Monday, March 9, 2020

Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as The Snoop Sisters

Mildred Natwick and Helen Hayes.
Over a decade before Angela Lansbury starred in Murder, She Wrote, Helen Hayes played an elderly mystery author and amateur detective in The Snoop Sisters. The series co-starred Mildred Natwick as Hayes' sister and ran as a 90-minute installment on The NBC Tuesday Mystery Movie during the 1973-74 season. Originally, it shared the time slot with Banacek, Faraday and Company, and Tenafly.

The premise has bestselling writer Ernesta Snoop (Hayes) sharing a large apartment in New York City with her sister Gwendolyn (Mildred Natwick), known to friends simply as G. In the 1972 pilot film, The Female Instinct, Art Carney played the sisters' live-in chauffeur/cook Barney and Lawrence Pressman was their nephew, police Lieutenant Steve Ostrowski.

Lou Antonio as Barney.
By the time the regular series debuted in December 1973, Carney and Pressman had been replaced (Art Carney subsequently won a Best Actor Oscar for 1974's Harry and Tonto). Lou Antonio took over as Barney, transforming the character from a grumpy, elderly ex-con to a younger man who is occasionally befuddled by his employers. Veteran actor Bert Convy assumed the role of the sisters' nephew.

Both cast changes were for the better, especially Antonio whose personality meshes better with Hayes and Natwick. If he looks familiar, you may remember him from Cool Hand Luke or the Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."

As a comedy, The Snoop Sisters is a modestly successful TV series that relies heavily on its two stars. Helen Hayes tries a little too hard as Ernesta, stopping just short of playing the part tongue-in-cheek. However, Mildred Natwick finds the perfect balance as G, eliciting chuckles while still making her character believable. Her performance earned her an Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series, beating out co-star Helen Hayes among others.
G as the Bride of Frankenstein and Ernesta--minus mask--as the Monster.
As a mystery, The Snoop Sisters falters badly. The murderer is always easy to guess (though in one episode, no one is murdered). Additionally, some episodes have so much comedy that the mystery comes across as an afterthought. Ironically, the best one--"The Devil Made Me Do It!"--is not really a mystery at all, but an interesting tale about a secret witches' coven.

Vincent Price as a suspect.
The guest stars comprise the most delicious aspect of the series. The list includes a number of highly-respected film and stage stars such as Vincent Price, Paulette Goddard, Roddy McDowall, Victor Buono, Cyril Ritchard, Sam Jaffe, Walter Pigeon, Geraldine Page, and Joan Blondell. Most of them have brief appearances, though Price as a hammy actor and Ritchard as a warlock play major parts. Other guest stars include then-promising newcomers like Jill Clayburgh and William Devane. And, in a most unusual choice, Alice Cooper plays a coven leader called Prince and performs a complete song!


  1. I enjoyed the series and would have liked seeing how it would have progressed if given the chance.

    Here's my look at it. I get rather verbose, but if you hop, skip and jump you may get as much of a kick out of the screencaps as I did making them.

  2. Paulette Goddard's short appearance in the pilot was her final role.

  3. Where I live, there are a couple of sisters who like to poke around whenever something's going on in the building or neighborhood. (There was a very unfortunate murder down the block last year, and I swear they had a complete police report on it before the newspapers, etc.) As a joke, I started calling them the Snoop Sisters (which, thankfully, they find amusing). I had no idea there was a TV show of the same name. I will so inform them. Thanks, Rick.

  4. This series sounds like a lot of fun, especially the impressive roster of guest stars.

  5. I remember The Snoop Sisters! I got to watch the pilot recently and if the mysteries are not Ellery Queen caliber, the humor and actors save the day!

  6. The first Barney was an ex cop and I do believe every episode contained a murder.

    Female instinct: Norma en Melvin
    Corpse and Robvers: Dr Drucker
    Fear is free throw: Ollie Robertson
    The Devil made me do it: David and Karen
    A bad day for blackbeard: Amanda