Greetings friends, family, fellow fans and readers. This week we begin Season 3’s blogging adventure with “Ghost Town, U.S.A.”! The episode originally aired on September 17th, 1971. It was this episode that featured a Brady adventure that strained new levels of credibility. As regular viewers know, it certainly would not be the last. This episode took the Bradys out of their nameless suburb where they dealt with typical suburban family woes and placed them in the middle of a wild and whacky adventure, complete with some highly questionable decisions on the part of the adults. Despite any misgivings about credibility, this is still a fun episode. Let’s commence to reviewing “Ghost Town, U.S.A.”!
The episode begins with Jan feeling quite anxious about a surprise Mike and Carol have promised. Jan questions Alice as she vacuums the living room. The sound effects man must not have had a recording of a vacuum running as the Brady’s suction machine is making sounds like no other vacuum I’ve ever heard. It is more akin to a sci-fi laser. Alice tells Jan she knows nothing regarding the pending surprise. In a funny line Alice tells Jan to share with the other kids to “not to try pumping me. The well is dry”. Jan reports to the boys and her sisters that there is no update regarding the revelation of the pending surprise.
Mike and Carol arrive home a short time later and gather the family in the living room for the big reveal. With the opening of the curtains, the big to do is revealed to be a pop up camper! A pop up camper that will accompany the Bradys and Alice to The Grand Canyon! The family is justifiably excited to be going to see the natural wonder. However, the pop up camper has always baffled me a bit. There is no way that thing could accommodate the entire Brady family comfortably. Later in the ghost town, we will see tents set up, so maybe Mike was making this big reveal so the kids could see where he, Carol and Alice would be sleeping and playing cards while the kids roughed it in tents. In this scene, you will also notice the Brady family has a new station wagon.
Another change at the Brady house is sleeping bags! As Mike and the boys prepare the sleeping bags for the trip, one will notice they are all black. In a previous episode, “Our Son, The Man”, the Brady sleeping bags were a rainbow of variety. Yes, this is some extreme nitpickery, but since the image from “Our Son, The Man” was readily available, I thought I’d share it. While loading the new sleeping bags, Mike shares with Peter that not only will they learn about the canyon, but also the Indian tribes that live(d) there. This line sounded very scholarly and not very fatherly. He then names a few of the tribes and the meaning of the name of one. Mike did enjoy quoting different authors and philosophers, so this is just sort of par for the course in the Brady universe. It also opens up a joke Peter makes about the meaning of Bobby being Little Man With Great Big Running Mouth.
Up in the girls’ room, we see that Cindy’s smarts have not increased between seasons. She shares her desire to see the Indians and the cabooses. Marcia corrects her that the term is papoose. Surprisingly she doesn’t tack on “dum-dum” or some other insult after correcting her sister. While we can give a child of Cindy’s age a pass for mixing up caboose and papoose, what follows shows her lack of smarts remains. After being corrected that a caboose is the back of a train, she counters with she thought it was the back of an Indian. Sigh.
Carol then enters the girls room to check on the progress of the packing. She tells the girls their trip to the canyon’s bottom will be done via mule-train. Marcia laughs at the idea of Alice riding a mule. Carol says they will not share with Alice the means of conveyance until she is sitting on top of the mule.
The next scene has the Bradys setting off on their Grand Canyon adventure. The entire family loads up into the station wagon. Mike makes certain that no family member has overlooked any detail in the trip preparation. With the family’s confirmation they have not, the Bradys are off! As the car pulls away, we see the camper was not attached to the wagon and get a “waah-waah” sound effect. It’s hard to imagine how Mike missed this. He stood at the back of the wagon a considerable amount of time just seconds before.
What follows are three overly long shots of the Bradys traveling along the roads of the American Southwest. Just like their previous outdoors adventure, the entire family sings “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” while driving along the road. If nothing else, these shots gives us a really good look at the Bradys’ new wheels. That is one tough looking station wagon. The great minds of Detroit at the time were successful in making a grocery-getter still look manly.
The Bradys make a pit stop at a western themed gas-station. The countrified attendant immediately directs Bobby and Cindy to the privy upstairs. The laugh track is queued when it is revealed Alice needs to go to the bathroom too. Oh Alice, your bathroom needs sure do make us smile. Mike and Carol chat with the gas station attendant who makes a bad joke about the Grand Canyon being so crowded at this time of year, even the squirrels need reservations. They can’t even give the poor dude a courtesy chuckle as he must ask if they got his bad joke. Carol inquires about anything to do locally and the man says there is nothing, save an old ghost town named Cactus Creek. This immediately and understandably elicits excitement from the kids. Upon learning that this abandoned place is 20 miles down the next dirt road turnoff on the left, Mike and Carol decide the family will just camp there for the night.
Perhaps my thinking is just the result of the times in which I have lived (born in 1977), but taking the entire family 20 miles off the planned course, with the only other person in the world knowing about it being a random stranger working at the gas station, seems very dangerous and irresponsible. The fact that they are in the desert only increases the potential peril that could befall them! This could be the worst parenting decision Mike and Carol have made thus far!
The gas station attendant was played by Hoke Howell. He was sought as an actor for roles that needed a southerner or countrified character. I immediately recognized him as Dud Wash from “The Andy Griffith Show”. However, he had recurring roles on “Here Come The Brides” and “The Oregon Trail”. Thanks to countless guest appearances on TV series, he never lacked work during his three decade career. Hoke Howell died in 1997.
The Bradys careless and irresponsible journey to Cactus Creek gives us three more overly long traveling shots. This time the Bradys sing “Hail, Hail, The Gangs All Here” instead of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”.
Upon arriving in Cactus Creek, the Bradys find one very well maintained and un-looted ghost town! There are no doubt some readers of this blog who are fans of the western TV shows and movies of old. Do any of you recognize Cactus Creek as being part of some other show or film’s set?
