||This article needs additional citations for verification. (July 2010)|
Cover art from the 2006 DVD release of the 1st season of F Troop showing stars (clockwise from top) Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, Melody Patterson and Ken Berry
|Created by||Seaman Jacobs
|Theme music composer||William Lava
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||65 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||William T. Orr (1965–1966)
Hy Averback (1966–1967)
|Running time||22–24 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Warner Bros. Television|
|Original run||September 14, 1965– April 6, 1967|
F Troop is a satirical American television sitcom that originally aired for two seasons on ABC-TV. It debuted in the United States on September 14, 1965 and concluded its run on April 6, 1967 with a total of 65 episodes. The first season of 34 episodes was filmed in black-and-white, but the show switched to color for its second season. Reruns premiered on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on October 29, 1968, and were screened repeatedly until July 16, 1974. The series was also broadcast nationally in Australia on ABC-TV, in Ireland on Telefís Éireann and in Italy during the 80s as a "filler" show during summer months (when ratings usually dropped due to large numbers of people going on holidays).
Setting and story
F Troop is set at Fort Courage, Kansas—a fictional United States Army outpost in the Old West—shortly after the American Civil War ended in 1865. There's also a town of the same name adjacent to the fort. Fort Courage was named for fictitious General Sam Courage (portrayed by Cliff Arquette), who had been in the army for forty years. As there were only four generals in the regular army before the Civil War, taking forty years to advance to the rank of general was fairly common. The show is light on historical accuracy (e.g. the uniforms, weapons, salutes and calling a cavalry company "troop" are incorrect for the period) but heavy on character-based humor; verbal and visual gags, slapstick and burlesque comedy make up the prime ingredients of F Troop.
The commanding officer is the gallant but chronically clumsy and accident-prone Captain Wilton Parmenter (Ken Berry), descended from a long line of distinguished military officers. He was awarded the (then non-existent) Silver Star after accidentally instigating the final charge at the Battle of Appomattox. Only a private, he was ordered to fetch his commanding officer's laundry. As he rode away, pollen in the air caused him to sneeze repeatedly. A group of Union soldiers mistook his sneeze for an order to charge, turning the tide of the battle. His superiors, wishing to reward his action, promoted him to captain and—in view of his ineptitude—gave him command of remote Fort Courage, a dumping ground for the army's least useful soldiers and misfits. Of the three commanding officers at Fort Courage before Captain Parmenter, two deserted and one suffered a nervous breakdown. He was also awarded the (also then non-existent) Purple Heart after he was accidentally pricked in the chest by his commanding officer while receiving his first medal—"the only soldier in history to get a medal for getting a medal."
Much of the humor of the series derives from the scheming of Captain Parmenter's crooked but amiable non-commissioned officers, Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker) and Corporal Randolph Agarn (Larry Storch). They, along with the local Indian tribe, the Hekawis—led by Chief Wild Eagle (Frank Dekova)—are alternately seeking to expand and conceal their illicit businesses, covertly and collectively referred to as "O'Rourke Enterprises". At one point, rations and pay were drawn for 30 men at Fort Courage, even though only 17 were actually accounted for. This was apparently to help finance the dealings of O'Rourke Enterprises. Although O'Rourke and Agarn take full advantage of Captain Parmenter's innocent naïveté, they are also fond of and fiercely protective of him, and woe be to anyone out to harm him. Parmenter also struggles to exert his authority outside the ranks. He tries to escape the matrimonial plans of his girlfriend, shopkeeper–postmistress Jane Angelica Thrift, known locally as "Wrangler Jane" (Melody Patterson), though he is seen to be a bit more affectionate towards her during the second season.
One running gag lasts through both seasons of the show, and is shown in every first season opening except for the pilot episode. Almost every time the cannon is fired in salute, the cannonball strikes a support of the watchtower and brings it to the ground. In the opening the cannon firing coincides with the line in the lyrics, "Before they resume/With a bang and a boom".
