When I was 4 years old I was on Kids Say The Darndest Things with Art Linkletter. My folks told me the teacher in our Nursery School recommended me. When I think about the fact that I once called her ‘fatso’ just to try out the word, nothing personal, and she got so mad she locked me in a broom closet, I’m ever convinced of the altruism of teachers.
I told some outstanding whoppers to Art Linkletter and my lies are preserved in perpetuity on a 78 recording that was issued to each family along with a Tiny Tears doll for the girls. This thrilled me no end.
I’ve been writing a book about my life for the past 6 years and pretty much spinning my wheels because of my inability to remember stuff. What can I say? Don’t do drugs.
My writing teacher, Claudette Sutherland, taught me a technique for remembering events and making them more of a living narrative. It’s called aide memoir. It simplifies your writing of the event by eliminating adjectives and adverbs and putting everything in the present tense. Sometimes it’s hard, but it works beautifully. I applied it to my memory of being on Kids Say and it came out as the inner monologue of my 4 year old self. This is how it went.
“This chair is just like the ones we have at Nursery School. Kid size. This isn’t how I thought it would be to be on TV. This place is big and cold and everything is brown and grey and black. I like Art Linkletter and I want him to like me. I don’t understand how we’re on TV. I don’t feel like we are.
I don’t know some of these kids except for Dexter. I like my dress, but it’s too poofy and I think I look like a bell. It’s really cold in here and I don’t want to be shivering like this. The show is starting now. The people in the seats looking at us are clapping and smiling. My heart is beating really fast and I feel really excited and good and special. I want Art to talk to me now, but he’s starting at the end and I’m 3rd. There’s one, two, three, four, five, six of us. I’m gonna swing my legs.
Art is talking.
“What’s your name sweetie?”
“I can’t guess.”
She’s giggling. I really like the sound of her giggle. I wish my giggle sounded like that. It’s what pretty people sound like. The people are laughing now. Oooh, he’s asking her if she has any pets!! I don’t have any pets except we used to have a turtle the size of a 50 cent piece and he disappeared and we found him 3 months later behind the couch and he was still alive!! I want Art to hurry up so it’s my turn! When you make the people laugh Art wants to stay there.
Uuuuhhh! Heidi has a really high forehead like mine except hers sticks out and she looks like a light bulb. I have a widow’s peak and mommy says that’s a sign of beauty. I sure hope that comes true.
Mommy said Miss Cravitz told Art Linkletter I should be on his show. Even after I called her ‘fatso’ one day and she locked me in the broom closet. I bet she thought that would scare me, but I loved it. I could do my favorite thing. Close my eyes and makeup my stories where I’m super strong and have magical powers and can fly and I’m beautiful and Prince Valiant and Tom Hatten from the Popeye Cartoon show are fighting over me.
He’s talking to Dexter. I wish Dexter would try harder to say his ‘r’s and ‘l’s. They sound like ‘w’s and it makes him sound like a baby. He loves me too. I like that he loves me but I can see wax in his ears sometimes and he doesn’t know its there and that makes me mad. Art says,
“Who’s the smartest person in the world?”
“Lawaine? Well, let’s go and see. Are you Lawaine?”
Art’s talking to me, it’s my turn now and I gotta let him know if I’m the smartest person in the world, but that’s not how to say my name.
“Are you the smartest person in the world?”
It’s not really nice to say good stuff about yourself so I’ll only nod my head a little bit. The people are really laughing.
“Oh, you are, are you? So, tell me, what does your daddy do?”
I want Daddy to be just like Tom Hatten on the Popeye show. “Oh, he’s a sailor, he drives a ship.”
“Are you sure?”
I really like the idea, so I’m gonna nod my head again.
“Are you sure he’s not he principal of your school?”
Why does he think that? I’m shaking my head “no”.
“Is he REALLY a sailor?”
“Are you sure?”
“Is your Daddy in the audience?”
Daddy is standing up and saying ‘yes’.
“Are you a sailor?”
The people think this is really funny. They’re laughing all at once so it sounds like a roar.
“I hear you’re a twin. Where is he?”
Last night me and Paul and Tracy and Steve were watching Spin and Marty (A Disney Show from the 1950s, Christ, I’m old) and Paul had his open mouth face that he has a lot, but Mom and Dad said his eyes were glassy. I don’t know what that means. Steve said, “Hey Paul, you look like your eyes are about to fall out.”
“Oh, he’s sick. His eyes were about to fall out from watching television”.
The people are laughing really really loud. Art is talking but I can’t hardly hear what he’s saying.
“Striking a mighty blow for TV today.”
It just goes down hill from there. I insisted on answering every question he asked the other kids and Art was looking at me like he owed me money. But the vote of confidence from Miss Cravitz, my ‘boyfriend’ Dexter and the audience surely affected my confidence in myself. It was this confidence that allowed me to run the gauntlet of repulsion that my classmates displayed when I brought Clam Jam Sandwiches to school. This is essentially Clam Dip on White Bread. Skip the white bread, but the dip is SO good:
- 8oz. Block softened cream cheese (Philadelphia of course)
- 1 can minced clams (strain the juice through cheesecloth if necessary, but save it)
- 1 Tbs. Worchester Sauce
- pinch of dry mustard, salt to taste and lemon juice and use the reserved clam juice to thin it out so that when it chills, it doesn’t get too stiff.
Laraine Newman is a founding member of The Groundlings Theatre Company and an original cast member of Saturday Night Live. She lives in her hometown of Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.
by Libby Segal