Bob Cummings and Julie Newmar star in this CBS sitcom that ran for 26 episodes during the 1964-1965 season. Newmar played a robot designed to look like a beautiful woman, with Cummings as the hapless psychiatrist stuck looking after her. Halfway through season, Cummings abruptly, and CBS soon cancelled the show. 15 episodes remain missing.
Sitcoms, Sitcoms, Sitcoms
In March 1964, as the television networks finalized their schedules for the 1964-1965 season, comedy was the word of the day. CBS got a big boost when Lucille Ball changed her mind and agreed to continue The Lucy Show for another season after ABC cancelled The Greatest Show on Earth, which was produced by Ball’s Desilu Productions. Without The Greatest Show on Earth, Desilu would have no television programs on the air during the 1964-1965 season and thus Ball decided to keep The Lucy Show in production. .
On March 15th, Val Adams reported in The New York Times that there would be a total of 37 half-hour sitcoms on the air during the fall of 1964, with NBC and CBS adding four new comedies and ABC adding five. Among the projected sitcoms on the CBS schedule was The Living Doll, starring Julie Newmar as a robot. Wrote Adams: “Why anyone would want to take a thing of beauty like Miss Newmar and make her mechanical is something only C.B.S. knows” .
Not all of those 37 sitcoms mentioned by Adams would eventually make it to the air in September 1964. CBS announced its official 1964-1965 schedule a few days later and The Living Doll had been picked up . It was given the 9-9:30PM time slot opposite NBC’s powerhouse Bonanza and The ABC Sunday Night Movie. Al Martin and Bill Kelsay created the series based on an idea suggested by Leo Guild. It was produced by a Jack Chertok Television, Inc. in association with CBS.
A Psychiatrist And His Robot
On April 20th, The New York Times reported that Robert Cummings had been signed to star opposite Newmar . The Los Angeles Times reported on April 23rd that Jack Mullaney would have a featured role in the series . And on June 21st The Chicago Tribune reported that Doris Dowling would also have a featured role . By this point, the series has been retitled My Living Doll.
Copyright © TV Guide/Triangle Publications, Inc., 1964 
My Living Doll would be the fourth starring role in a television sitcom for Cummings, who received top billing. His previous shows were My Hero (NBC, 1962-1953), The Bob Cummings Show (CBS/NBC, 1955-1959) and The Bob Cummings Show/The New Bob Cummings Show (CBS, 1961-1962). It was the first regular television role for Newmar, who was officially credited as “The Doll” in the series.
Cummings would play Dr. Robert “Bob” McDonald, a consultant for the Psychiatric Testing Section of Space Research Center, Inc. In the premiere, Dr. Carl Miller (played Henry Beckman) reveals to Bob that Project AF 709 has gone missing from his lab. AF 709 turns out to be a sophisticated robot built to resemble a beautiful woman, played by Newmar.
At first, Bob doesn’t believe Dr. Beckman’s claims that AF 709 is a robot. As proof, Dr. Beckman deactivates her, explaining that the beauty marks on her back serve as control buttons. Furthermore, when a cloth is placed over the robot’s eyes, it enters a state similar to human sleep. Dr. Beckman asks Bob to look after the robot for a few days. Realizing that he can’t let the robot out of his sight, he calls his sister Irene (played by Doris Dowling) and asks her to move in with him temporarily to act as a chaperone.
Mullaney played Dr. Peter Robinson, a physicist at the space center and Bob’s best friend. The two live in the same apartment complex right down the hall from each other. Peter develops an immediate infatuation with Rhoda, much to Bob’s chagrin. Making matters worse, Dr. Beckman is reassigned to Pakistan for several months, meaning Bob will have to watch Rhoda for much longer than he thought. He decides to use the opportunity to study Rhoda and his hypothesis that a robot like Rhoda, were it to develop emotions, would be the perfect woman.
Rhoda, when presented with information she didn’t understand, would utter the phrase “That does not compute” or, if it did make sense, “That does compute.”
Critical Reaction Mixed
Production on My Living Doll began at Desilu’s studios in Culver City, California during the last week of July 1964 . In an interview with Julie Newmar for The Los Angeles Times, Cecil Smith lamented that her character would be a robot, writing that she “is so magnificently assembled a female, so noble a construction (in monumental proportions) that it’s hardly fair she will not be real” .
Newmar saw things differently: “But this is Galatea and Bob is Pygmalion. This is the ideal brought to life. Here is a woman very intelligent. A perfect mind, a perfect body. But no emotions. She does not nag, she does not complain. She is never contentious. She is utterly guileless. It is Bob (as a psychiatrist) who must invest her with personality. It’s a part that I think is perfectly espoused — is that the word, espoused? — to my personality” .
