"Vat do ve do vith falafel?" asks his wife, Lisa, puzzled.
"Alfalfa," Oliver corrects. "It's fodder for the animals."
"But vat about da mother?"
"Mother? No, no, Lisa. Fodder is what animals eat."
"Dey eat der father? How terrible!"
And how comforting to fans of the 1965-71 TV smash Green Acres (still a hit in reruns) to know that Oliver's agricultural travails and Lisa's dizzy malaprops are being tilled again for a two-hour CBS special, which just finished taping in L.A. Airing May 18, Return to Green Acres sends original stars Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor back among their oddball Hooterville neighbors, including wise-snorting Arnold the pig.
To the reunited cast, this seemingly trifling tale of a city-slicker lawyer and his socialite wife in the sticks was and is more than hick slapstick. During a break in shooting, Albert, who turns 82 next week but has kept active in movies and TV, reflects on the show's continuing popularity. "A professor once told me students see it as surrealistic. He said, 'The comedy is like Pickwick Papers or Gulliver's Travels or Voltaire. It's so far out that it becomes truth, deep truth.' "The show's cult status on some campuses may support this thesis. Then again, maybe not.
Gabor, 69ish and looking svelte in Lisa's inappropriately glamorous suit, agrees that Green Acres had plenty of appeal. "It was wonderful, warm," says the actress, who is starring as a matchmaker in a CBS pilot while heading Eva Gabor International, the largest U.S. wig company. "In some ways I've never left," she sighs.
Except for Hank Patterson, a/k/a Mr. Ziffel, who died in 1975, the supporting cast—Frank Cady as store owner Sam Drucker, Tom Lester as handyman Eb, Alvy Moore as the rambling Hank Kimball and Pat Buttram as con man Mr. Haney—jumped at the chance to reprise their roles. "Hooterville is someplace that you pick out in your mind," muses Moore. "With all the harassment today, it's pleasant to think there is someplace on earth that is still uncomplicated."
Meditating further, Albert adds that the show "is a comment on how insane our society is. The writing was very light and very weird, but it had a profound base under it that none of us knew." Come to think of it, neither did we.
Bounding into the living room of his rickety old farmhouse, Oliver Wendell Douglas is crowing with delight. His field of alfalfa, he exclaims, is blooming at last.