From out of the Far East, into the Old West, there came racial tension, there came pestilence, there came violence... Then Came Tree!
The classic TV action hit from the 1970's is fondly remembered by fans of Westerns, Blaxploitation, and "chop-socky" movies everywhere. Combining elements of "Kung Fu," "Superfly," "Gunsmoke," and "F-Troop," it was a show like no other (except for "Kung Fu," "Superfly," "Gunsmoke," and "F-Troop").
Everyone remembers the ground-breaking show "Then Came Tree," which followed an Afro-American pilgrim (Martial Artist "Tree," as himself) as he "boogied" his way across the Old West of the United States in the late 1800's, exploring sensitive issues such as racism ("Do I hate him because he's black or because he's Chinese?"), integration, homosexuality, rape, women's liberation, rape, man/cow relationships, pre-Victorian bulimia, more rape, lynching, violence, and -- in one memorable episode -- even heroin addiction during a Studio 54-inspired Old West barn dance and hoe-down...
As any fan of the show can and will incessantly tell you, the character of Tree was first left on the steps of a Buddhist Temple by a runaway American slave and minstrel show bass oboe player. Tree was then raised as a poor Chinese infant in the temple, despite being age 26, where he was trained in the arts of Kung Fu, Fung Shui, Yin (with a minor in Yang), Zen philosophy, pan flute, and stir-frying vegetables with only his mind.
In return, Tree helped the Buddhist monks learn racial tolerance, cultural understanding, and how to move their hips more while they were dancing. His familiar refrain, "Show me the love," echoed throughout the Temple -- and the homes of every American household during the seventies until they grew completely sick of it in 1979. These were the happy days... The Chinese chicken salad days.
But as the show's pilot episode explained, Tree was visiting the Forbidden City to pay tribute to the Emperor, when a drunken Palace Guard made an inappropriate "There goes the feudal province" comment, kicked Tree's dog, raped Tree's girlfriend, shot Tree's mentor... then finally made the deadly mistake of insulting Tree's "momma," which sent the hot-tempered teenager into a violent rage, in which he accidentally stabbed the Emperor's 3rd-cousin with his five-pronged jade Afro-comb.
Hunted across China by Imperial Guards and Samurai warriors (either the producers were unaware that Samurai were actually Japanese, or they just ran out of Imperial Guard costumes), Tree was forced to flee to the New World, trudging through the uncivilized Southwestern United States in only his cotton kung fu uniform, silk sash, fighting fan and tube socks, to help a long succession of beautiful, recently-widowed-and sexually-frustrated farm owners and schoolmarms battle the evil land grabbers and drunken, culturally biased cowboys living in town (but, of course, always waiting until the last ten minutes of the show to beat the living crap out of them in slow motion).
"Then Came Tree" ruled Saturday nights on CBS from 1975 until later in 1975... but during the long-awaited "Tree meets Sanford & Son" show (with Redd Foxx playing the great-grandfather of Fred Sanford), the series was cancelled by the network -- despite respectable ratings and the recent introduction of Tree's adorable nephew, "Lil' Sapling."
After the show's cancellation, its legend began to grow. "Show Me the Love Clubs" sprang up all over the world -- some actually having to do with "Then Came Tree." Bit players like John "Grub Lips" Kearns, at right, earned hundreds of dollars a day just for signing his name at autograph shows (or at least the letters he knew).
In its only season, the show dealt with controversial (if sometimes nonsensical) racial themes.
The show continued to gain momentum in syndication, reaching a far wider, less discriminating audience than it had during its initial run. It was shown several times per day all over the greater Detroit area for many years, although it turned out it was because the tape was jammed inside the station's playback machine, and nobody knew how to remove it. In another instance, it was shown for two years around the clock at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In 1994, a reunion show was filmed, called "Son of Tree," co-starring Jaleel "Urkel" White, with most of the original cast returning (although Ted McGinley replaced the original Shaolin Master), and it won its Friday night time slot against tough competition such as "CBS Celebrity Breast Exam" (admittedly they faced a weak episode, featuring Ernest Borgnine). But sadly, NBC declined to revive the show as a series, -- opting instead to broadcast "CBS Celebrity Breast Exam" as well, and hoping CBS wouldn't notice.
