TCM Underground is known for bringing forgotten gems and cult favorites to the living rooms of classic film fans across America. When they recently ran a collection of little-known shorts, I knew I’d be in for some fun by tuning in, but never could I have anticipated just how much fun I’d get out of one of the features – a failed television pilot called Rosie.
Not much is known about Rosie, it seems. TCMDb lists its original release year as 1960, but since it was never picked up as a series, I was able to find little else about its origins. The mystery of how Rosie came to exist (or how many drugs were taken in order for it to seem like a good idea) may never be uncovered.
Mystery aside, the Rosie pilot is just plain bizarre. The title character is actually a male dog (portrayed by Phil Leeds). Rosie meets a young boy named Kip (Charles Taylor) in an alley as Kip is running away from home to join the circus. Rosie convinces Kip to return home, but Kip will only comply if Rosie comes with him and is adopted by the family. He’s a smart kid, deducing Rosie’s homlessness from the fact that “Dogs that live at home don’t eat out of garbage cans!”
Kip’s parents (Brad Hatton and Bess Winburn) and sister (Sally Moffet) aren’t too keen on the idea until, (spoiler alert) Rosie saves them from a burglar (Billy M. Greene) and is accepted into the family, thus beginning what would have been a series full of canine adventures had Rosie been picked up by a network.
Rosie is not only a male dog, but a male dog played by a grown man dressed up in a really awful, surprisingly Chewbacca-esque costume. He makes very corny jokes and has some peculiar pastimes, like approaching strangers in alleyways and peeping on Kip’s family through a keyhole. I imagine he must’ve seemed more innocent in 1960 than he does to the modern eye and I have a soft spot for character actor Phil Leeds, but it’s hard not to see Rosie as a very creepy character.
On top of Leeds’ terrible costume and the already-wacky premise of the series, corn is heaped on by the fact that the audience is meant to believe that Rosie is a totally normal dog. Kip’s family doesn’t see Rosie as odd in any way, or suspect that he may not be a dog at all. Instead, they tell Kip that they can’t keep Rosie because he’s a large dog and is likely to tear up the house. I’m pretty good at suspending my disbelief for the sake of entertainment, but you’d have to stretch your imagination far beyond its limits in order to do that here.
Norman Lessing is listed as the writer of this masterpiece of oddity, with Walter Hart and Lewis Jacobs directing the pilot. All three of these men had decent careers, and I wonder what (other than money) attracted them to this fantasy project. Lessing is best known for his work on various anthology series, while Hart worked most notably on The Goldbergs and The Adventures of Ellery Queen and Jacobs worked almost exclusively in the business of short subjects. Did they really see potential for a hit in Rosie?
The involvement of the actors in this production is somewhat more understandable. I can certainly see how Charles Taylor (“Kip” in Rosie) would have been hungry for a starring role after appearing in a TV movie adaptation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in the title role. As for the rest of the cast, none of them are or were household names, with most of them having only very small film and television roles. Sally Moffet’s acting career, for instance, stretches over a nearly 40-year period, but she only racked up seven credits during that time. Brad Hatton took on nearly 20 roles in the 1950s, but most of them were uncredited bit parts.
The greatest career and legacy among the Rosie cast is that of none other than Rosie himself, Phil Leeds. Amassing over 100 credits from the late ’40s through the late ’90s, Leeds is fondly remembered by fans of his work in both television (Ally McBeal, Everybody Loves Raymond) and film (Ghost, Beaches, Rosemary’s Baby). In 1960 his career had barely begun, with only a few television credits under his belt and a bit of McCarthy era blacklisting drama holding him back (according to IMDb), so I can see why Rosie would have seemed promising to him as well.
Rosie is a strange little piece of work, but if you’re into the odd and forgotten I’d certainly recommend giving it a quick watch next time it pops up on TCM (or if you can find it elsewhere).
A note from Lindsey: Excuse the awful images in this post. I could find none online, so I had to take a couple of crappy cell phone snaps of my TV screen. As Tim Gunn would say, this was a “make it work moment.”