Tag: Images

An Autobiographical Note as an Introduction to Hungarian and Romanian Images in American Culture

“Knowing” Romanians (or at least, Tran-syl-va-ni-ahahaha-ns)

As a child, when it came to Romanians, I knew of course of Dracula, or at least his pop-cultural/film (re-, and seemingly never ending)incarnation. After all, to the extent I knew where he was from it was some place called “Transylvania,” which was either its own country–in which case it must have some pretty cool-looking postage stamps, spooky castles on forbidding mountain tops and the like–or a made-up place. I suppose this should not have been surprising for a kid, since, of the myriad Dracula films, there were ones such as “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966).” (Where does that take place, Dodge City?)

Dracula’s birthday, as we all know, is 31 October, which just happens to coincide with Halloween, thereby causing some confusion. Anyway, so when I went trick-or-treating as Cornelius from the “Planet of the Apes”–it was the ’70s okay, and I was a kid, how was I to know?…I actually thought soylent green was people–in a costume that they probably use today to demonstrate the danger of fireworks–to say nothing of the mask, a cheap plastic mold with an elastic string that invariably broke, causing you to have to carry it with you and thereby destroying any capacity you might have had to surprise the people who came to their doors…unless of course they tried the “please, take just one” candy-in-the-bowl-out-front-with-the-lights-off-really-we’re-not-home-socialism-in-action method–more often than not, I would run into countless Draculas. They had the cape, the fake fangs, and that cool fake blood…and perhaps even some of those cool postage stamps. (Context is everything at Halloween. My youngest brother went sometime in the late ’80s as “Jason” from the “Halloween” horror series. A little old lady opened up the door at one house and said “Ooooooh, look at the cute little hockey player”! By the way, what happens when you go up to somebody’s house in a costume, ring the doorbell, and say trick-or-treat, on a day other than Halloween? I figure one of two things can happen: 1) they call the cops, or 2) they seek to regift the still-remaining popcorn balls and circus peanuts left over from last Halloween.)

If Dracula was only present in person on Halloween, he could be found the rest of the year on television–especially, perhaps ironically, for kids. There was Count von Count from Sesame Street. The count’s theme song included a line, “When I’m alone. I count myself. One, one count! Ahahahaha [to thunder in the background]!” Interestingly, according to the Internet’s Wikipedia (“Count von Count”) entry, there is some vampire folklore which suggests that vampires can become obsessed with counting things and that should you ever confront one, throwing sand or seeds may help to distract them (a helpful travel tip…).

The Count von Count skit is emblematic of the confused mix of Romanian, Hungarian, and sometimes inexplicably inserted slavic elements that make up the Dracula composite. For example, as in the Seinfeld scene excerpted in the introduction (whose characters actually speak a few words of Romanian in the scene!, but who are nevertheless named Katya (the gymnast) and Misha (the circus performing acrobat), names (diminutives) which are neither Hungarian, nor Romanian), the Count’s bats for some unknown reason have slavic names–Grisha, Misha, Sasha, etc. The Count’s characteristics are clearly inspired by Bela Lugosi’s (indeed, a real Transylvanian (from Lugoj), of Hungarian origin) 1931 portrayal of Dracula (down to Count von Count’s accent), and, it would appear, the Count’s cameo girlfriend “Countess Dahling von Dahling” is inspired by the Hungarian actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor, who is famous for being famous, as is said, and for calling people “dahling” (convenient, she has said, because then you never have to remember anyone’s name).

Finally, there was Count Chocula, a staple of Saturday morning television serials and the commercials in between which they were sandwiched (nothing in comparison to today, however, as commercial breaks took up much less time then). All I knew of him was that he presided over what looked like a really-tasty chocolate cereal that looked more like dessert than breakfast. That, of course, explains why our mother refused to buy it for us. Back in the in-retrospect-not-a-bad-time-to-be-a-kid, now much-maligned, hedonistic “have a nice day smiley-face,” “Me” decade of the 1970s, gluttony as one of the seven deadly sins was given temporary special dispensation. Gluttony was in…even if chocolate covered cereals with marshmallows were not in some households. (In those days, “nutrition correctness” had not yet taken over, as names such as Sugar Smacks (renamed Honey Smacks) or Sugar Pops would suggest.)

