Mom always had the radio on in the kitchen. Normally, she liked country music and we would make fun of the twangs in-between the songs; she didn’t appreciate our humor regarding her favorite country singers.
On occasion, in the midst of an hourly news cap, we’d hear Mom exclaim,
Uh oh! Something sad had been announced; another death of a well-known figure from either the American entertainment industry, the political world, or of some historical significance. When younger, I mistakenly believed we were somehow related to all of these people; taking a cue from my mother’s reaction, I thought for sure we must be related. But we were not!
I can remember the personalities in each of these morning announcements…
Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Security Chair, then Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves, both country stars; all three died in tragic plane crashes. Illness eventually took Tennessee Ernie Ford, an auto accident claimed Grace Kelly, and other old friends followed: David Niven, one of our favorite leading men; then Herb Caen, the columnist whose French accented his daily insights; not the least of these was one of our favorite news casters, Eric Sevareid.
We also listened to the Big Bands from the Forties; Mom could name every leader and the accompanying, featured vocalists. No wonder Winnie and I gravitated to the old black and white musicals – the costumes even without color were outstanding! – and the comedic movies where the stars wore smoking jackets and the women wore lovely dresses with jewelry, sitting in the library at cocktail hour with a glass of port, or more often a martini, in their hands. Winnie and I were probably the only kids on the block who knew Myrna Loy from Claudette Colbert, or Gene Kelley from Donald O’Connor.
Entertainers touched our hearts with courage, chords, laughter or any combination of these. We went to the movies or watched old black and white reruns of White Christmas for the sentiments and emotions that the entertainment offered. I didn’t need another vicarious, serious experience…I wanted joy! I wanted escape! I wanted laughter! If I wanted reality, I just turned off the television.
This was before the books came out and blew the lid off some of the admired “ladies of the screen”; the studios were fast losing their grasp on the Hollywood glamour they’d long protected. As soon as a famous leading man or lady of the silver screen left this earth, there were children, agents and any assorted neighbors willing to share salacious and never before told secrets among the silver screen elites.
Okay, so Joan Crawford wasn’t the most loving mother; and Bing Crosby wasn’t the most attentive spouse or father. Predictably, what were therapeutic conversations better left buried in quiet, private ceremonies were promoted as far too interesting not to sell to a curious public; the unattractive contents were all the more impressive by the successful book sales. Did we really need to know or share any of the disturbing reality?
Some of us refused to bite. I picked up on the soulful sentiments like a fly drawn to paper… Yes, I’d become my mother; and came by my emotional sense of loss quite naturally. So, my
was quietly followed by small prayers that the loved ones involved had consoling arms nearby. In this newer media, they had neither glamour nor privacy.