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Operation Petticoat – a Classic Movie & TV Show

Operation Petticoat first a film released in 1959. And later adapted into a short-lived TV series starring John Astin that ran from 1977 to 1978. It set during World War II and follows the crew of the seemingly ill-fated fictional U.S. Navy Submarine the USS Sea Tiger during the early days of the war in a period that timestamped by the Battle of the Philippines.

Matt Sherman played by the legendary Cary Grant is the ship’s Lieutenant Commander – later Rear Admiral. The vessel had attacked and severely damaged by a Japanese air raid while it docked at a naval yard in the Philippines. Repairs are quickly made with the help of master-scavenger Lieutenant Nick Holden, Sherman’s inexperience supply officer, to make the ship seaworthy again. Although it’s soundness is called into question.

On their way to a dockyard in Darwin, Australia, the crew of the Sea Tiger pick up a group of stranded Army nurses on a US-held islanand. And obligated to take them with them to their destination.

When trying to paint the sub, Sherman is forced to greenlight mixing red and white primer in order to paint the whole vessel. And resulting in a bright pink sub the likes of which the world – nor the Japanese – had ever seen.

With 5 women on board, hijinks and innuendo abound.

We’re going to take a closer look at the Cary Grant film before touching on the TV series it inspired. Stay tuned if you want to learn about the real-life US submarine with a peculiar paint job that served as inspiration for the film.

Bob Hope Was Almost The Star Of The Film

Bob Hope initially cast as Lieutenant Commander Matthew T. Sherman. Producers had had him in mind for the role from the get-go. But Hope not exactly convinced at the time that it’s a good fit. He would later kick himself for not taking the part and later called turning down the role one of his biggest career regrets. Cary Grant on the other hand wasn’t complaining as the film was a major boost to his already illustrious career.

Bob Hope would instead star in How To Commit Marriage alongside Jackie Gleason. The only film that the two would ever star in together.

Cary Grant Had Already Done Another Submarine Movie

Destination Tokyo, starring Cary Grant and John Garfield released in 1943, and directed by Delmer Daves in his directorial debut. The film has at times called the grandfather of submarine films.

Cary Grant played Captain Cassidy, the film’s protagonists and savior of the Copperfin. A submarine that is severely damaged by a Japanese attack during World War II.

Tina Louise Turned Down a Role as Well

Better known as Ginger Grant from Gilligan’s Island, the actress had approached by casting agents to play the voluptuous Nurse Crandall. She turned down the part because she hated the script. She offended by all of the bosom jokes that aimed at her character.

After being objectified on Gilligan’s Island, can you blame a girl for not wanting to be walking-talking eye candy? Her career didn’t take a hit from turning down the role in the least bit. She went on to star in The Happy Ending in 1969 and The Stepford Wives in 1975.

The ‘Sinking’ Of a Truck Scene Inspired By a Real Incident

In 1944, the USS Bowfin was in hot pursuit of 4 Japanese warships when they fired six bow torpedoes at the moored vessels. Three ships hit and two sunk. One of the torpedoes however missed the ships and hit a pier by mistake. A bus parked on top blown up and violently thrown into the water.

In the film, Nurse Crandall accidentally shoots a torpedo at a truck on a pier. And when she doesn’t allow the onboard torpedo data computer to fully calibrate before taking a shot.

There Was A Real Red Submarine

While not quite the same shade of hot pink as the USS Sea Tiger, the USS Seadragon based at Cavite did go out to sea with a red paint job. It originally painted black but sustained heavy damage from an air raid. The only color available in abundance on base was red, so red it was. While on patrol, it sank three Japanese ships. Tokyo Rose, the name given to English-speaking Japanese radio operators, made repeated transmissions warning about ‘red pirate submarines’.

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Cary Grant Loved LSD

Author Joe Hyams, in his memoir ‘Mislaid in Hollywood,’ recalled that Grant fascinated with the therapeutic use of the hallucinogenic substance at the time of filming ‘Operation Petticoat’. When Hyams, who then working as a reporter, interviewed Grant about the film, he discovered that grant not his usually conscientiously bland self but instead he uncharacteristically relaxed and open. Under the influence of the mind-altering drug, Grant was eager to share his experiences. And his almost desperate desire to adapt his character so that he might reunited with his ex-wife Betsy Drake. The actress who first introduced him to LSD in the first place.

