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Me and the Dinosaur
This short-lived comedy series premiered as a half-hour mid-season replacement during the 1964-65 television season, on ABC. One of the few shows at the time shot in full-color, it featured the adventures of twelve-year-old Johnny Pemble and his friend Barney the Lizard-Man from Pluto, whom only Johnny can see. The show was designed to compete with the enormously popular BEWITCHED and MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, and was clearly influenced by both; Barney, for example, was an alien policeman from Pluto often baffled by Earthly customs, much as MY FAVORITE MARTIAN's Uncle Martin, yet also the show incorporated magical, fantasy elements, like Barney's invisibility to all but Johnny, that owed much more to BEWITCHED. The show only ran seven episodes, of which only five aired, due to poor ratings and behind-the-scenes tensions. Yet ME AND THE DINOSAUR is fondly remembered by many aficionados of old-time television for what they saw as its groundbreaking, edgy comedy.
LEFT: Kirby Levin as Johnny;
RIGHT: Barney the Lizard-Man, policeman from Pluto
#1 "Pilot" The Plutonian Police Force has assigned Officer Bernardiananda Gryzmysh of the Lizard Patrol to Earth as part of a solar-system wide search for the fugitive Deekon Cunlingle, "the most wanted man in the known worlds!" Since Earth is not yet a member of the System Federation, Officer Gryzmysh is under orders to stay undercover -- "not easy when you're six feet, three hundred pounds of green alien crime-busting muscle!" His solution is the Invisible Shield, which will render him invisible to human eye wavelength -- though dogs can still see him. Tracing Deekon to a small town in southern California, the intrepid Lizard Trooper lands his ship in a convenient meadow and heads for town. Deekon is on Earth only because his ship is damaged and it will take several pounds of Earth diamonds to repair its hyper-glass engine. He is deeply frustrated to discover that on Earth diamonds are highly prized and heavily guarded, especially since his weapons were destroyed in the crash. He must make his repairs with Earth technology alone, which is a great handicap. He disguises himself in Earth clothing and heads for town as well.
In the town, Mayor Pemble is hosting the town's Diamond Jubilee Celebration, which Deekon thinks involves actual diamonds. He prepares to kidnap the Mayor, thinking he can persuade Pemble to tell him where the town hides its diamond mine. Officer Gryzmysh, arriving at almost the same time, is shocked to discover that somehow Johnny can see through his Invisibility Shield (thus leading to the famous scene between Browning and Levin often replayed on MTV's Remote Control: "Are you SURE you're not a dog? Or just really, really stupid?" "I'm NOT A DOG!") Their argument is interrupted when Gryzmysh spots Deekon sneaking up on the Mayor. In the ensuing battle Deekon is about to kill Gryzmysh when Johnny foils him with a well-aimed brick. Deekon gets away, but Gryzmish grudgingly admits that Johnny was a help and together they will hunt down Deekon and any other crminals that come their way. Johnny agrees to keep the Lizard Trooper's secret but says his last name is too hard to say. Upon hearing the officer's first name, Johnny quickly shortens it to "Barney," and a partnership is born.
NOTES: ME AND THE DINOSAUR was the brainchild of two men: old-time Hollywood producer Stan Rozanski and folk guitarist-turned-screenwriter Danny Angeleno (born Daniel Kaminski.) Legend has it that Rozanski got the idea for the show while watching an episode of MY FAVORITE MARTIAN and said, "My gardener could write better than that," and a friend bet Rozanski that he couldn't get such a show on the air. It is unknown whether or not this is true but Angeleno DID work briefly as Rozanski's gardener in the summer of 1964, which is how the two met. Like many in Hollywood, Angeleno harbored show-business ambitions and was just beginning to make appearances on the coffeehouse circuit as a singer-songwriter, but he was happy to abandon his singing career for a shot at writing television when Rozanski approached him with the idea of "My Favorite Martian meets Bewitched, with dinosaurs."
Unfortunately, tension and conflict plagued the production from the beginning. Rozanski was looking for a hit, a family comedy that parents and kids could watch together. Angeleno, on the other hand, was very much a part of the then-emerging hippie movement and wanted to use the show as a platform to make political points and satirize the Establishment.
Angeleno was also a science-fiction fan and envisioned a show more in the tradition of the TWILIGHT ZONE, adventure leavened by whimsy. This led to many rewrites, some by Rozanski himself, which exacerbated the conflict. Angeleno began to deliberately pepper his scripts with subtle references to sexual perversion and foreign curse words, just to see how many of them would get through. Quite a few did, largely because Rozanski was not particularly worldly or well-read. Later, when ABC received letters about the show from southern California's S&M community congratulating the network on its willingness to 'push the envelope,' the network's Standards And Practices department was outraged and assigned someone full-time to the set, further aggravating the tension.
The pilot episode also marked the acting debut of Kirby Levin as Johnny, and Joyce DeWitt as his annoying older sister, Sis. Miss DeWitt later would go on to fame in another ABC show, "Three's Company," and today claims not to remember anything about her days on ME AND THE DINOSAUR.
Kirby Levin, on the other hand, takes great pride in the show and can often be found signing autographs at science-fiction conventions.
