Saturday, 12 June 2004

Green Lantern

I hope anyone reading this blog forgives me for talking a bit more about comic books. As I said earlier, after Batman my favourite superhero is Green Lantern--namely Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern of the Golden Age. I suppose for people who not comic book fans or are not familiar with the history behind the Green Lantern name, it can be rather confusing. Quite simply, there have been several different characters who have borne the name "Green Lantern" over the years.

The original Green Lantern first appeared in All-American Comics #16, July 1940. He was Alan Scott, an engineer for a railway company. Scott's company had beat out another company in a bid to build a bridge. Unfortunately, the owner of the rival company did not take this well at all. He planted explosives under the bridge so that they would detonate with the first train to go over the bridge. When Scott's company sent a train across the bridge, then, there was a huge explosion. Everyone aboard the train was killed, save Alan Scott. Scott's life was saved by a green train lantern made of some unknown metal. To make a long story short, the lantern told Scott to remove a bit of its metal to make a ring. By touching the ring to the lantern every 24 hours, the ring would have the power of the lantern's magic green flame. The lantern's green flame was a very potent weapon. With it, Scott could fly, create various objects using the flame, fire bursts of energy, deflect attacks, and so on.

Green Lantern was one of the most successful superheroes of the Golden Age. He was a founding member of the Justice Society of America. And for most of his run, he was appearing in three different magazines: All-American Comics, Green Lantern, and Comic Cavalcade. Unfortunately, superheroes declined in popularity after World War II. In 1948 All-American Comics switched to an all Western format. In 1949 Comic Cavalcade switched to a "funny animal" format. That same year, Green Lantern's solo book was cancelled. He continued to appear with the Justice Society of America until that series ended in 1951.

Of course, I was not alive during Alan Scott's initial run in comic books. The first Green Lantern I encountered, then, was the second Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. In 1956 DC Comics created a new version of the Golden Age superhero The Flash. The new Flash met with such success that they decided to revive other Golden Age characters, the next of which was Green Lantern. Hal Jordan was introduced in Showcase #22, September/October 1959. Jordan was a test pilot who came upon Abin Sur, an alien who crashed on Earth. Abin Sur was one of the Green Lantern Corps, an interstellar police force founded by a group of aliens called the Guardians of the Universe. The members of the Green Lantern Corps were equipped with power rings (pretty much the same as the ring Alan Scott had made from the magic lantern) in their constant fight against evil across the galaxy. Equipped with the ring, Hal became Green Lantern.

As a child I was naturally drawn to the Silver Age Green Lantern. A large part of it was the art. For much of his run, Hal Jordan's adventures were illustrated by Gil Kane, quite possibly the greatest comic book artist to ever live. Kane's style was both dynamic and fluid. Perhaps no artist could better portray a superhero in flight than Kane could. Beyond the artwork, I was also drawn to Jordan's intergalactic adventures. Often Jordan found himself fighting villains in outer space or other planets. Finally, there was the matter of Hal's powers. With the ring could create practically any object, fire energy blasts, fly, and so on.

Of course, with the success of the new Flash and the new Green Lantern, DC Comics saw fit to revive their Golden Age characters. First, the Golden Age Flash appeared in his Silver Age counterpart's magazine. There it explained how the Golden Age heroes lived in a parallel universe, thereafter called Earth 2. It was not long afterwards that the Justice Society of America appeared in the pages of The Flash, among them Alan Scott--the Golden Age Green Lantern. The Justice Society of America would make yearly guest appearances in The Justice League of America. Alan Scott would make regular appearances in Hal Jordan's magazine. Initially, I preferred Jordan to Scott, but as time passed I found the Golden Age Green Lantern more to my liking. For one thing, I found the idea of a magic lantern more appealing than that of an interstellar police force. For another thing, Alan Scott was unique. He was the only Green Lantern in the reality of Earth 2. On the other hand, Hal Jordan was one of 3600 Green Lanterns on Earth 1!

Regardless, Scott and Jordan were not even the only people from Earth to bear the name "Green Lantern." For a time Hal retired as Green Lantern and a man named John Stewart took on the mantle of Green Lantern (he is the Green Lantern featured on Cartoon Network's Justice League cartoon). Yet another man, Guy Gardner, was chosen by the Guardians as Hal's alternate. He would substitute for Hal in a pinch and eventually became "Green Lantern" full time. Brash and temperamental, however, Guy was eventually stripped of the title.

