“All's Noisy on the Pittsburgh Front”

11 September 1998
[Binky? Binky?  What have they done with you,boy?!] Written by Rupert Holmes.

Directed by Juan Jose Campanella.
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[Multiple Cliffs]

Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, Hawaii time, Japanese craft landed at Malaya and Thailand. Singapore was bombed. Japanese troops pushed into Hong Kong's new territories. Airfields in US-ruled Philippines were bombed at least four times. American bases at Guam, Wake Island and Midway Island reported aerial attacks.

At the U. S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, two of the eight battleships in the Pacific Fleet, the "Arizona" and "Oklahoma," sustain enough damage in two air raids that they will never sail again. Five others are badly damaged. The eighth, "Pennsylvania," is in dry dock mostly unscathed.

In less than four hours, over 2400 persons were dead or missing at Pearl Harbor, including 68 civilians. 1178 more were wounded.

On 8 December, President Roosevelt addressed the legislative and judicial branches and requested Congress to declare war on Japan. Britain declared war earlier that day. On 11 December, Germany and Italy honored their treaties with Japan and declared war on the United States. Later that same day, America declared war on Germany and Italy.

On 12 December, WENN is broadcasting Roosevelt's message to Congress. Well, Gus Kahuna's rendition of Roosevelt's message. Gus Kahuna, you may remember from "Don't Act Like That," is fabulous at mimicking voices but not so good at coming up with his own voices. Unfortunately, as he gives the ad for Lubridor Hair Creme, he continues in his Roosevelt impersonation. Audiences at home are blinking their eyes wondering how the war effort will be helped by massive purchases of hair gunk. So Betty has to give away one of the secrets of radio to her listeners.

However, enough listeners have probably decided to follow their "President's request" to buy a tube that Lubridor's stock is probably going to rise with the surge in sales. Scott uses an official phone line that acts as if it's local to the District of Columbia to notify a Major friend of his and slips him the tip. This is to earn him a favor owed by the Major; a favor Scott plans to speak with him about later, in private. (Never mind that I find it hard to picture Lubridor as something on the stock market, it still shows quick thinking on Scott's part (Although with Scott's history, maybe he realized the unlikelihood of share availability (But perhaps...nah. Enough parentheticals.)))

The patriotic fervor is running high. Mr. Eldridge has unearthed his uniform from his days with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. Mackie lets Tom know it should have made a stop in the laundry on its way from being stored to being donned.

The plots of WENN's show reflect the war. Captain Amazon (sponsored by Dutch Uncle Cocoa) and Binky find themselves in the Philippines.

Betty switched over to overwhelming happiness ("It's a miracle!") in her despair over Victor's death ("Radio Silence"). When Victor didn't remember Scott Sherwood, a close friend during Victor's early time in London according to Scott, Betty began writing surprise revelations about identities in her scripts ("Prior to Broadway"). Now, in reaction to America joining the Allies, she wants to bring "comedy and variety down to almost nothing."

Mere days ago I was rereading the liner notes for Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters: Their Complete Recordings Together. It pointed out that once the American Federation of Musicians strike ended, Bing and the Andrews Sisters began recording "buoyant wartime spirit-lifters." The Andrews Sisters became very identified with these. As Maxene Andrews pointed out, the songs were intended "to give the American people the fun and upbeat feelings they needed during this awful war." Can you imagine spending many tense hours on duty and when it came time to relax, the radio poured out relentless sobriety? The human psyche doesn't operate well under those circumstances. But Victor explains it far more articulately than I:

"Betty, what do you think this country is fighting for? Hmm? Life, liberty and the right to do silly radio programs. We're not just fighting for France, Betty. We're fighting for Frank Sinatra, crooning. Johnny Weissmuller, lagooning. Captain Ahab, harpooning. Bugs Bunny, cartooning. This is more than just Mother, Love and Country. This is for Moe...Larry...and Curly."

"I just was trying to do, ya know, the responsible thing."

"I had the same first impulse myself. And then I realized that the reason that we are in this thing is so that men and women of every race and creed can come home after a hard day's work and take a beer out of their icebox and sit in their underwear listening to Rance Shiloh, U. S. Marshall. The day we lose Custard the Clown, Betty...we've lost the war."

Betty stares at Victor in admiration, caught up in his fervor. Victor has thought beyond the immediate emotional needs of individuals to their larger needs. And he's passionate about it, just as he was when he first impressed Betty. And rather than knocking Betty's schedule with "Betty, how could you be so blind?", he takes it as an opportunity to teach, to share ideas, to engage and motivate...and to inspire.

