Critics savaged this 1965-1966 NBC sitcom about counselors at a summer camp for boys. Arch Johnson, Dave Ketchum, and Dave Madden starred. Clobbered in the ratings by The Wild, Wild West on CBS, it wasn’t renewed for a second season.
Just One Of NBC’s New Sitcoms
In late November 1964, Hedda Hopper reported that Screen Gems had four pilots in the works, including “Gidget” with Don Porter and Sally Field and “Camp Runamuck” with Hermione Baddeley . Val Adams reported in a December 23rd, 1964 article for The New York Times that the three networks had 76 pilots in contention for the 1965-1966 season. He noted that half-hour pilots were far more popular in the current production cycle than in previous years. NBC alone had 24 pilots, 17 of which were half-hour comedies. They included My Mother, The Car, I Dream of Jeannie, The Willies, Mr. Roberts, Here’s Aggie, Hank, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and Camp Runamuck .
Only a handful of these pilots would make the cut and be given a slot on a network’s schedule. “Camp Runamuck” was one of them. On February 4th 1965, citing an authoritative source, Adams revealed that Camp Runamuck and another Screen Gems series, I Dream of Jeannie, were definite additions to NBC’s 1965-1966 schedule. Camp Runamuck would star Dave Ketchum, Arch Johnson and Hermione Baddeley. David Swift created the series .
Broadcasting reported in its February 15th issue that Swift would write 13 episodes for the 1965-1966 season and likely direct the same number. He had written, directed and executive produced the pilot for Screen Gems . When NBC officially announced its schedule on March 8th the vast majority of its new and returning programs were in color, Camp Runamuck among them. Only I Dream of Jeannie and Convoy were to be filmed in black and white, due to special effects for the former and black and white stock footage for the latter .
Camp Runamuck was given the Friday 7:30-8PM time slot, opposite The Flintstones on ABC and The Wild Wild West on CBS. Construction on two camp sets, one for boys and one for girls, began later that month at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, California . On May 28th, TV Guide reported that actor and composer Frank DeVol was forced to pull out of Camp Runamuck due to illness, although he would keep doing the music for the series . TV Guide announced on June 5th that Leonard Stone had replaced DeVol .
DeVol definitely provided music for the pilot episode. Hugo Montenegro was then brought on to compose music for the series, although whether DeVol was involved in additional episodes is unknown. According to Screen Gems: A History of Columbia Pictures Television from Cohn to Coke, 1948-1983, the original “title song” for Camp Runamuck was written by Frank DeVol and performed by Bobby Darin . Al DiOrio, in his biography of Darin, states that Darin wrote the theme song for Camp Runamuck as well as another short-lived sitcom, Wendy and Me, but makes no mention of him performing it .
All other episodes featured a theme written by Howard Geenfield and Jack Keller.
The Boys (And Girls) of Camp Runamuck
The series would depict the misadventures of a group of male counselors at a boy’s summer camp and their interactions with the female counselors at a new girl’s camp opened nearby. The boy’s camp was called Camp Runamuck and was operated by “Commander” Wivenhoe (played by Arch Johnson). Across the lake was Eulalia Divine’s Camp for Girls, better known as Camp Divine, which was by Eulalia Divine (played by Hermione Baddeley). Mahalia May Gruenecker (played by Alice Nunn) oversaw Camp Divine’s day-to-day operations.
Wivenhoe wasn’t particularly fond of children nor was he thrilled that Camp Divine’s counselors continually interfered with Camp Runamuck by distracting his counselors. Joining Wivenhoe at Camp Runamuck were Senior Counselor Spiffy (played by Dave Ketchum), Counselor Pruett (played by Dave Madden), Camp Cook Malden (played by Mike Wagner) and Doc Joslyn (played by Leonard Stone; Frank DeVol played Doc Joslyn in the pilot episode only). Spiffy, despite his bumbling nature, seemed to genuinely care about the kids or at least more than Wivenhoe did. Pruett had a tendency to shake uncontrollably when in close proximity to women.
Over at Camp Divine, Mahalia May and Eulalia Divine worked with the vivacious Counselor Caprice Yeudleman (played by former Las Vegas showgirl Nina Wayne), Counselor Nadine Smith (played by Beverly Adams) and Counselor Ivy (played by Carol Anderson).
Critics Say Don’t Attend Camp
A summary in TV Guide‘s 1965 Fall Preview issue called the series a “flapdoodle” and suggested it was “for those who like their comedy low and outside” . Reaction to Camp Runamuck from television critics was primarily negative.
