was a long-running (five seasons) sitcom that aired on NBC for four years and CBS for one, adapted by Ted Key
from his comic-strip feature. In one of the great casting coups of its period, Oscar-winning dramatic actress Shirley Booth was signed to portray the title character, Hazel Burke, maid to the Baxter household, which consisted of attorney George (Don DeFore), his wife, Dorothy (Whitney Blake
), a part-time decorator, and their eight-year-old son, Harold (Bobby Buntrock
). Inquisitive to the point of nosiness, but with a heart of gold, Hazel was almost preternaturally insightful, which became a running joke on the series as she often clashed gently with the more conventionally sensible and traditionally minded George Baxter, in terms of the way "his" home was run or the degree to which she tried to help out in the affairs of other households. In the opening episode, she offends a man who turns out to be an extremely important new client for George's firm, and adds insult to the injury by taking up the cause of building a new playground on the site of a botanical garden which, as it turns out, the client's grandfather founded 50 years before; in the end, however, with her plain-spoken, common-sense approach to life and people, Hazel smooths over the ruffled feathers and all is put right. Seen today, the series offers some fascinating sociological currents. The mere fact that Dorothy Baxter has a part-time career as a decorator put the series miles ahead of other sitcoms of the period in terms of its vision of women. That attribute, coupled with the fact that Whitney Blake, who played the role, was a surprisingly vibrant, sexy sitcom wife and mother, made her one of the more memorable characters in her field, and gave this particular sitcom wife some dimensions that her predecessors, on shows such as Dennis the Menace
(also based on a comic-strip feature, and also from Columbia Pictures, with the same producer) and Leave It to Beaver
, simply didn't possess. In addition, the episode plots included references to divorce and widowhood, among other elements of family strife and problems that would have been unthinkable in the routine content of family-oriented situation comedies of just a season or two earlier. Additionally, there's a subtle element of class warfare, of a very civil and genial sort, to be found in the scripts -- Booth's Hazel Burke is a plain-spoken character who resonates to all people, but most especially to other workers and working-class people, to what we might call the "doers" in our society. She is also usually able to save time and trouble for her employers, who tend to socialize more easily with people in their better-educated, more well-spoken, upper-middle-class sphere. So, in an episode where the Baxters need a new extension phone put into a bedroom in a hurry because of someone's illness, George and Dorothy try to remember the name of the phone company vice president with whom they once shared a social evening at a club, while Hazel calls out the window to a telephone lineman to whom she's been giving bowling instruction (bowling figures in many of the scripts as an activity that helps define Hazel and her milieu), and the extension is in and working within 30 minutes. She also has little use for social pretensions on the part of others, but only when provoked will she ever consciously react to such factors in her midst. The series was shot in black-and-white for the first three seasons, though one episode in this package is an exception. "What'll We Watch Tonight
" deals with Hazel getting a color television set (a relatively rarely seen device in most upper-middle-class households in 1961-1962); and as the series was shown on NBC, a network that was closely tied corporately to RCA, which owned the patent on the color television system in use in America, and which had a vested interest in promoting color television and the sale of color sets, this episode was shot in color and appears here that way -- and it looks sensational. The show itself straddles several eras; it possesses some of the innocent charm of late-'50s television, but also has enough signs of changes overtaking society in the early '60s so that it touches very different buttons that are equally appealing if slightly more provocative. The acting got better as the series went along and the performers became more comfortable in their roles. The early episodes were also complicated by a hand injury suffered by Don DeFore (he's virtually absent from episode five) which nearly cost him his ring finger. Booth clearly is the center of the appeal, and her acting skills were put to the test with writing that did improve as the show went on but started out fairly rudimentary. To look at these episodes, she also very obviously ran herself ragged in the shooting -- they did 35 episodes a season in those days, and one can see her running down streets for the camera (as well as DeFore doing his own stunt fall in one show's opening segment) -- and was very worn out by the end of the five-season run. On other hand, she also owned a piece of the profits and reportedly made out quite well from the series. Each disc opens automatically to a simple, easy-to-use menu that includes "play all" options and individual episode access. Each show gets five chapter breaks matching the pre-credit, credit, and commercial breaks for the original segments. All of the shows look great as well, sharp and crisp, although the end-credit sequences on some of them are very rough, as though they're from worn 16 mm sources. The one color episode looks sensational, as though the negative has been perfectly preserved; and the sound on all of it is crisp and mastered at a surprisingly high volume. There are no bonus features or other extras, but the series itself is enough of an enjoyable curio that it justifies itself as a purchase.