While Hal eventually resumed being a Green Lantern, he would not remain so for the rest of his years. Unfortunately, DC Comics saw fit to turn Hal into a bad guy known as Parallax. He was apparently driven mad by the destruction of his hometown, Coast City. Jordan killed the rest of the Green Lantern Corps. He then killed all of the Guardians of the Universe save one. Eventually he came to his senses. He attempted to atone for his crimes and even sacrificed himself to save the world. There would be no rest for Jordan, however, even after death. Hal would return as the new Spectre.

Here I have to editorialise a bit. I have always thought that in turning Hal Jordan into a villain, DC Comics mishandled one of the greatest Silver Age heroes very, very badly. Even with Coast City destroyed, I could not see Hal Jordan going off the deep end. I certainly could not see him committing mass murder and (in the case of the Guardians) genocide. It was the one of the worst cases of a hero acting out of character in comic books, or any other medium for that matter.

Regardless, even with Hal gone mad, the Corps dead, and most of the Guardians, there would be another Green Lantern. Kyle Raynor became the latest "Green Lantern." The Guardians of the Universe and hence the Green Lantern Corps having been destroyed, the last of the Guardians gave Kyle the last Green Lantern ring in order to continue the legacy of the Corps.

Of course, through it all, Alan Scott was still around. He continued to fight crime, both on his own and as a part of the Justice Society of America. In fact, it seems that Scott had used his ring so much that he absorbed the power of the green flame and no longer had to rely on the lantern or the ring. He then took the new name of "Sentinel (although a lot of fans, like myself, still consider him the Green Lantern). He appears regularly in the current revival of the Justice Society of America, JSA.

Regardless of the various characters who have borne the name "Green Lantern," regardless of DC Comics' mistreatment of Hal Jordan, over the years the various Green Lanterns have remained popular. Indeed, Green Lantern was even referenced in the lyrics of Donovan's 1966 song "Sunshine Superman (I always wondered if it was Alan or Hal to whom he was referring...)." There is even a hip hop artist going by the name DJ Green Lantern (I assume, "Green Lantern" being a trademark of DC Comics, he got their permission...). And there have been talks of a movie based on the popular character (although I have no idea which Green Lantern will appear in the movie). I rather suspect that Green Lantern will continue to be popular in years to come. At the very least, I know I will continue to be a fan.

Friday, 11 June 2004

Neil Gaiman's Sandman

Well, I'm still thinking of comic books. Namely, I am thinking of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. To this day I still think it is one of the greatest comic books of all time. Indeed, the Sandman story "A Midsummer Night's Dream" won the World Fantasy Award for 1991. Although Sandman is set in the same reality as Batman, Superman, and DC's other heroes, it went far beyond previous superhero and fantasy comic books. Quite simply, in the pages of Sandman, Gaiman wrote some of the finest fantasy fiction ever written.

The "Sandman" name had a long history at DC Comics. The original Sandman first appeared in the early days of the Golden Age of comic books, in New York World's Fair Comics #1, July 1939 (issued April 30, 1939). The Sandman was Wesley Dodds, one of the many millionaires during the Golden Age who elected to fight crime. He dressed in a fedora, a gas mask, a cape, and a suit and packed a gun which delivered a gas to put criminals to sleep. Initially, this Sandman met with some success. Unfortunately, with the astronomical growth in the number of superheroes in the Golden Age, Wesley Dodds soon found his popularity declining. The character was revamped and given both gold and purple costume and a sidekick. The creative team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (the creators of Captain America) were even brought in to work in on the series. None of this helped and the Golden Age Sandman disappeared from comic books in 1944. He would not see print again until the Justice Society was revived in the Sixties.

An attempt at a new character named The Sandman, was made in the Seventies. Although the creation of the legendary Jack Kirby, this new Sandman failed. It was not until Neil Gaiman's Sandman that a character with the name would meet with any success.

While set in the same universe as DC's superheroes, Gaiman's Sandman was as far from a superhero as one can get. In fact, the character never referred to himself as "the Sandman," even though he was obviously that character from folklore. Gaiman's Sandman was Morpheus, also called Dream, one of a group of personifications of various archetypical ideals of the Universe. The other Endless were Death, Delirium, Desire, Despair, and Destruction. As might be expected, Dream was the one of the Endless who governs dreams and other forms of fantasy, such as story telling). His realm was the Dreaming, the world where dreams originate.

