Niagara Gazette

Columns

September 15, 2013

SINGER: The best-kept secret

Niagara Gazette — The best-kept secret? Catholicism — when it was the real, demanding thing, not least in Western New York, where great brick academies and private colleges — helped turn out many fine humans. This column should be a book subject, but I’ll try to be pithy and focus mostly on entertainment icons you’d know.

On today’s TV we’re getting old “product” galore and one series that slays me is “Dragnet,” featuring Jack Webb not only as no-nonsense Sergeant Friday, but really as the show’s standards-provider in its production and direction.

You get a real sense of the man — blunt for sure, but also revealing depths of humanity; and I for one am sorry that he died at 62 after a life replete with 18-hour days on this baby of his, “Dragnet.”

He himself was abandoned from the get-go by a Jewish father; however, his Irish-Native American mom gave him a rigorous Catholic upbringing in Los Angeles, and the results seem palpable.

As they do in Chuck Connors on “The Rifleman,” raised Catholic in Brooklyn, then playing pro basketball (Rochester Royals, Boston Celtics) and baseball (Dodgers, etc.); but coming to fame with something of Webb’s blunt, yet human demeanor on the small screen — shown best in the “Rifleman” series, running from 1958-1963.

You also denote a strict Catholic upbringing in New York-bred Jack Lord of the original “Hawaii Five-0.” Lord’s real name was John Joseph Patrick Ryan, and he’d been in the Merchant Marine, and again, seems solid and real on a show he helped make iconic.

And then there’s Marlo Thomas in “That Girl,” who later put her Catholicism into beneficial practice for the St. Jude Children’s hospital; and from an earlier generation, Thomas’ godmother, Loretta Young. When I was a kid, Young’s television show would probably have been too “adult,” and for whatever reason, I rarely saw it back in the day, nor the movies she’d made before deciding to gamble on the new medium of TV in the early ‘50s.

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