Opening theme music
The dubious efficiency of F Troop is clarified in the show's opening theme. The words of the song (by Irving Taylor) were only used in the first season's opening credits, along with comical F Troop battle scenes intercut with stock Hollywood Western footage. The second season opening credits used only the instrumental ending part, over still cartoon scenes and caricatures of the main cast.
- The end of the Civil War was near
- When quite accidentally,
- A hero who sneezed, abruptly seized
- Retreat and reversed it to victory!
- His Medal of Honor pleased and thrilled
- His proud little family group;
- While pinning it on, some blood was spilled
- And so it was planned he'd command... F TROOP!
- Where Indian fights are colorful sights
- And nobody takes a lickin',
- Where paleface and redskin
- Both turn chicken!
- When drilling and fighting get them down
- They know their morale can't droop
- As long as they all relax in town
- Before they resume with a bang and a boom... F TROOP!
F Troop officers & enlisted men
- Captain Wilton Parmenter (Ken Berry) – the so-called "Scourge of the West", he is credited with keeping the peace (which is in fact really kept by O'Rourke's secret treaty with the Hekawi tribe.) Chief Wild Eagle knows him by a different title: "The Great White Pigeon". When the need to keep up appearances arises, the troopers and the Hekawis stage mock battles for the benefit of outsiders. Parmenter is successful at keeping the peace – he just doesn't know why. Originally from Philadelphia, he is well-meaning and sweet-natured, although essentially clueless. He is invariably kind and encouraging to his men – and always bravely (albeit ineptly) leads them into action. A perpetual klutz, Parmenter is unable to fold maps or even dismount properly, and frequently becomes entangled with his ceremonial sword.
- Sergeant Morgan Sylvester O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker) – the Sgt. Bilko of his day, originally from Steubenville, Ohio. O'Rourke's business dealings involve illegally running the local saloon and an exclusive-rights treaty with the local Indian tribe (the Hekawi) to sell their "authentic" souvenirs to tourists through the shady, undercover O'Rourke Enterprises operation. (Tucker had actually served in the US Cavalry prior to World War II and played a similar "O'Rourke" cavalry sergeant on Gunsmoke.) Though many of his business schemes fail, he is apparently the only competent soldier in F Troop. It is mentioned that O'Rourke was a veteran of the Mexican–American War, but nothing is said about the Civil War. Presumably, he spent the war years at Fort Courage.
- Corporal Randolph (No Middle Initial) Agarn (Larry Storch) – O'Rourke's dimwitted sidekick and business partner in the illegal O'Rourke Enterprises scheme, originally from Passaic, New Jersey. His name is a play on both Randolph Scott and John Agar. The episode "El Diabolo" features his Mexican bandit cousin who, like all the other members of his family, looks exactly like him. One running gag during the second season involves Agarn's delayed reactions, which usually ran: Agarn would make a suggestion; O'Rourke would respond: "Agarn, I don't know why they say you're so dumb!" At the beginning of the next scene (which could be several hours or days after the original comment), Agarn, suddenly indignant, demands: "Who says I'm dumb?!" Like O'Rourke, Agarn apparently spent the Civil War years at Fort Courage. Devious, cowardly, confrontational and often overly-emotional, Agarn frequently collapses in tears with the phrases "Oh, Cap'n!" or "Oh, Sarge!" (depending on whose chest he buries his head in). Whenever he becomes frustrated by something one of the troopers does wrong (which is often), short-tempered Agarn hits him with his hat. (Larry Storch was nominated for an Emmy Award for "Outstanding performance by an actor in a leading role in a comedy series" in 1967.)
- Bugler Hannibal Shirley Dobbs (James Hampton) – F Troop's inept bugler, originally from New Orleans, who can only play "Yankee Doodle" and "Dixie" with regularity. Standard U.S. Army tunes like "Reveille", "Assembly" and "Retreat" are only occasionally played competently. One episode had him playing a song, which Melody says was a lovely rendition of "Old Kentucky Home", only for him to say he'd been trying to play "Reveille". A southern "mama's boy", he is also Captain Parmenter's personal assistant, as well as serving in the fort's cannon crew—usually with disastrous results. Private Dobbs is a personal thorn in Agarn's side, with his regular taunts resulting in Agarn's frequent retort, "I'm warning you, Dobbs!", or threatening him with a court-martial.
