Change

I have, mostly been writing about things and people that are dear to my heart.  This time around I’m going to make a turn and write about something most people are uncomfortable with and that is change.

Before we begin, I want to be perfectly clear that every change has the opportunity to be good.  If it’s an unwanted change we can learn from it if it’s a positive change we can delight in it but we all will react to change in one form or another.  Now to be frank I don’t like change.  Almost every change in my life had come with some sort of negative aspect that I wasn’t anticipating and so I get thrown or depressed.  This has been a life long struggle but it is one I eventually conquer.

Change has been happening to my body over the last twelve or thirteen years.  It began with my legs.  I realized I had no feeling from my knees to my toes and was diagnosed with neuropathy a condition mostly found in diabetics of which I was not one.  Then both of my feet became full of arthritis and my knees followed with the same thing.  To date walking is very difficult and standing for long periods of time impossible.  It became clear that I could not work and had to drop out of the work force.

I miss working.  Working gave me purpose and a sense of meaning to my life.  Since I worked in the health field, I also felt a sense of accomplishment as I helped others become well or deal with their illnesses.  For a brief period of time, I worked in a nursing home as an assistant activities director and that job gave me great joy as I could see the good, I was doing and could use the skills I had as an actor and director. 

We are all given a number of gifts when we come into this world.  I can picture God in heaven designing each and every one of us and pouring into us from his vast store house of gifts the things we will love and the things we will be passionate about.  For me he decided on English and music, writing, and acting, directing and creating.  He gave me the heart of an artist and the temperament of one too.

I remember my experience of directing different shows but most especially the ones I did for the church.  I could literally feel God’s pleasure in me as I did my best with what he gave me for him.  Those weren’t only good times they were amazing times.

Of course, it didn’t last, a monkey wrench got thrown into the works and everything came apart.  That was the best time of my life and it seems to be over now, but I also feel like there is more in store hopefully sooner than later.

Change

Our whole lives from the moment we are born until the day we die is about change.  You can resist it all you want but it’s going to happen.  In fact, it’s safe to say that if you are not actively changing you may well be actively dying.  Because change is life.  It challenges us, it makes us learn, it forces us to find courage, it builds bridges between people and sometimes it takes down bridges and pulls people apart.  This can be good or bad.  Some people need to leave our lives.  It’s best for them and for us.  Sometimes it’s hard to let go when a dear friend needs to leave to follow his or her passion or dream but it’s exciting too, knowing that the friend is going somewhere to be the best they can be.

Sometimes people leave us and it is not in our will or good.  A dear friend and you have words and the link that has been between you is suddenly gone and you mourn that person as though they were dead, but they’re not.  They have left your life and sometimes you don’t understand at all what has happened.

Then there is the hardest leaving of all death.  I have been present at the death of many people.  Most of them because of my job.  Some of my family.  Those were hard times.  My mother’s death was the worst.  You only have one mother and when she dies it feels like all the love in the world has gone with her.  No one loves you like your mom.  No one can love you like your mom.  Eve may have been taken out of Adam but everyone else since has been taken out of Eve or out of woman.  Every birth is a miracle and every woman who has given birth knows this.

I lived with my folks for a long time.  When I got really sick I became crotchety and obnoxious. I made it a point to stay out of the way of everyone so as not do or say the wrong thing.  My mother would boldly walk in where no one else would come.  She’d feel my head and make sure I had what I needed.  My mood would not interrupt her mission.  Not long after she died, I got very sick and our dog, Lucky, came into my room jumped up on my bed and put his nose to my forehead.  He then went down and snuggled at my feet.  I felt mom was there telling me she hadn’t really left me and when I was in trouble, she would still be with me. 

Change

About two and a half months ago I knew I had to do something to make my life have some sort of purpose.  I had toyed on and off with blogs, but it never seemed to be able to stick.  This time I was bound to make it work. 

I like to write.  I started keeping a journal at a very young age because of the TV show The Waltons.  I idolized John-Boy and saw in him the person I wanted to be so I began to write.  First a journal, occasionally short stories and eventually one full length play that was performed.  Writing can be the most difficult thing to start but once you get going who knows where you’ll end up.  JRR Tolkien started by giving us a children’s book in The Hobbit but ended leaving us with a fantasy masterpiece in The Lord of the Rings.  The Lord of the Rings was crowned the most important book of the 20th century by two different polls. 

This blog has become my work.  A goal set weekly to keep me from doing nothing.  It exercises my mind and my imagination, and it is my hope that it entertains and maybe educates my readers.  It may not be deep but is real and it is honest.

Change

As the last few years have gone by I have gotten weaker in my legs.  Walking has become harder, and I am now using a cane and may have to go to a walker.  Things that used to be a joy to do are now chores because they all involve pain.

For instance, I used to love to go grocery shopping.  I loved finding the sales and looking for the best of the meat.  Finding the fresh produce was fun and when the seasonal stuff came out just the smell of a grocery store would excite me.  In April several of the metatarsal bones at the top of my foot fractured.  It took twelve weeks for them to heal but because of the arthritis the pain and the swelling won’t go away.  I am in pain with almost every step and walking around a supermarket can be agony.  Yes I can get groceries delivered but that’s not as much fun and you don’t know what you’re getting.  You must hope that the person choosing for you thinks like you do.  It doesn’t always work out that way.

Change

My weight is now out of control and I understand mentally that I must change my ways.  Back in my twenties and thirties my weight was easy to control.  I didn’t drive and public transportation, though close to where I lived, wasn’t exactly near, so I walked about a mile or so a day.  More so if SEPTA went on strike, and they did like clockwork.  After I began to drive, in my thirties, weight started to add up on me.  I would lose it and then gain more.  This has become an unhealthy pattern, and something must be done and only I can do it.  No one can lose weight for you.

I have investigated bariatric surgery where they sew up your stomach.  I know people that have done this, and it has worked well for them.  But there are a lot of things that can go wrong after surgery.  I went through the initial interviews where everything was explained out and I got terrified.  I’m going to have to lose weight the old-fashioned way taking it off pound by pound until it’s gone.  My mother, God rest her soul, did it that way and there is no reason thst I can’t.  And I really want to do it, after all, you don’t see any fat old people and I’d like to live at least a few more years.

Change

This weekend DC comics announced that my favorite character, Superman, would have a new motto.  After 80 years of “Truth, Justice, and The American Way,” It would now be “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.”  I didn’t want to hear that.  I liked the old motto; it was a comfort to me.  It held dear the things that I held dear.  Why change it?  As a Christian I would have preferred a change that said, “Truth Justice and Mercy,” because that seems to me to be the message that the God of the Old and New Testaments is all about.  It would have reflected the core of my own beliefs.  I thought the new motto sounded very Disney.  After all you can’t go into a Disney Park and not be made very aware of what the world should be like and as much as Walt was an entertainer, he was also a futurist hoping to design and be part of all the latest in technology.  The song It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow rings throughout Magic Kingdom.  But where does Superman fit into tomorrow.  I think Superman is a bringer of light to a dark world.  He brings hope.  He makes every kid who feels like he’s Clark Kent know that there is something special about him.  That underneath he can be Superman.  I think Superman brings hope in hope can come a better tomorrow.

Change

Recently I found out that I would have to move.  The reasons don’t matter but moving is a monumental task and even more so now.

Five years ago, when I last moved, I could do so much more for myself than I can now.  I could gather boxes and load up and drive car loads full of them to where I was going.  I may be remembering wrong, but I think I moved all of my books and the shelves that come apart all by myself leaving not a lot for the movers to do.   Now I can’t even get the boxes.  Having to use a cane makes carrying stuff difficult, even empty boxes and I don’t do well on my feet because of the issues with my legs.  I’m going to need a lot of help with just the move.

Looking for an apartment has been no joy either.  Because I am disabled finding a building I can get into has been almost impossible.  Every place seems to have steps.  I did see one place where it looked really easy to get into, but the building was run down and dirty, it didn’t look like a very nice place to live so I passed on that.  There are a lot of second floor apartments with beautiful space but nothing with an elevator, so it won’t work.  They say moving in one of the top stressors of life and I believe it is, but it’s compounded by so little choice of where I can live.

Change

Change, we all go through it and ultimately it is good for us.  Change stretches our minds and our bodies.  We find we can learn, and we can adapt if we allow change to have its way.  We bend but we don’t break.  Change can even be fun.  Moving is tough and there is a lot I am not looking forward to, but I enjoy sorting through my belongings and thinning things out.  I like to organize and pack.  When the mover do come they will find me more than ready and the day will go smoothly.  Even losing weight can be fun as I find new foods to enjoy as I give up the stuff that does me no good.

I stated earlier in this missive that change is a part of life and if we aren’t actively changing we are actively dying.  And what is death if not change.  It is the change we have no control over and it is the change most people fear more than any other.  To end this I quote from from the Broadway musical Mame “LIVE LIVE LIVE, Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Or is it  CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE, Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.  To live is to change.

Superheroes

Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Ironman. Marvel Girl, all of these bring up thoughts of adventure and selfless heroism.  I was born in a time when superheroes were on the outskirts of accepted entertainment for young minds.  Under McCarthyism and with the influence of the book Seduction of the Innocent they had gained a bad reputation after only really being around for 33 years.  However not long before I was born the comic book superhero would enjoy the beginning of a renaissance that still contuse today.

I wish I had a time machine and could travel back to New York City in the year 1938.  The world was still in the throes of the Great Depression but with Roosevelt in The White House people were beginning to hope better days were ahead.  These were the days when newspapers and magazines were sold on newsstands on the streets.  Big boxes made of plywood which opened up with racks of colorful  magazine covers or the black and white print of newspapers.  One day in April a new magazine would appear on these racks.  It had a man dressed in red and blue wearing a cape and he lifted a car above his head seeming to shake the occupants out of it.  This was Action Comics number one dated June of 1938, but to give the magazine a long shelf life the magazine was released three months earlier than its cover date a practice still used by comic books today, the man in the colorful clothes was Superman.

Superman was the granddaddy of all the superheroes that would follow.  He is the standard that all superheroes are still measured by. Superman is timeless and remain popular throughout some of this world’s toughest times.  He survived The Great Depression, The McCarthy era, social reform, and every other fad that society could throw.  Superman adapted and grew.

Today’s Superman looks much like the original figure from 1938 but he has changed.  Originally Superman could jump an 8th of a mile or has a high as a building but he could not fly.  He had great speed, was invulnerable, but things like X-Ray Vision, Heat Vision, super breath and remaining in outer space in just his uniform were years in the distance.

Superman was a hero for the people.  Stopping corrupt politicians, catching murderers and stopping executions of the wrong man were more of his everyday work.  His alter ego Clark Kent has also changed over the years.  In the 30s and well into the 80s Clark Kent was a klutz, sometimes afraid of his own shadow and always involved in a three-way relationship between himself, Lois Lane and Superman.  After the yearlong event Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Clark changed.  The glasses were still there but he was no longer the weakling that everyone could walk upon.  He would reveal his identity to Lois Lane and the two would marry. 

Superman is as relevant today as he was in 1938.  He has changed with the times and in those times a lot has happened.  Women’s Liberation, Racial Equality, Equality for all people regardless of skin color, gender, or sexual preference.  Superman has met each of these challenges in one form or the other not though super heroics, but by treating every individual he meets as an equal.  Worthy of respect just for being human.  We could all learn a lot from Superman.

Batman, however, is not Superman.  Batman created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger is totally human.  He has no super powers.  He has trained his body to perfection and honed his mind in the same way.  He is an expert at hand-to-hand combat and with simple weapons.  Like Superman Batman has a no kill creed.  He brings criminals to justice.

Batman is a story of tragedy.  Superman a story of hope.  Superman is sent from his dying planet to earth to be raised by Kansas farmers.  Superman grew up with good moral teaching and with two loving parents.  Batman saw his parents gunned down and was raised by the family butler.  His mind is always set on his mission that no one will go through what he went through.  In his original origin story young Bruce Wayne vows by candlelight to avenge his parents death by warring on all criminals.

Batman is a study in psychology.  What do you do when tragedy strikes?  How do you react to it?  Batman goes to the extremes.  His parents left him wealthy, he can afford to do as he wishes so he studies and grows strong to begin his war on evil.  But it leaves him a half person.  Batman in many ways cannot really love because he has left no room for it in his obsession.  He likes other people but in today’s comic stories he seems more interested in how an individual can help his cause than about the individual themselves.  This is why there have been four Robins each leaving Batman in one way or another to find their own way and not be caught up in the obsession.

