Friday, April 11, 2014

Many Unhappy Returns

Did your taxes weeks ago, right? Already have your refund check banked, or even spent? Then please have some sympathy for those classic TV characters who face the age-old suburban tradition of the yearly income tax deadline.

That's a plotline that's surfaced on many of our favorite comedies over the years, from The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (would you want to be the assessor interpreting Gracie's record-keeping?) to Sanford and Son (whose star Redd Foxx went more than a few rounds with the IRS in real life). And you know any attempt to part Jack Benny from his money has to be a battle royale.

My favorite such episode, though, may be I Dream of Jeannie's "My Master, The Tycoon," with Paul Lynde as revenue collector Henry Huggins. Not knowing who he is, Jeannie takes offense when the visitor makes some cutting remarks about Tony's house in typical Lynde style. Of course, for a genie, it takes only a blink to spruce up the place with a few priceless works of art. Now if Tony can just figure out how to pay his tax bill!

In case you're wondering why you never saw an income tax story on I Love Lucy, it's because star/executive producer Desi Arnaz vetoed it. Act Two of 1953's "Lucy Tells the Truth" was written to contain a plot twist in which Lucy gets even with Ricky by being way too candid about his tax deductions. Arnaz, proud of his hard-won American citizenship (and probably also aware that Latino viewers saw his character as a role model) protested that Ricky would never cheat the government, and the script had to be changed.

By the way, now that I've written five books about show biz history, do you think I could deduct my TV set as a business expense?

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