- Trooper Vanderbilt (Joe Brooks) – a legally-blind lookout (20/900 in each eye, according to Agarn) who also answers questions in the lookout tower with incongruous responses such as, "No, thank you Agarn. I just had my coffee." He once allowed two Indians wearing feather head-dresses to enter the fort unchallenged. Asked why, he replied, "I thought they were turkeys." A running gag has Agarn or Dobbs kicking the fort's cannon in frustration after it doesn't fire, only to see one of its wheels come off, setting off a chain reaction: the cannon fires a cannonball into one of the tower's support legs, causing it to collapse and send Vanderbilt crashing to the ground. In one episode he shoots his pistol in a crowded barracks—and manages to miss everyone.
- Trooper Duffy (Bob Steele) – an elderly cavalryman with a limp, the result of his "old Alamo injury" acting up again. Duffy claims to be the lone survivor of the siege of the Alamo in 1836. Duffy loves to recount his exploits alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, "shoulder to shoulder and backs to the wall". Parmenter discovers that Duffy is listed in army records as having been killed in action. (Steele was a 1930s and '40s Western movie and serial star, and appeared in a 1926 movie about Davy Crockett at the Alamo.)
- "Wrangler" Jane Angelica Thrift (Melody Patterson) – Captain Parmenter's beautiful but tomboyish, romantically aggressive girlfriend, dressed in buckskins and a cowgirl hat. She runs the local general store and post office, and is also the best sharpshooter in the town. She is determined to marry the naïve Parmenter, and is often obliged to rescue him from his various predicaments. The character had her own theme music; a banjo piece usually played on the soundtrack to cue her entrances, or initial appearance in each episode. Patterson was only 16 years old when the series began.
- Charlie – "The fastest drunk in the West" is the town drunk (veteran stuntman Harvey Parry). Fort Courage got Charlie from Dodge City. "We were lucky to get him – Dodge had a spare." —Capt. Parmenter.
The Hekawi tribe and tribal members
The Hekawi live an indeterminate distance from Fort Courage, though the directions to the camp are shared in one episode: "Make right turn at (the) big rock that looks like (a) bear, them make left turn at big bear that look like rock". The Hekawi tribe supposedly derived their name from an incident in which the tribe became lost mid-migration, and after wandering the plains for weeks and falling off a cliff, one of the braves asks "Where the heck are we?", which then became "We're the Hekawi" The original name for the tribe, 'Fugawi', was to be changed after the censors discovered the sentence "Where the Fugawi?" They are partners in O'Rourke Enterprises and produce most of the company's products. They are a peace-loving tribe, (mainly due to cowardice). The chicken-hearted braves of the Hekawis, "the tribe that invented the peace pipe", are "lovers, not fighters", according to their leader. Agarn has to teach them how to do a war dance. They have a 50/50 deal with O'Rourke and have a still which produces the whiskey for the saloon. As a sly jest based on the myth that Native Americans are the 13th tribe of Israel, many of the Hekawi Indians were played by veteran Yiddish comedians using classic Yiddish shtick. The regular "Indian" characters (none of whom were played by Native American actors) include:
- Chief Wild Eagle (Frank de Kova) – the shrewd, cranky but essentially good-natured leader of the Hekawi tribe, and business partner in the illegal O'Rourke Enterprises scheme. Like all the Indian characters portrayed in F Troop, he speaks in a Burlesque-Indian, broken English dialect. Often O'Rourke, Agarn, Parmenter, and Jane come to him for advice when they have a problem. Wild Eagle has an old Indian saying for every occasion, which even he sometimes admits he does not know the meaning of. He is portrayed as being the brother-in-law of Sitting Bull and the cousin of Geronimo. Wild Eagle once said that the peaceful Hekawis originally lived in Massachusetts, until the Pilgrims arrived and "ruined the neighborhood". DeKova's contribution to the series was deemed so important that, beginning in the second season, he is listed in the opening credits.
