A Mary Wickes Week Celebration! (#5): Mary, The Visiting Nurses Association, and The Television Pilot That Never Was

A Mary Wickes Week Celebration! (#5): Mary, The Visiting Nurses Association, and The Television Pilot That Never Was

My week-long celebration of character actress Mary Wickes continues today with a look at a proposal for a television series that Mary created but was never picked up or filmed.

Mary's TV career reads like the creme de la creme of the proverbial Boob Tube Hall of Fame: I Love Lucy, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Zorro, Bonanza, The Lucy Show, Sanford and Son, M*A*S*H, and Murder, She Wrote being only the tip of the gargantuan iceberg. Therefore, it was only natural that Mary wanted to try her hand at creating her own.

When I was going to be parsing through Wickes' papers, I made sure to keep my eye out for something special. As I was leafing through the box, I came upon a folder marked "[New television series ideas, n.d.]" I opened the folder and flipped through the eight pages within, opening up an avenue of Wickes' career that I had never heard discussed before.

From 1975 to 1976, Mary was part of a tepid television show entitled Doc that only lasted a season and a half on CBS. The show concerned an elderly General Practice Physician who has to deal with his odd patients and his infuriating family life. The only factor that allowed it to last through the first season was the fact that it was placed in-between the megahits The Jeffersons and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She played, as was her signature, a nurse named Beatrice Tully.

After the show was canceled, an idea started to germinate in Mary's mind. She had played so many nurses in the past, so why not have her own series as one? But, who would write it? Why, none other than Mary herself!

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Mary's idea was to have her character Tully (though she conceded there would have to be a name change, which she, ever practical, suggested as Mary) as a "private duty nurse who went from case to case." Mary's friend and spiritual confidante the Reverand M. Gregory Richards suggested that the "Mary" character be a part of "The Visiting Nurses Association." Mary was volunteering at the UCLA Hospital at the time and saw firsthand how humor can help those in constant, ceaseless agony.

Mary closes the first page by addressing the person she sent the proposal to, Grant, by saying that this idea didn't come out of nowhere and that she hopes he doesn't "think we just had a dumb idea off the top of our heads...We're a mine of information, dramatic information!"

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Mary wrote the following "treatment" (or synopsis) of the series when she registered it with the Screen Actor's Guild:

"Mary is a member of the Visiting Nurses Association an organization serving anyone in need of nursing care be they idigent or wealthy. When the subject has means, a set fee is charged, but no one is refused. The nurses wear a uniform of a blue and white striped material, similar to seersucker and made like a tailored shirtmaker. As a visiting nurse, Tully (Mary) moves around Los Angeles, meeting all sorts of situations and characters. It is suggested that a permanent cast be made up of policemen on the beat near the Association office, a supervising nurse who is a pain in the neck and a Puerto Rican paper girl, age ten or eleven. There is also a black Roman Catholic priest, a social activist. There are Tully's cronies, Tully deals with bedridden arthritic patients, student nurses who come with her on "rounds". She gets in volved [sic] with problems of housing when a local tenement is torn down and its inhabitants must be relocated. Nutrition is high on her "musts" and preaches it constantly. Crime, alderman... Tully naturally, in her rounds, copes with everything. She teaches Sunday School and has her problems keeping ten and eleven year olds interested so she goes for novel remedies. She locks horns with a hidebound Bishop of her church. Most of her friends are streetwise. She is single, but a romance buds now and then, sometimes unwanted by her. The series is not all comedy, but a mixture. It can go on [sic] all directions, legitimately."

The series wasn't picked up (or, as far as I know, even submitted to any network) but it would have been a brilliant testament to the tenacity and intelligence that Wickes possessed. To take a stock "nurse" character that she had been playing for years and beef it up took serious guts. It would have been a treat to see Mary at the helm of a series, in her own spotlight where her brand of humor could take center stage.

After doing some research, I happily found out that the Visiting Nurses Association is still in operation today! According to their website, in one year they did the following: "Cared for more than 5,000 people needing in-home care, hospice, palliative care or pharmacy, served 2,000 physicians-ordered newborn care, more than 475 through Project WIN (Welcoming Infants into Neighborhoods - Home Visitation) and 1,100 social work services for at-risk immigrant and refugee families, administered 14,300 immunizations throughout Omaha and Council Bluffs, educated more than 1,500 area children and adults about proper nutrition  through our Cooking Matters program, treated more than 2,600 at-risk children and adults through the Shelter Nursing program, [and] Cared for more than 19,000 students through our School Health program at 51 schools." If you wish to donate, the VNA accepts donations as well as volunteers.

I think Mary would be happy to know that this organization, which became very close to her heart, is still functioning today to help the world become a healthier and more positive place. And, of course, I hope you enjoyed your peek behind the curtain of the Television Pilot That Never Was!


(All documents courtesy of: Mary Wickes Papers, Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections, University Archives - Series 3, Box 1, Folder 38)


**I implore you to continue watch my blog this week (October 17th through the 23rd) , as I'm devoting the entire week to the life and times of character actress Mary Wickes! I scoured her personal archives at Washinton University in St. Louis and have many fascinating discoveries to share with you!**

I invite you to visit my new website, StevenKrage.com! I'm very proud of my new creation and would love to hear your feedback about it.

And  the newest episode of my podcast, The Objectivist and The Vegan, has been uploaded to SoundCloud

In this episode, Steven and Jack debate the good and the bad of the 1990s. Dating advice and potential pitfalls also get the glamrous verbal lashing of Mr. Krage and Mr. Bower! Click the orange play button below to enter our nutty world:

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