In another indicator of the subtle but steady changing of the times, the death of Joyce Brothers earlier this week went by largely unnoticed.
To anyone who watched a respectable amount of television in the Seventies, Joyce Brothers was instantly recognizable as a mainstay on the game show and talk show circuits as well as a special guest star for all occasions. Everyone knew who she was, yet no one knew what she did. To borrow a phrase from current times, Joyce Brothers was famous for being famous.
Dr. Joyce Brothers was her official show biz title, and her celebrity dated back to her winning appearance on “The $64,000 Question” in the mid-1950s, when the pop success of trivia shows featuring everyday citizens testing their wit against a series of ever more challenging questions in a given subject was enough to captivate a nation of TV watchers for weeks on end (some things never change, just ask Regis Philbin).
Television was in its infancy then. Producers were still trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. With the advent of quiz shows, certain lines were crossed on at least one occasion to create more compelling storylines. Joyce Brothers’ Wikipedia entry notes that her game show topic, boxing, was suggested to Dr. Brothers by the show’s sponsors, presumably because they thought the idea of a demure housewife taking on the subject of prizefighting would make for good television.However, despite this small bit of contestant engineering, Joyce Brothers’ winning appearance on “The $64,000 Question” was scandal-free.
Not only had Dr. Joyce Brothers been famous since the Eisenhower years, but her physical appearance had scarcely changed in the intervening decades, a fact put to good use by the producers of “Happy Days” when they featured the Joyce Brothers of 1978 playing herself in the 1950s-based sitcom. This is how I remember her.
In the 80s and 90s I watched much less TV than I do today. When I returned to television in the 2000s, it never occurred to me to notice Joyce Brothers’ absence. And as another decade came and went, I would have presumed that like most figures from the Eisenhower era, she had died long ago.
I’m only one man. It’s impossible for me to monitor all news outlets all the time, but I would have thought that the passing of Dr. Joyce Brothers would be noted by at least a few of my regular sources. Yet I heard nothing. Instead, it was left for me to scour the Internet obituaries to uncover this information.
I’d imagine that Dr. Brothers led a rich, full life that extended beyond the spotlight, so there’s nothing in particular for the general public to mourn about her death. Instead, the near anonymous 2013 passing of a 20th Century TV icon serves to remind us that the world we grow up in and think of as rock solid and forever young is just another castle made of sand.