Further to my 60 years: Then and Now post of three weeks ago, I’d like to talk to you today about television. I don’t know about you, but I get misty-eyed when I compare just a few of the TV-land offerings of 1956 with shows of today.
In no particular order: Think of Loretta Young, swirling her way from the wings onto the stage, respendant and glamourous, in the centre of your black-and-white screen, on your family’s RCA, or Dumont, or whatever brand your shiny new TV was, that your dad managed to scrimp and save for. Ladies, did we not aspire to look like her when we grew up? Who projects such enchanting charisma today?
We never missed an episode of You Bet Your Life. Groucho Marx could have us in stitches with his wordplay and jokes, poking good-natured fun at his guests. And what of The Jack Benny Show? Jack would be just as hilarious without saying anything at all, just tucking one arm around his middle, the other hand up to his chin, and staring out with a jaundiced eye at us, the audience. Sometimes this look would be punctuated with an exasperated “Well!” I’m grinning just remembering this.
Lucille Ball! Her I Love Lucy show was hysterical and went on for 181 episodes. Who can forget her “vitameatavegamin” bit – she was supposed to be doing a commercial for a vitamin tonic, but she ends up getting more and more sloshed. Here it is. (Thanks, YouTube!) Equally brilliant and screamingly funny was her conveyor-belt skit, with her “neighbour,” Ethel (Vivian Vance). A divine diva of comedy, Lucy was.
But I’m saving what is arguably the best for the last: The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason, with Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, and Joyce Randolph. Just think: the show ran for only 39 episodes (throughout 1955 and 1956) yet it became a sensation. Its memes and memories have lasted to this day. I used to adore seeing “Ed Norton” (Carney) preparing to tell something of import to Gleason, never quite getting to it, until finally Gleason would explode at him with impatience. Here’s one scene featuring these two super-funny guys. I believe that The Honeymooners was the template for future ensemble-type sitcoms that followed.
The Big Bang Theory is funny, but I dare say it wouldn’t exist today if The Honeymooners had never been. I can’t compare other such sit-coms of today, since I don’t watch them. It’s too painful.