“Knowing” Hungarians

My introduction to Hungarians was similarly obscure. To the extent I identified Dracula with any place at all, it was, as I noted, Transylvania; to the extent that it was a country, Romania–not yet having gotten the spiel countless times by the proprietors of private rooms I was to stay in Hungary in later years, “ah, so you are going to Transylvania, you know that used to be part of Hungary–one, one dismembered kingdom, ahahahahahaha–until they took it away (to the accompaniment of thunder in the background) .” What did I know and when did I know it (well, it was the Watergate era, you know)? It was not, for example, until years later that I realized that I had once lived in the Hungarian-American mecca known as Cleveland, or that the Austrian family from whom we bought our house in a suburb of Toronto in the early ’70s was named Feleky. (It was quite a street we lived on then (1970-1974); my parents, Irish immigrants just naturalized American citizens, the mother of a friend a Prague Spring Czech refugee, and many new Greek families, doubtless some having fled the right-wing military junta of 1967-1973.)

My mother used to make that staple of many an American household (at least at a time), “Hungarian goulash”…it sounds ghoulish, but it tastes delicious. (As is frequently noted, the American version is more similar to porkolt (stew-like) than to gulyas (a soup).) I loved it, even though I didn’t know what it was or where it came from. (It can only be said to be ironic too, although I did not realize it was ironic at a time: my father is a ’56er, only he came from Dublin, a relative (a policeman!) stiffed him at the port, and so he wandered the streets of New York with his suitcase in heavy Irish tweed during Indian summer, only to duck into a bar to see a few pitches of Don Larsen’s Perfect Game in the World Series, an event whose importance was inscrutable to him; like many a Hungarian ’56er, however, he felt like a Martian (see below for more on the theme of Hungarians as “aliens”). No, my father did not bump into Frank McCourt!)

“Goulash,” of course, already had a long history on television by that point, what with mad scientists in Warner Brothers cartoons, living in “Transylvania” among lightning storms and talking about making “spider goulash” and similar mad scientist specialties. (The other Hungarian touch used in a whole series of cartoons–including a classic Warner Brothers’ cartoon by Fritz Freleng with Bugs Bunny as a concert pianist (“Rhapsody Rabbit”) and a classic MGM cartoon by Hanna and Barbera of “Tom and Jerry” dueling it out at a piano (“The Cat Concerto”), both of which came out within weeks of each other in 1946 leading to mutual accusations that the competitor was guilty of plagiarism (see Wikipedia entry)–is the manic-depressive, mostly manic, frantic music Franz (Ferenc) Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2”.) “Goulash” was also the plot-line of what from today’s optic was a clearly racist episode (“A Majority of Two,” 4/11/68) of the 1960s sitcom “Bewitched” in which, as usual, “Darrin” (alias “Darwood”) was to entertain an out-of-town business guest–would you like a high-ball, sir, make that a double; sorry they’ve slashed the expense account, dinner at Darrin’s again…–who on this occasion was Japanese. The whole episode, Darrin’s wife, a witch named Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery), is trying to track down how to prepare the meal request the businessman’s secretary had relayed: Hun-gai-ran-gou-rash. She is worried, of course, about causing the Japanese businessman to lose face if she asks, which is indeed a concern since throughout the episode when this happens to someone his or her face will literally disappear, apparently leaving a blotch of white-out. Everyone, of course, has a good laugh at the end, however, after the businessman has romanced only a mildly Asian-looking (didn’t want to have her looking tooooo Asian) stewardess, and it turns out all the businessman really wanted was “Hungarian Goulash,” but owing to his secretary’s accent…Everyone except that nosy next-door neighbor Mrs. Gladys Kravitz, who, we can deduce, must be spying on the Stevens’ household for “Dragnet” or “The FBI,” since “freak out” parties have been reported at that address…

Then, there was the show, “Green Acres,”…something was definitely up with that, but exactly what I didn’t know. Although I knew the character Lisa Douglas was eccentric, I didn’t know she was Hungarian, and I certainly did not know that she was Eva Gabor and not Zsa Zsa Gabor as is very frequently mistaken. As a kid, I thought I didn’t understand the show, precisely because I was a kid. Nope. Now, years later, I know: that wasn’t the problem.