At the beginning of September, with the start of the new fall season just weeks away, there were mixed reactions to My Living Doll. The Chicago Tribune‘s Francis Caughlin lumped the series with Bewitched, Broadside and Flipper, calling them “the cuties” and arguing they odds against them were long . Cecil Smith, writing for The Los Angeles Times, noted that My Living Doll, Bewitched and The Rogues “are pegged in the trade as major hits of the year” .
In his review of the premiere episode, Jack Gould of The New York Times suggested “C.B.S. very probably has the makings of a popular novelty hit; it will take a few more installments to tell” . “With Miss Newmar giving a light and amusing performance as the automated dish,” he continued, “the premise could work out. It will depend on how skillfully the heavenly looking object is introduced to the ways of human existence .
Slightly less impressed was Cecil Smith, who called My Living Doll “a fairly amusing show that in a season less cluttered with comedies might be outstanding” . But he praised the cast: “Miss Newmar is gorgeously aloof, Cummings is his usual nimble self, and both Jack Mullaney and Doris Dowling are principals in the proceedings. .
The show did have one big fan in the form of comedian Red Skelton: “There are some other shows I like. Bewitched is funny, very funny. And that Living Doll. When I saw that I wanted to build a robot myself but they sold me an Erector set. All I could build was the Eiffel Tower” .
Teaching A Robot How To Be A Woman
Episodes of the series revolved primarily around Bob trying to keep Rhoda out of trouble while introducing her to various facets of humanity and society. Rhoda spent the premiere episode wearing nothing but a towel so in the second Bob had to show her how to get dressed without actually showing her anything. He explained stockings, dresses and fumbled his way through an incomplete explanation of garter belts before giving her a fashion magazine and telling her to use her computers to figure out the rest.
With her computing skill and incredible reflexes, Rhoda was able to pick up just about any skill in no time at all. She mastered piano playing after hearing one song. She learned how to type at over 200 words a minute. She was able to calculate where dice will fall and made incredible trick shots while playing pool. When given a stack of more than 250 personnel folders for female employees at the space center, Rhoda was able to compute to a mathematical certainty the perfect date for Peter.
Rhoda even knew how to operate a plane, which helped Peter with his sky diving, but unfortunately she hadn’t learned how to land yet. She had a tendency to repeat things that were said to her, which often led to confusion because people thought she was agreeing with them. And sometimes things went wrong with her circuitry. She was hypnotized in one episode and Bob was forced to deactivate and reactive her. In another, after reading Alice in Wonderland she began suffering from vertigo and Bob had to call Dr. Beckman in Pakistan for help.
Bob was often getting Rhoda out of trouble caused by her misunderstanding something. In one episode, not understanding money or the concept of shopping, she shoplifts expensive jewelry from a store while trying to help Bob pick out a present for Irene’s birthday. The two then have to try to sneak the jewelry back into the store before it is reported missing. He also often found himself in trouble; when he told Rhoda to not let him leave the apartment so he can finish a magazine article, she literally won’t let him leave until the agreed upon time, so he tries to raise the temperature until her circuits can’t take it, leading Irene and Peter to think he’s gone crazy.
Low Ratings Lead To New Day And Time
According to Arbitron, the premiere ranked 43rd (for the period running Wednesday, September 23rd through Tuesday, September 29th) with a 16.9 rating. By comparison, NBC’s Bonanza was second with a 27.0 rating . CBS was satisfied enough with the performance of My Living Doll to renew it for a full season in late October 18].
On December 10th, The New York Times reported that CBS was mulling changes in its schedule. Specifically, the network wanted to give The Beverly Hillbillies a better lead-in . The sitcom, in its third season, had ranked first in the Nielsen ratings during its first two seasons but was faltering. It aired on Wednesdays from 8:30-9PM after low-rated C.B.S. Reports. One option was to move C.B.S. Reports and replace it with something that would give The Beverly Hillbillies a stronger lead-in.
The following day, in what The New York Times called “the most extensive [changes] made by a network in midseason,” CBS adjusted its schedule by canceling two shows (Mr. Broadway and The Reporter) and moving 14 others . C.B.S. Reports was moved to Mondays at 10PM; Mister Ed and My Living Doll replaced it on Wednesdays from 7:30-8:30PM. A new series, For the People, would eventually take over the Sunday 8-9PM time slot.
