As a child who grew up in the seventies, I’m flabbergasted at the degree of generational differences in health, medicine, food, safety, and general well-being of children. We had no internet, cell phones, computers or video games…but let’s get down to the brass tacks about something really important that we did have…television.
Highway to Heaven was a television show that ran from 1984-1989. At that time, I was just coming into my own as an imaginative, shy, and loner pre-teen who hadn’t even learned how to bop his bologna yet. Television was sort of a meditative time for me as I didn’t watch it very often, (we entertained ourselves through peer interaction and physical activity.) and one of my favorite shows was Highway to Heaven.
The synopsis of the show was that Michael Landon (right) is an angel sent down to earth to help the downtrodden and oppressed. The angel picks up a scuzzy-looking human partner along the way (Victor French, left) to help him out and generally be his driver and to give cynical advice. (these two were also co-stars on the insanely popular, Little House on the Prairie, a show that confused and baffled me as a small child while watching it with my aunt.) French was rarely seen without his old, beat-up A’s cap on the show, and I remember thinking that it was so strange that an A’s fan would be helping an angel. As in, the (then) California Angels, who are the A’s divisional rival. The show was sappy and didn’t stop shoving life lessons at you, in turn, a squeaky clean inspirational series that doesn’t tend to get much airplay anymore in a TV world clogged with police beat-downs, reality shows, and Kardashians. Landon’s angel wants us to believe in the goodness of people. Most of the episodes dipped into a rich, creamy schmaltz which was pretty good stuff for a young idiot in the 1980s.
French was a heavy smoker who died in 1989 at 54 of lung cancer. The two were close, and when French died Landon was so devastated that he stopped producing the show. Landon died in 1991 of pancreatic cancer, a sad day in Hollywood as he was seen as one of the more charming and good-hearted actors in a world of phonies and narcissists.