Sunday, October 27, 2013

That Boy Is Trouble, Pete

MONDAY MORNING FATHER isn't the most exciting of novels, but neither was ROOM 222, the television series upon which the book is based, the most exciting of shows.

Which is not a knock against ROOM 222, a thoughtful, interesting, and warm show about a Los Angeles high school. It ran four-and-a-half seasons on ABC, was nominated for several awards, and was created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, whose next series was THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. So clearly ROOM 222 was a show that delighted many people from network executives on down to folks watching their Zeniths after supper. But it was a very...quiet show.

And author William Johnston captured this very nicely in MONDAY MORNING FATHER, the second of six ROOM 222 tie-in novels, all written by Johnston. He captures the tone of the series and the voices of its characters (as delineated by a talented group of actors) perfectly. If the book has a major fault, it's the minor role handed to Alice Johnson, the plucky student teacher played by Karen Valentine. But Johnston's story of familiar discord is told so professionally that fans of ROOM 222 may not even notice.

This is a book written primarily for teenagers. The plot is bland, for sure, but it no doubt struck a chord with many readers during the turbulent Generation-Gap era in which it was published (1970). Pete Dixon (played in the series by the late Lloyd Haynes), Walt Whitman High's good-natured history teacher, is being followed around school by student Harmon Henry. Not in a stalker-ish way, but Harmon is really pushing some boundaries. He's having trouble at home with his widowed father, professional football star Ham Henry, and appears to be staking out Pete as his new dad.

While Pete and his girlfriend, guidance counselor Liz McIntire (Denise Nicholas), decide how to handle the separation between father and son, principal Seymour Kaufman (Michael Constantine) offers comic relief by fantasizing about ditching the school scene to become a handyman or an ice cream salesman. Typical storylines for ROOM 222, and handled quite well by Johnston (with happy endings, of course).

I don't know what Johnston's television-watching habits were, but he had a real talent for tie-in writing and adapted many shows, including GET SMART, BEWITCHED, IRONSIDE, THEN CAME BRONSON, F TROOP, and THE MONKEES. To do this well, to capture the essence of these shows and reproduce them in book form in a way that feels familiar to their fans, is a tough job.

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