Fritzi Cohen died the day before yesterday. From the time when my family moved to Maine back in the mid- ‘60s all the way into the early ‘80s, Cohen was the theater critic for the NBC affiliate in Portland, Maine.
Think about that for a minute.
In those days, we had half-hour local news broadcasts, not the mammoth two-hour marathons that glom so much of the modern local programming schedule. It was no-nonsense News, Weather, Sports -- the anchors didn’t shilly-shally around with each other, thank each other, try to get cute with the viewing audience. There wasn’t time for that frippery.
And yet somehow WCSH found time for a weekly local theater critic, something that’s unheard of on our bloated modern newscasts. They did this even though Portland was a smaller town back then with fewer public performance options. They did this because somebody at the station thought it was important.
The local “news” programs of today, bleeding their time away by recapping the same stories over and over again, make TV stars out of High School athletes (something that no one would ever have dreamed of in my day), but to watch their broadcasts you wouldn’t know that Maine even has an arts community.
So Cohen, with all her flighty mannerisms and her very big personalty, was more significant than we knew back in the day. She was doing something that isn’t being done at all any more, and probably wasn’t being done very much back then. She was the first of her kind, certainly in the area, and quite possibly also the last.
She was an actress herself, and it’s with some dismay that I note her obituaries all remarking that she is “best remembered for her role in Jaws.”
Say what? She had one line, if that, and her big moment consisted of turning towards the camera just before the boy on the surfboard disappears in a huge gout of blood. Of course it was a big deal at the time that “our” local gal got an appearance in a Major Hollywood Movie, but I’d be willing to bet that she had other entries on her acting resume that she would have preferred to have been remembered for -- and her own colleagues at WCSH could not even be bothered to go and dig them up. There’s respect for you.
I remember her because she was One of Those People. You know what I’m talking about. The young-uns among you won’t appreciate this just yet, but you will, someday. She was one of the people who shaped the world that I grew up in, and those people -- they are a Vanishing Breed.
It’s a question of slow degrees, of course. There were the people who shaped the world that my parents grew up in, the world that I was born into, the status quo that existed up until about the end of World War II. They’re all gone. It’s the wave of people who drove the big changes that washed over the world in the fifties, sixties and seventies that I’m specifically referring to; the ones who made the movies and the music and the technologies that shaped the way I saw the world, the ones on the front lines who brought the world into my home. The ones who danced the dances, painted the pictures, and caused the heroes to streak across the sky. At first it was just a trickle of leaves; then a gust of wind started taking clouds of them, now they are dropping away pretty regularly, soon it will start to thin out, if it hasn’t already, until there are only a handful left on the bare branches, and then they too will fall.
Great Galloping Googly-Moogly, even the youngest of the Young Turks, the ones who survived Drugs and Hard Living that is, are now in their late sixties, and look like they were run over by a Monster Truck. Which then backed over them. And popped a wheelie on them for good measure.
My generation? I don’t think we carried the standard too well. I think we stood on the shoulders of our betters. But I see signs of promise in certain young people that I know.
So -- Good-bye Fritzi Cohen. We thought you were just another Flamboyant Theater Person back in the day. But you were a Pioneer. I wish that we had people following in your footsteps today.
I’d raise a glass in your honor, but I’m afraid those days are gone, too. These things happen.
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