Some Plot Elements Were Based On Real-Life Events

Notably, the sinking of the USS Sealion at Cavite Navy Yard by the Philippine Navy is obviously the inspiration for the Sea Tigers sinking at the beginning of the film. When Sherman sent a letter to the supply department in the movie complaining about the lack of toilet paper. And that was based upon an actual piece of correspondence sent by Lieutenant Commander James Wiggin Coe aboard the USS Skipjack.

The Love Boat Connection

Three members of the film’s cast would meet back up with Gavin Macleod on the Love Boat in 1977. Dick Sargent and Dina Merril both make one appearance on the show and Marion Ross started off as a guest star but later became a recurring cast member. Interestingly, three cast members of the 1977 Operation Petticoat series would also find there way over to The Love Boat as well. John Astin alongside Richard Gilliland all made appearances on the first season of the series. And Melinda Naud joined the cast after Operation Petticoat had canceled in 1978.

Tony Curtis Finally Got To Work With His Idol

Tony Curtis based his character, Joe, in 1959s Some Like it Hot on Cary Grant. He had grown up watching his movies and thought he’d pay him homage by tailoring his Playboy character’s voice after the actor. But lo-and-behold, he got to work alongside his hero in the next film he starred in, Petticoat Junction. It’s unknown if Grant knew about the nod before filming alongside Curtis. But it’s amusing to consider how that twist of fate played out.

The Film Has A Lasting Legacy

When Petticoat Junction released in 1959, it did really well at the box office. It was the #3 top-grossing film of 1960. And took in close to 7 million dollars in ticket sales trailing behind Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Ben-Hur. Cary Grant took in a big chunk of this profit as well. And nabbing a cool chunk of change in the amount of 3 million dollars…

Critics agreed with audiences as well with almost unanimously positive feedback. The American Film Institute listed it as one of the 500 films considered for their Top 100 Funniest American Movies list.

Why Is The Toilet Called A ‘Head’

The gender-centric ignorance of the nurses aboard the USS Sea Tiger is constantly used as a comedic device. When one of the nurses questions why the toilet is called the head. It’s explained that on ships from the earlier years of naval voyage, a series of holes used as a toilet kind of like an outhouse. And they were located on the bow of the ship – or the head of the ship. They put there for good reason too. The wind would always be blowing from the stern of the ship. So any nasty smells would ideally blow away from the ship. Higher ranking officers on the ship would have their toilets closer to the back of the boat on the part of the ship that hung of the water.

The Operation Petticoat TV Series

The film adapted into a short-lived TV series that ran for two seasons from 1977 to 1978.

The storyline remained essentially the same with Matt Sherman. And played this time by John Astin, taking command of a submarine during wartime despite the fact that the vessel had just sustained major damage. His crew is a band of misfits that don’t seem to be qualified for the task but they make due regardless. Yet again, because a crew member clumsily spills all of the gray paint. The only color of paint that they can come up with to coat the badly damaged vessel is pink.

The same story plays out with the nurses needing to rescued on the deserted island. But their comedic role in the series is markedly more pronounced. And the sexually suggestive humor is played up more than it’s in the comparably innocuous film. Shenanigans ensue but we never get to see if the USS Sea Tiger ever made it to their destination as the series abruptly canceled a quarter way through its second season. Leaving most of the season filmed but unaired.

The series had its moments and as long as expectations are kept to a minimum it is capable of producing a few laughs. But audiences weren’t buying it and thus neither was the network brass.

In addition to John Astin as Lt. Sherman, Melinda Naud played the busty Doleres Crandall and Richard Gilliland played the resourceful Lt. Nick Holden. Jamie Lee Curtis also notably starred in the series alongside her father Tony.

While Operation Petticoat, the TV series, never achieved the same kind of popularity as say Petticoat Junction. The film that inspired it is a veritable classic that still has the capacity to entertain to this day.

Cary Grant gave an amazing performance, proving once again that he was one of the greatest actors of his generation. And while the film lacked in substance, it made up it in terms of laughs and well-landed gags.

Have you seen Operation Petticoat the film, and how do you think it compares to the TV series it inspired? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

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