McHale's Navy is an American television sitcom series which ran for 138 half-hour episodes from October
11, 1962 to August 31, 1966 on the ABC network. The series was filmed in black and white and originated in a
one-hour drama called Seven Against the Sea, broadcast on April 3, 1962.
Academy Award-winning dramatic actor Ernest Borgnine as McHale
first appeared as the lead character in a one-shot non-comedy drama called Seven Against the Sea, which aired as an
episode of Alcoa Presents in 1962, an ABC dramatic anthology also known as Fred Astaire's Premiere Theatre and
hosted by Fred Astaire, who introduced television audiences to the Quinton McHale character.
During World War II, Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale
(Borgnine) is the commanding officer of the U.S. Navy PT boat, PT-73, stationed at the Pacific island base
Taratupa. In the late spring of 1942, the Japanese heavily bombed the island, virtually destroying the base. Only
18 out of the 150 Naval Aviators and Marines assigned to the base survived. With the Japanese patrols in the region
too heavy for the Navy to mount a rescue mission, McHale and his men were forced to survive by hiding on the
island. Assisted by the native tribes whom they befriend, the sailors live a relatively paradisical island
existence. After months of rather leisurely living, straight-laced, by-the-book Annapolis graduate Lieutenant
Durham (Ron Foster) parachutes onto the island. His job is to assume duties as McHale's executive officer (XO) and
help him get the base on Taratupa back into the action.
Durham faces an uphill battle, however: The men have gone native.
One of them has started a native laundry service, and McHale has a still and makes moonshine for the men and the
natives. In addition, McHale is close friends with the native chief and even bathes with him. When Durham informs
McHale of his new orders, McHale refuses to follow them. It becomes clear that while McHale is as loyal as any
American, following the devastation the Japanese rendered on the previous attack on the base, he is now extremely
reluctant about losing any more men. His primary concern now is for their survival until they can be rescued, which
creates a great deal of friction between Durham and McHale.
When they receive word that a Marine battalion is pinned on a
beach, and an enemy cruiser is planning to attack the beachhead in the morning, McHale's attitude changes. McHale
is ordered to use all boats they have to protect the beachhead and the Marines; however, McHale does not have any
boats, as the Japanese have sunk them all. However, McHale manages to capture a Japanese PT boat that has come to
patrol the island. In a surprise to both his men and Durham, McHale does not plan to use the boat to evacuate
either his men or the Marine battalion. Instead, he plans to attack and destroy the Japanese cruiser. His plan is
that since they are on a Japanese boat, flying a Japanese flag, that they can get close enough to torpedo the
cruiser twice and send it to the bottom.
Seven Against the Sea remains available for public viewing at the
Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio) in New York City and Los Angeles.
The series was also set in the Pacific theatre of World War II – although in the show's last season
the setting was switched to the European theatre in Italy – and focused on the crew of PT-73, again led by
Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale played by Ernest Borgnine.
The producer of the series, Edward J. Montagne, had had great
success with the top-rated series The Phil Silvers Show (1955–1959), a military comedy with an opportunistic
non-commissioned officer and his loyal platoon constantly putting something over on the base commander. While the
pilot had been dramatic, with overtones of Henry Fonda's introspective Mister Roberts, Montagne essentially turned
the project into "Bilko in the Navy", and even recruited some of the Bilko actors and writers. If Borgnine had any
misgivings about his show's change of direction, he hid them well enough and happily played straight-man to the
comedians surrounding him. At the time of the series, then- President John F. Kennedy was well-known as being the
wartime commander of PT-109. A popular book, PT 109: John F. Kennedy in WWII by Robert J. Donovan had come out the
previous year, and PT-109 was sometimes slyly referenced in a few episodes relating to a young commissioned PT-boat
In the first episode it is established that McHale was a former
merchant ship captain who was intimately familiar with the South Pacific. McHale's second-in-command is Ensign
Charles Parker (Tim Conway), who is referred to by McHale as "Chuck" and by the crew as "Mr. Parker" (in the United
States Navy all officers ranked from Ensign to Lieutenant Commander who are not in command are more often than not
referred to as "Mister"). Conway's performance as a gentle, naïve but somewhat gung-ho bungler who usually
succeeded in spite of his own ineptitude was career-defining. Parker frequently mentions that he is from Chagrin
Falls, Ohio (Tim Conway grew up there in real life). Among Parker's catchphrases were "Gee, I love that kind of
talk" and citations of various naval regulations. In an episode entitled, "The Great Impersonation", Mr. Parker is
called upon to impersonate a famous British General (Tim Conway in a dual role) in Noumea, New Caledonia (where he
dodges assassins) while the real general leads an invasion against Japanese forces.
