About This Show
McHale's Navy is an American television sitcom series which ran for 138 half-hour episodes from October 11, 1962 to August 31, 1966 on the ABC network. The series was filmed in black and white and originated in a one-hour drama called Seven Against the Sea, broadcast on April 3, 1962.
The series was also set in the Pacific theatre of World War II – although in the show's last season the setting was switched to the European theatre in Italy – and focused on the crew of PT-73, again led by Lt. Commander Quinton McHale played by Ernest Borgnine.
The producer of the series, Edward J. Montagne, had had great success with the top-rated series The Phil Silvers Show (1955-1959), a military comedy with an opportunistic non-commissioned officer and his loyal platoon constantly putting something over on the base commander. While the pilot had been dramatic, with overtones of Henry Fonda's introspective Mister Roberts, Montagne essentially turned the project into "Bilko in the Navy", and even recruited some of the Bilko actors and writers. If Borgnine had any misgivings about his show's change of direction, he hid them well enough and happily played straight-man to the comedians surrounding him. At the time of the series, then President John F. Kennedy was well-known as being the wartime commander of PT-109. A popular book, PT 109: John F. Kennedy in WWII by Robert J. Donovan had come out the previous year.
McHale's second-in-command is Ensign Charles Parker (Tim Conway), who is referred to by McHale as "Chuck" and by the crew as "Mr. Parker" (in the United States Navy, all officers ranked from Ensign to Lieutenant are more often than not referred to as "Mister"). Conway's performance as a gentle, naïve but somewhat gung-ho bungler who usually succeeded in spite of his own ineptitude was career-defining.
McHale's perpetually frustrated commander is Captain Wallace Burton Binghamton (Joe Flynn), known behind his back as "Old Leadbottom" (a nickname he received from a bullet wound to the posterior), who is constantly trying to get the goods on "McHale and his pirates." Binghamton's catchphrases were "What in the name of the Blue Pacific" or "What in the name of Halsey" when he saw gambling or native dancing girls on McHale's island, and "What is it, what, what, what?!" Binghamton's dream is to send McHale and his men to prison. Binghamton's enthusiastic assistant is the sycophantic Lieutenant Elroy Carpenter (Bob Hastings, a Bilko veteran). The one time Binghamton leads the PT-73 into battle, his only success is sinking an enemy truck on land--with a torpedo. In a sequel movie, McHale's Navy Joins The Air Force, the only time Binghamton gets the better of the PT-73 crew is when he orders them to jump off a dock.
The plots revolved around the efforts of McHale's crew to make money, get girls and have a good time, and the efforts of Captain Binghamton to rid himself of the PT-73 crew. In the crew, actor and comic magician Carl Ballantine was featured as confident con man Torpedoman Lester Gruber, whose get-rich-quick schemes often got the crew in trouble. Motor Machinist Mate Harrison "Tinker" Bell was played by Billy Sands ("Pvt. Paparelli" on Bilko). Gavin MacLeod (later of both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Love Boat) played crew member Seaman Joseph "Happy" Haines. Besides Borgnine, the only actors from the dramatic pilot who made it to the series were Gary Vinson as Quartermaster George "Christy" Christopher, Edson Stroll as Gunner's Mate Virgil Edwards, the handsome lover boy of the crew, and John Wright as Radioman Willy Moss. The most unusual crew member was a Japanese POW called Fuji (Yoshio Yoda), who had become a de facto comrade that the PT-73 crew kept hidden from Binghamton.
Quite often, Binghamton is ready to send McHale and his gang to the brig, only to see them pull off a military success against the enemy that impresses Admiral Reynolds (Herbert Lytton) or Admiral Rodgers (Roy Roberts), many times thanks to McHale's knowledge of the area, gained from his service in the South Pacific as Merchant Marine officer. A running gag is a frustrated Binghamton would then turn to the camera and say, "I could just scream!", "Why me? Why is it always me?", or "Somebody up there hates me!"
