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"Heathcliff & Gertrude", etc.

Updated on December 11, 2011

One of the most entertaining and enlightening aspects of the Internet is all the things that are found while searching for something else entirely. The ‘net’ is such a great research tool. Working on a piece featuring seagulls somehow reintroduced me to Heathcliff and Gertrude—characters created by Red Skelton. An hour later I had read several articles about the comedian, his many colorful characters and his general and performing biographies.

I remember his show as my show as Bonanza belonged to my sister and the variety shows like Lawrence Welk and Ed Sullivan were claimed by my parents. There were only a few networks and only so many shows per evening but when his show aired, our family would center our evenings around ‘my’ show often eating TV dinners on those collapsible tables made for just that purpose. I suppose we laughed at the comedian and watching the skits on the Internet today I still laugh. And reading and remembering that he would sign off each show with, “Good night and May God bless,” I realized how much I miss my family and those simpler, happier times.

My best friend and neighbor at the time was hooked on “The Fugitive” starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble who was falsely accused of murdering his wife and spent each show hunting for the man with one arm that was seen fleeing his home on that fateful night. I never liked the show but listened intently as my friend; Taylor would enlighten me to every detail as we played H-O-R-S-E in his driveway basketball court.

Though all us kids grew up in that old neighborhood, none of us were there really very long at all. Within ten to fifteen years we had completed our schooling requirements and moved on to college or got married or like myself—joined the service and stationed in a far off land of enchantment. But I’ll wager there are many of us still around who remember old man Messick, the big rock (in the creek) and playing “Kick-the-can” behind Robbie’s house.

It was in the mid-sixties that Ford introduced the Mustang and Taylor’s family got a green one. It was by far the sportiest car on the block. While we rode our motorized mini bikes and go carts up and down the sidewalks, we dreamt of the cars we someday would own. My sister didn’t care much for that sort of thing. As soon as the bus stopped she’d be running towards the house anxious to find out what was happening with Barnabas Collins and the others in Collinsport—and the soap opera-type production called “Dark Shadows.”

Having lost my sister in a tragic accident at the relatively young age of twenty-three, I wish I had been a more attentive brother but in those days we were brother and sister only by default…the fault of my parents. She liked vanilla, I chocolate. It was for far different reasons, but there was one show on TV during the sixties that we both agreed on and looked forward to watching as a family; “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

I was intrigued by all the high-tech spy gadgetry used by the secret agents while my sister was enthralled with the agents themselves especially David McCallum playing the intriguing Illya Kuryakin. I wonder…if she were alive today…how she would like McCallum’s current role as the aging medical examiner on NCIS.

My family is gone and those that we knew growing up in the old neighborhood are scattered around the country…perhaps around the world. Many like my family are deceased. I too am thousands of miles away but hopefully will never forget the good times of that young age…ours and the young age of television with the likes of the Beaver, Sheriff Taylor and Opie, Mannix, the Munsters and all the other characters that helped shape our future in one way or another.


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