November 16, 2009

Before GHOST WHISPERER, there was GHOSTBUSTERS, and before GHOSTBUSTERS there were THE GHOST BUSTERS.  Now you might be looking and looking again to see if I may have just repeated myself.  I promise I have not.  GHOSTBUSTERS ( one word) was the hit movie franchise from 1985, about a team of ghost busters in NYC saving the world from Gozer.  THE GHOST BUSTERS was a 1975 live action Saturday morning sitcom from Norm Prescott and Lou Scheimer’s FILMATION comapny, and was played for even more laughs than the 1985 movie.

Forrest Tucker played Jake Kong, the grizzled middle aged straight man of the trio of spectre chasers.  Jake ran the office, operated the de-materializer (“ZZZZZZZZZZZap!”), and was essentially the brains of the operation.  Larry Storch (who played opposite Tucker on F-TROOP) was Eddie Spenser (or Spencer, if you observe the opening titles’ spelling of the name).  Eddie was the enthusiastic, but not-too-bright sidekick, who inexplicably always wore a tacky zoot suit, with an equally tacky tie.  Spenser was always having to carry out the plan, which usually meant that he was the bait for the ghost guest star.  Rounding out the cast was Tracy-a gorilla who never spoke, but was always ready with a visual wisecrack when Kong was trying to get the job done.  According to the credits Tracy ws “trained” by actor Bob Burns.  In reality, of course, it was Bob in the outfit the whole time.

This trio worked for the mysterious Mr. Zero (executive producer Lou Scheimer himself), who always delivered the assignments as a recording in an unlikely object-anything from a rubber chicken to a whipped cream pie.  The running gag was taken right out of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.  The object would explode when the tape destructed, and poor Tracy always got the worst of it, while Spenser cluelessly chastised his gorilla partner about it.

Each week, our unlikely heroes had to contend with a ghostly guest star.  Many of whom were well-known faces in the 1970’s:  Johnny Brown, Ted Knight, Billy Barty, and Krofft character actor Lennie Weinrib, were just some of the faces who tangled with Spenser, Tracy, and Kong.  But fear not:  like I said, this was played for laughs.  The ghosts weren’t out to control the world, or destroy it.  Most of the time, they just wanted to get a precious object to finish some unfinished business, or get some treasure.  Mostly harmeless, but troublesome nonetheless.

I was thrilled when they released the series on DVD.  THE GHOST BUSTERS was one of those shows you watch twice in your lifetime.  As a kid, you loved the physical comedy/slapstick angle, and that de-materializer was a pretty neat prop to handle.  As a grownup, you get to enjoy the subtle humor, and refernces, and yes, the slapstick still works.  My favorite running gag involved Spenser trying to open the filing cabinet.  No matter what he did, the wrong drawer would open, the right drawer wouldn’t open at all, or several drawers would open at once-you never knew what would happen when Spenser had to get a file.  It really made the show feel like a live action cartoon.

You should still be able to find this on DVD at BEST BUY or AMAZON.  I highly recommend it.  Especially if you’re thinking of creating something for Saturday morning TV.  There’s an element in this show your creation will need, and that element is FUN=pure and simple.  No agenda, no overstating a point, just fun.

One last bit of trivia:  The background music credit is for one Yvette Blais.  This is actually the pseudonym of Ray Ellis, who composed a lot of great music for Reg Grundy’s game shows in the 1980’s.



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