Come Back to the Five and Dime, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
Everything I learned about life I learned from Mary Hartman. I was just 13 at the time and to say I was sheltered could be called an understatement. My parents never talked to me about love or sex, except for the rare exception of my mother telling me that girls can never be trusted; Or that I didn't need any friends because I had our family. Needless, to say when the show premiered I was ripe for any kind of alternate reality.
I watched the first episode sitting in our basement of our 50s bungalow, in the big orange vinyl chair; the 19 inch b/w television pushed up to the edge of the chair so that I was enveloped by its 635 lines. It was there that I would spend most of my time when I was a teenager; hour after hour. I watched everything, I remember little, (although I logged a lot of it down in my diary, go to my other blog for more info) but I remember Mary Hartman.
Although now I rarely watch broadcast TV; I do know that something is missing. There is no longer anything quiet on anymore. Several years ago I was in the hospital for an appendix and I was on morphine lying in pain in the hospital room trying to find something to watch. Everything was too loud. Thankfully, I finally found the Andy Griffith Show. But before the age of MTV, TV seemed more personal. Mary Hartman used the structure of a soap opera, extreme close-ups, lots of dialogue. And it's memorable theme with the close up of the livingroom window, that was not unlike any window in the houses around me; family photos, bric-a-brac, dimly lit lamp. (Click here to hear Floyd Kramer's version of the theme song.) I'd never watched a soap opera before and so even the format was a new experience for me; As far as I was concerned it was just Mary, her family, her friends and me. I felt like I was the only person in the world watching it.
In the two seasons that the show was on I only missed 1 episode. (It was the one where Mary has sex with Sgt. Foley). Even when our television sets broke I made due with my radio that picked up television sound. I would then stand on my bed and peer through into the neighbor's window; they watched it every night and I would see it literally through their feet. I guess you'd say I was a bit obsessed. I remember at one point going to Stewart's Five and Dime and asking the sales clerk if they had any Mary Hartman coloring books. Somehow in my mind I thought, "If this show is such a big hit there must be coloring books".
It was through Mary Hartman that I first learned about sex, country music,that you could drown in a bowl of chicken soup, flashing, sex changes, and it was the first time I remember seeing a homosexual character who was not a joke. My sister almost ruined my life during that time when she watched a show with me and then told my parents that I shouldn't be watching this because it was so adult. I told my parents that it was just a comedy and pleaded with them that my life would be ruined if I couldn't watch it; I think that they didn't really give a shit what I watched as long as I was quiet and left them alone.
Mary Hartman the first year was a cultural event. As Ted Morgan said in his article, "Honk, Honk, If You Love Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" in The New York Times Magazine: "There are daily synopses in the newspapers. At the Sumner County jail in Tennessee, work schedules were arranged to allow inmates to watch MH2... In New York it pulled ahead of the 11PM News. The point is that Mary Hartman is news!"
After Mary and Tom split up over Mary's affair with Sargent Foley and Loretta said that "The Jews Killed Our Lord on "Dinah"", Louise Lasser decided she wanted to leave the show. I was numb. I wrote a letter begging her not to leave. I just got back a form letter and a 8X10 glossy. I was crushed.
Mary walked away and the show continued as "Forever Fernwood" . But it was never the same. Mary (Louise Lasser) was the key to the show and it stumbled along for another season. As in all troubled shows it started to rely on guest stars, Tab Hunter and Elka Summer for example. The spin off Fernwood Tonight and America Tonight were brilliant in their own way. But the excitement that the original Mary Hartman series generated had cooled quickly.
Since it went off it never had a revival. CBS showed edited versions of the show during a summer one year;Lifetime showed the same edited versions in the late 80s. It's been rumored for years that Sony was going to release them. Until then Mary Hartman is just another one of those distant memories of my basement television years.
Cathy Shumway: You know, isn't it ironic - that if one of us had to get it, it's a miracle it was you.
Mary Hartman: I know, I must have been born under an unlucky star. You know I have filled out entry blanks for every single drawing in the supermarket for the last twelve years, and the only thing I ever won was a coupon for a small little jar of tomato paste. But they were out of tomato paste, and by the time they got more in, my coupon had expired. And now I have venereal disease.