R.I.P. Art Linkletter
Learning that Art Linkletter died this past Wednesday put me in a wistful and reflective mood. I have fond memories of his "House Party" afternoon TV show, which was full of a strange and exotic quality known as "good clean fun." Could people of today imagine kids and parents watching a TV show together, with everyone appreciating the humor? How weird is that!?
Linkletter's show was best known for the segment "Kids Say the Darndest Things," the title of a book he wrote in 1957. His sincere and engaging style was well-suited for eliciting candid remarks from kids and their parents, often with hilarious results. The beloved and admired long-time TV host lived until the ripe old age of 97, and according to the Washington Post, "Mr. Linkletter was born Gordon Arthur Kelly on July 17, 1912, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He was adopted as an infant by an older couple and was an only child." He led an amazing life, living as a hobo for a while, something I didn't know about. That article also notes that he outlived three of his five children. It is often the fate of those who bring happiness to others that their own lives are marked by tragedy. But Art Linkletter never succumbed to bitter feelings, and remained upbeat throughout his life.
One thing that really defines the baby-boomer generation is sharing a common experience in being influenced and shaped by a select group of entertainers, thanks to the golden age of television. No TV star of today can even remotely compare to Jackie Gleason, Lucy Ball, Carol Burnett, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, and of course, the warm and gentle man named Art Linkletter. Each of those entertainers put his or her own distinctive mark on the long-forgotten variety show format. (The closest we come nowadays are those atrocious "reality shows," which highlight fame and glory, while disparaging virtue and authenticity.) In part, that shared experience was due to the simple fact of the limited choices we had. Back when there were only three networks to choose from, mass media was truly media for the masses (rather than select demographic marketing niches), and for a while, at least, standards were generally quite high. For a series of reviews of 1960s TV programs from a baby-boomer perspective, see the60sofficialsite.com.
Like millions of others, I learned a lot about life and personal relationships through the vicarious medium of television. Sometimes the humor on those 60s-era variety shows was mildly ribald, and some of the comedians were obviously "gay." It didn't occur to anyone to be offended by it, however, since personal behavior was considered a personal matter. (What a novel concept!) But during the 1970s, sexuality became a political football, and we have been plagued by the Culture Wars ever since. The "Generation Gap" of the 1960s transmuted into a regional and urban-vs.-rural Great Divide, with tragic social consequences. Perhaps the passing of Art Linkletter will remind us that decency and kindness can be compatible with a rip-roaring good laugh. And after all, "laughter is the best medicine."
R.I.P. Gary Coleman
As if to draw attention to the contrast between "golden-age" TV and what followed, child TV star Gary Coleman passed away one day later, at the age of 42. The wisecracking, grinning main attraction of the "Different Strokes" show never adjusted very well to adulthood, and the same bottom-line-obsessed entertainment industry that thrust him into stardom in the 1980s later cast him aside as a has-been. He experienced a series of legal and health problems, and from interviews, you could tell he was not a happy person. May he truly "rest in peace."