A Polynesian chief, Pali Urulu (Jacques Aubuchon) is as crooked as McHale's men. When McHale and his men are in Urulu's village, the chief displays a large photo of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; when the Japanese troops arrive, Urulu turns over the picture to reveal a photo of Japanese Emperor Hirohito. Another character who was as crooked as Urulu was "Big Frenchy" (George Kennedy) from New Caledonia, who always played up to McHale.
McHale's love interest is a Navy nurse, Molly Turner (Bilko's Jane Dulo). Parker's love interest is a French girl from New Caledonia, played by Claudine Longet.
The final season saw a major change in scenery, as both Binghamton and the 73 crew are transferred to the recently liberated Italian theater – a change of assignment that was, in the real World War II, so rare that many military historians disagree as to whether such reassignments ever actually happened. (After the war in Europe ended, many high ranking officers of the 8th and 9th Air Force, were sent to the Pacific to create the 20th Air Force.) The addition of the clever moneymaking schemes of the Mayor Mario Lugatto (Jay Novello) and the antics of the citizens of the coastal city of Voltafiore increased the plot twists. Colonel Douglas Harrigan (Henry Beckman) represents the U.S. Army and is at odds with McHale.
Except where noted, all the actors appeared on the show for every season:
* Ernest Borgnine as Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale
* Tim Conway as Ensign Charles Parker
* Joe Flynn as Captain Wallace B. Binghamton
* Carl Ballantine as Lester Gruber, Torpedoman's Mate
* Gary Vinson as George "Christy" Christopher, Quartermaster
* Billy Sands as Harrison "Tinker" Bell, Engineman
* Edson Stroll as Virgil Edwards, Gunner's Mate
* Gavin MacLeod as Joseph "Happy" Haines, Torpedoman's mate (1962-1964)
* Yoshio Yoda as Fuji Kobiaji, Cook, Seaman 3C, Japanese POW
* John Wright as Willy Moss, Radioman
* Bob Hastings as Lt. Elroy Carpenter
The entire Pacific Ocean naval base was built on the backlot of Universal Studios. For many years after the show went off the air, the sets were used as an attraction on the studio tour.
The vessel used for shots of the PT-73 under way was a 72-foot type II Vosper MTB (Motor Torpedo Boat), a British design built under license in the U.S. for export to Russia. The war ended in August 1945 before the boat, the real number of which was PT-694, could be sent to the Soviet Union. The boat was then purchased by Howard Hughes and used as a chase boat for the one and only flight of his Spruce Goose aircraft. The boat was then sold to the studio – as there were few other real PT boats left in existence at the time – and some liberties were taken in reconfiguring it to look like a PT Boat. Vosper PT's did not have machine gun turrets on either side of the pilot house (though the real PT-73, a Higgins design did) as the PT-73 in the show did. Other irregularities are the main mast aft and a small mast right in front of the cockpit. Shots of the crew aboard the PT-73 were filmed on a full-scale mock-up in a soundstage.
"PT-73" was later sold to the mayor of Hawthorne, California, and was converted to a sport fishing boat. It was later destroyed when it broke loose of its mooring near Santa Barbara and washed up on the beach during a storm.
The real PT-73 was a 78-foot Higgins boat assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 13, which saw service in the Aleutians and in the Southwest Pacific theater. On 15 January, 1945 it ran aground, and was destroyed to prevent it falling into enemy hands.
Producer Montague provided a female version of McHale's Navy entitled Broadside shown in the 1964-65 season. In place of the PT crew were a group of WAVES led by Lt j.g. Anne Morgan (Kathleen Nolan) consisting of Joan Staley, Sheila James, and Lois Roberts up against Binghamton type Captain Edward Andrews and his Lt Carpenter clone Dick Sargent.
Video: Full McHale's Navy episode "Action, Camera, Panic" (airdate: May 9, 1963)