Arriving to this life at the tail end of the Baby Boom I was of course part of the first generation to watch way too much TV; to be baby sat by Captain Kangaroo and Kukla Fran & Ollie and Bugs Bunny and Jed Clampett.
I considered those hours misspent in front of the tube to be a disaster in the development of my social skills, so much so that in the last 2 to 3 decades I’ve largely avoided television viewing and rather view the TV from afar in disgust as an outside observer.
But I still smile and get warm and fuzzy feelings inside whenever I think about or see pictures of Marlo Thomas, Elizabeth Montgomery and Diana Rigg.
These ideal TV women formed my own ideal of the perfect woman when I was just a tyke. Whenever their shows came on (“That Girl,” “Bewitched,” or “The Avengers”) I sat agog in awe of their Barbie-like perfection. They churned up mysterious feelings inside me that at that young age I could not identify or interpret. Back then, in the 60s, it was still possible for a child to go blissfully through life without sex being mentioned. And, if it was mentioned, we really didn’t want to know about it. Back then, “The Talk” about the “birds and the bees” was something we dreaded. No carefree kid, especially brought up Catholic, wants to fidget through their parent’s embarassed, fumbling explanations of uber-serious taboo matters.
They want to learn it on the street.
Oh yeah, there was also Barbara Feldon from “Get Smart” (it was that Jean-Arthur-like buttery voice that gave her an edge). Make that 4 Hot Chix from my childhood. But then I think of Ann-Margret, and Tuesday Weld and Joey Hetherton and Goldie Hawn and Dawn Wells (I was absolutely a “Mary Ann guy”, no contest), well, the list gets a bit unwieldy. (Oddly, Barbara Eden in “I Dream of Jeannie” was probably the hottest of them all, but at the time her excessive makeup on that show made me neutral about her.)
Marlo, Elizabeth and Diana. All thin and pretty and perfect. Their fleeting cathode-ray presence made me know of my heteorosexuality before I knew what the hell that was. I wanted them, but I wasn’t quite sure in what way.
While I was innocently ogling these idealized unattainable TV women, I was completely and stupidly ignoring the attentions of two cute girls in the neighborhood who were practically at war over me, a brunette gal named Terry and a blonde named Judy. Judy wanted me to play doctor with her for Chissake (the whole magilla: “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine”) and I said no. It was that damned Catholic guilt drummed into me. TV and Catholic guilt kept me boringly pure, and afraid of real life.
There are two things I regret: not playing doctor with Judy, and not buying Microsoft stock in the mid-’70s.
Anyway, I don’t intend to wax rhapsodic in any detail about my perfect TV fantasy women of that era. What hasn’t already been written by pathetic fanboys about Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel? We all know the pull of her rapier wit, her chic confidence, her knowing sly smirk, her tight leathers and kung-fu deadliness. Marlo and Elizabeth were Mrs. Perfect-Hair Domestics, with boring guys in tow who made me jealous. Marlo adorable doing double takes and pouting; Elizabeth irresistable when quizzical. Maybe I saw them more as perfect potential mothers than as potential lovers.
“Bewitched” now strikes me as absurd in the way it expects a woman of power to sublimate all those powers to her husband’s will. The metaphors are obvious and feminists can justly have a field day in the analogizing.
I won’t psychologize either about the damaging socializing effects of being weaned on too-perfect media ideals of womanhood, and what that might do to one’s expectations and interpersonal relations in real life.
Anyway, maybe the following pix can convey some of the appeal of these retro sweeties, and maybe it will help me put these lingering subconscious infatuations to rest:
Ah, how can you not be wistful?