#2 "Barney Goes To School" Johnny is being harassed by a bully (Barry Williams) at school and enlists Barney's help. Barney's first idea to stop the bully is to eat him -- Barney's carnivorous tendencies and his references to humans as "pink snack monkeys" were to become a running gag on the show. Nevertheless, Johnny is able to persuade Barney that this is a bad idea; he doesn't want the bully DEAD, after all. They settle for kidnapping the bully and it is implied that Barney beats and tortures him for the better part of a day -- "Just like any other interplanetary crook! That'll teach him!" --before using his Plutonian Hypno-Ray to erase all memory of the unfortunate bully's time on the space ship. However, Sis spies Johnny returning his repentant classmate to the school and Johnny has to somehow persuade her that nothing happened, while at the same time keeping the information from the Lizard Trooper, or Barney might kidnap Sis as well!
NOTES: This was the episode, hailed as a breakthrough by sado-masochist alternative-lifestyle groups, that roused ABC's ire and led to the first major rift between Rozanski and Angeleno. It is also worth noting that Angeleno named the bully character "Adam Felleter," which many saw as a homoerotic reference, though it was lost on Rozanski.
#3 "Barney Gets Groovy" Mayor Pemble is up for re-election, and wants his family to help with his campaign and make public appearances. However, many of these appearances are marred by protests from a counter-culture group led by a college student named Harvey Bongwater. Johnny is horrified to discover that, like Johnny himself, Bongwater can also see Barney despite the Lizard Trooper's Invisibility Shield. ("I can see all sorts of stuff the squares ignore," explains Bongwater.) bongwater intends to use his knowledge of Johnny's secret dinosaur friend to make Mayor Pemble throw the election. To make matters worse, Deekon's back and plans to kidnap Mayor Pemble for ransom!
NOTES: In this episode Angeleno gave his political agenda full sway, with many subtle barbs aimed at LBJ and the Vietnam war. Some of these were written out by ABC's Standards and Practices but others made it past them, enough to make this episode a fan favorite. This episode also featured Herman's Hermits in a cameo, as the band playing at Mayor Pemble's rally ("Wally and the Wingnuts"), with Barney learning to do the Watusi.
#4 "Barney Meets Sammy Davis Jr." Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. (playing himself) is on a vacation from his club performances in Las Vegas and just wants peace and quiet, so he decides to visit his old friend Mayor Pemble. Unfortunately for Sammy, Johnny and Barney are in the middle of trying to stop Deekon from robbing the city's diamond exchange, and Sammy gets caught in the middle!
NOTES: This was the only episode not written by Danny Angeleno. The screenplay was credited to Lorenzo Semple Jr., who claimed to have written the entire episode over a weekend during a drunken blackout. It also features a duet between Davis and Ray Bolger on "That Old Black Magic," with Bolger playing the ukelele. Semple, like most of the people involved with producing the show, discovered that it was nearly impossible to make use of a guest star without somehow getting around the dinosaur's Invisibility Shield, and decided that Sammy Davis' glass eye somehow distorted his vision enough from "normal human wavelengths" that he, too, could see Barney. Unfortunately, this line was misinterpreted by the NAACP as implying that blacks were somehow abnormal and the resultant furor caused still more troubles at the network for the show.
#5 "Barney Goes To The Rodeo" A rodeo, part of the town's Cowboy Week Festival, is in danger of cancellation after Barney eats the rodeo's prize bronc.
NOTES: This was the last episode aired. Low ratings, as well as the various controversies plaguing the production and the constant quarreling between Rozanski and Angeleno, were more than enough to convince ABC to pull the plug. This episode was originally supposed to guest-star Clayton Moore, but Moore walked after a disastrous meeting with Angeleno in which the screenwriter characterized the Lone Ranger as "An Establishment tool."
There were two more episodes filmed, "Barney Catches Cold" and "Barney Gets A Girlfriend," but they have never been aired. It is rumored that these episodes are available on bootleg cassettes purchased via the internet.
Legal technicalities with the PBS children's show featuring Barney The Dinosaur have prevented ME AND THE DINOSAUR from ever airing in syndication or being released to commercial video, but nevertheless the show has a small but vocal fan following. There is the annual Dino Festival held every year in Boise, Idaho, with many of the show's stars -- those still alive -- making an appearance. Kirby Levin, in addition to often appearing at these shows, offers ME AND THE DINOSAUR memorabilia (including his autobiography) on his website, www.KirbyDinosaurPal.com.
This year's DinoFest hopes to persuade Joyce deWitt to finally break her boycott of these events and put in an appearance, but so far nothing is confirmed.
|YOUR MEMORIES OF
ME AND THE DINOSAUR:
Posted by Debbie on May 31, 1998 at 6:19 PM (PDT):
Posted by nobody on August 12, 1998 at 1:43 AM (PDT):
Or something like that. Cool show.
Posted by Carl on October 3, 1998 at 7:09 AM (PDT):
Posted by Kirby Levin on November 11, 1998 at 11:37 PM (PST):
Here's a pic of me at the Riverside CA Fantasy-Con. It was held on the campus of UC Riverside last weekend. I'm on the right, the guy to the left of me is comic-book artist Nick Cardy, whose a real great guy! During the slow times when the autograph-seekers were at film screenings or whatever, we got to have some really nice converstions, sometimes for 45 minutes or an hour or more. Funny story, Nick was supposed to do the art for the comicbook adaption of ME AND THE DINOSAUR, but the show got cancelled before they started the book. He said he liked the character design of Barney though. Here's the photo:
Anyway, thanks again for your encourangement during the dark times in my life, and please visit www.KirbyDinosaurPal.com!
All the best,
Posted by Dan on January 15, 1999 at 6:22 PM (PST):
Hey Kirby pal, ever hear of a life? Ever think about getting one? Pathetic.
Posted by SuzyQ on April 1, 1999 at 8:19 AM (PST):
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