Based on novels by Bill Lederer
Starring Dean Jones, Jack Albertson, Jay C. Flippen, Jack Mullaney, Harvey Lembeck, Beau Bridges.
In Memory of Dean Jones.
TV in 60s, for all the reputation of the era, had a surprisingly large number of service comedies. Gomer Pyle, USMC is the best known today, but there was also Broadside, The Wackiest Ship in the Navy, McHale’s Navy, No Time of Sergeants, and Operation Petticoat. It was partly a hangover from the Cold War; many US men were drafted and spent two years on military bases, pretty much bored the whole time. One of the lesser-known shows in the genre was Ensign O’Toole.
The show was aboard the USS Appleby, a typical ship of the pre-Vietnam era, and the antics of its crew, most notably O’Toole (Dean Jones). In a way, O’Toole ran the ship, using his charm and wit to get what he needed or to fix situations for others.* Others in the crew were CPO Homer Nelson (Jay C. Flippen), a long time veteran; Lt. Cdr. Virgil Stoner (Jack Albertson), who ran the ship** and who knew something might be going on, but was willing to overlook things to the good of morale; Lt. Rex St. John (Jack Mullaney), who was a by-the-book and ambitious sailor who was something of a foil for O’Toole; and Seaman Gabby Di Julion (Harvey Lembeck), a troublemaker.***
The stories were usually slight, with misadventures and mistaken identity. They were held together by Dean Jones’s charm and charisma, as well as his understated performance.
Two other things impressed me as a kid: The name of the show was spelled out in Morse code by a signal lamp, and each episode title was named “Operation: something.”
The show only lasted a season and was canceled due to low ratings. But Disney evidently saw something in Jones and started casting him in films soon afterward. But I always remembered him as the cool and collected O’Toole.
*In a few episodes, others would come to him once things messed up for help
**The captain was never shown.
***Lembeck was a strong comedy presence in the 50s and 60s, playing one of the prisoners in Stalag 17, a role he originated on Broadway. He did time on the Phil Silvers Show and also appeared in many of the Beach party movies as biker Eric Von Zipper.