- Crazy Cat (Don Diamond) – Chief Wild Eagle's assistant and heir apparent. He often speculates on when he will become chief, and is subsequently rebuked by Chief Wild Eagle. He is not a featured character until the second season. "Craze" (as O'Rourke and Agarn sometimes call him) does become "acting chief" in an episode titled, "Our Brave in F Troop" (when O'Rourke and Agarn have to somehow sneak Wild Eagle into Fort Courage to see the army dentist so he can get his tooth pulled). Crazy Cat humorously comments on the situation, "When Wild Eagle away, Crazy Cat play."
In order of number of appearances:
- Trooper Duddleson (Ivan Bell) – a sleepy, slovenly, obese soldier who is hit on the head repeatedly by Agarn for having his body in line but not his belly, or sleeping when he's supposed to be at attention. He is sometimes upbraided by Agarn for having gravy stains on his shirt.
- Trooper Hoffenmueller (John Mitchum) – an incomprehensible trooper who can only speak in his native German. According to the fort's personnel records (doctored by O'Rourke to inflate the payroll) Hoffenmueller can speak Cherokee, Sioux, Apache, and Hekawi. "We can use you as an interpreter ... just as soon as you learn to speak English" —Capt. Parmenter.
- Smokey Bear (Ben Frommer) – an overweight, usually silent Hekawi brave in black braids and a Fire Ranger's hat.
- Roaring Chicken (Edward Everett Horton) – an aged Hekawi medicine man (veteran actor Horton appeared as Roaring Chicken in the first season only, and only in certain episodes. Horton also guest starred on the 1960s Batman as a villain called "Chief Screaming Chicken").
- Medicine Man (J. Pat O'Malley) – an unnamed Hekawi "doctor" who prescribes various tribal dances to treat diverse ailments.
- Major Duncan (James Gregory) – Captain Parmenter's superior from Territory Headquarters, who usually "brings a saddlebag full of trouble", according to O'Rourke.
- Trooper Leonard "Wrongo" Starr (Henry Gibson) – a jinxed soldier. He appears in "Wrongo Starr and the Lady in Black" and in "The Return of Wrongo Starr." Alternative explanations are given for the origin of the jinx. The name is a play on Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.
- Pete (Benny Baker) – the bartender at O' Rourke's saloon.
Other members of F Troop
Several members of F Troop were only mentioned or only seen in passing. They are listed in approximate order of their first mention or appearance in the series:
- Gilbert and Sullivan
- Lewis and Clark
- Stanley and Livingston
- Holmes and Watson
- Scully (there is also a bartender named Scully in Season Two)
According to Austin and Irma Kalish (interviewed for the 2007 DVD release of the second season), the writers deliberately took advantage of the multiple talents of their versatile cast, especially Larry Storch's expertise at mimicry and Ken Berry's gift for improvising physical comedy. In several episodes, one of the featured stars plays a double role:
- Larry Storch portrays Agarn's Canadian fur trapper cousin Lucky Pierre in "The Singing Mountie", and Agarn's Russian soldier cousin Col. Dimitri Agarnoff in "Only One Russian Is Coming! Only One Russian Is Coming!" In the episode "El Diablo", Storch plays four roles in addition to Corporal Agarn: Agarn's Mexican bandito cousin Pancho Agarnado, Granny Agarn, Uncle Gaylord Agarn and Carmen Agarnado. In one episode, Agarn pretends to be George Washington; in another, General Ulysses S. Grant.
- In "Wilton the Kid", Ken Berry plays Parmenter's outlaw doppelgänger, Kid Vicious.
- In "Did Your Father Come from Ireland?", Forrest Tucker plays O'Rourke's Irish father.