But Tree lives on -- now he can be be seen, twenty-five years later, in the new TCSN bachelor-cooking show, "Show Me the Love," where Tree gives helpful hints on bachelor living and teaches how to cook without a lot of fuss! So today the legend of Tree lives on. Whatever you do, SHOW HIM THE LOVE!
The Wisdom of a
"Show me the love!"
"Some trees bend -- but this Tree breaks!"
"I'm a Zen Buddhist - mess with me, 'zen you in trouble!"
"Tree advises you to turn over a new leaf!"
"Baby -- soul food is not Korean!"
"We have a saying in Peking -- DUCK!"
"I am but a tree, searching for his 'Roots'!"
|"Show me the lo-o-o-ove."
"You can call me 'Black Bart,' but skip the 'Bart.'"
"'Back off, sucka, or you're neck won't be the only thing that's red."
"Confuscius say, 'Tree with longest branch spread most seed.'"
"Time to crumble a cracker!"
"Hey, what are you doing to that cow?"
"I have no belongings. Tree carries no trunk."
To Fred Sanford the First (Redd Foxx): "Clean air, lots of open space - let's call this place Watts!"
"In Ancient China we have a saying: 'You can insult, me, insult my wife... but don't you ever insult my momma!!!"
"SHOW ME THE LO-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-OVE!"
Pilot: "Then Came Tree." Original Air Date: November 1974. A young Tree (Rodney Alan Rippy) is left at the doorstep of a Shaolin Temple in China by a runaway slave (Flip Wilson, in his first dramatic role) and his wife (Flip Wilson, in his first female dramatic role). After wiping out a battalion of Imperial Guards and accidentally murdering the Emperor's third cousin (Mickey Rooney) with his jade Afro-pick, Tree flees to America, where he hooks up with a lonely old maid (Raquel Welch) running her father's cattle ranch. Together they battle an army of cattle rustlers led by evil bandito Jose Cuervo (Freddie Prinze, in his first and last dramatic role). Special Guest Star: Gavin MacLeod as the Slave Ship Captain.
Episode 1: "Tree Came A-Runnin'." Original Air Date: November 1974. Tree finds work as a field hand for a lonely schoolmarm (Joan Spinelli) who can only pay him with reading lessons and weed soup. Together they fight off a rioting lynch mob who have framed Tree for Southern Reconstruction. The head of the lynch mob, a psychotic, incestuous opium addict, was played by Ed Asner, as himself.
Episode 2: "Tree Gets Pruned." Original Air Date: November 1974. The same story as the first show, but with the schoolmarm now a Negro farmer's widow (Lola Falana, in her first dramatic role). The head of the lynch mob, insane from alcoholism, was played by special guest star Foster Brooks, in his first dramatic role. The way he says "lynch" while burping is hilarious, however.
Episode 3: "Tree Grows Roots." Original Air Date: December 1974. The same story as the first two episodes, but now with a Mexican widow (Charo, in her first dramatic role), and now the head of the lynch mob suffers from a brain tumor (Soupy Sales, in his first dramatic role).
Episode 4: "Tree vs. The Aliens." Original Air Date: December 1974. When the studio discovered that the producers were simply filming the same script over and over and just changing the character names, the filmmakers had to scramble for a new storyline. They "borrowed" a dozen alien costumes from a program filming next door ("Space: 1979," starring Ted Bessell). In the finished episode, Tree fights off an invading army of carrot people who have framed him for cattle mutilation and anal probing. The lead alien was played by special guest star Paul Lynde.
Episode 5: "A Tree Grows in Houston." Original Air Date: January 1975. Tree wanders into Texas and hooks up with a lonely, old maid Sunday School teacher (Gunilla Hutton of "Hee-Haw" in her first dramatic role) who is being driven off her land by an evil cattle baron (Junior Samples, also of "Hee-Haw," in his first dramatic role). Basically the same story as the first three episodes, with the producers hoping NBC wouldn't notice.