How exactly does one describe “Green Acres?” The plot ostensibly was that Eddie Albert’s character wished to experience the “real livin'” of the countryside (today, this is known as a “r-e-a-l-i-t-y show,” starring a similarly famous-for-being-famous celebrity, Paris Hilton…who is actually related to the Gabors (see below), however, thereby causing us serious existential issues at this point in this sentence). Eddie Albert drags his reluctant Hungarian wife with him, and she is not very happy with the situation because, as we learn from the theme song, she would rather be shopping on Park Avenue. (The countryside theme was so common in CBS sitcoms during the 1960s, that some critics derisively referred to it as the “Country Broadcasting System”.) Anyway, they lived in some rural area, several hundred miles from Chicago, probably Illinois. Despite the small size of the town in which they lived, Hooterville was capable of hosting not one, but two sitcoms: Green Acres (1966-1971) and Petticoat Junction (1963-1970). (The town was apparently known best for the ample breasts of the young female stars of Petticoat Junction, since, as it turns out, the choice of name was not accidental). The two shows were united by the presence of Sam Drucker, apparently town grocer, postmaster, and banker, and the unforgettable character of George Jefferson (oh, sorry, no, too early, this was still the 1960s, strike that then). As the Wikipedia entry notes, Hooterville had Drucker’s grocery store and the hotel from Petticoat Junction…not exactly, Pixley material (to say nothing of Mount Pilot), and likely that giant sucking sound on the state’s budget. At least the town did not have Goober or Howard Sprague, clearly not local personalities the chamber of commerce wishes to advertise when trying to attract investment).

Moreover, I would venture to guess, this was one town where the locals did not “exceed the plan” or “break the harvest record,” despite Eva’s naturally collectivist tendencies. Instead, a lot of time was spent with fending off the vexing locals, including the featherheaded state bureaucrat, county farm agent Hank Kimball, a gender-ambiguous brother and sister painting team, and Arnold Ziffel, the “hilarious” TV-watching pig, apparently “Green Acres”s’answer to Mr. Ed (an insidious, but false, urban legend has it that the cast ate Arnold after the show was cancelled; the truth is just being on the set made him nostalgic for the sanity of the sty). The running joke of the series was that Mr. Douglas (Eddie Albert) wanted to be there, but nothing went right and the locals drove him crazy; while Mrs. Douglas, despite her love of fluffy negligees and diamonds, fit right in and understood the locals. Her Hungarianness in the show was alternatively exotic, haughty, sexy/ditzy (as connoted by her accent) and seemingly oblivious to reason–yes, a veritable goulash of “otherness.”

One would like to assume that “Green Acres” could be explained by recourse to more complicated analysis: that it was somehow a) a reflection of the drug culture’s first penetration of the creative intelligentsia (according to Alice, the wind was whispering, not yet crying Mary…”Green Acres” an accidental choice of title?!), or that b) there was some deep allegory at work here, suggesting pursuit of a utopian rural life is a chimera, and that instead you get electrification and a TV-watching pig. (Appropriately enough, when it and other such country broadcasting system shows were cancelled in 1971, it was referred to as the “Rural Purge.”) It is more likely that the show was merely escapist, almost unintentionally absurd–although it did leave a score that lent itself well to translation into Hungarian for a skit at a summer language camp years later. (One of the best indictments of “America’s Cold War realism” of the era can be found in the movie “Forrest Gump,” in a recovery room for injured soldiers during the Vietnam War…in the background “Gomer Pyle, USMC” plays on a TV…In 5 years, Gomer somehow never made it out of basic training to Vietnam…)

Through the Eyes of an American Child of the Television Age: Identifying Hungarians and Romanians as Hungarians and Romanians…through the Wide World of Sports

Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky

Speaking of Eva…I mean Zsa Zsa, no, I mean, for once this is right, Zsa Zsa Gabor…a guest spot on another rural-themed 1960s television show introduces us to our next theme: the Hungarians as “mad” or crazy (a la Lisa Douglas). In one episode (28 January 1962), Wilbur congratulates his talking horse, Mr. Ed, for having cured Zsa Zsa of her fear of horses, to which Mr. Ed responds: “She cured my fear of Hungarians” (“The Best of Mr. Ed,” multiple sites; Mister Ed aired from 1961-1966 on, you guessed it, CBS). In J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey” (published as a whole in 1961), Mrs. Glass tells Zooey: “You could use a haircut, young man…You’re getting to look like one of these crazy Hungarians or something getting out of a swimming pool” (the section also contains a reference to Zsa Zsa Gabor and use of the descriptor “Balkan”; I remember now reading this book beneath leafy trees below the Pannonhalma abbey in Hungary in June 1990) http://www.freeweb.hu/tchl/salinger/frannyandzooey.doc. (I would be curious to know here: this section first appeared in The New Yorker in May 1957, and the reference to a Hungarian “getting out of a swimming pool”–a rather strange comparison–inevitably brings to mind the famous bloody water polo match between the Soviets and the Hungarians on 6 December 1956 at the 1956 Summer Olympics (yes, that’s right, because the Summer Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia that year). The Hungarians defeated the Soviets in a match with huge political overtones–angry Hungarian fans were reportedly ready to lynch a Soviet player for a punch to the eye of a Hungarian star–the match coming just a month after the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising.)

My first personal realization of Hungarianness as Hungarianness, however, came around 1976, with the ascribed “mad” quality of Hungarians, specifically and appropriately enough, Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky. Hrabosky was a relief pitcher for several different teams in the 1970s and early 1980s, but his best years were with St. Louis and Kansas City, with 1975 being his cardinal year in the record books. The mid-1970s were the days of colorful characters in baseball, especially among pitchers: the cigar-chomping Cuban of the Boston Red Sox, Luis Tiant, who looked like we was throwing toward the outfield rather than the catcher because of his pitching motion; Sparky Lyle for the New York Yankees, his cheeks like a blow-fish filled with chewing tobacco; and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych of the Detroit Tigers, who talked to the ball as if it were alive and whose boyish enthusiasm unfortunately couldn’t overcome injuries that strangled his career in its infancy.

Then there was Hrabosky who despite the Slovak-sounding last name claims Hungarian descent. Contrasting the absence of colorful characters among pitchers in today’s baseball, Gordon Edes wrote in a wonderful–if he were Hungarian, we might even say “sweet”–article in 2003 about Hrabosky as follows:

But for sheer theatrics, one reliever remains in a league of his own: Al Hrabosky, known as the “Mad Hungarian” when he pitched for the Cardinals, Royals, and Braves from 1970-1982. With his Fu Manchu mustache, long hair, and a silver ring, the Gypsy Rose of Death (“I don’t even remember the stupid story I made up for that, it was so far-fetched–probably a family heirloom of Dracula”), Hrabosky would turn every outing into performance art. He’d stomp off the mound toward second base, eyes blazing, the fury practically seeping through his uniform as he turned back to the hitter who was left waiting at the plate until he was done working himself into an altered state he called his “controlled hate routine,” then whirled around, pounding his ball into the glove while the home crowd generally went nuts. (Gordon Edes, “Hrabosky had a flair about him,” “The Boston Globe,” 28 March 2003, F9, reprinted on the Internet)

How did Hrabosky get his nickname? Again, Edes recounts:

The nickname, he said, came from a team publicist. No one was sure of his nationality–[the American film star] “Burt Reynolds once called me ‘The Mad Russian'”–and only the spelling-bee champions got his name right. But then one day, a Cardinals publicist, Jerry Lovelace, said “Hey, M.H.,” to the young pitcher from Oakland, Calif., and a nickname was born….I said, “What does that mean?” He said, “Mad Hungarian.” I said, “I like it.” (Edes, 2003)

