Remembering a Forgotten Writer

NOTE FROM LB: In the early 50s, when I was very, very young, my anti-social self learned about the world via this very little box called a TV. One show that fascinated me for reasons I no longer remember but which I think had to do with the fact that no one on it was trying to sell me anything or talking down to me or doing anything other than living their sweet little lives.

The name of that show was ETHEL AND ALBERT. Even at the age of 5 or 6 I knew the life Ethel and Albert were living together wasn’t real. But, man, I sure wanted it to be.

Peg Lynch, the creator, writer, and star of the show, died last week. The following is the best of not-nearly-enough tributes to her pioneering work:

LYNCH-obitby Bruce Weber

Peg Lynch, who wrote and starred in “Ethel and Albert,” one of television’s earliest situation comedies, died on Friday at her home in Becket, Mass. She was 98.

Her daughter, Astrid King, confirmed the death.

Ms. Lynch, who wrote nearly 11,000 scripts for radio and television without the benefit of a writer’s room committee (or even a co-writer), was a pioneering woman in broadcast entertainment. As a creator of original characters and a performer of her own written work — every bit of it live! — she might be said to have created the mold that decades later produced the likes of Tina Fey and Amy Schumer.

And long before Jerry Seinfeld made a famous show ostensibly about nothing, mining the mundane details of the lives of single New Yorkers, Ms. Lynch did much the same thing, mining the mundane details of the lives of Ethel and Albert Arbuckle, a representative young married couple living in a representative American town called Sandy Harbor.

“I base my show on the little things in life,” Ms. Lynch said in an interview in The New York Times in 1950, when the show, then on radio, was known as “The Private Lives of Ethel and Albert.” “I believe that people like to find out that other people have some of the same problems they do.”

The show had its first national exposure as a 15-minute, five-day-a-week radio program on the Blue Network (the progenitor of ABC) in 1944, with the actor Richard Widmark playing Albert. Three of the radio scripts were staged for television in Schenectady, N.Y., in 1946 — by then her co-star, who remained with the show for its remaining years, was Alan Bunce — and in 1950 “Ethel and Albert” appeared in sketches on “The Kate Smith Hour,” an afternoon variety show. It became its own weekly series, broadcast on Saturday nights on NBC, in 1953, later moving to CBS and then ABC before going off the air in 1956.

Read it all at the New York Times