Friday, April 21, 2006

No, not Laura Petrie!

The lyrically-minded Kevin Wolf, who has a touch of the poet, even if he doesn't believe it about himself, admits to having had the same reaction to reading about my dream about Rob and Laura Petrie as I had while I was dreaming it. Learning that I dreamed that both Rob and Laura had had affairs, Kevin cried out:

"No, not Laura!"

Neither of us minded about Rob's straying, but the idea of Laura in the arms of another man broke our hearts.

This is not the usual male double standard. We don't think it's ok for husbands to run around, but a crime against human nature if a wife has an affair.

We feel personally betrayed by Laura, as if she was our wife or girlfriend and we had her on a pedestal only to find out our Galatea doesn't love us back.

Can't speak for Kevin, but I have to admit that in some deep, disturbed, delusional recess of my imagination I am married to Laura. That spot's right next door to the place in my head where I'm a cowboy and around the corner from where I'm a 22 year old center fielder for the New York Mets.

But when you think about it, objectively, it is perfectly within character for Laura to have an affair, because she is human and human beings have desires and passions, wants and needs that can't always be contained within the bounds of a marriage or a relationship.

Most everyone who has watched and enjoyed The Dick Van Dyke show has noticed, happily, how sexually into each other Rob and Laura are. They are wildly in love, and they aren't just affectionate, they are passionate. Despite the twin beds and the censoring limits of writing for television in the early 1960s, the show's writers and cast made it clear that Rob and Laura did it, a lot, and with gusto.

I can't think of another TV married couple who were so clearly eager for each other, except for Mr and Mrs Cunningham on Happy Days. But their sexual desire was played purely for laughs. "Howard! I'm feeling frisky!" The joke was how cute it was that the old folks could still get horny just like the teenagers.

The old folks.

Marion Ross, who played Mrs Cunningham, was 46 when the show premiered. Two years younger than Sharon Stone is now.

Tom Bosely, Mr Cunnigham, was only a year older.

Rob and Laura's chemistry was mainly due to Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore having crushes on each other. MTM's real-life marriage fell apart during the first season. I wonder how that affected the dynamic between Laura and Rob.

I read an interview with Mary Tyler Moore a long time ago in which she said that she was jealous of the Van Dykes' marriage. She loved it that Dick and his wife would stay up late into the night together, talking.

Later I read an interview with Dick Van Dyke in which he admitted that what he and Mrs Van Dyke were staying up late together to do was drink.

No matter.

Rob and Laura were nuts about each other.

Storylines were built around or included the probability that when the commercial break came, Rob and Laura were going to rush off and push the twin beds together.

But other episodes were built around the possibility that one of the two would in fact cheat on the other.

Most of these episodes focused on the potentially betrayed spouse's jealousy, which was played for laughs, and most of them were about Rob being the tempted one, which made sense, given that he worked in show biz while Laura was at home with Ritchie all day, and Rob was the main character, after all. But Laura had her temptations. An old boyfriend, a writing teacher in a night class, Racy Tracy Ratigan, until he showed his true self, a couple of others. One of them almost doesn't count because the tempter is actually Rob himself, pretending to be an Italian cad on the phone, and Laura knows it all along. But the possibility that another man could come along and carry her away is very real to both of them. For Rob, it's a fear. For Laura, it's a fantasy, but a fantasy that excites her enough to want to act it out with Rob.

Rob's fear isn't mere paranoia, and Laura's fantasy isn't innocent and harmless.

Usually it turns out that there never was a real chance that one or the other would stray, but there is one episode in which Rob is clearly on his way to bumbling into an affair. Rob and Laura take an art class together and the woman teaching the class falls for Rob and sets out to seduce him, and Rob is so flattered and so attracted and having so much fun that he is on the verge. He snaps out of it in the nick of time, but it's the teacher's bad timing that saves him, not his superior virtue or superhuman willpower.

The show wasn't reticent about the sex lives of the other main characters either. Buddy and Pickles' marriage suffered from sexual tensions. The very married Alan Brady had at least one girlfriend. And Sally Rogers, although always bemoaning her sorry state as a single woman, made it plain that she was sexually available to the right men with no hint or promise of marriage necessary.

But it was never, ever judgmental. Adultery was was wrong, people got hurt. But you never got the feeling that if Rob or Laura, or Buddy or Pickles, or Millie or Jerry had cheated, the writers would have treated it as if the world had come to an end.

I think, given the time, the fact that they brought it up at all showed that the producers had an inclination to forgive.

But a forgiving attitude towards human fallibility was the basis of the show's comedy.

The Dick Van Dyke show was very sophisticated in a number of ways, but one of the most sophisticated things about it was the way it loved its characters when they were at their weakest. This is Carl Reiner's doing, I'm sure. He was the show's chief writer as well as its creator. Reiner has a very different approach to comedy than most sitcom writers who tend to treat human beings when they are weak or messing up as clowns and buffoons.

Reiner understands that when people are in the middle of screwing up and bringing disaster upon themselves they are usually in pain and the reason we laugh at them is because otherwise we would cry.

So, yes, Laura.

She's only human. Like the rest of us.

I've been trying to remember when I first fell in love with Laura Petrie. I don't think it was when I was a little kid. Back then I identified so completely with Rob that I just accepted that Laura was the girl for me the way I accepted that when I grew up I would go to work at a typewriter and wear white shirts with narrow black ties. (Yes, that's what I'm wearing now.) I must have fallen for her later, when I was more mature and wordly and could appreciate what an eyeful the young Mary Tyler Moore was.

So Laura was definitely not my first TV girlfriend. That would be Mary Anne from Gilligan's Island.

After Mary Ann I think I moved on to Jan Brady. Yeah, I know, Marcia was the hot one in the miniskirts---and knee socks---but there was something about Jan that kept me watching the Brady Bunch even though I hated it. Maybe it was the episode when she got glasses.

Now. Who was your first TV crush?


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