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And Then There's Maude: Episode 15

Our tribute to the 35th anniversary of the debut of Maude continues.

*

Season 1, Episode 15
Episode Title: Walter's 50th Birthday

Original airdate: 23 January 1973

Plot: Preparations are in full swing for Walter's 50th birthday party. Foil party hats, streamers, and a banner decorate the Findlay living room. Maude has a big birthday surprise up her big sleeve but her century-old husband is so consumed by his mortality and lost youth that he risks being a real party pooper.

As Maude descends the stairs, she catches a bustling Florida singing Ol' Man River ("Darkies all work on the Mississippi. Darkies all work while the white folks play.") Maude is shocked and Florida counters that those are the words. No, no, no, Maude insists, "we have new words now." Oh, right, says Florida, reprising the song with, "Colored folks work on the Mississippi..."

Carol enters with another box of party hats and noisemakers. She's skeptical about Maude's idea to decorate the party as if for a 10-year-old as a way of taking Walter's mind off his age. Maude's big surprise will be just the tonic Walter needs - she's arranged to have his childhood friend fly in from Peoria for the party. It's been 30 years since Walter has seen dear old Floyd Crowley. Maude is already patting herself on the back for pulling off such a feat.

Meanwhile, down at the club, Arthur and Sam the bartender serenade a dour Walter with "Happy Birthday" but he interrupts them before they finish. (It occurs to me how infrequently you hear this song on TV because of copyright and royalty issues. I wonder how much they had to pay, if anything, to use the song here. Does it count if you don't get through the entire song?)

Walter isn't exactly aging gracefully. Far from it. A birthday card from Floyd Crowley hits home. He's known Floyd for 42 years. 42 years! ("How can I know anybody 42 years. My father knows people 42 years. Arthur, I think I've turned into my father.") He then proceeds to show Arthur the "old, dead skin" on his knuckles, pulling on the back of his hand. ("It used to snap back. There's no snap in it now.")

It's the same old story. Looking back on his life, Walter laments the dreams and accomplishments he's failed to realize, like piloting a glider, living in Paris, and making love to a movie star. Arthur tries to convince Walter that he's in the prime of his life. Mentioning a fellow golfer's heart attack on the 14th green - at the ripe old age of 48 - doesn't exactly bolster his case.

Walter dates himself when he tells Arthur of another dream that has died with age: performing as half of a vaudeville team. Back when he was 12, he and Floyd worked out a routine, singing while acting out the lyrics with hand gestures. "There's an old spinning wheel in the parlor, spinning dreams of long, long ago," he wistfully croons, while waving his hands in the air like a kindergartner performing at a school assembly. Now it's Arthur's turn to interrupt the singing, fleeing the bar with a quick, "That's lovely, Walter. See you at the party . . . God willing."

Back at party central, Carol brings in an enormous sheet cake decorated with a candle 5-0. Maude is decked out in a rust-colored party pantsuit. She's so excited at the prospect of Floyd Crowley's arrival she can barely contain herself. At the sound of the doorbell, she sprints, leaps and "woo-hoo's" her way to the door but it's just a glum-faced Walter ringing the bell. Time is running out for old Walter. With the Grim Reaper right around the corner, there are so many things he's never done before, like ring his own front doorbell. ("Now I have and it's over.")

Nothing Maude can say, from sexual innuendo to quoting Robert Browning, will snap Walter out of his funk. She tries a little Maude-style TLC, slapping a pointed party hat on his head and demanding he get over it. Carol nearly blows the surprise when she rushes downstairs asking if the surprise has arrived yet. The doorbell rings again and Maude, giddy with excitement, rushes everyone out of the room so Walter can be alone with his surprise. She tells Walter to yell out "Come in" as she blows him a kiss ("Darling, it's my birthday present to you,") and disappears into the kitchen.

A very bewildered Walter turns to the front door and yells "come in!" It takes a moment for Walter and Floyd Crowley (who's constantly referred to by his entire name) to recognize each other. Floyd breaks into the Spinning Wheel song, complete with hand gestures, and both men fairly gyrate with excitement at seeing their long-lost pal. ("Walter Findlay?" "Floyd Crowley?" "Walter!" "Floyd!" "Walter!" "Dang it, Floyd, am I glad to see you!") When Floyd says, "Walter, I'm so excited I could die," you know what's coming a beat before Floyd loses all expression on his face and drops dead behind the couch. Happy birthday, Walter!

