Television

Larry Solway discovers America — and it’s just like Kate Smith said!

RON BASE May 17 1976
Television

Larry Solway discovers America — and it’s just like Kate Smith said!

RON BASE May 17 1976

Larry Solway discovers America — and it’s just like Kate Smith said!

Television

In the first episode of Larry Solway’s half-hour television portraits of the United States, this one about Texas, he clambers astride a horse, tugs his stetson down over his eyes and intones dramatically into the camera: “One thing you know about Texas is that it’s big. big.” That's about as profound as Solway ever gets in Our Fellow A mericans. eight weekly shows (beginning May 27) marking the U.S. Bicentennial. He is so fascinated by the great American clichés that he is never able to look beyond them.

Solway, who wrote and narrated the series, no sooner climbs off his nag than he encounters a bearded old prospector named Hondo Crouch. Hondo can see the

tourists coming a mile away, and plays his part accordingly. “Some folks moved within five miles of me, and I got claustrophobia,” he drawls. It took Solway, a retreaded discjockey and hot-line host, a full nine months filming all over the United States to come up with these shopworn clichés and hackneyed stereotypes. Neither he nor his producer, Sam Levene, discovered any new truths about Americans that might cut through the red-white-andblue bunting of the Bicentennial. In fact, any time they are presented with the hint of a new idea, they back off. In a program

about the South, for example. Dean Rusk says: “The South is going to show the way to the rest of the country in race relations.” Yet Solway never questions him further. Instead, he stubbornly opts for the overfamiliar: in this case an interview with former Georgia governor Lester Maddox, who, along with police chief Bull Connor and cattle prods, personified the South’s violent resistance to integration in the early Sixties. Unwilling to challenge the protocol of Southern hospitality, Solway asks only one general question about Maddox’s racial views: have they changed? No, he replies with a grin. Then, for no apparent reason, Maddox breaks into an off-key rendition of Dixie.

Only in Chicago does Solway momentarily give up the cliché in favor of genuine surprise. He finds a native energy and vibrant lifestyle in a city best known for Mayor Richard Daley, machine politics, gangsters and ugly cops. One suspects, though, that bringing Chicago to rough life has more to do with the keen insights contributed by local journalist and author Studs Terkel. who appears throughout the program, than it does with Solway. Solway looks particularly second-rate in comparison to the graceful, articulate style that Alistair Cooke brought to the America

series a few years ago. And just in case anyone misses that point, the CBC has scheduled a rerun of the Cooke series on the same evening as Our Fellow Americans.

Producer Levene defends the Solway series on the grounds that the public is tired of profiles of America's dark underbelly. “It seemed to us not unseemly to do a show that was essentially friendly," he says. If it wasn’t unseemly, it was certainly inappropriate. The view we get of the United States is usually provided by Americans. A tough, hard-nosed Canadian perception would be useful, but one provided by a probingjournalist. not a tourist. RON BASE