We are now on Episode 7 of the eight Life with Lucy episodes broadcast (with five others left unaired). Lucy, Legal Beagle (or Leagle Beagle or Legal Eagle, honestly, I've seen a variety of versions for the episode's title) gives us a little glimmer of what could have been, but which was not used by people who should have known better.
The McGibbon family is having a yard sale though it is taking place indoors. Lucy Barker (Lucille Ball) gets some sass from Hilda Loomis (Dena Dietrich), one of the customers, who leaves understandably angry when Lucy accidentally tears off her skirt. However, there has been an unfortunate accident in that Charlie, the beloved teddy bear of Kevin (Philip J. Amelio, II) has been mixed in with other items in the sale.
Kevin's grandparents Lucy and Curtis McGibbon (Gale Gordon) offer a $50 reward for Charlie's return. A self-proclaimed "sweet old lady" (Nora Boland) tries to hoodwink them by trying to pass off a rabbit for Charlie, but soon the real Charlie emerges. The bear is now with none other than Hilda, who demands $500 for his safe return. It's off to small claims court, where there is the expected disorder in the court until Lucy manages to win the case and bring Charlie home, even if her efforts are ultimately for naught.
Maybe it is just me, but I think Lucy, Legal Beagle makes no sense even for a sitcom. The legal point, which curiously law student Ted McGibbon (Larry Anderson) apparently can't figure out, is on whether or not Hilda bought the teddy bear. I am not even sure that she bought the bag that Lucy had put Charlie in for safekeeping when Kevin's BFF Max (Brandon Call) started teasing him for having a teddy bear at all. I watched Lucy, Legal Beagle twice to see the exact set of circumstances that we the audience were presented with.
Nowhere in Lucy, Legal Beagle was it ever clear that Hilda had bought the bag or even that she had taken it by accident when escaping Lucy's generally disastrous vacuum cleaner demonstration. Surely someone at their indoor yard sale would have remembered selling Hilda the bag in question. Moreover, it was obvious that Hilda did not buy the teddy bear in the bag. Again, she might have even bought the bag given that Lucy had deliberately put it away from other items. At the most, and I think I'm being wildly generous here, Charlie was sold accidentally and thus, not a legal sale. Therefore, Hilda had no right to Charlie and may have even stolen the bag that he was in (though to be fair, in the confusion of her quick exit she might have picked up the bag by mistake).
Had screenwriters Richard Albrecht and Casey Keller shown us anyone selling Lucy's bag, we might have at least had a decent setup to the eventual showdown. However, studying Lucy, Legal Beagle like some people study the Zapruder film, I can say that it makes no sense that no one so much as remembers selling the bag in question or bothered to see why it looked so full. The extended section of "the sweet old lady" tearing the ears off a stuffed rabbit in a totally crazed effort to pass him off as a bear for $50 dollars was there to stretch the episode. It did make that old lady look like a complete psycho and ended up being almost frightening than hilarious.
Yes, I am aware that to give a lot of thought to the minutiae of legal points on a sitcom is odd. However, in my defense, you are asking us to accept a premise that eventually goes to trial, so I'm not totally bonkers on said minutiae.
What made Lucy, Legal Beagle slightly better than past Life with Lucy episodes is that we had a bit of bite, particularly with Dietrich's Hilda. When Lucy asks her daughter Margo (Ann Dusenberry), "Remember the lady who had her 100th birthday last summer?", Hilda replies to Lucy, "Did you get a lot of presents?". She did not say this in a sweet or innocent manner, but in a sharp edged, sarcastic one. She was quite sassy with Lucy, and it made me wonder if Lucy would have done well to have a rival or foil to fight. It almost made me want Hilda to come back to cause Lucy more mischief.
Lucy, Legal Beagle did have a strong, sharp edge to it. When Hilda goes to the hardware store, Lucy accuses her of trying to take advantage of the situation as payback for Lucy accidentally ripping Hilda's skirt off. Hilda replies that she isn't even upset by that now. "Why just the other day I was saying not enough people are tearing off my clothes". Without missing a point, Gordon's Curtis retorts, "Who did you say it to: Mr. Loomis?". For once, Curtis is on Lucy's side, a nice change.
Gordon and Dietrich were the best parts of Lucy, Legal Beagle. Gordon could do the sarcasm when he sees Hilda beating up on Lucy and Kevin. He could also do the slightly embarrassed, slightly flustered Curtis when he is unexpectedly called to testify. Lucy obviously never learned an important legal lesson: never put a witness on the stand without knowing what his/her answers are. Dietrich's mix of sarcasm and stumbling when forced to admit that she had not technically bought Charlie were also well-acted.
Ball did as well as the script let her, able to do a nice buildup to her bumbling legal act and playing keep away with Curtis. Everyone else though was pretty bad. Lucy, Legal Beagle was Kevin-focused, but Amelio was pretty bad in the episode. Dusenberry was too, playing up her brief moment when trying to explain to Hilda why the yard sale was indoors in an almost desperate manner to make it sound funny when it was not. Lewis was barely in the episode, though I think she was on screen longer than Anderson or Donovan Scott's Leonard, whose continued existence on the show has yet to be explained.
Lucy, Legal Beagle did not work save for Curtis and Dietrich. Other than that, Life with Lucy is fast coming up to closing its official run without having anything good to show for it.
In perhaps the strangest set of coincidences that I have come across for the Life with Lucy retrospective, part of Lucy, Legal Beagle's plot is mirrored in the premiere episode of The Golden Girls' Season Three, Old Friends. In that episode's subplot, it's Rose's teddy bear Fernando who is being held hostage. More bizarre? Rose's late husband was named Charlie! Adding to the wildness of how things were in this odd Life with Lucy/Golden Girls connection is that the hostage holder, a Sunshine Cadet named Daisy, is played by Jenny Lewis, who played Lucille Ball's granddaughter Becky on Life with Lucy. Old Friends aired nearly a year after Lucy, Legal Beagle. Finally, Dena Dietrich would go on to guest star on The Golden Girls herself as the second Gloria, Dorothy Zbornak's sister.
Strange coincidences indeed.
Next Episode: Mother of the Bride