Many established actors and comedians appeared as guest stars in the show, including The Factory as the Bedbugs, Harvey Korman, Phil Harris (as 147-year old chief, Flaming Arrow), Don Rickles, Cathy Lewis, Milton Berle, Jack Elam, Eve McVeagh, Lee Meriwether, Vincent Price, Paul Lynde, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Patrice Wymore, Cliff Arquette (aka Charley Weaver), Lowell George, Julie Newmar, Mike Mazurki, George Gobel, character actor Henry Brandon, and British-born character actor Bernard Fox. Pat Harrington Jr. imitated Don Adams of Get Smart, as secret agent "B. Wise". Other notable actors who played minor roles include Frank McHugh, Sterling Holloway, Victor French, Vic Tayback, Fred Clark, Mary Wickes, Tony Martinez, Paul Petersen and Jamie Farr, who became famous in the 1970s as the cross-dressing Corporal Klinger in M*A*S*H.
Season One (Black & White, 1965–1966)
Season Two (Color, 1966–1967)
The series is a broad, lighthearted military farce which usually played fast and loose with historical accuracy. However, writers Austin and Irma Kalish, interviewed for the 2007 DVD release of the series, revealed that some scripts had their origins in actual events or authentic 19th century army protocol. One episode, titled "The Sergeant and the Kid", tells the story of 10-year old Joey Walker (Peter Robbins), who tried to join F Troop. This episode is loosely based on the true story of John Lincoln Clem, a 10-year old from Newark, Ohio who tried to enlist in the United States Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. Clem would end up serving in the army for 54 years, and be promoted to major general upon his retirement in 1916. Likewise, "The Day They Shot Agarn" had its roots in historically accurate regulations obtained from a period cavalry manual, according to Austin Kalish.
- The official surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, VA on April 9, 1865 did not, in fact, end the Civil War. The war did not come to a final end until June 23, 1865. So it's possible that when Captain Parmenter arrived at Fort Courage, the Civil War may have still been ongoing.
- One episode, titled "Old Ironpants", features General George Armstrong Custer. Given the time period (mid-1865 to 1867) in which F Troop is supposedly set, Custer should no longer have been a general. His commission as a general of volunteers expired on January 31, 1866. Afterwards, he was reduced in rank to captain and would eventually rise to lieutenant colonel, (although as a courtesy, he could be addressed as "General".)
- Little Bighorn is mentioned from time to time throughout the run of the series. However, the Battle of Little Bighorn would not take place for another ten years.
- Captain Parmenter is shown receiving the Silver Star, an award that would not be created until 1918, (as the Citation Star). It did not become a medal until 1932. In actuality, it's stated that the medal is "the Medal of Honor", which DOES feature a star and could be confused with a Silver Star/Citation Star. The Medal of Honor WAS first awarded during the American Civil War. However, Captain Parmenter ALSO receives a Purple Heart...a medal which did not exist until 1932 and was retroactively awarded to persons serving on or after April 5, 1917.
- One episode, "Marriage, Fort Courage Style", shows Agarn in a dream sequence watching stereopticon slides of "a new game this fellow named Doubleday invented called baseball". When his dream wife pesters him to do the chores, he retorts by saying, "Not now, I'm watching the game!" It's been proven that Abner Doubleday never invented baseball, never claimed to, and probably never even saw a professional game. Doubleday's connection to the game also occurred decades after the show takes place.
- In "How to be F Troop Without Really Trying", Lt. Mark Harrison (Les Brown, Jr.) quotes a line from the song "Jeepers Creepers" to Wrangler Jane. "Jeepers Creepers" wasn't composed by Johnny Mercer until 1938.
- One episode features a "Singing Mountie" (Paul Lynde), but if the series is set in the mid-1865 to 1867 time period, then the "mounties" would not exist yet. The formative organization that would eventually become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the "North-West Mounted Police", was not founded until 1873.
- In "That's Show Biz", the gang performs the songs "Mr. Tambourine Man" (which was written by Bob Dylan in 1964) and "Lemon Tree" (which was a folk song written by Will Holt in the 1960s and recorded by such popular singing artists as Peter, Paul and Mary and Trini Lopez).
