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.)

My Adventures In Reading

It was 1967 or 1968.  I was in first grade and my teacher at St. Eugene’s Catholic School was sister Joan Maureen.  I remember Sister Joan as a possibly heavy set woman with a florid face.  She had a great smile and I think she had an idea that school should be fun as well as disciplined.  I remember one time she had us form a fake band in the front of the class and we pretended to play rock and roll.  And another time after coming back from singing lessons she had those of us who participated come up and try to sing the song we were learning, which was Talk To The Animals from Doctor Doolittle.  I know for a fact I couldn’t remember the words.  Sister, I think would be proud to know I can sing that song straight through 54 years later.

I don’t know if Sister called my mother up for a special conference or if it was a regular parent teacher meeting.  I do know I was there because there was no one at home to watch me.  Sister calmly informed my mother that I was not keeping up with the class when it came to reading.  She wasn’t alarmed and she had a plan.  She told my mother to buy me comic books and let me read them and or read them with me.  I don’t remember which.  Sister felt sure that my reading would improve if mom did this.

Telling a child to read comic books in the mid sixties was a daring plan.  Comic books had gone out of favor in the 1950s with the publication of the book Seduction of the Innocent by Fredrick Wertham which alleged that comic books were a bad influence on the youth of the United States.  He alleged that they would cause all kinds of problems including homosexuality as Batman and Robin were obviously gay.  He felt that the violence by street gangs could also be traced back to the violence in comic books.  His views were widely accepted especially in middle of the McCarthy era where everyone and everything became suspect.  Sister Joan was a rebel.

The only three comic book heroes to survive Wertham’s book were Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  Batman survived by having Bruce’s Aunt Harriet come live with Bruce and Dick.  This would relay to the world that there was nothing sexual going on between Batman and Robin.  DC comics at this time introduced the first Batwoman and Batgirl so that each of the caped crusaders would have a love interest.

As I said at the beginning this was 1967 or 68 and The Batman TV series was in full swing.  To adults it was pure camp but to a six year old it was deadly serious.   So, it will not surprise you a bit to learn that my first comic book was Batman.  It, however, wouldn’t end there.  I fell in love with all comic books.  First I had my juvenile stage where I read Richie Rich and Caspar The Friendly Ghost Comics then I had my Junior stage where I read everything Archie and then I graduated to superhero comics and have stayed there ever since.

Comic books themselves opened up whole new worlds of reading to me.  Superhero Comic Books by the early 1970s had grown up a bit.  The market still included children, but it also included college students and other young adults so the comic book itself had to take on a more mature persona in order to keep its audience.  This was mostly due to the work of Stan Lee over at Marvel Comics with the creation of The Fantastic Four and Spiderman. Comic books began to grow up.  The good guys were more three dimensional.  Some of them were tragic figures even the bad guys were motivated for what they were doing.  Occasionally the comic books would quote other books. Alice in Wonderland for example or the works of William Shakespeare.  There was even a villain in the Marvel books named Sauron after the evil character in The Lord of the Rings.

This is where my own curiosity kicked in.  I wanted to know where those quotes came from and what they meant.  I was entering 7th grade by now and I no longer had any trouble with reading.  I was a bit lazy when it came to schoolwork so I was not as advanced as I could have been, but I wasn’t doing badly either.  Back then 7th grade was the beginning of Junior High School, the middle school system hadn’t started yet.  I had left St Eugene’s after my second-grade year and transferred to Primos Elementary which was right across the street from my house.

I should talk a little bit about Primos as I had some wonderful teachers there.  First there was Miss Arabia who had the class stage a mini production of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown where I was given the role of Linus.  I had already grown to love the Peanuts newspaper strip, but that love became life long after portraying one of its characters.  Then there was Mr. Monteith, every year Mr. Monteith read his fifth-grade class Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this was a great book and after he read it to us we all wanted to read for ourselves.  Also, in fifth grade my friend Jack Jennings and I read the book My Side of the Mountain together.  We both loved the book so we read it to see who could finish it in the least amount of time. In Primos I was also introduced to novel Peter Pan and found I loved it more than the Disney version and that goes for The Winnie the Pooh books too.

It was about the end of my elementary school career that The Walton’s became a part of my life.  The Walton’s was a CBS television show about a family surviving the Great Depression in the 1930s.  Its main character was John-Boy Walton the eldest son of seven children whose dream was to go to college and become a writer.  That changed a lot for me as I found myself imitating John-Boy so not only was I reading but I began to write too.  In sixth grade with the help of my best friend Charlie Meo we started The Primos Press and though I think we only got out two issues I was a published author.

Going into Junior High was a new adventure in reading.  Now there were books that I was required to read, but I loved them.  In those years we read Tom Sawyer, Moby Dick, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and best of all A Christmas Carol.  My eighth grade English Teacher Mr. O’Connell taught A Christmas Carol and he did it with passion.  I knew the story.  There was at least one TV version Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, and my mother owned a set of records that had the original radio broadcast of A Christmas Carol which starred Lionel Barrymore.  Those were played every year.  But none of those were like the book.  I personally feel that A Christmas Carol is Dicken’s greatest book.  I believe literary society feels Bleak House is his best, but they are wrong, it’s A Christmas Carol.

School reading went forward thru the years, but my own personal library grew as well.  It was in High School that I began to read the works or JRR Tolkien and Agatha Christie.  If there was a popular movie, I would see the movie and then read the book it was based on.  Sometimes the movie held a rating that prevented me from seeing it like The Exorcist, but I read the book anyway.

As I grew older my tastes expanded.  I would read biographies and autobiographies.  One of my favorites is The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.  The first half of the book would become the Sound of Music but the second half was all about what happened afterward and it was quite a bit.

I was never a popular kid in school.  Truth be told I was bullied on more than one occasion, but books gave me the escape I needed.  They were the best of friends always saying something different or taking me to strange places.  Reading became a refuge and a solace.  I found comfort in adventures, and I loved the books that in one way or another all the characters lived happily ever after.

CS Lewis said, “There will come a time when we will be old enough to read Fairy Stories again.”  For me that time comes around regularly as I love revisiting the books of my youth.  The Wizard of OZ, Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the willows, and The Phantom Tollbooth all have lessons that we as adults need to continue to pay attention to if are to live well in this world.

A lot of people say they don’t have time to read or that reading isn’t worth their time.  There is one thing I have learned in this life is that you make the time for the things that are important to you.  If reading holds no interest than you won’t read.  If you are one of those people, I would like you take a moment and choose of the books I listed above.  Or go back and find the book that you loved when you were ten and read it now.  Find out how much more wisdom there is to find in its pages.

Books change us.  They rearrange our thinking and they do it without us even being aware of it.  I know I’m a better friend for having read The Wind in the Willows.  I know that I can think well because I read The Phantom Tollbooth and I know that prayer, hard work and healthy eating can make people well by reading The Secret Garden and lastly by reading Little Women I understand how important is to have family, to be honest and to have good manners.

My reading adventures were started by Batman, but I continue today to have adventures across the multi-verse by picking up a book.

PS.  Many thanks to Sister Joan Maureen who made all of this possible.

Auntie Mame or Mame

Mame or Auntie Mame as she was originally called has had quite the impact on my life over the years.  Auntie Mame was originally a novel by Patrick Dennis, a pen name for Edward Everett Tanner, and  was published on December 1, 1955 to a grateful public.  To be honest the book itself is rather dark in places and funny yes, but at times black humor.  The novel came to the attention of Lawrence and Lee, playwrights, they saw the potential of the novel and turned it into a hit play starring Rosalind Russell which opened at the Broadhurst Theater on October 31st 1956.  It was a huge success.  Russel would go on to Hollywood to star in the film version of the play in 1958.  In 1966, Jerry Herman, after his major success with Hello Dolly, which was originally a play called The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. Set his hand to turning Auntie Mame into a musical, he fought to have Angela Lansbury as his leading lady and won.  And as a song from Jerry’s Girls goes, “The Winter Garden was sell out, when she played the hell out of Mame.”  In 1974 Mame would have one more incarnation as a movie musical starring Lucille Ball.  This is where I come in.

No I was in none of those productions, but I would have liked to have been.  If I lived in a different world maybe my folks would have seen my talent at being an actor and started me early.  I could have played a young Patrick or even the older Patrick a few years later.  My folks didn’t think like that.  As I explained in another blog I came across the original Soundtrack album of Mame in the bargain bin at The Bazaar Record Shop. 