Episode 6: "Identical Trees." Original Air Date: January 1975. Tree discovers he has an accident-prone identical cousin, 'Trunk.' (Trunk is actually played by Tree, but wearing a floppy hat.) They team up to fight off a lynch mob who have framed Trunk for illegal jaywalking in a street with heavy horse traffic. At the close of the show, they learn of a female cousin, named 'Bush.' The head of the lynch mob, with his chillingly evil greeting, "Hello dere..." was played by Marty Allen, in his first dramatic role.
"We come here to plant a Tree..."
Episode 7: "Duelling Trees." Original Air Date: January 1975. On the run from the law, Tree and Trunk impersonate white musicians in a minstrel show, having to greasepaint themselves white, then greasepaint themselves black over the white greasepaint. A song from the show, "Funky Carpetbagger," was released as a single but failed to chart. The evil head of the minstrel show was played by Marty Allen again in a cost-cutting move, with the producers figuring that nobody would recognize him underneath all of the greasepaint.
Episodes 8 & 9: "A Raisin Tree in the Sun" (8 February 1975) and "They Call Me Mr. Tree." (15 February 1975) The same storyline as the pilot, episode #1, episode #2, episode #3, and episode #5, but with different character names and guest stars. A couple of bright spots, however: Cher, in her first dramatic role, received a Golden Globe Award for her sensitive portrayal of the widowed half-breed at Wounded Knee, and Bob Mackey's extravagant Indian costumes were nominated for an Emmy.
Episode 10: "Tree Meets Buffalo Bill." Original Air Date: February 1975. While killing a buffalo bare-handed and stir-frying its innards for lunch with his mind, Tree is discovered by talent scouts for Buffalo Bill (Jack Cassidy). Tree and Bill team up to fight off a band of pesky injuns who have framed Tree for the Battle of the Little Big Horn. (This show was originally scheduled to be broadcast after episode #3, but was postponed due to studio complaints, and because of a special live news report of Gerald Ford tripping over a drunken, unconscious Betty Ford as he exited Air Force One.)
Episode 11: "Tree Strikes and You're Out!" Original Air Date: March 1975. Tree meets Abner Doubleday (Charles Nelson Riley) and helps create baseball. They fight off a gang of thieves led by assassin/gunslinger Virgil Fang (JAMES COBURN!!!),who are literally stealing home. But they part ways when Tree suggests a designated hitter, and an evil Doubleday creates the Negro League to draft Tree to another city and thwart him. Disillusioned, Tree then meets James Naismith (Rip Taylor in his first dramatic role) and creates basketball, too, though Naismith dislikes Tree's ideas for dunking and crossover dribbling, saying the world isn't ready.
Episode 12: "Too Much Horse at the Barn Dance." Original Air Date: March 1975. Drug addiction at a Studio 54-like barn dance and hootenanny. Jane Kennedy plays 'Lady Night,' a high class call girl (despite being the days before you could actually call girls).
Episode 13: "Tree Grows Alone." Original Air Date: March 1975. Trunk is killed off by a drunken horde of Irish workers laying track for the Transcontinental Railroad. (The character was actually killed off by producers when Tree the actor asked to double his salary for playing identical cousins.) Tree foils the Irish mob with the help of train robber Butch Cassidy (portrayed by Paul Newman's third cousin, Spiro, who doesn't look anything like him, really). Jerry Lewis has a cameo as the "Coolie" whom Tree saves from the rioters.
Episode 14: "Tree Sprouts a Nephew." Original Air Date: April 1975. Tree meets an adorable nephew, 'Lil' Sapling' (Roundtree in diapers and cap, standing on his knees). Together they fight off a marauding band of desperados who have framed Tree for instigating unrest in the Philippines and starting the Spanish American War, by using Kung Fu, cunning, and a jug full of marbles. Fans today argue whether Lil' Sapling was actually Tree's illegitimate son by way of Lady Night.
Episode 15: "Tree Meets Sanford & Son." Original Air Date: April 1975. Tree meets the great grandfather of Fred G. Sanford (Redd Foxx) and his son, the great grandfather of Lamont Sanford (Demond Wilson) on a train headed west, where Fred the First schemes to strike it rich by opening the first ritzy junkyard in California. Tree regales him with the story of the pilot episode, shown in flashback. The show was canceled during the first commercial break.