How Can I Help; The Philosophy of New Amsterdam

For the last four years, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the television show New Amsterdam.  New Amsterdam is a fictional hospital in NYC but it is based on the very real hospital Bellvue also in NYC. The show’s stories are interesting and compelling.  The scripts are well written and the cast of characters well defined.

In the first season and for the last four years the show centers around Dr. Max Goodwin. In the first episode, Max takes over as what I believe is now called The Chief Medical Officer in a hospital.  In other words, Max was running the show.  In the first three and half seasons, Max stays in this position until he marries Helen the head of the oncology department and they both move to London Helen’s original home.  Max is back now trying to get the hospital back from the evil woman who the board elected to take his place.  The culmination of that will take place tonight, Tuesday, May 10, 2022. 

In his first season, Max is constantly asking the same question whenever a problem arises.  That question is, “How can I help?”  That attitude begins to take over the whole hospital as you begin to see the main characters more and more, some subtly some overtly begin to take on the characteristic of caring for each other and the patients of the hospital.

Now you would think patient care would always be the top priority of all medical facilities.  Having worked in medicine for 30 years as a dialysis technician and a medical assistant.  I have seen the level of care for patients being eroded by government rules and paperwork.  Hands-on care by nurses is now relegated more and more to technicians who sometimes do not have the experience or the education to take on that care.  Mandatory 12 and 13-hour days made people exhausted by the end of their shift, and basically useless on their days off in between shifts because of sheer exhaustion.  Let me tell you no one asked, “How can I help?” We were all too tired just trying to keep up with our own work.  I know this because I left dialysis while working under these conditions.  But that is not the point of this blog.

What is the point?  The point is how better the world would be if, when we are told about another person’s problem our first response would be, how can I help?

We live in a world where the rugged individualist has become something to aspire to.  “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” or “Do you have to have someone hold your hand?” are both cliches that tell us we are all to be self-sufficient.  That we shouldn’t need anyone else and to quote Dolly Levi from The Matchmaker that we should “Thank God that no one else’s life is tangled up with ours.”  In The matchmaker, which became the musical Hello Dolly, Dolly learns that living that way is ultimately unhappy and the play and musical is her attempt, “to rejoin the human race.”

I think it’s time for us all to rejoin the human race.

People were never meant to live life on their own.  It’s a Bible fact that says two are better than one and that’s not about marriage it’s about life.  No one should have to or ever feel like they have to go it alone.  And yet many people do.  If this weren’t the case songs like Elinor Rigby or Alone Again Naturally, or Dust in the Wind, would never have become popular.  Let’s be honest those are basically songs to commit suicide to, and I’m willing to bet that some people have.

Suicide is another problem which I believe stems from the idea that everyone has to make it on their own.  Now, that is not the only reason.  There are many other reasons people commit suicide.  If you grow up being taught that this is the ideal way to live, making it on your own, then the minute you realize you cannot live this way you have to consider yourself a failure or feel less because you have to ask for help.  Can you imagine with me a world that instead of chiding you for not making it on your own, asks, “How can I help?”

It would be a friendlier world.  People would no longer be looking only at their own interests but also at the interests of all the other people in their lives.  Dickens makes this perfectly clear through the character of Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.  Marley was dead and in chains, eternally remorseful for all the times he “minded his own business,” and did not reach out a hand to those who suffer or are in need.  I call this part of Marley’s discussion with Scrooge, “Marley’s Lament.”

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”

“Life’s opportunities misused.”  Marley is not talking about opportunities to advance his career or to make more money.  He took advantage of all those opportunities and it led him to eternal torment.  Marley is referring to all the times he saw someone in need and walked away believing it was none of his business instead of asking, “How can I help?”

We are all, in many ways, self-centered these days.  First, it’s ourselves we look to and then our families.  After that, we may find time to help out a friend, but many of us don’t.  I’m thinking of myself as much as anyone else.

Today, for instance, I was just coming in from the doctor’s office, and a lady who I know just a little was coming in thru the other door.  I let her in so she wouldn’t have to scramble for her keys.  We said hello and I headed for the elevator.  While I was waiting she said a package had arrived that was supposed to help her with her TV reception.  She said she hoped she could figure out how to hook it up.  I responded that those devices are usually very easy to hook up and it should be no problem.  The elevator door was closing when I realized that she may have been actually asking for help.  I stopped the elevator door and said if you need any help come on up and get me.  I couldn’t just volunteer to come with her and set it up as I had to get out of the shoes I was wearing.  They help my feet but I can only wear them a little while each day.  I don’t have her phone number or apartment number so I can’t reach out and see if she needs help. I feel a bit bad for not saying outright, “how can I help?”

Most TV shows are entertaining very few are inspiring.  New Amsterdam is a show that I find both entertaining and inspiring.  It’s a rare breed of television show and I hope you all take some time to catch up with it.  It runs on Peacock and Hulu as well as NBC.  I don’t know where you can stream the whole series, although it may all be on Peacock.  I really encourage all of my readers to watch.

HEALTH UPDATE

I went to my Primary Care Doctor today and though he was pleased with me in general, the bottom line is I gained two pounds in the last month and lost none.  I wanted to avoid telling you this but when I began this journey I made a promise to keep you informed win or lose.

For me, I didn’t really lose this month.  Yes, I gained two pounds, but I gained those pounds while actively dealing with another health problem.  The stress of that problem influenced me to eat more than I was.  Previously I was never hungry at lunchtime, all of the sudden I was always hungry at lunchtime and I had only bad choices to eat.  And I ate them.  That health issue is now under control and I am back on the path I had been on.

That’s it for now.  Here’s my parting thought, if someone relates to you a problem they are going through, instead of offering advice first ask, How can I help?

The picture is the central cast of New Amesterdam from top left Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) Head of Psychiatry, Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) head of oncology, the big photo Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) Bottom left Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery) Head of The Emergency Room, and last Dr. Floyd Ryenolds (Jocko Sims) Head of Cardiac Surgery.

TV SHOWS THAT TIME FORGOT

I grew up in the era of reruns.  It all started with the genius of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who instead of using a kinescope to film I Love Lucy, which was standard in the day, they used film and movie cameras.  Kinescope programs were not well filmed and those that are left today are hard to watch.  These were the early days of television and much that was, is now lost.  An example of this would be the great character actress Mary Wickes who played Mary Poppins for television audiences in 1949.

When I was old enough to watch television, as I have told earlier, my mother sat me down in front of our black and white set to watch I Love Lucy and The Jack Benny program.  Most people still know who Lucy was but many have forgotten Jack Benny and he was around for many years.  His career as a comic began in Vaudville but he really made a name for himself on the Radio with a recurring cast of characters in his weekly show.  His gravel-voiced butler Rochester, his girlfriend Mary Livingston, who was also his wife in real life, his friend, the golden-toned Dennis Day who sang regularly on the program, they all made the stories of the tight-fisted, violin playing comic very funny.

