Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Salon: THE SEESAW GIRL AND ME by Dick York

I don't think I shall ever forget Dick York. BEWITCHED was my favourite programme on TV as a young child and I was a fan of that kindly-natured, goofy husband, Darrin, played by Dick York. When he was suddenly replaced by another actor I felt slightly aggrieved; but I have learnt today that the original actor had had no choice but to depart.

THE SEESAW GIRL AND ME is Dick York's memoir, and I've never read anything like it before. It consists of very short close-to-metaphorical stories, conversations with the reader, snippets of plays (complete with stage directions), straight accounts and anecdotes. The reader is bombarded with images, ideas and whimsical thoughts - from childhood to middle-age - again and again. It is rather like the old fashioned process of making a coloured print. First one colour is applied, then another and another - until gradually the whole picture appears in fascinating detail. It is highly original and very effective.

Dick York was brought up in a loving but poor household in Chicago. He met his future wife Joan (or Joey) when he was a teenager. He was talented and gradually established a career for himself in radio, film and TV. But an accident on a film set tore the muscles on his back and they never healed properly. He subsequently suffered bouts of such nauseating pain that he became addicted to painkillers. After a particularly bad period of not sleeping he had a seizure on the set of 'Bewitched' and this ended his television career in 1969.

By this time Dick and Joey had five children. Without work, they seemed to quickly return to poverty. They had to resort to being cleaners to earn enough to live. There are pictures in the book which vividly illustrate this change in circumstance; before the seizure Dick is svelte, smiling, and at ease with Elizabeth Montgomery on set. Joey, at thirty five, is strikingly similar-looking to the York's on-screen wife, the glamorous witch, Samantha: blonde, slim and very pretty. Just six years later, in 1975, the two are utterly changed: overweight and dressed in shapeless clothes, they look, nevertheless, very happy as they hug their first grandchild.

Dick York recorded his memoirs and then gave them to an interested journalist, Claudia Kaehl, who turned them into a book. I suppose this accounts for its unusual structure. Dirk York proves himself to be an outstandingly eloquent speaker: here is what happens when he loses a quarter which he needs desperately for tuition at school.
'So I looked at everything. Everything. The banks of snow, the little sticks of bushes sticking up through the snow, little pieces of leaves, piles of dogs...'

'Everything, he could see everything, he could see other kids' footprints on the way to school he could see everything he could see everything but that fucking quarter WHERE WAS IT? And he looked and he looked and his calm grew from alarm to total panic and frustration and then anger. And then he screamed out loud: "If you're really there, if you're REALLY THERE, show me where it is!"

'And there it was. There it was. The tiniest black line in a deep bank of snow. A tiny line couldn't possibly be that quarter - or could it? So he brushed away the snow brushed away the snow brushed away the snow brushed away the snow. And there it was.'

'And there he was, stuck with the truth. And he's been stuck with the truth ever since: There is something, or somebody, or everything, that delivers quarters on demand.'

This is a tale of the triumph of the human spirit; towards the end of Dick's life he had a happy and productive period helping charities for homeless people. Dick and Joey had hard times, but they fought the world together, and eventually they had something of a triumph. It is this union that is the main theme of this book - an account of the enduring love of Dick for Joey; and Joey for Dick.

Thanks to Debra Hamel for the competition in which I won this book (Debra's review, which is well worth reading, is here). I don't normally select memoirs to read - but I'm very glad I spent several hours today reading this one.


Blogger pierre l said...

Hello Clare. I have been reading you regularly for several months now, although rarely commenting.
I also remember watching Bewitched and enjoying it in the sixties. One of the great things about current technology is that many of these series are now available on DVD (many Region 1 only). I also remember watching the Twilight Zone as a teenager in Canada (and probably sometimes being scared, as you guys were by Dr Who); I now have a boxset with the complete Twilight Zone, so I can see it at my leisure.

Sun Jun 29, 07:36:00 pm  
Blogger Bernice L. McFadden said...

Great Blog! I see we share some of the same favorite books. Please drop by my blog or my website: and experience my novels.

Peace & Light,

Bernice McFadden
Geneva Holliday

Sun Jun 29, 08:00:00 pm  
Anonymous Debra Hamel said...

I actually got shivers reading this. It's really a unique experience, this book.

Sun Jun 29, 10:02:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Ah, Pierre L - I remember seeing your name - but I look on your link but there is nothing there. Thank you for the tip about the DVDs. These sound an excellent investment. I think I might get a few to see if they are in fact as good as I remembered.

Thank you Bernice. Yes, I see you love BELOVED too. Toni Morrison is one of my favourite authoes.

Yes, Debra, that's exactly it! Unique, and incredibly moving - most unexpectedly so.

Mon Jun 30, 12:00:00 am  
Blogger pierre l said...

Sorry Clare. I have a Blogger profile because that is useful with blogs that require password or don't accept anonymous comments. I always use the same login. I can't actually remember where I first came across tour name, but some of your books were on someone's wishlist, and I think we met in Caroline Smaile's comment box.
I do write quite a lot of comments, but don't think I have the ability to actually write a whole blog, so I've never started one.

Mon Jun 30, 12:13:00 am  
Blogger skrishna said...

I don't normally read memoirs either, but this sounds like a great one! Nice review!

Mon Jun 30, 06:25:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Pierre L - Bet you have!

Thanks Skrishna - yes, I recommend this one...

Wed Jul 02, 07:06:00 pm  
Anonymous Claudia Kuehl said...

Clare, thank you so much for this insightful and empathetic review. I love your analogy with making a color print.
I met with my website designer last evening and we decided to add a link to your post. Hope you don't mind!! Here's the link to the page with the link: If there's a problem please let me know. And thanks again. Claudia Kuehl

Fri Jul 18, 06:57:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Claudia, I received the seesaw girl and me in the mail yesterday, started reading it after dinner and finished it before going to bed last night, so you could say I was intrigued. I was especially interested as I was acquainted with mainly Joanie as I called her when they lived two doors from us in Covina, Ca.
I have my own delightful stories which I treasure and have written down and enclosed with the book which will go on the bookshelf for ones in the future to find and read along with the book itself. The little I knew Dick, he was just as I read about him in his book, he was soft spoken and loved his family, knew a lot about a lot of things and I am happy to have been a little part of their lives in that little town called Covina in the late 1970-early 1980's. I was saddened to read Joanie passed away last November 2009.

Shirley, a neighbor
Covina, Ca

Thu Jun 10, 05:31:00 pm  
OpenID arfies said...

This book is one of my favorites, and I'm a huge Dick York fan, too!

Shirley- Joan York is actually still alive, though has some health issues:

Thu Sep 09, 08:21:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks for the info and coming by, Arfies!

Fri Sep 10, 10:28:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joan passed last night , 01/19/12 with her loving Sons daughter and three of her grandchildren. She will be missed <3
Ashley York

Thu Jan 19, 02:15:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

My sincere condolences to your family, Ashley. I hope this book provides some solace in the months to come. It is certainly a testament of their devotion and love for each other.

Thu Jan 19, 02:26:00 pm  

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