I owe it all, I’m afraid, to Jack Benny.
The other day, while discussing comedy with my 30-something friend Cheryl, I mentioned my hero, the great skinflint, the perennial 39-year-old American institution, Jack Benny. I expected smiles and nods and gushes of recognition, if not a personal homage in the form of Cheryl crossing her arms, turning her head slowly aside, and exclaiming, "W-e-e-l-l-l-!-!!"
What I got was, "I know who he is! That British comedian who was always doing those goofy chases!"
I explained that she was thinking of Benny Hill. To me, confusing Benny Hill with Jack Benny is sort of like confusing Paris Hilton with Paris France!
Though Jack Benny was active in show business for much of the 20th Century, on TV his heyday was the 1950’s. In that moment, I learned that Benny’s heyday had become a nayday. As a child of the 50's, references and allusions from that period have tripped off my tongue "faster than a speeding bullet" and "like a fiery horse at the speed of light."
But no more. Today I come to bury the 50’s ... and to praise them.
Taking Leave, Leave it to Beaver! Growing up 50’s, Beaver, I measured my life against yours and consistently found it wanting. You got in and out of trouble in 30 minutes, learned well your parental lessons, and made life within the confines of a picket fence look copacetic and almost cool. But as I leave, Beav, please do me one favor: tell Ward and June to stop dressing for dinner as if they’re headed out for a job interview with Halliburton!
Au Revoir, Annette! As the Mickey Mousketeer with the prematurely developing bust line, the late Annette Funicello morphed into the most seismic force for male sexual awakening since the invention of masturbation. Though a millennial hearing your name would most likely presume you an Italian desert, I’ll always think of you, dear Annette, as the main course to a fantasy that had me glued to a show which was supposed to be about a mouse.
Hasta La Vista, Howdy! Though your creators should have learned the meaning of the term “no strings attached,” Howdy Doody, you introduced us to an endearing ensemble that foreshadowed the generations-later Sesame Street. Buffalo Bob, Mayor Bluster, the Flub-a-Dub, Princess Winterfall Summerspring, Clarabell, Chief Thunderthud, Heidi Doody, and more …. Hey, thank you, guys! The Peanut Gallery is closed.
Happy Trails, Roy! Happy trails to you, Roy Rogers, until we meet again. Happy Trails to you, which will be never, my friend!
Our Paths Diverge, Davy! You may have been King of the Wild Frontier, Davy Crockett, but on the Web Frontier, you’re not even a pawn. With coonskin cap aloft and “Born on a Mountaintop” playing in the breeze, it’s time for you to once again go down swinging --- this time not by Santa Anna’s men but by the Santa Anna winds of time.
Adios, Adlai! You, Adlai Stevenson, were my first political memory. Going with my father to vote for you for President in 1956, we knew you had as much chance to win as to set off a national craze of male babies named “Adlai.” You were beloved by liberals and everyone we knew, but the country liked Ike. Would I get a quick resonating response to your name in 2010? Sadly, think I’d have to wait until hell freezes over.
Gotta Roam, Lone Ranger! With a "hearty hi-ho, Silver!" and Tonto by your side, you, Lone Ranger, were the oddest of heroes. You started off with a handicap of your own making. You had no secret identity, you needed no mask, and everywhere you went the greeting was the same: "Look, it's an outlaw, kill him!" Your mask was on the side of the law, but it didn't need to be on your face at all!
Ciao, Raleigh Coupons! In the 1950’s cigarette commercials on TV were as prevalent as cigarette smoke in the office. But amongst them all, Raleigh Cigarettes, you puffed supreme. Why? Because of the golf clubs, toasters, and manifold marvels one could obtain “Free for Raleigh Coupons!” The trick, of course, was to stay alive long enough to collect the coupons to get any of them.
Sayonara, Superman! Many others have played the role, George Reeves, but nobody else ever inhabited it as fully as every 50’s kid once inhabited your cape. The stories were stupid, the production values atrocious, but when you flew, we did too. Greasy hair notwithstanding, you were the Man of Steel. If only Kryptonite had been all that could harm you ….
So fare thee well, Fifties! You shall live on in memory and history, if not in my metaphor and simile.
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Perry Block is a writer, humorist, and human resources professional who lives in Havertown PA, just outside of Philadelphia.
In his humor blog , Perry Block: Nouveau Old, Formerly Cute (www.perryblock.com), Perry chronicles the world through the eyes of one Baby Boomer warily poised on the cusp of an age he thought was exclusively reserved for people's parents. It also features parody, satire, and anything else you want.
You can also find Perry on Twitter at @PerryBlock, Facebook, Google+, and whatever other internet sites he’s able to find an “Idiot’s Guide to.”