Farewell to Downton Abbey

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Sunday, we got to see the last episode of Downton Abbey twice.

In the afternoon, we joined several hundred Downton addicts at the historic Embassy theater in downtown Fort Wayne.

This series has been PBS’ most popular show in the network’s history.

At home, watching the comings and goings of the Crawleys at their estate, occasionally taking a side trip to London or hunting in Wales has been our Sunday evening routine over six seasons.

After the Embassy showing, we grabbed a sandwich at Henry’s bar across the street from the newspaper where I had written editorials for more than 20 years.

We weren’t finished with the Crawleys. At 9 p.m. we turned on PBS to watch the last Downton episode again.

I’m not sure the show was so wonderful that I had to see it twice. Of course, I tend to transform my favorite activities into traditions.

A more practical reason to watch the show a second time was that the Embassy didn’t feature subtitles. So with my hearing loss, I missed a lot of the dialogue.

At home, I could switch on the subtitle feature. Now I could discern what Lord Grantham was telling his wife Cora and what she was saying to him.

I had grown to like all the characters, even including the footman Thomas. This scheming servant grew on you over the months.

When he took another position at another mansion, I found myself feeling sorry for him.

Lady Mary had lost her first husband in a car crash. So she struggled with her love for another man who built and raced cars.

He ended giving up racing. Instead, he opened a fancy car dealership. That resolved Mary’s qualms.

I was amazed at how many loose ends got tied up. I’m sure I’m not the only regular viewer whose favorite actor was the legendary Maggie Smith who portrayed the Lady Violet Crawley.

The series creator Julian Fellowes gave Maggie a couple of¬†cutting one-liners in each episode. I not only loved those¬†lines, often delivered as asides. I loved this actor’s expressions.

I’m in no hurry to order a set of Downton videos. It seems somehow disrespectful. For now, I’d prefer to savor the memory of the Crawleys and a different world when people wore tuxes and gowns to dinner.

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“Show Boat”

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What a Friday evening delight and surprise. PBS broadcast a live performance of the old Broadway musical “Show Boat.”

I couldn’t tell from the listings in the paper what the special was going to be. Anyway, I set my biography of FDR in 1944 aside and flipped on the PBS channel, TV-39 on my set.

Of course, it wasn’t Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson who starred in the 1951 movie version. That was back in the days I dreamed of being a song-and-dance man in the movies.

I couldn’t tell you the names of the performers my wife Toni and I saw in the show on Broadway in the 1990s.

The story was lifted in 1927 from an Edna Ferber novel. From that Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein created the classic musical hit that took on the endurance of a marathon runner.

Whatever decade you enjoy it, you’ll find the Cotton Blossom river boat paddling down the Mississippi. The boat carries a troupe of singers and dancers who entertain as the boat stops from town to town.

Personal stories weave throughout the show. There’s a love story that features a fast-talking riverboat gambler named Gaylord falling hard for Magnolia, beautiful daughter of the riverboat captain.

Racial prejudice flares up as townsfolk report seeing a white man dancing with a black woman.

A local sheriff appears on the scene to arrest them but is talked out of it when friends swear the man has Negro blood.

Yes, a durable plot. But I’m sure what’s made “Show Boat” such a popular and frequently revived musical are the familiar show tunes.

A day later after the TV broadcast and I’m still humming the tunes -“Old Man River,” “Only Make Believe,” “Can’t help Lovin’ Dat Man.” How such music can enrich a person’s life.

No doubt, such tunes will remain in the American canon for many more years to come. I venture to predict that last night’s PBS performance of “Show Boat” won’t be the end of this most memorable of musicals.

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