Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mr. C. And Mrs. Cleaver

The election is a'comin', but June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) and Mr. Cunningham (Tom Bosley) have died, and I want to pay tribute to them. The Beave's Mom and the head of the Cunningham clan, are right now, more important to me.

Though the beginning of "Happy Days" came just a little over ten years after the demise of "Leave It To Beaver" ("Beaver" died in September 1963..."Days" premiered in January 1974) they merged into my childhood-teenage boyhood, made the world a bit lighter, and interestingly enough, though they portrayed people of the same era (50's early 60's), the shows were opposites of each other.

I think I liked Mrs. Cleaver a little better, and the whole Beaver clan, because the show was from the 50's, but not of the 50's. Every week it televised the 50's as the 50's wanted to be seen, certainly not like it was. There were no hermaphrodites, pay toilets, don't ask blah blah, and real life, such as David Halberstam wrote in his epic book on the decade back in the 90's. "Leave It to Beaver" was what we wanted the 50's to be. And it was. For a half hour we could dream of the decade we desperately missed, or never experienced, and forget about the bomb, and Joe McCarthy, and civil rights, and the whole goddamn decade, as it really was. We could luxuriate in a pretend world of malt shops, football practice, double dates, and lovey dovey romance. The worst thing that ever happened on Beaver was when Eddie Haskell moved out to his own apartment. Maybe that wasn't so bad though. He moved back home in record time. In and out before the 30 minutes were up. And that was clocked. That was the 50's we wanted to return to, even if it never existed.

Happy Days was more complicated. It certainly did not have homosexuals, or poop pans, drug fiends, or shooting up the school on a Friday afternoon, like nowadays. But it was a more realistic portrayal of the decade, in that it, in it's own 70's sitcom fashion, confronted black people, sex(!), and poverty, among other things that really happened in the 50's. Mostly, however, Happy Days was malt shops, cars, high school, but with a little more honesty than the Beaver.

Is that what we wanted? No, but both shows satisfied a need, and Mrs. Cleaver, and Mr. C in their own way were a Mom and Dad that we respected, liked, and wanted our own to be more like.

I'd take the fake 50's over the real one. But we have to live with both.

RIP Baraba Billingsley and Tom Bosley.



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