The Things I Watch: Classic Television-Ben Casey

Ben Casey

Season 1 Episode 2
But Linda Only Smiled


Unlike the Doctor shows of present day where you get an overabundance of shenanigans from a cast of what seems like hundreds, back in the olden days you had one major character and two to four supporting cast members to move things along.

Just because it’s called Grey’s Anatomy, does not mean we’re going to get 42 minutes of the trial and tribulations of one Dr. Meredith Grey.  They’ve had so many doctors flying in and out of Seattle Grace that when Shonda Rhimes killed off Lexi Grey and Mark Sloan, she also murdered whatever interest I had in the show. 

You don’t want to cross the path of Miss Shonda-land. Your character will end up as dead as dead as a doornail.  Bye bye George O’Malley.  You deserved better than exiting with a face like a crushed tomato.  Adios Lexi Grey.  Next time fly the friendly skies of United.  Ta Ta For Now Mark Sloan.  And who would have thought that everybody’s Dr. McDreamy would have ended up as so much road kill? 

Back in the good old days, you didn’t have to worry about one of your favorite characters being wheeled out of the hospital laying on a gurney and covered with nothing but a sheet.  Headlining doctors were in short supply.  On Dr. Kildare you had Richard Chamberlain as Kildare and Raymond Massey as Dr. Gillespie, his boss.  Over on the other network, you had Vince Edwards as Dr. Ben Casey and fuzzy headed Sam Jaffe barking out orders and doing his best to keep Casey from getting into trouble.

Also hanging around was Harry Landers as Dr. Ted Hoffman and Jeanne Bates as Nurse Willis.  And last but not least, there was Bettye Ackerman as Dr. Maggie Graham, an anesthesiologist who secretly pined away for Dr. Casey on the show, and not so secretly had the hots for Sam Jaffe in the real world.  The romance angle between Maggie and Ben took a steep dive once she hooked up with his boss in real life.

Oh and let’s not forget Nick Dennis as Nick Canaveras, the orderly.  He’s here to wheel patients in, out and around the hospital on a joy ride to x-ray or push their remains to the great beyond, bring them their bed pan, empty it when they’re done, and carry the flowers out to the trash when the patients croak.  And since Casey is a Neurosurgeon in the early sixties, there’s a lot of croaking going on.  But my point is that although County General seemed crowded, most of the cast was just window dressing while Casey did his thing which was cutting on people’s brains and sometimes killing them in the process.  But if you die on this show, chances are your character had a good story line and a chance for an Emmy.

A crazed (or in this case it may be crazy) woman, Mrs. No-First-Name Reed, rushes her injured daughter, Cathy, into County General.  Seems she’s had a bit of an accident.  Cathy unlocked the car door and decided to take a dive onto the pavement while said vehicle was doing the locomotion. 

No, she wasn’t wearing a seat belt.  Seat belts weren’t even an accessory back in 1961.  If the driver slammed on the brakes in those days, you can pretty much guarantee yourself that you’d be flying through the windshield like one of our patented nuclear missiles.  The question is, why wasn’t she brought in via your friendly neighborhood ambulance service?

And did I tell you that Mrs. Reed was batshit crazy?  Pity the poor intern, in this case Dr. Cain (Barton Heyman), who has to do the initial examination.  Realizing he’s out of his league and wanting to escape the clutches of Cathy’s deranged mother, he sends the nurse to get Dr. Casey to come down to the examining room. 

As Casey casually strolls down the hospital corridors, he has a meet-cute right next to a conveniently placed candy machine with Linda Miller, who has arrived at the hospital for some tests and observation.  Yes, they actually did put you in the hospital in those days to find out what was ailing you instead of telling you to take a couple of aspirins and go to the emergency room if it gets worse.

Finally, and probably regretfully finding his way down to the emergency room, Casey arrives just in time to find Mrs. Reed wailing about wanting a real doctor, and her daughter Cathy still pretending to be unconscious so as not to be embarrassed by her psychotic mother who needs a strait-jacket.

And when Casey says he wants to do a transfusion because the girl obviously has internal bleeding (not so obvious to you or I), then the shit really hits the fan.  Turns out, Mrs. Reed is not only an over-bearing parent, she’s also the equivalent of today’s anti-vaxxer numbskulls. She says there will be no transfusion for her daughter because it’s dirty and unclean.  And I brought along a clip just for this occasion.

Mrs. Reed decides she’s going to take her half dead daughter on a 70 mile ride in an ambulance to their home.  To which Casey tells her she’d better find a mortuary along the way because Young Cathy will never make it.  He also tells the wicked witch of the ER that she can take her daughter but that she’ll have to sign a release absolving the hospital of responsibility.  Quickly reversing direction because she doesn’t know which end is up she agrees to let Cathy stay, but still no blood transfusion.

You don’t think a little old problem like a 1961 anti-vaxxer is going to let the future star of Picture Mommy Dead croak on him?  Of course not.  He and Dr. Ted sneak some blood in to save young Cathy’s life but of course, momma finds out, goes ape shit bananas and tells him she’s going to sue sue sue!  Even if her daughter lives which is understandable because a few scenes before this Mrs. Reed had told Casey that she’d rather her daughter die than have that dirty tainted blood in her.  See, just like the anti-vaxxers!  In almost 60 years nothing has changed.

Meanwhile, Dr. Maggie prepares to administer anesthesia to Linda, all the while comparing notes with her on Dr. Casey.  Miss Miller would like to get in Casey’s pants but we suspect Dr. Maggie may have already scored that winning touchdown.

Unfortunately, even in the TV world of the sixties, things don’t always turn out to be fair.  Turns out that after the biopsy, Ben discovers that Linda has Hodgkin’s Disease which in 1961 it’s kiss your ass goodbye time.  Now the odds for you surviving have gone from zero in 1961 to 92 per cent in 2020.  Sorry Linda, you were born in the wrong century.

As for the Wailing Banshee known as Mrs. Reed, she wasn’t unique.  I think it’s a prerequisite that every doctor show has to have one episode where the parent won’t allow their kid to be treated.  I know for sure Kildare had one, and I remember Marcus Welby getting sued in the 70’s.  I can’t tell you for sure if there are any others but the odds are forever in their favor that they have.

And yeah, I kid around.  But these crazy people are still with us today.  Only with anti-vaxxers, they’re not just causing doctors a headache.  They’re causing the whole population to suffer for their ignorance.  But just about everything in this country is moving backwards these days and there’s not much that can be done about it.  Stupidity is the order of the day.

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