Superman and Batman were created in the late 1930s.  Now we jump up 20 odd years to the early 60s.  Comics lost favor with the public in the 1950s and almost all the heroes hung up their capes and masks.  But in the late 1950s DC Comics made the decision to resurrect their comic book heroes.  But they would do it in a whole new way.  Gone were the original Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman and born were the new versions, streamlined with new origins that had a healthy dose of science fiction too add to the colorful heroes.

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were the only three heroes to survive the 50s but soon they banded together with the new heroes and formed The Justice League of America.  The JLA became a very popular title and came to the attention of the editors of Timely Comics soon to become Marvel and one editor told a young Stan lee to come up with a team of heroes that would rival the JLA.  Lee was about ready to leave the comics business, but he took on this assignment and created The Fantastic Four and new era in comics began.

With the publication of The Fantastic Four comic book heroes began to grow up.  The Fantastic Four argued with each other, had obvious character flaws, and sometimes split up.  Sarcasm and anger were a part of every issue and the heroes seemed more human.  This new way or writing superheroes would spawn The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Spiderman.

Spiderman made his appearance in August of 1962 in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy.  He was the collaboration of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and became an immediate success.  Young angst laden Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider which give him the powers and strength of the arachnid.  It doesn’t however remove the social problems of a teen age boy and Peter finds it hard to be Peter made fun of by his classmates and Spiderman who is praised by the same people.  He is hurting and lonely and yet he always stays in the fight.  Tempted to give up by never giving in.

Superheroes are our modern mythology.  They are the Hercules, Ulysses, and Perseus of the 20th and 21st century.  We need fictional heroes.  They are important and they serve the function of passing on moral values.  They do this is a way that entertains and enlightens us without whacking us over the head.

Superman is embodiment of all things good.  He provides hope in a world that has gone very dark.  His primary-colored costume of red. Blue and yellow are a joyful expression of heroics and of light over coming darkness.

Batman is different.  Batman does not inspire hope of goodness as much as he shows the potential of every individual.  He takes it to the extreme, but he is the lesson of us becoming anything we want to be if we work hard enough to pursue it. 

Spiderman, in his origin tale allows the man who would ultimately kill his beloved Uncle Ben to get away.  When he learns that because of his in-action tragedy struck he comes to the understanding that with great power comes great responsibility.  Spiderman goes on to become a hero and that’s great but the lesson he leaves behind is that we need to hold those in power over us to that same thought.  From the President of the United States to your boss the power they hold is a responsibility and the responsibility is to do good with what you are given.  To not serve yourself but to serve others.

To not serve yourself but to serve others is the message of all good superhero stories.  We are put on this earth for only a brief period of time, and it is what we do for others that makes us human and what makes life worth living.  The more you reach out a hand to those in need, the more you will become aware of a sense of self satisfaction.

We are about to enter the holiday season.  Now more than ever the words of Charles Dickens ring down through the years that “Want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.”  Do you have an abundance? Share something with those in need.  Go into your closet and give away the clothes you haven’t worn in a year.  Go through your house and whatever you don’t need give away.  There are a lot of people hurting in the world if you and I can gather the resources that we have at our disposal and choose to help those who are in need we will be superheroes.

Mystery

I remember being in Beverly Hills Junior High School and going to Seller’s Memorial Library for the first time.  Seller’s is the main branch of the Upper Darby Township Library System and is one third an old Victorian type house and the rest a modern building attached to the house.  It’s a pretty cool piece of architecture.

Beverly Hills Junior High School was only a short walk to and from the library.  My house was nowhere near the main branch, and I wanted to go because I was on a quest.  So, after school one day I walked to the library in search of mystery.

The year was 1974 and Murder on the Orient Express had made a huge impact as a film starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot and a host of other A-list stars including Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman.  I saw the film and fell in love with it.  I was already an enthusiastic reader and wanted anything and everything by Agatha Christie.

I started with my school library at first, but I don’t remember finding very much there.  Junior High School English had already introduced me to Sherlock Holmes, but I wasn’t ready to commit fully to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective yet, I would in the years to come.  I wanted Mrs. Christie.

So, one late afternoon in 1974 I found myself fully engaged in the mystery section of my hometown’s biggest library.  I was combing my way through the stacks looking at title after title when an older gentleman approached me and asked what I was doing in that section.  I was a little bewildered.  It’s not like I was in some sort of X-rated area of the library so I stammered out some kind of answer and he replied that this section was for older people, and I should look for books somewhere else.  To quote Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame, “What an idiot.”

Needless to say, I didn’t listen to him and went on with my search much to his annoyance.  I don’t know what I went home with that day, but my guess is it was And Then There Were None, probably the most famous of all Mrs. Christie’s works.  When I opened up that book, I opened up a whole new world of mystery one that I still live in.

Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None were my first two trips into adult mystery, but my love of mystery goes back to my grade school days when I was reading Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Encyclopedia Brown was a series of short stories where all the clues were laid out in a pretty obvious way.  The reader was challenged to solve the mystery themselves before looking at how the hero, Encyclopedia Brown, solved it.  The books were fun but, in many ways, they were a one-time only read because after the mystery was solved there was no point in going back. 

The Hardy Boys were a different story, they were probably another level up.  The adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy solving mysteries in their hometown or in exotic locations were the stuff of fifth and sixth grade fantasies and doing it with your brother made it even better.  I’ve mentioned my cousin Steve before.  It was his library, that he left at home, that also introduced me to The Hardy Boys.  The first book I read was called While the Clock Ticked.  My aunt made me give this one back too, but I started my own collection after that and read several of the books in the next few years.

I stayed with Miss Christie for a long time, as if she were the only mystery writer worth paying attention to.  There was reason for this.  She wrote so many novels that you just don’t know when to stop and enjoy other authors.  Mrs. Christie had a whole stable of detectives that she created, and they were all worth reading.  Besides Hercule Poirot there is Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford to name her most famous.  There were also her standalone books such as The Pale Horse and Endless Night all totaled Mrs. Christie wrote 82 detective Novels.  I have no idea how many short stories and several plays.  She was and is the queen of mystery.

Other author’s and movies would come along as I got older.  Soon I began to notice other detectives in novels and movies.  In 1934 Dashiell Hammett published his novel The Thin Man with the crime solving detectives Nick and Nora Charles.  This was not the first husband and wife detective team.  Agatha Christie was first with Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.  Tommy and Tuppence were middle class when pitted up against Nick and Nora.

The Thin Man was soon scooped up by MGM and immediately and made into a popular film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora.  Though filmed in black and white the film showed the opulence of upper-class New York because Nick and Nora Charles were very wealthy.  This was the exact opposite of what most Americans were living like at the time. And because of the opulence and the devil may care attitude of the leading players The Thin Man became very popular and a series of films, totaling six, was produced from 1934 to 1947.

Mysteries were popular on both sides of the Atlantic and though we started with Agatha Christie we must now go back in time the great Victorian era.  London was gaslights and fog.  The English countryside was speckled with large estates nestles against mysterious moors.  And one man walked through those mysteries into international fame, the great Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes first appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1887 in a story titled A Study in Scarlett.  He was creation of Arthur Conan Doyle.  The story goes that Doyle, who was a doctor, did not have a very busy practice so to pass the time he created Sherlock, Doctor Watson.  It is said that there are three characters every child knows, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Sherlock Holmes.

In the Sherlock Holmes canon, there are 4 novels and 56 short stories that Doyle originally wrote.  After Doyle came many who tried to emulate Doyle’s style, and some came close.  There is The Seven Percent Solution by Nicholas Mayer and most recently a whole series of Holmes books which are surprisingly good, written by Kareem Abdul Jabaar.  But there are probably 100s of other authors who have taken up the pen to write further stories of the great detective.

After the popularity of the Holmes stories Doyle himself got a little tired of writing about his detective and had him killed in a story called The Final Problem.  The public outcry was so great and the national mourning so sincere for a fictional character, that Doyle brought him back first in The Hound of the Baskervilles which took place before his death and then he resurrected Holmes in a story titled The Empty House.  Holmes had never actually been dead but had faked his death to make himself scarce to those who still wanted to kill him.  Sherlock Holmes is now part of our great arts culture.  He will continue to be loved and to be enjoyed for generations to come.

One of my favorite detectives that I have discovered in the last couple of decades is the wonderful Nero Wolfe.  Wolfe aided by his handsome, man about town assistant Archie Goodwin was created in 1934 by Rex Stout.  He would go on and publish about a book a year until 1975.  There are 33 novels and 41 novellas and short stories in the Nero Wolfe canon.  I have read about thirty percent of the novels and have enjoyed each of them.

Nero Wolfe lives in an NYC brownstone house in the heart of metropolis.  He weighs a quarter of a ton and rarely leaves his home unless under extreme compunction to do so.  He solves his mysteries in a great desk chair built especially for him and has all the leg work dome for him by Archie Goodwin.  The Wolfe stories are told in first person from Archie’s point of view.  Wolfe, in today’s language would be called a foodie and takes great delight in being involved in the preparation and the consumption of his meals. He has chef/butler that lives with him as well as a gardener who manages his large collection of Orchids that are kept at the top of the house in the plant rooms.  Some of his greatest stories are centered around the office, the plant rooms, or his meals.  For those who desire to eat like Nero Wolfe there was even A Nero Wolfe Cookbook that was published many years ago and is still available today.

Nero Wolfe was not left off of film. There is one movie I know of and two TV series.  The best television series was done in the early 2000s and starred Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin.  These shows kept very close to the source material and are fun to watch.  The producers decided to hire a company of actors that worked across all the shows playing different parts.  In some of the shows the performances are so good you don’t realize you had seen the performer in a different role the week before.  These shows can be found on YouTube to watch for free.

To delve into humorous mystery, we are going to make one stop.  The Polly Pepper Mysteries.  There are four books in The Polly Pepper series.  Remains to be Scene, Final Curtain, A Talent for Murder and Set Sail for Murder all written by Richard Tyler Jordan.  Mr. Jordan worked in Hollywood for a long time and his books are riddled with caricatures of famous celebrities.  Half the fun of reading his books is trying to guess who the real people are behind the characters.  The Polly Pepper book have been described as a cross between Carol Burnett and Murder She Wrote.  Polly Pepper herself is an out of work actress who once had her own wildly popular variety show.  She knows and schmooses with the best of Hollywood but when a murder gets committed leave it to Polly to solve the crime with the help of her openly and well-loved gay son and an outspoken maid.  The books are a hoot and should be on the shelf of every mystery loving fan.  Here’s to hoping Mr. Jordan decides to take up the pen and give us more Polly adventures.

Most of the detectives I’ve written about went from page to screen but there is one that took the opposite route and went from screen to page.  That would be Jessica Fletcher and the television show Murder She Wrote.  Murder She Wrote starred Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher a retired schoolteacher and widow living in the fictional town of Cabot Cove Maine.  We are introduced to Jessica as her nephew has secretly submitted her murder mystery book to a publisher.  The book is excepted and becomes a best seller.  Jessica is pinned in the spotlight and whisked off to New York City to meet her publisher and to solve her first murder.  Murder She Wrote gave the audience the chance to solve the mystery and entertained television viewers for twelve seasons.  It had many celebrity guest stars including Florence Henderson, Shirley Jones, Van Johnson, and June Allison. 

Not long after the show started a series of books began to be published supposedly written by Jessica herself.  These are told in the first person as if Jessica is speaking to us.  The books are very good and keep the flavor and the pace of the TV show.  Murder She Wrote had stopped new TV episodes several years ago.  New books come out regularly.

Charlotte and Thomas Pitt are the creation of Ann Perry and began their adventures in 1979 in the book The Cater Street Hangman.  The stories take place in Victorian London where Thomas is a police detective.  Charlotte, his wife always finds a way or stumbles into his investigations. 

These books aren’t just telling mysteries.  Miss Perry has all her characters grow.  There is a regular cast of recurring supporting characters that you begin to care about as much as Charlotte and Thomas.  In the first book Thomas meets Charlotte in the second they are married as the series continues; they have children.  These books don’t just tell of the solving of a good case but also are the story of a family.

In recent years there have been several new detectives that come at solving crime through cooking up delicious food.  These books are three quarters story and maybe one quarter or less cookbook.  The best of these are The Hannah Swensen series by Joanna Fluke.

Hannah is a caterer in Aspen Colorado when meet her in The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.  She is divorced but is doing quite well on her own serving up meals to the Aspen elite.  In this series the characters also grow as Hannah meets new people falls in love and starts a new family. All of this takes place over several delectable tales.  The latest is the series is The Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Murder.  The recipes in these books are usually easy to follow and fun to try.