I was born in the early 60s and so the reruns of the shows from the 1950s and those first aired in the early 60s were brand new to me.  I think the first on the list is Superman.

Superman aired from 1952 until 1958.  The beginning seasons were filmed in black and white but the remaining seasons were filmed in color.  This was well before color TV sets were readily available.  Superman even made an appearance on I Love Lucy in the classic episode Lucy meets Superman.  The episode was not Lucy Meets George Reeves the actor who portrayed Superman but Lucy Meets Superman.  In the episode, Superman does not break character at all.  I dearly loved television cross-overs which would set me up for comic book cross-overs years later.  But I digress.

Superman was a half-hour adventure series that wrapped most stories up in one show,  Superman was played by George Reeves, Lois Lane by Phyllis Coates at first but then Noelle Neal, Jimmy Olson by Jack Larson, and Perry White by John Hamilton.  It was a perfectly crafted and well-written show.  In my opinion, most of the stories still stand up pretty well today.  They jammed a lot of adventure and action in a half-hour show.  Well written and so well-acted that when George Reeves made a personal appearance as Superman a little boy showed up with a gun to see if he was really bulletproof.  George talked him out of it and no one was hurt.

From 1963 to 1966 Patty Duke starred in her own self titled show.  I was too young for the original run but not for the re-runs.  I don’t know this for sure but my feeling is ABC got the idea from the Haley Mills classic movie The Parent Trap which debuted in 1961.  In the Parent-Trap Mills played both Susan and Sharon who were twin sisters, who had been separated at birth. One went to California to live with dad and the other to Boston to live with mom.  In the film the twins meet at summer camp.  At first there is mutual dislike until they discover they are sisters and then they scheme to bring their parents back together and of course, all ends happily.  The Patty Duke Show was a bit different.  Patty Duke played both Patty and Cathy Lane.  Not sisters but identical cousins.  Cathy’s father is either a foreign correspondent or a diplomat.  My guess is correspondent as Patty’s father was a newspaperman.  Cathy has been brought up in England and has a cultured British accent.  After the death of her mother Cathy goes to live with her Uncle Martin, Aunt Natalie, and her cousins Patty and Ross.  When Cathy arrives it is much to both girl’s delight to find that they are exactly alike and the fun begins.  This show was very much a Lucy and Ethel relationship.  Patty had the schemes and innocent Cathy found herself dragged into them as often willing as not.  It was a fun show.  It portrayed a loving family with a wise father and a caring mom.  If you haven’t seen this gem it is worth seeking out.

Next on my list is Gidget.  Lets’ get this straight from the first Gidget is a nickname.  Given to Frances Lawrence.  It stands for girl midget, Gidget.  The name was given to Francis as she showed off her surfing skills to the boys on the California beach.  Gidget was played by Sally Field on television but the role was originated on the big screen by Sandra Dee.  There would be a few Gidget movies made but the series only ran for one season in 1965.

There’s a story behind that too.  Gidget ran its first season throughout the Fall and Winter.  No one wanted to see a show based on the fun at the beach during those months.  However in the summer when the show ran as reruns the ratings went through the roof.  Unfortunately, the show had already been canceled and they could not bring everyone back again.  The show is available on DVD and is fun to watch.  Don Porter was cast perfectly as Gidget’s father a widower who cherishes his daughter despite her tomboy-like tendencies.

Sally Field didn’t keep still in 1967 she would make her next TV splash as Sister Bertrille The Flying Nun.  The Flying Nun would run for three seasons until 1970.  The show centered around sister Betrille who because of the shape of her wimple and her small size and light weight when the wind was right she became airborne.  The show was a big hit, especially with catholic families.  It was a comedy most of which centered around Sister Betrille getting in and out of trouble while airborne.  It didn’t help that a long-suffering Reverend Mother did her best to keep Sister Bertrille’s feet on the ground.  I loved this show and still do.  I believe Sally Field has mixed feelings about it but considering all that she would eventually do these two series were a good foundation to start from.

One I never want to forget is Hazel.  Hazel ran from 1961 to 1966 and starred Shirley Booth as the outspoken maid to the Baxter family.  Hazel is funny and endearing.  Watching the show is like curling up with a warm cup of cocoa on snowy night.  Though Hazel is outspoken and her mouth gets her into more trouble than it ought to, she also really loves the family she works for and goes to all lengths possible to help and protect them.  If Shirley Booth had lived she would have played an Angel in Touched by Angel because that’s what Hazel was an earth-bound Angel.

Petticoat Junction ran from 1963 to 1970.  In some ways, it was a spin-off of The Beverly Hillbillies and a forerunner for Green Acres.  Paul Henning produced all three shows and from time to time the characters would cross over making those episodes extra special.  I don’t quite know the reason why but The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction cannot all be seen in reruns.  The early shows are intact but for some reason the later seasons seem to have disappeared.  I hope one day that all of the episodes of both shows will be made available.

Petticoat Junction centered around the life of Kate Bradley and her three daughters Billie Jo, Bobby-Jo, and Betty-Jo.  They lived in a hotel called The Shady Rest along with the girl’s Uncle Joe Carson.  The hotel was the only one on the railroad line that was dominated by The Cannonball Express.  Actually, The Cannonball was the only train on the line and is in constant danger of being taken out of commission in the early episodes of the show.  The engineer and conductor were show regulars, along with Sam Drucker who ran the general store.  Sam would be the major link between Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.  This show too was both funny and heartwarming. We see the girls grow into women and we see their mother played by Bea Benadarret pass away as the actress died of cancer during the run of the show.  The mother was not replaced but a lady doctor played by June Lockhart who had recently come off playing the mother in Lost in Space as well as Timmy’s mother in the Lassie TV series.  She brought just the right touch of gentle wisdom to the show to keep it going.

This blog is beginning to run long and there are so many other shows I want to reminisce about with you but they will have to wait.  Shows like Room 222, Nanny and the Professor, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Magician, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, That Girl, The Lucy Show, and Here’s Lucy will have to wait for another time.

In the meantime keep tuning in to this blog.  Until next time same bat time and same bat channel.

Spider-Man

It was to my great delight to find out last week that Spider-Man No Way Home won the Kid’s Choice Award for best live-action movie.  As I wrote several weeks back the latest Spider-Man film should have received an Oscar nod for best picture.  But Hollywood, as we saw at the Academy Awards Ceremony, is not only full of snobs but a bad indicator of a good movie.  Kid’s on the other hand see the truth, sometimes to the dismay of adults as in The Emperor’s New Clothes.  They live more” in the moment” than most adults do and therefore can see more than most adults can see.  If a kid says something is good or bad, it’s best to pay attention.

