Friday, May 6, 2016

TV Time Extra: Cynthia Harding, one of the great one-time-only characters

In my latest TV Time article for ClassicFlix,  I talk about "Somebody Has to Play Cleopatra," a 1962 episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in which Rob Petrie is shanghaied into organizing an entertainment show for a local fundraiser. In one sense, it's an unambitious episode apart from the opening and closing segments that frame the central flashback story; most of the action takes place right in the Petrie living room. In another sense...who cares when you get scenes like this?

The next time you're tempted to roll your eyes even a smidge when a person of a certain age gushes about how seeing Laura Petrie on "TDVDS" made him want to become a TV writer, just remember the almost impossibly cute Mary Tyler Moore doing this calypso number.

This episode would be a winner on that basis alone, but wait, there's more! Yes, that's Bob Crane on percussion, and "Hang-lip Harry," AKA Harry Rogers, gets the privilege of playing Marc Antony opposite a succession of Cleopatras in the skit the gang rehearses.

(Side note: Why did the writers name him Harry Rogers when one of the main characters of the show, albeit unseen in this episode, is SALLY Rogers? Nobody had access to a phone book?)

Jealous hubbies being jealous, though, the Cleos are yanked from the scene until one quiet member of the group is recruited:

How about Cynthia Harding, the single kindergarten teacher? Nobody will be threatened by her smooching Harry, right? In fact, Harry is kind of let down by this casting change, going so far as to argue against it ("She's not the right type") until he turns around and sees how the "mousy" schoolmarm has transformed herself:

Ah--TV and Movies...where a mere flip of the hair, and a slight primping transforms one into  A GODDESS!

Harry sure is committed to  his craft now. Just look at him grinning like he just won World War II:

Harry's wife is having none of this, though, and after finding out this new Cleo is MISS Harding, she drags her husband just outside and berates him loud enough for everyone to hear. There's a lot to look at in this episode, but Rob's subtle reaction shot as we hear Harry getting reamed out is maybe the best thing of all:

You have to see the scene play out to appreciate it, but it's the perfect combination of shot selection, pacing, and acting seeing Rob's expression as everyone hears what's going on just outside that doorway. Crane gets a great line at the end of the scene, too.

But the real star is Miss Harding, played by Valerie Yerke. Granted, this is kind of a one-joke character in this episode, but I would have loved to have seen more of Miss Harding because--well, come on, do I need to post more screencaps?

Oddly, Yerke is in several other episodes, in different parts, but otherwise has no credits on IMDB. What happened to her? Was this small but memorable appearance a big hit? Vince Waldron's excellent "The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book" has no info, but it does place a nice publicity photo of Yerke and Van Dyke next to the episode summary for "Cleopatra."

I guess it'll have to remain a mystery, and Miss Harding will remain one of the great single-scene characters in television history. At least we have this episode, though. And we have this:


Dann said...

Thank you, TV, for teaching me that women in glasses are always gorgeous (with the sole exception of Miss Jane Hathaway, but did I really ever have a shot there?).

Anonymous said...

Just watched this episode on cozi tv. I've seen it many times over the years.
Very entertaining. Bob Crane is quite good in it, and I too have often wondered
about Valerie Yerke. As for, she was something else back then. Laura Petrie
is probably my favorite female tv character of all time. Not only beautiful and sexy,
but a very diverse character too.