctor's lounge.

"I want to talk to you about Barnum."


"Dr. Pat Barnum."

"Oh, yeah, right, um... He's a good man, I'm told."

"You're Barnum. And don't try to deny it. There's a sucker born every minute, but I'm not one of them. Mark wouldn't be one either if he had any kind of memory. Like the time you had the nurses set up an abdominal tray instead of a cardiac tray for a triple bypass. Okay, let me tell you what's been going on since Dr. Barnum entered our lives. Mark spent all day Saturday and Sunday washing, polishing, vacuuming that car, just in hopes that Dr. Barnum would materialize. Last night he spent three hours trying to get the ping out of the cylinders... Yesterday, he cut his hand. You know how that can scare a surgeon? He's obsessed, Ben. And I'm here to tell you that it's gone far enough."

"I'm sorry. I'll, uh, I'll tell him."

"Thank you. My stomach's been in knots. I was afraid I'd have to be the one."

"Probably because you smoke too much. You want some coffee?"

Leslie Stevenson's mother isn't happy about her daughter's
"coming out" party.
There's a group of people waiting outside Leslie Stevenson's room as Annie approaches. Mrs. Stevenson (Nan Martin), Leslie's mother, tells Annie about how Leslie was always full of life, even as a small child. When Annie suggests that Leslie can still adopt a child, her mother doesn't think that will happen. "I know the way she is. This will settle it for her. You younger women, you want your careers. Maybe you think children are a burden. It's not that I, I want grandchildren, it's just that nothing can bring so much joy into your life. Nothing. Now she'll never know that. That's why she can act like this. She just doesn't know."

In the E.R., Wayne is treating a child with "Pac Man fever", when something falls on the floor. He bends to pick it up, and Nurse Louise notices that Wayne has a gun in a holster strapped to his belt. She asks to speak to him in private, now. She informs him that guns are not allowed in the hospital. He protests that yesterday he had a Gomer (Get Out of My Emergency Room) with a sawed-off shotgun. He asks her to hold it, proud of his acquisition, but she tells him he'd better get rid of it.

Jane is trying to prepare Ralph for dinner at the restaurant. Ralph is insulted at the notion that he, a scientist, has to be tested like this. Jane wants to role-play a situation at the restaurant to at least reduce her stress about the outing, but Ralph can't resist clowning around. She wants him to take it seriously. He doesn't see why he can't have fun. "What's my next test, huh? Do you want me to walk across the B.U. bridge without jumping off?" He sees her concern, apologizes, and promises her he won't screw up.

At 6:04 PM, Dr. Craig is finishing up with a patient, whom he advises to stop smoking and start exercising, or the next time Craig sees him will be at his wake. Ben asks Mark if they can talk. He explains that Dr. Barnum doesn't exist, and confesses that he made Barnum up.

"Why would you do a thing like that?"

"Well, it was, uh, sort of a joke. I'm sorry, I guess I, I should apologize..."

"No, no, don't."

"I mean, I know I made you feel stupid, and..."

"Oh, boy, you really got me this time, Samuels."


"I really went for it, didn't I?"

"Um... Hook, line, and sinker."

"Well, it's funny, right?" Mark lets out a strained laugh.

"Well, I'm glad you see the humor in the situation."

Dr. Mark Craig shows Dr. Ben Samuels how well he
can take a joke.
 "The humor, are you kidding? It's hysterical. I mean, when I think of the, uh, pages on the intercom, and the, uh, and the phone messages..."

"Yeah, the ping in the cylinders..."

"And the name, Barnum. I mean, really, the name..."

"P.T. Barnum... You get it?"

"I got it." Mark punches Ben in the jaw, sending him sprawling to the floor. "You're demented."

At 8:18 PM, Westphall visits Auschlander in his office. The wards are operating smoothly again. Donald asks Daniel why he didn't tell him about losing the federal grant. Daniel didn't want to pile on. Donald realizes they'll have to wait another year for the new EMI scanner. (Both of these are things Administrator B.J. Cummings was concerned about in the previous episode.) Daniel says they'll have to work harder to find the money somewhere else. Donald doesn't like that money is such a concern in medicine, and that public relations is more important than patient care. Maybe "as important," suggests Daniel. There's a knock on the door--it's Donald's daughter, Elizabeth, whom Donald promised he would take shopping.

At the restaurant, Ralph, Jane, and Hugh are eating dinner. It's going fine. Hugh is telling a story from his childhood in Mississippi. Ralph looks across the room. A woman has a grey cat in her lap. He returns his attention to Hugh. He looks back. The cat is staring at him. The woman lets the cat climb down to the floor, where she feeds it some food. Ralph is looking stressed. The cat heads his way, and looks up at him, meowing. Ralph snaps, jumps up on his chair, and begins squawking loudly, flapping his arms like wings.