Stan Lee got his start in comics while still a teenager.  He went to work for Timely Comics as a writer somewhere in the late thirties or very early 40s.  Lee worked for Timely for 20 years until that fateful day when his boss asked him to come up with a Superhero team comic book to go head to head with DC’s Justice League of America.  Lee teamed up with Jack Kirby and The Fantastic Four was born.  The Marvel Legends began.

What many people don’t realize is that Lee was ready to give up working in comics just before that fateful day.  He had enough writing thinly veiled comics that copied whatever was popular at the time.  In other words, if Zorro was popular, Lee would write a Zorro-type character and sell it.  Anything for the company to make a quick buck.  Really The Fantastic Four was a to be a copy of The Justice League, except for the fact that The Fantastic Four acted like a team only when they had to, they were no Justice League.  The League had honor and high moral standards.  Heck, they were indeed super friends.  The Fantastic Four could just barely tolerate each other.  They brought true human problems and emotions, including resentment and despair,  into comic books and the industry was changed.

But I digress.  As stated Lee was ready to quit comics.  He had begun to talk with his wife about leaving the industry and beginning work on what he hoped would be the great American novel.  His wife convinced him to give comics one last chance and in that last chance, The Fantastic Four was born.  Lee took every bit of the creative talent he had in writing the story of the Fantastic Four.  Maybe he figured this was his last shot so he’d go out in a blaze of artistic glory.  Instead of going out Lee began to soar to heights of popularity and stayed there until the day he passed away.

After The Fantastic Four Stan and Jack created the Incredible Hulk which, believe it or not, did not sell well at the beginning.  The Hulk, also, wasn’t green when he first made his debut, he was grey.  But things did turn around.  Grey turned to green and we have the Hulk that we all know and love today.

Lee came into his third inning.  He was up to bat.  Would he strike out or would he hit a home run?  OK, enough with the sports metaphors.  Amazing Adult Fantasy had reached its fourteenth issue and it was not doing well.  Adult: would mean that a bit of sleaze was probably in this magazine but Stan Lee himself tells us that the comice book was a collection of fantasy monster stories usually about five pages long.  The stories were written by him and illustrated by Steve Ditko.  The magazine was about to be canceled after the publication of its fifteenth issue and Lee decided to experiment. 

Stan Lee was a big reader of the Pulp Magazines that were published in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  Many germs of comic book characters that would come later can be found in these ten-cent novels in a magazine.  The pulps’ main characters included The Shadow, Doc Savage, and one that Lee particularly liked The Spider.  The Spider was just an ordinary guy who was an expert marksman.  He disguised himself with fangs and a hunched back.  His true Identity was Richard Wentworth the last in the line of a wealthy family.  He began his career after saving a college friend from criminals.  Lee liked the name The Spider but he had other ideas than a man who was good with a gun.  Lee was about to break more comic book rules.

Teenagers were not the main character in almost any comic book.  There are a few notable exceptions.  Superboy, stories of Superman when he was a boy and then a teenager.  Captain Marvel Jr and Mary Marvel were both teenagers when they got their powers but unlike Billy Batson when he became Captain Marvel by shouting SHAZAM turned into an adult Mary and Junior stayed teenagers.  The last is Kid Eternity a teenager who was murdered but is granted the ability to come back and fight crime by being able to call up all the heroes from the past.  Aside from these most teenagers were sidekicks to other Superheroes.  Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl all fall into this category.  Even Johnny Storm, The Human Torch of the Fantastic Four was not on his own though eventually, he would gain his own solo stories.

Lee decided to take a chance and make his next superhero a teenager with all the problems that come with being a teenage boy.  He kept the name Spider but dropped the marksman and gave the young man the abilities of a Spider.  With those thoughts in mind, Spider-Man was born.

Lee didn’t have much hope for his new character.  He didn’t start him off in his own magazine as he did with The Fantastic Four and The Hulk.  He starred him in the last issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy only now the word adult was dropped from the title and Spider-Man made his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy number 15 in August of 1962. Lee’s first two creations were illustrated by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko was the artist for Amazing Fantasy and Lee stuck with him for his new creation.

Not many people need to be told the origin story of Spider-Man.  A teenager, Peter Parker, who is a bookworm and a student of science is shunned by his peers.  On attending a demonstration of radioactivity, a spider who has absorbed some of the radiation during the experiment, bites Peter giving him the abilities and proportionate strength of a spider.  Peter, after learning of his new abilities decides to cash in on them and make himself rich with his new talents.  He hopes to be able to help his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben who had raised him.  He designs a costume for himself to conceal his identity, web-shooters to gain another spider ability and begins to make TV appearances.  He also becomes arrogant and a bit self-centered.  When a thief runs by him in the hallway of the TV studio Peter lets him go and tells the police that it is their job to catch crooks, not his.  On his way home that night there are police cars at his home.  His Uncle Ben has been killed by a thief he found in the house.  The police tell Peter that they have the killer trapped in an old warehouse.  Peter immediately dons his costume and goes after the killer himself.  Peter does nab the guy but on catching him realizes it is the same crook he let run by him in the studio.  His guilt overwhelms him as he feels responsible for his Uncles death.  He remembers something his Uncle Ben once told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 

Stan Lee says in the book, The Origins of Marvel Comics, with the publication of Amazing Fantasy number 15 and the story of Spider-Man out of his system, Lee went back to working on his new superstars.  Lee essentially forgot all about Spider-Man.  It would be months before it was realized that Amazing Fantasy #15 was a best seller and the reason had to be Spider-Man.  There was a swift meeting held and The Amazing Spider-Man comic magazine number 1 made its debut in an issue dated March of 1963.

Spider-Man has entertained us now for 60 years.  He has starred in several different Marvel Magazine titles and is probably one of the most iconic heroes of all time.  Spider-Man is to Marvel what Superman is to DC, their most recognized character and almost a symbol of the company itself.  Spider-Man like Superman has appeared in almost every form of entertainment.  In television shows, both live-action and animated, and movies also both live-action and animated, novels based on the character, a newspaper strip, and a Broadway musical, the only thing Spider-Man did not get is a radio show.  Spider-Man was born a bit too late for that.

Spider-Man broke down all kinds of barriers in his 60 years and continues to do so.  The comic book character took on many of the social issues of the 60s and 70s and made an impact.  I well remember being affected by Peter’s best friend Harry Osborne having a drug addiction.  It helped keep me on the straight and narrow.  There were also gut-wrenching stories like the death of Peter’s first true love Gwen Stacy at the hands of The Green Goblin.  There were also some joyful tales including Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson an event that took place in the comic book, the newspaper strip, and at a live ball game in NYC.