The story arcs of Sandman were far more sophisticated than anything previously seen in comic books and were definitely not written for children. Plots of the arcs involved the machinations of Desire (the Endless was a dysfunctional family if ever there was one), Morpheus inadvertently and unwillingly receiving stewardship of Hell, and interactions with various mortals. Beyond the story arcs there were shorter stories, such as the aforementioned "Midsummer's Night Dream" in which Shakespeare's play of the same name is commissioned by Morpheus in return for giving Shakespeare the writer's talent. Another story concerns the idea that cats once ruled the earth!

Sandman lasted for 75 issues, Gaiman having planned the series to have a definite conclusion. In that space of time, it became one of the most successful comic books of all time. The success of Gaiman's Sandman even rubbed off on DC's original Sandman, who was revived in the pages of Sandman Mystery Theatre. Set in the Thirties and Forties, Sandman Mystery Theatre updated Wesley Dodds for the Nineties.

Perhaps there is no greater measure of success than the fact that Gaiman's Sandman gave comic books a new found respect. Individuals who had never read a comic book before eagerly bought copies of Sandman issues and graphic novels. Morpheus' fans ranged from Goths to journalists to college professors. In the end, Morpheus and the Endless became a part of pop culture in the Nineties.

Thursday, 10 June 2004

Comic Books

Well, today my mind has turned to comic books. I have always been a big comic book fan. Given when I was born, I suppose that I was predisposed to it. Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, debuted on ABC when I was almost three years old. That September The New Adventures of Superman debuted on Saturday morning on CBS. It was followed by several other comic book inspired cartoons: Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Aquaman, and so on. But it was Batman that I remember best and the one that started it all. As a child I did not realise it was supposed to be a comedy, that the Dynamic Duo were being played as camp. I regarded it as high adventure. As an adult I can appreciate the comedy of Batman, but as a child it was very serious business!

Naturally, once I was old enough to read, it was comic books featuring the Caped Crusader I started with. Of course, by the time I was old enough to read, writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams had returned Batman to his roots. Although the TV series starring Adam West brought the Dark Knight to the attention of the general public, Batman was not originally a camp character. In the beginning he was a creature of the night, a dark night avenger whose costume was meant to strike fear in the hearts of criminals. Naturally, I found the whole idea very appealing. Batman was my favourite superhero as a child. He still is.

Of course, I didn't simply read Batman comic books. I also read other comic books published by DC Comics. I never cared much for Superman. As much as I love the old Max Fleischer cartoons and the George Reeves TV show, I always found the Man of Steel a tad dull as a child. But I loved The Green Lantern and The Flash. Both were members of the Justice League of America (as were Batman and Superman). It was in the pages of the Justice League of America that I discovered the superheroes of the Golden Age. Every year the JLA would team up with their counterparts on Earth II, the Justice Society of America. Of course, the JSA was the first superhero team, composed of heroes published by DC Comics and All-American Comics. And it was there I found my second favourite hero--the Golden Age Green Lantern. The Silver Age Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, was cool, but the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, was even cooler. Hal Jordan was basically an intergalactic policeman equipped with a ring that ran on willpower, given to him by the Guardians of the Universe. On the other hand, Alan Scott had made his own ring from a magic lantern that spoke to him. I found the idea of a magic lantern much more appealing. I still do.

As time went by, I found that I preferred the Justice Society of America to the Justice League of America. The characters were much more interesting. There was Dr. Mid-Nite, a blind physician who could see with special goggles. The Sandman, a character would could put criminals to sleep with his special gun. Hawkman, who had the power of flight. The Spectre, a policeman who had returned from the grave with the powers of a god. I thought they were a very interesting lot. I still do.

Of course, the Silver Age was also the age of Marvel Comics. And while Marvel Comics was the big rage in the Sixties and the Seventies, I cannot say that I ever really got into them. I loved Spider-Man, especially when he was still being written by Stan Lee and John Romita. Unfortunately, the comic book was somewhat spoiled for me when they killed off his girl friend, Gwen Stacey (I always did prefer blondes). I also liked The Fantastic Four, especially The Thing. Daredevil also appealed to me. He was blind like DC's Dr. Mid-Nite, but in his case he was equipped with his own radar.

