You have to be of some age, my kind of age, to remember this one season sitcom from 1969/70. The Sixties were a decade when all manner of American sitcoms filled British screens and many many more never made it, for good or ill. I was never particularly discriminate between them back then but in the case of My World… and Welcome To It I was definitely on the ball.
My World was created and directed by Mel Shavelson and produced by Sheldon Leonard, a successful sitcom producer whose name inspired Sheldon and Leonard in The Big Bang Theory. It starred a three-handed cast of William Windom as John Monroe, Joan Hotchkis as his wife ellen and ten year old Lida Gerritson as their daughter Lydia.
But what distinguishes the series is that it is almost entirely based on “drawings, stories, inspirational pieces and things that go bump in the night by James Thurber”. Thurber was a legendary humorist and cartoonist in the Forties and Fifties, a surrealist, a satirist, most famous fror the creation of Walter Mitty (though Thurber’s original story bears practically no resemblance to the film starring Danny Kaye).
And the sitcom is a surreal mixture of downhome and surreal humour, making ample use of animated settings and sequences (brought to life by DePatie – Freleng, of The Pink Panther fame). Windom’s John Monroe is a cartoonist working for a New Yorker-stle magazine called ‘The Manhattanite’, a wry and somewhat grump/cynical commentator on the state of the world today, who sees reality very differently from his affectionate but sensible and practical wife Ellen, a housewife. Windom’s laconic, easy-going style is ideal as Monroe, looking at the world from an unexpected tangent and breaking the fourth wall continually.
But in Lisa Gerritson as Lydia, the show struck gold. She’s a very intelligent, very serious young child who doesn’t quite understand her father, who is out of his depth when it comes to facing her, and I very quickly became sympathetic to Hotchkis who, as the straight-woman to her co-stars, is on a hiding to nothing, reduced almost to a cypher.
My World ran for one season of 26 episodes which has never been officially released: my two-DVD set is a bootleg copied from videotapes. It was critically acclaimed, to the extent of winning two Emmys in 1970, Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series, but it had already been cancelled for moderate ratiings, about which all I can say is, You Fools!
The three episodes I’ve watched this morning ranged quite widely: ‘Man Against the World’ served to set up the format, starting with John arriving at his Connecticut home from work – a full-sized 2D stageset of Thurber’ famous cartoon of a house turning into a woman to talk back at him as Ellen – and being persuaded to assist Lydia with her history homework, despite her wish that he didn’t. This is a set-up to play out Thurber’s famous sketch about General Grant being so drunk at Appamattox that he surrenders to Lee and plays out through the first appearance of Lydia’s doctrinaire schoolteacher Miss Skidmore.
‘The Disenchanted’ has John trying to handle Lydia’s decision to run away from home and set up in New York to get away from the boy sat behind her in class who copies her work and pulls her hair, whilst ‘Little Girls are Sugar & Spice – and not always Nice!’ gets away from thurber by pitting Lydia against her father at Chess, and getting the better of him.
Subtle and wry as the humour is, I’ve got to admit it’s doubly out-dated in certain elements. This is original matrial from the Forties being repurposed for the late Sixties and Nixon’s Presidency. The set-up is old-fashioned, with Ellen as a stay-at-home housewife and the first episode adopting a quasi-misogynist tone, whilst the crux of the third episode is that Lydia traps her father in an inescapable position over which he delays making a move for two days.
Then just as John receives the very sage advice that all he can do is lose but save face by making it look like he’s deliberately throwing the game, Lydia gets a lesson from her mother about the essential female duty of giving in to protect the man’s fragile ego, which she dutifully absorbs with that wonderfully characteristic attitude of not understanding why but accepting it as just one more of those adult mysteries. Gerritson is just brilliant in the part.
It’s lovely to catch up on My World… and Welcome To It after a half century. It has that rare thing about an American Sixties sitcom, subtlety. It doesn’t go for belly-laughs but rather chuckles, it holds its own in the wistfulness sakes, it’s modern and old-fashioned in one go and above all it has charm. In bucketsful. I shall enoy meandering through it.