It tickled me to think of Lisa Loopner hammering away at a piano in Assisted Living, so I searched for a clip of her performing the song to post on Facebook. The clip I found had a comment attached noting that the film of her show was directed by Mike Nichols, and also pointed out that she's sitting on a giant phone book while playing the piano. I realized that while I have (and know by heart) the album recorded from her show, I'd never SEEN any of it. I didn't realize there was a filmed version out there. I bought it immediately.
And then last Sunday, after going to an all-you-can-eat crawfish boil in the rain and realizing that those beers we washed the crawdads down with tasted pretty good, we got some more and came home to drink them. I suggested we watch my DVD of Gilda Live which had just arrived a few days earlier.
Oh, it was so funny and sweet and sad, because she's not with us anymore. Watching her play Judy Miller and Roseanne Roseannadanna and Candy Slice at the Winter Garden Theatre just makes you wonder what she'd be doing now if she was alive.
It also made me think back to 1989 and what a pivotal year it was for me. It was really an incredibly formative year, kicked off in a lot of ways by Gilda's death.
I had just finished 10th grade and was looking forward to a summer filled with floating around my parents' pool with a thick book and a bag of candy, wandering the streets at night with my friend Mrs. Schmenkman, eating potato chips and making ludicrous plans for adventures we'd never get to carry out in our boring little town. My world was only as big as the confines of our village, sometimes expanded to include visiting family in Binghamton or New Jersey, or once in 8th grade, Niagara Falls, Canada, the only spontaneous trip I've ever known my parents to take. Things are different now with the internet, but back then, the only way you could get a glimpse of the greater world was to travel, or though the limited TV, newspapers or magazines that came to our area. (Example- my grandmother had MTV long before we did. Our local cable company was of a Christian bent and thought music videos were immoral.)
Besides mourning my lovely Gilda, the magazine opened my eyes to a new world. Glamour was much more of a feminist publication back then; it wasn't the Kardashian-Kontrolled rag it is now. There was coverage and commentary on current events, particularly how they affected the lives of women. They had their annual Women of the Year awards, which weren't just awarded to actresses and models, but to scientists and politicians and lawyers and innovators and activists.
There was a lot going on in the world to notice then: the Ayatollah Khomeini- the closest thing my
It was about the time that I realized I wanted something more than what my small town had to offer. I wanted something different from what most of the girls I knew aspired to, something different from what people expected me to want. I wasn't meant to be one of those people who stayed in the same place they grew up for the rest of their lives. I wasn't going to marry someone I'd grown up with, settle down in my hometown, work whatever job I could find, have babies and run into my classmates at our kids' t-ball games. I wanted to see new places, meet people different from me, learn about and try new things that I had no access to in rural Steuben County. I wanted adventures and experiences. I knew I wanted a different path, but I didn't know just what yet.
And then in 1989, I discovered Murphy Brown and I found my idol. I was absolutely entranced by Murphy- she wasn't anything like any other woman on TV and I loved it. She was smart and not ashamed of her intelligence and refused to play it down to make men feel more comfortable around her. She was tough and not afraid to stand up for herself or others. She didn't care about the things other female sitcom characters did- she wasn't looking for a man to complete her; she was fine on her own, and in fact, preferred it that way. She didn't give a shit about decorating or housekeeping. She loved her work and didn't see a problem with devoting herself to it.
"a complex, original, endearing, feisty, take-no-prisoners woman. And more surprisingly, a woman who cared not a whit what others thought of her. There was not an ounce of submission, not a drop of passivity, no suggestion of shrivel. Murphy was fierce and principled. She had passion- especially for her work, where she gave no quarter. We all wanted to be her." *
I wanted to be her. Not necessarily a journalist, news anchor or TV reporter. I just wanted to be like Murphy Brown. I wanted to be fiercely independent, unapologetic, proud and capable. I wanted a career that excited and energized me. I wanted a life lived on my own terms.
When you're a little kid, people are always asking you what you want to be when you grow up. Back in my childhood days, if you were a little girl and didn't have a different answer at the ready, it was assumed you wanted to be a wife and a mommy. There is nothing wrong with women who want to be wives and mothers. It IS wrong to assume that every little girl wants only that and to disregard any suggestions to the contrary. If you did state a desire to do something ambitious, folks usually laughed indulgently and nodded knowingly, implying that you might think this way now when you're small and don't know any better, but inevitably you'll change your mind. I got this reaction a lot when I told people I wanted to be the first female president of the United States of the America.
But almost no one asks you WHO you want to be when you grow up. No one asks what kind of person you want to be, what kind of life you want for yourself, where you see yourself as a grown-up. At 16, aware for the first time really of the greater world around me, I was getting an idea of who I wanted to be. When I pictured what I would be like as an adult back then, I was a lot like Murphy Brown. I had glamorous long hair, exquisitely tailored suits, sensible heels. I spent most of my time in
Not all of that fantasy came true- there were modifications and changes that had to be made as I left 16 and moved into my 20s, 30s, and then 40s where I am today. I have three dogs, not a cat. I live in a 151-year-old farmhouse in the Finger Lakes, not a lofty penthouse in an unnamed metropolis. My furniture is decidedly not modern. I rarely wear suits or heels to work, although I do walk very quickly with purposeful strides through the halls. My husband doesn't wear suits often either, and he lives in our house with me. (Although I do insist on having space that's just mine in our own home.) But truthfully, those are minor details; the important parts are the same. Someone on social media not too long ago posed the question of what you thought it would be like if your childhood self met your grown-up self. Would she be pleased or disappointed with how you turned out? I think I'd be pretty happy with adult me.
Because the other truth I've learned is that you don't have to be one kind of woman. You can take the
Interestingly, the night we watched Gilda, Live just happened to be her birthday.
She would've been 69 years old.
Happy birthday, my lovely American Gilda. Thanks for being such a great role model.
*Quote from Candace Bergen's autobiography, A Fine Romance.