TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (20)
August 20, 2018
One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite TV shows from the Fifties (1954–1963).
Growing up, I didn’t look forward to watching Gunsmoke — the legendary TV western that aired on CBS from 1955 to 1975. I was an anxious kid who was prone to panic attacks and I’m guessing that the show’s formula — outsider wanders into Dodge City, stirs up trouble and Uncomfortable Feelings, and then is expunged by the locals — involved too much stress and tension for a child who spent her days mulling over the relationship between death and infinity.
Still, I adored TV, and Gunsmoke was usually better than anything else in its time slot. So I watched plenty of guest stars get in and out of Dodge — including Leonard Nimoy, Gary Busey, and a terrifying Bette Davis, who held Miss Kitty and Matt Dillon hostage in a homemade jail with a gallows she set up in the backyard.
I’m guessing that for many viewers, Marshal Dillon was the literal and figurative cool and steady hand, soothing the audience’s nerves with his John Wayne gait (James Arness, the actor who played Dillon was 6’7”) and careful drawl. But for me, the show’s lone comfort was Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), owner and manager of The Long Branch, the local saloon where much of the bad stuff went down. Originally from New Orleans, Miss Kitty wore silk taffeta dresses and black eyeliner and was a bona fide stunner — she was the sole note of beauty and the only hint of the greater world in an otherwise dusty and claustrophobic mise-en-scène.
Did I understand that Miss Kitty was a madam? Not exactly. The show was vague about her profession and my 8-year-old self wasn’t hip to the finer points of prostitution. But I did get that there was something unsaid about her, some element of mystery hiding in that Louisiana childhood. When, in a 1959 episode titled “Kitty’s Rebellion” an old family friend comes to town and is shocked to learn she’s a saloonkeeper, Miss Kitty realizes that his naiveté (he wants to defend her honor) could get him killed. So she sits him down, looks him in the eye and tells him — and the audience — that she has no honor and everyone in town knows it.
Today, I think about Miss Kitty and wonder if Gunsmoke’s producers punished her for her profession while they also, ironically, pimped her popularity. While she and Matt Dillon were the original Sam and Diane — cue the soulful looks and shared confidences — they never consummated their relationship. Didn’t Miss Kitty deserve to love and be loved? Not in Dodge, apparently.
TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Series Introduction | Luc Sante on LOONEY TUNES | Chris Spurgeon on THE THREE STOOGES | Adrienne Crew on MY THREE SONS | Barbara Bogaev on ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | Devin McKinney on THE TWILIGHT ZONE | James Hannaham on THE NAT KING COLE SHOW | Mimi Lipson on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES | Jessamyn West on THE JETSONS | Gary Panter on THE OUTER LIMITS | Peter Doyle on THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS | Mark Kingwell on ROUTE 66 | Josh Glenn on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW | Lynn Peril on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW | Rob Walker on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER | Dan Reines on DAVEY & GOLIATH | Adam McGovern on HIGHWAY PATROL | Erik Davis on HAVE GUN — WILL TRAVEL | Greg Rowland on THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW | Annie Nocenti on THE AVENGERS | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on GUNSMOKE | Sarah Weinman on NAKED CITY | Douglas Rushkoff on THE HONEYMOONERS | Kio Stark on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS | Gordon Dahlquist on PERRY MASON | Brian Berger on CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? | CODA: Crystal Durant on Marc Anthony & Pussyfoot shorts | CODA: Mike Watt on “A Stop at Willoughby”
FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): Animated TV series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.