Spider-Man continues to entertain us today.  His movie adventures are now reaching millions of people and his comic books are still enjoyed.  As I stated at the beginning of this blog, it did my heart good to see Spider-Man No Way Home win The Kid’s Choice Award for the best live-action movie.  I hope that the film will pick up more honors in the months ahead.  It’s also my hope that The Academy of Motion Pictures begins to see that movies based on comic books or children’s literature or animated films all have artistic value and should be placed in the best films category.  To me leaving these movies out, movies that the people love is a disgrace.  A movie does not have to be filled with sex, over-the-top violence, and foul language to be a good film.  It has to have a solid story well-formed characters and great acting.  The Marvel movies have all of that.  DC we are waiting for you to catch up.

Loss

It was December 15, 1966.  I was 5 years old and my mother and I were in the kitchen.  It was there that she told me Walt Disney had died.  I remember wandering into our side yard and feeling like a light had gone out.  This man had visited our house every Sunday night for as long back as I could remember.  I didn’t understand death, I’m not sure I do yet, but I knew that life had changed and something wonderful had ended.

The next celebrity death that should have impacted me was Judy Garland.  It was June of 1969 and I was 8 years old.  My parents didn’t tell me of her death.  I think they decided I wouldn’t understand.  After all, I only knew Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  If they told me Dorothy had died I would have been devastated.  And it wouldn’t have made any sense.  She was still on the screen, every year.  How could Dorothy be dead?

As a child the TV and movie characters that you love are real.  The actors don’t exist.  Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were Batman and Robin.  Adam West and Burt Ward, the names at the beginning of the show were meaningless.  The need to believe is deeply entrenched in a child.  I never saw the line used to make Mary Martin fly in Peter Pan.  I never saw the cheesy special effects in Dark Shadows.  Peter Pan flew and Dark Shadows scared the crap out of me it wasn’t until I was older that I began to see the flaws.

Other examples are Sally Field and Patty Duke.   Sally Field was Gidget. In an episode of The Flying Nun, where Sally Field played Sister Bertrille, they showed footage from Gidget, where Gidget was surfing.  I didn’t see these as two separate shows, I figured Gidget had decided to become a nun that made total sense to me.  With Patty Duke, I had no clue that  Patty Duke played both Patty and Cathy Lane.  To me, they were two separate people and as real as my own family.

I must have been about ten when the fantasy in life gave way to reality.  That was the year I asked my dad if Santa Claus was real.  He didn’t give me an answer.  He said, “What do you think?”  I thought about it and realized that Santa couldn’t be real and in a very real way childhood came to an end.

Childhood’s end is probably the most significant loss any of us go through.  I don’t know that we see it as a loss at the time.  Most of us are in a hurry to grow up and find out what was in the mysterious bottles kept in the cabinet that only our parents drank from.  Or we can’t wait to drive or for school simply to be over forever.  It’s when we get older that we miss the magic of Santa Claus coming on Christmas Eve or, at night, staring out your bedroom window wishing on the first star you see or hoping this was the night Peter Pan would come and take you to Neverland where you wouldn’t have to grow up and no adult would be around to tell you what you should do.

I guess I’m lucky.  I still wonder about Santa on Christmas Eve and I think about leprechauns on Saint Patrick’s Day.  In my imagination, I can happily visit Middle Earth and Narnia and for a brief time suspend the horrors of this world.  I would rather face a dragon than continue to watch the mess the Republican Party and The Democratic Party continue to make of this country.  You can fight a dragon but you can’t fight city hall.

Since the death of Betty White on December 31st of last year I have been watching Hot In Cleveland.  This was the last show she starred in along with Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendy Mallick.  It was a show about 3 women from LA who have to make an emergency stop in Cleveland on their way to Paris.  Because of the attention paid to them by the men in Cleveland they decide they could have a better life in the new city and decide to stay.  They rent a house with a caretaker who is played by Betty White and the show is set.

Hot in Cleveland ran for six seasons on TV land and was funny if a bit earthy at times.  The scripts were good and the supporting cast was excellent.  The show had many guest stars from the best of TV, Carol Burnett, Robert Wagner, Tim Daly, and many others.  One show had William Shatner, Shirley Jones, and Georgia Engel all sharing the stage with Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli.  Most of my childhood TV shows were represented on that one stage.

It was when Regis Philbin made his guest star appearance across several shows that I began to feel a sense of loss.  Regis died in 2020 but he was a big part of my daily life both at home and at work.  I was a dialysis technician back in the 80s and the TV sets were all set To Live with Regis and Kathy Lee every morning.  I became a big fan of both of these stars and loved the show.  On days I wasn’t working or went in for the later shift I made sure I saw it.  The legacy of the show lives on with two other co-hosts but no one could match the energy of Regis Philbin and that energy was still present in Hot in Cleveland.  But I realized he was gone.

Not long after that, all the women that starred in The Mary Tyler Moore show came on as guests.  These included Miss Moore, Chloris Leachman, and Valerie Harper.  Betty White was already on the show and Georgia Engel had become a recurring character.  At one point they were all sitting around a table trading very funny insults when I realized that all the women at that table were gone.  This saddened me as well.

Early in the New Year news reached all of us that Bob Saget died in his sleep in a hotel room in Florida after doing his one-man stand-up show.  Bob was 65 years old and it recently came out that it was due to some sort of head trauma that he died.  Bob Saget played Danny Tanner on the much-loved Situation Comedy Full House which ran for 8 seasons on ABC.  He then reprised the role of Danny Tanner in the show Fuller House.

Bob Saget was a well-loved man both on and off the screen.  His co-stars had nothing but good things to say about him and the girls, now women, who played his daughters looked at him as a second father.  Not long after his death, I started to watch Full House again on HBO MAX and found myself welling with tears at almost every episode.  The episodes made me laugh but they were filled with a genuine sentimentality and the show plays just as well today as it did when it first aired in 1987 to 1995.

Many other celebrities touched my heart at their death.  Ethel Merman was first. She passed in 1984 but she was a part of my life because I had fallen in love with Broadway. Ethel Merman was and still is the queen of Broadway. No one was like her and no one like her will ever come again. Lucille Ball in 1989 was next.  Lucy was and always will be my favorite.  I felt very sad the day she passed.  Something else wonderful had gone out of this world.  In 1990 Mary Martin passed away.  My Peter Pan was gone, and I remember it well, a little magic left my heart.

Why do celebrity deaths or better yet the death of stars bother me so much?  I think with some of them I’m watching the generation before me flicker out and die.  Soon all those who grew up in the 20s, 30s, and 40s will be gone and all that will be left is memories and photographs and these are not just the stars they are my father, mom is already gone, my aunt’s and uncles and all those I hold dear to me.

