Sunday, July 29, 2012

Notable Guest-Stars: Lurene Tuttle and Sheila Bromley

Before I get to the topic of the post, a quick announcement: Yes! We’re getting both parts of season 7 this year! Despite my efforts to learn when part 1 would be released, apparently that news has been out for two months, so everyone else probably is aware of it by now. Part 1 releases on August 21st. But what has been announced more recently is that Part 2 will quickly follow on October 23rd!

It looks like Wal-Mart has the best price for Volume 1, unless they won’t be offering free shipping from site to store once it’s released. I’m waiting to see. If they won’t, I’ll probably pay a couple more dollars to get it from Amazon and have their free shipping.

The prices of these things really makes me cringe, especially when they’re only half-season sets. Half a season should not cost so much. (The official price is fifty dollars for fifteen episodes?! Nooo way. Wal-Mart’s price of around $33 is good, but still, that’s what I expect to pay for a whole season.) And the prices hold steady for years. I’ve discovered that while trying to get hold of various pieces of 4, 5, and 6. But since my local station is skipping the great majority of season 7, I’ll just have to grit my teeth and pay the costs. It’ll be worth it, to finally own season 7. I love almost every episode in the first half. And the second half has some gems too.

And now, the main topic.

Lurene Tuttle and Sheila Bromley are two amazing women who guest-starred repeatedly on Perry through the years. I’m grouping them together because, I’ll confess, I’ve been guilty of mixing them up. They’re both perfect at playing sad motherly figures, with very sad, worried eyes to match. They also usually have similar shades of hair.

Both were with the series almost from the beginning, with Lurene’s first appearance being The Substitute Face in season 1 and Sheila’s being The Borrowed Brunette of season 2. They continued appearing on the series with regularity. They don’t both feature into every season, but between them they were in eleven episodes, and each season features one of them at least once. Lurene remained the longest, with her final guest-spot being in The Avenging Angel in season 9.

Their characters are generally cut from the same cloth. Sometimes they’ve played defendants, sometimes the mothers or other relatives, and in Sheila’s case, both in the same episode (The Nervous Neighbor)! Their characters are generally very kind and very burdened people.

I have favorite episodes featuring them both. Lurene’s favorite of mine is season 6’s The Shoplifter’s Shoe. It has the curious distinction of being one of the few book-inspired episodes that ranks among my very favorites ever. Most of them do not, as in them the characters usually tend to act out in ways that were either more common to the books or used but largely abandoned in the series to make way for character development.

Lurene’s Aunt Sarah is probably also her quirkiest Perry character. Devoted to her missing brother George, and afraid that he has stolen a client’s diamonds to pay his gambling debts, she pretends to start shoplifting so she might be blamed for the diamonds instead of George. She also tries to protect her niece Virginia when they think Virginia killed George’s crooked business partner, by allowing herself to be tried for the crime. The latter is a common Perry twist, but Aunt Sarah somehow makes everything seem new. She is a very sharp, intelligent woman, but she puts on an act of being absent-minded and even amnesiac to further her protective plans.

The Shoplifter’s Shoe is quite a parade of famous or soon-to-be famous people. Lurene is joined by Margaret O’Brien as Virginia and Leonard Nimoy as Pete Chennery, the murderer. And Lurene herself was a very prolific actress from radio, the stage, and movies.

This episode also intrigues me because it feels a lot like an episode from the season 2 era. The focus is again on the Core Five, which was becoming a rarity by season 6. Tragg and Brice are the featured police; Andy is nowhere to be found.

I wonder when it was filmed relative to the rest of the season. It aired as episode 13. I wonder why they didn’t consider it strong enough to be part of the coveted first eight, which they claimed were what they felt were their strongest episodes for the season.

Perhaps it hadn’t been filmed yet. I don’t quite understand how they determined their strongest episodes if some weren’t filmed yet, but I know filming seemed to be going on right while the season was underway. That’s made quite clear by them being in the middle of The Crying Cherub when William Talman was abruptly suspended in March. The episode aired a couple of weeks later, I think. Maybe the scripts were all written and some just weren’t filmed?

My favorite of Sheila’s episodes is season 7’s The Nervous Neighbor. I spotlighted it already, so I’ll just mention that Sheila’s character is the real amnesiac Alice Bradley (real as opposed to Aunt Sarah’s faking). Alice is quite a unique character too, at least as far as backstory goes. She sustained a horrific head injury during a fight with her husband over her son Charles. Then, in a state the doctor described as “medically unconscious”, she struck and killed the man and ran out of the house, taking the car with her. With the doctor’s diagnosis, Hamilton declines to prosecute her further. Later, she has to helplessly watch as Charles is accused of murdering the wretch who tried to make it look like Charles was embezzling from the family company.

As for least favorites, well, Lurene’s The Avenging Angel wins that dubious prize. It’s generally hailed as one of the worst of the series, and I admit, I have to agree. I liked it alright at first, but when the plot of the boy idol kept dragging on and on I started to get very impatient and bewildered. I don’t think the murder even happens until around thirty-five minutes into it, and then there’s hardly any time spent in court. It’s a very tedious episode, although the insight into the music industry is interesting.

I’m not quite sure which of Sheila’s episodes would be my least favorite, by contrast. I like all of hers to varying degrees, but I suppose I must vote for The Mystified Miner. While a good episode, basically, it is one of those book-inspired ones from season 5, and the one in which I feel Perry performs his most jaw-dropping of his antics, crossing from “legal tightrope walking” to outright illegal behavior. Odd, that Hamilton never seemed to know about Perry’s taking the defendant’s car and deliberately getting that gaggle of teenage kids to change the tire so multiple fingerprints would be everywhere. Although maybe it’s just as well he didn’t know.

But even in the episodes I like least, the cast comes through, working with what they’ve got. Lurene and Sheila are both wonderful in their parts. I enjoy seeing them turn up, in those episodes as well as all their others.

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