Hungarians, I concluded from watching his television appearances and from his nickname, must be associated with craziness. That is how, of course, many images are passed on, not with malice, but as descriptors for individuals, a way of awarding identity and for marketing purposes. Hrabosky’s “mad” behavior was established before his nationality (as Burt Reynolds’ calling him “The Mad Russian” indicates, in itself a negative and positive reflection of “East European” ethnicity in the United States at the time–interchangeable, part of a melting pot, even if a separate one from those of West European ethnicity–although cultural constructionists would view such “everycountry” ascription more darkly (see below)), rather than his Hungarianness being identified first, and his behavior seen as reflecting his Hungarianness. Once the two become intertwined, however, and given the propensity for collective associations to outweigh individual associations, it was difficult and almost irrelevant to know which came first–the two were married and interchangeable in the popular imagination, or at least sports fan’s imagination.


It was also the Bicentennial Summer of 1976 when I was introduced to Romanians, also through sports. It was, of course, through Nadia Comaneci (“N.C. I”), an endearing young Romanian gymnast who scored seven perfect 10s, the perfection being driven home even more by the fact that the scoreboards only went up to 9.9, the perfect score of 10 being considered unattainable! (The scoreboard would show 1.0 because it could not go past 9.9….Spinal Tap’s invention of the 11 not having been invented yet.) Nadia spawned “Nadia-(Ro)mania” of a sort. ABC which carried the Montreal Olympics in the United States attached a musical theme to the gymnast’s performances; “Nadia’s theme” then climbed the pop charts! (It was actually the theme to an American soap opera, “The Young and the Restless,” but it was through its attachment to Nadia who used it for one of her floor performances that it became famous.)

Of course, I have asked myself since then: would the reaction, the outpouring of genuine warmth and admiration from Americans (Canadians, and Westerners in general) have been the same had Nadia been representing Bulgaria and not Romania–to say nothing of the Soviet Union? True, the USSR’s Olga Korbut generated enthusiasm four years earlier in Munich but nothing like Nadia. Was it Nadia’s comparative youth and “cuteness/sweetness/prepubescence?” Was it her coach, the charismatic, bear-like Hungarian, Bela Karolyi (their relationship presented as indicative of the “warm ethnic relations” fostered by “Ceausescu’s Romania”)? Perhaps, but I also think it was against the backdrop of Romania’s highly-crafted and the U.S. and West’s highly-courted image of Ceausescu’s Romania as the great thorn in the Soviets’ side, bravely standing up to Moscow and more Western in their culture and people (“a Latin people in a sea of Slavs”)–i.e. thus not Balkan or truly “Eastern,” somehow caught by accident “behind enemy lines.” It is simply difficult to believe that something approaching Nadia-mania could occur in the post-Cold War world; it was a reflection of the time in which it took place.

Certainly, the standing ovation for the Romanian delegation as it entered the Los Angeles Coliseum at the 1984 Summer Olympics–which unfortunately lent itself easily to continuous exploitation by Ceausescu thereafter, during the most-difficult years of his reign–and Nadia’s escape from Romania in November 1989, became metaphors for and barometers of Romania’s political situation and U.S.-Romanian relations. The appropriately surreal “1984” moment reflected the Chernenko, pre-Gorbachev nadir of Soviet-American relations in the 1980s–arms reductions talks’ were essentially put on ice between late 1983 and 1985–and the continued greater importance attached to Romania’s foreign policy over Ceausescu’s “Golden Era” domestic policy (the 1984-1986 period being perhaps the worst and most hopeless according to some, in part owing to brutal weather, and the weakness of reform currents at that moment elsewhere in the bloc). By 1989, with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in full swing–and with “Gorbymania” having changed the image of the Soviet Union extensively in the United States–the image of a transmogrified Nadia–as if 1976 had never happened–involved in a “tawdry affair” with a married man (Constantin Panait), escaping from Romania, seemed to symbolize the ills of Ceausescu’s Romania and how it now stood in stark contrast to the rest of the Eastern bloc. As the Seinfeld episode demonstrates, and as I will discuss in more detail below, the gymnast frame stuck in the popular imagination, however. It was Nadia who set that mold.

