Back in the 1970s, growing up in Canberra, Australia, I became an addict.
Canberra, until 1977, had two black and white television stations – CTC 7, the commercial station, and ABC, Australia’s equivalent of the BBC.
Our house was in an outer suburb, carved out of the bush. I was young for my school year, had a tendency to daydream rather than play cricket or football, and found myself drawn to the TV. The afternoon post-school schedule was filled with American series and sitcoms. Bewitched, My Favourite Martian, Land of the Giants, Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Hogan’s Heroes, Green Acres and Happy Days. This was not a time of plenty and most of the programmes were repeated three or four times. Advertising, similarly, was not the firehose of endlessly changing content. A party trick of mine was to be able to recite the scripts of ads and do the voices. TV and advertising were exercises for me in rote learning. I might have done poorly in some exams but if I’d been asked to recite the Selvitex Suits ad I would have been word-perfect – and am still so today.
My TV addiction led me to become an expert on cast lists. I could, for instance, give you the names of all of the cast of the Brady Bunch – or the names of the two actors that played Darren Stevens in Bewitched. I am available for pub quiz teams for a modest fee.
Earlier today I saw a link to an obituary for an Actor called Al Molinaro. Students/addicts of Happy Days will know that Al played Al Delvecchio, the proprietor of Arnold’s (later Al’s), the diner that Richie, the Fonz, Ralph, Potsie, Joanie – I could go on – met at during the show. Happy Days was the Friends of its day.
Anyway, I learned something today about Al that I didn’t know. In a later episode of Happy Days, an alien appears (this is a fairly poor episode, late in the show’s run). The alien, though, is the first appearance of a character that went on to have his own spin-off show (Laverne and Shirley was another Happy Days spin-off). The person who played the alien was plucked from obscurity by Al Molinaro in an act of desperation when the original choice bailed because he thought the script was terrible. His (later) spin-off show was called Mork and Mindy. The actor was Robin Williams.
Over our lives all of us experience small twists of fate that play out in ways that we might never have foreseen. One of the programmes I used to watch was Daniel Boone, played by a towering (physically) American actor called Fess Parker. Some years later when I was working as a waiter at a hotel in Canberra to pay my way through University, I was attracted to the job because it was the only big hotel in town and I’d heard on the grapevine that they had some pretty extraordinary events. In one of my first gigs I served Fess Parker at a dinner of the Australian American Association. He shook my hand. His hand was the size of my torso. Also at the dinner was Walter Cronkite. I am, as you might know, a space nut, and every time I watch the original broadcasts of the Apollo 11 landing, and hear Cronkite’s distinctive voice, I think of that chance meeting and that simple twist of fate. That job at the Lakeside Hotel, incidentally, led to me waiting on Charles and Diana, George Bush Snr, the King of Tonga, three Australian PMs, Phyllis Diller and loads of other utterly unexpected people.
I don’t know what this means or why I’m writing this, other than perhaps to say that sometimes it’s the microscopic choices that lead us to things – either willingly or inadvertently. Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, is in one reading, about these delicate, seemingly insignificant choices or influences that might lead us or others to things. We spend ages trying to decide why to do something. Sometimes in our lives we could afford to drift with a current and spend a bit more time thinking ‘why not?’