Television Magazine, in its third annual survey of critics, compiled a panel of 16 critics from across the country and asked them to rate all new shows as Good, Bad or Indifferent. Camp Runamuck received two Goods, nine Bads and five Indifferents. The two Goods came from Del Carnes of the Denver Post and Lawrence Laurent of the Washington Post .
Terrance O’Flaherty of the San Francisco Chronicle, despite giving the series an Indifferent rating, wrote “I found the premiere to be the funniest show of the season in terms of laughing out loud in my own living room” . Broadcasting put together its own survey of TV critics, giving each review a score of Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor or Bad. Camp Runamuck was given two Goods, two Fairs and five Poors .
Larry Wolters of The Chicago Tribune suggested that the show “makes the Beverly Hillbillies look like intellectuals and Soupy Sales like an egghead;” Hal Humphrey of The Los Angeles Times referred to the premiere as a “slickly produced abomination;” and Barbara Tiritilli of Chicago’s American called it “pointless drivel” . The Blade‘s Ray Oviatt wrote that the premiere was “a straining comedy” .
Rick Du Brow of United Press International had quite a bit to say about the premiere:
Of the nine new series that premiered last night, I found only one other worthy of some reflection, NBC-TV’s half-hour comedy “Camp Runamuck,” which is about a boys’ summer camp and a girls’ camp — and the reason for this reflection is that I have never seen a piece of television film that seemed so certain of the low intelligence of the mass audience. It was fascinating to view on this basis.
Whether there was cynicism at work is something the audience will have to decide for itself. Admittedly, “Camp Runamuck” is intended to be slapstick, but it is a show on such an extraordinarily low level that one feels it simply has to be intentional. It just couldn’t be an accident, one muses. You look and you don’t believe it.
You begin to think that perhaps it took its clue from the success of the moronic level of “Gilligan’s Island.” I am an optimist, though, and I like to think that human beings are capable of such clear-sighted commercialism. It is like looking at afternoon cartoons, only with people. Is it “Pop TV?” Is it so far out that it’s in? Will it be a hit? I wouldn’t dare bet against it. 
For the record, the other show Du Brow considered worthy of reflection was Hogan’s Heroes.
Tales Of Summer Fun
In the series premiere Wivenhoe and the counselors are shocked to learn that a girl’s camp has opened up across the lake. Wivenhoe’s bathtub, the only bathtub in miles and his sole comfort, was stolen by counselors from Camp Divine. They were tired of only have showers at their disposal. Upon discovering the missing tub, Wivenhoe assembles his counselors to conduct a night raid on Camp Divine to get it back.
Unfortunately, the commissioner of camps showed up unexpectedly and, in light of what he had seen, announced he’d be revoking Wivenhoe’s license. Eulalia was able to convince the commissioner that the men were bringing the bathtub to Camp Divine and saved Wivenhoe’s job. Thus, the groundwork for the feud between the two camps is laid and many episodes would involve some sort of conflict between the two camps.
Just wanted to say that around 1990-1991, Nickelodeon used to rerun the show during the summer in the late afternoon-early evening. I remember my friends thinking it was a new show and me trying to convince them that it wasn’t. It wasn’t until Maureen McCormick guest starred in one episode that my friends finally realized.”
For example, in an episode reminiscent of the pilot, Pruett is given an air conditioner and Caprice uses her feminine wiles to convince him to give it Camp Divine. Wivenhoe then wins it in a card game and places it in his tent, leading Pruett, Spiffy, Doc and Malden to hide out there for the night so they can enjoy the cool air. Meanwhile, Mahala May and Caprice try to figure out a way to get the air conditioner back.
In other episodes the women of Camp Divine tricked the men of Camp Runamuck into building them a new dormitory; Wivenhoe declared Camp Divine off limits; Wivenhoe learns he needs Mahala May’s father to help get him into a golf club and orders his counselors to appear in the Camp Divine pageant.
There were plenty of stories that didn’t involve Camp Divine, including a two-part episode broadcast in November and December that saw Spiffy quit Camp Runamuck after growing tired of the constant horseplay. He soon got a job in business but couldn’t stop thinking about Camp Runamuck and eventually rejoined. In another episode the counselors of Camp Runamuck tried to find a way to fill their new pool with water during a drought. They first attempted rainmaking and later brought in a truck filled with water only to wash away a cabin instead.
