With the recent passing of Mary Tyler Moore, I say another goodbye to someone who figured prominently in television during my formative years.
Undoubtedly, she will be best remembered for her role as Mary Richards in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” playing, along with a stellar cast, an associate producer in a fictitious TV newsroom while breaking new ground for women in television in the real world.
I, however, remember her just as well as Laura Petrie in “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Her death, of course, inevitably brings back memories of TV shows I watched as I was growing up. I hate to be one who insists things were better “back in the day,” but more than a few years ago, there were some great TV comedies to which today’s offerings simply fail to measure up.
And what about those theme songs? I would wager a significant amount that, if you are from my generation, and I asked you to picture Andy and Opie walking to the pond with their fishing poles, you could start whistling the theme song from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
And if you got some of your parenting skills from Andy, don’t be ashamed. Just last week I caught part of the episode where a spoiled young whipper snapper (played by Bill Bixby) gets a ticket for a fender bender for which he is at fault, and ends up in the Mayberry jail for a few days (which, given the food Aunt Bea would bring in, wasn’t bad for confined accommodations).
When his father’s high-powered lawyer shows up to bail him out, and has bribed the other person in the accident to give a different version of the facts, the young man overrules the lawyer and says that’s not what happened, influenced by a recent discussion with Andy about an incident involving Opie, with Andy having stressed the importance of teaching children “to stand on their own two legs.”
You can’t pay for advice like that.
Another TV dad long on wisdom was Steve Douglas (played by Fred McMurray) from “My Three Sons.” The show’s devotees will remember how, when the original oldest son was no longer on the show (and was later forgotten, as if he had never existed, but that’s another story), Steve adopted Ernie, son Chip’s neighbor friend, and the show would continue with the same name for many additional years.
Even though I have not seen it in a very long time, I can well remember the scene where Ernie’s adoption is finalized. Oh my, if I were to see it today, it would still bring me to tears.
Fun facts: Chip and Ernie were real life brothers (Stanley and Barry Livingston). Occasionally, you can still see Ernie playing bit parts on current TV shows and movies, and in a commercial here and there.
Going back a few years, there was “Leave it to Beaver,” where Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow played Beaver and Wally, respectively, the two sons of Ward and June Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley).
Though prone to occasional mischief, especially Beaver, they were good-at-heart boys being raised with strong values by wise parents. Even though Wally and Beaver made frequent references to “gettin’ yelled at,” viewers seldom witnessed a voice being raised by the elder Cleavers.
They did, however, show mild frustration when Eddie Haskell would come to visit, and demonstrate his very artificial charm, which they saw right through. (Funny, but my children never got it when I might have referenced one of their friends as “an Eddie Haskell type.”)
Countless other shows come to mind – “The Beverly Hillbillies” with its catchy theme song anyone in their 50s or 60s can likely sing word for word. (“Come and listen to my story ‘bout a man named Jed … “).
There were “Petticoat Junction’” (“Come ride the little train that is rolling down the track …”) and “Green Acres” (“Green Acres is the place to be … “), both set in the town of Hooterville, with occasional interchangeable characters.
I confess I was never a big fan of “Gilligan’s Island” (“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip …”), even though some of the characters were classic (especially Thurston Howell III and Lovie). Maybe I was too pragmatic for my age, but I never could get past how they were on that deserted island and couldn’t find a way off, even though there were frequent visitors who had no problem with departures. Don’t get me started on all the food they seemed to have, as well as frequent changes of clothing for the Howells and endless cosmetics for Ginger the movie star.
Many of these shows were watched on black and white screens, and even when the transition was made to color, most of us would still have to get up and adjust the volume or change the channel (hence the term “television dial”). Remote controls were luxury items.
We would live through VCRs, picture-in-a-picture and all kinds of products and features before arriving at today’s world of “on demand” and complicated components like Apple TV and Amazon Fire.
With all of the bells and whistles and hundreds of channels and networks, if I happen to catch Mary as I’m flipping through, whether she’s on as Laura Petrie or Mary Richards, I’ll stop in for a minute. She and others mentioned here are gone from us now, but they will always remind us of a simpler time when we might “set a spell.”
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, husband of one, father of three and father-in-law of two. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.