What was that question?  What’s The Bazaar? The Bazaar was a sort of a mall.  Built in 1960 it housed between curtained off walls many independent stores.  There was a shoe store and shoe repair store, there was a bookshop, a candy store, a fruit stand, an Amish Market, a bakery, toy stores and hardware stores and a pet shop and many more.  If you couldn’t find it at The Bazaar, honestly it wasn’t worth having.

I spent a lot of time at the Bazaar growing up as it was just up the street and short walk through the woods to get there.  At first it was the toy store and book shop.  I could get comic books there that were out of date, so they were half price.  As I grew older it became less the toy store and more the record shop.  Being an old soul, I found myself going thru the bargain bins a lot.  I’d find music by The Lettermen, Bobby Sherman others whose time had passed.  It was here that I found Mame.

Mame as noted above starred Lucille Ball, and I love that woman.  I make the claim that Lucy was my first babysitter.  Well… Lucy and Jack Benny.  After my brother and sisters left for school, to get her chores done, mom put me in front of the TV to watch these two shows.  I think they became part of my DNA because Lucy and Jack feel like family to me.  As I got older, I could start watching Lucy on prime-time TV and no one missed Lucy on Monday nights at 9.  I also found out that there was a whole era of shows I missed.  I had seen all of I Love Lucy and never missed an episode of Here’s Lucy, but The Lucy Show, which aired in those years I had to go to bed at eight, I hadn’t seen.  Thank God for reruns.  I was able to see The Lucy Show and much to my surprise there was an episode that guest starred Jack Benny.  It remains one of my great moments in TV history.  Fact, in real life Lucille Ball and Jack Benny were neighbors.

I bought that bargain bin album of Mame and brought it home.  I played it constantly.  Before the week was out I think I had every song memorized.  Jerry Herman’s music was fantastic.  It’s Today, Open A New Window, My Best Girl, We Need A Little Christmas and If He Walked Into My Life were songs that I felt deeply about and still do. I didn’t know the story behind the songs, I only knew the music and that was enough for that moment.

I would get the book, and as I said above, it was dark humor to me and I didn’t see how the music could have come out of that.  Eventually I would see the film starring Rosalind Russel and that made sense.  Here was joy and life and happiness here was a woman I wish I had as an aunt.

Auntie Mame is the story of a woman who is left in charge of her orphaned nephew Patrick.  Mame is not exactly the motherly type.  Her lifestyle was that of a rich flapper in 1920s New York City.  She gave elaborate parties and was friends with all kinds of people.  It’s into this world that Patrick finds himself.  He arrives in the middle of one of Mam’s parties.  Though a bit out of his depth Mame loves Patrick from the start and does her best to raise him, but her ways and the trustees’ ways are different.  Mame is a Modern and the trustee a conservative.  After Mame enrolls Patrick in a school where all the children and teachers are naked, the trustee snatches Patrick away and puts him in a boarding school.

At that exact moment Mame’s troubles multiply as the Wall Street Crash of 1929 wipes her out financially.  She can’t do anything about Patrick unless she can make some money.  She agrees to do a show with her best friend Vera Charles a current stage star.  Now this is where we will depart from the straight version and go to the musical.  Mame plays the one-line role of the moon lady.  She needs to sit on a quarter moon cut out and let her rise.  Between the costume and the seat, she begins to fall off the moon and when she finally gets settled she can’t remember her line.  So ends her career in show business.

Mame contuse to try.  She becomes a telephone operator and other jobs until she finally ends up at Macy’s selling roller skates.  She can’t do this right either as all she can make out is sales slips for Cash on Delivery payment.  Into Macy’s walks Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a wealthy southern plantation and oil well owner.  He wants to buy a pair of skates and Mame gets caught modeling them for him.  She is fired.  In the film we see her trying to get thru Macy’s on one skate because the lace wouldn’t untie.  Miss Ball plays this kind of comedy well.

Mr. Burnside tracks Mame down to her apartment, feeling sorry for having gotten Mame fired, he invites her as well as the two servants Agnes and Ito and Patrick who is home for the holidays out to dinner.  Mame has found her man and her savior.

Our next scene brings Mame and Patrick to Beau’s Plantation where Mame dressed like Scarlett O’Hara meets Beau’s mother, family and his ex-girlfriend.  Mame is not well received by anyone and when she asked whether she rides, meaning horses, she brags that she does.  Not only does she ride but side saddle.  Beau’s Ex sees her chance, she knows Mame is lying to save face and so arranges a fox hunt for the next day.  Mame can’t even get her feet into the riding boots she is provided with but somehow, she gets on the horse and takes off.  Mame eventually falls off the horse but at the same time finds the fox sitting next to her she picks him up and nuzzles him.  Mame become the toast of the south.