I continued reading comic books well into adulthood, although my tastes matured as I did. Fortunately, it seemed comic books matured with me. The run of Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman's Sandman are decidely adult reading, dealing with such serious subjects as philosophy, religion, and the nature of life. I especially loved Gaiman's Sandman. Gaiman created his own mythology. The Sandman was Morpheus, also known as Dream. Morpheus was one of the Endless, archetypal entities who each deal with various aspects of the universe (the others are Death, Delirium, Desire, Despair, Destiny, and Destruction).

From what I understand, comic book reading has declined the past few decades. In fact, I can honestly say that I know more adults who read comic books than children. I suppose that cable television, VCRS, video games, and finally computers gradually wore away comic books' readership. I find that sad. While I no longer buy comic books (they have become much too expensive for me), I still enjoy them and I enjoyed them a good deal as a child. Indeed, comic books were what created my interest in writing. To a large degree, then, I owe much of what I am to the comics.

Wednesday, 9 June 2004

Drive-In Restaurants

Today I was thinking about drive in restaurants. I swear that before the more generic fastfood restaurants (Hardees, Burger King, McDonalds) moved into Moberly in the Seventies, they dominated our eating habits. I'm not sure what the first drive in was. I have read that it was the Pig Stand in Dallas, which opened in 1921. On the other hand I have also seen that claim made for an A & W restaurant which opened in Sacramento. Regardless, they spread throughout the country until, after World War II they were everywhere.

The old A & W restaurant in Moberly is the drive in that I remember best. I recall the building as being circular in design, with parking places for cars arranged around the building. I also remember that A & W's biggest drawing card was its root beer. It was served in mugs, not Styrofoam or paper cups like those used by fast food restaurants today. They served typical drive-in food--hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, French fries. I also remember the restaurant as constantly being busy. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it shut down about 1973. They tore the building down to build a self service gas station. Since then there have been rumours of A & W's return to Moberly, something like the legend that Arthur will return to rule Britain.... For the longest time I thought that A & W must have closed down their restaurant chain, then in my twenties I found an A & W restaurant in the south part of the state. Unfortunately, it was not a drive in.

Another drive-in I remember was Dog 'n' Suds. I especially remember its sign; it featured a dog in a chef's hat hoisting a tray with a mug of root beer and a hot dog on it. Like A & W, Dog 'n' Suds was known for its root beer. And like A & W, the root beer was served in mugs. Unlike A & W, it was also known for its hot dogs (hence the name--Dog 'n' Suds). I seem to recall that the building itself was small and square, with a a canopy extended out over the parking places. Our Dog 'n' Suds lasted into the Eighties before shutting down. After that, the building was used by a car dealership. That seems to have been a common fate for old Dog 'n' Suds restaurants for some reason. Like A & W, I had thought that the chain had closed down and dismissed reports of Dog 'n' Suds restaurants as so many urban legends. But a few years ago I actually saw one. I think it was in Oklahoma.

I only have vague memories of the Frost Top. It was in the south of Moberly, where there wasn't much of anything (there still isn't), so we didn't go to it very often. I seem to recall the building as being small and circular. Like A & W and Dog 'n' Suds it was usually pretty busy. Unfortunately, it also shut down in the Seventies, only to reopen very briefly in the Eighties.

Outside of the old A & W restaurants, I am guessing that the best known drive these days is probably Sonic. I believe our Sonic opened around 1971 or 1972. Oddly enough, however, I don't think I was aware of Sonic until around 1980, probably because we always went to A & W and Dog 'n' Suds. Regardless, our Sonic is still open--the sole surviving drive in restaurant. In fact, they just erected a new building a few years ago. It seems to me that Sonic wants to serve nostalgia along with hamburgers and fries, as they are always playing Fifties and Sixties music on the loud speakers. Unfortunately, it seems to me that they still don't quite capture the feel of the old A & W and Dog 'n' Suds restaurants. Maybe if they served their root beer in mugs...

I am not sure what killed the drive in restaurant. I definitely think that the rise of the fast food restaurant of the sort typified by McDonalds played a role. I'm no expert on business or restaurants, but it seems to me that fast food places would have a lower overhead than drive ins would. They would certainly have no need of carhops. I have to ponder if rising gas prices may have had much to do with the death of so many drive in restaurant chains as well. Think about it. Many of the drive in restaurant's business came from teens cruising "the strip (wherever in your town that may be)," families out on Sunday drives, and so on. With the Seventies, gas prices started to rise. Cruising slowly declines among teens (I'm not even sure kids today know what cruising is). Families stop going for Sunday drives. And, perhaps not coincidentally, drive in chains start dropping like flies.