McHale's perpetually frustrated commander is Captain Wallace
Burton Binghamton (Joe Flynn), known behind his back as "Old Leadbottom" (a nickname he received from a bullet
wound to the posterior), who is constantly trying to get the goods on "McHale and his pirates." Binghamton often
had dreams of military glory, but, in reality, he is a lot more inept than he thinks he is. His job before the war
was running a yacht club on Long Island Sound. Among his catchphrases were "What in the name of the Blue Pacific"
or "What in the name of Nimitz (or Halsey)?" when he saw gambling or native dancing girls on McHale's island, and
"What is it, what, what, what?!" Another one, when he was totally frustrated, was "I could just scream!"
Binghamton's dream is to send McHale and his men to prison and he did come close on more than one occasion.
Binghamton's enthusiastic assistant is the sycophantic Lieutenant Elroy Carpenter (Bob Hastings, a Bilko veteran),
who, at times, is shown to be just as much of a bumbler as Parker. The one time Binghamton leads the PT-73 into
battle, his only success is sinking an enemy truck on land—with a torpedo. He also once had McHale replace him as
base commander so that he wouldn't have to face tough-as-nails Admiral "Iron Pants" Rafferty (Philip Ober) who was
inspecting naval installations in the area (an episode that featured a young Raquel Welch). In a sequel movie,
McHale's Navy Joins The Air Force, the only time Binghamton gets the better of the PT-73 crew is when he orders
them to jump off a dock. Throughout the run of the series, characters are frequently shown saluting without a hat
on and indoors. In contrast, in the actual United States Navy, personnel are not supposed to salute "uncovered"
(without a hat on) nor "in the house" (indoors) unless "covered" and "under arms" (i.e., wearing headgear and
carrying a weapon, typically a sidearm such as a pistol). Binghamton also mentions The Pentagon on more than one
occasion. This would have been historically accurate because the series was set in 1943–44 and The Pentagon was
ready for occupancy in 1942.
The plots revolved around the efforts of McHale's crew to make
money, get girls and have a good time, and the efforts of Captain Binghamton to rid himself of the PT-73 crew.
Sometimes, Binghamton would use legitimate means to try to get rid of McHale and/or his crew. In one episode, he
even tried to get the whole crew promoted to Chief Petty Officer so that they would all be split up and reassigned.
In the crew, actor and comic magician Carl Ballantine was featured as confident con man Torpedoman Lester Gruber,
whose get-rich-quick schemes often got the crew in trouble. Gruber hails from Brooklyn, New York and makes frequent
references to the Dodgers and Ebbets Field. Motor Machinist Mate Harrison "Tinker" Bell was played by Billy Sands
("Pvt. Paparelli" on Bilko). Gavin MacLeod (later of both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Love Boat) played crew
member Seaman Joseph "Happy" Haines. MacLeod ended up leaving the series before its final season. Besides Borgnine,
the only actors from the dramatic pilot who made it to the series were Gary Vinson as Quartermaster George
"Christy" Christopher, who ends up becoming a devoted family man, Edson Stroll as Gunner's Mate Virgil Edwards, the
handsome lover boy of the crew, and John Wright as Radioman Willy Moss, a good-natured Southerner who operates the
crew's still (a carryover from the original dramatic pilot). During the first season, the whole crew seemed to be
on a somewhat equal footing, but during the later seasons, a sort of "pecking order" was established with Gruber at
its head. The most unusual crew member was a Japanese POW named Fuji Kobiaji (Yoshio Yoda), who had become a de
facto comrade that the PT-73 crew kept hidden from Binghamton. However, in at least one episode as well as the
feature McHale's Navy Joins The Air Force, his name is given as Takeo Fujiwara. In exchange for being given a home,
Fuji gladly served as the crew's houseboy. Keeping Fuji hidden from Captain Binghamton became a running gag
throughout the entire run of the series.
