Yet Another Journal

Nostalgia, DVDs, old movies, television, OTR, fandom, good news and bad, picks, pans,
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» Saturday, July 11, 2009
"The Name is Mannix"
I'm always amazed at the late bedtime of the younger people I know. Some of my friends' children were staying up until 9:30 back when they were seven or eight years old. I had early bedtimes; at eight I still had to be in bed "by my age"...wasn't allowed to stay up until 10:00 until I was going into junior high...and then only on Friday and Saturday nights.

Which is why my folks—well, my mom; dad was usually snoring on the sofa by that time—started watching a new detective series in the fall of 1967, but I never saw it until one wonderful week in July.

When my dad was the only one working, our yearly vacations in July were taken with relatives in Massachusetts, but once my mom went back to work my folks decided we could venture further afield. Our very first vacation "afar" took place in Lake George, and I fell in love with the entire place, from lakeshore to Fort William Henry to all those lovely miniature golf courses to the late theme park Gaslight Village.

It was the first time I ever remembered being in a motel (I was three the last time we had stayed anywhere else but home or a relative's home), and this was a little cabin, a place that's gone now, the Fort Gage Motel. I was enchanted, and until we went on vacation the next year, I thought all motels were like that. I was so disappointed when I saw the standard room with beds and TVs and a bathroom off the side!

That first day we were there we wandered all about the lake, found an Italian restaurant that took us hours to get into (and then the food wasn't that good!), and wandered about the village at night. I'd never been to a city bigger than Providence, or any amusement place larger than Rocky Point and I was absolutely dazzled by the lights, the concession stands, the souvenir stores, and the late-night activity. We probably returned to the little cabin about eight-thirty or nine o'clock, washed up for the evening, and sat down to watch the black and white television.

Back then there was no cable and television reception up in Lake George was chiefly achieved with rabbit ears. If you were lucky you found a motel that had a big fringe antenna on a tower at the back of the property. The channel that came in best was 3, a CBS affliate, from across Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont, so that's what we watched, and that's where I saw my first episode of Mannix.

Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) was a tough, no-nonsense private eye who got involved with rough-and-tumble cases (he usually ended up being coshed over the head once in each episode; one wonders if he didn't have brain damage by the time the series was over). For most of the run of Mannix, Joe operated on his own, with his faithful secretary Peggy Fair, played by Gail Fisher, who was one of the early African-American performers in a co-starring role in a series who wasn't a domestic like Beulah. (Julia, with Diahann Carroll, started that fall as well.) But during the first season, Joe worked for a computerized security firm called Intertech, and he reported to Lou Wickersham, played by Joseph Campanella. I always loved these episodes and I was disappointed when the new format premiered in September. I remember specifically a two-parter centered around Wickersham's character, who was suffering from blackouts and was acting erratically, because the two channels in our area, Providence's WPRI and Boston's WNAC, pre-empted the second part! Somehow I managed to tune in Hartford's CBS channel on my little rabbit-eared television via a skip image, although most of what I remember is snow!

Anyway, after never having been rerun in the Mannix syndication package, a DVD set of the first season was released, and I got the first disk from Netflix today. We sat and watched the first four episodes tonight (one with a cameo appearance by Neil Diamond as a coffeehouse singer), and the beginning of a delightful, nostalgic chat between Joseph Campanella and Mike Connors, in which the latter revealed he broke his left wrist and dislocated his right shoulder during the filming of the pilot.

But what I loved most was listening to Lalo Schifrin's wonderful theme music accompanied by the Mondrian-like Mannix title graphics...because when I closed my eyes I could see that little cabin again, clear as day: the little living room with the sofa and the chair and the big TV on the far wall near the big front window, the little passage that led between a closet and the bathroom, and the bedroom with the two double beds and sturdy maple furniture. Because if I kept them closed it all came flooding back: the scent of popcorn and cotton candy, the whistle of the "Minnehaha" excursion boat from the lakeshore, the cannon fire from Fort William Henry, "Around the World in 18 Holes" and "Around the U.S. in 18 Holes" (and the other tiny mini-golf course inside the arcade), the souvenir shops that smelled of the cedar they used to make the little knicknacks labeled "Lake George," the Crooked House and the Music Hall show in Gaslight Village, the rides at "Storytown" right down the road, even the Catholic church my mom found, up on the hill where the permanent residents lived, with an open-air service. For a moment or more, I was twelve again, with my diary tucked in my suitcase and the whole world before me...

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