If you liked uniforms and nifty heavy artillery, but not all that stringent machismo, then P.T. 73 was the Navy boat for you. Its Lieutenant Commander was Quinton McHale, and McHale didn’t exactly run what we call a tight ship, nor did his crew exactly consist of straight-laced company men. Ernest Borgnine played fun loving, rule-breaking McHale in this 60’s sitcom, which found a U.S. Navy fleet stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. Though McHale’s corrupt but lovable antics were certainly reminiscent of Sergeant Bilko’s adventures on The Phil Silvers Show, McHale spoofed humorless and hardcore military types in a way all his own.
Since every lover of fun must have a nemesis fun-killer, McHale butted heads with Captain Wallace Binghamton, who was called ‘Old Lead Bottom’ behind his starchy uniformed back. Lead Bottom wanted to send the P.T. 73 boys to the Aleutians and have them out of his regulation-cut hair. He assigned his subordinate Ensign Charles Parker to tame McHale, but when you send in actor Tim Conway (who played Parker) to instill organization anywhere, you’re just asking for trouble. Despite the bootlegging and the gambling and the myriad of other shenanigans, McHale knew the South Pacific territory inside and out, and at the end of the day, he and his crew always got the job done (and then some). This was one rogue Lieutenant Commander, it turned out, who just couldn’t be tamed.
To capitalize on the success of the show, two films starring the TV show’s zany players were released, in 1964 and 1965 (as was a feature film remake in 1997). And in the final season of the show, McHale and his crew, including Lead Bottom, were transferred to a small town in Italy. Poor Lead Bottom thought the new venue would slow McHale down, but of course there, too, rules and officiousness didn’t stand a chance. The Italians liked to gamble just as much as P.T. 73 did, and the town mayor was almost as good at breaking the rules as McHale himself.
Poor Lead Bottom. It never pays to be a spoilsport, at least in sitcoms. Irreverence towards, and satire of, an American institution like the Armed Forces would have a big place in television in the years to follow McHale’s Navy (a certain Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, most memorably), but in the early 60’s, irreverence like this was still novel. And consequently, McHale’in all his Hawaiian shirt splendor’was all the more fun to watch.
USA / ABC – Sto-Rev Company / 138×25 minute episodes 1×50 minute episode / Broadcast 11 October 1962 – 30 August 1966
Producers: Edward J. Montagne, Si Rose
Ernest Borgnine as Lieut. Comdr. Quinton McHale (1962-66)
Tim Conway as Ensign Charles Parker
Joe Flynn as Captain Wallace Burton Binghamton
Carl Ballantine as Lester Gruber
Gary Vinson as George ‘Christy’ Christopher
Billy Sands as Harrison ‘Tinker’ Bell
Edson Stroll as Virgil Edwards
Jane Dulo as Nurse Molly Turner (1962-64)
Gavin MacLeod as Joseph ‘Happy’ Haines (1962-64)
John Wright as Willy Moss (1964-66)
Yoshio Yoda as Fuji Kobiaji
Bob Hastings as Lt. Elroy Carpenter
Henry Beckman as Col. Douglas Harrigan (1965-66)
Simon Scott as Gen. Bronson (1965-66)
Dick Wilson as Dino Baroni (1965-66)
Jay Novello as Mayor Mario Lugatto (1965-66)
Peggy Mondo as Mama Rosa Giovanni (1965-66)
Roy Roberts as Admiral Bruce Rogers (1962-66)
Jacques Aubuchon as Chief Tali Urulu (1962-65)
Bill Quinn as Admiral Benson (1962-65)
Cindy Robbins as Lt. Gloria Winters