By Ed Pierce
When my family mentions that they think I watched way too much television as a child, I nod and smile and attribute it all to my mother Harriett’s peculiar viewing habits.
She detested daytime TV news programs and loathed the standard
staple of situation comedy reruns or the abundance of copycat soap operas that
populated the daytime broadcast schedule when there were only three channels
available back in the 1960s.
During the summer or when I was home from school, her favorite
daytime programs always left me shaking my head though for pure shlock and
She never missed an episode of “Queen for a Day,” a pity party to end all as women told the saddest stories you could imagine to the host, Jack Bailey, in order to win a prize. Each “Queen for a Day” contestant would be asked what they needed the most and why they needed it.
The tales of woe
often descended into crying, sobbing tearjerkers and litanies of life gone oh
so wrong. For example, eight of the 15 kids in the family were hospitalized and
required open-heart surgery, the husband’s truck broke down and would need
$2,000 to fix and that money was being saved for Uncle Zelmo’s hearing aid and
wheelchair. Of course, this all happened the night before the house burned to
the ground with all their worldly possessions inside on Christmas Eve. Each
contestant told their sad plights to top the previous one before a final vote
was taken of the studio audience and tabulated live using an
Once a winner was chosen, Bailey
wrapped her in red velvet robe and placed a crown upon her head and handed her
a dozen long-stemmed roses while “Pomp and Circumstance” was played loudly and
she was led to a jewel-draped throne. Each winning “Queen for a Day” was then
regaled by Bailey of a lengthy list of household appliances, silverware, clothing
items, a vacuum cleaner, cookware and frequently a trip to a city in California
in honor of her selection that particular day. As the show’s credits rolled on
the screen ending each episode, Bailey would proclaim, “This is Jack Bailey,
wishing we could make every woman a queen, for every single day." And with
that, my mother would take her waste basket full of tissues from wiping her
eyes to the kitchen.
I learned early on not to make
wisecracks or jokes about the “Queen for a Day” contestants, lest I risked
having her tell my father about my sarcastic remarks, usually leading to a
lecture about inappropriate behavior or something sterner.
As she neared 40, Mom also became
interested in fitness and staying in shape and she became a devoted viewer of
the syndicated “The Jack LaLanne Show.”
Long before a new generation came to know
Jack LaLanne as a pitchman for juicers and an advocate for healthy eating
habits in late-night infomercials of the 1980s and 1990s, my mother would spend
a half-hour each morning doing exercises with LaLanne.
Each show was geared specifically for
housewives and he would demonstrate every exercise with a joke and smile and a
simple explanation of their value.
For me, Jack LaLanne held my interest at
the beginning and conclusion of each episode because he brought in his dog to
do tricks, a well-behaved pure-white German Shepherd he called Happy and I
didn’t care about the exercises.
Occasionally, my mother would finish watching “The Jack
LaLanne Show” and remark about what a handsome man he was. As a 10-year-old
boy, I never wanted to hear things like that. I also thought LaLanne dressed
funny because he always wore the same dark-colored one-piece workout jumper and
what looked like my sister’s Mary Jane shoes for each program.
LaLanne professed to be able to show viewers how to “Feel
Better, Look Better, To Live Longer” and it must have worked for my mom because
she lived to the age of 95.
Another of my mom’s favorite daytime shows happened to be “The
Newlywed Game” with host Bob Eubanks. I never understood why couples would appear
on that show to be humiliated by questions such as “How will your husband
complete this sentence? Which of the two of you is more likely to embarrass
the other today?” And all of it just to win a Broyhill Custom Dinette Set or a billiard table or something similar.
Were my mom’s shows rather cringeworthy? Indeed, but the time we spent together watching them was priceless. <