The reality of Leslie Stevenson's hysterectomy has set in.
Back at St. Eligius... Annie is at the nurse's station, and a nurse tells her about her leukemia patient, who is tired of giving so much blood. The nurse asks if she should move up giving Leslie Stevenson her medication, given that her surgery will now be earlier on the schedule. Annie offers to do it. Leslie is worried that men will consider her "damaged goods." She wonders when you tell someone that you can't have children. On the first date, over dinner? When you fall in love, then spring it? She starts crying. She was pregnant once, five years earlier. Her boyfriend wanted to marry her, but she wanted to focus on her dance career.

Annie asks Ben to give Leslie some bedside manner tomorrow morning. She confesses that it's probably not going to work out with Patrick. She can already see the signs. Leslie Stevenson's case has her worried: she wanted a career so she put having a family on hold until it was too late. Annie doesn't want that to happen to her. Ben says he'll take good care of her friend tomorrow.

Jane says goodbye to Rockin' Ralph.
At 9:14 AM, Ralph is back in the hospital, sitting in his nest. Jane enters his room. She tells him not to be angry at himself. She spoke to her father for the first time in a long time, and he wants to help. Ralph stares, not acknowledging her. "Ralph, do you hear me? I remember when we first met. I was in my room, crying so hard they had to put me in restraints. You came in and started talking to me about flying. About the swallows in Mexico, and how you migrated fifteen hundred miles with them to the steeple in San Juan Capistrano. How you soared the Blue Ridge Mountains, in an Indian summer sun, and landed finally on the highest branch of a thousand-year-old pine tree, and looked down on a field of absolute stillness. Are you there now, Ralph? Is the wind filling your ears? The thing I'm trying to tell you is that the greatest day of my life was the day I met you. And no matter what anybody says about either of us, our child will know that, in his heart. Goodbye, my high flying bird. My eagle."

Trivia for "Tweety and Ralph":
  • Chateaugay won the Kentucky Derby in 1963.
  • Charlie Robinson (a.k.a. Charles G. Robinson) who played security guard Bill Austin, would go on to play the no-nonsense make-up man Newdell on Buffalo Bill, and he would star on Night Court as the court clerk, Mac.
  • Molly Cheek, who played Leslie Stevenson, would go on to star on It's Garry Shandling's Show and Harry and the Hendersons, and played Jim's mom in the American Pie movies.
  • I don't usually get on a soapbox about issues with the show, but I seriously dislike the way they portray patients in the psych wards on this show, at least in season one. Doesn't jibe with my experience in the slightest. People there just hang out, pass the time, and talk to each other. It wouldn't make for good TV. Nothing as goofy as what they portrayed.
    • It's enough of a stretch that there would be two patients like Ralph and Jane in the same psych ward who thought they were birds, but there's also a patient named Henry who has "an owl fixation."
  • Mark cut his hand working on the car, which worried Ellen. In season five, Mark deals with the nerve damage he suffered when he cut his hand punching a picture frame in "E.R.".

Here's a compilation of the Dr. Craig/Dr. Barnum storyline:

Here's "Tweety and Ralph" on DailyMotion:


Ed Flanders as Dr. Donald Westphall
David Birney as Dr. Ben Samuels

Also Starring (in alphabetical order)
G.W. Bailey as Dr. Hugh Beale
Ed Begley, Jr. as Dr. Victor Ehrlich
Terence Knox as Dr. Peter White
Howie Mandel as Dr. Wayne Fiscus
David Morse as Dr. Jack Morrison
Christina Pickles as Nurse Helen Rosenthal
Kavi Raz as Dr. Vijay Kochar
Cynthia Sikes as Dr. Annie Cavanero
Denzel Washington as Dr. Philip Chandler

and Starring
William Daniels as Dr. Mark Craig

Guest Starring
Norman Lloyd as Dr. Daniel Auschlander
Ellen Bry as Nurse Shirley Daniels
Kim Miyori as Dr. Wendy Armstrong
Laraine Newman as Jane Sondell
Richard Marcus as Ralph Selover
Molly Cheek as Leslie Stevenson
Nan Martin as Mrs. Stevenson
Bonnie Bartlett as Ellen Craig

Eric G. Laneuville as Luther Hawkins
Charlie Robinson as Bill Austin
Roxanne Reese as Nurse Louise

Lisa Rafel as Nurse
Martin Azarow as Fat Man
Dana Short as Elizabeth Westphall

Watching St. Elsewhere on Hulu? Feel free to comment on this episode below.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you about the psych ward scene(s). I'm watching the series right now after years and years of last viewing it and I can't believe how much I overlooked. In the psych ward scene where we see Henry scream "Screech owl got a snake!", every patient is doing something. Not one patient is just standing around. I'm wondering if they just went to the nearest acting school for extras and told them "act crazy!" as direction/motivation. I enjoy the series, but there's a lot of stereotypes and assumptions of stereotypes on the show (and Wayne Fiscus is much, much more of a pig than Ehrlich).


Due to the volume of fake/spam blog comments this site receives, I will be moderating comments. If your comment is a real comment about the show or the website, I will approve it within a day or so. I used to work in SEO, so I know what fake SEO comments look like. If that's what you're doing, go somewhere else.

Search this site