Mystery!  Why do we love these stories of who dun it?  It is kind of odd that we take delight in murder.  Or is it possible that we don’t delight in the murder as much as we delight in the solving of the puzzle?  All murder mysteries are puzzles and the pieces are all laid out before you to find if they seem obscure.  These mysteries may be a metaphor for life.  After all we start asking questions and trying to solve the mystery of our existence almost as soon as we can talk.  What parent doesn’t cringe a little when their three-year-old asks, “Where did I come from?”  No parent is going to give a technical answer regarding sex so other answers are given that a child can appreciate, but the question remains.  Where did I come from?  It soon turns into why am I here?  Is there a God what does that mean for me?

We all ask these questions.  And we spend our lives trying to find out the answer.  I think mysteries are there to tell us that the answers are there if me choose to seek for them.  There is a meaning and a purpose for every person born on this planet.  The hard part is that no one can tell you the answers to your questions at least not the most basic ones.  You must seek those answers out on your own.  I think mysteries tell us that there are answers to all questions.  I think mysteries give us hope.

Lucy and Me

Anyone who knows me knew that this was coming in one form or another.  In my 60 years on this planet no other actor or actress has influenced and entertained me more than Miss Lucille Ball.

My romance with this amazing red head began when I was just old enough to understand language and what was happening on the television screen.  As I have told elsewhere mom would do her chores and to keep me occupied set me down in front of our black and white TV set to watch I Love Lucy and The Jack Benny Program.  I had to have the highest paid babysitters in the neighborhood.

I liked Jack Benny or at least his cast.  I enjoyed the show most when Mary Livingston or Rochester were featured. Rochester had a unique, gravel like voice that was unforgettable.  Jack’s brand of comedy was more adult.  Not dirty, but sophisticated and sometimes was beyond me.  As I watch his show now, I can appreciate the comedy much more than when I was pre-school.

Lucille Ball was different.  Her comedy, thanks to her brilliant writers and her willingness to go on with any gag, could appeal to anybody in the family.  She fought with her husband, adult comedy, she got covered in chocolate, kid comedy, she was overdrawn at the bank, adult comedy, tries to sell vacuum cleaners door to door that makes more of a mess than it cleans up, kid comedy. 

I think the show was more family friendly than anything else on Television and Lucy reigned supreme for more than twenty years at her 9 pm timeslot on the CBS television network.  In the 60s I had to be in bed by 9 so I missed all of those shows on their first run.  It wasn’t until the 70s that I was able to stay up and watch my favorite actress every week.  But I had the reruns, and they were golden to me.

Not many people realize all the firsts I Love lucy gave to the world of television.  And there are a lot.  But let’s look at why I Love Lucy came into being.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, a Cuban immigrant, met while they were both working for MGM studios in a film titled Too Many Girls.  Lucille fell in love with the suave Cuban immigrant almost immediately and they eloped in 1940.  Lucille was 29 when she married Desi.  She wasn’t the biggest star in Hollywood, but she had a good career with some solid roles working with the likes of Bob Hope, Henry Fonda, and Katherine Hepburn.  Desi was a band leader and though he made a few films his life was on the road going from concert to concert with his signature song Babaloo. 

After being married the marriage was tested.  Desi was on the road and Lucy was in California.  They both wanted children but being separated made this difficult.  It was in the early 1950s that they realized the best way to save their marriage and to have kids was to work together.  They decided the best medium to do this in was television.

Television was still in its infancy in the early 1950s.  Hollywood stars looked down on the TV box and thought the actors working in television not quite as good as themselves.  It was a big leap for Lucille to make this jump, but she did.  Her timing was right too.  The star system that had dominated Hollywood for many years was beginning to break down.  Contract players were becoming less and less the usual thing.  Radio was still the biggest way people got their at home entertainment, but TV was slowly catching up.  Lucille was doing a radio show called My Favorite Husband it was this show that she hoped to bring over to television.  Her husband on radio was played by Richard Denning.  He would be replaced by Desi Arnaz.

The first obstacle in getting the show up and running was to find a studio to help them make it.  They approached the major networks and were turned down.  The reasons the networks gave was that no one would believe an all-American girl like Lucille would be married to a foreigner.  That, of course was nonsense.  Men and women from different national backgrounds were married all the time in The United States.  We are all immigrants or descended from immigrants and have different backgrounds.  My mother was Dutch and my father Italian. Second or third generations removed from the original immigrants but still with widely different ethnic backgrounds.  The whole country is that way in one form or another.

Lucille and Desi made some sort of deal with CBS.  They would go on the road with a show and see if America would except them if they did well than CBS would help produce the show.  Needless to say, the couple was a hit wherever they went.  They even developed the relationship they would eventually have in the TV show while on the road.  The first dividend from the doing the live show on the road was that Lucy got pregnant.

The success of the show gave them permission from CBS.  Now they had to figure out how to make their show.  Most TV shows in the early 50s were being filmed in New York City.  Lucy and Desi were Californians and wanted to remain in California.   It was at this time that the two went into professional partnership together.  The bought The RKO studio.  The movie lot where Lucille got her start and christened it Desilu Studios.  They knew they would have to film their show and send it to the east coast for broadcast.  The early TV shows weren’t filmed or recorded they were made on kinescope and aired live.  Desi proved he was a genius and a good businessman.  He brought on Karl Freund who developed the three-camera technique for filming I Love Lucy.  The show would be filmed as a play but with each camera doing different work.  The show was also performed before a live audience.  The laughter from the I Love Lucy soundtracks was actually sold to other shows that weren’t performed live to tell the TV audience when to laugh.

Desi also made a great casting director.  Lucille originally wanted Bea Bernadette and Gale Gordon to play Fred and Ethel Mertz.  Neither was available as they were both contracted in other shows.  Lucille would eventually work with Gale Gordon on I Love Lucy as a guest star playing Ricky’s Boss.  She would work with him for years in the 60s and 70s in Lucille’s other shows.  Desi knew William Frawley and was well aware of his talents.  Frawley had been a character actor for years and worked with Bing Crosby in Going My Way and Bob Hope in The Lemon Drop Kid.  He felt he would be perfect for the part of Fred.  A friend sent Desi to see Vivian Vance in a play in nearby California town and in her he knew he had found his Ethel.  Frawley was struggling with alcohol, but he pulled himself together and the cast of I Love Lucy was born.

No one needs to have the plot of I Love Lucy explained.  An American housewife finds herself in all kinds of jams and comes up with zany ways to solve her problems.  Lucille was pregnant with Lucie Arnaz when the films pilot was filmed and gave birth to her on July 17, 1951.  I love Lucy was first aired on October 15, 1951, one year and two births.

I Love Lucy was of course an immediate hit.  It changed the way the world worked on Monday nights.  Department stores closed early because no one came in after eight thirty they all wanted to be home for Lucy.  Water usage went down.  The political world was affected the bottom line was no one not even a presidential speech had the right to interrupt Lucille Ball and her antics.  The fashion world was hit too and the dresses that Lucille wore on the show became very popular.  The whole country loved Lucy in the 1950s.

The show had its scares.  Lucille was investigated briefly but publicly for possible ties to the communist party.  This could have ruined the show and there was some truth to it.  Lucille’s grandfather believed in the party in its early days and made all of the family become associated with them.  Lucille was simple humoring the man who helped raise her. She was a staunch American and believed in this country and what it had given her and Desi.  She was called to testify in front of The House Committee and was exonerated.  She had to film an episode of I Love Lucy that night and she was scared to death. How would her audience treat her?  These were frightening times for anyone even remotely connected to communism.  Movie career and TV careers were being ruined, not to be salvaged, if ever, for years to come.  Desi came out and gave an amazing speech before the audience.  One memorable line was,” Here is my wife and the only thing red about her is her hair and that comes from a bottle”.  The audience gave Lucille Ball a standing ovation.

Desi Arnaz Junior was born during the run on I Love Lucy.  Lucy was the first actress ever to appear pregnant on television and it took a lot of work to pull it off.  The sponsors and the network had to agree and a priest a minister and a rabbi were called on to oversee each show.  The word pregnant couldn’t be used so expecting was substituted.  The shows were taped in advance of the delivery but since Lucille had delivered Lucie via C-section Desi Jr would need to be delivered the same way.  So on January 19, 1953 Desi Arnaz Jr was born to Lucille and Desi Arnaz and Little Ricky was born to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.  Desi’s baby picture was the cover of the first TV guide and television was forever changed.

Of course, I wasn’t born yet.  Desi Jr. and I are several years apart and when I came along in the 60s I Love Lucy had gone off prime-time TV.  Despite all their effort Lucille and Desi could not make their marriage work and divorced in 1961.  The I Love Lucy show which in the end was called The Lucy Desi Comedy Hour went off the air of April 1, 1960.

The studio was still producing wonderful TV shows.  Desilu was responsible for The Untouchables, Our Miss Brooks, The Danny Thomas Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show and so many others.  If they weren’t made directly by Desilu the shows were shot on their lot.

It would be two years before Lucy would return to television, but she would not go off the air.  Because of the genius of Desi Arnaz all the I Love Lucy shows were taped and so could be reshown at any time consequently Desi invented syndication and the rerun.  Since I love Lucy first aired in 1951 it has never been off the air.  The show will be 70 years old this October and still makes each new generation laugh.

Lucille, after her divorce, took a shot at Broadway and starred in a show called Wildcat.  It was successful, if only because of her.  It did have a popular song come out of it called Hey Look Me Over. After the run of the show, she would return to television in her second show The Lucy Show.  The first episode of this show was aired October 1, 1962 and would reunite Lucille Ball with Vivian Vance.

In The Lucy Show Lucille Ball played Lucy Carmichael a widow with a son, Jerry and teen-age daughter. Chris.  Vivian would be her best friend and lodger a divorcee named Vivian Bagley with a son named Sherman.  They lived in a small town named Dansfield in New York.  This was my Lucy show.  Of course, I was too young to remember its first run but to me Lucy explored more of her comedic talent and other abilities than on I Love Lucy.

The first season was shot in black and white.  Then Desilu took another bold step and began shooting in color with the second season.  Color televisions were very rare in the 60s but always looking ahead Lucy and Desi still partners could see what was coming and got on board early.  They were right.

I have watched I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy over and over again.  Her outing on Life with Lucy not so much as it only became available to purchase recently and has never been shown in syndication.  Basically, Life with Lucy failed.  I like it.  But to me Lucy could do no wrong.  But this show was made in the 80s and people just couldn’t accept a mad cap grandma that got into physical trouble.  I think old people seem to be frail to young people and the image of an old lady lying on the floor pushing her panic button and saying, “Help I.ve fallen and I can’t get up!”, is more in tune to a young person’s mind than Lucy being hurled back and forth by a runaway electric armchair and walking away no harm done.  Still The Lucy Show remains dearest to my heart.

The Lucy Show had some of Lucille Ball’s zaniest and most inspired moments.  Lucy and Vivian arguing over every detail as they spend their first Christmas together is hilarious especially when Lucy appears with an ax to start taking chunks out of Viv’s “white” Christmas tree. Then there was the episode where a contact lens is supposedly lost in a well decorated cake.  Needless to say the crumbs flew.

She had some amazing guest starts too.  In fact, I think all old Hollywood made a guest appearance on The Lucy Show or Here’s Lucy.  She had to start Ethel Merman, Jack Benny, Shelley Winters, John Wayne, and Carol Burnett to name a few.  Then there were the marvelous character actors such as Mary Wickes, Hans Conried, Mary Jane Croft and Ann Sothern.

Then there was Gale Gordon.  There have been many amazing pairings down the ages, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Batman and Robin, Hamburgers and Cheese, Holmes and Watson and right up there is Lucille Ball and Gale Gordon.

Gale Gordon allowed more to be done to him than any man on Television.  Vivian was Lucy’s friend and partner in crime Gale Gordon as Mr. Mooney, the banker who was the trustee for Lucy’s money left to her by her deceased husband, was Lucy’s nemesis.  Gale Gordon knew comedy well.  He was the long-suffering principal to Eve Ardan’s Miss Brookes in Our Miss Brooks.  He was the second Mr. Wilson in the live action television series Dennis the Menace.  In those shows he honed and perfected his craft with Lucy it all came together.

Lucille, Gale and all of her cast members gave it their all to make entertaining funny television.  Lucy decides to save money by cutting her son’s hair, she ends up giving Mr. Mooney’s son a mohawk.  Lucy locks herself and Mr. Mooney in the bank vault by accident, Lucy tries to make money by catering children’s birthday parties and end up flying away on a string with a hundred helium balloons, Lucy has a special vault made in the bank for Jack Benny’s money that includes quicksand.  All of these and hundreds of other situations came up over the years and they all make me smile now.

