22 August 2012

aaron spelling baked my madeleine.

Phyllis Diller died the other day. You probably met this news with either mild, passing interest or the question, 'Who?' Although Ms. Diller's career predated my birth by quite a few years, she's always been one of those low-grade or late-career celebrities who you thought would always be around, somewhere on the periphery of our cultural consciousness—no longer a marquee name or a tabloid fixture, to be sure, but an instantly recognizable relic from the pop culture scrapheap. 

So many high wattage celebrities who enjoyed their heyday earlier in the twentieth century slummed it on crappy television shows during the 1970s and 80s (when I was growing up). You'd almost suppose anthology series like The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Hotel were conceived with the charitable intention of keeping B-listers and washed-ups like Ethel Merman, Charo, Carol Channing, and Wayne Newton off the dole and gainfully employed. How many lines of coke were snorted off Captain Steubing's table in the Pacific Princess's dining room between takes by Mariette Hartley and Ricky Nelson? We can only tally the kilos in our imaginations, I suppose, but the cultural residue of those decadent days still haunts me. The fond memory of Lauren Tewes wielding her clipboard recalls the lost securities of childhood—when I'd put on my pajamas, bask in the euphoric knowledge that I didn't have school the next day—The Love Boat was on Saturday nights for most of its run—and settle in for some hokey television featuring old celebrities on a ship. (Or on an island. Or in a hotel.) I didn't even know what a lot of these guest stars were famous for; to me, they were just famous for being on these dumb shows. Did Helen Hayes and Olivia de Havilland do something remarkable before they ordered a strawberry daiquiri at Isaac's well-tended bar? If so, it was news to me. 

Needless to say, Phyllis Diller was no stranger to The Love Boat herself. I can't say I remember her episode, but nothing seems more natural to me than Ms. Diller poolside in a feather-fringed robe cackling her inimitable cackle at some non-joke delivered by Fred Grandy. Just the thought of it transports me back to those far-off days when I was buffered from the cruel and unknown world both by my parents and by the sweet, irretrievable ignorance of childhood. 

Marcel Proust had his madeleines, and I have my bad television. His talisman was surely more poetic than mine, but we can't control what our memories attach themselves to. Sometimes it's the strangest, most inconsequential things—artifacts that we can't even trace back to their source.

When Phyllis Diller dies, time is glimpsed in motion. My childhood stands shoulder-to-shoulder with who I am now. Those overwhelming impressions of youth have shrunken or dissipated, leaving my adult self wandering through the haziest memories with only faint recognition. But I still remember what the security of a home feels like—fortified by those invincible guarantors, my parents... who have also grown old now. Sometimes I want to dig in my heels and hold time down, so it can't move anymore. I want to strongarm the forces of nature into keeping still—even for just a while. I don't want to give everything up. I don't want to be an orphan. I don't want to be an adult. I don't want to be the next in line.

Sometimes I have dreams that all of this is a game. This isn't really the way things are. We don't grow old or die or lose anything. We just haven't been told yet. We're just waiting for the punchline.

Those are some wonderful fuckin' dreams... while they last.


  1. love: "I didn't even know what a lot of these guest stars were famous for; to me, they were just famous for being on these dumb shows. Did Helen Hayes and Olivia de Havilland do something remarkable before they ordered a strawberry daiquiri at Isaac's well-tended bar?"

    and this is beautiful, wounded nostalgia in maturity:

    "When Phyllis Diller dies, time is glimpsed in motion. My childhood stands shoulder-to-shoulder with who I am now. Those overwhelming impressions of youth have shrunken or dissipated, leaving my adult self wandering through the haziest memories with only faint recognition. But I still remember what the security of a home feels like—fortified by those invincible guarantors, my parents... who have also grown old now. Sometimes I want to dig in my heels and hold time down, so it can't move anymore. I want to strongarm the forces of nature into keeping still—even for just a while. I don't want to give everything up. I don't want to be an orphan. I don't want to be an adult. I don't want to be the next in line.