Jeff is trying to engage Hilary's attention with a proposal...on a time delayed basis. Jeff expects all the legalities from the Pavla affair, as it were not, to be completed within a month's time. However, Hilary continues to put him off. I would think she's continuing with her plan not to give an inch until Jeff is completely free. Oddly she doesn't seem to realize that Jeff, as well as all the WENN men will want to join up. Well, maybe not so oddly. She is Hilary Booth, of course.

Once Gus brings this to her attention her true feelings of fear for Jeff surface. But she gleans from Gus that married men are placed at the back of the roll call.

Tom delivers a strange telegram stating that Special Services is taking over all of WENN's operations. This sounds highly irregular. But there's little time to talk about it as Victor must meet a transport plane.

Victor and Betty have been dating since just after September 1st ("Some Time, Some Station"). I'm sure they've kissed goodbye several times with many other smooches in-between. But as early as the 2nd of October ("Past Tense, Future Imperfect"), Betty was beginning to question her satisfaction with the relationship. Now, two months later, Betty pulls back from Victor's goodbye kiss. It seems she's decided to confront Victor with her concerns. Or perhaps even decided to end the relationship.

Scott, passing by, sees them kissing through the window. This is one of the days where he fears Betty might love Victor more than him. He turns back to the writer's room so he can place that call to the Major.

In Studio A, Hilary puts her plan to save Jeff's life in action. She accepts his proposal. In a scene of kissus interruptus, we see Eugenia and Maple placing bets on how long they'll stay made up.

Hilary's scheme of preventing Jeff from serving in the war soon becomes apparent to Jeff.

"Hilary Booth, I retract the proposition I was speaking of."

"You're dangling a preposition and retracting a proposition at the same time."

According to a message on the newsgroup, Tom Beckett has stated that he semaphored "Birds do it. Bees do it. Eugenia, let's do it." So it looks likes the "might have been -C-" is to be thrown out. The next -O- was correct. The "probably -D- but could be -I-" was an -I-. The toss up between -T- and -O- was a -T-. And the "almost certainly -E- but maybe -L-" is an -E-. This means that in the editing, the last semaphore scene we saw was another angle or take of the second/third line: "o i t E" (which gave us an overlapped -E-).

So labeling the semaphore scenes in order as red, green, yellow and blue gives it to us as:

BIRDs do it.
Bees dO IT.
EUgenia, let's DO It.

Of course, the "d o i" from the third semaphore scene doesn't necessarily come at the end. I put it there because becasue it's the next "d o i" after "EUgenia."

Mr. Foley is expanding his communication skills beyond sound effects in order to be more useful to the armed forces. He's learning semaphore. We see him down at the end of the hall sending "BIRD."

When next we see the flags, he spells, "E...U..."

Eugenia: "E...U...G...E...Oh, he's spelling my name.

Back to Foley: "D...O...I..."

Eugenia: "Oh Mr. Foley, you mustn't."

When we cut back to Foley, he seems smoldering with passion and he's moving the flags so fast it's hard to keep up. When we first cut to him, he might have just signaled a "C." The next letter is clearly an "O." The following letter is probably a "D" although it could be an "I." This is followed by an ambiguous signal which seems like it could be a "T" or an "O." The last letter we see is almost certainly an "E," but might be an "L."

Put it all together and it seems to read, "Eugenia, do I .......c o d t/o e."

Scott has contacted his Major friend again and through a bad connection by Maple, Maple and Betty overhear some of the conversation. Apparently Scott had been in contact with his friend earlier and the Major had passed on news of a plush assignment in London. The job entails a suite at the Dorchester, a chauffeur, an expense account for entertaining celebrities and no chance of combat. Scott wants this job. He wants it for...Victor Comstock. (A detail unheard by Betty and Maple.)

Most of the men seem to have agreed on this day to go to the recruiting office. Perhaps because Monday would have been like a bad day at the DMV. Or maybe waiting for the declaration of war against the Axis. Tom Eldridge, veteran of the Spanish-American War , Mackie Bloom, veteran of The Great War, Jeff Singer and Mr. Foley march out of the station destined for the recruiting center to the hearty "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" of Eugenia, Gertie, Maple and Betty. Mackie, perhaps remembering the slaughter of Verdun, has the saddest look as he turns and follows the others out. With the men gone, the heart goes out of their heartiness and the station is quieter...emptier.

