About Christmas TV History

Monday, June 23, 2014

Patty Duke Show Christmas (1963)

The Patty Duke Show ran from 1963-66.  Similar to Gilligan's Island, this sitcom's outstanding theme song reminds viewers of the series' set-up with teenagers Patty and Cathy Lane: "...identical cousins all the way, one pair of matching bookends, different as night and day..."

With the hundreds of hours of new holiday programming generated each November and December, it's so easy to forget about the classics.  Lately, I've been re-watching some of my favorite sitcoms and this particular Christmas episode always stands out to me.  Anyone else a huge Patty Duke Show fan?  I am--and I always have been.  This is just one of the many classic sitcoms I grew up watching.  Do you remember what makes this particular Christmas episode special?

The Lane family are preparing for Christmas and decorating the tree.  Left to right: Ross, Patty, father Martin, and mother Natalie.

Though she hasn't seen him in a year, Cathy expects her father to return from his faraway adventures and visit her on Christmas Eve as he promised.

The first season episode, "The Christmas Present," has a simple set up:  Cathy can't wait to see her father Kenneth Lane who is expected to arrive on Christmas Eve.  Kenneth works as a foreign correspondent whose obligations require him to travel quite a bit--this is why Cathy now lives with her cousin Patty in America (more specifically Brooklyn Heights, New York) to give Cathy a more stable, rooted home life.  Cathy is used to her globe-trotting father's lifestyle but he always returns to her on Christmas Eve to see her once again--and Cathy expects it to be the same this year.

Yes, brothers Martin and Kenneth Lane both work for newspapers (Martin is a managing editor).

Not wanting to break her heart himself, Uncle Martin tries to get Cathy to watch the international news on TV to discover her father's imprisonment for herself. 

However, Martin hears from his boss at the newspaper office that his brother Kenneth left his assignment to write about a trade convention in Brussels in order to cover a revolutionary uprising in Kurdistan.  Kenneth illegally crossed over the country's border (with help from his friend who is a rebel general) but he was caught and thrown in jail.  Not only is the US State Department angry with Kenneth for illegally smuggling himself into this rebellion, but the newspaper he works for wants to fire him!  After learning that Kenneth is safe, all the Lanes care about is breaking the news to Cathy that her father won't be arriving by tonight for Christmas.  Cathy eventually sees the newspaper and reads about her father's imprisonment.

Patty (left) tries to convince her cousin Cathy (right) that she shouldn't hope for a miracle.

But Cathy insists that Christmas is about miracles--and she waits by the front door for her father to arrive before midnight.

Despite the impossibility of Kenneth being released from prison, finding air travel, and arriving before midnight, Cathy continues to believe in her father's promise to spend Christmas together.  Martin, Natalie, and Patty don't share in Cathy's strong faith and they are beside themselves trying to figure out a way to keep Cathy from being disappointed on Christmas.  Eventually, a plan is hatched.

Patty can't stand how disappointed Cathy will become when Uncle Kenneth doesn't show up by midnight.

This series' premise of identical cousins makes more sense when you remember that the explanation for Cathy and Patty's resemblance comes from their fathers, Martin and Kenneth, who are identical twins.  Natalie suggests that Martin pose as his identical brother Kenneth in order to spend an hour with Cathy and fulfill her wish to see her father on Christmas Eve.  Martin explains he posed as his brother once in high school and got away with it however, he's hesitant to try it now on Cathy. (Of course he and Kenneth pulled the trick in high school.  TV viewers watch Cathy and Patty frequently pull this same stunt at their high school as well.  Apples don't fall far from trees!)  Natalie and Patty remind Martin that Cathy wants to believe in her father so badly that she won't even question the ridiculousness of the situation.  So Martin agrees to the charade and late on Christmas Eve, he leaves the house claiming he's "going to the office."

It's a Christmas miracle! Cathy welcomes her father home. 

Sure enough, just before midnight, Uncle Kenneth arrives at the Lane home and Cathy welcomes her father with open arms.  (If you didn't quite get it before, you can distinguish Patty from her cousin because Patty's hair flips up on the ends--Cathy's hair is styled to curl under.  Similarly, identical brother Kenneth is distinguishable by his pencil-thin, John Water's style mustache while Martin is clean shaven).

Patty drags Uncle Kenneth upstairs, away from Cathy for a minute, so they can privately discuss his implausible cover story.

While Cathy is excited to spend time with her father, Natalie and Patty become very anxious when Kenneth's explanation for his implausible escape from prison in Kurdistan, his arrangement to find a flight to America, etc. is not the same explanation that they all agreed to before Martin left for the charade.  Will Cathy figure out that this is all a scam?

"Hi Cathy--Merry Christmas!

While Patty and Uncle Kenneth are upstairs, there's a knock at the door.  A second Kenneth has arrived to spend Christmas with his daughter Cathy!  But Cathy isn't shocked at all.  Instead she wraps her arms around this "father" as well and tearfully declares this the happiest Christmas of her life.

This scam doesn't offend Cathy one bit--she's pleased with her loving family.

TV viewers get to see a split-screen special effect twice in this special holiday episode. Identical brothers played by William Schallert.

Cathy is appreciative of a family that cares enough about her feelings to attempt such shenanigans--and immediately recognizes the second "Kenneth" as her Uncle Martin.  (Hilariously, Patty mistook her Uncle Kenneth for her own father in disguise).  One of the things that makes this episode so special is that this is the only time, I believe, that twin brothers Kenneth and Martin appear together in the series.  While Cathy's father is certainly discussed quite a bit during the run of the series, Kenneth only appears in one other episode--an earlier first season episode entitled "The Houseguest" in which he only briefly appears during a telephone conversation from Paris.  So we get two identical sets of Lanes in this Christmas story--and two times the fun.

J.R. (played by John McGiver) announces that Kenneth is now unemployed.

Just as everyone is feeling good about their own Christmas miracle, another visitor arrives at the Lane home.  J.R. Castle from the Chronicle newspaper is there to bring down the party--he explains to Kenneth that his abandonment of the story in Brussels and his illegal actions in Kurdistan have cost him his job!  Kenneth is fired--and on Christmas, no less.  The episode ends with Patty addressing the camera asking viewers to be sure to tune in next week to see the conclusion of this holiday story. 

Patty invites TV viewers to watch next week's episode for the conclusion.
Next, I'll share a review of the New Year's episode of The Patty Duke Show, the follow-up to this Christmas story line. [ed note: link to follow-up episode review HERE].


  1. Love this episode and the one that follows. However, while I have tremendous fondness for William Schallert and all of his contributions to the classic TV era, his attempt at a dual role only makes one appreciate the extraordinary talent and attention to detail that Patty Duke brought to the same challenge.

    1. Hahahaha. Well, my appreciation for TV identical cousins coming from identical brothers is certainly rooted in the 1960s context of talking horses, bewitched wives, genies found on beaches, avuncular martians, and monsters living next door (The Munsters and Addams Family). Realism be damned ;) Maybe they should have given Kenneth the same mustache and beard TV viewers expect of an evil twin?