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
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
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 officer.
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
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
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 Hiroshima.
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.