Monday, August 15, 2011

God in the 1970's

Okay, while this is off the topic of my usual vintage teenage book ramblings, I nonetheless thought this would be an interesting post. Here are two FUN and very original portrayals of God. In both cases, he is represented in human form as a fairly humble and "regular guy". I like it!



The first is from Bruce Jay Friedman's hilarious play Steambath from 1971. I've mentioned Friedman before, and he is one of my favorite humorous writers for adults (others include Herb Gardner and Mell Lazarus). This was his second play and the original Off-Broadway production starred Anthony Perkins. Later it was made into a television special (also available on DVD) that starred Bill Bixby, as seen above. In this unusual absurdist comedy, the afterlife is a steambath where those who have recently died hang out with others nude or with towels. The man in charge, or the steambath attendant, is God. He is portrayed as a Puerto-Rican with a good sense of humor who sends messages such as "Give that girl a run in her body stocking..." down to earth via a small machine that replies with BLEEP BLEEP. When the other characters are skeptical of God, he proves himself in several ways including downing an enormous whiskey sour! The play is not just funny...it also has a lot of social implications that will keep you curious about the afterlife. It makes the subject of God relatable even for an existential guy such as myself.
Other works by Friedman that I have enjoyed include his first novel Stern, as well as his screenplays for the following classic movies: The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and Splash (1984).
Also of note are Friedman's talented sons --- writer Josh Alan Friedman and the cartoonist Drew Friedman.
This second portrayal of God is from Oh God, Book II from 1980. George Burns played God in all three of the films in this series. In my opinion, Book II is the best of the lot. God communicates with an eleven year old girl named Tracy, first through fortune cookie messages, and later by appearing in person. I love that George Burns basically plays himself in this film. His superpowers as GOD are actually quite minimal. For example, he uses his abilities to appear on the Johnny Carson show and to do Tracy's homework, in her own handwriting, in an instant. He even rides a motorcycle! The other thing I like about this movie is that the kids seem very mature and their lines are wittily written. In some ways, it reminds me of the books Norma Klein wrote for kids. Maybe this has do with the fact that Tracy's parents are divorced and this is handled in a very matter of fact manner. God has bigger issues to work on, like stopping volcanoes from erupting, than solving marital issues.

George Burns was at his best when he played opposite kids or teenagers. For this reason, I also loved him in the movie 18 Again! (1988).



Anyway, this is just another example of how more risks were taken in popular culture back in the 1970's than now. I'm not sure a movie executive would give either of these projects the green light today (unless it was a remake).

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