Friday, June 24, 2022

Insight: A summer of never-ending re-runs

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

It seems so long ago now, but each time I hear the theme music to certain popular television comedies of the 1960s, I’m brought back to the summer of 1965 and my mornings experiencing humor at its finest. 

The cast of television's 'Dick Van Dyke Show.'
For many years while growing up, my brother and I would ride our bikes two streets over to an elementary school in Brighton, New York, and participate in summer camp activities, but in 1965, the camp was called off because its director was having surgery. With my father headed out to work as a mechanical engineer each morning at 7:15 a.m. and my mother not driving, my brother and I tried to stay cool during the heat wave that summer with school out until September.

My mother suggested that we watch television to pass the time in the mornings and CBS was airing re-runs of four of their most beloved classic situation comedy shows back-to-back weekdays from 9 to 11 a.m.

I sat and watched each one and ended up knowing the characters, stories, and jokes from these programs by heart. Having an early bedtime during the school year, I hadn’t watched these shows previously and all the episodes were new to me. .

At 9 a.m. “I Love Lucy” aired and my favorite jokes from that show didn’t involve Lucy or Desi, instead I enjoyed the witty banter between their landlord neighbors, Fred Mertz (William Frawley) and his wife, Ethel (Vivian Vance). Their sharp-tongued pronouncements usually revolved around Fred’s penny-pinching ways or his longing for the time when he was single and not married to Ethel.

As a fan of the syndicated television series “Superman,” I liked the “I Love Lucy” episode that featured the actor who portrayed Superman, George Reeves. Lucy tries to get Reeves to appear at the fifth birthday party for Little Ricky (Keith Thibodeaux). When it looks like that is an impossibility, Lucy puts on a superhero costume and crawls onto a ledge outside her apartment to surprise Little Ricky and mayhem ensues.

Then at 9:30 a.m. “The Beverly Hillbillies” came on. Of all the quirky characters on that get-rich quick sitcom, including hillbillies Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen), Elly Mae Clampett (Donna Douglas), Jethro Bodine (Max Baer, Jr.), Granny (Irene Ryan), Jane Hathaway (Nancy Culp), and Milton Drysdale (Raymond Bailey), I loved the minor characters such as Milton Drysdale’s snooty wife, Margaret, portrayed by Harriet MacGibbon. Her posh lifestyle and disdain for her new backwoods neighbors was always entertaining.

I also loved “The Beverly Hillbillies” episodes that featured Wally Cox as Professor P. Caspar Biddle, an expert on bird watching. Up to that point, I knew Cox from his appearances on the “Hollywood Squares” and as the voice of the Saturday morning cartoon character, Underdog.

“The Dick Van Dyke Show” aired at 10:30 a.m. and it never failed to make me smile, even to this day. I found the trio of scriptwriter Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke), Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam), and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) and their non-stop jokes about the lack of hair of their supervisor, Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon), extremely funny.

Of the many episodes that I watched, my favorite and most memorable of the series was the show where the characters improvised taking on parts as musical instruments in the song “I Am A Fine Musician.”

Lastly at 10:30 a.m., CBS would air “The Andy Griffith Show” and like the other comedies, I had my favorites on that program as well. I related to Andy Griffith’s son Opie (Ron Howard) because I was closest in age to him, but two characters really sent me over the top with their zany antics, Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts), and the occasional appearances of the rowdy hillbilly Ernest T. Bass (Howard Morris).

My favorite Andy Griffith episode was the one where Buddy Ebsen guest-stars as a hobo drifter who fills Opie’s head with ideas such as foregoing his household chores to go fishing instead or swiping someone else’s bag of sandwiches left unattended. It’s a lesson in proper parenting for Andy because as a father he must explain to Opie the importance of honesty and finishing a job once it’s been started.

All in all, watching those re-runs of classic comedies guided the development of my sense of humor and provided me many unique stories that I probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise. The writing, timing and delivery of jokes, outlandish situations that the characters found themselves in, and lessons about everyday life proved to be invaluable to me as I started to formulate my own approach to the human experience.

There are probably some who will scoff when I recommend these comedies from the 1950s and 1960s to younger viewers, but they made me laugh and cry and made me think about my family, my friends and my life in general.

Through the years I rewatched each of these shows many times and find them as fascinating and entertaining today as I did way back in 1965. Communications expert Marshall McLuhan once suggested that “television is nothing more than an extension of technology,” but for me that summer, it led to a lifetime of appreciation of simple humor. <

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