Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Emerald acres

I awoke in the middle of the night recently with the shocking realization that I had somehow become Lisa Douglas.

No, I wasn’t spirited off to Sweden for some radical surgery or anything like that. My metamorphosis was a metaphorical one.

You probably remember Lisa from watching TV decades ago. Or maybe you know her from watching sitcom reruns on Nick at Nite or some other channel. She was the character played by Eva Gabor on Green Acres. She was a New York socialite wife, whose attorney husband (played by Eddie Albert) got it into his head that the best thing that could happen to the two of them would be to chuck the high-pressure, soulless, big-city life and become farmers out in the middle of rural nowhere. Inexplicably, the place he settled on in order to realize his rustic paradise was the hamlet of Hooterville, which lay just down the train track from Kate Bradley’s hotel at Petticoat Junction.

The joke of this sitcom—and sitcoms from the crowd that produced Green Acres, Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies were always based on a single joke that was run into the ground week after week year after year, all to the long-lasting approval of those unfathomable Nielsen families—was that Albert’s gung-ho city slicker-turned-farmer was completely unsuited for country life. Even in a normal rural area he would have been unsuited. But he was even less unsuited for life in the idiotic TV world of Hooterville. Despite his new agrarian lifestyle, he continued to wear a business suit everyday. And he had little patience for the eccentric characters that dotted the local landscape, which—unlike a lot of the artifice of the rural sitcoms—actually are a part of rural and small-town life. The central mystery of Green Acres was why its protagonist Oliver Wendell Douglas ever thought he was suited to the farming life in the first place.

As I mentioned in this space three weeks ago, Green Acres was the prime TV example of what I call the “fish out of water” story. Movie versions of this story flourished in the 1940s and included films like George Washington Slept Here, The Egg and I and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. In a film like The Egg and I, it is, similarly, the husband (played in this case by Fred MacMurray) who drags his wife off to live in the country. But in the movie MacMurray is totally at home as a farmer and it is the wife who is the fish out of water. The humor derives from the city-bred woman trying to adapt to rural ways. Green Acres provided a twist by having the husband who instigated the move to the country turn out to be ill-suited for the adventure and his luxury-loving, pampered wife turn out to do a better job of assimilating.

The opening sequence to each episode of Green Acres showed Lisa in her Park Avenue penthouse exulting in her scores of bags from endless shopping trips, only to be yanked out of frame by her husband. “Good-by, city life!” she sang plaintively in her Hungarian accent, one of the numerous details about these characters that was never explained or delved into. We were set up to expect Lisa to be the fish out of water. She would be totally at sea without Tiffany’s or Macy’s or her maid or whatever other perks and luxuries to which she was accustomed. Instead, it turned out that Lisa, as a ditzy pixilated eccentric, had a lot in common with the denizens of Hooterville, all of whom had their own quirks and eccentricities. Before long, she was even communing with Arnold the pig, an idea that totally confounded and repelled her husband. The story really became one of a lone grownup in a world of children or, if you prefer, a lone sane man in an insane asylum.

So, when I say that I have become Lisa Douglas, I don’t mean that I have taken to talking to the pigs here in the west of Ireland. I just mean that, in some strange way, adapting to the life in this remote rural area has been easier for me than for the Missus, who was born and raised here. A few years in America seem to have ruined her. She gets confounded when the kitchen guy doesn’t come when he said he would and his two or three days worth of work drags out to five weeks. Or when the bathroom tiles she ordered get delivered to a completely different county because a shop there has similar name to the local one here, and it takes an extra week to get them. When things like this happen, I tend to kick back and pour another shot of whiskey for myself and say, “Well, that’s life in Ireland.” She, on the other hand, starts turning red in the face like, well, like Eddie Albert.

One worrisome thought: When I catalogued all the movies I could think of, in the previous column, about people moving into new homes, I omitted a classic example. While not strictly about a family moving into a new home of their own, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining definitely falls into the sub-category of houses with bad secrets. I think about it often as I listen to the house’s creaks and groans late at night or walk our long hallway and listen for our toddler on her little trike. My fear is that the Missus might decide to take up writing and spend days on end alone in a room with a typewriter. I can almost hear her now: “Here’s Johnny!”

-S.L., 24 October 2002

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