    Sometimes I have dreams that all of this is a game. This isn't really the way things are. We don't grow old or die or lose anything. We just haven't been told yet. We're just waiting for the punchline."

    so despite the ending notes of this post, it makes me really happy... because i feel a strong kinship with you here. i think we watched all the same tv shows when we were growing up (though you have said nothing about battle of the network stars *hello, dunk tank of my dreams*, or tales of the gold monkey -- i used to record my favourite shows onto my portable cassette player.) and oh, if it was all a game. i wonder if it would play out like this:

    when i was a kid i invented a game that i'd play with my neighbour pals. it would begin where we were all living in some imaginary apartment like some pre-teen valley of the dolls (really, it was usually my friend's front stoop and we were sitting on a "couch" made of a re-purposed bench seat from the back of a car on cinder blocks) and one of us would pretend to go to the store to buy a loaf of bread, and when they returned, also mention they bought a lottery ticket, and then dejectedly say "i won". we would all pretend to be tricked by tone at first, and then everybody would excitedly cheer when they found out their prize was a trip on the love boat. we would then change scenes and be in the midst of boarding. an imaginary julie and gopher would greet us as we arrived. sometimes we would be on the lido deck, others times, we felt that the aloha was more suitable. at this point in the narrative, we would notice some imaginary boys who looked like scott baio and ricky schroeder. then we would attire to our rooms to dress for dinner. there, we would find a magic wall (really the brick exterior) which we would press and request things: a gold lamé dress, a shirley temple (we didn't realize this was non-alcoholic) and other things suitable for cruising on the love boat. we would then invariably end up at the hot tub, where mr. baio and mr. schroeder were waiting for us. we would all get in, and some high-spirited hijinks (again with the dunking) would ensue, and then one of us wouldn't come up again, and neither did the beaux, and then we would realize that the hot tub was actually a tunnel to a lair of jewel thieves (inspired by the teen beat novel "brady bunch adventures on the high seas).

    we never got farther than that point of the story. instead, every time we played the game we went back to the beginning. we never knew how we would end.

    you can see how your post about love boat and the game of life makes a lot of sense to me. :)

    1. Another great post, Annabel! I never had games as elaborate as that one—you and your friends were really imaginative—but I remember that I was strongly affected as a kid by an NBC television movie starring Gary Coleman as an angel who has to go back to earth and (you guessed it) help some mean people see the error of their ways. I became (a little) obsessed by it—and over time it graduated into these 'novels' that I wrote—they were probably only about ten to fifteen handwritten pages, but I thought of them as novels—about a band of angels (led by an archangel named Herald—clever, huh??) who found various villains, devils, and three supervillains who were CLEARLY ripped off from Superman II. I wrote many, many sequels, and I am so upset I got rid of them all—because I was always afraid my parents or sister would find them and read them. (I am quite certain that seminal Gary Coleman films was one of the worst things ever, but it really made an impression on me.)

      And yes! Of course I remember the The Battle of the Network Stars. I loved that. But I hated that it was on so infrequently. I very very very very very vaguely remember the Tales of the Gold Monkey. I watched so much crap on TV in the 1980s that it's difficult to keep these short-lived series straight.

      I actually bought the first season of The Love Boat on DVD! But... the first season of The Love Boat wasn't quite Love Boaty enough for me. It took a season or two to find its groove. :)

    2. first seasons as a general rule seem to suck, unless the show only has one, and then it's brilliant (like tales of the gold monkey -- my raiders of the lost ark replacement television. :)

      did you stay up and watch fantasy island as well? that one was sometimes a little bit beyond my ken. in fact, i often wonder now if my loveboat game ended because normally that's when doc/guest star of the week would start making out, and the scene would shift, or the door would close, and there was only so far an invisible scott baio/ricky schroeder could take us. :)

      i just watched some footage of battle of the network stars on youtube. now i want it all on dvd. :)

      your gary coleman story!!!! that is awesome. i think it's so amazing what we cobbled together from the world around us and from what is clearly briliant (superman II. oh my zod). but i am really really sad you don't have the novels anymore -- are you sure you don't want to recreate one for our reading pleasure here for our delectation? i have one "novel" i wrote when i was eight. it is called the mystery of the one-eyed monster and it is a psycho-sexual thriller. :)

      i don't remember that particular gary coleman movie that spun off the novels, sad to say, but my favourite of his was the kid with the 200 IQ which also had robert guillaume from benson like your broken halo one. apparently somebody thought they were the hope and crosby of 80s tv? :)

      i spent far too much time a couple of months ago watching the rockford files over and over. i could never get into it as a kid, and on this viewing, i found the first season was pretty terrible, but then it became terribly compelling and i couldn't look away. i will tell you sometime about the first episode where isaac hayes guest starred as gandolph (!!!) fitch, and how it took on the trappings of greek tragedy. or you could just watch it yourself. :)

