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Who Dreamed Up the Crazy Premise of “My Mother The Car”?

Entertainment | December 8, 2018

Publicity handout from My Mother the Car, television series from 1965. (Getty Images)

There have been plenty of terrible sitcom ideas in the history of television, but the short-lived series, My Mother The Car, was perhaps the wackiest. As the name implies, the show’s main character has a car for a mother…well, it is a bit stranger than that. It is actually the reincarnated soul of his dead mother that inhabits the vehicle. Totally realistic, right? This nutty, off-beat sitcom, you may be surprised to hear, was created by the same group of television masterminds who gave us the biggest hits of the 1960s and 1970s…proving that even the best creative minds can have a dud of an idea. 

The Show ran for Only one Season

My Mother The Car only aired for one season, but back then, they were long seasons. Between September of 1965 and April of 1966, NBC produced thirty episodes. While it may seem like a difficult job to keep the plot lines fresh when the title character is a car/mother, the show’s creators were able to keep the unrealistic series going until the end, with somewhat fresh stories each week. That’s probably thanks to the co-creators of this television misstep. 

Allan Burns

The Creators of My Mother The Car went on to Create Some of TV’s Biggest Series

My Mother The Car was co-created by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward. If these names sound familiar to you, it is because you probably saw them on the credits for other popular shows of the time. Burns, for example, went on to co-create The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant, and Rhoda. His partner on My Mother the Car, Chris Hayward, produced and wrote for Get Smart and Barney Miller. In addition, James L. Brooks, one of the writers of My Mother the Car went on to write for many of the best sitcoms of the groovy era. He even served as the executive producer for Taxi. It seems that these writers and creators cut their teeth on the absurd series. 

Maggie Pierce and Jerry Van Dyke as Barbara and David Crabtree.

Was The Guy’s Mother Really a Car?

Yes, sort of. The car in the show is the reincarnated spirit of the owner, David Crabtree’s, dead mother, Gladys. Gladys can talk to her son through the car’s radio but she cannot, or will not, talk to anyone else or speak when someone else is present. She can also do all kinds of other car-related tricks, like flash her lights and turn on the windshield wipers and honk the horn. 

Ann Sothern's weirdest role was playing a car.

The Show Made Typical Mother-In-Law Jokes…With an Automotive Twist

The main conflict in the show was that David Crabtree felt pulled between his wife, Barbara, and his mother…a common trope in sitcoms. The writers of My Mother The Car took these meddling mother-in-law storylines and added the unique and bazaar twist of having the mother-in-law be a car. Being a vehicle didn’t stop Gladys from butting into her son’s life, leaving the wife, Barbara, still competing with her mother-in-law, even after Gladys has died. 

Jerry Van Dyke

Jerry Van Dyke Starred in My Mother The Car

Playing the role of the grieving son, David Crabtree, was Jerry Van Dyke, brother of Dick Van Dyke. Ann Sothern voiced the automotive mother for My Mother the Car. The role of David Crabtree’s wife, Barbara, went to Maggie Pierce. 

The Sitcom Had Several Comic Miscues

In addition to the ridiculous plotline, the creators of My Mother the Car also often sent confusing and contradicting messages to the viewers by using contradictory cinematic techniques. The show’s producers, for example, chose not to include canned laugh tracks so many viewers were not sure if some of the lines were meant to be jokes or to be taken seriously. In some scenes, the dialog is comic but the lighting and cinematography are more dramatic and serious, again leading to a confusing message for the viewers. 

Was the Main Character Clinically Insane?

In later years, critics of My Mother the Car have reexamined it through a mental health lens. Since the spirit of the dead mother only appears to the lead character, David Crabtree, some mental health experts believe that the show was trying to explore grief and grief-driven insanity. Was David Crabtree so distraught over the unexpected loss of his beloved mother that he projected her personality on to his car? If this is the case, the comic adventures and situations would add another layer of confusion for the viewer. 

Jerry Springer

My Mother the Car…the Worst Sitcom in Television History

Despite the subsequent success of the show’s co-creators, My Mother The Car has the distinction of being the worst sitcom in television history. It also ranks in the second place position for the overall worst television show. The only show that beat it out for this dubious award was The Jerry Springer Show. 

Tags: My Mother The Car | The 1960s | The 1970s | TV In The 1960s

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.