The telegram had mentioned that a Captain would be arriving to take charge. So when the "Captain" shows up at the station, this would seem to be fulfillment. (But does it fill you with the fulfillingness...aw, forget it.) He seems a little puffed up with himself which seemed odd, but then I'm used to seeing bizarre representations of military people on TV. But his question of "standing guard" aimed into reality-disconnect and his admonition to drink Dutch Uncle Cocoa fired off the rocket. Only later would I notice there were no markings of any kind on his "outfit."

This "Captain" has just returned from the Philippines. When he sees that Scott isn't at the recruitment office with the others he calls Scott a laggard. Since Scott doesn't know what the word means he considers it a fighting word.

In the conversation that follows (Betty manages to prevent a fight), Betty slams Scott pretty hard for what she considers his enlistment negotiation. Scott, frustrated, departs (because of a deadline we later learn).

Then Betty uncovers the Captain's secret. He's Captain...Amazon! And he's prepared to take Binky, Yudo Yudy (the former Judo Judy) and the sponsors with him. He is clearly mad.

The once-proud quartet of men return. As expected, Jeff is 4F due to injuries to his knees in the London bombing. Also expected was that Tom Eldridge wouldn't meet the age requirement since he hasn't seen 65 in many years. And the age requirement was 35 or under. And Mackie hasn't seen 35 in many years. As I mentioned in last week's post, it took Glenn Miller many months to get around the age requirement. That left Foley, who turns out to have "flat feet" and also was categorized as 4F.

We find out where Scott had rushed off to. Once more to the men's room to change clothing. He presents himself to Betty and Amazon Andy in his Army Second Lieutenant's uniform. As if there were any doubt, Scott was there early Monday morning (and woe to anyone that stood in his way). Since the day is almost done and he ships out that night, he was probably coming in to tell Betty earlier when confronted by Camouflage Boy. He fought against the Nationalists, the Nazis and the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War and this time he wants to see it finished, "for all the Betty Roberts in this country." Even if it means he has "to do without the one [he cares] about for a while."

The womenfolk are trying to console the menfolk who feel guilty over their setback from the Front. Eugenia and Hilary anticipate the Hollywood Canteen. And Jeff is slowly warming up to the idea of at least being able to provide morale boosts by entertaining the troops.

Captain Amazon Andy is quickly found out when he begins shaking Miss Booth, Miss Hilary Booth: "Binky? Binky? What have they done with you, boy?!"

Scott tells Betty he's down to her last 8 minutes with him when Victor returns with "big, big news." (Scott seems saddened that one of his catch phrases is catching on.) We finally find out the scoop on that odd telegram. WENN is now the flagship station of THE W.E.N.N., the Wartime Entertainment and News Network. In addition to WENN's regular shows, they'll be creating programs for Armed Forces Radio (ARS) (which I remember somewhat fondly). "It'll mean twice the work and, because the government is paying for it, we'll have half the budget. God, what a challenge!"

Betty agrees that it's "very exciting" (Scott smiles at the loss of another catch phrase).

It turns out that the expected "Captain" to oversee WENN and W.E.N.N. is Victor himself, promoted that very day. Oddly enough, Victor has also been offered the post of Director of Armed Forces Radio in London.

Outside, Crazed Andy is hauled away. "But...it's my station." The orderly patriotically informs him, "The airwaves are public property. This is everyone's station."

Eugenia and Mr. Foley are in the writer's room. "Mr. Foley, do you think we should consider becoming engaged?" Foley does not appear to be at odds with this suggestion. Just as he is ready to say "Yes" or "No", we cut to...

Jeff and Hilary are in Studio A. Now that the situation with Jeff's enlistment is resolved...for the moment, Jeff once again proposes to Hilary...on the air. "Hilary, in front of all Pittsburgh, I ask...will you be my wife?"

"Jeff, I really..." and then Hilary stops whatever flippant reply she was going to give. Perhaps after the events of the day she's been reminded how easily she could lose Jeff again. Once the Pavla situation looked to be over, we had expected their engagement to be on immediately. But for five days she's been putting him off, and for a reason. "I really can't, you see...I'm married to someone else."

By the way she says it, I find it impossible to believe that she's already "married to her job" or some such. I then thought that unbeknownst to Jeff, Hilary had not signed the final papers on their divorce (divorce of a marriage that wasn't legal? This has been a long strange trip). But she specifically said "someone else." My best guess is that in order to give tit for tat she rushed blindly into a marriage before "Happy Homecomings" to spite Jeff. Or perhaps for some legal reason. The only logical candidate that comes to mind, astonishingly, is Ballinger.

