Question: I was a little kid I watched My Mother, the Car, and I believe that Jerry Van Dyke played the lead role. His mother returned as a car. What make of car did she return as? Darrell S., Canandaigua, N.Y.
Televisionary: The late mother of Dave Crabtree (Van Dyke) "came back" I don't believe the show ever actually used any variation of the word "reincarnation," perhaps because it was too occult for the times as a 1928 Porter on the series, which ran for about a year on NBC beginning in September 1965. Don't hit your local antique-cars dealer looking to score one, though; no such model ever existed.
My Mother, the Car is a show that has earned its place in TV history... for all the wrong reasons. TV Guide Online made it the No. 1 pick in our "What Were They Thinking?" feature, while TV Guide magazine's editors named it the second-worst show of all time in 2002 (The Jerry Springer Show came in first).
Now, despite the title of our feature, I can't really tell you what the producers and the network were thinking when they decided to put the show on the air. (Well, let's face it it's a safe bet money entered into the decision.) But I can tell you, of all things, what Van Dyke's psychiatrist thought of the show and boy, did he have his theories.
Chief among them: "My Mother, the Car restates the ancient Oedipal legend, reactivating man's most primitive feelings," Dr. Charles Ansell, president of the Los Angeles Society of Clinical Psychologists and Van Dyke's therapist at the time, told TV Guide in 1966. "The series is a gold mine of psychoanalytic insights, unintended by the producers, but guided by that buried part of the infantile mind which still lives on within their adult mentality."
Before I continue on with Dr. Ansell's insights, a brief Psych 101 refresher is necessary and since I don't want to get in hot water with the boss over dangerous wording, I'll use Merriam Webster's definition of an Oedipal complex: "the positive libidinal feelings of a child toward the parent of the opposite sex and hostile or jealous feelings toward the parent of the same sex that may be a source of adult personality disorder when unresolved." (The beauty of that is it goes right over the heads of children since it requires too much paging through the rest of the dictionary to figure out what the heck it all means.)
Ansell tied that into the show like so: "Jerry Van Dyke acts out every man's basic dream, to conquer the mother and have her for himself. Jerry is in complete possession of his car/mother. She is powerless when he locks the garage door." (Don't worry, I'm not buying this stuff, either I mean, every man? My basic dream is to command my own army of Oompa Loompas, say, or to invent a regenerating hoagie.)
Furthermore, Ansell's theory held that Capt. Manzini (Avery Schreiber) played the Oedipal role of dad. "In life, the father becomes a rival who stands in the boy's way," he said. "In the series, Captain Manzini, the antique-car collector, will stop at nothing to gain possession of Jerry's car. In life the Oedipus complex is ultimately resolved when the boy accepts the father. But in the series, father-image and son continue their rivalry week after week. Manzini may be the richest man in the world, but Jerry retains sole possession of his mother, the car."
Never mind that in real life Schreiber was as far from the role of dad as could be, considering he didn't even know how to handle mom (voiced by Ann Sothern) when he landed the role. ("We hired a union teamster to teach Schreiber how to drive," producer Rod Amateau explained. "Some days I'd have to dodge this car headed straight for me with that wild man leaning out yelling, 'Hey, Rod, I can shift!' And the next day he's shouting, 'Hey Rod, I can steer!' and all the while he's stripping the gears. It went on like that for three months.")
But don't laugh too hard. After all, I'm sure Van Dyke paid Dr. Ansell handsomely for such sagacity.
And if you like this sort of thing, next time we'll get into my own theories on how the bowl-headed kid on television represents Poe's red death because he always came to the party (the show) shortly before it died and none of the regular characters knew he was a harbinger of doom. (Think about it: Oliver on The Brady Bunch, Ricky on The Partridge Family, etc.)
No? Alright, next question.