Rent A Family (Part 3)

"I had a terrible dream last night. I had this baby."

Rent A Family (Part 3)[1]
Work In Progress
Original Broadcast Date
Barbara Sohmers, Mark Hammer, Arthur Miller, Tim Jerome, Nick Ullett, Carolyn Swift, Larry Block, Lynn, Sarah, Carmen, Thomas, Timo, Sharon, Christa
Scripted Actors, Improv Actors, Panel Discussion, 58 minutes
Preceded by: Rent A Family (Part 2)
Followed by: In The Middle Of Nowhere (Part 1)

Rent A Family (Part 3) is a program Joe Frank produced as part of the series Work In Progress. It was originally broadcast in 1987.


Eleanor (Barbara Sohmers) tells a psychiatrist about a dream in which she has a baby which has a problem she can't do anything about. She recalls her younger sister, Pearl, how she rocked her cradle when she cried; their mother called her a 'good little mommy.' Pearl died, after which her father was cold to her; Eleanor felt guilty. She complains to the psychiatrist, who coughs a lot, about the sound of the children playing next to his office. She complains about his coughing and cigars, that her therapy makes her feel worse.

10: Panelist #2 (Arthur Miller) tells of annual psycho-anthropology convention; at the dinner a woman seated across from him played footsie with him. He fell asleep; when he woke up, she was gone.

13:40: Eleanor calls Arthur (Mark Hammer), when she brings up Wendy and Diane, Arthur says they don't exist, hangs up.

16: Eleanor calls for Arthur, Kathy (Carolyn Swift) answers; she tells him this has to stop; she insists on speaking to Arthur. She wants to live with him and Kathy.

19:50: Eleanor calls Arthur, says she's very sick, throwing up blood. Kathy thinks she's making it up, wants Arthur to hang up; Arthur takes it seriously. Arthur and Kathy fight.

23:30: Joe visits his Rent-A-Family again, Sharon and her daughters, Christa and Sarah. This sounds like a repeat from part 2, though more audible.

25: While their conversation continues, Joe recites a list of things, 'throw pillows, dental floss...' perhaps the same list as before.

26:30: Eleanor tells psychiatrist that she used to stand in front of a mirror and repeat 'father' until the word meant nothing when she was a girl. She tells psychiatrist how easy his job is, how little work he does, wonders why she's paying him. She likes rain.

28:30: Panelist #3 (Nick Ullett) tells of affair with businesswoman. Later, when he was 'out on the coast',[1] her daughter, June, called him up because she was in town. They end up having sex. His son shows up for a bit, which increased her attractiveness to him. They have sex.[2] Later, his son has sex with June. He finds it fascinating.

33: Eleanor calls Arthur. They get along for the first time, possibly because Kathy divorced him. They make small talk. Arthur humors her reminiscences of Wendy and Diane.

39:30: The sound of children playing, the same sound Eleanor heard at the psychiatrist's office. Arthur can't hear it, but it drowns out Arthur for Eleanor, so she hangs up.

41: Arthur tells Panelist #2 that he never really loved Kathy; apparently she's in a coma.[3]

42:50: Panelist #2 says there's a strong odor of tahini about her, which attracts him. Panelist #3 says he can't get near a woman who smells of patchouli. Proprietor (Larry Block) says he can't be near a woman who smells of chocolate. Panelist #2 says patchouli causes impotence. Proprietor tells panel how much he has enjoyed the evening. Panelist #1 (Tim Jerome) thinks Rent-A-Family is a fad. Proprietor disagrees. They discuss how paying for something makes it more valuable. Proprietor pays for the drinks.

47:40: Arthur delivers a rant about his rage, how he wants to destroy others, everybody at the university struck blind.

Legacy Synopsis

Eleanor talks to her psychiatrist - Eleanor has a dream about a screaming baby in a flood, hears children through the window, complains about her doctor's coughing. A man meets a woman at a banquet and falls asleep during a game of footsie. Eleanor calls Arthur and apologizes, offers to move in as a maid, claims she's sick. Joe chats with the woman he's rented. Chimes and list of nouns. Therapy session continues: Eleanor talks about repeating the word "father," A man seduces a woman and her daughter, and her daughter seduces his son. Eleanor and Arthur talk later after she's recovered. Eleanor hears voices on the line. Panel discussion: changing one's feeling for someone who's sick; smell and dating; Rent a Friend; value associated with paying for things. A man is full of rage, yearns to watch the university where he teaches crumble.


Additional credits

The original broadcast credits state: "Performers included Barbara Sohmers, Mark Hammer, Arthur Miller, Tim Jerome, Nick Ullett, Carolyn Swift, and Larry Block, and Lynn, Sarah, Carmen, Thomas, Timo, Sharon, and Christa. This program was recorded by Phil Capp at M&I Studios in New York City, and by Tom Strother at KCRW. Technical production by Tom Strother."


A message Joe wrote to the mailing list on 2006 August 9:

'No, the ex-husband who delivers the final tirade is the actor Mark Hammer, who was working at Arena Stage in Washington DC at the time and performed all the scenes over the phone with his wife (DC to LA). Larry played the president of the company called, "Rent-a-Family," who attempted to rationalize his vision. Barbara Sohmers played the unhinged ex-wife--a wonderfully talented person who also appears in a short film available on the web site called "Memories." I've been out of touch with her for years. She could be the writer of mystery novels (I think she spoke of that ambition). When last I communicated with her she had been ill with a disease that affected her ability to speak and therefore could no longer perform as an actress. I am shocked to hear that she died--if she's the same person.'


  1. Pacific coast, I assume
  2. notice a pattern in his stories?
  3. How did Arthur get on the panel?