Then there are the celebrities of my generation.  Bob Saget was 5 years older than me.  Mike Nesmith was a bit older but still part of my generation.  David Cassidy played a huge part in my life.  I went from Puff The Magic Dragon to I Think I Love You because of him and The Partridge Family.  I was saddened when he passed as well.

Seeing my generation begin to pass away made me realize that life is very short and your time could be up at any point.  The Bible says that “all the days of my life were written for me before I was born.”  This means that God knew when I would enter this world and the day is planned for when I will exit and that day is much closer now than it was when I was younger.

I don’t want to leave anything half done when it’s my time to go.  I don’t think I can make all of my dreams come true but I believe that some of them still can.  I’m writing this blog weekly for more than 6 months.  That’s the grace of God and me leaving something behind that may help others.  I’ve lost a total of 25 pounds so far.  I have quite a long way to go but I want to do it and make some of my other of my dreams happen.  It will be good to have a healthy body.

There are still wonderful adventures ahead.  I have no idea what most of them will be but opportunities will come and it’s up to me to say yes and find out what will happen.  Peter Pan says in the play written by JM Barrie that “Death will be an awfully big adventure.”  And it will be, “The journey doesn’t end here.  Death is just another path, one that we all must take.  The grey rain rain-curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass.  And then you see it.  White shores and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” – JRR Tolkien

When it’s Time to Change

“When it’s time to change,

You’ve got to rearrange,

Who you are into what you’re going to be.”

I don’t know if you remember or not, but back in the late ’60s and into the ’70s there was a popular television show called The Brady Bunch.  The premise of the show was that a widow with three girls and a widower with three boys meet and marry and TV’s first melded family was born.  The show was a situation comedy and ran for five seasons and 117 episodes.  One of those episodes was about change.

In the episodes the middle son Peter was going through the process every young man does when his voice changed.  This would have been no big deal but Peter’s brothers and sisters were entered in a contest to sing and Peter’s voice cracked every time he went for a high note.  The oldest brother, Greg, came up with a solution.  He wrote a song about the changes every teenager goes through and featured Peter’s changing voice.  The day was saved and the kids won the contest.

That song, the chorus of which is at the top of this article, is one that had followed me throughout my life.  Life is many things but one thing remains true there are always changes.  Some are small changes.  You have to change a doctor’s appointment time or for one reason or another, you cannot cook dinner so you have to eat out.  Others are large changes, your spouse has died and you must adjust to living on your own or you have been laid off work and you must scramble to find another job before unemployment runs out.

There are more light-hearted changes.  Moving into a new house can be stressful, but if you are moving from a small house into a bigger house it can also be fun.  Watching the seasons change from one to the next can be beautiful.  I personally love watching summer fade into Fall but I equally enjoy watching winter, as Oscar Hammerstein put it, “melt into Spring.”

I have written quite a bit about change in my weekly blogs.  My changes are not severe as losing a spouse might be nor are they beautiful as watching the seasons change.  My changes are personal and for the betterment of myself and my health.  They are good changes but don’t let anyone for one moment think they are easy.

A little later today I go to the doctor and will get weighed.  In that appointment, I will find out whether I have lost anything over the last few weeks.  It hasn’t been quite a month yet.  I have been following the same food regimen I had been following so I have hope but I’m also nervous.  I don’t expect that I shed 22 pounds as I did on my last visit.  I had almost six weeks from the point I started and the point I got weighed.  This time it’s just about four weeks so it cannot be the same amount of weight that has come off.  But I am hoping for some.

I think the interesting thing is that I don’t miss those foods that in the past I constantly craved.  I couldn’t go a week without McDonald’s and all the other fast food places.  I couldn’t go a day without large amounts of sugary treats, mostly pie.  I still eat sugar but far from the binges, I would go less than two months ago. I also don’t miss carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks.  I lived on Kool-Aid and lemonade mixes.  I fooled myself into thinking that these provided the vitamin C my body needed when I probably got the best vitamin C out of the daily multiple vitamins I was taking.  The things we tell ourselves to get our own way are probably the worst lies in the world.  In fact, it’s the lies we tell ourselves that most likely lead to the lies we may tell others.  I just thought of that but I will bet it’s true.

I lied to myself a lot.  Mostly about food.  I never went quite so far as to think that fast food was good for me but I did believe that it wouldn’t hurt me or make me fat.  I believed the same for sugary soft drinks.  I knew the indulgence of pies and cakes and chocolate was a problem but you can talk yourself into believing anything with the phrase, “one more won’t hurt.”  The problem is that one more does hurt.

As the song says, two months ago I realized it was time to change and I have been working on those changes ever since.  The first month of my new eating plan reaped a rich reward.  I lost 22 pounds this past, not quite a month, I lost three pounds.  It is not the number I would have wished for but it is a better number than 0.

I saw my doctor today and he does want me to incorporate exercise into my routine, which I have not done yet.  I have few options for exercise actually only one.  I have a set of free-standing pedals that I can place on a tabletop.  I can’t use my feet, but I can use my arms so I will begin there.  I’ll start with 15  minutes a day and move upward.  This will get me moving.  When I feel ready I will go to the YMCA and use the pool.  I can’t do that yet as some physical complications eliminate that as an option.  When I can get down about 80 pounds those complications should be gone.

So it’s time to keep changing and that is exactly what I intend to do.  It’s not going to be easy and there is a long road ahead, but I believe I can do this.  If you are thinking about any life-altering change now is the time.  Change is never easy but in the long run it is truly worth it.

Christmas Memories

I think was blessed to be born in the early part of the 1960s.  Technology had not come near the point where things were handed to you instantly.  Fast Food restaurants did not exist yet and microwaves and cell phones were in the far-flung future.  Because of this life was slower and could be savored and we did even as children.

Television was still in its infancy in the early 60s.  Sure it had been around a while but it was still black and white and though color sets existed they were out of the reach of most people.  We had three channels to choose from NBC, CBS, and ABC.  Eventually, we would have PBS and three UHF Channels for my area they were channels 17, 29, 48.  It was on these channels that the reruns of shows that had gone off the air would play as well as a plethora of old movies.  That was it and I don’t think all of that was established until I was at least 6 or 7.

So what did that mean?  It meant that we had to wait.  There were no streaming shows when we wanted to see them.  There was getting hold of the newspapers TV listings and scanning what was on that week to plan what you were going to watch.  And if you missed it that was too bad.  Never was this more true than at Christmas.

I was the youngest of four children and at Christmas time I became the ruler of the TV set, or at least my family let me think I was.  I was born just as the great Christmas shows were being made for the first time.  I was three When Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer first went up against the Abominable Snowman.  Mr. Magoo had already captured the world with his version of A Christmas Carol and so many were to come.  A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty The Snowman, The Year Without A Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy, and so many others.  I would grab The Sunday TV supplement every week, as soon as I learned to read, scanning for these yearly events and hoping my family didn’t have to go out the night they were aired.  If we did, it would be a whole year before I could see them again.  I was pretty lucky.  I don’t think I missed any of them except Rudolph once when I was in the hospital with an eye injury.

