7 forgotten military sitcoms of the 1960s

Gomer and Hogan were in good company.

Images: The Everett Collection

Those who serve need to laugh. Since 1941, the USO has flown iconic comics like Bob Hope around the globe to perform for troops. A little levity goes a long way. This also might in some way explain the boom in military comedies that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. Lighthearted films like Operation Petticoat and The Wackiest Ship in the Army helped those who had returned from WWII to look back. Many of these movies were adapted into television shows the following decade, at a time when a new generation was heading off to war. Yes, there was slapstick and high jinks, but hit sitcoms like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. portrayed service in a positive light. 

In Sixties sitcomland, Gomer served in the Marines. Meanwhile, audiences could chuckle at Col. Hogan of the U.S. Army Air Forces and Hogan's Heroes, or sail with McHale's Navy.

These favorites continue to air in reruns today. They paved the way for M*A*S*H and Major Dad. However, a handful of other military sitcoms from that era have fallen off the radar. Here are seven other military sitcoms from the 1960s that deserve to be memorialized.

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1. Ensign O'Toole


Disney darling Dean Jones entertained a generation of Boomers in movies like That Darned Cat! and The Love Bug. Before going to work for the House of the Mouse, 31-year-old Jones played the titular Navy Ensign, who served in the Pacific aboard the USS Appleby. Jones was no stranger to the material, which was based on the semi-autobiographical books of William Lederer. Jones himself was a Navy veteran, who had served during the Korean War. Future M*A*S*H star Harry Morgan popped up as a guest star, while a young Beau Bridges had a recurring role.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. No Time for Sergeants


Mac Hyman's bestselling 1954 novel had thrice been adapted, as a TV teleplay in 1955, as a Broadway play from 1955–57,  and as a breakthrough film in 1958. The three productions had featured Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, putting the comedic performers on the map. Unfortunately, when it was decided to finally adapt No Time for Sergeants as a TV series, Griffith and Knotts were occupied elsewhere, obviously, in Mayberry. This material had inspired the Gomer Pyle character. In Griffith's place, the sitcom starred Sammy Jackson, another North Carolina native.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Broadside


Despite the groan-worthy pun of the title, this pioneering women-driven comedy deserves more notice. A spin-off of McHale's Navy, where Kathleen Nolan's lead character Lt. Anne Morgan had made her debut, Broadside told tales of the WAVES, a.k.a. the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, during WWII. Sheila James (now Kuehl), formerly Zelda Gilroy of The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis, would co-star in her final regular TV role. (Today, she is a politician in California.) Joan Staley (Okie Annie on Batman) and Lois Roberts rounded out the cast of one of the first female workplace comedies. 

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Mister Roberts


Another adaptation of a prior hit novel / play / film, Mister Roberts centered around a WWII cargo ship called the USS Reluctant. Former NYPD cop Richard X. Slattery played the barking captain of the ship. He made a career of similar roles, on war shows both serious (The Gallant Men) and comedic (C.P.O. Sharkey).

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Mona McCluskey


George Burns was the executive producer of this romantic comedy that looked at the life of a military wife. A sort of I Dream of Jeannie without the magic, with a dash of I Love Lucy, Mona McCluskey starred former Frank Sinatra lover and multitalented dancer Juliet Prowse. She had also co-starred with Elvis in G.I. Blues, so this sort of material was not entirely foreign to her. The central premise of the sitcom was that Mona, a successful actress, would instead live on the restrictive income of her husband, an Air Force man.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. The Wackiest Ship in the Army


NBC's adaptation of the hit Jack Lemmon and Ricky Nelson movie instead starred future TV host Gary Collins and Emmy winner Jack Warden (Brian's Song). As a young man, Warden had served in China for the Navy, sailed as a Merchant Marine, and jumped from planes as an Army paratrooper. The day before D-Day, he shattered his leg in a jump. During his recuperation time, he decided to become an actor. Collins, too, had served in the Army. Harry Morgan also turned up in this series. No wonder Col. Potter seemed so experienced.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Operation: Entertainment


While not a sitcom, Operation: Entertainment is too interesting to overlook. The 1968 variety show essentially took the USO concept to television. Celebrity comics and musicians performed skits and songs on various bases. Chuck Barris of The Gong Show produced and emceed this one-season wonder, which brought in everyone from Tim Conway and Richard Pryor to The Righteous Brothers and The Everly Brothers. 

Image: The Everett Collection

8. These 'Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.' facts will make you say ''SHAZAM!''

Golly! This beloved Jim Nabors sitcom was more important than you might imagine.

Image: The Everett Collection

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ndebrabant 44 months ago
I liked them all. Seems like during the 60's, every show I liked was cancelled after only one or maybe two seasons. I felt like I was bad luck for any show I seem to enjoy.
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