My Early Life Inspired a TV Episode

I’ve seen more than one person over the years wearing a button that said MY LIFE IS A SOAP OPERA.  All of us feel that way, usually quite justifiably, but I can truthfully say that a first-grade playground incident was immortalized on a kids’ show.

The show didn’t receive nation- or worldwide coverage.  The program was Hattie, Chattie, and Thurb, a puppet show broadcast on Marietta College’s small television station, WCMO-TV (known as Project 9 or Project 2 initially, depending on which channel it used), a station which had a broadcast radius of maybe about 20 blocks.  Picture the bargain basement equivalent of Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, but without a human character.  The station’s budget was just about nonexistent, so the students running the show made puppets out of socks.

I don’t even remember what animals the characters were, although I watched the show quite faithfully when it was on late in the afternoon, trying (in Marietta) to hold its own against the maiden voyage of Sesame Street.

In the fall of first grade, I was proud of the fact that I had lost my first tooth over the summer, and I was about to lose my second.  I was always thirsty, and I was constantly wiggling it to show off to friends, or unconsciously wiggling the tooth back and forth with my tongue.  (At the time I thought it resembled a Tog’l Block, a toy made by Mattel, which featured cubes with one hinged side.)

After lunch, I was on the Washington School playground, and in the middle of talking to a kid or jumping onto the merry-go-round, I must have popped the tooth out with my tongue.  I wasn’t even aware of it, until a kid said, “Hey, you’re bleeding!”  I remember tasting something funny in my mouth, and I put my finger in, and it came out streaked with red.  Instinctively, my tongue went for the loose tooth, and it was gone.

Washington School, Marietta, Ohio.

I was proud of this at first, but then panic set in.  When I lost the first tooth, like many another child before and since, I put it under my pillow at bedtime that night.  The next morning, the tooth was gone, and there was a dime under the pillow.  (At six years old, that was big money.  When Susie first started losing teeth, we left dollar bills.  She came out ahead, too.  According to the calculator at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a dime in 1969 has the buying power of $.60 today.)

So now I had lost the tooth–literally.  It wasn’t only gone from my mouth, it was completely gone.  I remember madly scrambling around the slide, the swing set, under the Funnel Ball, and everywhere I thought I could have been.  I was in total despair, worsened each time I picked up a small white pebble, thinking it was my tooth.  (I must have looked like one of the peasant women in Millet’s painting “The Gleaners.”)

I managed to feign enough calm about this during the rest of the school day.  And it was a good thing, too, because my first-grade teacher was likely certifiably nuts, a woman very free with both her shrill voice and her ruler.

After school, when my dad picked me up, I told him of my plight and my despair.  I worried even more when he vetoed the idea of going onto the playground with me, so we could pursue The Case of the Missing Denticle.  He was noncommittal, but still saw fit to prolong my worry and my unease.  All was well, because I was $.10 richer come morning.

About two weeks later, we were watching Hattie, Chattie, and Thurb, and one of the characters faced the same dilemma.  He/she had been on the playground, and lost a tooth while playing, and couldn’t find it.  The ending was the same–the puppet’s parents were understanding, and abode by the spirit, if not the letter, of the custom.  (Dad had a weekly program on WCMO called Bookshelf, and my guess is he told the story as entertainment to the students and staff when he came in to tape the episode.)

Despite this, I have never made a serious attempt to write anything for television, other than the obligatory Star Trek script when I was in middle school, and a half-assed attempt to write a script for my favorite children’s show in fourth grade, Curiosity Shop (a Chuck Jones project that was markedly less successful than Bugs Bunny and Road Runner).

I did try my hand at radio drama.  A St. Mary’s classmate and I tried to write a science fiction radio play, inspired by a tape of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast.  We even set the story in the form of news broadcasts, and spread out Exxon road maps of much of Ohio, West Virginia, and Maryland plotting the invading armies from some other galaxy.

In high school, after reading Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, I wrote (and completed!) a CBS Radio Mystery Theater episode which was a conscientiously accurate adaptation of A. Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Final Problem.”  It never left Marietta, although many times I contemplated typing it up and mailing it to Himan Brown, the director of Mystery Theater.

The hard copy is long gone, but I shudder when I remember some of the passages I wrote, such as “Follow me to a London office, where Dr. John Hamish Watson sits writing in his diary.”  I had listened to enough tapes of the show to include such trivia as “Our mystery drama, ‘The Adventure of the Final Problem,’ was adapted from the A. Conan Doyle classic for the Mystery Theater by Paul T. Evans, and stars [Holmes] and [Watson].  It is sponsored by Anheuser-Busch Inc., brewers of Budweiser, and General Electric citizen band radios.”

Maybe even then I had the foresight to realize that writing radio dramas was going to go the route of repairing fountain pens and blacksmithing as a means of supporting oneself.