Waxing Nostalgic Over Classic TV

Friday, March 20, 2009

Red-State Archie vs. Blue-State Meathead

All in the Family was the mega-hit situation comedy that ran on CBS from 1971-1979, and an additional four years as the revamped Archie Bunker's Place. From 1971-1976, the show was rated the number one show in the country. Producer Norman Lear made a name for himself by breaking through subject matter and language barriers that had previously been taboo. In fact, the show was considered so controversial that CBS displayed a kind of disclaimer prior to each show:

The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter we hope to show, in a mature fashion, just how absurd they are.

The show was adapted from a British show called Till Death Us Do Part. Archie Bunker was a card-carrying conservative who lived in a house alongside his very liberal son-in-law, Michael Stivik (aka Meathead), as well as his daughter and "dingbat" wife. Today's red-state/blue-state division may have sprung directly out of the many spirited conversations between Archie and Meathead.

The video above is from one of the series' most notable episodes. When Sammy Davis Jr. finds himself stranded in the Bunker house we get some real insight into Archie's views on race and can only imagine what he would have thought about Barack Obama as president of the United States.

The Death of Superman

"Look, up in the sky!"

There have been many incarnations of Superman. He has appeared in comic books, cartoons, tv shows, and movies. But perhaps the iconic Superman is the one created by George Reeves, who appeared as The Man of Steel from 1951-1958 in one movie (Superman and the Mole Men) and 104 television episodes.

I was totally entranced by the show when I was a kid, and never missed an episode. Natually, I had the required gear, a bright red and blue Superman costume, complete with magic cape. I used to fly around the house and drive my mother crazy. Actually, I was hoping the cape might give me at least a couple of magic powers, and I briefly considered jumping off the roof of the house to see if I could fly before thinking better of it.

So when I heard that Superman was dead, that he had killed himself, it was pretty devastating news. It didn't compute. I thought only kryptonite could kill Superman. If Superman could die, what other beliefs that I held sacred might prove to be untrue? Was Santa Claus for real? The tooth fairy? My mind boggled at the possibilities.

George Reeves death was ruled a suicide, but many people believe that he was murdered and the crime was covered up. A couple of years ago, a really great film called Hollywoodland chronicled the story of his death. But however he really died, his death contributed to a crisis of identity for a lot of grief-stricken American kids.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What Really Happened to Diane Linkletter?

The beautiful young woman who jumped out of her sixth-floor apartment window at 9 am on October 4, 1969 had no way of knowing that her death was destined to become a focal point of the anti-drug movement in America.

Diane Linkletter was the 20-year-old daughter of Art Linkletter, the prominent radio and TV personality. Before an autopsy had even been performed, her famous father claimed to the media that she had taken LSD the night before her death. (Linkletter had not talked to his daughter before her death, but maintains that she had told her brother Robert that she had taken the acid.) He was quoted as saying, "It isn't suicide because she wasn't herself. She was murdered. She was murdered by the people who manufacture and sell LSD."

When the autopsy showed no signs of drugs in her system, he changed his story to claim that she was suffering an LSD flashback from months earlier and that had caused her to jump out the window.

The media, of course, ran with the story, and used Art Linkletter's claims to create the narrative, without doing much investigating of their own. By the time the dust had settled, the story had been transformed in most people's minds to reflect an old urban legend about a girl, high on LSD, who jumped out her window because she thought she could fly.

A much more accurate picture of what happened can be gleaned by examining the testimony of Diane's boyfriend, Edward Durston, who was present when she died. Diane had summoned him to her apartment at 3am and had spent the final six hours of her life with him. He told investigators that she was a desperately unhappy and despondent young woman who was determined to end her life. He had no reason to believe, and she had not indicated, that drugs were a factor in her death.

Art Linkletter, understandably devastated, became one of the most vocal critics of the counterculture, speaking out against drugs at every opportunity, while telling the tale of his daughter's LSD death. Dr. Timothy Leary, the LSD guru who had urged young people to "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out," became his archenemy.

In this fascinating video from 1980, Leary is surprised on an interview show with a call from Linkletter. Listening to him scream at Leary that "he hoped he had died, he hoped he had been hung" was a little disconcerting coming from someone whose public persona was that of the kindly father.

Did Art Linkletter truly believe that his daughter's death was caused by LSD or was it easier for him to view it through that prism? Did it make his burden easier to bear, believing that an outside force of some kind was responsible, and not any negligence on his part?

One thing is for certain. The story lodged itself in the public's consciousness and helped to fuel the anti-drug sentiments that led Richard Nixon to declare a "War on Drugs" in 1971, a seemingly unending battle that has strained our prison system and drained the nation of valuable resources.