June, 2008

My mother, by pretty much any standard you care to apply, was a major league babe when she was young. Everybody's mom is beautiful, of course. Your mom is beautiful because she's your mom. Mine, however, was an honest to God head-turner. A "looker". Great skin; lustrous hair; warm, kind eyes; a killer smile... the whole package. Don't take my word for it; check out some pics of her from the late 40's...

She and my father met during the Second World War. She was an Army nurse and he was a wounded paratrooper. They married and went to school on the G.I. Bill, learning radio and television broadcasting. They both studied acting, drama, speech and voice.

They made serious attempts to break into show-biz, as it ran in their blood-- both sets of grandparents were vaudeville entertainers; singers, dancers, and comedians. They secured professional representation and held a variety of jobs: A husband and wife disc jockey show; all sorts of news and entertainment programs on various radio stations; Pop had a kid's TV show; Mom had a TV cooking program. They were making some headway and doing all right for themselves. They had big aspirations. They were reaching for The American Dream; reaching for the sky.

One day, my mother got a call from her agent, who informed her that a new TV show on CBS was in the process of casting actors and actresses, and he thought that she would be right for it. He got her an audition, and arranged for her to read for a part on the program. The producers liked her and called her back to read again, with other actors being considered for roles. Her agent called her a few days later and told her that she would be offered the part, and discussed what she could expect to be paid.

She started to get cold feet. Not that she felt she couldn't do it; she was a talented actress-- it was just that she began to consider what sort of friction or disparity it might create at home if she was suddenly earning CBS television money, while my father was still working for a local radio station. Maybe it'd make things a little uncomfortable. Women tended not to outshine their husbands, career-wise, in those days. It was something she told me she thought long and hard about before responding to her agent.

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass", she told him. "I don't think the time is right for me to take this step, to make this commitment", she said.

"Are you out of your mind? Do you think an opportunity like this is going to drop into your lap again any time soon?" he asked.

"I know; I understand. I'm tremendously flattered and happy they liked me, and I'd be delighted if they'd consider me for other projects, but... I just can't do this now", she told him.

No amount of argument or reason could persuade her to change her mind. A few weeks later she and her agent had lunch, and she asked him what had happened with casting the role.

"Well, they chose Polly Bond, but apparently she turned them down because she just got married and it wouldn't be a good move for her. What the hell is it with talented actresses passing up the chance to be on TV?" he said.

"So, do you know who got it? Has it been cast?" Mom asked.

"Yeah; they got a gal named Amanda Blake to play Miss Kitty...." he told her.

The show was called "GUNSMOKE". It was adapted from the popular radio show, and was the longest-running dramatic series in the history of television (20 years)-- and what many consider to be quite possibly the finest television series ever produced. Sigh...!

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