Beau and Mame are married and spend many years touring the world with Patrick joining them during his summer breaks.  Patrick is growing up and getting involved with eligible society girls.  Mame is a bit put off by this.  She decides to go home and tells Beau.  It is at this point that Beau has climbed a little too high on the Mountain they were on he falls and is killed.

Mame comes home to NYC a wealthy widow.  She finds Agnes and Ito still there keeping it all going.  She finds Patrick engaged to woman that probably never had a thought of her own.  She makes up with Vera and together she and Vera team up on Mousy Agnes and turn her into a femme fatale.  The next time we see Agnes she’s pregnant.

It’s with Agnes that Mame makes her philosophy of life clear.  Agnes is afraid of the changes Mame wants to make in her.  Mame tells her to stop being afraid.  To Live.  “Live Live Live Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Agnes goes a little too far and get pregnant but that’s what living is about.  We make choices and changes and we have to live with the consequences.  That’s true for all of us.  But the choices have to be made.  Sure, you can stay in a safe little bubble, but what good does that do anyone.  So you go out and you do something and it falls apart, so what, you try again, and again or you try something else.  Live this life to it’s full potential.  Every person no matter how bad things get can make a choice to make it a little better.  Rich or poor, young, or old we can all change our lives and make them count.  That’s the message in Mame and coincidentally also the message in Jerry Herma’s previous hit Hello Dolly.

Mame does take on Patrick’s new fiancé and makes short work of her at the same time finding Patrick a suitable new woman.  All of this is done in funny outlandish ways.  At the end of the movie, play musical we see Mame now older trying to convince Patrick to allow her to take Michael, Patrick’s son, to India with her.  She wants to show Michael all that she had showed Patrick.  She wants her grandnephew to LIVE.

The story of Mame is funny, it’s a little irreverent and totally off beat.  Most of us though would feel lucky to have an Auntie Mame in our lives.  My cousin Joanne was like that to me.  She was about 18 years older than I and had endured the first open heart surgery in The United States.  She and her family lived next store and Joanne was always trying different things and going different places.  She took me to my first professional theater show which was The Wiz and also to my second which was 42nd Street.  She gave me the best Christmas gifts always to do with what I was interested in.  She was a devout Catholic and when Godspell became a film she took the whole neighborhood to that.

I would come home form school and go right over to her house.  We talked about everything, and she really helped me through my teen age years.  She was also the only person I ever knew who had real gold table wear.  The knives and forks and spoons all of gold.  It was only for formal dining, but it was amazing to me.

The songs from Mame encourage me.  Open a New Window.  An invitation to try something you haven’t done before and not to worry about what other people think.  We Need A Little Christmas, Christmas is the happiest day on the planet for most of us, and sometimes between January and November we need a little of that spirit in our lives.  In A Christmas Carol Scrooge makes it clear after his ghostly visitors that he would keep the spirit of Christmas alive in his heart all the year through.

If He Walked Into My Life is a song of regret.  And we all regret things we’ve done and said.  We wonder if we had the chance to do it all over again would we make the same mistakes, could we have done any better.  We have to examine our lives not only to see where we’ve been but to know where we will end up.  That sometimes means changing courses.

Mame said Life is a banquet and I believe it is.  I can back that up with Biblical text.  Jesus said “I have come to give life and abundantly.”  In other words, the man who I believe came to save people from their sins and from an eternity in hell also came to give abundant life.  He came to give a banquet one which everyone on this planet is  invited to.  They just must accept his invitation.  That abundant fulfilled life is not just what will happen after we die but its’s to be lived out here on earth.  Christians should be the most alive people on the planet and many of them are.  Some are not and they get all the negative media attention.  Christians should be alive and loving.  They should be in the moment as Mame Sings about in the opening song It’s Today!  Christians should be the front runners in science and innovation and social justice and loving our neighbors well.  Christians should be giving the best parties, serving delicious food and drink, Jesus went to weddings and parties and dinners all the time.  He also drank.  Not to get drunk but for the flavor and for joy of it. Christians should be opening new windows all the time.

