Free Yourself and Live

“You have at least nine months. Perhaps as much as eighteen.”

“The first doctor gave me from one to two years.”

“I hope he’s right. What are you going to do?”

“Well, I have no family. I haven’t taken a day off since law school. I guess I’ll try to squeeze thirty years of living into one. Or two.”

Many people consider the 1950s to be “the golden age of television.” I just don’t see it.

It was the final decade in the golden age of radio, which started in the 1930s. But as far as I can tell, most 1950s television programs were pretty bad. Comedians Sid Caesar and Lucille Ball were wildly popular, but I’ve seen their clips and they don’t make me laugh. Toward the end of the decade, a few new shows got it right. “Perry Mason” became a long-time hit, and “The Rifleman” was so popular that foreign heads of state wanted to meet its star when they visited America.

Many of the better television programs were transplanted from radio, such as The Jack Benny Show, “Dragnet,” “Gunsmoke,” and “The Lone Ranger.” There were even political thrillers like a retitled version of “I Was a Communist for the FBI,” which was the 1950s counterpart of “I Was a Congresswoman for the Bronx.”

But for me, the golden age of television spanned the 1960s to the 1990s.

After fumbling around in the 1950s, Hollywood in the 1960s finally knew how to do television. Shows included “Star Trek,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Fugitive,” and other series that were both entertaining and thought-provoking. In the 1970s, there were “M.A.S.H.,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “The Six-Million Dollar Man.” The 1980s had “The A-Team,” “Magnum P.I.,” and “Hill Street Blues.” The 1990s brought “Seinfeld,” “Quantum Leap,” more “Star Trek,” and a couple other shows near and dear to me.

Which brings us back to the 1960s, and the television series “Run for Your Life” (1965-68).

The main character, lawyer Paul Bryan, had a terminal illness. The clock was ticking. Each episode featured a death-defying adventure of some kind. When hoodlums pointed guns at him, he laughed in their faces. He knew he was going to die anyway.

Ironically, that knowledge freed him to live, because he lost his fear of death.

And if the first half of the year 2020 has a motto, it’s “Fear of Death.” It’s a motto that has not served us well.

Everyone must make his or her own decisions about life. Every sane adult has that right. Some people whom I deeply respect think that Covid-19 lockdowns should continue, and that we’re doing too much too fast. I think that a year from now, we’ll look back on these months as a time of madness, when lockdowns did more harm to our country and to us as individuals than Covid-19 could ever have done. But we’ll see. I have no crystal ball.

I wouldn’t advise anyone to act recklessly. But we shouldn’t spend our lives being afraid. That’s not living, it’s only existing. Rocks can do that. We are meant for better things.

Our lives are limited in time and space: we can’t change that fact. What we can change is how we use the time we’ve been given. We should live our lives to the fullest — looking for the joy and beauty of each day, doing good things, and sharing time with our loved ones.

And getting haircuts. That’s definitely on my list.

Check out my book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it an “impressively nuanced analysis.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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8 Responses to Free Yourself and Live

  1. Jim Grey says:

    The 60s to the 90s gave us as many terrible shows as great ones. Just turn on MeTV in the middle of the night to see all of the tough-guy-hero dramas with super thin plotlines. They were uniformly terrible!

    Also: have you ever heard Stan Freberg’s radio show from 1957? There was a man who saw a dying medium and said, “I’ll dive in anyway!” He even sponsored at least one episode himself, out of his own pocket.

    I gave myself a haircut Saturday. Just took the clippers to my head. Crude but effective.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. N.S. Palmer says:

    I actually met Stan Freberg once when I was growing up. I’d listened to his vinyl records (yes, it was really that long ago) and it was a big thrill. I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, but he talked to me for half an hour. Maybe he was delighted to have some fans among the younger set.

    I probably see the 1960s through the lens of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” However, I still don’t get the humor of people like Lucille Ball, even though my mother seemed to know everyone who had worked on “The Lucy Show.” About all I remember about them is that one of them had a really big swimming pool that I liked.


  3. I am maintaining a fine balance between the virus and my enjoyment of life. I will be 69 in 2 months and demanding myself to enjoy life while I am alive. My family history is full of heart disease and now the virus is a threat. Something will take me out in the end but in the meantime, I am not living in a constant fear that paralyzes my daily living.


  4. J P says:

    You may have convinced me that many early tv shows were really radio shows with pictures in the way that many early sound motion pictures were plays or vaudeville shows on film. It takes awhile to grasp what a new medium can do.

    That said, I’m a fan of the old radio shows so I can handle Lucy Riccardo or Ralph Kramden just fine. But I also love the later shows like Mannix and The Rockford Files.

    I also tend to agree with your main premise, though my boldness is tempered by having a wife more at risk than I am.

    Liked by 1 person

    • N.S. Palmer says:

      Obviously, I don’t know all 1950s television shows, but I’m a big Jack Benny fan and many of his television episodes were direct transplants from radio. The same is true of George Burns and Gracie Allen’s show. Here’s some trivia for you:

      1. Jack Benny met his future wife, Sadie Marx, at a Passover Seder in 1922, and they hated each other. They met again in 1927 and fell in love — the real thing, not the “until we get tired of it” version of today. They were married until Jack’s death in 1974. In the mid-1930s, Sadie joined Jack’s radio show as a character named Mary Livingston. The character became so popular that she legally changed her name to it. Jack, by the way, got fired from his first radio show in 1932 because he made fun of the sponsor (Canada Dry) on-air. And Sadie was Harpo Marx’s niece.

      2. A lot of radio shows were based on vaudeville. Burns & Allen started out there. On the radio and television, Gracie was the zany airhead and George was the straight man. But in the original act, George was the zany one instead of Gracie. They decided it worked better if she took on that role.

      3. On the radio version of “Gunsmoke,” the part of Marshal Matt Dillon was played by William Conrad, whose deep, masculine voice matched the character. But for television, they couldn’t avoid the fact that Conrad was a short, dumpy-looking guy, so they cast tall, good-looking James Arness in the role. In the 1970s, Conrad played a detective whose distinguishing characteristic was that he was short and fat. He also did a lot of voice work, including the introduction to the “Buck Rogers” television series.

      I don’t know how I missed including “The Rockford Files!” That was a classic.


      • J P says:

        I knew that Conrad was as The Lone Ranger on the radio and am a huge Jack Benny fan. Those old radio comics are the reason I have little patience with the modern crop.


  5. Pingback: Lots to be said about freedom | From guestwriters

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