Love and the Dummies
by DL Minor
I am not supposed to be doing this.
I’m supposed to be at a writing workshop tonight, the theme of which is “Identity”, but I’ve been doing a lot of memoir writing lately and frankly I’m beginning to feel a tad burned out. The writing work has been bracing, revelatory, enormous fun, and our moderator, Tony, has encouraged us to keep up the good work, keep writing. I nodded my head along with everyone else at the table, but truthfully what I was thinking was: Screw this. I’ve had enough of all this looking back. Some places you’d just rather not revisit.
So I’m watching a television show instead, or rather I’m watching a television show DVD, and I’m wincing a little. Paul Winchell and Sheri Lewis, the actor-puppeteer-ventriloquists, are talking to each other through their wooden alter egos. Their garishly done up dummies are cradled in their laps, and they are sitting close together on a sofa in the drab outer office of a talent agency, awkwardly trying to connect as they wait for an interview, hope for a job.
Suddenly, the redoubtable Scatman Crothers appears; bold, bronzed, bald and decked out with all manner of crashing, honking, tooting instruments. He breezes past them, flashes them his blinding signature grin, that toothy Pepsodent smile, having either just secured a gig or gotten paid for one.
The Scatman is listed in the episode’s end credits as “The One-Man Band”, by the way. No name, just “The One-Man Band”. Is there a bold, bronzed and beautiful One-Woman Band waiting for him in another office somewhere? Who knows? Scatman is there and gone so quickly, I guess we’re not supposed to care about that.
I’d popped this Netflix DVD into my player thinking it might be fun after so many years to settle back with a few of these old Love, American Style episodes, just to see how they hold up. They don’t, of course. They are juvenile, cornball, and light as air, downright cheerful in their goofy chauvinisms and glints of unconscious racisms. They were dated the moment they aired though I doubt I would have understood that at the time. The original air date of this episode, Love and the Dummies, was December 1, 1969.
I was 11 years old on December 1, 1969. I didn’t know what I was looking at. I didn’t know what the hell was going on.
Apparently, neither did the producers of this silly anthology series.
But watching it now it’s at least partially clear to me what was going on then: these “comedic” takes on love in the Swinging Sixties were written and directed by men—white men—who were probably 20-somethings in the 1940s and ‘50s. Most of the actors in these segments are middle-aged white guys also, though, predictably, the objects of their desires—our desires, presumably—are 24 year old platinum blondes. Are there any older women anywhere on the premises..? A few, but they are not sexy; they are snoopy neighbors, annoying ex-wives and meddling mothers-in-law.
These days, bits and pieces of programs like Love, American Style can be found on YouTube endorsed by a string of comments extolling their virtues and the supposed virtues of the era that produced them.
“Love in a more light-hearted and innocent time; those were the days” someone calling themselves SixtiesForever will likely post, and in reply someone else: “Yeah, this was when TV was great, man. Not like the crap they’re putting on now-LOL.” Hell, it might even be me that writes those words, caught up in a flight of adolescent longing, seeing in my mind’s nearsighted eyes my Barbie-pajama’d self hunched and cross-legged on our faded living room carpet. There I am, gazing up at our Zenith color set with wide, rapt, uncritical absorption, slack-jawed and insensible, my blonde, blue-eyed Chatty Cathy doll cradled in my lap.
Looking for something. Trying to find, in Love, American Style, The Brady Bunch and Peyton Place…something. Something hidden from me in my own living room. Some secret my mother and my grandmother wouldn’t share with me, couldn’t share, maybe because what I wanted didn’t exist or maybe because what they’d learned was too mean, hurt too much, to tell a slack-jawed, wide-eyed 11 year old.
See? I told you. A little nostalgia can be a dangerous thing.