Every night at 2 in the morning, the old man cable station, WE, plays an old Naked City rerun. I barely remember this show because the reruns were old before I was born. It is a crime drama full of old New Work actors, mostly old stage pros and young upstarts from Stella Adler’s or Lee Strasberg’s classes. It is kind of a treat to see the young Redford, Duvall, Ed Asner (with hair), as well as Lee Marvin, Burt Reynolds, Ed Nelson, Richard Anderson, and the recently deceased Leslie Neilsen, all chewing up the scenery and method acting their asses off. Some of this work is truly cringe-worthy and some of it is great, like everything.
The real star of this show is New York City and the 1950, an era of cheap optimism that this show tries valiantly to tamp down. They addressed real issues on Naked City; addiction and its root causes, the parallel realities of racism, poverty, criminality and hopelessness, and what these things all have to do with each other. It was pretty raw realism considering when it was made. I’m always amazed at the ambition of these scripts and the generous helpings of violence. And the violence is always ugly and cowardly no matter who is dispensing it. It was an interesting show where the people looked like real people. . . meaning, ugly motherfuckers like me could get work on this show. The cops looked like cops and the crooks and harlots looked like crooks and harlots. There was one episode with the young and very beautiful Cloris Leachman, who was really a dish around 1955, playing a real slut, and Bunky, she could sell the boom-boom. She was dastardly and way fuckable.
I have a great deal of curiosity about the 1950’s; no nostalgia or sentiment. I was born in 1958. I have no love for “the good old days: when institutional racism was law and conformity ruled the day. People have often told me the think my pieces are nostalgic. I cringe when I hear that. I am in no way sentimental. I am interested in history , and these scraps, matchbooks, wrappers and other paper arcana are evidence of how our culture communicated visually. Do I love Chicago? Yes. And I hate it as well; particularly the cheap boosterism that masquerades as civic pride. About a year ago, this city was willing to go buns-up to get the Olympics. A bullshit caper that would have made a few developers a lot of money and possibly bankrupted the city itself. If you don’t believe this, go ask Atlanta and Los Angeles, two cities that are still paying off their Olympic debts. This proposition was also being bandied about as something that would bring jobs. Horseshit. Iit would create a bunch of lousy-paying service industry jobs that would be temporary. A few thousand Chicagoans would get to pimp Slurpees to the tourists and then three weeks later, they’d be out of that job. I mention this because of the way cities tend to think of themselves. We never hear them trumpet the quality of their citizens’ educations or quality of life. It is about the big events–the Olympics, Millenium Park (which I actually like), Taste of Chicago, where dip-shits from Des Moines come into town, get shit-faced and leave a river of puke from the lake to the Metra station. This shit is big business here. If you want to get the power crowd’s attention here, tell them you’re thinking about bringing a convention here and watch how fast they pull their cheeks apart.
I think about shows like the Naked City because there was a kind of realism about them, The city, in this case New York, was realized on a human scale. They, like us, were boastful to be sure, but their optimism was tempered with a realization of the American dream’s trap-doors and fun-house mirrors. A similar show was filmed here, M-Squad, with Lee Marvin (Lee Marvin!). At the time, it was thought too grim. . .too realistic. . .a downer. It too, dealt with social issues like deliquency, racism and criminality. It didn’t last long, but it wasn’t bad. I watch it to remember what Chicago looked like a half century ago; to see the lived-in faces and buildings and signs.
It was a portrait of us we’ve tried to forget; one perhaps, too close to the truth.