memories of the ’70s – Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

RagtimeDoctrorowHardcover.jpgThe first two decades of the 20th century are explored through the eyes of three families who lives intersect in New York City in the historical novel Ragtime.

The fourth novel written by E.L. Doctorow, the focus on pre World War time period of America was viewed through three families. The first is Mother, Father, Mother’s Younger Brother and Grandfather.

The young son tells the story of his wealthy family, where Father is lured off to an Arctic expedition, leaving Mother behind while Mother’s Younger Brother chases after a wealthy socialite, Evelyn Nesbit, a real person of the time period.

Mother soon becomes distracted by the young Sarah, her son and her son’s Father Coalhouse Walker, He’s a talented musician who wants to take care of Sarah and the young son, but becomes a victim of racism when a mob destroys his car and actions lead to the death of Sarah.

Coalhouse becomes a vigilante in his despair, while young men take up his name to protest the racism they continue to suffer. Mother adopts the young son against Father’s wishes.

The third family is led by Tateh, an Eastern European immigrant who is trying to survive with his wife and daughter. He leaves his wife and protects his daughter, whose beauty attracts Evelyn, who wants to help the little girl. But when he realizes she’s a socialite, he hides his young daughter and starts to transform from a working class guy to a wealthy entrepreneur.

Tateh renames himself a baron and soon meets Mother. As the story continues, the backdrop of the industrial effects on society, the racism and prejudice faced by many in New York City and the ever-changing political atmosphere make for a unique backdrop for the three families.

Doctorow weaves in important people of the time period including Nesbit, JP Morgan, Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, Harry Houdini and Siegmund Freud, making them unexpected characters within the story.

Published in March 1975 by Random House, the novel became a bestseller, topping the New York Times Bestseller list from August until November. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award for best novel in 1975 and in 1981 was adapted for the big screen into a film.

After seeing this film, I read the book, which weaves a poignant picture of early 20th century America, with its land of opportunity dream and its reality of putting up barriers against the new and the different at every turn.


memories of the ’80s – Cagney & Lacey

Opposites made the difference when these two New Yorkers paired up and took to the streets to protect and serve in Cagney & Lacey. 

Created by Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday, the duo initially wanted to make a buddy film with two women, but when no studio wanted to support it, they made it into a tv movie, hoping for a series.

Actress Loretta Swit appeared in the movie, but wasn’t allowed out of her contract with MASH, paired with Tyne Daley as Mary Beth Lacey.

Debuting on CBS TV in March 1982, the show’s main sidekick was Lt. Bert Samuels played by Al Waxman. Meg Foster replaced Swit as Christine Cagney for the first six episodes, but was perceived as too masculine and the network cancelled the show.

In 1983, after Sharon Gless finally escaped her long-running TV contract for the show House Calls, the producers once again got another chance at the series but once again the now second season of the series was plagued with so-so ratings and the studio perception the characters were too aggressive.

But a determined group of viewers staged a letter writing campaign to bring back the series and with an Emmy win for Tyne Daley, the series was resurrected again and went back into production in January 1984.

The show finished in the top 10 at the end of that season was awarded 36 Emmy nominations for that season.

The duo were quite opposites – Lacey was a brash working class married Mom of two young sons while Cagney was a single uptown girl who had been raised in Westchester, but had become a cop like her Dad.

Despite its unique storylines and female perceptions of the changing world, being cops and dealing with daily life, the show was always seemingly under threat of cancellation by CBS.

The continued Emmy wins kept this show on air – to date, no other show has ever won a Best Actor Emmy every year of its existence – four times for Tyne Daley and twice for Sharon Gless.

When the show was cancelled in 1988, the network had moved its last season to the summer and focused on new series like Wiseguy. But internationally the show continued to do well and was shown on BBC1 among other international networks.

The duo’s lasting effect of the female buddy left a lasting impression on television and changed not just the way women were depicted but also how viewers were perceived in supporting their shows.