Many of us don’t.  We live in fear of what may happen or if we will get it wrong.  I’m as guilty as anyone of doing that.  But I’m trying to change that.  I’m a writer and if I can’t get hired to write I’ll write this blog till someone sees it.  I’m an actor and director and it’s in my heart to produce and direct Mame on stage.  I don’t know how or where but I think it can be done if I don’t become afraid.  I must open doors and windows I’ve never tried before.  But this is life abundant, and this is life’s banquet.  It’s here, it’s now and it’s for everyone.

Angela Lansbury

Angela Lansbury started her career in 1944 in the film Gaslight.  She played a conniving maid who was helping to make Ingrid Bergman’s character think she was insane.  She would go on to play many other roles at MGM in many important and memorable films such as The Harvey Girls, Blue Hawaii and The Manchurian Candidate.  Though relatively young she was often cast as the mother of an adult child and never the star of the movie always the back up.  At least in the films she is most well known for.

I came to know of Angela Lansbury in 1971 when Disney released its now classic film Bed knobs and Broomsticks.  The film was a musical adaptation of the book with the same title written by Mary Norton.  The title was slightly altered by Disney.  The book is called Bed knob and Broomstick which is more accurate as there is only one of each in the book.

The score and the songs for the film were written by Richard and Robert Sherman the same two men who gave us the music for Mary Poppins.

The story centered around an apprentice witch, Miss Price, played by Lansbury, who is coming to the end of her mail in course on witchcraft.  At the same time she is forced to take in three war refugees from London. The film is set during WWII.  They find out she’s a witch and threaten to expose her unless she gives them something magical.  She enchants a bed knob which will enable the bed to take the children anywhere they wish to go.  At about this time Miss Price receives a letter from her instructor telling her that the school of witchcraft is closed.  Miss Price needs the next spell in the course, as she believes she can help the war effort with it.  She asks the children to allow the bed to take them all to London so she can get the spell she needs, and the adventures begin.

I was ten when this film came out and it was a delight.  My imagination understood more about good witches than bad witches.  I had grown up on Glinda from The Wizard of Oz and Samantha from Bewitched.  I could easily understand a witch wanting to help with the war effort.  I was also reading comic books at the time and Dr Strange from Marvel and Dr Fate from DC were both powerful sorcerers.  I reveled in the magic of Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, so much so that as soon as I got home, I tried out the spell that Miss Price used to bring inanimate things to life.  Much to my disappointment the spell did not work.

With in a few years of this, in the bargain bins at the Bazaar Record Shop I found the soundtrack for the musical Mame starring Lucille Ball.  Now I loved Lucy.  Still do, and though I knew nothing about the movie I bought the album and brought it home.  I loved the music and I loved hearing Lucy sing.  I had no idea of the story, that would come later, but I loved that album and wore it out.  Soon I was able to find a copy of the book the movie was based on Auntie Mame.  I had to special order it.  It may have been a best seller in the 50s but by 1977 it wasn’t sought after much.  I gobbled that down and then bought the original Broadway cast Album of Mame and Angela Lansbury was back in my life.

Angela opened in Mame in 1966 at The Winter Garden Theater in New York City.  She electrified crowds with her performance of Mame Dennis and brought the house down.  Miss Lansbury stayed with the Broadway production for 1500 performances and would head up two national touring companies.  In the 1980s she would bring the show back to Broadway for its first revival.

I love Lucy and I love Angela, but the truth needs to be written here.  As much as I love Lucy and was enchanted by the album of Mame because it was her.  She had no business playing that part, Lucille Ball was 62 when she played Mame.  To make her look younger they used filtered lenses on the cameras.  Mame could be played by a fifty something woman believably but not by a 62-year-old woman who was in fact showing her age.

Angela Lansbury should have taken the role to the big screen.  She had over 20 years of movie credits to her name when she opened Mame on Broadway.  People knew who she was and would have gone to see her.  The problem was Lucille.  Miss Ball bought the rights for the movie for herself and had every intension of playing the role on her own.  She basically stole that from Lansbury and the resulting film, though not totally horrible was mediocre at best.  When VCRs and VHS tapes became popular Mame was the first one I bought and though I love Lucy the film proved to be a disappointment.

Miss Lansbury was not in any way finished with her career.  Her next big stop would be, as far as I was concerned, as Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.  She would engross audiences in song while she baked dead human bodies into pies.  Miss Lansbury would receive her 4th Tony Award for her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett.  The other three were for Mame, Dear World and the Revival of Gypsy.