(A Romanian-American scholar once told me how surprised he was to look up on the television screen one day in November-December 1989, only to see the married father of four, the Romanian émigré for whom a now aging and plumper Nadia had allegedly left Ceausescu’s Romania: the scholar had tended bar with the guy…and the guy still owed him money! My first encounter with “real, live” Romanians from Romania also had a sad sports theme in a sense. It was in Keleti pu., the eastern train station in Budapest in May 1985. Amid the clapping of rusting toilet flanges and intermittent torrents of urine falling to the tracks below, Romanian boys in dingy blue track suits with trim that had once been white chased each other around the unmistakable “CFR” railcars of the time…)

Fear of the Dentist – Movies, Media and Negative Images

Anyone who has read Mary Shelly’s fictional novel, “Frankenstein,” or has seen any of the myriad of Hollywood horror films beginning with Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the tragic monster, are aware that Victor Frankenstein, the doctor responsible for it’s creation, was a physician who had higher purpose on his mind and a mad scientist’s ego as his driving force.

I am surprised however, that given our profession’s negative and painful image, the title character wasn’t a dentist. After all, though we are quite respected within our communities and do possess the technology to create nearly painless dental experiences, dentistry has been, and still remains, among the most feared and hated of all health professions. Over the years I’ve heard more than a few women comment at social gatherings, “I’d rather have a baby than a root canal.” Dental treatment can make the strongest man in the world sweaty and weak at the knees. The fact that Frankenstein was an MD and not a DDS or a DMD is of some, but frankly, very little comfort.

Even though the dental profession has taken many positive steps towards making dental treatment more comfortable for the public, the negative image of uncaring dentists and painful dentistry has been drilled into the minds of the public for years, not only through negative personal experiences and dental “horror” stories, but also through books, cartoons, TV shows and films. Sadly, that representation continues today through the same channels as well through the Internet, websites, blogging, and YouTube movies.

Unfair and negative depictions of dentists as comic relief or as aloof, uncaring and sadistic, and negatively slanted depictions of dental treatment by the arts and media have scared the psyche of the public and created unnecessary fear. The saddest point is that even in 2010, there are still few if any positive dental characters or memorable passages from books or scenes from movies to counterbalance that negative image. Unfortunately, there are no friendly and affable neighborhood dentists, like Dr. Marcus Welby, MD.

Popular culture has not been kind to dentists. It began with classic paintings of barber who were the dentists of that era, standing on top of horrified, screaming patients with some kind of medieval tool in hand.

As a child, I remember characters in old black-and-white cartoons that devised contraptions of ropes, pulleys and doorknobs to remove a tooth rather than go to the dentist. These images continue to the present in many cartoon series.

In films by the classic comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy, or on episodes in the 1950’s Abbott and Costello TV show, I remember the pained expression on Oliver Hardy’s or Lou Costello’s handkerchief-wrapped face. A string was tied to his tooth and then tied to a doorknob on the other end. Then the other partner slams the door and the tooth goes flying. Funny Huh?

The number one phobia producing film is the 1976 film version of William Goldman’s book, The Marathon Man. In it, there are scenes in which a former Nazi dentist, played insidiously by Lawrence Olivier, attempts to torture and “extract” information from an unwitting college graduate student, played by Dustin Hoffman, by removing his teeth without anesthesia. Ouch!!

In some of the funniest scenes in Hollywood history, yet equally as damaging to the dental phobic, is another well known play and 1986 dark comedy film, The Little Shop of Horrors. In it, Steve Martin stars as the sadistic, nitrous oxide sniffing dentist, treating the equally masochistic, pain-loving patient, played by Bill Murray. This film, though hilarious at times, has kept many a patient away from the dental office.

In the 1970’s comedy film, The In-Laws, Alan Arkin portrayed a dentist who was unknowingly dragged along on a CIA mission with future in-law, CIA agent, Peter Falk. Unfortunately, he left a patient with an impression in his mouth, unable to talk or to call for help. We never do find out what happened to that poor fellow.

