Saturday, May 12, 2007

TV Mothers I – The Motherly Mom

Since tomorrow is Mothers Day I've decided to offer posts about some of my own favourite TV Moms. In my opinion there are really three types of TV Mom – the Motherly Mom, the Hot Mom, and a sort of mixture that I call the Hybrid Mom. I'm also going to offer at least one example of each that is the antithesis of the type. For this group of posts I'm not counting characters from soap operas (sorry Erica Kane), characters who became moms in the last episode of their shows (that's you Belanna Torres, you hot Klingon you, and you to Fran Fine) and shows that are currently on.

Let's start with the Motherly Mom. For years, particularly in the first couple of decades of television, the Motherly Mom was the standard. Their kids were older and basically you never thought of them in even the most mildly sexual circumstances. They might get an occasional kiss and that's it. They were always dressed stylishly but not elegantly – pearls were optional. So here is my list of Motherly Moms.

Margaret Anderson – Father Knows Best: The archetype done to perfection by Jane Wyatt, although in the original radio series the character was played first June Whitley and later by Jean Vanderpyl who went on to be the voice of another TV mom, Wilma Flintstone. She was grounded, with plenty of common sense which she usually needed. Contrary to the title of the show, the original premise was that Father (Jim Anderson, played by Robert Young) actually didn't know best and would get into various situations that Margaret in her level headed way would get him out of. Jane Wyatt gets extra "mom" points for also having played Amanda Grayson, mother of the most conflicted kid in the galaxy, Mr. Spock, on Star Trek.

June Cleaver – Leave it to Beaver: Almost as big an archetype as Margaret Anderson, June was played by Barbara Billingsley. She and husband Ward Cleaver (played to perfection by Hugh Beaumont), everyone remembers the pearls that she wore no matter what she was doing. She was almost always elegantly dressed and always there for her sons even though they almost always tended to go to their father for advice. And of course she was never fooled by anything that Eddie Haskell ever said – she knew exactly what he was. Billingsley reprised the role of June Cleaver over twenty years after the original show left the air in the revival Still the Beaver, which followed her great performance in Airplane as the "jive translator."

Harriet Nelson – The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet: The third example of the Fifties TV mom. It's a little difficult to evaluate Harriet Nelson because the character she was playing was a fictionalized version of herself, and she was acting with her real husband and children. In fact the wives of her two sons David and Ricky played their wives on the show. The series ran on TV from 1952 to 1966 and had run on radio for eight years before that, and there was an attempt at a revival called Ozzie's Girls without David or Ricky in 1973 that didn't last. The show probably portrayed a sanitized version of the Nelson family life – for one thing Harriet never smoked on TV despite being a two pack a day smoker in real life. Harriet was the level headed one in the family while Ozzie was prone to "great ideas" that inevitably fall through.

Kate Bradley – Petticoat Junction: Kate was different from the three women named above. She was a widow running her own business as well as she could. She was also raising her three daughters with the "help" of uncle, Joe Carson. While there was, of course, no suggestion of sex in the series, the mature Kate did have a couple of romantic entanglements, primarily with storekeeper Sam Drucker (Frank Cady) but it was also implied that C&FW Railroad President Norman Curtis was more than a little enamoured of her. Kate was smart – she had to be to deal with repeated encounters with C&FW Vice President Homer Bedloe not to mention her daughters' various unsuitable suitors. Bea Benedaret, who played Kate as well as Pearl Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies (mother of Jethro Bodine and his often forgotten twin sister Jethrine – both played by Max Baer although Jethrine's voice was done by Linda Henning, who played Betty Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction) and Betty Rubble on The Flintstones, was the heart of the series in just about every way that counted and while the series continued following her extended illness and death of lung cancer, it was never the same after she left.

Marion Cunningham – Happy Days: Marion is a mid-'70s take on the Motherly Mom of the 1950s typified by Margaret, June and Harriet. She and her husband Howard are raising three kids (yeah, I'm counting Chuck, wanna make something of it) – four if you count Fonzie who regards "Mrs. C" as much a surrogate mother as his Grandma Nussbaum (who raised him). In a rather amazing way Marion Cunningham (played by the superb Marion Ross) is a bit more realistic than the three characters she's modelled on. Let's face it, it's hard to imagine June Cleaver telling Ward to "sit on it" and the image of Jim and Margaret Anderson even talking about "getting a little frisky" is enough to burn out certain areas of the brain. And yet Marion Cunningham is firmly rooted in the Motherly Mom sensibility.

The Un-Motherly Mom: Lucy Ricardo – I Love Lucy: I know I'm going to get some reaction to this one, but think about it. Set aside the smoking in front of the baby because everyone did that in the 1950s (I have a reference book on I Love Lucy around her someplace that I'm too lazy to bother digging up, but I'm pretty sure that Lucy Ricardo was never shown smoking while she was pregnant) there are other issues at play. The big one for me is the way that she essentially abandoned Little Ricky for extended periods of time. Take the time that they went out to California. The Mertzes and Ricardos travel by car but Little Ricky is left in New York under the care of his maternal grandmother for what seems to the viewer at least like an extended period of time. In California we rarely see Little Ricky – he's either having a nap or under the care of Grandma McGillicuddy. Then, no sooner are the Ricardos and Mertzes back in New York (at least this time the kid made the trip with them) than they're off to Europe. And even though they're travelling by ship, where's Little Ricky? Why he's back in New York with his grandmother. Hardly ideal parenting.

No comments: