Starring Anne Jeffreys, Robert Sterling, Leo G. Carroll, Lee Patrick, Buck
Thorne Smith is forgotten today, but he was in some ways the forerunner of Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, and anyone writing humorous fantasy, using fantasy ideas in contemporary settings. Topper was his biggest seller, and was soon made into a movie starring Cary Grant. By the time TV came around, it was a prime prospect for a TV series.
George and Marion Kerby (Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys*) were a couple of rich bon vivants who were killed skiing in the Alps.** Returning to the US with the alcoholic Saint Bernard, Neil (Buck), they found their old house had been sold to uptight banker Cosmo Topper (Leo G. Carroll), who is the only person who can see or hear them.*** The two play tricks on Topper, harmless pranks that he has to try to explain, and which his wife Henrietta (Lee Patrick) can’t understand.
Neil was a problem all his own, since his favorite drink was a martini, and people would always see a glass on the floor being lapped up by nothing.
The show ran for two seasons as the Kerbys kept complicating Topper’s life, as he got caught reacting to them and had to explain what was going on. Or making references to them that made no sense to anyone else. The fact that he was a banker – at a time when they were considered the epitome of respectability -- made it even more complicated.
Leo G. Carroll did a great job as the befuddled banker, who tended to be overwhelmed by events. Of course, he managed to come up with a quick explanation of everything, especially when people overheard him talking to George and Marion.
Of special note is one of the writers for the show. Stephen Sondheim wrote eleven episodes. The show was sponsored by Camel Cigarettes, and there was usually a segment where Topper and the Kerby’s hawked the smokes.
Carroll was a UK actor and appeared in several Alfred Hitchcock films, both before and after Topper. He’s best known today as Mr. Waverly from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Sterling and Jeffreys also continued on TV, with Jeffreys having a long run in General Hospital.
The special effects were pretty good for the time. Most of them involved objects moving, though there were a few optical effect showing the ghosts in the classic translucent style.
After the run, the show continued in syndicate for several years. I remember watching it as a kid (so it couldn’t have been the original run) and loving the fantasy element of it. Even today, I’m a fan of humorous fantasy, and I think Topper was the start of it all.
*Married to each other in real life.
**The movie version had them dying in a car crash.
***This is probably the origin of that cliché.