You love a show as a kid; it hits you just right, in a way you didn’t really know you could be struck. The actor is ever-after stuck in the rafters of your memories, and you get a sharp twinge when they pass. So it was with William Windom, who played the Thurberesque cartoonist in “My World and Welcome to It.” As a kid I didn’t get the sarcasm of the title; I didn’t get the brackish, sour aspect of the character, either. Watching it years later, the cartoonist seemed - at least in the pilot - to be an unpleasant fellow unable to say a nice word to the decent people he lived with. Take this:
That’s the famous Thurber house, and sums up Thurber’s relationship with wives, I guess. The wife in the TV show is perfectly nice. There’s nothing of that miserable scowling harpy that floats through Thurber’s work, and who seem to be based on relationships whose particulars he did not handle well. The brick-thick bio of the man, which I read twice many years ago, was the work of an admirer, but the later years had a bumper crop of warts, and he seemed to end up as messy, quarrelsome souse who believed he should’ve been given much more serious attention than he got. As an author, yes but an artist as well.
Really. Welllll now. There’s a charm to his drawings, but it doesn’t come from what you or I might call skill. It’s a natural sort of doodle that fit the words like comb in thinning hair. The writing’s good, and it’s interesting to see that his rep survived Benchley and Perelman - the latter my personal hero in college during my formative writing years. I started with Thurber, but graduated to Perelman; he had brio and pleasure in a way Thurber didn’t. There’s a resentment at the bottom of some of his sharpest work. Bitter resentment.
Windom knew Thurber’s work - he toured as a one man’s show - and I think he got that part, brought it out, but turned it into something that would connect with an audience, not just stand in the corner with a drink waiting to be complimented. That was the hook that got the ten-year-old me: he took us into his confidence, as equals, talked to us as though we knew what a daft world this was, and we were a few of the sane.
Then he popped up on my favorite Star Trek episode ever, as Commander Matt Decker. I’ve never seen anyone act with so much phlegm. Agony! I mean agony. His swagger when he took command; his suicide in the maw of the machine - oh, scenery was consumed and digested, aye, but he put it all into the role.
One final thing: I’d forgotten this.
Sheldon Leonard, the prototypical tough-guy voice. He was all over radio in the old days, sometimes as a comic thug, sometimes as the real thing. Eventually he became the parody accent for a Runyonesque crook. Thurber probably heard him on the radio. You want to go back in time and tap him on the shoulder and say “Jim? That guy will make a television show about your cartoons some day. Yes, that guy. Trust me.”
He would have been pleased. You’d pass on telling him it only lasted one season.
Mentioned a few weeks ago that I was watching “Battlestar Galactica.” Still am. Blowing through it, almost done with second season. I find myself a bit conflicted, because I really liked it up until they hit the “black market” plotline, which seemed sour and unhappy and mean. Up to then it was just immensely depressing. Occasional triumphs, which seem remarkable by contrast to the general feeling of doom and futility. I know that I hate the Cylons. Especially the blonde. I just hate her. I’m supposed to, I get, except now we’re on Cylon-occupied Caprica, and they’re so . . . human. The longer this goes on the less plausible it seems.
I do know that the ending disappointed people. So: Adama is a Cylon. Or: the Cylons found civilization on Earth, and we’re all Cylons! Head fake! Or: Earth has its own Cylon problem. Or: Balthar’s dream.
Any of those are likely from where I stand now; I’m pretty sure we won’t get the standard ending one might have expected years ago. You know, the happy ending. They win. That’s too easy.
Wonder when it will seem a hard choice again.
I’ll give it this much: it keeps pulling me into places I don’t want it to go, making you rethink your assumptions and accept uncomfortable possibilities.
This will be the least important thing you read today, but I discovered an absolutely charming old radio show. (Learning about old radio is like discovering there’s a medium called TV. When you start you’ve no idea how much there is.) Stumbled across “The Couple Next Door,” a 15-minute short written by Peg Lynch. There are almost a thousand episodes. A thousand. Seven hundred of the “Couple Next Door” run, and I’m sure several hundred of its predecessor, “Ethel and Albert” survive. They’d played the roles for years before they brought it back for “Couple Next Door,” and they work together like left and right hands interlacing their fingers. It may not be to your taste; it’s low-key domestic humor (all written by Lynch, who’s still alive). What I want you to hear is the themes.
Closing and opening. Simple and cheerful as morning sun hitting the ceramic rooster-shaped cookie jar. Interesting: the closing theme is different. I suspect both were library music, applied here and there, ending up as a commercial in a medium-sized market before retiring to Florida.
We have the usual Tuesday round-up of 50s & 60sproducts. I don’t know what I’m trying to prove here, except that packages used to look A) simpler, and B) different.
Not sure when they went away, but they'd return as blonde Oreos.
It was once a dry food, in boxes.
The box contained no dogs; the brand name must have been strong. Why all the stripes? Because it stood out, that's why. The modern food for modern dogs.
The Mascot-First Policy discussed yesterday is apparently an old trend, revised:
The ad says "Other packages show his brothers, 'Crackle' and 'Pop,' are just as happy." (sic) In case anyone was worried that some boxes were happier than others.
The trio were used in conservation messages during World War II and briefly re-imagined as superheroes in the early 1990s, but later returned to their original elf-like form. Likewise, there was briefly a fourth gnome  in the 1950s named Pow who represented the explosive nutritional value of Rice Krispies.
Wow! Pow? The Gummo of the Cereal Gnomes! The lost Krispie Elf, the Oswald of mascots.
The clearest lesson I can provide today of the difference between Then and the Eternally Hip Disruptive Now:
That's the Rolling Stones.
Hey, we added finely-grained powder that makes it smell like real coffee when you open it up.
And makes cold coffee, instantly! Sanka was the bane of my waitering life; it meant you had to get a small carafe of hot water, put it on a saucer - it always wobbled - and include a packet of the miserable stuff.
The invention of fresh-brewed decaf changed everything. My God, we were so glad to see Sanka's back.
The fisherman with the enormous earring was dropped for the beatnik ish, but neither could explain why the tuna was kissed by distant celestial bodies burning millions of tons of fuel per second. Perhaps there was soemthing blunt and brutally honest about the product, and the original name was "Starkest" - people wanted plain, unordorned fish.
This, from the website, is just ridiculous.
Our Values: Our company values are built on the following principles:
Commitment Champion a steadfast commitment to our employees, customers, consumers and shareholders
Honesty Instill honesty and respect throughout our working environment
Action Foster open communication that enables an action-oriented culture
Responsibility Protect our natural resources and act responsibly in all we do
Leadership Demonstrate credible, authentic and respected leadership
Innovation Innovate continuously across all aspects of the business
Empowerment Encourage our employees to be owners of the business and be accountable in all they do
Get it? Stare at it. It'll come to you eventually.