I suppose I am biased because I grew up with drive in restaurants, but I think America lost something when the drive ins started to close. There is something to be said for having one's food delivered to his or her car, then eating that food in his or her car. It is an experience that is so much more relaxing than waiting in line at McDonalds or even waiting in line in one's car at the McDonald's drive thru. Indeed, to this day I would rather eat at Sonic than go to McDonald's, even if Sonic does fall short of the old A & W and Dog 'n' Suds restaurants I grew up with.

Tuesday, 8 June 2004

Cars

For some reason today my mind has turned to cars. I have to admit that beyond the very basics (I can change my own oil and spark plugs and stuff like that), I am not much of a mechanic. But I have always been a fan of automotive style. Unfortunately, it seems to me that style is one of those things that cars have lacked for most of my lifetime. In the late Sixties it seems to me that Detroit moved towards a "box" look. To me most cars from the Seventies, Eighties, and much of the Nineties looked more like matchboxes on wheels than anything else!

The earliest car I can remember in which I rode was a Ford Falcon. I can't remember what year it was, but I know it was an early Sixties model. I also remember it as being a very beautiful car. It was a steel blue and even had the tail fins so popular in that era. I remember it as being very sleek. It was the family car for the first five years of my life and I still regret that my father traded it in for a brand new, 1968 Ford Fairlane. And while my dad liked the Fairlane, I think he regretted it too. It was not long before the Falcons were considered "classic."

The Fairlane had a bit of the "box" look that would become popular in the following decades, although it was definitely sleeker than future car models. It was not a bad looking car. It was a light brown and I remember it as having a good deal of chrome. It also seemed to be damn near indestructible. The Fairlane outlived several other vehicles in the family!

Of course, by the Seventies the "box" look was the fashion for automobiles. I remember in car commercials from the era that they would always talk about "aerodynamics." I also remember as a child thinking to myself, "How can a box be aerodynamic?" The cars from the late Fifties and early Sixties, with their smooth lines and tail fins looked a lot more aerodynamic to me than the cars of the Seventies!

Indeed, my least favourite car in my life came from the Seventies. It was a Chevrolet Impala. It definitely looked like a matchbox on wheels. Beyond the fact that it was not a pretty car, there was the fact that it spent more time in the shop than on the road. Indeed, it had the distressing habit of jumping out of "Park" and into "Drive." One time it nearly went through our house. If I hadn't slammed on the brakes, we would have had a new door. Or window. A dang big hole in the house at any rate! I was so glad when we got rid of that car.

I did not get to drive the Falcon at all (five being well below driving age) and only got to drive the Fairlane a bit. The car I drove the most in my youth was a 1974 Plymouth Valiant. Now the Valiant did look a bit like a box, but it made up for it in that it also looked very menacing. It was not a small car and had a huge engine. I remember one time my brother outran a couple of kids in one of the latest sports cars! It was so funny seeing the looks on their faces as this old sedan passed them by. LOL. Like the Fairlane, the Valiant was damn near indestructible. I think the whole time we had it, it was only in the shop once or twice.

I also remember that in college a couple of my friends had Volkswagen Beetles. They were fun cars to drive. They were hardly very fast, but they were fairly manoeuvrable. Parallel parking was a breeze. I had one friend who had a Volkswagen Carmengia. It was sleek and blue. It didn't go that fast (not as fast as the Valiant anyway), but it was probably the most manoeuvrable car I have ever driven. It could turn on a dime. One great thing about the Volkwagens that various people in my life had owned is that they were almost never in the shop. They were very durable. The downside is that if they did break down, parts could be hard to get around here. Fortunately, that has changed in the last decade!

I remember when I was younger a couple of the local car collectors had two of my favourite car models. One was a Studebaker Hawk. This was a gorgeous car. A deep red with lots of chrome and long tail fins. It looked like a rocket ship ready to take off. I think it could well be the most beautiful car I'd ever seen in person. The other was a 1958 Plymouth Fury, the same make and model as the car from the Stephen King novel Christine and the movie based on it. It was a gorgeous car. I remember that the guy who owned it would take it out for a drive every time HBO showed the movie. One of the worst starts I had in my life was having watched Christine one late night and then going out for a walk. I remember he pulled up behind me and clicked those halogens on high beam. I actually jumped! LOL.

It seems to me that in the Nineties, the box look finally lost favour with Detroit. Cars today tend to have sleeker lines and more style than they once did. The problem I have with cars these days is that many times they look alike. When I was growing up, one could tell a Chevy from a Ford, even if one didn't see the logo on the car. Today, they are nearly indistinguishable. Sad, really. But at least they don't all look like boxes these days!

Monday, 7 June 2004

Soda Pop Nostalgia

Lately I have found myself drinking more and more Vanilla Coke. I can't say that I like it better than Coke Classic, but it's not bad. I have to admit that I have always drank a lot of soda. The brand I grew up with was Double Cola. It is a local brand that was based out of Chattanooga, TN, although it seems to be harder to find these days. I seem to recall that Double Cola had a strong taste, to put it lightly. It was much closer to Coca-Cola than Pepsi, although it tasted different from either. Unless I am mistaken, I think Double Cola was the first soda to be manufactured in 12 oz bottles.

Another soda brand I remember is Squirt, which is still available around here. It is a citrus drink, a lot like Mountain Dew, but without the caffeine. I remember that when I was growing up, the bottles featured a blond haired imp called "Little squirt." These days it is manufactured by Dr. Pepper/Seven Up, Inc.

As a kid I didn't get to drink Dr. Pepper or Seven Up very often. I loved Dr. Pepper. I still do. I remember the old bottles used to have a picture of a clock on the bottle. I was always puzzled by that as a kid, although I learned that it was a reminder to "drink a bite to eat at 10, 2 and 4 o'clock (an advertising slogan that apparently ended well before I was born)." Like a lot of sodas, I guess Dr. Pepper had delusions that it was nutritious...

Seven Up was the drink that my parents always got when I was sick to my stomach. I have no idea when the ad campaign began, but it seems as if it has been the "Uncola" since I have been alive. To this day, I still prefer the old Seven Up bottles, with the name "7 Up" in white against a red square, with white bubbles floating about. It seemed to me that it evoked the soda perfectly.

I also preferred the old Mountain Dew bottles. The front depicted a scene of a hillbilly firing either a rifle or a shotgun at another hillbilly. The back featured the picture of a hillbilly who was hoisting a jug with the words "It'll tickle your innards" beneath it. For me the whole hillbilly imagery associated with Mountain Dew back then seemed to fit better with the drink's name than the "extreme sports" image used in its commercials the past few years.

A more obscure soda was Chocolate Soldier. For the entirety of my childhood it was the only chocolate soda I knew. In fact, it was the only chocolate soda I knew until Yoo-Hoo came out. In fact, I recall it tasted like a lot like Yoo-Hoo, only it had more body to it. I remember the bottles had a picture of a "toy soldier" on front in red.

Lately a lot of schools have been removing soda machines from their premises due to the epidemic of obesity in Generation Y. I have to feel sorry for the kids, as I enjoyed drinking soda as a child. It seems to me that they could well be missing out on something enjoyed by my generation, my sister's generation, even my mother's generation. Drinking soda and childhood just seem to go hand in hand to me. It wouldn't be so bad, but I don't think removing soda machines from school will have any impact on obesity in young people. I've drank soda all my life and I have always been rather svelte myself. It seems to me that they could be taking away something that has been a part of childhood for generations for no good reason at all...

Sunday, 6 June 2004

Rural Comedies of the Sixties

Before anything else I should mention that today is the 60th anniversary of D-Day and the Invasion of Normandy. I think it goes without saying that we owe the men who served on D-Day, in the single largest invasion ever performed, a great deal of gratitude!

Today my mind has turned back to the shows I grew up with, namely the rural comedies of the Sixties. I don't know that it can truly be said that there was a cycle or trend towards rural comedies in that decade, as it seems to me that they were almost entirely on CBS and at least three of them were produced by Paul Henning! Regardless, I spent many hours watching these shows as a child. My parents were both raised in the country, as I was, so I suppose that they naturally gravitated to this particular genre. Indeed, as a child of a rural area, I could look at various characters on the shows and say, "I know someone like that! (yes, there are actually people like Barney Fife out there)."

I have no idea what the first rural comedy was on television. I know that one of the earliest was The Real McCoys. The Real McCoys debuted in 1957 and ran until 1963. The show centred on the McCoys, a family from the hills of West Virginia who move to a ranch in San Fernando Valley in California. I have no memory whatsoever of this show. It went off the air the year I was born and apparently our local stations did not show it in reruns. I did see a few episodes here and there as an adult and it seems to be a pleasant enough show.

A show I remember very well from my childhood is The Andy Griffith Show. Indeed, it would be surprising if I did not remember it. Even if I hadn't caught a single episode in its initial network run, there is little way I believe anyone of my generation could not have seen several episodes in rerun over the years! I am guessing it must be the most successful rural comedy of all time. It ran from 1960 to 1968, at which point it was the number one show on the air. The series ended only because Andy Griffith wanted to move onto other projects.

On The Andy Griffith Show, Griffith played Andy Taylor, the sheriff in the small town of Mayberry, North Carolina. A widower, Andy had a young son named Opie. Andy's Aunt Bea stayed with the two of them, keeping the house while Andy went about his duties. Andy's deputy was his cousin, Barney Fife (played by Don Knotts). Barney is possibly one of the greatest TV characters of all time. Nervous, highstrung, and with a tendency to go too much by the book, he was always in danger of being the town laughingstock.

Despite the show's title, however, it would be a mistake to assume that The Andy Griffith Show centred on Andy Taylor. Not only was it one of television's earliest rural comedies, it was also one of its earliest ensemble comedies (along with The Dick Van Dyke Show). The series actually centred upon the town of Mayberry and its residents. There was Otis, the town drunk, who let himself in and out of jail. There was Floyd, the town barber and one of the town's resident gossips. There was Gomer Pyle, the none too bright gas station attendant (who went on to get a show of his own). And the list doesn't end there. The Andy Griffith Show had a large cast of recurring characters, many of whom played pivotal roles in various episodes over the years.

The Andy Griffith Show was successful enough that it produced two spinoffs. The first was Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.. After only a season on The Andy Griffith Show, the character of Gomer Pyle was spun off into his own series, in which the none too bright gas station attendant joined the Marines. There Pyle found his nemesis in Sgt. Carter. Carter would grow to like Pyle, although he was often frustrated by Pyle's naivete. I enjoyed Gomer Pyle as a child, but as an adult I've found the show to be lacking. After a while the episodes seem to have been written according to a formula. Gomer tries to help someone, gets in trouble, and by the end of the episode everything is fine. While I still watch The Andy Griffith Show and find myself laughing out loud, I often find myself a bit bored with Gomer Pyle.

When The Andy Griffith Show left the air, it was still one of the top rated shows. In its place was another spinoff (or perhaps it might be more accurately be described as a continuation of the series), Mayberry R.F.D.. Mayberry R.F.D. featured Ken Berry as Sam Jones, a local farmer who is elected to the Mayberry city council. Like Andy, he was a widower with a young son (in this case, Mike). Initially, Andy's Aunt Bea stayed with Sam as his housekeeper. When Frances Bavier left the show, Bea was replaced by Sam's cousin Alice (played by Alice Ghostley). Besides Bea, some of the regulars from The Andy Griffith Show continued on Mayberry R.F.D.: handyman Emmett Clark, county clerk Howard Sprague, and Gomer's cousin Goober Pyle. On Mayberry R.F.D., however, Mayberry seemed much smaller to me, as there weren't nearly as many continuing characters. It is perhaps for this reason that the show also seemed to be weaker overall than The Andy Griffith Show. Regardless, Mayberry R.F.D. was a hit. It was one of the top rated shows when it left the air, cancelled because CBS wanted a more urban audience.

Perhaps the second most successful rural comedy to emerge from the Sixties was created by a veteran of The Real McCoys. Paul Henning had written several episodes of the sitcom before creating his own sitcom with a hillbilly theme. The Beverly Hillbillies centred on the Clampetts, a hillbilly family who strike oil and move to Beverly Hills. Once there the Clampetts stick to the ways of the hills rather than conforming to Beverly Hills expectations. The series starred movie veteran Buddy Ebsen as Jed, the head of the family and perhaps the only sane person on the show. His daughter was Elly May, a tomboy who loved animals and refused to behave as city folk think a young woman should. His mother in law and Elly's grandmother was Granny, a spry old woman who refused to accept that the South had lost the war and who brewed her own moonshine. Accompanying was the son of Jed's cousin Pearl, Jethro Bodine, a rube who made Gomer Pyle look like Albert Einstein. The Clampetts' money was kept in the Commerce Bank of Beverly Hills, whose president, Milburn Drysdale, was motivated totally by greed. His secretary, Jane Hathaway, tended to be overly intellectual and a bit man hungry.

