The Terror TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association is in full swing. My first entry focused on F-Troop episode, “V is for Vampire” featuring Vincent Price. This time I turn to my favorite episode from the first family of monstrous shenanigans – The Munsters. You may have heard about these people who live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane and filled television airwaves with their odd brand of humor from 1964 to 1966 on their original run. If you need a refresher on The Munsters go here. Otherwise I’ll get right to a special Halloween episode.
Episode: “Munster Masquerade”
Original Airdate: September 24, 1964
Directed by: Lawrence Dobkin
Premise: Marilyn’s boyfriend, Tom invites her, Herman and Lily to a masquerade party at his parent’s house. The families have never met. We know the Munsters are your run-of-the-mill family with a few quirks some may consider odd. Unfortunately, Tom’s family (the Dalys) is the type that worry about what society papers might say so they are less than thrilled that Tom has put them in a predicament to invite strangers to their party. Tom assures them the Munsters are decent people, however (although he hasn’t met them either), so the invite is sent.
The first problem surfaces when it comes to light that the Dalys have excluded Grandpa from the invite. and the old vampire is not happy about it. In fact, he hasn’t been so insulted since the day he died and threatens to use his magic powers to turn himself into chopped liver and show up in the hors d’oeuvres. Clearly, Lily’s has no choice but to call the Dalys to ask if Grandpa can come. They reluctantly agree.
The night of the party arrives and it’s beautiful thundering, stormy night. The perfect night for a gathering. The Munsters have their costumes set – Lily goes as Little Bo Peep, Herman as King Arthur, Marilyn as Priscilla and Grandpa, who wanted to go as Mr. Hyde because it got Fredric March his first Academy Award, ends up going as Napoleon because his magic potion costume didn’t quite turn out as planned.
The Munsters arrive at the Daly’s party and everyone’s dressed to a hilt in masquerade fare. Everyone’s costume is original and lavish, just the kind of snooty affair the Dalys would host. But one of partygoers sticks out. You see, Tom’s father Albert happens to be dressed up as Frankenstein’s monster. Naturally, Herman sees him and wonders why he didn’t come in costume – he thinks he knows him from somewhere.
Everyone is most impressed with Herman’s costume, however, and he’s named the winner of the Best Costume contest when he removes Arthur’s suit of armor and reveals the “mask” he has on underneath. “Hey, he’s wearing one mask under another mask,” one of the partygoers yells and Lily’s appalled at the rudeness. Herman, on the other hand, is touched by the honor but Lily insists they leave the party immediately.
The Munsters are now back in their humble abode, relaxing and gossiping about the strange Dalys when Marilyn gets home, accompanied by Tom. Stepping in to say goodnight, Tom comments on the fact that the Munsters still have their costumes on. Except they don’t. And then, like all who encounter the loveable brood his hair stands on end when he realizes they are ‘real’ monsters. Tom runs out of the house, leaving Marilyn boyfriend-less once more. She’s convinced, as are all the Munsters, that men are scared off by her hideous beauty.
“Munster Masquerade” is great fun. It was the first episode of the first season, which nicely set the stage for all of the characters, the show’s running gags and premise. The Munsters is a spoof on the classic monster icons and stories written as a “regular,” family centered situation comedy. It’s worth noting that the series’ pilot episode, “My Fair Monster,” never aired, for some reason but it is included in The Munsters: The Complete Series DVD collection. That episode was shot in color and stars Joan Marshall as Phoebe Munster, which was the mother before the name was changed to Lily. Although, as a fan of the series I find it awkward to have Lily as Phoebe and to see someone other than Yvonne De Carlo playing the matriarch of the Munster clan, the episode is still worth a look.
A bit of an aside – part of the joy of watching classic TV shows is recognizing the great character actors who appeared in them through the years. There are three of those worth mentioning in “Munster Masquerade.” The first is Mabel Albertson who plays Agnes Daly, Tom’s mother in this episode. Mabel had a long career in film and television. She’s probably best known for playing Mrs. Stephens, Darrin’s snooty, suspicious mother on Bewitched. It’s appropriate to give her double-kudos for being so adept at dealing with monsters and witches. Somehow she managed to retain her sanity.
Another special mention goes to Lurene Tuttle who plays Eddie’s babysitter, Mrs. Morton in this episode. Ms. Tuttle was one of those fabulous character actors whose face was familiar but her name was not known by most people. Lurene had a long career, one that lasted over five decades, in film and television and is always enjoyable to watch. Finally, there’s Frank Wilcox who shows up in what seems like a million movies and TV shows starting in the mid-thirties.
So, “Munster Masquerade,” silly as it is, is a special treat – for Halloween in particular. It’s doubly “halloweenie,” if you will. It features characters in costumes and a double dose of Frankenstein’s monster, that ever-popular icon that’s been a staple in popular media for over 100 years. The Munsters, as is obvious, was inspired by the classic Universal Monsters of yesteryear, which I love. Plus, it’s a hoot to have Herman go to a party where a man is dressed up as the “real” Frankenstein’s Monster. A real geek’s perspective, I know – but it’s the little joys.