Three days later, a depressed Walter has yet to come out of his room. ("He's been sitting up there staring at the walls muttering things like: The moving finger writes.") When Walter finally appears, he has one word to say to Maude and Carol - "Phillip." Like a dying sage coming down from the mountain to dispense what wisdom he can in his remaining days, Walter calls his grandson in from the neighborhood baseball game. Sitting the boy down on the couch, Walter and Phillip share their first real on-screen conversation - and it's about bathroom etiquette. Real guy talk. (See "Wow, Did They Just Say That" below.)

Before Walter can retreat back upstairs, Maude tries to get him to snap out of his morbid depression. Arthur walks in (he always just walks right into the Findlay house without ever knocking) and Maude tries to enlist his help. Walter won't hear of it and heads upstairs to pack his bags, uttering his version of Greta Garbo's famous line - "I gotta be by myself."

Maude is at her wit's end. Arthur, who has been doing a little reading up on Masters and Johnson, suggests that Maude try "the simple act of touching . . . using physical gentleness to break through the defenses of a withdrawn person." Maude says she'll try it and takes Arthur's hand, thanking him for this thoughtful advice. Her gesture inadvertently proves the wisdom of M&J's advice when Arthur melts, giggling like a schoolboy, quickly kissing her hand and pecking her on the cheek. ("You see, you're touching me. You broke through my defenses. By golly it works!")

Upstairs Walter will have no part of any physical gentleness, running from Maude as he packs his suitcase in his quest to be alone. Well, two can play at that game and Maude begins violently packing her bags to take off on her own journey of self-discovery. And she's taking her negligee with her! Yelling followed by two suitcases crashing through each of the second-story bedroom windows finally brings Walter back to his senses. He realizes that figuring out the mystery that is Maude is well worth sticking around and living his life for.

Hot button social issue: Growing old gracefully. Fifty is the new seventy!

Fashion statement: Maude starts the episode wearing a long-sleeved cantaloupe-colored blouse under a grey plaid vest with a long orange paisley scarf around her neck. The billowing continues with her outfit for Walter's party, a solid rust-colored pantsuit; the pant legs are made from miles of swishy fabric condensed into hundreds of vertical pleats that zig and zag as she walks.

Neckerchief count: Two to one, Maude over Arthur.

Decorating tip: The Findlay master bedroom is a riot of contrasting pattern and color: a powder blue velour chair, lime green bed spread, two different wall paper patterns on opposite walls, dark burled wood furniture (the type with two inches of shellac coating it), faux candle sconces, large oil paintings worthy of the best dentist's office, fake floral arrangements, and a table/lamp combination that is as tall as Maude.

Cocktail hour: Drinking with Arthur at the club, Walter asks for an age-appropriate drink: a shot of Old Grand Dad.

Welcome back to 1973 pop culture reference: In giving Maude advice on how to handle Walter, Arthur quotes from Masters and Johnson. "I've been reading up on sex research . . . "

Number of times Maude yells: 5

Memorable quote: When Walter asks Arthur if he's ever made love to a movie star, he responds, "No. Not actually."

Wow, did they just say that? "Repeat after me: When water falls on water, it makes a sound that all can hear. But when it's sprayed on porcelain, it falls silent to the ear."

-

Previously:
Season 1, Episode 1: Maude's Problem.
Season 1, Episode 2: Doctor, Doctor.
Season 1, Episode 3: Maude Meets Florida.
Season 1, Episode 4: Like Mother, Like Daughter.
Season 1, Episode 5: Maude and the Radical.
Season 1, Episode 6: The Ticket.
Season 1, Episode 7: Love and Marriage.
Season 1, Episode 8: Flashback.
Season 1, Episode 9: Maude's Dilemma (Part One).
Season 1, Episode 10: Maude's Dilemma (Part Two).
Season 1, Episode 11: Maude's Reunion.
Season 1, Episode 12: The Grass Story.
Season 1, Episode 13: The Slum Lord.
Season 1, Episode 14: The Convention.



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Posted on January 4, 2008


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