    3. Oh, yeah, I definitely watched Fantasy Island—but since the show included supernatural elements, it was sometimes too scary for me as a kid. (I was very impressionable.) I hate to admit my childhood prejudices, but I was a little creeped out by Tattoo, too. (That reminds me! One time Wendy's—yes, the fast food restaurant—had a contest where you could win Tattoo's little golf cart thing that he rode around the island in. Now that I look back, I think: What a ridiculous prize. Who would want it? Answer: I DID! I wanted that thing so effing bad that I could practically feel my buttocks on the imitation leather seat!)

      Of course the door would close on your Scott Baio/Ricky Schroeder rendezvous... Even though there was a lot of intimations of sex, The Love Boat was a very discreet show, as I recall. The two people would be kissing in their cabin and then CUT to the next morning when he wakes up in bed and she's already awake brushing her hair.

      I've never seen any episodes of The Rockford Files... Other hourlong dramas that I watched in my childhood were Hart to Hart, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, sometimes Cagney & Lacey, Knight Rider (of course), Buck Rogers with Gil Gerard and Erin Gray (loved that show!), The Greatest American Hero, The Six Million Dollar Man, Charlie's Angels... and so on. Did I do anything but watch television? I haven't even broached daytime TV!

    4. i was at a party tonight that was informed by this here blog post and *then* we segued into talking about daytime tv. (are you going to write a blog about daytime tv?) look at you, giving me party patter! thank you!

      you are killing me with your golf club revelations. and tattoo was freaky. i mean: the plane, boss! the plane!

      i recorded greatest american hero on tape recorder. also bosom buddies. six million dollar man was like the patron saint of our household. his nickname translated to joe balls. :P

      bosley! yes! the angels never had sex either, did they? a lot of implied sex when we were growing up. no wonder i don't know how to seal a deal. :P

      what about match game? i loved that show. i had a richard dawson problem. :P

      what are your feelings as regards towering inferno?

    5. Oh! The disaster movies were The Love Boats of the big screen! The Towering Inferno, the four Airport movies, The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake... all of 'em were catnip for the has-beens and lower-tier stars. I am particularly fond of the second, third, and fourth Airport movies. (The first one is bad, but quite bad enough to be as entertaining as I want it to be. I can't believe Jean Seberg appeared in that dreck!)

      Of course, I'll have to devote an entry to game shows at some point because they were so much a part of growing up in the 70s and 80s. This has shifted now to the reality competition shows for the most part. The Match Game was a particular favorite of mine. (Another show with tons of sexual innuendo and tons of washed-ups. And some of the celebrities really weren't even washed-up. I'm convinced that their only career was being on that show. RIP, Charles Nelson Reilly.) I also loved The Price Is Right (which somehow is still on, even though it is tremendously dated), Scrabble the game show with Chuck Woolery, and Press Your Luck ('Big bucks! No Whammies!' I loved when the Whammy cartoons came on the screen... especially Tammy Whammette.)

      I'm glad this entry provided an opening for your party patter. (Shared nostalgia is always a win on such occasions, I find.)

      I don't remember the Angels having sex. I really don't even remember it being intimated, but I'm sure it was... I was young and sexually immature when that was on, so that stuff didn't register much with me.

  2. p.s. there's some typos in there. my apologies. it was obviously retire, not attire. :)

    i cannot embed these for some reason, but here's this:


    i also had this one:


    1. Needless to say, I was OBSESSED with The Brady Bunch as a kid. I remember at its peak, it could be on TV four or five times a day. (Reruns on the local channel, the channel from Chicago, and the national channel TBS, which was then WTBS.) I watched every one of them. (Although I was never a fan of the first season. It took itself to seriously. I wanted the goofy shit.)

