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PEG LYNCH, PLAYING THE wife in radio’s The Couple Next Door, was the spiritual godmother of Tina Fey. Lynch’s warm and gentle comedic writing and acting are recurring pleasures to me on SiriusXM Radio Classics. I’m delighted to share tidbits of her wit here.
Peg Lynch wrote nearly 11,000 scripts during her radio and TV career, running from 1941 until 1973. Her Ethel and Albert series was one of the first radio programs making the transition to TV sitcom. One of her early costars as husband Albert was actor Richard Widmark, though Lynch’s radio/TV husband of long standing was Alan Bunce.
The Couple Next Door was a 1957–1960 radio spinoff of Lynch’s Ethel and Albert radio/television series that ran, on and off, from 1944 until 1973. There’s a good tale of Ethel and Albert and its 1954 NBC television cancellation by sponsor Johnson & Johnson. According to Lynch, the sponsor’s wife complained because Peg/Ethel reminded her of her husband’s first wife and she “didn’t want to look at that face every week.”
The format for all of Lynch’s comedic writing was the humor developing out of familiar situations in married life. One of my favorite episodes, first broadcast on January 1, 1958, begins with a post-New Year’s Eve Party conversation between husband and wife:
A bleary-eyed Alan asks, “Did you have a good time?” Peg says, “Well, I danced with the drummer quite a bit….” “The drummer? Why wasn’t he playing the drums?” “You were….”
Alan tries to counter, “By the way, where were you when the bells rang out and everybody yelled ‘Happy New Year!’ ? I looked all over for you.”
“I was sitting at the next table, dear.”
“That extra man the Wilsons brought along. He said he couldn’t imagine I was old enough to have a daughter. I might as well face it, I do love flattery.”
“Which one was he?”
“The good-looking one.”
The episode evolves into disarray when Alan’s long-distance call to his parents, visiting his sister in Mexico, finally goes through. Little Betsy is reluctant to talk to Grandma, but then insists that she share the newly learned skill of counting from 1 to 1000. Amazon has an Audible Sample of this funny phone call. Many people today don’t know what a big deal international telephoning was back in the late 1950s, but this episode is spot-on.
By contrast, anyone with a love of mathematics (a show of hands, please?) would appreciate “A Simple Question of Algebra,” from January 8, 1958. Alan promises to help a neighbor’s kid with homework, but soon finds himself bluffing his way through Dreaded Word Problems.
“I’ve got the answer, more or less, in my head, you know….”
Here’s one of the problems: A man starts from his home to catch a train and, walking at the rate of one yard in one second, arrives two minutes late. If he had walked at the rate of four yards in three seconds, he would have arrived two and a half minutes early. How far is his home from the station?”
Peg’s contribution: “Well, at any rate, there’s a man who gets some exercise walking to work…. Abraham Lincoln walked ten miles just to go to school.”
Besides, she adds, “You don’t walk the same rate of speed anyhow…. It makes a difference whether you’re in low heels or high heels.”
“What?!?” Allan says.
How far is the station from home? I leave this as an exercise for the reader. You may assume not in high heels. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016