Thursday, September 15, 2005

Racy Tracy Ratigan has a secret

Watched a weird episode of Dick Van Dyke the other night.

Nope, not the walnuts from the planet Twilo one.

Dvd_racy_tracy_01_1Episode was called Racy Tracy Ratigan and it guest starred Richard Dawson, later of Hogan's Heroes and Family Feud, as a well-known British comic and movie star, a romantic leading man, who fills in for Alan Brady for two weeks while Alan is on vacation. Tracy Ratigan is smart, witty, suave, with a clench-jawed toffy drawl and slightly over-elegant manners that border on camp. Enough of his real Cockney accent slips through with the drawl to suggest that Ratigan is a working class kid whose schtick is parodying the pretensions of British Public School types. He's known as Racy Tracy Ratigan, not for his bawdy jokes---his humor is in fact quite subtle and sophisticated and again based on exaggerating his own charm and sophistication---he's called Racy Tracy because he has a reputation as a ladies man, a real love 'em and leave 'em type.

When Sally expresses a romantic interest in the guy, Buddy is surprised that she would want to risk taking a flyer on a well-known cad. "He's been engaged 20 times!"

Sure enough, almost as soon as Ratigan's introduced to the writers, he starts "charming" Sally. His way of flirting is as exaggerated as his manners and comes very close to sexual assault. Sally is taken aback and she gets nervous but she's also flattered. But Laura makes a visit to the office and as soon as she walks in the door Ratigan forgets Sally and sets to work "charming" Laura.

Poor Sally, dropped like a hot potato, but that's the way the world works. Ratigan is just responding to the difference between 40something Rose Marie and the 26 year old Mary Tyler Moore, right?

Except that it's mean of him to do it right in front of Sally and it's decidely dangerous to do it right in front of Laura's husband. Rob is not amused.

But Ratigan is a big movie star and for the next two weeks he's the boss so Rob and the gang wordlessly decide to back off and Laura makes an effort to stay out of arm's reach of the guy, who, I'm thinking as I'm watching, is not just a cad but a creep taking advantage of his power over people.

Ratigan then talks Rob into having an informal brainstorming meeting at Rob and Laura's house that night. He shows up with a magnum of expensive champagne and an extra dose of charm. His big idea for a sketch for the upcoming show is that he will play a cad attempting to seduce another man's wife right in front of the poor slob. Laura, of course, is enlisted to play the wife and Rob the poor slob of a husband.

Dvd_racy_tracy_05 They get to work but Ratigan doesn't play his part for yuks. He plays it dead serious and once again his method of charming a woman is to get a hold on her and not let go. Quickly Laura gets scared and Rob gets angry. And Ratigan knows it. He's aware of what he's up to and the effect. It's all calculated.

And he's enjoying it. Or seems to be. He seems to like it that he's frightening Laura and that Rob is furious enough to be on the verge of throwing a punch at him. Rob, who is quite a bit bigger than Ratigan and who we know from enough other episodes is quite strong and athletic for a skinny guy and could beat up Ratigan and really, really wants to beat him up, doesn't start a fight. He remembers he's the host, that he's the bigger man, and that Ratigan is still a guy with clout. But there's only so much he can stand. He dumps the champagne over Ratigan's head and throws him bodily out the door.

Amazingly, as soon as Rob blows his top and sets out to put an end to his game, Ratigan goes limp. He very passively accepts having the champagne poured over him and lets himself be given the bum's rush without a complaint. You get the feeling that if Rob had completely lost it and beat him up, he'd have stood still and taken it.

Next morning at the office the writers are talking about what happened with Mel Cooley, the producer. Mel's worried that now Ratigan will quit the show and they won't be able to find a replacement in time. Rob's concerned that he won't be able to work with Ratigan if he doesn't quit and offers to take a vacation in order to be out of the way. Then Ratigan shows up.

He's in a terrific mood.

Dvd_racy_tracy_04He had a grand time last night! He tells Mel what happened, from his own point of view, and it matches the truth except that he includes what we suspected. Ratigan was deliberately trying to provoke Rob into beating him up. Laughing, he describes Rob's anger, making Rob sound foolish and clownish as he does so, and then admits that what he did at the Petries is a regular form of fun for him. He lives to cause scenes like that. Which means, apparently, that he enjoys humiliating women, scaring them, causing trouble between husbands and wives and between women and their friends, and it also means, since it's unlikely that every husband he's done this to was as self-controlled as Rob, he enjoys provoking other men into beating him up.

Ratigan assures everyone that he bears no hard feelings---it doesn't seem to occur to him that the others may have some less than forgiving feelings towards him---and that he's looking forward to doing the show and really getting down to work. Then he leaves, announcing that he's off to go put the moves on the pretty receptionist down the hall.

After he's gone, the gang sits a moment in sad silence and then Rob says to Buddy and Sally, "What do you say we write him the best show we ever wrote?"

Buddy and Sally immediately agree. Mel is stunned. "After the way he behaved?"

Rob says sorrowfully, "What else has he got?"

Clearly, they all understand something about Ratigan that I didn't understand when I watched this episode a hundred years ago when I was a kid but which I almost couldn't believe I was understanding when I watched it again the other night.

My reaction was to ask myself, Did what I think happened there really happen?

Was that show really about what I think it's about?

It was filmed in 1963. Did they deal with that on television in 1963?

I talked to Uncle Merlin this morning and he says it was indeed about that. In fact he jumped to the conclusion I reached as soon as I described Racy Tracy. He hasn't seen the episode since he was a kid either but when I told him Ratigan was engaged 20 times Uncle Merlin said what I was thinking.

You thinking what Merlin and I are thinking?

Was the Dick Van Dyke Show that much ahead of its time? Or were the times more sophisticated than we tend to remember?