|Mine were worse.|
|Nice try, Madge.|
|For illustration purposes only.|
|Mine were worse.|
|Nice try, Madge.|
|For illustration purposes only.|
This story appeared on my illustration blog in 2020.
Sergio Franchi. What a melodic, romantic sounding name! It was very fitting for the Italian tenor with the robust voice and charming demeanor. Sergio Franchi! Throughout the 70s, he sang on The Ed Sullivan Show, filled the big showrooms in Las Vegas and toured the country, enchanting audiences that were mostly comprised of suburban American housewives looking to inject a little Continental excitement into their routine lives.
My mom was one of them.
She always kept up with musical trends. She fell for Tom Jones in the 60s with his tight, high-waisted pants doing their best to contain his gyrating hips. She listened with heavy-lidded eyes to Bobby Darin and Mel Torme and Vic Damone. And then she discovered Sergio Franchi.
Sergio Franchi! Rugged, chiseled, Romanesque features. Barrel-chested and impeccably groomed — always sporting a simple yet elegant tuxedo, its bow tie usually undone by song number three of his repertoire. In later years, Sergio would display a trendy perm on his previously close-cropped 'do. His easy, but charismatic, personality and his wide smile entranced his audiences. And that voice! Magnificent, velvety tones that could handle popular tunes as easily as soaring operatic arias.
My mom never missed seeing Sergio Franchi at the Latin Casino when he came to our area. "The Latin," as it was colloquially known, was a very popular night club that moved from its original Philadelphia location to a larger venue just over the New Jersey state line. Despite its name, The Latin Casino was not actually a casino, although it attracted the same caliber acts that played the real casinos in Las Vegas. Frank, Dean, Sammy — they all performed there on nationwide tours that stopped in and around the City of Brotherly Love. Ironically, its downfall was the introduction of casino gambling in Atlantic City, putting a clause in performer's contracts not allowing them to appear with a certain radius of the seashore resort — a radius that included the Latin Casino. However, in its heyday, my mom would go with a girlfriend or her sister to see Sergio Franchi — but never with my father. He wasn't interested in going anywhere — especially to see some singer who wasn't Al Jolson. Good thing, too, because my mom was very uninhibited and I'm sure she offered her share of screams and cat-calls along with the other female members of the audience. One morning, after my mom had seen Sergio Franchi the night before, I came into our kitchen to find a red cloth napkin folded neatly on the kitchen table. My mom, with stars in her eyes, explained that Sergio had wiped his face with the napkin and handed it down to her at her stage-side table. It was as though the Lady of the Lake had touched Arthur's shoulders with Excalibur. In later years, Sergio Franchi moved his Philadelphia area stop to the Valley Forge Music Fair, a smaller, in-the-round venue just minutes from where George Washington led troops fighting for our country's independence. As far as my mom was concerned, they fought for her right to sit in the front row to see Sergio Franchi sing. In between songs, Sergio Franchi would address the audience, often remarking about the name of the town where the venue was located. "King of Prussia!," he would say, his diminished, though still present Italian accent rolling the "R". He'd gesture with his outstretched arm in a mock-majestic flourish as he repeated it "King of Prussia! I love to perform in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania!" He'd smile and the audience would giggle and sigh in unison, as though they had rehearsed
Sergio Franchi appeared on the popular morning talk show Regis and Kathie Lee in 1989. It would prove to be his final TV appearance. Afterwards, during rehearsals for a show at South Shore Music Circus in Massachusetts, Sergio Franchi collapsed on stage. He was hospitalized and the remaining dates of his summer tour were canceled. Testing revealed a brain tumor and, despite treatments including radiation, Sergio passed away in May 1990 at the age of 64.
My mom, who was fighting her own battle with cancer, was crushed when she heard the news. When she returned home from her chemotherapy sessions, she played her copy of This is Sergio Franchi until the grooves in the vinyl wore flat.
My mom passed away in October 1991.
|Thinkin' 'bout the times|
you drove in my car
|Cream of the crop|
One of my favorite TV comedies was Bewitched. I remember watching and loving this show in its initial network run and still enjoying it in countless reruns throughout my teen years and later... right up to today. The show was conceived by screenwriter Sol Saks, lifting inspiration from the films I Married a Witch and Bell, Book and Candle. Saks had little to do with the series once production began. Those duties were shifted around a bit before chief director William Asher took over creative control for the show's eight seasons. Unable to settle on a deal with actress Tammy Grimes, Asher cast his wife Elizabeth Montgomery in the lead role as a real-life witch trying to live a life as a typical suburban housewife. Premiering in the Fall of 1964, Bewitched focused more on allegorical plotlines, substituting witchcraft for the tribulations of a mixed marriage. The "magic" actually took a back seat to standard "husband and wife" problems. The show was ABC's highest rated series and the second highest rated show across all three major networks, only bested by NBC's mighty Bonanza. By Season Three, head writer Danny Arnold and producer William Froug had left the production. William Asher became the default showrunner and took the comedy into a much more broad and slapstick direction, harkening back to what he learned as a sometimes director on I Love Lucy.
Season Three opened with the switch to episodes filmed in color. For a long time, only these episodes where broadcast in syndication. It was believed that audiences wouldn't watch reruns in black & white (despite the perennial popularity of The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show and even I Love Lucy). Nevertheless, Bewitched was as popular a show in reruns and it was in the beginning of its first run.
In recent viewings of my beloved Bewitched, I noticed something that eluded me as a child, adolescent and even as a young (unaware) adult. Bewitched exhibited a pretty shitty view of women and marriage. There is an overall attitude of mistrust between husband and wife. Every female client of Darrin's makes some sort of overt sexual advancement on him, despite his protests of being happily married. Male clients brought home (on an unusually regular basis) for dinner, often make unwanted moves on Samantha once Darrin has exited the room to make drinks. Even her firm pleas of "NO!" are met with chuckles and even more grabby attempts to violate Samantha's personal space. Endora, Samantha's overbearing mother, is constantly filling her daughter's mind with notions of an unfaithful Darrin (or "Derwood" as she often calls him). Larry Tate leers at female clients and secretaries and every other woman who shows up, while Serena makes suggestive small talk with Larry right in front of his wife (whether it be Irene Vernon or Kasey Rogers). Nobody trusts anyone. Everyone lies to cover up a misunderstanding that could otherwise be easily explained in a loving trusting relationship. I suppose in the 60s and 70s, infidelity and adultery was good fodder for sitcoms. The home audience seemed to respond favorably, as Bewitched ranked among the top shows on television for most of its entire run.
Ironically, Bewitched's demise was met at the hands of another TV comedy, one that addressed real-life problems like bigotry, racism and even sexuality. Once Bewitched was broadcast opposite the up-and-coming All in the Family, its fate was sealed. Bewitched was canceled at the end of its eighth season. (In reality, Elizabeth Montgomery wanted out after five seasons, hoping to ignite a film career based on her popularity. Instead, ABC threw a ton of money and other financial incentives her way in a proverbial "offer she couldn't refuse.")
In the wake of the #MeToo movement and women's rights in general, I find Bewitched difficult to watch now. The fashions and dialog notwithstanding, the show is dated. Very, very dated. Sure there are other shows that are just as dated, like Leave It to Beaver. But that show depicts a time of old fashioned family values, the benefits of a loyal friendship and morality. Bewitched evokes a time that we should really be embarrassed by — and I don't mean because of the wide neckties and overuse of the word "groovy."