Boomer role models: our fictional friends and mentors
Sociologists generally cite leaders of social, political and technological change as the heroes of the Boomer generation. But, while we admire them as inspirational figures, they remain remote on their pedestals, separate from our emotional lives.
However, thanks to television, we experienced more intimate connections with fictional role models than with those from the outside world. We invited them into our homes week after week and absorbed their lessons by watching, not by being lectured or exhorted.
We lost three such friends in 2014, but we marked each passing with a smile. Above all, each taught us that being an adult didn’t mean we always have to be perfect. Two we first met in our childhoods, one when we were mastering our grown-up wings.
Russell Johnson: November 10, 1924 – January 16, 2014
“Come look, Skipper, the professor made a station wagon out of coconuts.”
OK, we stole that line from the MST 3000 spoof of This Island Earth, one of several sci-fi movies featuring Russell Johnson before he endeared himself to us in Gilligan’s Island. But when you get right down to it, we wouldn’t have been all that surprised if “The Professor” could actually have pulled it off.
Aired 1964 to 1967 by CBS, the show was in the top 20 for ratings for the first two of its three seasons (TV Facts, Cobbett Steinberg, 1980)
In non-stop syndication since it’s first run ended, Gilligan and the gang went on to befriend younger Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials in their after-school hours and on weekends.
The professor and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) were the only two real grownups on the island – role models who were always ready to take action and talk sense to the lovable doofuses who made up the rest of the cast.
Handsome, patient and gentlemanly, despite his brainiac intellect the professor never talked down to his fellow castaways. From fun facts site, Mental Floss, here are 11 of his best inventions; some were pretty awesome and some didn’t quite work out, but the idea of quitting never crossed his mind.
What better mentor could we want?
Ann B. Davis: May 5, 1926 – June 1, 2014
In the late 1950s, our parents knew her as Schultzy, the lovelorn secretary to playboy Bob Collins in the comedy The Bob Cummings Show. But, for Boomers, Ann B. Davis will always be Alice, the housekeeper in The Brady Bunch, the blended family – three girls and three boys – of Mike and Carol Brady.
The show ran on ABC from 1969 to 1974. Like Gilligan’s Island, it has been in non-stop U.S. syndication ever since, sparking spin-offs, TV specials and movies. So, it was not only a Boomer favorite but became one of our own children’s as well.
Although Mike and Carol were idealized, loving parents, they were, after all, still parents. Cheerful, wisecracking Alice was the commonsense glue that held things together when the children’s misunderstandings loomed or emotions threatened to get out of hand.
Young viewers loved her for her nudge, nudge, wink, wink understanding of the Brady kids’ growing pains and because she was there for them when the going got tough.
So long, Alice; thanks for looking out for us when we needed it.
Robin Williams: July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014
Starring the manic, young stream of consciousness stand-up comedian Robin Williams as a naive space alien from planet Ork, Mork and Mindy debuted on ABC as the number three series in the 1978 ratings race.
It was just plain goofy fun. From the first na-nu na-nu we were hooked by Mork the innocent man-child who landed in – of all places – laid back Boulder, Colorado.
Robin William’s parlayed his popularity into more adult-oriented stand-up and a successful movie career, but as he morphed, a more poignant side to Williams’ roles emerged. It was a metaphor for the Boomers, as the realities and complexities of a grownup life moved us in a more serious direction too.
As columnist and humorist Erma Bombeck once wrote “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” So it was with Williams who, sadly, took his own life in August, 2014.
Still, it’s Mork who lives on in happy memories – na-nu na-nu, Robin.
Boulder: more than just a haven for space aliens
After 30-some years, the Mork and Mindy house is still one of Boulder’s popular attractions. And the cool, progressive little city is also home to the headquarters of the 89 million strong 15th Nation™, owners of two-thirds of U.S. household net worth.
Born 1940-1964, this Boomer-Plus Generation is a bigger, more affluent market than any EU country, and way bigger than Canada and Australia combined.
Yet, despite our enormous spending power, most mainstream brand marketers treat us as if we live on distant planet Ork. Maybe in 2015 they will discover that our natural resources are worth the journey.