Anticipation, which ultimately is the theme of Advent, was in the heart of every kid I grew up with.  Not anticipation for spiritual things, that comes with growth and maturity, but anticipation for the fun and joyful things of Christmas.  In some ways, it was good practice for when we grew up and awaited Christmas for its true meaning.

But we didn’t wait just for kids’ shows.  There were other more adult shows that we waited for.  Bing Crosby’s yearly Christmas show, the same for Bob Hope, Andy Williams, and the now almost forgotten King Family.  The whole family gathered around the set for these treats presented to us by the three networks.

Then there was that special night.  My brother Vince would usually spot it first in the TV listings.  The night the movie White Christmas would air.  White Christmas was not a kids movie, it is a full musical that kids can be charmed by but also can be loved by parents.  So every year until the family began to go our separate ways all six of us sat around that TV and watched this beautiful movie unfurl.  That time will never come again but it is sweet to remember.

The family watching White Christmas led me to even more Christmas movies.  Things that were being shown but the rest of my family had little interest in.  Movies such as Holiday Inn and Meet Me in St Louis soon became more yearly favorites.  When a new version of Miracle on 34th Street was shown starring Sebastion Cabot and David Hartman I was hooked and wanted to see the original.  I had never heard of It’s A Wonderful Life until Marlo Thomas remade the film switching the gender roles and calling it, It Happened One Chrismas.  Eventually, these made-for-TV movies made me want to back to view the original and they all became favorites. I directed a stage version of It’s a Wonderful Life in 2000 it remains a lovely memory.

Still, we had to wait every year for these treats.  Watching television was not the only thing that made Christmas special.  I remember going out every year to find the perfect Christmas tree.  At first, it was in local lots where people were selling freshly cut trees, as we grew older my family began to drive out to Christmas tree farms where we would cut down our trees.  By then my brother and sisters were married and it was a caravan that would go to these places.  Stopping at Burger King for a quick lunch and then coming home to hot turkey rice soup and meatball sandwiches that mom had warming in crockpots while we were away.

Then there was the tree decorating.  No one was more of a perfectionist than my father when it came to how the tree looked.  It had to be straight as an arrow before one light or ornament could be placed on the branches.  And the lights, this was still back in the time when if one light had blown none of the lights would come on.  You then had to spend as much time as it took to find the dead bulb.  There were more Christmases with dead bulbs than without.

After that, we kids generally took over looking for our favorite ornaments to hang on the tree.  We had a nice variety of the delicate glass balls, homemade ornaments that my brother had done, and some store-bought figures.  My favorites were Santa’s eight reindeer with Rudolph in the lead.  Those needed to be spaced nicely so it looked as if they were flying around the tree.  My family were tinsel people and my dad again took charge of that,  Tinsel had to be placed delicately on the tree almost one strand at a time.  It took forever. when I learned about garland and you only had to drape it around the tree, I thought I had been given the Holy Grail of Christmas.

Christmas was family time, but not just our immediate family.  I had cousins and aunts and uncles and second and third cousins and we all got together on Christmas night, not just once but three times.  My father had two sisters, My Aunt Mary and my Aunt Dolores.  My grandmother, my father’s mother (My grandfather had died before I was born) would alternate  between her three children where she would go on Christmas day for dinner.  Where ever she was the whole family would descend on that house for dessert first.  After that, we went to the two other houses for dessert making it a three dessert holiday.  Actually, it was four desserts as we had dessert with dinner too.  We kids had a blast because there were still gifts to be received at each of the Aunt’s houses.  I liked going to my Aunt Mary’s and Uncle Steve’s best.  She had a wonderful bakery at the top of her street and she always had mini Danish and coconut cream pie which was my favorite.  I got it once a year as mom never made it. That is not to say Aunt Dolores didn’t outdo herself. At her house, there would be delicious stromboli and Christmas punch made with soda, juice, and a tub of sherbert.

Aunt Mary and Uncle Steve had another wonderful tradition that fascinated all the kids and most of the adults. In their basement, there was an enormous train display. It had mountains and tunnels and trees and all sorts of things to delight the mind of a child. I don’t know where the tradition originated and who was most responsible, my Uncle Steve or his eldest son Steven or if it was a yearly team effort. I do know that Steven kept up the tradition as best as possible in his own home. Trains weere a big part of Christmas. At our house there would occasionally be a set wrapped around the bottom of the tree. But nothing I have ever seen compared to that wonderful set in my aunt and uncle’s basement.

Christmas eve was a day of preparation, as a little kid I remember going to midnight Mass with my whole family.  The Mass was said in Latin up until 1966 so I understood very little of it.  It was, however, still beautiful to me.  There was a solemness in the church that I could feel but also great joy and anticipation.  In those days our church had the whole town of Bethlehem laid out in a special display, I remember filing past this to catch a glimpse of the tiny baby in his manger.  I couldn’t wait for that moment.  At that moment I knew Christmas had come.

I had been to see Santa and I made sure, one way or another a letter got written to him.  In those early days, my family had a custom of meeting my dad in Center City Philadelphia for dinner and to see the amazing light show at Wanamaker’s a prestigious, though now gone, department store.  We would take the train in town and meet Dad at the station, we would then proceed to a restaurant called The Pub and then on to Wanamakers.  The light show was amazing and if I was lucky I could sit on the eagle statue’s base, which was in the middle of the hall.  I am happy to say that Macy’s bought the Wanamaker’s building and keeps the light show going every year.

After the light show, it was on to Santa’s village for the walkthrough display of animated dolls in Christmas scenes, and at the end of the village was the man himself waiting to hear about my list of toys and questioning my behavior of the previous year.  Like I would ever tell him I had misbehaved.

There was still a last treat for the littlest of children.  Between the ages of maybe 3 and 10, you could ride the in-store monorail.  This monorail took you all around the toy department and let you see from above all the things you could wish for.  It was exciting because it was a ride that, after I was 5 years old, I could go alone.  I think that was the first thing I could ever do for myself.  I don’t think there was anything like it in any other store in the country.

Christmas morning came early, even if we did go to Midnight Mass.  Little kids don’t need a lot of sleep and I’m pretty sure I was the first one awake.  I shared a room with my brother Vince who was seven years older than me.  He was the second one to be awake on those mornings. 

I don’t remember eating breakfast on Christmas morning at all.  I do remember piles of gifts for all four of us under a lovely tree.  My parents were generous to us, for me, in the name of Santa.  Not everything was there but there was never a reason to feel disappointed.  There was enough to keep you very happy.