After the Lucy Show Lucille would go onto to star in Here’s Lucy. Vivian Vance had gone into semi-retirement only appearing the show occasionally. Lucy would have a whole new beginning in Here’s Lucy. She was still a widow with two children only now her kids were played by her own teen age children Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. Gale Gordon stayed with her but the character of Mr. Mooney was gone. He was now now Harrison Carter, the owner of Carter’s Unique Employment Agency. He was also Lucy’s brother in-law and boss as Lucy worked for him as his secretary. Having her own kids on the show gave it an added dimension. I was old enough to stay up and watch this and I liked Lucie Arnaz but I thought Desi Arnaz Jr. was just cool and was very disappointed when he left the show to follow his own career path.

Here’s Lucy was still zany comedy. Hollywood guest starts would make regular appearances. It was on Here’s Lucy where she got got Elizabeth Taylor’s famous diamond ring stuck on her finger. And it was on Here’s Lucy where she got to dance with Ginger Rodgers her old chum from her days at RKO and whom she worked with in the movie Stage Door. Wally Cox, Tony Randall, George Burns, Liberace Jackie Gleason and a host of other made appearances on her show.

On April 26, 1989, Lucille Ball passed away and a legend left this earth.  She was a beautiful woman, hardworking, and a perfectionist.  Toward the end of her life, she proved to the world that she could do drama as she played a bag lady in Stone Pillow.  I remember the day she died.  It was like losing a much-loved relative.  I shed more than a few tears.  I wish I had met her, and I wish I could have told her all that she meant to me and all the joy she has given and continues to give me.  When I watch her shows now, I still laugh but there is a little sadness in the laughter for what can never come again.

Gale Gordon summarized what Lucy gave to him and to the world in his forward to the book Loving Lucy. “Mainly dear heart, my thanks for letting me participate, in a very small way, in concocting the world’s most need tonic, laughter -the miracle drug!  It’s good for what ails you, it has no injurious aftereffects, and it is well-nigh impossible to take an overdose!”

Gale continues, “The world loves you dear physician.  You have soothed our aches and pains, you have lightened our burdens and made our lives a little brighter, and you have given television an added dimension by using it as a vehicle for making house calls!

I couldn’t write anything better.  Let me finish this by saying I too will always love Lucy.

Peanuts

Peanuts

On the 19th of September Linus Van Pelt turned 69 years old.  I know this because the Charles Schulz Museum put a special post on Facebook reminding me of my favorite Peanut’s character’s birthday.  They also ran the first strip.  In that historic strip Linus is still in diapers and hasn’t even learned to walk yet.  But that uniquely shaped head and the scraggly hair definitely told you that this was Linus.

That’s true of all The Peanut’s characters.  If you go back and look at the original strips, they look remarkably different than what they would be in ten years’ time.  Ten years after that they would change a little more but not by much. Even the characters would change.  In the first strip which was dated October 5, 1950, we see three characters two of which are all but forgotten today.  Shermy, who is always the shepherd in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Patty (not Peppermint) a blond-haired girl who be most often seen with Lucy, and Charlie Brown.  These three were the center for awhile but slowly the cast would grow as Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty Marcy, and Franklin would all join the cast as well as a host of other characters.

Charles M Schulz was a genius born in 1922 and died in 2000.  For fifty of those years from 1950 until 2000 Schulz wrote and illustrated every Peanuts strip.  If he took a vacation, he wrote strips 2 or three weeks in advance.  Not one line of a pen or one word came from anybody else.  Every strip was pure Schulz.

That’s not to say he didn’t take ideas from those around him.  Watching his own children grow gave Schulz much fodder for his strip.  Watching them at play or what they were learning in school or how they got things mixed up was him plenty of ideas.  He took outside advice to and when an African American lady wrote him asking him to put an African American child in his strip, he took the advice and Franklin was born.

One other gift that Schulz had was seeing the human experience the sad and the happy and making us laugh at it.  His strip had the capacity to make kids laugh at the antics of a beagle and adults laugh and yet ponder the words of Linus who, more often than not, was the moralist of the characters.  He saw inside of us and liked what he saw but he also knew we could be better.  It’s all there in The Peanuts strip.

Mr. Schulz was a Baptist at the beginning of his career and through out the 1950s and 1960s you will find Bible verses peppered through out those years.  Of course, the most famous moment is Linus reciting from Luke Chapter Two in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  But he could be subtle too.  There is one strip where Linus is building a sandcastle.  It was a Sunday strip, and it was panel after panel of turrets and towers, high walls, and battlements.  In the last few panels, it starts to rain and the whole thing disappears.  Linus, looking at the work he has done melting away say, “I know there’s a lesson to be learned here, but I don’t know what it is.”  If you know your New Testament you know exactly what it is.  It’s a pictorial reference to Matthew Chapter 7 verses 26 and 27 where Jesus says, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain came down, streams rose, and the wind blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.  This is the end of The Sermon on the Mount.

Peanuts somehow enters all of us.  I know at different times of my life I can be as crabby as Lucy, as insecure as Charlie Brown, passionate as Schroeder, Adventurous as Snoopy, as loyal as Woodstock or as wise as Linus.

For a good part of my life, in recent years, I saw myself as Charlie Brown.  The loser, the guy that had little to offer the world.  The guy that failed at life.  Like Charlie Brown too many curve balls knocked me on my back on the pitcher’s mound, but I got up and tried again.  Like Charlie Brown I sought help.  A few times I ended up with advisers that might just as well been Lucy and her psychiatric booth, but more than once I ended with councilors who could and did advise me well and I found myself back in the game again.

Physical issues knocked me down too and again I needed help to get back in the game.  And again, there were people there, professionals who knew how to advise me and get me moving.  Like Linus helped Charlie Brown see what the true meaning of Christmas is.  People helped me to see what the true meaning of life is and how to live it.

These days I think I see life as a cross between Linus and Snoopy.  I want to see the meaning behind the events of my life.  I want to have deep discussions on philosophy and faith and how each of these fits into my life.  I also want to live an adventure.  Snoopy became whatever his imagination decided he would be, A World War One fighter Pilate, A lawyer, a doctor, A skater.  You see Snoopy swimming and surfing and sometimes driving a car he is almost always at the head of an adventure and willing to take the risk of the next one.  This is how I want to live.

What is an adventure.  Thornton Wilder said that you can tell if you’re in an adventure if you look around and say, “How did I get into this?”  But he countered with that you know “There is something wrong with you when you sit quietly at home hoping for an adventure.”

Right now, life is full of adventure for me.  My journey has taken a new turn and there is much to decide in the coming months.  I have been asking myself, “how did I get into this?”  And the answer has been through no fault of my own, at least for most of it.  Regardless of how, the question now is what?  What’s the next move?  How do I solve the puzzle?  I could look on the issues I am facing and be all, “woe, is me”, or I could see each situation as an adventure.  A chance to learn and grow as a person and ultimately to be a better man than I am.  To me that’s the perfect balance between Snoopy and Linus.  Seizing the adventure and seeing the meaning and the potential behind it.

I’d like to talk a little more about Charles Schulz.  Schulz was an amazing man with an incredible mind.  His work will live on through out the ages.  Other comic strips will come and go because they are grounded firmly in the time they were written.  The political landscape of Doonesbury is not the same as we have today and so the strip will fade as its creator passes on.  The same could be said for other comic strips.  Schulz work is timeless.  He makes us laugh and hits are hearts and minds at the same time.  An example of one such strip goes like this.

Linus (Pretending he has a gun) Bang Bang!

Charlie Brown:  What are you playing Linus, cops, and robbers?

Linus No!  Bang Bang!

Charlie Brown: Cowboys and Indians?

Linus: No.

Charlie Brown: Then what are you playing?

Linus: Liberals versus conservatives!  Bang Bang!

 Now Charles Schulz passed away 21 years ago.  This strip was written in the late 50s or early 60s and it is still as relevant today as the day it was written.

Schulz was a man who struggled.  He may have been at one time the most famous cartoonist in the world, but he struggled with insecurity and depression.  And yet they never beat him.  For 50 years this man would turn out strip after strip.  All those raw emotions and self-doubt became fodder for his imagination and instead of wallowing in self-pity he made us laugh and gave us the great gift of all of his characters.

I used to think that Schulz modeled Charlie Brown after himself.  I read an early biography of him where he talked about feeling out of place while in school and felt genuinely insecure.  But when Schulz was asked what character, he saw himself as he simple answered, “All of them”.  That answer, at first, surprised me.  But after thinking about it awhile, it seemed to be exactly true not only for him but for all of us.

As people we switch hats and masks every day.  Maybe to put it better we play different parts every day.  In a days’ time I can be a son, a brother, a writer, a chef, a researcher, a movie or book critic, a house cleaner, a good friend, or a councilor.  You in a day could be a mother or a father, a hockey player or businessperson, a student, or a teacher all in a single day.  We change our roles as we go from one of our interests or jobs to another and we don’t even think about it, the change is instant, sometimes simultaneous.

Charles Schulz is basically saying the same thing as he claims he is all of his characters.  He can lose and yet still be determined as Charlie Brown of be angry and crabby like Lucy.  I guess I’m pushing this to some extent, but the universalness of Charles Schulz Characters cannot go understated.

Charles Schulz is distinctly the only Newspaper cartoonist to have covered all the ways we can be entertained.  His characters have been successful in the newspapers and on-line, in movies and television and on the Broadway stage.  His entire 50 years of work has been bound in 25 hard cover books and are available for purchase.  Peanuts is read the world over and I doubt there are many countries where Snoopy plush dolls are not available for purchase.

One night in December 1969 Charles Schulz had printed his daily strip.  A Boy Named Charlie Brown was playing in the movie theaters, A Charlie Brown Christmas was on our television sets and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown was being performed off Broadway.  Every form of media was corned by Peanuts that night.  No one has done that since.

Peanuts, Featuring Good Ol’ Charlie Brown has entertained informed and inspired us for 71 years. It has hit our hearts and our minds and our faith.  It remains popular being published every day still in print newspapers or daily delivered to your in-box.  (Since Schulz death they have been reprinting the strip from 1975 to 2000, this will end in 2025)  The Characters remain popular on television and though each of the holiday specials are available on DVD or digitally we still clamor for them to be shown on network television.  Last years rage over Apple buying the rights to show exclusively on Apple TV proves that.  The messages and the joy in those holiday specials should be free to the world as I think Schulz would want it.  Charlie Brown once said, “Life is like an ice cream cone, you have to learn to lick.”  I’ll leave you there.

Children’s Literature

I read recently that classic children’s literature is being removed from schools and school curriculum.  Books like The Odyssey, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are now considered unsuitable for a child to read or to be taught.  I take exception to this.  There is great Children’s Literature out there and to be honest I don’t think that the books that claim to be written for children these days are not anything more than feel good shlock made for the child to feel ok about his or her own self as opposed to becoming self-aware that we all can always be improving.  It has been said that once you stop changing you start dying.  I think this is true.  We are people that have been put on this planet to grow first outwardly and then inwardly.  We start out being constantly in need and when we have grown old enough, we begin meeting the needs of others and this should never change.

There are some books that we should come across early in life that celebrate just letting a child be a child.  Winnie The Pooh, Peter Pan and Tom Sawyer are three of these.  Let’s take a look at these three classics.

Winnie The Pooh is heading toward his one hundredth birthday.  He is 95 this year.  AA Milne released the “silly old bear” on the world in 1926.  I doubt there are very many children in the world who don’t know of this lovable bear.  The reason, of course is the star treatment this character has gotten from The Walt Disney Studio since the 1960s.  Disney, as much as I admire the work of Walt Disney did a bit of disservice to Pooh Bear.  The book of his adventures is charming because they are not adventures at all.  Winnie The Pooh never gets his honey as is depicted in the film Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.  He really never accomplishes anything in the books, and he is perfectly content with that.  His world is the world of the very young pre-school child who also plays at all kinds of imaginary games but never goes much further than his back yard.

Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, is an adventure for all the characters.  Peter defeats Captain Hook and saves Wendy, John, and Michael.  Here we see character development in Wendy, John, and Michael as they leave Neverland knowing they will grow up.  In the book Peter’s lost boys go with Wendy and her brothers and are adapted by Wendy’s parents.  Peter however stays the same.  In the book and in the original play Peter comes back for Wendy and in a heart-breaking scene finds that she has grown up with a child of her own named Jane.  Being heartless Peter takes Jane to Neverland and we are led to believe this will go on thru time.