    2. also, when that cousin oliver came on that was pretty lame. :)

      did you notice on the book cover they left jan off? that gal can never catch a break.

      for some reason, i loved alice and sam the butcher. i have problems. :P

    3. Yeah, poor Jan... She (of course) was my favorite among the children. I think my favorite thing of any episode is when she is shopping for wigs—and Fannie Flagg is the sales clerk—and she mistakes a purse for a wig.

      But you do NOT have problems because Alice was definitely my favorite character on the show. No contest. (I hated Mr. Brady. He was awful.) I wanted an Alice in my home—not just for the housekeeping skills, but also for the corny jokes.

    4. Jan was the only relatable Brady.

    5. I was (and probably still am) obsessed with the Brady Bunch. I remember in college - having cable for the first time in my life - that we could get the Brady's 4 or more times a day. It was awesome. One of my roommates and I would have a contest as to who could guess the episode the fastest just by the first second of the opening scene - sometimes there was as little to go on as the stock footage of the house and maybe a slight change to the music. I could pretty much nail it within 5 - 10 seconds. A gift I've probably lost over the years. I remember loving it for being so painfully dorky and unrealistic (I grew up in a household of 6 kids - 3 boys, 3 girls in the same order as the Bradys) and our house was not nearly as kind and gentle as theirs. When I watch it now, I actually enjoy some of the humor - as corny as it is, Alice does have some great one liners. Don't be so hard on Mike Brady - for a gay guy, he seemed convincingly hot for Carole.

  3. Ha, this must be the stuff of current A-listers' nightmares. How long until Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are cast as shuffleboarding seniors on some Love Boat equivalent in the hazy far-off(?) future?

    I'm pretty sure that screenshot of Lauren Tewes was taken in Sydney Harbor. In the show, the boat always went from LA to Puerto Vallarta, didn't it? Did they have a "special" episode where they went to Australia... sort of how the Brady family went to Hawaii (and the Grand Canyon!)

    Charo don't need no welfare; she's still working in Las Vegas.

    1. I don't think we have many places for our old or faded celebrities anymore. I guess there's that celebrity dance show, but we're much less tolerant of has-beens than we have ever been. Also, it's impossible to imagine something like a Bob Hope special today... (Esp. since Bob Hope is decomposing right now.) I mean, can you imagine a celebrity over the age of, say, 60 being given a variety show during prime time on a major network (in which he will no doubt feature other has-beens and B-listers)? Everything is about youth now... what young people want to see. And they don't want to see very many old people.

      The Love Boat had lots of 'special' episodes where they went to all kinds of 'exotic' locations... so I'm sure Australia was one of them.

    2. The Love Boat had lots of 'special' episodes where they went to all kinds of 'exotic' locations...

      Not to be confused with "very special" episodes, where characters had brushes with drug addiction, teen pregnancy, or Gordon Jump as a pedophile.

    3. I'm still scarred by that Diff'rent Strokes episode. A shirtless Dudley drinking red wine and watching pornographic cartoons! Oh, the humanity...

    4. This post touches on so much, I don't know where to begin. But to jump in late on this particular discussion, it strikes me as so sad that shows like this don't exist anymore. Why was Hollywood so kind in the 80s by providing outlets like this for their fading stars? I love the idea of Angie and Brad in their 60s are the guests of a new compliation show like this. But what would be the premise? Things like cruises and fancy hotels seemed so unattainable back then - what is the out of reach fantasy of today?

  4. If you like watching has-beens, as well as a ton of before-they-were-famous noobs as guest actors, I think Hawaii Five-O is the show to beat. Just off the top of my head, I recall episodes with:

    William Shatner
    Susan Dey
    Erik Estrada (pre-CHiPs)
    Christopher Walken
    John Ritter (pre Three's Company)
    Loretta Swit (pre-MASH)
    Bruce Boxleitner (way before Babylon 5)
    Gavin McCloud (pre Love Boat!)
    Martin Sheen (pre-Apocalypse Now)
    Leslie Neelson (pre-Airport)
    Sorrell Booke ("Boss Hogg", but pre-Dukes of Hazzard)
    Andy Griffith


    1. I remember CHiPs. I was never a huge fan of it, for whatever reason. A lot of hourlong dramas of this era seemed to thrive off the special 'guest star,' who often just ended up being another actor from another show on the same network.

