Larry Hagman, just after his I Dream of Jeannie run ended, and with a beard (maybe a false one), stars in the Night Gallery story “The Housekeeper,” reviewed here.

“The Housekeeper” **1/2

Written by Douglas Heyes (using the pseudonym Matthew Howard, maybe he was modest and didn’t want to assume too much credit after writing and directing the episode’s previous segment)
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas
Larry Hagman as Cedric Acton
Jeanette Nolan as Miss Wattle
Suzy Parker as Carlotta Acton
Cathleen Cordell as Miss Beamish

The second segment of the first episode of Night Gallery’s first season is also one that has its merits, but doesn’t quite achieve success.

It’s an often comic episode, thanks to Larry Hagman’s fine performance. For those of you who remember the recently deceased Mr. Hagman from his portrayal of the villainous J.R. Ewing on Dallas, he was a fine comic actor, his gifts excellently on display during the five-year run of Jeannie.

The story begins with Cedric Acton (Hagman) at an employment agency, seeking an old housekeeper with a good heart (reverse ageism that would be forbidden today, but apparently in 1970 was not a problem). Miss Wattle (Jeanette Nolan, who would appear again memorably in the next season as the title character in “When Aunt Ada Came To Stay,” only in her late fifties here but appears to be at least ten years older) is brought in.

In more job interview banter that would be later outlawed, Acton asks her if she has friends. No. References? No again. He asks her when she sees young, attractive women, “do you ask ‘why her, not me’”? She sheepishly admits that she has, but “it don’t change the price of potatoes,” a salt-of-the-earth reply that delights him.

Acton takes Miss Wattle out to dinner in a fancy restaurant. There, his beautiful young wife is having dinner with a man who is obviously “romantically” interested in her. Acton says that his wife is selfish and ungrateful. She’s also worth $7 million. He asks Miss Wattle what she would give to change places with his wife. He wants her goodness, at least that which he has deigned during a brief and no longer legal job interview, in his wife’s attractive body.

Later, he proposes a personality transplant where she would inhabit the young, beautiful woman’s body, and be in line for half the $7 million should things not work out as his wife. He injects Miss Wattle with a serum and brings a frog to his wife to complete the act. The transformation is successful.

Afterward, Miss Wattle (in his wife’s body) is not interested in Acton’s advances. Three days later, she emerges from her room and says that she’s turning in her notice and wants the full $7 million. Acton brings the frog out again, she asks “oh, dear, how many times?” To which Acton replies, “Until we get it right.”

There is some amusement here but the episode’s ending feels a bit rushed. Fine performances from Hagman and Nolan help quite a bit.

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