Other episodes involved an eager Wivenhoe picking up his new car with a klutzy camper in tow; a plan to elect a boy honorary camp commander not going the way Spiffy and Wivenhoe had hoped; Spiffy attempting to spice up the camp’s food with fresh beef by purchasing a cow; the death of Camp Runamuck’s beloved turtle; an experimental surfboard with a rocket attached to it; and Parents Day at Camp Runamuck, in which the camp is overrun by parents wanting to check on their beloved children.
Maureen McCormick, who would later play Marcia Brady in The Brady Bunch, popped up briefly in the premiere as a camper at Camp Divine. She was later featured more prominently during a January 1966 episode in which she disguised herself as a boy in order to join Camp Runamuck, where she could have more fun.
Disastrous Nielsen Ratings
Camp Runamuck premiered on Friday, September 17th, 1965. The first two episodes averaged a dismal 10.9 Nielsen rating, ranking 89th out of 96 programs. Only two NBC shows performed worse: Hank and Convoy, both new entries for the network . Based on the Nielsen ratings for October through December of 1965, Camp Runamuck ranked 94th out of 99 programs with a 9.9 rating, ahead of such shows as ABC Scope, CBS Reports, and Slattery’s People .
In February 1966, when NBC’s 1966-1967 schedule was beginning to circulate, Camp Runamuck was not surprisingly nowhere to be found . The last first-run episode aired in April 1966, although repeats were shown during the same time period until September 2nd, 1966.
At one point, creator David Swift was working on a script for a feature film version of Camp Runamuck that ultimately went nowhere . The National Association for Better Radio and Television, in its 1966 “Television for the Family — A Comprehensive Guide to Family Viewing,” called Camp Runamuck “unacceptable for family or children” and referred to its humor as “contrived” and “without creative merit” .
Dell released a single comic book based on the series in the spring of 1966. Episodes of Camp Runamuck were later rebroadcast on Comedy Central.
Television writer Joseph C. Cavella (HowToWriteComedy.com) had this to say about Camp Runamuck:
Early in the production year, I wrote a segment for this show and was subsequently hired as line producer. At the time I was signed to write 10 Dick Van Dyke shows. Carl Reiner graciously let me out of my contract.
Before I accepted the Runamuck assignment, I asked David if he would let me rewrite his 12 scripts. He agreed and I signed on. I rewrote the scripts, but as principle photography commenced I was surprised to find that my rewrites reverted back to David’s original version. And my original script vanished. I never learned how that happened.
About 5 weeks into my tenure, I met with David and told him I was not helping the show and would move on. David paid off my contract and I left. I regret the I did not get the opportunity to punch up the show. I think I could have made it work. TV works in mysterious ways.
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5 Adams, Val. “N.B.C. Will Boost Use of TV Color.” New York Times. 9 Mar. 1965: 71.
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10 DiOrio, Al. Borrowed Time. 1986. Rpt. as Bobby Darin: The Incredible Story of an Amazing Life. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2004. Page 138.
“Camp Runamuck.” TV Guide. 11 Sep. 1965: 41.
12 “Consensus.” Television Magazine. Nov. 1965: 58.
14 “A boxscore on the TV week that was.” Broadcasting. 27 Sep. 1965: 70.
15 “The critics’ view, part 2.” Broadcasting. 27 Sep. 1965: 67.
16 Oviatt, Ray. “TV Humor Is Lacking In Reality.” The Blade. [Toledo, Ohio]. 12 Oct. 1965: 42.
17 Du Brow, Rick. “Television in Review: Wait Until Next Year.” Reading Eagle. [Reading, Pennsylvania]. UPI. 18 Sep. 1965: 14.
18 Adams, Val. “‘Bonanza’ Leads Nielsen TV Poll.” New York Times. 12 Oct. 1965: 95.
19 “The Season in Three Parts: How It Turned Out Vs. How Gray Called It.” Television Magazine. Mar. 1966: 40-41.
20 Adams, Val. “30 New TV Shows To Appear In Fall.” New York Times. 22 Feb. 1966: 36.
21 Kleiner, Dick. “Show Beat: Swift Writes Script For Camp Runamuck Film.” Park City Daily News. [Bowling Green, Kentucky]. Newspaper Enterprise Association. 13 Oct. 1965: 5.
22 Trollinger, Gary. L. “In This Corner.” Reading Eagle. [Reading, Pennsylvania]. 29 Jan. 1966: 4.
Originally Published February 15th, 2005
Last Updated April 22nd, 2018