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Pruitts of Southhampton


Phyllis Diller ShowsPeter Sampson writes:
"Do you remember a show called The Phyllis Diller Show? What happened to it? I loved it as a kid, but it didn't last very long."

Uh, it went off the air...

The Phyllis Diller Show started the season as The Pruitts of Southampton debuting on September 6, 1966. This show was an ABC sitcom at a time when practically every new series the network put on the air bombed.

"When I was 12," Phyllis Diller once said, "I looked myself in the mirror and said, 'Honey, you're going to have to settle for inner beauty'."

Phyllis DillerHer unusual look didn't stop her from rising through the comedy clubs and into the big rooms of Vegas. Next came a few television appearances and a co-starring role with Bob Hope in two of his successful mid-sixties films. Phyllis Diller was the Rosanne of her day, with one big exception - Phyllis never had a hit series.

'The Pruitts of Southampton' was the story of widowed Phyllis Pruitt, a Long Island socialite who suddenly finds she is flat broke because of unpaid back taxes.

Because of her position in society, the government felt she was 'too big to fail,' so to speak, and allowed her to keep up appearances.

Phyllis Diller photoLeft with only the mansion (actually the exquisit Biltmore House in Asheville, NC, America's largest home, now a major tourist destination) and her Rolls Royce, poor unprepared Phyllis is forced to deal with the real world (and her kitchen appliances) for the very first time.


Phyllis Diller in THe Pruittes of SouthhamptonCo-starring Pam Freeman and Lisa Loring as Phyllis' daughters; Grady Sutton (hilarious supporting player in many great W.C.Fields and Mae West movies during the 1930s and '40s) as the butler Sturges who remains to help the hapless housewife; Gypsy Rose Lee as nosy neighbor Regina Wentworth, and Richard Deacon (bald-headed 'Mel' on The Dick Van Dyke Show) as Mr. Baldwin, the unsympathetic IRS agent.

Despite the success of Diller's movies like 'Boy Did I Get A Wrong Number', the series debuted with poor initial ratings. ABC decided that the 'Pruitts of Southhampton' concept was a good one, but the series needed some overhauling.

On January 13th the sitcom was retooled with Marty Ingels, John Astin (The Addams Family), and Billy DeWolfe joining the cast as boarders in the Pruitt mansion.

Typical plot: Phyllis tries to hock the family heirlooms but runs afoul of the IRS in doing so.

The new format was as unsuccessful in the ratings as the first attempt so this very funny series was cancelled with the September 1, 1967 episode.

One year later, in September of 1968, Phyllis Diller tried television again, this time with a variety show called "The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show" co-starring Norm Crosby and Rip Taylor. The ratings weren't so beautiful and the show was off the air before Christmas and that was pretty much it for Phyllis Diller's attempts to get a television series off the ground.

Phyllis Diller on TV Thanks to Michael Thom
for the audio capture!

"The Pruitts Of Southampton was actually not a bad show, despite its oft-sited designation as one the greatest TV Turkeys of all time.

"It was on opposite the mighty Red Skelton Hour on CBS and NBC Tuesday Night At The Movies, which was still a big deal back then. ABC wasn't, and this show paid the price. But whatever you think of it, "The Pruitts" had one the best theme songs in the history of the medium.

"It was so good that, 30 years later, I remember every word. It started with Phyllis Diller (PD) skipping/dancing/singing through the mansion, sweeping past Uncle Ned, played by Reginald Gardiner (RG), and the ubiquitous unseen TV theme-song chorus. Tune by Vic Mizzy (The Addams Family, Green Acres)

"And this is how it went:

Phyllis Diller in concertPD: Howcha do howcha do, howcha do my dear
What a LOVELY surprise, nice to see you here.

RG: All the bills have been long over due my dear.

PD: File them under I.O.U...
Howcha do, howcha do, Well HELLO, it's you!
Like my beads, like my dress?
Aren't they marvy-poo?
They belong to the internal revenue.
And they got us eating stew.

CHORUS: The Pruitts of Southampton,
Live like the richest folk,
But what the folk don't know is that
The Pruitts are flat broke!

PD: Howcha do, howcha do, howcha do, my dear

RG: We are out of champagne, and I'm stuck, my dear.

PD: Ask the butler to lend you a buck, my dear.
Howcha do, howcha do, howcha do...

"It's not quite the same without the tune, but you get the idea. It was a great song, but not one of Ms. Diller's favorite memories. In a radio interview with me some years ago, she refused to discuss the show at all, dismissing it with a simple "Oh, THAT thing", and made it clear I should change the topic. I did. But I'd sure love to hear her sing that wonderful old theme one more time. Not to mention see the running gag of the teabag with the patch sewn into it. As Phyllis herself might say, "Fang's" for the memories!"

- Dan Haber

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