Quite often, Binghamton is ready to send McHale and his gang to
the brig, only to see them pull off a military success against the enemy that impresses Admiral Reynolds (Herbert
Lytton) or Admiral Rodgers (Roy Roberts), many times thanks to McHale's knowledge of the area, gained from his
service in the South Pacific as a Merchant Marine officer. Despite their reputations as schemers and connivers,
McHale's men were highly competent when it came to their jobs – something McHale constantly pointed out to
Binghamton and also to Mister Parker in the very first episode. Sometimes, various members of the crew would have
to disguise themselves in order to carry out their elaborate schemes. Whenever a situation arose that called for
disguise as a woman, it was usually Tinker or Mister Parker that would end up dressing in drag (clothing). Another
running gag has a frustrated Binghamton turning to the camera (see: breaking the fourth wall), and saying, "I could
just scream!", "Why me? Why is it always me?", or "Somebody up there hates me!"
A Polynesian chief, Pali Urulu (Jacques Aubuchon) is as crooked as
McHale's men. When McHale and his men are in Urulu's village, the chief displays a large photo of President
Franklin D. Roosevelt; when the Japanese troops arrive, Urulu turns over the picture to reveal a photo of Japanese
Emperor Hirohito. Another character who was as crooked as Urulu was "Big Frenchy" (George Kennedy) from New
Caledonia, who always played up to McHale.
One episode entitled "The Comrades of 73" portrayed the United
States and the Soviet Union as being allies in the Pacific Theater of World War II. However, during the 1943–44
time period during which the series is supposed to be set, this would be incorrect. The Soviet Union did not
actually declare war against Japan until August 8, 1945 – two days after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on
McHale's love interest is a Navy nurse, Molly Turner (Bilko's Jane
Dulo). Parker's love interest is a French girl from New Caledonia, Yvette Gerard, played by Claudine Longet. When
McHale and his men transfer to the European Theater, there are hints of a relationship developing between Mister
Parker and by-the-book female Ensign Sandra Collins (Maura McGiveney), who with a few other WAVES clad only in
bathing suits, provided valuable (albeit unwitting) assistance in capturing a German U-Boat.
The final season saw a major change in scenery, as both Binghamton
and the 73 crew (including Fuji who, in the final season's first episode, was found stowed away in the 73 as it was
being transported) are transferred to the recently liberated Italian theater – a change of assignment that was, in
the real World War II, so rare that many military historians disagree as to whether such reassignments ever
actually happened. (After the war in Europe ended, many high ranking officers of the 8th and 9th Air Force were
sent to the Pacific to create the 20th Air Force). PT Boats were known to have seen action during the D-Day
Invasion on June 6, 1944. In the first episode of the final season, it was discovered that McHale could speak
fluent Italian - something that served him well in his new assignment. The addition of the clever moneymaking
schemes of the Mayor Mario Lugatto (Jay Novello) and the antics of the citizens of the coastal city of Voltafiore
(where Binghamton was serving as Military Governor) increased the plot twists. While Binghamton and Carpenter lived
in the city hall building, McHale and his men were assigned to bivouac in tents on the nearby beach. However, they
stumbled onto an abandoned wine cellar where they hid Fuji and it became their underground hideout as well - a fact
that was kept a carefully guarded secret from the ever-suspicious Binghamton, though he did almost discover it on
one occasion. Colonel Douglas Harrigan (Henry Beckman) represents the U.S. Army in the area and becomes another
thorn in McHale's side. Something of a schemer himself, Harrigan would sometimes be on McHale's side, sometimes be
on Binghamton's side, or he would play one off against the other - whatever happened to suit his purposes at the
time. It has been speculated that the locale shift was done because the Pacific sets were taking up too much space
on the Universal lot that could have been used for feature films instead (a fate that also befell F Troop), though
as noted below, they remained standing for several years.