CBS President James T. Aubrey admitted that the schedule changes were in large part an attempt to help The Beverly Hillbillies: “There is every indication that the very young viewer apparently is controling [sic] the set in the early evening. We have had complaints from parents that they could not watch ‘C.B.S. Reports’ because that’s when their children watched. But putting ‘Mr. Ed’ and ‘My Living Doll’ in the hour at 7:30 we will be building a better lead-in for ‘The Hillbillies.’ We think it will return to the top 10 or the top 15” .
My Living Doll had its last Sunday broadcast on December 13th; it moved to Wednesdays beginning December 16th.
Bob Cummings Quits
On January 4th, 1965 CBS announced that Bob Cummings had been released from his contract at his own request after filming 21 episodes of My Living Doll but would not be replaced. The New York Times took that to mean that the network didn’t have much faith in the series . According to Herb Lyons, “Bob Cummings’ decision to quit his faltering My Living Doll TV series didn’t surprise those close. He’d wanted out ever since the first ratings came in” . Larry Wolters echoed that thought, writing that “Cummings is reported to have been unhappy with the role almost since the start” .
Wolters would reveal on January 27th that My Living Doll would write Robert Cummings out of the series by sending his character to Pakistan. “You don’t have to believe that, tho. He is withdrawing because he was dissatisfied with the slim role he had as co-star with Julie Newmar” . The final episode with Cummings aired on February 10th. The following week Peter learned the truth about Rhoda and took over as her caretaker.
Peter, of course, had no idea Rhoda — who he adored — was a robot but soon adapted to his new role. Doris Dowling and her character were also written out of the series. Replacing her was Nora Marlowe as Mrs. Moffat, housekeeper for Peter and Rhoda. During the final five episodes of the series Peter and Rhoda got into all sorts of trouble. In one episode, Rhoda is asked to travel to Paris for a fashion show, meaning Peter’s girlfriend Ann won’t get the job. In another, her circuits are fried by the sun and she becomes dangerous.
Eddie Foy, Jr. guest starred in the final episode of the season, broadcast March 17th, 1965, as a Mrs. Moffat’s brother, a broken down nightclub performer who wants to revitalize his career by making Rhoda his new partner.
When CBS revealed its 1965-1966 television schedule in early February My Living Doll was nowhere to be found . The schedule would be revised several times before Fall 1965; Lost in Space eventually replaced My Living Doll on Wednesdays. However, in her February 19th column Hedda Hopper reported that Ezra Stone, who directed the bulk of the show’s episodes, had told her the “future of the show depends on reaction to the last five segments without Bob Cummings” .
Hopper also revealed that Cummings was planning to sue CBS and that the network wanted John Forsythe to take over should My Living Doll return for a second season. On February 23rd, however, she reported that Forsythe wouldn’t be able to take over for Cummings because his new series (The John Forsythe Show) had been picked up . It didn’t matter anyway. Even if Hopper was correct, My Living Doll wasn’t renewed in the first place, and there was no need to look for a replacement.
Based solely on November/December Nielsen ratings, My Living Doll ranked 79th out of 96 programs . Whether or not it eventually picked up after moving to Wednesdays or how the last five episodes without Cummings did is unknown. However, if the ratings had improved, it seems likely that CBS would have renewed the series. Repeats were broadcast throughout the summer of 1965; the final repeat aired on September 1st.
As for the famous sheet Julie Newmar wore in the first episode when she was introduced to Dr. Bob McDonald, it cost $500 and was designed by Elois Jenssen over the course of three weeks with the help of Jane Dutton, seamstress:
Miss Jenssen conducted a careful search for the right weight of raw silk, measured the various lateral dimensions of Miss Newmar, and stitched some two-and-a-half yards of material into an approximate size 12 by exercising artful tuckings, seaming, and hemmings. An elastic rims the strapless bodice and the sheet fastens with strategically placed hooks and eyes. 
Said Jenssen of her creation: “Zippers are not flexible enough for the effect we wanted. It looks like a sheet, but it’s made like a gown–it’s designed to look artless, but it really is a very sophisticated garment” .
CBS aired repeats of My Living Doll during the summer of 1965. Otherwise, the series never aired again in the United States but did likely air internationally. For years, rumors about the status of the 26 episodes circulated among private collectors. Reportedly only two episodes survived. Or was it six episodes? Maybe it was ten. The rest were supposedly lost or destroyed.
In March 2012, MPI Home Video released 11 episodes of My Living Doll on DVD. None of the final five episodes without Bob Cummings were included.
The fate of the remaining 15 episodes remains a mystery. Are they truly lost forever or will they, too, eventually see the light of day?
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Originally Published May 28th, 2009
Last Updated May 6th, 2018