Catch Phrase Fever

What was the first TV catch phrase?  When did TV writers and stars realize that there was something different about this new entertainment medium that made viewers crave the familiar line that they had heard so many times before?  The discovery probably occurred at the very dawn of the TV era, when someone like Milton Berle was running out of new ideas and decided to re-use some old material, and realized to his astonishment that the audience loved it.

I can’t think of many catch phrases from the early TV shows.  If Lucille Ball had a catch phrase on I Love Lucy — other than crying Waaah! when one of her plans went awry — I don’t recall it.  The first catch phrase I can think of is also one that would never be used on modern TV:  Ralph Kramden’s frustrated uppercut and cry of “Pow! Right in the kisser!” when Alice had finally and conclusively squelched another of his harebrained get-rich-quick schemes on The Honeymooners.  (Of course, everyone knew that Ralph loved Alice deeply and would never, ever hurt her.)  If that was in fact the first catch phrase, later TV stars owe Jackie Gleason a huge debt.

‘Shroom Season

It’s been a wet and humid few weeks in central Ohio, and we now have some unexpected fungal visitors in our front yard.  It’s the first time I can remember finding mushrooms in the lawn itself, as opposed to in the shady and damp areas underneath trees and shrubs in our flower beds.

These are two of a number of rapidly growing mushrooms in the yard.  Because I know almost nothing about mushrooms, I decided to see whether I could figure out what kind of variety these mushrooms are — and whether they are edible.  To my wholly uneducated eye, they look pretty much like the mushrooms you buy at the grocery store.

From my examination of the photos and descriptions on this website, I’m guessing that these are “meadow mushrooms.”   They clearly aren’t Morels, Chanterelles, giant puffballs, or “Shaggy manes,” and they don’t have the bumpy caps found in other varieties.  According to the website, if these are “meadow mushrooms,” they are edible.  The website also helpfully adds, however, that there is “no test or characteristic to distinguish edible from poisonous mushrooms.”  Given that mushroom poisoning can be fatal, I’m not going to take a chance on eating these buggers.

The Lasting Lure Of Lincoln

Over the weekend I started reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.  I know it has been out for years, but I’ve been saving it on my nightstand to read at the right time.  That time is now.

Team of Rivals is Goodwin’s treatment of Abraham Lincoln and his relationship with the men who were competitors for the Republican nomination for President in 1860 and then became members of Lincoln’s cabinet.  I’ve been looking forward to it because I love reading about Lincoln and revisiting, again, the distant world of our 16th President, with its scourge of slavery and awesome challenge of secession, with huge armies marching across the land and the blood of brothers spilled, with telegraphs and smoking locomotives and political figures on horseback.

I’ve written before about Lincoln and his unshakable grip on the American imagination.  Part of that fascination stems from Lincoln’s compelling life story and part stems from his genius at expressing the deep themes of America with a few well-chosen words.  But part of the continuing interest in Lincoln is that his story is aspirational.  No matter how bad things may seem right now — or at any time since Lincoln’s assassination — we know that the challenges and political divisions we face pale in comparison to those that Lincoln and his administration overcame.

Lincoln was a deft politician, but his success in steering the country through the dark days of the Civil War was mostly due to his willingness to take on the hard questions and make the tough, but necessary, decisions.  Those same leadership qualities are what are sorely needed today.