After taking on the big screen and Broadway it was in 1984 that Miss Lansbury would conquer the small screen in the role of Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote.  It was at this time that Angela Lansbury’s career became a main interest to me.  I was able to watch her in all of her movie roles including Blue Hawaii which starred Elvis Presley.  Never being a Presley fan this one was hard for me.  I watched Murder; She Wrote every week.  It was one of the few shows my parents and I agreed on.

Murder, She Wrote became an important show for many reasons.  I think the first is that it settled around older adults.  The over 50 population had few shows they could relate to on TV.  Angela’s character of Jessica Fletcher was the first in a line of shows that spotlighted older adults as stars.  The Golden Girls would follow in 1985, Matlock with Andy Griffith in 1986 and Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke in 1993.  Angela paved the way for all of these shows to become hits.  All though Murder, She Wrote would go off the air in 1996 after 12 season Angela would reprise the role of Jessica Fletcher for four made for TV movies.

In 1991 Angela would come back to big screen but this time as an animated teapot in Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast.  Miss Lansbury would sing the title song and generation of children would grow to love her character as the motherly Mrs. Potts.

Angela kept going.  So many wonderful projects would follow.  The Shell Seekers for The Hallmark Hall of Fame. Mrs. ‘arris Goes To Paris where she plays a char woman who dreams of owning a designer gown and sees her dream come true.  And Mrs. Santa Claus where she plays the wife of the great man himself in a musical with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman the man who wrote Mame.

She would go back to the theater and win awards for her supporting role in A Little Night Music and Blythe Spirit.  In her 90s Miss Lansbury toured Australia with   James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy.  She would come back to the United States to play Aunt March in The BBC/PBS adaptation of Little Women and then play the small role of The Balloon Lady in Mary Poppins Returns.

I don’t know where Miss Lansbury will turn up next.  I do know that she has inspired me for years.  Her songs that are so heart felt have comforted me as she sings Beauty and the Beast or inspired me as she sings Open a New Window or It’s Today both from Mame.

Rosalind Russell played Mame first on stage in the n the non-musical version Auntie Mame.  She was the first to emphasize this life philosophy.  “LIVE LIVE LIVE, life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  But Angela would repeat that same philosophy over and over and then go on to live it.  She has proven that life is a banquet if we choose to see that way.  She has proven that at any age you can meet any challenge and still come out the victor.  She has proven that every day is a gift and to squander that gift is perhaps the greatest of sins.

I’m grateful for the talent of Angela Lansbury and I hope you are too.  I hope that her films and recordings will fill you with the same joy they fill me with.  And though in her 90s I hope that we will still see her grace our screens large and small.

Samaritan Cookbook A Review

     The Samaritan Cookbook by Benyamin Tsedaka with reicpes from Batia bat Yefet Tsedaka and Zippora SassonTsedaka.  The has photographs by Yadid Levi.  The book has a subtitle: A Culinary Odyssey From The Ancient Israelites To The Modern Mediterranean.

     The Samaritan Cookbook is definitely a cookbook that you read.  I’m not even sure that the ingredients for some of the recipes in the book are available in the United States.  But the book gives you more than just recipes.  It gives you a glimpse of the culture of the Samaritan people.  How they live now and how they lived thousands of years ago,

   The book is no longer in length than a feature magazine article.  It is, however loaded with pictures of the Samaritan people today, their celebrations and their cuisine.  Being fascinated by Biblical History I found the prose remarkably interesting.

    The book explains who the Samaritans are and were.  Those of us who are Christian know the name of the people from Jesus parable of The Good Samaritan and other stories about Jesus in The New Testament.  This book explains where The Samaritans came from, how they worship God today and even what their Bible is like.  One interesting fact given in the book is that there are only 850 Samaritans left in Israel.  These people, this remnant is trying to keep alive their centuries old traditions and sharing these traditions with the world.

     This book is well worth the read.  If you can find the ingredients, I’m sure the recipes are both healthy and delicious.  Here are a few things you can make: Beef Noodle Casserole, Avocado and Sesame Dip, Lamb Meatballs with Pine Nuts and a dessert called Kunafeh.

    If you have an interesting in Biblical History and Cuisine.  Or if you want to go on a definite cooking adventure look no further than The Samaritan Cookbook.