In this well maintained ghost town, there lives one agitated old prospector! He is not happy at all to see the family making camp in the middle of town. The Bradys fail to notice him standing atop the old, still able to support weight, balcony. With the gas station attendant sharing the location of Cactus Creek with customers, one would think the old prospector would be used to tourists strolling in. Well, it has been established this was a very irresponsible move on the part of the Bradys, so maybe he doesn’t see too many.
Upon exploring the ghost town, the boys find a practically pristine stage coach that was left behind. Greg has a fun idea in filming a movie about a stage coach robbery. Compliments of the DVD, I got to see the extended version of this being filmed. In syndication, just as the kids are about to start filming, they are summoned to dinner. The DVD shows Peter robbing the stagecoach, shooting Bobby and Jan and Cindy acting the part of saloon girls who try to woo Peter and prevent their own valuables from being taken. It was a fun slice of the Brady universe that was experienced for the first time this week! However, danger looms as the old prospector spies on the kids from a nearby building.
After snatching a chicken leg from the Bradys, we learn the reason for the prospector’s angst. He has discovered gold in Cactus Creek and now fears the Bradys are there to mine some of his find. He has a plan to outsmart the city slickers though! He shares all of the aforementioned information with his mule.
After spying on them and stealing from them, the prospector makes his presence known to the Bradys. He introduces himself as Zaccariah T. Brown. In a funny line, he says he hasn’t eaten in three days. Alice points out the crumbs in his whiskers and he replies he hasn’t washed in three days either. After bumming some more food, he takes the Bradys on a tour of Cactus Creek. Again, this may just be my generation’s way of thinking, but meeting some hermit who lives alone with a mule, 20 miles from any major road, would rankle in me some level of suspicion and caution. Perhaps the Bradys feel there is strength in numbers and that allays some fear.
During the tour of the town, Zaccariah shares a funny joke about the blacksmith being a very strong man. He died “holding up a train”. Alice takes this to mean he was shot during a robbery, but Zaccariah clarifies this to mean the train fell on the blacksmith after he lifted it up too long. The joke is corny, but funny. Things take a dark turn however when Zaccariah shares the exploits of Jesse James in Cactus Creek. Mike questions the story as he never knew Jesse James to be in that part of the country. Mike Brady really was a walking encyclopedia. Zaccariah offers to prove to the family that Jesse James was there by showing them his initials on the wall of the jail cell.
The entire family foolhardily walks into the cell to see the famed outlaw’s scratches on a wall. Zaccariah waits until they are all in the cell and tells them to move the cot before slamming the door shut and locking it. Carol thinks this is part of the fun experience and asks him what he is doing. Here he lets the Bradys know they won’t be stealing his claim! When Mike assures Zaccariah they have no interest in his gold claim, Bobby counters with “Sure we do dad.” That line always makes me laugh out loud. Zaccariah says he’ll take Bobby’s word for it and then takes off in the Brady’s car!
Zaccariah T. Brown was played by sitcom icon Jim Backus. His acting career could be an entire blog in itself! Most fans of classic TV will immediately recognize him as Thurston Howell III from “Gilligan’s Island”. However, prior to this he had had his own series, “The Jim Backus Show” that lasted from 1960-1961. His first recurring role was on the 1950s sitcom “I Married Joan”. A notable film appearance for him was in the James Dean classic, “Rebel Without A Cause”. Also included in the acting resume too long to mention, was his work voicing the cartoon character Mr. Magoo in two incarnations of the series. Jim Backus passed away in 1989.
Finding themselves in a predicament like never before, the Bradys start scheming to break out of the jail cell. We get a dumb Bobby line as he suggests their gang will be along soon to bust them out. Peter then shares a plot from a western where a guy summoned his horse and took a rope off of it and used a lasso to retrieve the spare key. This gives Mike the idea to join the family’s belts as a rope and retrieve the spare cell key hanging on a nearby peg. The logistics of this don’t quite make sense. The string of belts could likely do nothing more than knock the key off the peg and potentially out of reach. The belts are a failure as they do not hold together, leaving Mike to execute plan B.
Plan B has Mike tossing the family’s shoes at the hanging key. If he is successful knocking it off the peg, a rope made up of socks with a purse to weight it down will be used to drag the key to the cell and freedom. Plan B sees the Bradys escape confinement, from the cell at least. They all empty out to the street where it is decided Mike and Peter will walk 20 miles back to the highway to summon help.
After they have set out, Carol and Alice worry over Mike and Peter. Alice ponders if they have made it to the highway, only for Carol to share they left only 20 minutes before. Alice cracks the joke, “My, how time flies when you’re having fun.” Look at Alice, generating humor in the midst of extreme adversity. After that she says, “I thought this would be the trip of a lifetime, not the end of one!” No, not really, but I would not be overly surprised if such a line made it in the script. Carol’s thoughts are heard as she worries over Mike and Peter and the fact that those who stayed behind are without food or water! With that, the episode ends on a most somber note. There is no epilogue.
“Ghost Town, U.S.A.” certainly took “The Brady Bunch” in a new direction. Things that I took no issue with watching the episode as a child are glaring as I watch as an adult. This episode is certainly aimed at a younger viewing audience than those in the latter part of the second season. That trend would continue for the remainder of the series. “Ghost Town, U.S.A.” is a fun episode that gave us that dose of low level craziness we came to expect with “The Brady Bunch” in a most unlikely setting. As always readers, I welcome your thoughts and contributions for the episode!
Don’t worry dear readers! I will not keep you in suspense regarding the fate of the stranded Bradys for another week. Part 2 of the story, “Grand Canyon Or Bust” will be released as a Sunday Special. See you day after tomorrow!