Niagara Gazette


July 28, 2013

SINGER: The power of nostalgia


Niagara Gazette — What the French call a lightning strike ensued in 1940 for these two entertainers from very different cultures — suave, handsome Desi and beautiful, high-spirited Lucille; and the couple were soon married, living on a ranch with scads of pets (the museum outlines all this). However, the couple was also hurt by the army’s call and Desi’s band-touring, keeping them apart. At the outset of the ‘50s it was Lucy who forced early TV pioneers to make Desi her hubby on the show that is still hugely popular, revealing an America for all of us dedicated watchers that once seemed to work effortlessly and well.

What helped greatly were Desi’s innovative standards behind the scenes, not least technologically, and those of the head writer and producer, whose large picture here says it all — Jess Oppenheimer, sitting at his desk by a can of sharpened pencils. And of course the great Ball, and Vivian Vance and William Frawley, who played the Mertzes so admirably.

The dominating picture of Oppenheimer is found in an adjoining area recreating the Desilu studios, and most interesting here are the wonderfully reconstituted sets of the show — nostalgic toaster, fridge, stove, mix master, TV (obviously sans remote), couch and the rest. (Funded generously by Buffalonians ...)

Nostalgia? We’re seemingly awash in it these days, even though we now know more (perhaps than we should) about what Cary Grant was really like, about Marilyn Monroe or Spencer Tracy, and indeed, how Desi’s gambling and the rest helped break up a marriage; and yet, it does seem again, an America that worked.

In Jamestown, once an important industrial center, not least as furniture capital of the north, now trying to hold on and evolve by digesting its past, you see the same bittersweet dilemmas as are evident nearer to home. The Richardson Complex building project in these parts, versus today’s “real world” of crack, cacophonous entertainment culture and the rest …

Can our dicey, uncertain, confused, and financially challenged present help reclaim itself via the past? It certainly seems the preferred way to go these days.

B. B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.

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