In the 1985 film, Compromising Positions, a philandering Long Island dentist is found murdered. His neighbor, played by Susan Sarandon, a former journalist who is now an upper middle-class housewife and a patient of his, decides to try to uncover the real killer. As it turns out, this dentist, with enough mistresses to fill an appointment book, is no Father Knows Best character.

Captain Walter Koskiusko “Painless Pole” Waldowski, DDS was a character in Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel and in the 1970 film, MASH. John Schuck played Waldowski in the film. The character’s name and situation form a series of plays-on-words. Being Polish, a sexually well-endowed man, and being a presumably “painless” dentist, “Painless Pole” is an appropriate nickname. In the film, he fails in bed and wants to commit suicide. His colleagues pretend to help him by giving him a placebo that they tell him will eventually end his life. Then the character Lieutenant Dish, played by Jo Ann Pflug, finds Waldowski lying in his coffin, waiting for what he thinks is his own death. The next morning, having had a successful sexual encounter with Lt. Dish, he arrives for breakfast, calm and completely free of anxiety. This incident is the source of the MASH theme song, “Suicide Is Painless”, which refers to both the technique of suicide and to the dentist’s nickname. This would be funny if not for the fact that dentists have such a high suicide rate.

In the 2000 comedy film, The Whole Nine Yards, and its’ sequel, The Whole Ten Yards, Mathew Perry, of Friends fame, plays an unhappily married dentist in Montreal, Canada named Oz. His new next-door neighbor, played by Bruce Willis, is a former Chicago mob hit man-turned-informant. When Oz tells his greedy wife, she forces him to go to Chicago and try to sell the hitman’s location to the mobsters he betrayed. To get his wife off his back, he goes. Meanwhile, Oz’s wife rats on Oz to Jimmy, hoping Jimmy will kill Oz so she can cash in on Oz’s life insurance. Pretty soon everybody wants to kill everyone else, but, especially our unhappy, unfulfilled, dentist.

Novocaine is a 2001 film starring Steve Martin as the dentist, Laura Dern as his hygenist-fianceé and Helena Bonham Carter as Susan, a patient with more on her mind than relief from an uncomfortable tooth, and getting a prescription for Demerol. She makes an appointment, and she seduces the dentist into getting drunk and having sex with her. She then steals all his narcotics, sells them to an 18-year old boy, who then dies in a car accident. The plot goes downhill from there. His fiancée’ kills his brother in the dental chair. He then pulls out his dead brother’s teeth, pulls out his own teeth and puts them into a mold. He super-glues the mold into his brother’s mouth and starts a fire. He and Susan, having become lovers, go to France to live, while his former fiancée’, who killed his brother, (who everyone thinks is the dentist because of his teeth) goes to prison for life. Believe me, this is not a typical day in the life of a dentist.

In the 1970’s, Peter Bonerz played the goofy friend and dentist sharing a professional office-building floor with psychiatrist Bob Hartley, played by Bob Newhart in the TV series, The Bob Newhart Show. The key words here are dentist and goofy.

In the 90’s sitcom, Seinfeld, Dr. Tim Whatley, played by Bryan Cranston, who later plays the father in the sitcom, Malcolm in the Middle, calls himself, “Dentist to the Stars.” As Jerry’s dentist, he is accused of converting to Judaism so that he could say Jewish jokes, and being a “re-gifter,’ giving someone a gift that you received from someone else. Jerry is also upset at seeing Penthouse magazines in the waiting room and having possibly sexually molested while he was unconscious during a tooth filling. And then the most troublesome was receiving Christmas gifts from his dentist that were intended as donations to charities made in the dentist’s name. The phrase, “anti-dentite,” is introduced in the show by Kramer. What an unpleasant character this dentist, Dr. Whatley, is portrayed as, certainly not someone you can trust to be your dental caregiver.

The plot in one episode of the long running, animated TV comedy series, The Simpsons, called “Painless Dentistry,” revolves around the father, Homer, being told that his daughter, Lisa, needs braces. So that he doesn’t have to pay for her braces, he runs for and is elected as the President of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant union. He then leads the workers of the plant in a strike in order to get their revoked dental plan back. What he will do in order to pay for dentistry is a bit excessive, but in this day and age of insurance issues, it is quite timely and understandable.