Tom Sawyer is probably the most read of Mark Twain’s novels by younger people.  But younger people were not his only target audience in his Preface he wrote: ‘Although this book is intended mainly for boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and how they felt and thought and talked and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.  – Hartford 1876

Mark Twain was not only writing for children but for adults too.  Any children’s book worth its salt should be able to engage the adult as well as the child.  In other words, it might be easy to read but the words and stories have depth to them that you have to look for in order to find them.

Tom Sawyer is like that.  Here is a boy longing to hold on to his childhood but being slowly drawn into adulthood.  He is a hero and an antihero at the same time.  His friends Becky Thatcher and Huckleberry Finn are names etched into our collective memory and it would be tragic if any of these names became forgotten.

As we grow older the world of children’s literature grows with us.  We begin to have complex thoughts so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with its charm and wit appeals to us.  We make friends, some of which will be life long and so The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham makes sense to us as there are no better friends in literature then Mole Rat Toad and Badger.  Our minds begin to solve problems and we begin to learn more complex math and language skills.  Even at this stage there is a book, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Most of the books mentioned in the last paragraph, in fact I think all of the books in this Blog have been made into movies, but they weren’t good movies.  The screen writers took liberties with all the books and cut out some of the best parts.  There is a stop motion animation version of The Wind in the Willows that is well worth seeing.  And the 1970s adaptation of Tom Sawyer with Johnny Whittaker is also worth watching.  Still parts are left out and there is nothing like the book.

One book that captured my imagination in the fifth grad was My Side of the Mountain by Jean George.  Sam Gribley, a city born boy, learns to live on the land his grandfather bought in the Catskill Mountains.  That book was mostly novel, but it also taught you how to fish and other practical camping secrets.  I am no great outdoorsman, but I love a good adventure and Sam striking out on his own, building a house inside a tree and taming a falcon to help him hunt food had everything a boy could want.

There are other books that I wish I had read when I was younger but was glad, I discovered them as an adult.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a great American novel.  I don’t really see it as a book for children alone.  It is about four sisters growing up and sharing hard times as well as fighting and making up.  It’s really about the idea that if real love exists in a family, you can conquer the worst of times.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is another book that teaches fundamentals of life.  Those lessons are that hard work, and healthy habits are what you need to lead a good life.  It helps that it is set in an old castle on the desolate Yorkshire moors with strange secrets.

Robert Lewis Stevenson gave us the greatest high seas adventure of all time when he wrote Treasure Island.  Treasure maps, pirates, tall ships, men with one eye or leg and black spots thrill the imagination.  There is a very good film version of this book starring Christian Bale and Charlton Heston.  I still believe it is more fun to read the book first and see the film afterward.

Now we come to the father of modern fantasy the great JRR Tolkien.  While professor Tolkien was grading papers, or so the story goes, he wrote on the back of one of the exam books, “Once in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”  And the world would never be the same.

The Hobbit was published on September 21, 1937.  It became a popular book for children and Professor Tolkien found that he had very strong base of enthusiasts for his book.  The story of Bilbo Baggins and his quest to aid the 13 dwarves to get their gold back from the dragon Smaug took the reader into a new land of Middle Earth and they didn’t want to leave. 

I first came upon the book when I spent the night at my Aunt Mary’s house.  It was sometimes in the 70s and I can’t remember why I was there.  I was put in my cousin Steve’s old room. Steve is ten years older than me, and he was already married.  I was rummaging through the bookshelf and found The Hobbit.  I started it but of course couldn’t finish it all in one night and asked if I could have it.  Steve had left it behind and as anyone knows treasure that is left behind is free for whom ever finds it.  My Aunt Mary said “no”, but I could borrow it.  So, I did and was transported myself to the best of the fantasy worlds.

I remember the first time I read the book of having a dream where the dwarves came to me and in one way or another invited me to go with them.  I remember pickaxes and ropes and climbing but that’s about all.  The Hobbit had a hold of my sub-conscious mind as well as my conscious mind.

If you look at the title of Walt Disney’s first animated feature, you’ll find that it is called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Tolkien, who was, to put simply, a professor of languages, decided that that was not the way to spell Dwarfs and changed it in his book to dwarves.  It has remained that way ever since.

Tolkien got letter after letter asking for information about hobbits and Middle Earth.  It would take him almost 20 years to publish The Lord of the Rings the first book of the sequel, The Fellowship of the Ring appeared in July of 1954.  The other two books in the trilogy would follow, The Two Towers in November of 1954 and The Return of the King October of 1955.  These books probably surprised his readers.  The light touch of The Hobbit was slowly pulled away and a darker scarier world was revealed.  Tolkien had gone form writing books for children to writing books for both children and adults.

With the publication at the subsequent popularity of The Lord of the Rings books of fantasy were no longer just in the realm of children’s literature but squarely in the world of books for adults too.  And those adults who cherished the memory of going to Wonderland with Alice now would have books that led them into strange new worlds of adventure and excitement.

I would be remiss in not mentioning here CS Lewis and his Chronicles of Narnia.  Lewis was a friend of Tolkien and an atheist.  The story goes that one day the two friends took a walk.  They both loved the old myths and legends of ancient times and Tolkien explained to Lewis that Christianity and Jesus redemptive work on the cross was the one true myth.  This argument convinced Lewis that Jesus was all that he said he was and that the Gospel’s were true.  He became an ardent follower of Jesus and wrote many books for adults on Christianity.  Mere Christianity is Lewis’s explanation of The Christian Faith.  The Four Loves is an explanation of the four Greek words for love and how they interact with Christianity.  Surprised by Joy is his memoir.  All these books are great for adults but his work for children may well out last anything else he wrote.

CS Lewis once said “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now That I am 50, I read them openly.  When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”  He also said, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”  In Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, he gave us, in seven books, the history of Narnia from its creation to its end.  He also gave us many characters to know and love.  First the children who find their way from our world into Narnia and then the inhabitants of Narnia itself, Prince Caspian, Reepicheep, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and Father Christmas himself.

The Narnia books are more than fantasies.  They are in many ways allegorical to the Christian faith.  Many people come away from reading these books with their faith strengthened and commitment to Christ renewed.  Others who read them see no connection at all between Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia and in that I believe you see the genius of CS Lewis.

There are so many other books that in children’s Literature that I could mention but if I did, we would be here for weeks on end.  The Harry Potter books that grew up with the readers as they originally were published.  Aesop’s Fables which seem to have disappeared in these days but when I was child held valuable lessons and still do if they are sought out.  Then there are the books of legends, The Greek God’s and Heroes and The Norse Gods and Goddesses.  Then there is The Matter of Britain better known as The Story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and we cannot leave off this list The Adventures of Robin Hood.  The there are the fairy tales those collected by The Brothers Grimm and those written by Hans Christian Anderson these are some of the tales that Lewis was speaking of when he said there would be a time when we are old enough to read fairy tales again.

One last thought somewhere in the late 1800’s L Frank Baum decided that American children had no fairy tales of their own.  Oh, we had our legends, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and The Headless Horseman to name a few but no magical fairy stories.  In 1900 Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and gave America it’s first fantasy.  Baum would go on to write 15 Oz books all truly delightful tales and all for American children, though, of course, the books would go on to delight children around the world.

I started this as a call to arms not to allow classic children’s literature to disappear from our schools and libraries.  Our kids shouldn’t be deprived of the lessons these books teach and adults should be at the forefront of the fight reading these books again and digesting the simple yet profound messages almost every one of these books teach.

The Sound of Music and Me

It was 1965, I was four years old so I don’t expect that I saw The Sound of Music when the movie was released on April first. But the movie would begin to have it’s effects on me at that early age and would continue to the present day.

First, as I stated before, mom loved musicals and I can bet she bought that album as soon as it came out. The music from that movie would permeate our house frequently.  I remember in kindergarten one of the kids brought in an album that told the story of The Sound of Music along with the songs and I think that was my first introduction to what the movie was about.  In those day movies ran for year and I know at one point I was taken to see the film.  I, of course loved it.

Sometime in early part of the 1960’s 20th Century Fox Studios was about to close its doors.  It had begun producing movies in 1935.  20th Century Fox was responsible for such films as The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Miracle on 34th Street, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Robe, and The Rodger’s and Hammerstein films, Oklahoma, Carousel, and The King and I.  Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the only musical they ever wrote specifically for film for 20th Century Fox which was State Fair.  Hard times had come on the studio, but they had one card left to play The Sound of Music.

Sound of Music was hit with people if not with critics on it’s 1965 release.  Christopher Plummer it’s male lead would call it The Sound of Mucus and for the studio it was The Sound of Money.  Starring Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music would win Best Picture at The Academy Awards and Best Actress at The Golden Globes award.  It also took the Oscar for Best Original Score.  The Sound of Music saved 20th Century Fox and helped keep them going for many years.  Unfortunately, the studio would eventually get into financial difficulty again and would be sold to The Disney Studio in 2019.

As a boy I remember being delighted by the story of the nun that becomes governess to 7 motherless children.  You couldn’t help but wonder at romping thru Salzburg, it’s mountain and meadows while singing.  The movie was a delight to both the ear and the eyes despite what age you are.

I don’t remember when I found out that Maria, Captain Von Trapp, and the children were actual people.  Actual living people.  It may have been when Julie Andrews had her own variety show on television and she had as a guest Maria Von Trapp.  I remember the interview vaguely I know you can see some of it on YouTube.  One thing I remember is Maria saying she caused much more trouble in the abbey than the movie portrayed.

This made me curious and I found in one of frequent trips to the bookstore the book that The Sound of Music was based on…The Story of The Trapp Family Singers.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers was first published in 1949.  It is a memoir of the Von Trapp family from Maria’s point of view and is told in the first person.  Maria, I think was surprised at herself for writing this book.  At least that’s the feeling you get if your read the introduction.

The book itself is different in many ways from what would become The Sound of Music.  For instance, though Maria did upset the abbey quite a bit as a postulant that was not the reason she was sent to The Trapp’s.  She had been suffering from severe headaches and it was thought that fresh air and regular exercise would be of help to her.  When the need for a teacher for The Captain’s youngest daughter, who was also named Maria, reached Mother Superior, she felt this a good opportunity for Maria to get her health back before permanently entering the abbey.

So Maria was sent to the Von Trapp’s

It was Maria’s personality that won the other children to her.  Their were other governesses and staff in the house but the children liked Maria and yes eventually because Maria loved to sing especially folk music she taught the children how to sing together and in harmony.

The Captain too was not the ogre he is presented as in the film.  He is a man that grieved for his wife and so ran a strict household, but the children didn’t want for anything that they knew of and he loved them, frequently coming home with gifts after his absences.

The family had all become recent converts to Catholicism.  Maria opened whole new worlds of worship of God for the family.  Two chapters in the book An Austrian Christmas and Feasts in a Family go into great detail about this.  I read these two chapters each year one at Christmas and one at Easter because Feasts in a Family goes deeply in to how Easter was celebrated prior to Vatican II, the Christmas chapter in advent is self explanatory.

The first half the book  in many ways resembles The Sound of Music.  The Captain is engaged to an Austrian Noble Woman and he does break it off when he realizes he is in love with Maria.  Many things happen between his marriage and his ultimate decision to flee Austria.  Many things and many years pass.  The couple married in 1927 and left Austria in 1938.

In the years between the marriage and the departure The Captain’s children grew up.  Rupert, the oldest son was a practicing physician and was also offered a place in The Third Reich along with his father.  The Captain also lost almost his entire fortune.  He had the money in a bank but that bank went under.  The Family still had the estate but they began renting rooms out in order to secure more income.

It was during this time that they were heard singing by Lotte Lenya a popular vocalist at the time.  It was She who encouraged them to go professional and they did and were a huge success.  The Captain did not sing with his family.  He found the whole thing very painful to endure.  He would eventually get used to it as he had no choice  And ultimately because they had some international contracts being offered to them to sing outside Austria they were able to flee the country when both father and son were offered place’s in Hitler’s regime.

Before leaving Austria Maria would have two children of her own Eleanor and Rosemarie.  She would have a third in The United States as she was pregnant with her youngest Johannes when they left.

The second half of the book is about their adventures in America.  Settling first outside Philadelphia, where Johannes was born and their early concert tours.  Ultimately they found a place in Vermont that reminded them of the Austria they left behind and they settled in Stowe before the America got involved in WWII.

First they farmed the land and made their own branded maple syrup.  Eventually they would buy an army barracks that was abandoned and they ran family music camps so that families could learn to sing together.  

