Good times!

Being confined to the apartment for the past ten days has revived the homespun diversions of my youth. Nothing like a global pandemic to call for unpretentious entertainment. I was never a fan of Mister Rogers. Perhaps the Presbyterian ministerial history worked against him. He wouldn’t be the first man of the cloth whom I encountered making a 90-degree shift to the profane – though certainly not smutty or disrespectful. I do however recollect with fondness Clarabelle the Clown (the mute partner of Howdy Doody), Mickey Mouse (and to a lesser extent Donald Duck), Dick Clark and American Bandstand, Annette Funicello, Father Knows BestLeave it to Beaver, Lassie and My Three Sons. Middle-class American boyhood set a high standard! As apparently did Maurice Chevalier for my parents. It was the fifties in Washington, DC. We lived a block from then Vice President Richard Nixon whose daughter Julie and I were in Mrs. McGee’s class together at Horace Mann Elementary School on Newark St NW.

His heavy French accent, melodic voice and Gallic charm made Maurice Chevalier the prototype of the gallant French monsieur in the American cinema of the 1930s. Before he went to Hollywood he worked as a farmer, circus acrobat, cabaret singer and, starting in 1908, a comical actor in French films, a few times even with the celebrated Max Linder. Chevalier fought as an infantryman in the French army during World War I and was taken prisoner by the Germans in 1914, spending two years in a POW camp. After the war he returned to the entertainment field, and eventually tried his luck in Hollywood. He made his first American movie in 1929, The Love Parade (1929). The film was a success, and Chevalier made more successful films with directors like Ernst Lubitsch (The Merry Widow(1934)). He retired from films in 1967, his last few roles being mainly friendly patriarchs.

Throughout the entire series run Clarabell had no lines of dialogue; he often pantomimed, using hand gestures and facial expressions which were understood (and translated to the audience) by Buffalo Bob and the cast; Clarabell’s only means of audible communication was a small toy horn he always carried. But during the series finale that aired on September 24, 1960, Clarabell repeatedly pantomimed that he had a very big surprise for the viewers. Throughout the special hour-long episode, the rest of the cast tried to guess Clarabell’s surprise, but only Mayor Phineas T. Bluster found out, having been told by Clarabell himself as an act of kindness, but then being sworn to secrecy.

It was only in the episode’s final moments that Clarabell, still gesturing and using his horn, revealed to Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob that he could actually speak. Amazed, Bob excitedly told Clarabell to prove it then and there as he would never get another chance. His lips quivered as the camera slowly zoomed in on his face; a drum and cymbal roll grew louder and abruptly stopped right before Clarabell tearfully whispered, “Goodbye, kids.”

A tear could be seen in Clarabell’s right eye as the screen faded to black. There were sounds of sobbing as a celeste version of “Auld Lang Syne” quietly played over the end credits. Bob Smith later recalled that even some of the more intractable members of the show’s technical crew were fighting back a tear at that highly emotional moment.

In view of the blatant indiscrimination of dramatics on almost every level nowadays it surprises one to confess the former attraction of those laughable productions. Yet it is perhaps their ingenuousness which is the selling point. Frankly I personally know of no one who is entirely comfortable with much of what on television at least is portrayed as popular entertainment. I really have trouble legitimizing my philosophic or theatrical amusement with nose-picking or diluted pornography. Certainly there is a place for bodily functions but I’d prefer to confine the analysis to a chemistry laboratory (in an attempt to add to it the obscuring dignity of research).

Meanwhile the real screenplay of life continues to unfold with unprecedented events, among them the decision of the Law Society of Upper Canada:

While this has been a difficult decision, the Law Society has decided to cancel the lawyer licensing examinations and the call to the bar ceremonies scheduled to take place in June 2020. We are actively exploring additional dates for the lawyer licensing examinations in late summer/early fall.

You know things are cutting close to the quick when the legal community is responding in kind. No longer are niceties of interpretation of any truck. There may be some solace in the projection to “late summer/early fall” but most of us are already hardened to the total unpredictability of the virus. Society in every sense of the word is narrowing its exposure and ambition.

Alcohol sales are up 40%; good news for the government coffers but distinctly anaesthetic management. Like any party, the morning-after-the-night-before is not assured to leave the dishes cleaned. The condition lingers no matter what the distraction. Judging by the voices of many political leaders they are not about to bend to whatever perversion of constitutional rights may be advanced by those intent upon fulfilling their March Break entitlement or any other social right. The indisputable violation of health is incontrovertible as the mounting numbers daily indicate. The unparalleled universality of infection goes a long way as well to stun the popular audience. We are further chastened by the prospect of reanimation of the disease at later date.

Good news all ’round! The dilemmas which challenge the current deprivation are too dreadful to enumerate. One must as a result occupy oneself with whatever succeeds to elevate the spirit and to chase away the ghouls! Certainly I miss driving my car and riding my bicycle.  But I fully intend to reactivate those piffling indulgences as soon as I have exhausted my 14-day quarantine.  And the Nanaimo bars! Then shall I restore my erstwhile gusto! I shall naturally preserve the necessary social distancing to protect myself and others. We have determined that a combination of on-line grocery ordering and self-pick-up achieves the goals of isolation and convenience.

I wistfully recall the balmy days at the beach.  But for now I content myself with visions of the past and the hypnotic persuasion of Alexis Ffrench and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Granted I still stagger to accept that Key Largo is as much on the horizon as the setting sun. Yet both may come up again.