Gladys Crabtree is the deceased mother of David “Dave” Crabtree (Jerry Van Dyke), a small town lawyer on the NBC fantasy comedy MY MOTHER THE CAR (1965-66).
The thing is, the spirit of Dave’s mother (Ann Sothern) lives inside the chassis of a 1928 Porter automobile parked in his garage.
Weird, huh? Well, it all began when Dave went shopping for an inexpensive car at the Smiling Dutchman’s used-car lot, and one of the cars talked to him when he sat on the black, diamond-tufted upholstered seat on the driver’s side.
The voice (heard over the car’s radio) was Dave’s dearly departed mother, Gladys whom had returned from the afterlife in the form of a vintage touring car. Glady passed away on August 23, 1949.
Dave immediately paid $200 for the car (“Don’t pay a cent more than $200, dear, I’m not worth it,” advised his mom), got it repainted a brilliant red at A. Schreib’s Auto Painting shop and then drove it home and hoped that his family would accept it (Dave was supposed to buy a station wagon).
Now whenever Dave had a problem he visits the garage and talks to his mom. As for the car, he won’t anyone drive it, except himself.
Before Dave leaves his mom for the night, he places a blanket over her radiator to keep her warm. And on Mother’s Day, Dave gives the car a lovely bouquet of flowers.
Having his mother back among the living (well, sort of) was great for Dave. He had missed her since she died twenty years earlier. But when he tried to tell his family that “MOM” was back (as a car no less), his wife, Barbara their children Cindy and Randy thought he had gone bonkers. As Dave tried to convince his family of the benefits of a car that talked, he enthusiastically cried, “Honey, the kids will finally meet their Grandma!”
“My Mother the Car”
Theme Song Lyrics
(by Paul Hampton)
Everybody knows in a second life
We all come back sooner or later
As anything from a pussy cat
To a man-eating alligator
Well, you all may think my story is
More fiction that it’s fact
But believe it or not
My mother dear decided she’d come back
As a car…
She my very own guiding star
A 1928 Porter, that’s my mother dear
‘Cause she helps me through everything I do
And I’m so glad she’s here.
Dave tried to convince his mother to talk to his wife, but Mom refused and told her son “If anyone finds out you have a talking car, they’d cart me off and put me on display, like at the Smithsonian Institute or the Johnny Carson Show. I’d be a freak.” Dave asked again “So you won’t talk?” but Mom held firm and said, “Only to you, Davey…only to you.”
The main conflict in Dave Crabtree’s life was a mustachioed antique car collector named Captain Bernard Manzini (Avery Schreiber) who desperately wanted to add Dave’s car to his collection of antique automobiles. But Dave was not selling for $400.00 (Manzini’s starting offer) or at any price. After all, who could sell their mother?
To gain possession of the Porter, Captain Manzini employed a barrel of tricks to snag the car. For example, he challenged Dave to a drag race (with the Porter as the spoils of the race); he plotted to get Dave’s wife, Barbara to sign the car over to him; he tried to drug Dave; he hired a Swedish sailor to act at a double for Dave to steal the automobile; and he hired thieves to replace Mother with a counterfeit.
Besides the Manzini escapades, Dave’s mom experienced a number of other adventures. She got amnesia when she bumped her bumper; she won an appearance on a TV game show; she did a brake company TV commercial; and she discovered a plot to assassinate a foreign leader.
But possibly, the craziest adventure occurred when Dave takes the car shopping but forgets to engage the car’s parking brakes. Consequently, Mother rolls down a hill and into a moving van filled with other cars headed for Mexico. Of course, Mother finds her way back home and into the waiting arms of her son, Dave and her newly adopted family.
Some Porter stats: The Porter still had its original brakes (“Stop-on-a-Dime” Brakes); the carburetor contains sixteen nuts, fourteen screws and three bolts; and the car’s license plate read: PZR-317. When the car needed servicing Dave took it to Doc Benson’s Auto Clinic. But watch out, antifreeze does funny things to the Porter (it makes Gladys drunk).
NOTE: The 1928 TV car was designed by Barris Kustom Industries and powered by a 283ci Chevrolet V-8 and a Powerglide automatic transmission. The car’s body (finished in Metalflake carnation red with a white top) was made up from various vehicles including a Model T Ford, a Maxwell, a Hudson and pieces of a Chevrolet.
To make it appear that the car was driverless (when the ghost in the machine drove it) the rear floorboard was removed so that a second driver could be placed out of sight of the viewing audience. He drove the car using a mirror.
Gladys Crabtree (the Car)
c/o David Crabtree & wife, Barbara
Madison 6-4699 (phone)
213 Hampton Street, USA