      I remember that Dominique Dunne, eldest daughter from Poltergeist and daughter of the author Dominick Dunne, had JUST finished filming her episode of CHiPs before she was murdered by her boyfriend. I don't know why I store this kind of information, but I do.

  5. I hadn't even known she was still alive. 94! I thought she was 94 back then, when I wasn't watching The Love Boat (to this day, would you believe that I have never seen an episode of either it or Fantasy Island?). Is the lady that does Lamb Chop still around? Don't tell me! God. I don't think I could take it...

    Ok. Top Five Sitcoms of the 80s (I should point out here that part of what I love about your writing, aside from it being smart and funny, is that we're about the same age and sometimes you wax sentimental):

    1. Three's Company
    2. Different Strokes
    3. Cheers
    4. Too Close for Comfort (I sometimes find myself mistaking an old guy here and there for Ted Knight)
    5. Gimme A Break

    M*A*S*H doesn't make it because all those earth tones really harshed my childhood vibe, but I loved it after I grew up (well, at least until they let Alan Alda start proselytizing).

    1. Dammit! I forgot The Facts of Life. For the purposes of this very unscientific study, it (regrettably) displaces Gimme A Break for the 5th spot. (I believe that Nell Carter worked as an entertainer for cruise lines later in her career! Very Love Boat-esque.)

    2. Yes, Three's Company!

      It's funny about this blog entry because, while on the surface seems like it's just about old TV shows, it really touches on that feeling of security you have as a kid, at least for me. I remember nights with my Dad (while my Mom worked late) watching The Ropers snarkily insulting each other and Chrissy snort-laughing and Janet rolling her eyes at everybody and yeah—it is not an objectively good television program by any stretch—but even twenty years later if I were to see an episode of it, it does brings back the warm and fuzzies. It's like a security blanket, and Kowalski once again touched on that strange feeling that I've always had trouble putting my finger on.

      I wonder, though, if my own kids have their own experiences to which future memory of will bring them comfort. I have no idea. But we don't really watch crap TV anymore, so we might just have to start baking more apple pie.

    3. I am terribly sentimental, with an emphasis on the mental. (Esteban, if you'd read my 'Dead or Alive' entry carefully, you'd know that Shari Lewis—the hand inside Lamb Chop's anus—is dead. I think she was only in her 50s or 60s.)

      Oh, I didn't like M*A*S*H at all as a kid (and I can't say I like it now either). That was my Dad's TV show, and being the anti-authoritarian type that I am, I wanted no part of it. There were too many annoying people on that show anyway. Alan Alda, Jamie Farr, and Gary Burghoff? It's just too much for me.

      Of course, I love lists, so I am expanding upon yours and doing a Top TEN Sitcoms because I am worried that some of these great achievements in crapitude will go unrecognized.


      1. Newhart
      2. Family Ties
      3. The Jeffersons
      4. Diff'rent Strokes
      5. The Facts of Life
      6. Alice
      7. Gimme a Break
      8. Three's Company
      9. Laverne and Shirley
      10. One Day at a Time

      Whew. That was tough. I only regret that I had to leave off Mr. Belvedere.

      Morais, which did you prefer—the Ropers or Mr. Furley? I have a difficult time choosing. They were both so great and brought their unique qualities to bear on that fine sitcome. What's really interesting is that almost everyone from our age bracket watched Three's Company when he/she was young, but the show was so totally inappropriate for children. It was really absolutely nothing but sexual innuendo. It makes me wonder what appealed to me when I was very young because clearly I didn't understand all of it.

      Don't worry. Kids will always find crappy stuff to attach good childhood feelings to. A child is constantly inundated by all that is crappy.

    4. The Ropers win by a long shot, in my opinion. And Chrissy was better than Nurse Whateverhernamewas. Mr. Furley was more slapstick, while the Ropers had this biting sarcasm between each other which I loved. Plus, you get two for the price of one. I so prefer the Ropers.