When the war started the two Von Trapp boys, now young men, served in the U.S. military.  The family was successful in The United States and they gave back.  Thankfully both boys came home.

The Captain died in 1947 at the age of 67.  Maria was 22 when she married him and 42 when he passed away.  In 1949 her book was published and it gained the interest of a German film maker who made dramatic film called The Story Of The Trapp Family Singers.  Maria sold the rights to her book for 200 dollars.  They were the complete rights and so it was the German film company who owned the rights when Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted to make a stage musical about the family. Maria and the family made very little money from the Sound of Music.  I think signing her rights away for 200 dollars was one of her biggest regrets.  She was given a certain amount from the film and even had a few seconds of a scene In the movie.  Ultimately that scene was cut, but you can glimpse Maria crossing the square during the Do Re Me Montage.  But you must look very carefully.

The Sound of Music opened on Broadway in November 1959.  It starred Mary Martin as Maria and Theodore Bikel as Georg Von Trapp.  It would run for four years on Broadway closing in 1963 and would be perennially done by schools, touring companies, community theaters, and Broadway revivals.  It would star many well known actresses such as Florence Henderson who took over for Mary Martin, Shirley Jones, Maria Osmond, Debbie Boone and the list could go on.  There are some lovely pictures online of the real Maria posing with the actresses who portrayed her.

But Maria’s work and her story do not end with The Sound of Music.  It was my first year of college, probably the spring of 1980, I was walking through the stores in downtown Mansfield PA when I spotted a book by Maria Von Trapp called Yesterday Today and Forever.  I bought it and devoured it.  The book was a sort of Life of Christ from a family’s point of view.  It was also a guide on how to bring Jesus into your own life.  Several years later I would find that book as a hard cover at our local library book sale.  I got it for a dime and opened it to find Maria’s signature.

Maria would go on and write a separate book about Our Lord titled When King was Carpenter.  This book was about the hidden years of Jesus, between his being found in the Temple at age 12 and his baptism by John. The book gives the details of how people lived in Judea at the time of Jesus.  Both books are marvelous treasures for a Christian and I recommend you reading them.  You feel as though Maria and her family really loved The Lord and it comes out in these books.  If you are lucky you may come across a book titled Let Me Tell You About My Savior this book is Yesterday Today and Forever and When King Was Carpenter in one volume.

Maria would write another book on her family called A Family on Wheels.  This book is about their adventures giving concerts across the United States.  It’s a fun book.  A lighthearted look at artists on the road.

In 1972 Maria would publish her last book, Maria My Own Story.  This book is a much more intimate look at the woman separate from her family.  It is her faith journey from a family of non-believers to becoming a novice in a convent.  There are many surprises in the book as well.  Maria felt in 1927 that she was more marrying the children than their father.  The fact is she brought the marriage proposal to Mother Superior and the nuns met and decided for Maria that she would accept.  Maria wasn’t expecting the marriage to be intimate.  She loved the children when she married the father but she grew to love the father as well.

Maria’s story has become part of my own faith story.  I and my housemate do an advent wreath and Advent devotionals during the time leading up to Christmas because of her books.  Maria made Jesus accessible to me.  Especially in the book Yesterday Today and Forever.  She helped me realize that Jesus can be an intimate part of my life if I choose to get to know him better.  And these books help you get to know the real Jesus not the untouchable Christ that some churches portray him as being.

The songs in The Sound of Music give me great strength to do what I need to do.  Climb Every Mountain is a hymn in some churches.  And My Favorite Things brings Paul’s Letter to The Philippians Chapter 4 verse 8 to life.  You can look that up on your own and then compare the instruction to the lyrics.  It is my go-to song when I am feeling very low.

Maria’s life, and her faith have brought much encouragement to me.  She passed away in 1987 at the age of 82.  I felt that passing.  It was like a good friend had died.  But she left a legacy for us all to find if we dare look for it and listen for the sound of music.

Situation Comedy: My Golden Era

Situation Comedy

With the passing of Ed Asner earlier this week I began to realize how blessed I was to be born in the early sixties.  Situation Comedies had been around for a while.  The idea of a show that settled around a group of regular characters getting into outlandish situations went back to the days of Radio where The Goldbergs, My Favorite Husband, Amos and Andy, Fibber Maggie and Molly and Our Miss Brooks ran supreme on their respective radio stations.  Film and Vaudeville stars such as Burns and Allen and Jack Benny would also have on going series on radio. These shows were half story and half variety show as a singer would be on hand to perform as well.

The Goldbergs would be the first of the radio shows to jump to the new medium of television.  The Goldbergs had been on the air since 1929 and President Roosevelt was quoted as saying that he didn’t get America through the Depression, The Goldbergs did.  The show went off the radio in 1946 and ran for awhile as a Broadway play.  In 1949 the show was brought to television and would air until 1956 on different networks.  In 1952 the show was dropped by CBS and I Love Lucy took it’s nine o’clock time slot on Monday nights.  Lucy would remain in that spot in various incarnation until 1974.

The Goldbergs, though a very important show in its time, was quickly forgotten as the years rolled by.  Other radio shows would cross over including Our Miss Brooks, Burns and Allen and Jack Benny to name a few.  But these were the ones that would be remembered.

In my early childhood, as I have stated elsewhere, my mother would do her chores while I watched the reruns of I love Lucy and Jack Benny from nine to ten in the morning.  I loved those shows and Lucille Ball, still the reigning queen of TV comedy, would become a part of who I am.

But there were other shows too.  Though I can’t remember the original runs because I was too young, I was brought up on the reruns of The Patty Duke Show, Hazel, Dennis the Menace, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Gidget.  I think my first memory of a new situation comedy being aired on TV was the premiere of The Flying Nun in 1967.  The Flying Nun was the story of Sister Bertrille, she was light weight, and her habit was in the form of wings when the wind was just right, she would become air born and the fun began.  Sally Field starred in that show.  She had finished Gidget and moved right into The Flying Nun.  She learned her craft on television and, of course, gained film star status with Norma Rae and Steel Magnolias. We liked her, we really liked her.

There were shows too that I grew into.  They were just always on.  Gilligan’s Island (1964), Bewitched (1964). The Munsters (1964) The Addams Family (1964), Petticoat Junction (1963) and The Beverly Hillbillies (1962) are some of these shows.  As you can see 1964 was a banner year for television comedy.  Some of these shows would run into the 1970s and only go off as television itself set a new course.

There are shows that I dearly love that began after I entered grade school that had a huge impact on me.  That Girl (1966), The Mothers In-Law (1967) The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1969), Nanny and the Professor (1970), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968) and the two shows that I feel helped define my generation The Brady Bunch (1969) and The Partridge Family (1970)

It was in the early 70s that TV began to get dark.  In many ways it began with The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970).  Though this show was light comedy it dealt in a more realistic way with life than most of its predecessors.  In 1971 Norman Lear changed television comedy forever with All In The Family.  In 1972 things got darker with MASH.  To be honest, and knowing people will violently disagree with me, I believe these two shows ended good situation comedy.  But that’s not what this blog is about.

I think I learned a lot from watching the comedies that came on in the 1950s thru the early 70s.  The Courtship of Eddie’s Father showed that a good relationship between a father and his son could really happen.  This show began in the middle of the times when kids were all saying to “not trust anyone over thirty.”  This show told us that you could.

Some of the shows were just plain silly fun but they had a light message underneath.  Goodness and kindness will always win. This rule held true whether you were on a deserted island or you were married to a witch.

In The Munsters, Herman, the Frankenstein character says to his son Eddie, “The lesson I want you to learn is that it doesn’t matter what you look like.  You could be tall or short, or fat or thin or, ugly, or handsome, like your father.  Or you could be black, yellow or white, it doesn’t matter.  But what does matter is the size of your heart and the strength of your character.”

In the first episode of The Flying Nun Sister Bertrille gives us a little taste of the how God feels about people.  She quotes Saint Irenaeus who said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”  These are some of the lessons I learned from situation comedies.

There were others too.  How to get along in tough situations (Gilligan’s Island), That every person has value and has something to give that they don’t even know about (Hazel) That single parents can make it on their own with a little help from family and friends (The Partridge Family, Nanny and the Professor, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father), That brothers and sisters can get along (The Brady Bunch) That life can be an adventure and that you have the right to dream and to chase those dreams (That Girl).

Some shows were just plain fun like Gidget and The Mothers In-Law.  The Mother’s In-Law had a lot going for it when it premiered in 1967.  It was produced by Desi Arnaz and he had all the power of The Desilu studios behind him.  Writers that wrote for Lucille Ball were brought on board and the shows stars Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard were respected names in their professions.  Eve Arden had portrayed Connie Brooks on radio and TV in Our Miss Brooks.  Kaye Ballard made a name for herself in comic roles on Broadway and she brought Lucy Van Pelt to life on a record album along with Orson Bean as Charlie Brown.  She played one of the ugly stepsisters in the original Rodgers and Hammerstein TV production of Cinderella starring Julie Andrews. (The other stepsister was played by Alice Ghostly who would appear regularly on Bewitched and Designing Women) The shows premise was that two neighbors who just tolerated each other had grown children who fall in love and elope.  This entwines the two families in a love hate relationship.  The antics that these two women get up to in the two-season run are on par with anything Lucy and Ethel or Laverne Shirley ever did.  The show should have run longer.  The cast expected it to and showed up to begin filming the third season.  They were told the show had been cancelled due to a network change in what comedies should look like.

In other words, they were going darker.  Realism would take the place of farce and physical comedy.  The writers had less work to do as did the scenic designers and effects workers.  Lucy would never get covered in chocolate or bleached again.  Hazel wouldn’t stop up a chimney with a football by accident and Gilligan wouldn’t fall into the lagoon or be wrapped on the head by the skipper.  There would be no Hillbillies in Beverly Hills and Samantha would twitch her nose no longer and her husband Darrin would never be threatened by his mother-in-law.  People, or so we have been taught to believe, had grown out of such things.  Instead they wanted pot shots taken at the government (All In The Family) They wanted shows that centered on sex (Love American Style) They wanted shows where the humor came out mostly in people being cruel to each other (MASH)

The Partridge Family became a hit in 1970 and ran for four season and 96 episodes.  The story of a mother with five children who perform together as a band was an immediate sensation.  There was at least one song a week and some of these made it into the Billboard top 100.  I Think I Love You, the shows first hit made it to number one in 1970. The Partridge Family produced 8 studio albums including the Christmas album and 5 compilation albums. Though no longer played on the radio the music is still available on CD or Spotify and the show still runs on various TV streaming services.  The show still has a lot of fans who gather in strength on Facebook.

The Partridge Family shaped my taste in music.  I became much more interested in pop music than conventional rock and roll.  My favorites today remain The Partridge Family, The Carpenters, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, and another TV show band The Monkees

Shirley Jones who played Shirley Partridge. The mother on the show got her start quite by accident.  She was on her way to becoming a veterinarian.  She was in NYC and found out that Rodgers and Hammerstein were holding open auditions for singers.  She went and sang for I believe it was Richard Rodgers.  He was so impressed he took her to another theater where Oscar Hammerstein was working.  In the first theater she sang with a pianist, in the second she had full orchestra to accompany her.  Needless to say she was hired.  I believe she started in the chorus of one the R and H shows but eventually would play the lead for them in both the film versions OKLAHOMA and Carousel.  She would go on to play the lead in The Music Man on film and then move on to dramatic roles and comedy roles on film.  She was suited to play the singing mother of five and it gave her a chance to stay home and raise her three sons.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Nanny and the Professor were short lived but remain two of my favorites.  The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was based on the 1942 film.  That movie was set in England in the 1800s.  The TV show was set-in present-day America on The New England coast.  The show revolves around a widow with two children and a housekeeper who settle in a house once owned by a sea captain.  They quickly come to realize that captain is haunting the house and the spirit, and the family must learn to live together and getting used to a supernatural prescience with all kinds of ghostly powers is quite the funny challenge.

Nanny and the Professor is what I like to call a mash up of Mary Poppins and Bewitched.  The show starred Juliet Mills as Nanny and she played the role to perfection.  “The beginning lines of the theme song are “Soft and sweet, wise and wonderful oooh our mystical magical nanny.” And that’s what she was.  Watching Nanny and the Professor was like wrapping a warm comforter around yourself and having a cup of tea.

