Thursday, May 31, 2018

Billie: A Missed Opportunity to Promote Girl Power

Made between the second and third seasons of The Patty Duke Show, the teen comedy Billie (1965) is a best-forgotten stain on the resumes of its star and her veteran supporting cast. Indeed, the only reason to watch this ill-conceived adaptation of the 1952 Broadway play Time Out for Ginger is to see the cast. In addition to Ms. Duke, there's Jim Backus as her father, Jane Greer as her mother, Susan Seaforth Hayes (Days of Our Lives) as her sister, plus Ted Bessell (That Girl), Dick Sargent (Betwitched), Warren Berlinger, and Richard Deacon.

Jim Backus as Billie's father.
Patty--sporting a disconcerting blonde wig--plays a high school teen who can out-run, out-jump, and out-pole vault any of the boys at Harding High School. Naturally, that earns her a spot on Coach Jones' (Charles Lane) track team. Her father, a male chauvinist pig who is running for mayor, initially rejects Billie's dreams. He's not exactly sensitive to his daughter's teen problems either. When she comments in frustration that she wishes she were a boy, he mutters: "So do I."

However, Dad eventually comes around and supports his youngest daughter. He remains, however, in the dark as to why his oldest daughter Jean has decided to take a break from college. (For the record, I turned to my wife immediately and said: "I bet Jean is married and pregnant.") After some mild misunderstandings, all conflicts are neatly resolved as befits this kind of 1960s comedy.

Billie and her stuffed Wolf.
It's a shame really. Billie could have made an important statement about empowering teenage girls to pursue their dreams and break stereotypical gender molds. I thought Billie might still make that point, but the ending reverses the theme entirely and all that remains is a harmless comedy with a handful of forgettable songs.

Director Don Weis does stage one notable musical number, in which Patty sings "Funny Little Butterflies" to a stuffed wolf in her bedroom. The previous year, Weis directed Annette Funicello warbling Stuffed Animal in her bedroom in Pajama Party. You gotta love coincidences like that! By the way, Weis also helmed several episodes of The Patty Duke Show.

In the original production of the play Time Out for Ginger Melvyn Douglas played the father and Nancy Malone portrayed his daughter Ginger. Her goal was to try out for the boys' football team. I think that might have worked better for Billie. Patty Duke never resembles a track athlete, moving her head back and forth as she hears "the beat" in her head. But, hey, she could have passed for a kicker on the football team. I know...that's nit-picking...but then Billie causes one to start thinking about those kinds of details.


2 comments:

  1. Yeah, your mind does start to wander while watching Billie. You can't help but start tweaking the whole thing to make it the movie it could have been. Cast of old friends is always a draw though.

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  2. WHAT is with the wig!

    Aside from that, this does look like an opportunity missed in terms of making a societal statement, although the cast alone would be worth it.

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