I Get a Sidekick Out of You

Debate

I’m going to interrupt the Sticks and Stones posts for a friendly debate with writer Olivia Rutigliano, whose ranking of 45 detective sidekicks in CrimeReads has stirred some online response this week. I consider anyone who CAN rank 45 sidekicks to be a spirit- cousin of the highest order. I just want to reply to her, to try to respond Creatively to her Creative look at a lot of other people’s Creativity. Detective stories have been my jam for a long time. Also, I’ve been grading final papers all week in an apartment where I spend 22 hours a day, so here this is.

I agreed with, or was at least charmed by, some of her choices. Some provided recommendations for new characters to explore, so Huzzah. Some I was neutral about, or slightly above neutral: I don’t care about Batman’s Robin that much, but Burt Ward rescues Great Danes, so yeah, on the list is fine. And then some of her choices made me want to lean in and do that gesture Holmes is doing in Sidney Paget’s drawing up there.

So here are major points I feel like making, and it’s MY blog, in no particular order.

Yes, Dr. Watson should be #1. He defined the character of the sidekick. But Poe’s Dupin’s Nameless Narrator, who came first, was the creation of the detective sidekick. The Origin, the Source, the Big Bang. He should be #2. Don’t piss off Poe or Poe people. We have some odd ideas in our heads.

I’ve seen a lot of good-natured backlash over Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin being #31, and rightly so. He is #3, for all time. Not my opinion, a Fact. There is no other narrator, no other voice, no other character but my #1 and #2 who should be above him, and there never will be. Don’t bother to argue because you are wrong.

I love that Dr. David Q. Dawson made her list. For the deprived, he is the sidekick to Basil of Baker Street in Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective, a film far superior to the exciting-as-a-saltine book it’s based on. One of the best ideas in children’s literature that falls flat the minute the plot begins. But the film is delightful, and Vincent Price plays the villain. O.R.’s words are one of my favorite descriptions of a sidekick ever: “clearly smart…but he mostly stands around scratching his head and looking cuddly.” Perfectly good job description for a human sidekick as well as a mouse in a waistcoat.

If Indiana Jones’s Sullah is on the list, then James West’s Artemus Gordon should be on the list. Their being partners may disqualify Arty as a sidekick, but I don’t care. If Dragnet’s Bill Gannon is on the list, then where is Steve Keller?? I mean,¬† are you kidding? (That I despise Jack Webb and everything he did has no bearing on this comment. None.) Streets of San Francisco simply wins.

O.R., I agree that DS Hathaway’s hair can leave something to be desired. But you are aware that Laurence Fox comes from an acting dynasty so large and powerful they may have their own country? If you get extradition papers…I’m just saying.

S.S. Van Dine??? How can you be an iconic sidekick when a) you never speak¬† b) your detective only speaks to you in his apartment c) no other character acknowledges your presence? The greatest non-entity in the genre. If he’s here representing that era and Inspector Queen is not, then there’s a problem. Ellery‘s father took on the role of supportive Watson AND annoyed cop dealing with private detective. He’s double to Van Dine’s zero.

Psst…#45, DS Bacchus, is what she says: immature, sexist, corruptible. But I want to stand up for the writers and actor, because O.R.’s take on him is a little shallow, in an Archie Goodwin at #31 kind of way. Bacchus can read the emotional atmosphere in a room in direct, intuitive ways that George Gently, who is rigidly principled and dogmatically focused, cannot. It makes them complementary, and it will make him a good cop when he grows the hell up. There’s a reason Gently doesn’t think he’s wasting his time. The bloke is often irritating, but I don’t want the Creativity here underrated.

I want, finally, to put in a vote for Margot Lane, the sidekick and romantic partner of The Shadow on the old radio series. She was the only one who knew her fellow Lamont Cranston’s secret identity. Thus Margot had to be the Full-Spectrum Sidekick. If some action needed narrating, she had to freak out in fear and shriek to him about what was happening. (It was radio.) If cops needed fetching, she had to go embarrassingly jelly- kneed at mysterious footsteps overhead and scram. But who got the injured Shadow to the poisoned water tower, driving at NASCAR speeds in the snowy darkness? Margot. And who infiltrated the cannibal cult, pretending to be their evil leader, with only a cloak over her own clothes to disguise her, just because The Shadow needed it done? Yup. Now THAT is a sidekick. You go, Girl.

Thanks for your work, O.R. I’ve really enjoyed reading and writing about the best characters in the Greatest Genre There Is. I welcome more conversation from anyone! And if you want to grade some papers…

 

 

Sticks and Stones, Part I: Sticks

Sticks 1For many years I thought I enjoyed and was thankful for Boston’s chain of green spaces, called the Emerald Necklace. I had no real idea what those emotions were. Now those spaces are where I spend the two hours out of 24 that I’m not in my studio apartment. And they have water and woods and birds and turtles and flowers and sky. Yeah.

The parks are Creative acts themselves, mostly by Frederick Law Olmsted, my personal superhero these days. They also contain other people’s Creativity. The Fens, for example, where I took these photos, have small stone buildings by the architect H.H. Richardson, a formal rose garden, a 17th-century Japanese temple bell found by WWII soldiers in a dump and later gifted by Japan to Boston, and the huge community gardens full of veggies, gnomes, goldfish, flowers, trees, pinwheels, etc.

Even in the awfulness of now, the parks folks are clearing brush and keeping things together, as they always do. The Fens has a comfortable, shabby quality: if it were an old stuffed animal, you would call it “well-loved”. It is that, and it is beautiful just as it is, and more so since some recent landscape renovations. It is also carefully tended and refreshed by people whose work I appreciate even more right now. Piles of sticks and branches, especially after storms, bear witness to their work.

Some visitors, and I’ve said Hello to a couple of them at work along the way, are using those piles for this Creativity, a growing structure under one of Olmsted’s great trees. It began as a much smaller hut and has stretched since, with more doorways, longer halls, and extra skylights. I mean, obviously, a lot of skylights! It’s to smile at, crawl into, add to, play with. And the tree that shelters it will soon have its leaves, and those leaves will catch the pinks and yellows of the sunrise, as I feel sure Olmsted knew they eventually would. And we walk on.

Be safe and well. Be kind.

 

Sticks 2