I could go on and on.  I have stories about all my favorite shows. Betty-Jo Bradley was probably my first crush.  She was the youngest daughter on Petticoat Junction and a tom boy, I thought she was great.  I also loved the mother, Kate Bradley, played by Bea Bernadette.  She was a regular on television since the 1950s.  Playing George and Gracie Burns’ neighbor on their show and then playing Jethro’s mother on The Beverly Hillbillies.  And she voiced Betty Rubble in The Flintstones when that show premiered in 1960.  In 1968 Bea Bernadette passed away leaving a gap in the Petticoat Junction cast.  I felt that passing but was pleased when June Lockhart, Mrs. Robinson from Lost in Space came in to fill her shoes.  Not as mother to the girls, who were basically grown up, but as a resident doctor named Janet Craig.  Petticoat Junction would end in 1970 having run for seven years.

We call some foods, comfort foods, foods like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and pie with ice cream are foods we go to when we want to feel better about something.  There are comfort TV shows too, especially the shows I grew up with.  Lucy  always brings a smile to my face in all her incarnations.  Hazel is the adult friend you always wished you had when you were a kid.  You can laugh and C’mon Get Happy with The Partridge Family and you can learn to have faith in the things you cannot see in The Flying Nun.

A lot of these shows are gone now.  Some are still available to purchase on DVD and some are being shown on the cable channel Antenna TV.  Some have gone out of copyright so you can purchase them on eBay from independent manufacturers, These shows include The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Nanny and the Professor.  Some shows are only partially available.  Petticoat Junction has it’s own streaming channel and The Beverly Hillbillies only seem to allow the first few season to be available.  I know this all has to do with copyright law.  I hope one day they straighten that mess out and let all of these treasures out for the public to enjoy once again.

DISNEY

It was December 1966.  I was 5 years old, and my mother told me Walt Disney had died.  I remember going out to our side yard and wandering around feeling a little lost.  I know I didn’t really understand what death was at that age, but I knew something precious had been lost never to be found again.

Of course, I didn’t know Walt Disney and yet he had been a part of my life every Sunday night for as far back as I can remember.  He hosted what I remember, being called, The Wonderful World of Color.  We didn’t have a color TV set yet, but those shows were wonderful.  Walt led us into the deepest parts of our imaginations and taught us the about the natural world on those Sunday nights.  He was woven into my generations DNA, and I believe I am the better for it.

Walt Disney, his television shows, his movies, his music his cartoons, his toys and his theme parks have played a huge part in my life.  They are part of what makes me who I am, and they help sustain me in the tough times.

It has been 55 years since Walt Disney died and yet his philosophy and his work lives on.  It has been in danger of being lost and sometimes the quality of what was produced was not always great.  The 1980s were a tough time for The Disney Studio but somehow it always comes back.  Disney always finds a way to fly again.

I think my first Disney film that I was taken to Was Mary Poppins.  Now I’m not sure I saw the original release as I was three when the movie debuted.  But back in the 1960s a movie could play at theaters for a couple of years or make the rounds to different theaters.  The Sound of Music was running well into the 1970s from its initial 1966 release.  Movies don’t do that today.  I believe I was probably about 5 years old when I was taken to Mary Poppins, and I fell in love with a wonderful Nanny that could fly with a umbrella and walk up the smoke that came out of chimneys.  Oh, and lest I forget, cleaning out your room with a snap of your fingers was awesome too.  One thing I disliked doing was cleaning my room.

Fun fact:  Julie Andrews was given a song in Mary Poppins that she didn’t much care for.  The Sherman brothers, Richard, and Robert, decided to write a new song for her to take its place.  When, I believe it was Richard, got home from work that day his daughter came in from school and he asked her about her day.  She told him that they had received the polio vaccine on a small sugar cube.  That was all he needed.  He got in touch with his brother and soon A Spoonful of Sugar was written.  It didn’t become a radio standard but it’s part of what we like to refer as The Great American Songbook.

In reflection it’s a little funny to me that back then children and adults took a vaccine without question.  Everyone knew what polio could do and they were eager to remain healthy.  Now today I don’t think a child could be given a vaccine at school and some parents don’t allow their children to get the childhood vaccines that are necessary.  Then there is the resistance of people to take the vaccine that could save their lives right now as we face a worldwide pandemic.  With the last important vaccine, we got a song.  What will get from what we have now?

Another fun fact about Mary Poppins.  Richard and Robert Sherman were the only composer and lyricist ever to be given offices at The Walt Disney Studio.  After Mary Poppins was released when Walt was feeling down, he would call the brothers in to play Feed the Birds, another iconic song from the film.  Mary Poppins had some stiff competition at The Academy Awards that year.  It was competing against My Fair Lady.  And though My Fair Lady would win for best picture.  Mary Poppins took best actress, Julie Andrews, and best song which was Chim Chim Cheree.  I always thought that was kind of funny as in my opinion that was the weakest song in the film.

Disney continued to delight, entertain, and educate me as the years went by.  Films like The Jungle Book would follow and Bed knobs and Broomsticks, with the great Angela Lansbury, The Love Bug and The Winnie the Pooh shorts.

When Disney first acquired the rights to do Winnie the Pooh it was originally thought of as a full-length film.  When the film was completed, Walt insisted that the movie be cut into shorts and would be shown before a full-length Disney feature.  The film was broken down into Winnie the Pooh and The Honey Tree and Winnie the Pooh and The Blustery day. I know I saw both on the big screen when they came out.  But I only remember that I saw Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day with my mother before seeing The Love Bug.  In 1977 Disney released the full film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Putting those shorts back together.

That’s something else that needs explaining.  Back in the 60s and into the 70s when you went to the movies you didn’t go to see just one thing like today.  There was always a cartoon or a short documentary first.  With most movies it was a Bugs Bunny Cartoon, but with a Disney Film you could never know what you might get but it was always good.  They even had double features where you would see two movies for the price of one.  I remember going to see a double feature Of Yours Mine and Ours and The Yellow Submarine with my family at a Drive In.  I was asleep before The Yellow Submarine got under way.

The Disney Studio had a policy with its animated movies to release them every seven years.  I was nine when Peter Pan was released again.  The film made its debut in 1953 and was magical from the start.  Of course, Tinker Bell became a Disney Icon opening all his television shows, I knew her well, but not so much Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up.

Peter Pan changed me somehow.  It awoke in me a spirit of adventure that I never really knew I had before.  I went from playing cops and robbers and Cowboys and Indians to playing Peter Pan and the lost boys and I was Peter.  We had a creek across the street from the house I grew up in and at places the creek had banks that were four or five feet high.  That was good enough to become my home underground, like Peter’s.  A little way up the street there was a tree that was easy to climb and where you couldn’t be seen in the leaves that was my place to fly to.  When things got bad for me in one way or another, I would wish fervently that Peter would come and take me to Neverland. 

In The Bible we read Jesus saying that “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”  I think that’s the great lesson of Peter Pan.  We don’t have to grow up completely we can keep the child inside of us alive and be filled with living in the present moment, finding joy in the sound water makes in a creek or stream, or being happy with simple things.  I remember when a refrigerator box gave me more pleasure than the most expensive toys.  The toy could only be one thing.  That box could be anything.  Maybe we surround ourselves with all of our adult to toys because we are lookiing for an empty box.

It was about this time that my cousin Maryann and her husband Chuck were moving to California, eventually settling in San Jose.  (yes, I am proud to say my cousin can answer the age old question, “Do you know the way to San Jose?)   The important thing was they were moving to the state that had Disneyland.

Disneyland was my big hope back in those days.  But there were six of us in the family and a trip across the country was out of the question.  We went on vacations.  We had great times down the shore in Wildwood NJ and twice to Canada.  We were even taken To Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, but it was no Disneyland.  The reason I bring this up is because Maryanne had a younger sister, Diane, in the year that Maryann and Chuck lived in California My Aunt Mary and Uncle Steve along with Diane went to visit.

A trip by plane anywhere in those days was a big deal in our family and all of us went to the airport to see them off.  And all of us was a lot.  My grandmother my parents, myself and my brother and sisters and my other aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I knew that they were going to Disneyland and asked my cousin, more like pleaded with her, to get me Peter Pan’s autograph.  I knew he was there I saw him there on TV.  They came back and my cousin had no autograph for me.  She told me that Peter was played by a woman in the park, and she didn’t think I would want it.  I was terribly disappointed.  To this day on my trips to Disney World, where I know for a fact Peter is a boy I still hope for an autograph or at the very least a picture with my hero, but it has yet to happen.

This was the early 70s and Disney magic still filled our lives.  Angela Lansbury would play her first part for Disney in the wonderful Bed knobs and Broomsticks.  I spent many nights dreaming that I had a magic bed that could take me anywhere I wanted to go, and where did I go on those imaginary flights?  Disney World, of course.

!971 brought us Disney World.  This was a project that Walt himself had started before he passed away.  He secretly acquired the land in Florida and then made promotional films.  He unfortunately never saw Disney World completed, but he walked the grounds and imagined where everything would be.  Those dreams were kept alive by Walt’s brother Roy who put off his retirement until Disney World could be completed.

It was the summer after my sixth-grade year, 1973, that my mom, dad and my sister Susan and I went to Disney World.  12 years old is the perfect time to be in Magic Kingdom.  You are old enough to appreciate it and not old enough to become cynical like most teenagers do.  I enjoyed every minute of that trip.  The first time I saw Cinderella Castle I knew I had found my special place in some ways I had come home.

My friend Brad, who is a pastor, told me long ago that we all have sacred places.  Those places are unique to us and the to the way God had made us.  For some people it is great churches and cathedrals.  For other people that sacredness is found high in the mountains or the ocean shore.  Though I have felt the sacredness by the ocean I feel very close to God standing outside Cinderella Castle and looking up at the towering spires.  Maybe it’s because as a Christian I know I am part of The Kingdom or God and I’m sure that His Kingdom is filled with such fairy tale palaces.  Or maybe its’s because in that spot reality and fantasy bend and become one, and one day I believe that my faith in the things I cannot see and the reality that I live in now will also become one.  I will see and know God and His son Jesus and The Holy Spirit as they really are.  In my own head that all comes together in Disney World.

The 70s turned into the 80s and part of me did grow up and part of me got a little cynical.  We went back to Disney World in 1976 and I still thoroughly loved that trip, but something had changed.  I wasn’t going to many Disney movies now.  I put most of the childhood stuff away and had to get through junior and senior high school.  Those years were hard for me.  They are for most of us, and I had a hard time figuring out who I was.  I fell in love with other things during that time.  Movie musicals and stage shows as well as other activities.  My interest in Disney waned until 1991.

In 1991 Disney released the second of it’s renaissance movies Beauty and the Beast.  The first of these films was The Little Mermaid.  I hadn’t seen that.  In fact, I avoided it.  Disney’s animated films of the 1980s were lack luster and I figured The Little Mermaid would just be more of the same.  I was completely mistaken, of course, and found that out when I watched the film for the first time at my friend’s Manny’s house.  I was living with him and his family at the time in Syracuse NY which is where I would also see Beauty and the Beast.

In the animated film the character of Mrs. Potts was played by Angela Lansbury.  Sometime, before the film was released, in a Disney special on TV, as the finale, Miss Lansbury appeared in a beautiful gown, with a full orchestra and sang the title song.  Disney magic was 100% back in that song.

I remember seeing the film for the first time and being blown away by the incredible animation that was being played out before my eyes.  This film rivaled anything that Broadway or MGM ever produced.  Every member of the voice cast was perfect and well suited to the roles.  The scene of the dance in the dining hall took your breath away as much as when the king sweeps Anna up in his arms to dance in The King and I.  It would be years later in 2020 after Disney World restructured Fantasyland that I would I have a chance to eat in that dining hall in the Be Our Guest restaurant.  That was magical too.  Sitting there with my good friend and Disney Buddy, Pam, enjoying an amazing meal in place that looked exactly the animated film.  Disney had made magic come to life.

After Beauty and The Beast almost every Disney movie was a treat.  I’m not die hard, I didn’t like all of them but most of them yes, absolutely.  Aladdin, Tarzan, Toy Story, James and the Gian Peach, and more recently, the live action remake of Cinderella, Mary Poppins Returns and the live action Beauty and the Beast which opened on my birthday in 2017 all continued to bring magic to my life.

I am very lucky and blessed in my friend Pam who lives in Florida.  I would be blessed to know her wherever she lived but we are both fans of Disney and the last time I was in Disney World she spent much time with me making my trip extra special.  She also allowed me to talk and dream and she allowed me to be me and that is the greatest gift anyone can give another person. That was February of 2020 after I returned form that trip Covid 19 struck and paralyzed the world.  Disney World shut down and the movie theaters shut down, but Disney helped rescue us during this time with their new streaming service Disney+, that not only gave us a great portion of the Disney Movie and TV show catalogue but also gave us Broadway’s Hamilton to watch in our homes with the original cast.