There wasn’t much time to play with my new treasures.  Shortly after we opened the gifts and got ready for the day we got whisked off to my other grandmother’s house for another round of gift-giving and receiving.  Sometimes my grandfather, who was a chef, would make apple dumplings with warm vanilla sauce and the sugar rush would begin.

And there was a sugar rush all day long.  My mother was a wonderful baker and so all kinds of cookies were made and decorated.  There were sugar cookies in Christmas shapes and raisin filler cookies that looked like little round ravioli, then there were butter cookies also pressed out into festive shapes and of course chocolate chip.  And it wouldn’t be Christmas if my mother didn’t spend hours making the Italian Pizzelle.

At dinner, which would always be a turkey (In the early years my grandfather, my mother’s step-father, would cook the bird, but as he got older my mother took over) we also enjoyed mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce from a can, until I learned how to make it myself, green beans, apple, and pumpkin pie and then, what we now call, a Jewish apple cake.  Back then it was a German apple cake.  I don’t know why.  The reason for the cake was that December the 25th was not only Jesus’ birthday but also my father’s and my mom did the best she could to separate the two.  After dinner, we sang Happy Birthday and gave him his gifts.  It was a shame that he had to do it all in one day but he took in stride and never complained.

In later years my sister’s Trish’s husband would be included in the ranks as he was born not on Christmas day but very close.  Mom would always get him a large chocolate chip pan cookie with Happy Birthday written on it from the local bakery.  A lot went on in the Roberto house at Christmas.  For the kids it was a lot of fun, for the adults I think, it was mostly exhausting.

I think the most important thing in my Christmas memories is that from a very early age I knew what Christmas was all about.  I didn’t need Linus to explain the Gospel story to me, I knew it and saw played out in church every year and every Sunday.  At an early age, I connected Christmas to Easter and in the third grade, I wrote a poem about the child who waited for death so near.  Even as a babe Jesus was both fully man and fully God.  This is the mystery of the incarnation, how God worked it all out I will never know.  I only know he did and because of Christmas and Easter, we have freedom from our slavery to sin and great joy in knowing that there is a reward waiting for us after death.

Christmas has come under scrutiny now and many want to dismiss the day.  Some folks only see the non-Christian side and just decorate trees and wait for Santa without knowing what is behind these symbols of the season.  This is very sad because these symbols, the tree, the holly, the wreath, Santa, the TV shows and big screen movies and everything else is pointing directly at Jesus.  But it is as the saying goes, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  If you are interested in the great traditions of Christmas may I point you to the books by Ace Collns.  He has done his research well and in three volumes captures just about everything you’d want to know about the holiday.

What are your Christmas memories?  I’d love to hear about them.  Please leave them in the comment section so everyone can share your joy in the season.

Magic

Magic!  What an amazing word and there is so much meaning in those five simple letters.  There is the “magic” in a child’s eyes when they spy the gifts under the tree at Christmas.  There is the “magic” that a stage magician conjures up by diverting us and seemingly makes impossible things happen.  There is the scary “magic” that real witches perform or at least claim to perform by casting spells and make potions and charms.  Then there is the fictional “magic”, the magic of The Lord of the Rings, Bewitched, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series, this is the magic I’m going to focus on today.  This is my own history of magic.

I guess my first exposure to fictional magic would have been the television show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York as well as the amazing Agnes Morehead.  The premise of the series was that a mortal Darin Stevens marries a witch a fact that he is unaware of until after the marriage takes place.  When he finds out he forbids her to use her powers in the house and of course this is impossible especially with his wife’s family of witches and warlocks always at hand.  This show was cute and funny and stayed on the air for several years even after having the original Darin replaced by another actor.

The next bit of magic would have been when I was introduced to the classic film The Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard of Oz is based on the children’s book written by L Frank Baum and published on March 17, 1900.  It quick became a childhood classic and Baum would go on to write fourteen more Oz books.  These could have made a great movie series but for some reason MGM, the studio that produced the original film, made the adventures of Dorothy trying to find her way home. A dream, so no future films could be done.

There seems to be certain films everyone is afraid to touch because they are perfect the way they are.  The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz are four of those.  People have tried to do sequels to Oz, but they all pale in comparison the original movie which was almost flowless in its making.

The Wizard of Oz in the 60s became a yearly treat that families would gather around their television sets to watch around the Easter holiday.  My family was no exception and I remember being little and hiding behind my father whenever The Wicked Witch of The West would make her appearance.  There wasn’t a lot of magic actually done in The Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy gest to Oz by tornado.  She walks to The Emerald City and meets non-human creatures and talking animals but the only magic that is actually performed is Glinda magically having the Ruby Slippers appear on Dorothy’s feet, The Wicked Witch conjuring the poppy field and Glinda creating the snow that destroys the poppies effects.  Of course, Glinda makes her appearances in a magic bubble and The Wicked Witch rides a broom stick but that’s about it.  To compare the two there was more magic in a half hour of Bewitched than there was in the full-length movie of The Wizard of Oz.

But Oz was magical in an of itself.  A talking Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion as well as talking apple trees and colors that were brighter and more beautiful than in our own gray world made this movie a delight for our senses.  And at the end of the 1930s when America was just coming out of the depression but was on the brink of another world war, that kind of beauty and unreality was much needed by children and adults.

My next stop in my magical tour must be Neverland.  I was introduced to Peter Pan fairly young.  My mother was a big fan of musicals and when Peter Pan starring Mary Martin was aired on television in the early 60s it was a family event.

Peter Pan began as a nonmusical stage play by JM Barrie.  Mr. Barrie based his play on his relationship with three young boys and the games they would play.  Peter Pan opened in 1904 and did very well.  Mr. Barrie was already a celebrated playwright, but Peter Pan elevated him to an immortal status and is the only thing still remembered today.  Peter became so famous that Barrie, told everyone to watch Kensington Gardens for a surprise on a certain date and when London woke up that morning there was the magnificent statue of Peter in the gardens.

It was in 1911 that Barrie published the novel that told the story of his play for all the world.  He titled the novel Peter Pan and Wendy, and it is still enjoyed by people today.

Peter Pan is a difficult role, and it was decided early on that a child could not handle the work in a full length play so a woman has been traditionally cast as Peter.  In recent times in cartoons and films as well as some stage production this has changed but more often than not Peter is still played by a woman.

Peter Pan has very little magic.  In fact, the only magic we see is Peter teaching the children to fly.  We know there are fairies as Tinker Bell is a main character in the play and we know that is by thinking good thoughts and the use of fairy dust that we can learn to fly.  Bu that is the extent of the observable magic in the play.

