The two spanking scenes in Felicia Metcalfe’s 1945 farce Take Your Medicine are usually offstage and would be out of bounds if the play had not been a popular choice with American high schools. Fortunately for us, it was. Even more fortunate is what happened when the play was produced at a Texas high school in 1974.
The basic situation of the play is that the college professor Dr Bill Jackson is engaged to Angela Warren, who has a wealthy but eccentric uncle, Henry K. Dodson. When they visit him in hospital, she introduces him as Dr Jackson. This is a prudent move, since Uncle Henry hates professors, but is well-disposed to physicians: he always wanted to be a doctor himself, and thinks it an honorable and potentially affluent profession, whereas he has mistrusted college teachers ever since his sister, Angela’s mother, ran off with one. His vast wealth is going to charity, but he decides to change his will upon hearing the news that his niece is going to marry a doctor. What’s more, he promises the happy couple a gift of $50,000 for the first life to be saved by Bill’s medical prowess. Angela insists that Bill mustn’t try to set the record straight (‘I’m his only relative. He ought to leave me his money, instead of giving it to strangers’), and everyone at the hospital is allowed to believe that Dr Jackson is a medical man… which is all very harmless, until the regular hospital doctor is called out of town, and Bill has to deputize for him…
Now, you might think that should set up Angela for a spanking before the play is done, but instead things go another way. Some incidental comedy comes from the character of an unnamed ‘meddlesome little girl’ who passes by the ward’s upstage door with her mother, apparently on the way to visit another patient elsewhere in the hospital. She makes some innocently offensive remarks about the ward’s occupants, among them Uncle Henry, and her mother tells her to shut up and reinforces it with a threat of, shall we say, physical consequences. The child is dragged unwillingly past the open door, and then ‘the sound of three loud slaps in heard’ and the little girl begins to bawl as she is led away for their visit.
That’s in the second act. Come the third act, the visit is done and the mother and daughter are on their way out, but the little girl is still curious about Uncle Henry’s ward. Her mother jerks her past the door, followed by the sound of more slapping and more bawling. And that’s all there is to it: two minor spankings of a very minor character who is also literally a minor. Nothing for us there, you might think.
But when Take Your Medicine was produced as the 1974 senior play at Shelbyville High School, Texas, they decided to make a little more of the little girl’s cameo part. The reason was the casting: the character was to be played by one of the class officers, Dana Otterman.
So not only was the little girl not really a little girl, her antics were now to be featured on the stage rather than mostly behind the scenery. And for Dana Otterman, that could mean only one thing:
In case you’re wondering, by the way, Bill does manage to save a life – and it’s Uncle Henry’s, too. The old man is attacked by an escaped lunatic with a knife, and Bill wrestles him to the ground. So he probably has earned the $50,000 – though I for one still think Angela also earned a good spanking!