I would be remiss in not mentioning my niece Melissa, her husband Chris and their kids Caitlyn, Dominic and Joseph.  They are a whole family of Disney fans and do many Disney things together.  We swap stories, pictures and recipes, especially for the famous Disney Parks Dole Whip and the Strawberry Soup at the Grand Floridian Resort on the Disney World property.  Disney is in my DNA and that gene got passed down.

In the 1980s my boss Barb had us watch the film version of a book called In Search of Excellence.  Part of the film focused on the Disney company and their philosophy for work.  No one in the parks is an employee.  They are all cast members expected to play a part as long as they are at work.  Once they start their jobs they are on stage and must play the character they are assigned whether it be a hostess or a dishwasher as if they are in front of an audience.  No attitude, a constant smile, no guest in a Disney owned business is ever to see a cast member in any thing but a good mood.  I was a dialysis technician at the time and decided it would be a good idea to adapt this philosophy as my own. I’m an amateur actor, so developing a work character for myself was a joy.  I’m not saying I was perfect at this.  I had bad days and messed up more than once, but I think over all I became better at my job because I believed that my patients were better served by a happy smiling me than a grumpy me.  I tried to keep that work philosophy wherever I worked, and it has served me well.

There is so much more I could say about Disney.  We got our first dog, Lightning, a dalmatian, after my seeing 101 Dalmatians.  There were other trips to Disney World, and I left out adventures in Epcot and Animal Kingdom.  There are wonderful movies that I didn’t mention like The Happiest Millionaire and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh both of which I hope you take the time to find and watch.  There is The Disney Channel that appeared on cable networks in the 80s but also imported a wonderful stop action animated television show from England, The Wind in the Willows, that show gave me hours of entertainment and also introduced to the breat children’s classic book by Kenneth Graham.  There is the fact that Disney now owns both Marvel Comics and The Star Wars franchise and has given us all so many new adventures over the last dozen years, and lastly Disney magic brought to New York City where they bought and refurbished many run-down theaters that were close to 100 years old so they could bring Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Mary Poppins to the stage.  Disney Magic in a whole new medium.

Walt Disney is quoted as saying “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them”.  I am now 60 years old and find myself reinventing me.  I’m doing this blog which is new, I’m working on a book and I’m working on some other surprises for the near future.  At 60 I feel like a 30-year-old with a lot of experience.  I have something left to give to this world and as long as I live, I hope I have the opportunity to give it.  I believe that’s what Walt would do.

Give My Regards To Broadway

I grew up on Musical Theater in one form or another.  My mother cleaned on Saturdays, and we had one of those stereos that took up the whole wall of the house.  You remember the type.  It was about 5 feet long and it had a flat service the center part was cut out and you lifted that and the turn table was there.  The speakers were built in.  You could stack albums on the spindle in the center of the turn table and the next one would drop and play when the first was finished.  I know all you vinyl lover are cringing at that.  On those Saturdays mom loaded that spindle up with original cast albums and soundtracks of her favorite stage and screen musicals.  She would clean and sing and in the summer, anyone walking by could hear my mother’s wonderful voice as they walked past the house.

That was my introduction to Broadway and the wonderful world of musical comedy and drama.  It wouldn’t be long before I would see my first stage show.  I was probably four or five when I went to spend the night at my cousin’s John’s house.  In the afternoon my Aunt Dee sent us to see a Performance of OKLAHOMA.  This was a production by The Saint Francis Players a group that performed musicals in The Saint Francis Chrch Auditorium  The performance was just for kids and as I remember it was pretty much pandemonium in the audience.  I, however, was mesmerized.  I can still see Curly singing Poor Jud is Dead.  I had been to the movies, but I had never seen anything live before and I was bitten.  In the years that followed I know I saw L’il Abner there as well as Camelot and I loved every minute.

From entering school until eight grade my interest in musicals waxed and waned.  Every year as a family we sat down to watch White Christmas and The Wizard of Oz .  These were family traditions and my sister and I scanned the TV supplement in the Sunday paper looking for when these favorites would be aired.  In the fourth grade my class did a watered down version of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.  I dearly wanted to play Linus and I got the part.  I think I was one of the only kids that ended up with a solo and I pulled off well.  Now not only was I watching musicals I was in one.

You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown was also my first original cast album.  I wore that album out and to be honest still love it to this day.  The whole show is amazing and stayed true to the characters created by Charles Schulz in the Peanuts strip.  Fun fact one evening in December 1969 Peanuts was off Broadway in You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, on television in A Charlie Brown Christmas and on the big screen in A Boy Named Charlie Brown and in the daily newspaper strip.  I don’t think any other writer can claim dominating almost every form of entertainment in one evening.

Musicals waned again after this.  I still loved musical films and enjoyed being taken to see Tom Sawyer with Johnny Whittaker and the musical version of Lost Horizon and The Phantom Tollbooth, but as we moved into the 70s movie musicals were disappearing on the big screen and my interest lagged until 1975.

One of the musical that my family watched together every year was Bye Bye Bridie.  This was mostly due to the fact that my father was smitten by Ann Margaret.  I loved that movie especially the song The Telephone Hour it was fun to watch all those kids talking to each other.  In 1975 I was in 8th grade and it was announced that the All School Musical that year would be  Bye Bye Birdie.  I wanted in on that show, and I knew the part I wanted Harry MacAfee the father of the girl who was to be kissed by Conrad Birdie a thinly disguised version of Elvis Presley.  Harry was played on Broadway and on the screen by Paul Lynde who I thought was awesome.  To keep this short I got the part and was in my first full length musical.

Being in Bye Bye Birdie was a great experience.  I found my spot in the teenage social order, I was a theater geek.  Not the highest place on the social ladder but not the lowest either.  I made friends in that production too.  Some of which I still have to this day.

I would get into my share of shows over the next four years.  My High School offered acting classes as part of the English Department.  I took those and in my tenth-grade year we were taken to New York City to see A Chorus Line at The Schubert Theater.

I still remember that trip.  It was a blast and NYC was at it’s lowest point so I saw much more than I bargained for, but when the lights went down in that theater and the show started it was electrifying.  A Chorus Line was everything you can imagine on stage.

I didn’t get to NYC again until the mid-eighties but my love for live theater was kept alive.  My parents bought season theater tickets at The Valley Forge Music Fair.  This venue was theater in the round.  With my folks I saw Godspell, Pippin, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Sound of Music.  Dinner Theater was also very big at the time and I saw The Music Man and OKLHOMA at different venues.

My cousin Joanne lived next door to me and she was years older than I.  She took me to see The Wiz and 42nd Street in Philadelphia.  These were the national touring companies, and it was almost as amazing as being in NYC.  When I got older, we went to see A Chorus Line together at Valley Forge.

Valley Forge would continue to be my place for productions.  My sister Trish and I got season tickets there one year and saw West Side Story and South Pacific.  The cool thing about the Music Fair is that these were professional productions with stars in the leading roles.  In South Pacific It was Barbara Eden and Robert Goulet and The Sound of Music was Debbie Boone.

Valley Forge Music Fair was a great venue for all kinds of music events.  It started in a tent and then they had a building and were very successful for several years then I guess things got hard.  It’s gone now.  There’s a shopping center in its place. That saddens me.  Anytime a theater dies we lose something very special.

I could go on about the wonderful shows I saw in person and the wonderful experience I had working as an actor or director in amateur productions, but that’s not what this writing is about.  I want to talk about the magic of musical theater.

The magic of musical theater comes from the songs.  I believe that there is a song from some show about every life experience out there.  There are songs about falling in love but there are also songs of losing someone, getting a new job, having a difficult boss, how hard it is to be old and how are hard it is to be young.  Every human emotion and condition has been brought to life in some way on the Broadway Stage.

Musicals teach us lessons too.  The Sound of Music  is about putting faith before anything else.  I already wrote about Mame’s lesson, “Life is a banquet, and most suckers are starving to death.”  South Pacific and Finian’s Rainbow are both about the damage bigotry can do and both were teaching that lesson long before the civil rights movement.  A lot of shows simply tell us that we can be all that we want to be if we work hard enough to do it.  There is a song from the musical version of I Remember Mama whose lyrics say “When you really want something,

                            When you really got to have something,

                            And you feel that it’s the only thing in life worth fighting

                            For,

                           Doesn’t matter if you’re strong or not,

                           You’ve got to try to give it all you’ve got,

                           And when you think you’ve given all you’ve got,

                           Give a little bit more.”

Musicals teach us life lessons; the songs can give us joy and comfort us.  Song such as You’ll Never Walk Alone and Climb Every Mountain have even made it into hymnals and are sung at church.

There is a verse from the Bible that says “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. (Philippian’s 4:8)  I believe Oscar Hammerstein must have come across that verse when he wrote:

                           Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on kittens

                           Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,

                           Brown paper packages tied up is string,

                           These are a few of my favorite things.

for Maria to sing in The Sound of Music.  Interesting note on this song.  In the film the song is sung to the children during a thunderstorm.  In the original stage version, the song is sung by Maria and The Reverend Mother in order to prepare Maria for the news that she will have to leave the abbey.  I find it more effective in the stage version than the film.  Where ever it is sung I believe it actually reflects Paul’s instructions to the Philippians in his letter and I would love to see My Favorite Things added to every worship team song list and every churches hymnal.

Hello Dolly ranks as my favorite musical at least right now.  Dolly is about older people having second chances.  As I am now 60 this musical is reminder that dreams can still come true.  That I have every chance to make life better.  Dolly is also full of joy and that joy is expressed in almost every song in the show.  It is a show of hope and great courage.  It is a show that everyone should see just to feel good and hum the songs on the way out of the theater.

Mame taught me that life can be good, even in the tough times.  When Mame is broke and jobless in The depression she sings We Need A Little Christmas, and celebrates the holiday a week after Thanksgiving because, “We need it more now.”

Musicals became musical dramas more and more in the latter part of the 20th century and moving into the 21st.  Show’s like Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Rent all told tragic though hopeful stories with memorable songs such as All I Ask of You. And Bring Him Home and I Dreamed a Dream.

I believe that most of my life philosophy has come from the hours and hours I have spent listening to musical theater albums.  Memorizing the songs and singing them out with gusto.  I remember having very difficult time at work for a season and every morning as I walked across the parking lot I would sing Oh What A Beautiful Morning and when I got to my job my stressed lowered and I felt good despite the bad stuff that was going on around me.

I’m going to be up front.  I don’t get much out of worship music.  I love the people that lead us in worship, but I never feel close to God while I am singing those songs.  I feel close to God when I am singing the songs that I love.  The songs from Broadway.  I know I worship Him when I sing My Favorite Things.  I know I am relying on Him when I sing, You’ll Never Walk Alone, I know I am praising him when I sing Happiness.  As Eric Liddell states in the film Chariots of Fire. “I feel God’s Pleasure.”  And I do.

I have so mush to say about musicals and their effects on me and others, but I’ll save it for another time.  For now, let me encourage you to see live stage musicals as the world begins to open back up, Locally Anastasia and Hamilton are both coming to Philadelphia as touring companies.  One of my favorites, Baby will be played at the Media Theater, Swarthmore Players Club is doing Anything Goes this year and on Broadway the amazing Hugh Jackman will open in The Music Man this fall.  All of these are amazing shows and great opportunities to see the magic of the musical.

As for movie musicals almost every one that was ever made is available to buy or rent on Vudu through a Roku device or a smart TV.  There is even Broadway HD which has many live performances filmed on Broadway or West End, London’s Theater District.  On that channel I recommend 42nd St, and the stage version of Holiday Inn.

When I was growing up the songs from Broadway shows would become standards and would get radio play.  Groups like the Beatles and Herman’s Hermits sang and recorded songs from musicals.  The great soloist of the time Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, and Edie Gourmet all sang songs from Broadway and made them popular.  That doesn’t happen now and it’s a shame.  Music is an amazing tool and kids, and adults should be exposed to all kinds.  Not just what’s popular, but romantic music, classical music, folk music and musicals.

For me musicals are a way to keep the blues away.  They are a way to feel my own heart break when I can’t find my own words to express it myself.  The songs from musicals help me express great joy and the anticipation of a new day.  There’s always a song in my head and heart and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

                                   Happiness is singing together when day is thru,

                                   And happiness is those who sing with you.

                                   Happiness is morning and evening, daytime and,

                                   Night time too.

                                   For Happiness in anyone and anything at all,

                                   That’s loved by you.

                                   (The Finale of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.)