I know..I know…more posts about television but this one is important or at least it was for us as kids. So, some background: I Spy was a 1960’s television show about two American spies during the Cold War. It ran from 1965 to 1968; its two main characters had covers as a tennis pro and his trainer which allowed them to travel the world and conveniently be where they were needed to stop Communist aggression secret agent style. So far, good but nothing that would differentiate it from the many other spy shows and spoofs that were on the air at the time. But the thing that made this one different was it was the very first television series that had an African-American in a lead role. Bill Cosby, a very young Bill Cosby, played Alexander Scott, the tennis trainer. Robert Culp, a wonderful actor played Kelly Robinson, the tennis pro. Please remember 1965 was at the beginning of the struggle for Civil Rights in America, a not always pretty process with lots of shame to go around. The monumental Civil Rights act had just been signed into law by President Johnson, who did more for civil rights than any president before or since with the obvious exception of Abraham Lincoln. As a politician from Texas, he had a pretty rough time getting it passed, but being the master politician that he was, he was able to complete what had been an idea in the Kennedy administration. He took a lot of heat for it, but he never faltered and he is to be given immense credit and admiration for his tenacity. He had that rare gift even then for compromise and arm twisting that was so necessary to lead a country through such times. Politicians today aren’t in the same league and don’t even seem to want to be, but that’s a whole other blog so back to the show. Suffice it to say, this was a big deal and kudos to Sheldon Leonard the producer who pushed for the idea and NBC for airing it. They were not disappointed. The show was a critical and popular hit. The smooth interaction between the two lead characters achieved a level of repartee that has never been equaled. Just watch a few episodes and you will know what I mean. But to bring all this back home, the reason it was a big deal to me was it was aired on Monday nights at ten o’clock, way past my bedtime. And here is where the cool part is. Mom, bless her true heart, thought it was important that I see an African American and a white man who worked together, were best friends, who had each other’s back, who were in fact like brothers. She wanted me to see it was possible, and desirable. She thought it was so important in fact that she let me stay up until after the show ended at eleven o’clock, a time I hadn’t experienced too much except on New Year’s Eve.
At the time the only thing I was excited about was being allowed to stay up late and to watch a really cool spy show. It didn’t even register that there was anything different about the fact that one guy was black and the other guy was white. Big deal, I thought, or maybe didn’t think, as like I said, it didn’t even register with me. However looking back I see what she was trying to do, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated it. I think of her now as far ahead of her time, with talents that may not have been nurtured due to her chosen role as wife and mother, but memories of things like this reaffirm that she was just as cool as Kelly and Scotty were. She wasn’t a super spy with great looking clothes and endless money; didn’t travel the world to exotic places, didn’t have the suave style that the stars did, but she really was the star – she was the teacher, the enabler, the lover of Christian values, and I mean real Christian values. She honestly believed that all men and women were created equal and that sounds like a cliché, a corny platitude, but let me assure you it is not. It is as rare and sacred a belief now as it was then, and we still haven’t learned our history lessons enough. As a matter of fact, we are fast going in the opposite direction.
So, let this be a homage (there will be tons more) to Mom, a woman who was as or more intelligent than her better educated peers, and as morally pure as I can conceive of. I never tire of telling Les about this story, though I am sure she is tired of hearing it, but I am so proud of Mom that it warrants re-telling again and again.
Plus, let’s be honest, it was a really great show, and she probably could tell that as well.
So raise a salute to Abe, Lyndon, Sheldon, Kelly and Scotty but most of all to Mom. She as usual is in good company.
And check out the cool opening (skip the ad when you can):