Today is the birthday of that great low comedian Larry Storch (b. 1923). Originally a night club comedian, he is of course best known for his role as Corporal Agarn in the hit series F Troop (1965-1967). I probably shouldn’t share this, but I watched the series in its entirety on DVD a couple of years ago, sometimes watching 4 or 6 episodes back to back at a sitting. I have not recovered yet.
At any rate, that’s NOT what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the other major series he starred in with Forest Tucker, The Ghost Busters. Being ten years old, I was a major devotee of this Saturday morning children’s show when it ran in 1975 (all of 15 episodes). So much so that when Aykroyd, Ramis and company released their project with the same name in 1984, I was actually offended. “Can they just do that? There’s ALREADY a Ghost Busters! How can they call it that?” They bought the right to do so, that’s the answer to that. Otherwise, the premise of a couple of bumbling detectives and their gorilla mascot investigating ghostly disturbances is strictly a Storch and Tucker proposition, and I’ll always consider the multi-million dollar major movie franchise on some level a ripoff, as different as it is, not just because of the name, but because of the premise (a group of guys hanging out their shingle as ghost solvers in the manner of private detectives) and because of the central conceit of a ghost-fighting machine (a “de-materializer” in the tv show, a “flux capacitor” in the films.)
That said, both franchises were making entirely different kinds of comedy for different audiences. The comedy in the kids series was very broad and traditional. The ghosts and other creatures the heroes encountered were drawn from Hollywood movies, and Storch and Tucker were outfitted like detectives from ’40s noir films. And did I mention that their assistant was a gorilla? Storch’s character was named Spencer, the gorilla’s name was Tracy, and Tucker’s name was Kong! The show’s hilarious theme song went like this:
STORCH & TUCKER: We’re the Gho-o-o-st Busters!
STORCH: I’m Spencer! (points to gorilla) He’s Tracy!
TUCKER: I’m Kong!
The fact that the character’s names are also movie references and that Storch started out as an impressionist who drew from old movies for his material make The Ghost Busters a more natural Storch vehicle. Tucker had a serious track record in westerns; it was the western connection and not a comedy background that had gotten him cast in F Troop. But F Troop established the idea in the public mind that they were a comedy team. And just prior to this, Tucker had been paired with Bob Denver in a similar team in the Sherwood Schwartz comedy western sit com Dusty’s Trail (1973). Long about the time The Ghost Busters aired, Tucker must have been pondering some of his life choices.
Or maybe he just had fun. After all consider some of the guest villains he got to work with on the show: Billy Barty, Bernie Kopell, Ted Knight, Huntz Hall, Lenny Weinrib, Joe E. Ross, Marty Ingels, Howard Morris, Jim Backus, Johnny Brown from Laugh-in and Good Times), Ina Balin, Ronny Graham, Stanley Adams (Cyrano Jones from Star Trek), Dodo Denney (Mrs Teevee from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), Dena Dietrich (“Mother Nature” from Chiffon commercials), Tim Herbert (son of Herman Timberg), and others. Man! what a fun show! On the one hand, this was too much talent to restrict to the ghetto of Saturday morning children’s programming. On the other hand, what better way for young people to have been bitten by the comedy bug? So, yeah, I’ll always be perversely partial to this Ghost Busters franchise.