Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rural Delivery: Where Oliver Found His Place

Oliver Wendell Douglas finds the Haney Place advertised in The Farm Gazette, which he picks up from a news stand while on a business trip to Chicago. Compelled by a deep-rooted urge, he decides to go have a look. To get there, he changes planes twice, takes a bus from the county seat to Pixley, then hops on a train known as "The Cannonball" for the last leg of his journey. When he gets off in the town of Hooterville, he breaks into song:

Green acres is the place to be, Farm living is the life for me.

Dressed in an expensive three-piece suit, the Manhattan attorney with a Harvard Law School degree purchases the 160-acre farmstead and is determined, at last, to be the farmer of his dreams.

Land spreading out, so far and wide...

Back home in his Park Avenue penthouse, where his wife Lisa waits for him, Oliver has been growing crops in containers on the terrace. Earlier, he was fired from his first law firm appointment when he was caught growing mushrooms in his desk drawer.

Keep Manhattan, just give me the countryside.

Lisa is a glamorous socialite with a thick Hungarian accent. She's quite at home in the big city, with its bright lights and fashionable restaurants. She sings:

New York is where I'd rather stay.

Oliver's mother agrees. Her son has obviously lost his mind. She tells Lisa to leave Oliver and come live at her penthouse. Lisa is tempted.

I get allergic smelling hay. I just adore a penthouse view.

Where, in Hooterville, will she find people to talk to about fashion, about movies, about museums and culture? Lisa was raised to be an urbanite, not a farm wife. She can't even cook!

Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue.

Oliver isn't listening. He's too enamored of country life. He just loves pitching hay and riding around the farm in his Fordson model F tractor. In his elation, he raises his pitchfork and cries out:

The Chores!

Lisa was made for shopping Macy's and Saks 5th Avenue. Where will she shop in Hooterville? Sam Drucker's store?

The Stores!

Oliver the gentleman farmer is blinded by his obsession. He can't see what a shambles of a farm he's purchased from an insatiable con, Mr. Haney. He's pestered into hiring a live-in farmhand, Eb, who works slowly and calls him "Dad." The neighbors are a bunch of wacky eccentrics, led by the Zwiffels and their multi-lingual television-watching pig, Arnold. Even the scatterbrained country agent, Hank Kimball, is more than a bit peculiar. And almost everyone in town is in a betting pool to see how many days it takes before Oliver moves back to New York.

Fresh Air!

Lisa cannot imagine what life will be like on the Haney Place. She is the daughter of the former King of Hungary, after all, and used to opulence and privilege. The city is her birthright .

Times Square!

This is still the 1960s, however, and a wife's place is at her husband's side, as Oliver testifies:

You are my wife!

Lisa had forgotten about the Hungarian Parliament's "Big Dumb Law of 1924," which stated: "All Hungarian women have to do whatever their husbands want them to do, no matter how dumb it is."

Goodbye city life.

And so the Haney Place becomes the Douglas Farm -- with all its clutter, fallow fields, and telephones mounted atop telephone poles -- for six television seasons. Oliver struggles gamely to make his farm a success while Lisa brings some graciousness and finer things of life to their rural experience. They stand side by side, in a parody of American Gothic, and declare:

Green Acres, we are there!

No comments: