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My Television Diary: 4/18/12

18 Apr

Medic (1:11, “The Wild Intruder”), December 6, 1954

I bought Timeless’ recent DVD release of Medic purely on the hunch that I’d like it if I gave it a try. And I do like it, very much.

Simply put, Medic is to healthcare what Dragnet is to police work. You meet someone who’s got a health situation, and then you follow along the whole journey from discovery to diagnosis to treatment to… whatever the consequences are. The medical procedures are covered in quite a lot of detail, and actual doctors and nurses are seen at work.

All in the Family drew a lot of attention in the 1970s with an episode in which Edith Bunker discovers a lump in her breast. That was very daring television for the time. But it had already been done twenty years earlier, tastefully but just as frankly, in this Medic episode. Vera Miles plays a troubled young woman who tells her fiance she can’t marry him after all.

They sit together on her porch in half-darkness. Reluctantly, she whispers the truth. “I’m sick— there’s something… wrong with me…(long pause)… I’ve got a… lump in my chest.”

Breast cancer has already killed other women in her family, and she sees no possibility for herself but an early grave. But she’s persuaded to talk to her doctor. He encourages her to be optimistic. She’s not very convinced, but she agrees to undergo testing. Next comes a biopsy.

During this procedure (as narrator Richard Boone tells us), a surgeon takes a tissue sample from the lump. In the pathology lab, thin slices of the tissue are examined under a microscope, all while the patient remains in surgery.

You can guess what will happen next. The news will come back that the tumor is benign. She’s going to be fine.

But no. Not this time. The pathologist returns to the operating room. “Sorry, George,” he tells the surgeon. “It’s malignant.”

Grim-faced, the surgeon wastes no time. A radical mastectomy is performed immediately. That was all they could do in the 1950s.

The rest of the episode concerns the patient’s attempts to come to grips with it all.The script is very good, and Vera Miles proves what a fine actress she was, with or without Alfred Hitchcock.

Executive-produced by Studio One veteran Worthington Miner with the support of the Los Angeles County Medical Association, Medic tried to be more than just another hospital melodrama. It succeeded. The patients are unglamorous. The women are pleasantly plain-looking and the guys wear bow ties and old shoes. They’re middle Americans in the middle of the American Century. Everyday people. People who live in little houses or little apartments, people who walk to work because they don’t have a car, people whose greatest ambition is to marry and raise a family and live their lives together.

The show introduces them to you— one or two of them, as each episode gets under way— and has you on their side in no time. You sympathize with whatever malady they’re dealing with (a bad heart, hearing loss, whatever it is), and you root for their full recovery and a return to normalcy.

Sometimes they get it. Sometimes not.

You can yank yourself out of Medic‘s spell, if you want to. It’s just an old TV show, after all. But it’s better if you don’t. Let it move you, and it will.

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Arthur Godfrey Time, date unknown (circa 1958)

Arthur Godfrey is sort of an enigma. You can’t really grasp who he was, or what he did on the air, without sampling his work. But there isn’t a lot of it out there.

You can read about him, but that gives you knowledge without understanding (and much of what’s accessible, like Wikipedia’s entry, is fairly hostile to him).

You just have to experience him. Throughout the 1950s, he was on television virtually on a daily basis. There was Arthur Godfrey Time, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, numerous guest appearances— hundreds if not thousands of hours of it all. Very little of it survives now. I do have this one episode, though, a copy of a copy of a kinescope.

I wish I could summarize Godfrey’s power and appeal in a couple of pithy, insightful paragraphs, but I can’t. I doubt anyone could. They’re unexplainable.

The television version of Arthur Godfrey Time was an extension of his full-length radio show. It’s basically fifteen minutes of Godfrey, sitting in a chair and talking. Muttering, almost. But talking— and not to an audience, not to his guests, but to you. You personally.

It’s a nearly empty stage. Godfrey slouches languidly in a chair, as relaxed as a man can be and still remain conscious. Seated in a semi-circle around him are several guests, all of whom are visibly tense to varying degrees. They include Meredith Willson, who chats a little about The Music Man, and Faye Emerson, who sits bolt upright with her hands tightly folded in her lap and never stops grinning.

And Godfrey rambles along. About anything and nothing. There was a moment in there about how he used to woo his future wife by playing the ukelele for her while they drifted along the Potomac. He gets up and does a live commercial, demonstrating how well Glamorene will clean your carpet. And he rambles some more. And suddenly— seemingly after only four or five minutes of all this— the quarter-hour is up. We see a flash of the big CBS eye logo and it’s all over.

The next day, you can’t remember a single thing you saw or heard. But you remember he had your full attention.

I submit to you one helpless shrug. I can’t explain it.

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