Let’s talk about flying.  When Barrie first opened his play in 1904 Peter had only one requirement to fly.  You had to think good thoughts.  Many children left the theater with that idea in their heads and soon found themselves jumping off roofs and out of windows thinking they would fly.  This of course caused some injuries but as far as I know no life was lost.  On learning this Barrie modified his play to add fairy dust to the flying equation and the attempts ceased.  I believed a similar situation occurred in 1964 when Disney released Mary Poppins and Mary seemed to fly by umbrella to the front door of the Bank’s home.  I know my friends and I spent some time jumping from steps with an umbrella in hand, but we never got air born.

Neverland is a magic place.  It is inhabited by fairies, and mermaids.  We know from the play that it is Spring, summer, Winter and Fall all at the same time on different parts of the island.  Peter describes it as crammed with hardly any room between one adventure and another.  And of course, if you go there as a child, you never grow up.  There is magic in the very soil of Neverland.

I was transported as a child to Neverland in my dreams.  Not long after seeing the Mary Martin TV special I brought to see the Disney version of the classic story.  The problem with Disney and Miss Martin’s work is that they watered the story down quite a lot.  They took out the scary stuff and so missed some of the best parts.  In time I grew to love the book that Barrie wrote mush more than the film versions.  To this day no one has written Peter the way Barrie did.  I would love to see new stage production that left it all intact.

The fantasy that taught me how to think would begin and end with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  The Phantom Tollbooth is about a bored little boy whose name is Milo.  Milo has no interest in anything until one day a mysterious box appears in his room.  The box contains a life size toy toll booth which Milo proceeds to put together.  When it’s completed Milo gets into his toy electric car and drives thru into The Land Beyond.  

Milo’s adventures in the Lands Beyond are filled with strange creatures that are magical in some ways but they only way to deal with them is to think.  There is the land of the doldrums where you get very sleepy, and can get yourself killed if you don’t wake up and begin to think your way out by reciting poetry and equations as well as using your imagination.  Milo is saved from The Doldrums by Tok a watchdog.  This is a large dog that has a clock built into his side and he guards time he especially is after those who waste time.

Milo is told the story of the Lands Beyond and knows that there are problems there that could be solved if the Princesses Rhyme and Reason could be rescued from the castle in the clouds which must be gotten to through by way of The Mountains of Ignorance. This stuff is great.  He must first get permission to save them from the warring kings of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis the kingdoms or Words and Numbers.  The kings hate each other even though they are brothers because they each believe that their own kingdom is better than the other.  In other words, words are better than numbers and numbers are better than words.

Milo has many adventures in The Lands Beyond and meets many strange creatures including a Spelling Bee and a Humbug but he eventually reaches the princesses and rescues them through the power of thinking.  When he returns home, he has a new lease on life and is no longer bored as there is always something new to learn.  This is a lesson many adults could use right now.

As I grew up so did my magic stories.  First there was my comic book heroes.  Doctor Strange from Marvel Comics and Doctor Fate from DC.  Doctor Fate came first and made his first appearance in the early 1940s in the pages of More Fun Comics.  He is Kent Nelson who, as a boy, finds The Helmet of Nabu an ancient Egyptian wizard, when he puts the helmet on, he becomes Doctor fate with all kinds of magic abilities.  Doctor Fate would fade away with the rest of the comic book heroes in the early 1950s as discussed in earlier blogs.  He would return the 1960s in the pages on The Justice League of America when DC Comics rebirths The Justice Society in the pages of that magazine.  He would eventually get his own title for a short while but for the most part remain a supporting character in the comic book universe.  With the popularity of the television series Stargirl and the reemergence of The Justice Society Doctor Fate may soon make a return.

Doctor Strange made his first appearance in Strange Tales and remains a favorite character of mine to this day.  Steven Strange is a surgeon, skilled and vain about those skills.  He cares only for money and little for the actual people he treats. An accident renders his hands useless and in seeking a cure he becomes a penniless derelict.  His search continues, however, and he makes it to Tibet where he hears of a man known as The Ancient One who may be able to help him.  He seeks The Ancient One out and finds him only discover that it is sorcery that the Ancient One believes can cure Strange.  Strange, being a man of science, rejects this and decides to leave only to discover that the Ancient One’s disciple Murdo is going to kill The Ancient One.  Strange attempts to warn the old man only to be stopped by a spell put on him by Murdo.  The Ancient One saves both Himself and Strange and Strange becomes the new disciple.  After years of training Doctor Strange become The Master of the Mystic Arts and a main player in the Marvel Comics and Cinematic Universe.

My journey in fictional magic continued.  The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magic Kingdom of Landover, The Belgariad and The Harry Potter books all added to my magical fun and adventure.

Why does magic entice all of us so much?  Why does the idea of conjuring strike our imaginations so hard?  I think the answer lies in what CS Lewis once said.  Lewis, the author of the Narnia books said “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  And we were made for another world.  When God created us in The Garden of Eden, he created us in a perfect world and was grooming us to be like him.  He wasn’t looking for slaves or he wouldn’t have given us the ability to choose.  But the ability to choose comes with consequences.  Adam and Eve were told they could do whatever they wanted except to eat from the fruit of one tree.  They couldn’t accept that one rule and so were banished from a perfect world into this one.  And here we remain as Lewis calls us, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.

But God left in us a desire for our true home.  He gave us glimpses of that home in our imaginations and in the many books of fantasy that have been written.  Whether you are a fan of The Shire or Shangri La, or Neverland or Oz all of those places are glimpses of Eden our true home and the place we all long for.

The thing is we have another act of God where in we can begin to get Eden back.  God sent his son Jesus to pay for the sins of Adam and all the rest of us.  Jesus’ death on the cross and his ultimate resurrection pave the way to the real place of magic known as Eden or Heaven.  To return to that place God asks only one thing from us and that is to believe that Jesus died and was resurrected for us.  That’s it.  This is what Tolkien called “the one true myth.” No great acts of heroism or penance are required just belief that in the work God has done.  Will our lives change after that?  Yes, they will but the change will come not as an act of payment but as an act of gratitude that comes from believing in this amazing gift.  It would be the same way you would act toward the person who showed up at your door with the keys to a brand-new house or a car.  Just handed those keys to you and said enjoy it.  We would go out of our way to show our gratitude.  This is why our lives change when we understand what God has done for us.

I will continue to enjoy the fantasy worlds that are so much a part of my life.  These worlds have added color and excitement and mystery to this existence, but they have also been a pointer.  Little by little they pointed me back to Eden and to God.

Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peanuts

Peanuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linus (Pretending he has a gun) Bang Bang!

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

Linus No!  Bang Bang!

Charlie Brown: Cowboys and Indians?

Linus: No.

Charlie Brown: Then what are you playing?

Linus: Liberals versus conservatives!  Bang Bang!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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