As to why she hasn't told anyone. She's embarrassed, perhaps. She's trying to have it taken care of behind the scenes before anyone finds out. After all, she lived for years with Jeff under the pretense of being married when they were both single. She worked like the dickens to keep that quiet.

What of Foley and Eugenia. Is it true love? What of the hint of a beginning romance with Maple in the prior season? Completely done, gone, out the window?

Then there's Scott with his strange maneuvering behind the scenes to get Victor sent to London. Was his motivation purely selfish? To keep Victor and Betty having time together with Scott out of the picture, away at war?

But it's something that Victor would enjoy. Almost like a radio czar. Certainly that shows good intentions. But it could be shrewd thinking. The offered job would have to be something that would appeal strongly to Victor.

But he took care to emphasize that it'd be a non-combative position. Maybe he's looking out for Victor's safety. After all, he likes the man. He's a hero who has already put his life in grave peril for months undercover for which he was subjected to mind-bending techniques. He was like a prisoner of war before we were at war. It's Victor's turn to take it easy while Scott takes the battle to the Nazis. However, certainly being in London places Victor in more danger than Pittsburgh or D.C. After all, that's where he was almost killed before and the bombing raids have continued. So he doesn't seem to be looking out for Victor's safety.

What of Victor. Certainly he's been doing some thinking since October. He must know that all this time away is threatening his relationship with Betty. Having W.E.N.N. headquarted out of WENN is perfect. Now perhaps he'll be able to spend more time with Betty. Since Betty's withdrawal from him earlier in the day this must have been turning over in his mind.

There's just the problem with the ARS assignment. "I got it. Sherwood, why don't you take that job over in London?" Scott has earned Victor's respect with some of his programming ideas. He seems to be able to handle budgets well. He's already a commissioned officer. And it probably entered Victor's mind that it could only help him and Betty if Scott were gone.

Scott, hit out of left field with a setup of his own devising, quizzes, "What? Get stuck in a cozy corner of London while you're here with Betty. No, no, no." Scott inches in a little towards Victor and starts pointing his finger at him (I dare you). "Why don't I take your job here and you can go to London. What do you say to that...Vic?" Scott venomously emphasizes "Vic" even though Victor has indicated his displeasure at the nickname.

Victor has been every bit the gentleman. Scott has been saying "Vic" since September, although once Victor learned Scott's name he's never misspoke it once. But that's no more than what Hilary does with people all the time so he brushed it off. It also must have been apparent to him the last couple of months that Scott has been trying to subvert his relationship with Betty. He's tried to be civil about the whole thing. After all, what guy wouldn't love Betty? But now there's no dodging, Scott is making it a point of declaring his intentions towards Betty. And he's also using body language to indicate physical challenge. (Quick, get Jane Goodall, she might want to observe this.) Victor is human and has his limits. Either his rising anger or a realization that firmness is needed motivates him to return the unspoken physical challenge and close the remaining distance between them (I double dare you). Victor corrects Scott, "What do you say to that...sir!" Victor puts his own angry emphasis on "sir".

Betty (who is probably getting tired of breaking up fights and wondering why they don't save it for the Axis) intervenes, "Do I have anything to say about this?"

Vic, as always, is quick to respect Betty's ability to make her own choices, "You're right, Betty. You have everything to say about this. What do you say, Sherwood?"

"Yeah. Betty, you decide. Victor can order me to stay or to go."

"Like they say over at the Buttery, Betty, 'I'm ready to take your order'." Then, as both men turn towards Betty, Victor softly completes: "What'll it be?"

Betty has had a habit in tense moments of practically ping ponging her eyes back and forth. This time she looks from left to right and back again, but in a much more controlled fashion. As she continues to look back and forth between the two men, we...

Fade out.

Well, Victor is right in that Betty has everything to say about who she dates. Victor is wrong in that Betty doesn't have everything to say about their military assignments and career choices. They must take their own responsibility. I suspect that Betty will tell them just that. Followed shortly by breaking up with Victor and making sure both men know to keep their distance.

Well, we close on another magnificent season of WENN. I thought it started out strong, had some weak points here and there mid-season but came up with another winning cliff hanger. This time it doesn't involve the life or death of Victor Comstock, but instead focuses on predicaments arising from Rupert's marvelous characters. Very nicely done.

This is Rodney Walker signing off saying, "Loose Lips Sink Ships!"

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