Episode 1.16 – 3/13/76: Anthony Perkins
It’s always a gamble when a traditionally “serious” actor is booked to host Saturday Night Live.
While it’s a good sign that a potential host has a sense of humor if they’re even willing to take the gig in the first place, what happens if they show up on the set and are unwilling to allow themselves to be portrayed in any way but as The Master Thespian? Especially in 1976, when SN(L but not L) was in its infancy – what if an actor or actress’s agent books them for a hosting gig without knowing what they were getting into, shows up on the set, only to be greeted by a cast of still-fairly unknown comedians perhaps dressed as bees? Imagine the host is then handed a script and he or she turns to the opening monologue, which reads:
Host: (getting more and more agitated) I CAN’T DO THE SHOW WITHOUT THE PANTIES. I CAN’T DO THE SHOW WITHOUT MY LUCKY PANTIES!
(A pair of women’s undergarments are tossed from off-stage which the host catches. Relieved, the host smiles, kisses the panties and slips them into his jacket pocket.)
Host: Please, enjoy the show and once again, thank you for letting me be myself.
Would Laurence Olivier or Alec Guinness kiss a pair of women’s knickers in the name of comedy? Maybe. Maybe not. Neither man has hosted SNL. However, well-regarded film and stage actor Anthony Perkins has hosted SN(L but not L). And while some might argue that – in spite of being nominated for numerous acting awards including two Tonys and an Oscar – Mr. Perkins is not in the same league as Olivier or Guinness, he was willing to do the “lucky panties” bit and for that and many other bits of self-parody featured on tonight’s episode, the late Psycho star earns my respect.
Indeed, Anthony Perkins proves to be a good sport on this episode from the first season of SN(L but not L). His opening monologue parodies his frequent typecasting as quirky, possibly mentally-disturbed characters. Later, in a more direct parody, he acts in a faux-commercial for the “Norman Bates School of Motel Management.” It’s funny, if not a little dated even by 1970s standards – although one can easily argue that it wouldn’t be right to have Anthony Perkins guest host SN(L but not L) and not have him poke fun at his most famous role.
* A therapist whose idea of helping his patient (played by Jane Curtain) overcome anxiety issues is by singing a duet of “Hello Dolly” with her
* A man attempting to lure a co-worker (Gilda Radner) to bed with one simple word … “Hi.”
* A college professor whose student (Laraine Newman) is trying to convince him that her homework assignment deserves better than a B grade. In this case, the B is a “bee” played by John Belushi.
Of course there’s the stuff that doesn’t work, including a “dominatrix cleaning service” sketch – which is a premise about as flimsy as you’d imagine. This Jane Curtain/Gilda Radner bit goes on way too long and is unfortunately placed close to the opening show where you would expect the stronger material to be relegated. I’m not saying the “B/bee” sketch is some kind of work of comedic genius. In fact, it’s kind of stupid. But at least it’s short and, thanks to Perkins, Belushi and Newman’s talents, manages to make me crack a smile.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s just Jane Curtain. The longer this season goes on, the more I’m beginning to see Curtain as the show’s weak link. That is to say, whenever a sketch opens and I see that it features Curtain, my heart sinks a little.
As for the strongest players, right now that would have to be Belushi, Newman, Radner and Chase, in that order. As for the rest, it’s hard to say. At this point in the show’s history, Dan Ackroyd has yet to find his place and while Garrett Morris is very funny, he’s severely underused.
Back to the show.
As always, you have the “filler” material: The viewer home movie – a weird surreal piece about homicidal peanuts; a Gary Weis short film – a short documentary about New Yorkers and their pets that I found interesting but oddly out-of-place; and of course, the dreaded Muppets – whose inability to get a slot on the show has become a running gag.
In terms of cultural relevancy, the biggest thing in the news since the last episode aired two weeks prior was probably the presidential primaries and in addition to picking on their old standby, Gerald Ford, there were plenty of jokes about Ronald Reagan, who was attempting to wrest the Republican presidential nomination away from Ford. Yeah … right. Like we’re going to elect some washed-up D-list actor as president. That’ll be the day.
Final verdict: a strong episode from start-to-finish. Just make sure you skip over musical guest Betty Carter, a Grammy-winning jazz vocalist who was apparently having an off night.
SNL trivia buffs should note that this is the first episode in which photos of the cast are shown as they are announced in the opening credits.
Next: 1.17 – 4/17/1976: Ron Nessan