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.

The Sound of Music and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Maria was sent to the Von Trapp’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Situation Comedy: My Golden Era

Situation Comedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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