When Joanna Dymond and I met for an interview this week, she brought
along a folio of all the promos she designed and wrote for an upcoming
show being produced by Norman Lear, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman? for
WNEW, New York. We paged through the materials: promos for TV Guide,
on-air commercials and press releases for a show that she was trying to get into syndication; heady stuff for the girl from Bagley, MN. We laughed and reminisced about life in my home town; a far cry from the farm she was born on or the town she called home. But listening to her stories of how she came to be the Director of Public Relations,
Advertising and On-Air Promotions for a New York station, Channel 5 was fun, truly funny and utterly fascinating.
Somewhere along the way, Dymond has latched onto the serendipity of life; its textures and hues. The death of a close friend drove her from small-town America to the big city Wayzata which was her first foray into corporate America. A request from a stranger who wanted a traveling companion on the drive to California was answered with a adventurous “yes” and off Dymond went to seek her fortune. Describing her first view of San Francisco as looking like “heaven on earth,” she stayed at that heaven long enough to finish a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State and live across the hall from the then
fledgling director Francis Ford Coppola.
Dymond’s story of how she went to New York City to be interviewed for a public relations position and being put-up at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the “royal” suite by mistake had us both laughing. After Dymond enjoyed an evening, entertaining friends with hot chocolate and cookies, in the same suite that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor used, the next morning management informed her, that they had made a mistake in assigning that suite to her. Perhaps the mistake was due to the fact that she arrived in NYC sans business suit, hat, gloves (kid skin, of course) hose and heels. They probably assumed that anyone who came into that luxurious hotel wearing slacks, sweater and flats was wealthy enough to defy convention. Dymond did not get that position but she did go to England for a year to work at a television station and was lured back to the States and New York City for her next challenge.
I think that there’s a memoir in there for Dymond to pen, I hope there is for her expertise in the field of advertising and public relations in network television is admirable, enviable and fun to listen to. I was struck at how Dymond is able to laugh at herself without blaming others for missteps along the way.
And now a little about the show she was trying to “sell” to the networks. Most times truth is stranger than fiction but in the case of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” a syndicated television show circa 1976-77, fiction was truth. Truth being what Mary saw in commercials and what she read in her “ladies” magazines. Mary was always puzzled by the yellow waxy build-up in the corners of her kitchen because she followed all the advice she got from the experts writing in those mags. “Hartman” was in the same genre as other Norman Lear prime time comedies: “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Maude”; provoke serious discussion from the absurd by exposing racial bigotry, stereotypical characters and real life situations which called for decisions not always acceptable at the time. But the big difference was that “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” came on at 11 p.m., after the 10 p.m. news with Bill Jorgenson, and played to an adult audience.
The show exploded social taboos, and story lines went from her impotent blue-collar husband, a serious topic at the time, pre-Viagra, to Mary accidentally causing the death of her friend’s husband with her chicken soup. Just goggle Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and you will find YouTube excerpts from the shows. The most interesting is the one that Lear cites as being one of the best acting on the tube: Mary is on the David Susskind Show (not a talk show but rather a show of intellectuals sparing to destroy the guest) and has a meltdown. Remember, shows were live back then. Another host, Dick Cavett, once asked if there was a doctor in the audience for one of his guests seemed to have died, yes, that’s true and the man did expire on the couch.
Joanna Dymond is hosting a book signing of her first mystery, “Crazy as a Loon,” this Saturday, Dec. 1, at Brigid’s Pub from 3 to 5 p.m. with music and songs from her DJ days, music from the Tell Sisters, poetry and a “just plain good time.” See you downtown on Saturday!