When it first debuted, The Beverly Hillbillies was attacked by many critics as being one of the worst shows of all time. They felt that the comedy was low brow and stupid. Today the series still has its detractors, who claim that the series makes fun of country people. I have to disagree with both the TV critics of the Sixties and the show's detractors of the 21st century. First, The Beverly Hillbillies was not only one of the funniest shows of all time, it was also rather brilliant in its execution. On one hand, the series was Capraesque in that it took common people and placed them in the unusual situation of living amongst the high and mighty. Jed Clampett can then be seen as the Sixties equivalent of Mr. Deeds or Mr. Smith. On the other hand, it was a paen to nonconformity. Many people, even hillbillies, would have acclimated to Beverly Hills society. Within years they would have been driving fancy cars and going to expensive parties. The Clampetts don't. This is perhaps due to Jed more than anything else. Despite being a millionaire, Jed is still a simple, honest man who does not believe in putting on airs. The Beverly Hillbillies can then be seen as the story of one common man's victory over the corrupting forces of conformity, greed, and classism. Second, it must be pointed out that on The Beverly Hillbillies there is only one, single person who is sane, intelligent, and honest: Jed Clampett. In other words, the only sane, intelligent, and honest person on the whole show is from the country! It would seem to me, then, that rather than making fun of countryfolk, the show is actually saying that we are the only sane, intelligent, and honest people in American society! Perhaps city folk should take offence to the series instead...

Regardless of its detractors, The Beverly Hillbillies proved to be a smashing success. Episodes of the series still rank among the fifty most watched shows of al time. As far as the rural comedies of the Sixties, it may only be surpassed by The Andy Griffith Show in the success of its syndication run.

Henning also created Petticoat Junction. Petticoat Junction centred on Kate Bradley, who ran the Shady Rest Hotel in the small town of Hooterville. Kate had three daughters, Billie Jo (the blonde), Bobbie Jo (the brunette), and Betty Jo (the redhead). Helping out at the hotel (well, when he wasn't lazing around) was Uncle Joe. While the comedy on The Beverly Hillbillies tended to be very broad, the comedy on Petticoat Junction tended to be a bit more laid back. Like The Beverly Hillbillies, it proved to be very successful. Unfortunately, success would not last for the series. Lead actress Bea Benaderet died of lung cancer in 1968. Thereafter, the ratings slid until Petticoat Junction was cancelled in 1970.

It is difficult to say whether Green Acres should be considered a spinoff of Petticoat Junction or not. Regardless, the series was also set in Hooterville and characters from Petticoat Junction would appear on Green Acres (in fact, Frank Cady as storekeep Sam Drucker is the only actor to appear as a recurring character on three sitcoms at the same time: The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres). Green Acres was The Beverly Hillbillies in reverse. Lawyer Oliver Wendell Douglass (Eddie Albert) moved to the country with his wife Lisa (Eva Gabor) to fulfill his dream of being a farmer. Like Jed, Oliver is the only sane individual on the entire show. His wife still wants to return to the city and insists on making pets of every animal on the farm. His handyman, Eb, is not particularly bright. Like The Beverly Hillbillies, the comedy tended to be fairly broad. And like The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres had its share of detractors over the years. While I don't think the series is as inspired as The Beverly Hillbillies, I do think Green Acres was very funny at times.

Most of the rural comedies were still very successful as the Sixties came to close. Unfortunately, television was changing. Madison Avenue advertisers had decided that the most attractive audience for any show was one that was young and urban. Unfortunately, the rural comedies appealed primarily to rural audiences. In 1971, then, CBS decided to cancel every single rural comedy, regardless of how high their ratings might be. Mayberry R.F.D., The Beverly Hillbillies, and Green Acres were still top rated shows at the time. Sadly, following the cancellation of these comedies, there have been very few shows devoted to rural people (The Waltons and Evening Shadeare notable exceptions). It seems the networks and advertisers have forgotten that it isn't just city folk who buy new cars, soap, and breakfast cereals....