But what does the "F" stand for?

by Susie Hodgson

Who remembers the classic sitcom F Troop? I think everyone remembers it – even if you weren’t alive in the 1960s when it first aired. That’s because of one word: syndication. On Nick at Nite and later on the Me Channel, ratings soared – even more than they had in the beginning. In fact, the first time F Troop was on the air, it was only on for two seasons, from 1965 to 1967. That’s it!

It was a sitcom about a fort in Kansas where all the “loser” soldiers were sent – including their clumsy Captain. It was kind of an Island for Misfit Military Men and when they got together, hijinks ensued. But not-so-shockingly enough, not one scene was ever filmed in Kansas. That’s because the entire show was filmed in the sound stages and back lot of Warner Brothers studio right here in Burbank.

Let’s see – you have the uncoordinated, always-falling Captain Wilton Parmenter, played by a young Ken Berry. Berry was a trained song-and-dance man, which made it easy for him to perform all the pratfalls he took. Berry got his start in The Industry thanks to a certain future pointy-eared star. In the Korean War, the real soldier Ken Berry reported to Leonard Nimoy! After F Troop, Berry would go on to star in The Andy Griffith Show spin-off Mayberry RFD. He moved on to The Carol Burnett Show spin-off Mama’s Family. Guess he had a thing for spin-offs. He also spun off (danced, that is) in a series of Kinney Shoes commercials. But back to Captain Parmenter…

His main right hand man was Sergeant O’Rourke, who was something of a con man running many a get-rich-quick scheme. O’Rourke was played by long-time character actor Forrest Tucker. Tucker would never quite reach the level of success he had with F Troop, dying at age 67 from lung cancer allegedly aggravated by heavy drinking. O’Rourke’s “little buddy” was, no, not Gilligan, but Corporal Agarn, played by Larry Storch who, in his 90s, is still alive as of this writing. He has done mimicry and voiceover work across the years. Bet you didn’t know it was he who coined the phrase “Judy, Judy, Judy!” while imitating Cary Grant. (Grant never actually said it.)

Captain Parmenter had a girlfriend named Wrangler Jane who was the one competent individual in the show. Her gimmick involved being the “aggressor” with Parmenter, who would blush at her advances and beg off her kisses with the running gag of “Please Jane, not in front of the men!” Wrangler Jane was played by Melody Patterson who had forged her birth certificate and actually auditioned at the age of 15! She didn’t hit 18 until after the show was off the air. Melody Patterson later was married to (and subsequently divorced from) actor James MacArthur, son of Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur. (He played “Danno” in the original Hawaii 5-0. He also played Clay Boy in the Henry Fonda movie Spencer’s Mountain, which The Waltons was based on.) Patterson died young at 66, having suffered poor health including a broken back for at least three years.

And there was the requisite Indian tribe. Yes, they said Indian then and not one of the actors who portrayed them was one. And yes, they made plenty of politically incorrect jokes about them – things you’d never hear today. The biggest joke of all was an old Borscht Belt bit. The name of the tribe was the Heckawi tribe, as in - and here’s the joke – “Tribe wanders. Falls off cliff. ‘We lost. Where the heck are we?’” (In case you didn’t get it, say Heckawi fast and it sounds like ‘heck are we.’ Hey, I didn’t write the joke!) Initially, the show’s writers tried using “Fugawi” as the name of the tribe, but the network censors caught it. (I’m not going to explain that one to you!)

F Troop was memorable. It had slapstick, it had references to current events and it featured many stars in small and cameo roles such as Don Rickles, Milton Berle, Vincent Price and more. Its episodes were not always original -they say the shows were a lot like McHale’s Navy which itself copied The Phil Silvers Show. I don’t know about you, but I can still sing the theme song. (The same composer wrote the theme songs for Cheyenne and Gunsmoke.) But I still don’t know what “F” stands for in F Troop!

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Web site: www.burbankhistoricalsoc.org
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