    5. There were TWO replacements for Chrissy. There was Cindy Snow (played by Jenilee Harrison) and then Teri the nurse (played by Priscilla Barnes). Teri was pretty awful.

    6. Yes, I remember Cindy. But she was too obvious a direct "Chrissy" replacement. At least they made Teri a different character. She sucked, but at least she was her own sucky character and not some clone attempt.

    7. I love that we are debating the merits of three's fucking company.

    8. Three's Company has no merits. It's just that if you grew up in the late 1970s or 1980s, you had to watch it and like it. It was the law.

      Do you remember when they added that one woman... Lana? She was an older oversexed woman who would always try to hump Jack (for unfathomable reasons).

      I also loved when Jack worked with Mr. Angelino and that evil cook named Pepe.

    9. Yes! I've seen practically every episode. When he was with Lana, wasn't his used car salesman friend Larry also part of picture?

    10. Larry was always on the show. (Although I could have done without him.)

    11. This conversation bores me. If you need me, I'll be down at the Regal Beagle.

    12. Esteban, is your real name Richard Loland Lewis?


    13. Alice!

      Sonofabitchyes. Let's dump Cheers, because I didn't really watch that until I was a teenager, and put Alice at #2 and move everything else down a notch. (Did you ever see the movie Alice? Mel is in it! I loved Mel! I loved how he shared his money from selling the restaurant with the girls at the end! He was like Kojak, but far less Turkish bathhouse threatening.) Furthermore, I would be remiss if I didn't point out how much I loved The Dukes of Hazard. Catherine Bach was probably my first sexual experience and I didn't even realize it at the time.

      My real name is El Jefe and I would never stalk anyone. That takes effort and I don't go in for that shit. I'm the sort to masochistically pine away over a person for years without her ever knowing about it. Which reminds me: Do you mind if I play matchmaker for a minute? I have this old friend (hear me out). I was nuts about her in high school, but she, of course, dated my (then) bestie (who never grew up and whose adult picture she and I submitted to that 'Men Who Look Like Lesbians' Facebook page because he wears a goddamn scarf -- A SCARF!). Anyway, she grew up to be a stripper, then a crazy cat lady, and now she's a vet tech. She's whip (worldly) smart, insanely nice, foxy, and she's moving back to California from Arizona. Whaddaya say?

      Say. I'm percolating with a nascent theory here: Do you remember how I shared with you how my parents went to the drive-in to see Jaws when I was a tiny, tiny child and thought I was asleep in the back seat but I wasn't and watched the whole thing? And how it shaped my life? Since Jaws kinda ripped off Moby-Dick, do you think I may be a sort of Pip-like character? What with my insightful ramblings?

    14. Dammit! You are an awful straight man. You're supposed to respond so I can make jokes.

    15. Sorry! I've actually been busy—which I don't even know how to cope with.

      Firstly—as far as your matchmaking goes... I don't know if you noticed this or not, but I don't live in California—and while I'm willing to make some effort for a date, driving across country for a dinner at Chili's followed by a bad movie really puts a damper on my inertia. (But I'm curious how anyone evolves/devolves from a stripper to a cat lady. And what the hell's wrong with a stripping cat lady?)

      You're more of a Pip in the Gladys-Knight-and-the vein. But I'll support your theory if I'm questioned by the media. (Relatedly: My parent made me go to see Jaws 2 in the theater because they were too cheap to get a sitter. I didn't want to go. Being an incredible pussy, I was terrified. I wonder what the statute of limitations is for calling CPS.)

      Yes, I have seen Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. (I actually prefer the series. Ellen Burstyn just doesn't have that Linda Lavin je ne sais quoi.) I'm guessing Alice is the only Martin Scorsese film made into a TV series, but I'd like to see a sitcom based on Mean Streets.

  6. Man, you're just lucky I have trouble posting to your blog from my smartphone. I had all this stuff cooked up about how you could live here (she's going to be at the beach, man! I totally see you in bermuda shorts!) and I could manipulate you into some sort of death spiral while simultaneously pulling a Salieri and getting you to pen reviews for me (and also getting you to babysit for me -- one can never have enough babysitters).

    Anyway, it sounded great in my head last night.