Sunday, August 03, 2008

Blast from the past

I'm blaming this on that Sam Sheppard book.

Finally finished it, by the way. Good read. I'm convinced that Dr. Sheppard didn't kill his wife. Little good it does him, nearly 40 years dead, three trials and 54 years after the fact.

Read the book if you're into such things. It's called "The Wrong Man" by James Neff, and is one fine piece of reporting.

And so I've landed back in the '50s these past few days, a place I've liked to visit since watching "Happy Days" as a kid. Yeah, I know that show is an illusion. This is my story. Let me dream.

I regularly watch "What's My Line?", the classic TV game show, which airs late at night on GSN. Currently airing episodes were originally broadcast in 1955. Things were better, things were worse, but one thing is undeniable: we were a more literate country then.

Take Bennett Cerf. There's no way an urbane publisher would appear on a TV game show today. They'd find some vapid blond celebrity instead. I seriously doubt if a well-known columnist like Dorothy Kilgallen would be included today, either.

Late last night, I watched a few episodes of that classic '50s comedy, "Ozzie and Harriet." I lost myself in its innocence, but was also intrigued by a few things.

People have an image of early TV sitcoms as being these neat little fantasies in which the father comes home, puts on a sweater, and solves the family's problems in 30 minutes. But, guess what? Ozzie was portrayed as a likable dolt, the joke almost always on him. He had no obvious source of income, and seemed to just hang around the house a lot. Oh, it was innocent, but David and Rick, the two sons, fought like all real-life siblings fight.

Rick was my favorite part of the show. He was a precocious kid in the early episodes, looking scrubby-clean in his crew cut. As a teenager, he became a real-life teen idol, and many of his songs were woven into the series. ("Stood Up" was the hit on the episodes I screened from Netflix last night.)

Of course, this notion of the 1950s as an suburban idyll overlooks the problems of the era -- segregation, repression, blandness, Communist witch hunts, a whole bunch of other stuff. Heck, the Sheppard trial tells you that. The good doctor was an adulterer, if not a murderer. Nobody was perfect in any era. Humans are basically always human. Just read Shakespeare.

But, it was a good place to land for a few minutes over the weekend. I don't care what you say, I still like that music better...

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