Andy Dick plays Matthew Brock in the 1990’s comedy series, News Radio. He is described as a news reporter and official office weird guy. He’s a health-nut, has a desk covered in vitamin bottles, and is very anti-smoking. Despite his apparent lack of intellect, it’s revealed in the fourth season that Matthew is a dentist who gave up his practice because radio, not dentistry, was his passion.

Glen Jacobs, professional wrestler, made his debut with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) as Dr. Isaac Yankem DDS from 1995-1996. The name was obviously a pun, “I Yank’em”, as in “I yank teeth”. The use of such terms as “yank” when referring to removing a tooth is one of the fear trigger words that causes angst and should be avoided.

Since 1978, the comic strip, For Better or For Worse has portrayed dentist, John Patterson in a more favorable light as a dentist, father, and husband to wife, Elly Patterson, a married stay-at-home mother of two, who periodically fills in as a dental assistant in John’s office. The everyday problems of being a family are thankfully more humorously portrayed.

An animated British TV series, Bob and Margaret, 1998-2001, follows the comedic adventures of a married couple, Bob and Margaret Fish. Bob is a dentist and Margaret is a Chiropodist. I’ve never seen the show so I can’t give an opinion about the content.

Another British entry into the media bash the dentists’ image, is the TV 2000-the present television show, My Family. The main character, Ben Harper, played by Robert Lindsay, is described as a misanthropic dentist who shows little compassion for his family, his patients, his partner or anyone else he encounters, and who doesn’t seem to care about anyone other than himself. Again, I have not seen this show, but from all indications, the title character is a dentist who unfortunately fits the mold of most people’s negative view of dentists’ poor personality traits.

In the Prison TV Drama Series, OZ, which ran from 1997-2003, a prison dentist, Dr. Tariq Faraj, appears twice. In one episode, as a form of revenge towards a white supremacist inmate’s racial slurs, this prison dentist of Pakistani origin and warped sense of humor, transplants gum tissue from a dead black man onto the racist’s receded gums. Since his blood is no longer pure, and because of his “ghetto gums,” the white supremacist gets kicked out of the Aryan Brotherhood. Well that doesn’t stop that resourceful and nifty Neo-Nazi from cutting out his transplanted gums with a razor blade without a local anesthetic. WOW!!! OH My GOD, THAT HURTS!!!

On the present day on going television series, Desperate Housewives, the dentist, Dr. Orson Hodge, played by Kyle Maclachlan, kills, but didn’t really kill his first wife, (his mother is eventually exposed as the killer), ran over Mike the Plumber (Richard Denton), and knowing that Mike is having a drug problem, prescribes the very medication to which Mike is addicted. He then marries one of the housewives, goes to prison for the previously attempted murder of Mike the Plumber, loses his license, becomes a kleptomaniac, and is involved in a fight with his wife’s lover during which the lover is killed. He is severely injured and now rolls around town in a wheelchair. How this dentist of questionable character will end up is anybody’s guess. He certainly is not going to win the dentist of the year award.

The latest entry into the character assassination of the dental profession is Glenn Martin, DDS, an animated comedy on Nick at Nite about a dentist who buys an RV, and sets off on a cross-country adventure (or should I say misadventure) with his family doing some dentistry while on vacation. I did see one episode and was not impressed. “Variety” states in their review, “Glen Martin, DDS isn’t as bad as visiting the dentist, but isn’t much better than sitting in the waiting room.” Thank you “Variety” for that eloquent summation of my profession.

So there you have it. Certainly these past portrayals have been less than positive and have contributed greatly to keeping nearly 1/3 of our population from regular dental visits. I know that there have been some dentists who have been positively represented in art and media. But they are relatively few and far between. I certainly would appreciate receiving emails or blogs from readers talking about the dentist they loved, or their own positive dental experiences, or any positive dental images or characters that they have encountered. I am very happy to put them all together in another article.