- There's no way that Duffy could have been wounded at the Alamo in 1836, as no white adult males are known to have survived the battle. It's also impossible that Captain Parmenter would have been able to discover through army records that Duffy had been "killed in action". In 1836, Texas was not yet part of the United States, and only became an independent nation after the battle. So, Duffy would have been listed as a member of the army of the Republic of Texas. (Of course, it's possible that Duffy may only be indulging in spinning some "tall tales".)
Creation and production
Episode writers included Arthur Julian (who, alone, wrote 29 of the 65 episodes), Stan Dreben (Green Acres), Seaman Jacobs, Howard Merrill (The Dick Van Dyke Show), Ed James, Austin and Irma Kalish, and the highly successful comedy writing duo of Tom Adair and James B. Allardice, who collaborated on some of the most successful American TV sitcoms of the 1960s, including The Munsters; My Three Sons; Gomer Pyle, USMC and Hogan's Heroes.
The series was directed by Charles Rondeau and Leslie Goodwins, among many others, and produced by William T. Orr and Hy Averback. I. Stanford Jolley, Forrest Tucker's former father-in-law, appeared as Colonel Ferguson in the 1966 episode "Survival of the Fittest". The entire series was shot on the Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, California.
Melody Patterson lied about her age to get the part of Wrangler Jane. She was only 15 at the time of her audition and 16 when filming started. As a result the romance between Jane and Parmenter was kept very low key during the first season. By the time production of the second season started, Patterson had turned 18 and Parmenter's affections were made stronger and Jane was made more sexually aggressive.
The show's ratings were still healthy after the second year, but according to Tucker, Warner Bros.' new owners, Seven Arts, discontinued production because they thought it was wasteful for so much of the Warner Ranch to be taken up by a single half-hour TV show. Producer William Orr says the studio was unhappy with the added costs of producing the show in color during its second season.
According to TELEVISION magazine, Volume 24, Issue 8, F TROOP ranked #40 out of 113 shows for the 1966-67 season, with a 31.3 share.
Although only two seasons were produced, F Troop enjoyed a healthy second life in syndication, much like fellow two-year run entries The Munsters, The Monkees, and The Addams Family, from the same era. The show was a particular favorite on Nick at Nite in the 1990s, running from 1991 to 1995 despite an archive of only 65 episodes.
On September 27, 2005, Warner Home Video released the first F Troop DVD compilation as part of its "Television Favorites" series. The six-episode DVD included three black-and-white episodes and three color episodes. Previously, at the close of the VCR era, 30 of the series' 60 episodes were digitally remastered and released in 1998 on ten VHS tapes by Columbia House.
Following the successful sales from the "Television Favorites" sampler release, Warner Home Video released F Troop: The Complete First Season, with all 34 black-and-white episodes included. The Complete Second Season of F Troop was released on DVD on May 29, 2007. The DVD features interviews with original F Troop members, writers and other production personnel, as well as behind-the-scenes information. However, only one major actor from the series, Ken Berry, was interviewed for the half hour special. There were also audio segments of an interview with actor Joe Brooks ("Private Vanderbilt").
- McMahon, Ed; David Fisher (2007). When Television Was Young: The Inside Story with Memories by Legends of the Small Screen. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-4016-0327-4. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- List of F Troop episodes at the Internet Movie Database
- Keesee DM. 2001. Too Young to Die: Boy Soldiers of the Union Army 1861-1865. Blue Acron Press. Huntington, VA. ISBN 1-885033-28-1.
- Patricia L. Faust (Editor) 1986 'Historical times illustrated encyclopedia of the Civil War' Harper and Row, New York ISBN 0-06-181261-7
- http://www.civilwarhome.com/confederatesurrender.htm The Surrender of the Confederate Armies
- http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/custer.htm The Battle of the Little Bighorn, 1876
- http://www.homeofheroes.com/medals/pages_wh/5_sstar.html Silver Star Medal
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7609000/7609897.stm History of baseball exposed
- http://www.harrywarren.org/songs/0253.htm The Harry Warren Website
- http://www.jrank.org/history/pages/7776/North-West-Mounted-Police.html North West Mounted Police