In the early 1950s, we lived in a small duplex at 20217 Moross Road on the east side of Detroit—me, Mom, my two older brothers, and our new stepfather, Bill. My beloved mother had finally succeeded in getting her family back together under one roof. And on that roof was a glorious TV antenna that did its best to bring in reception depending on how the winds blew. We were the fortunate owners of a small black-and-white Admiral television set, the first in our neighborhood. Of course, my twelve-year-old self was entranced with this amazing new machine.
Even in those early days, TV programmers were already vying for audiences, and on Tuesday nights at 8:00, most of the country tuned in to watch comedian Milton Berle. Not our family, however. My stepfather insisted that we watch Life Is Worth Living with Bishop Fulton Sheen, formerly the host of The Catholic Hour on night-time radio. My friends might all be sharing jokes from “Uncle Miltie” the next day, but I became a devoted fan of Bishop Sheen. I watched Life Is Worth Living intently and even took notes!
Bishop Sheen had a pleasant speaking style, made plenty of humorous remarks, and presented a positive view of life that I deeply admired. Life Is Worth Living—the name of his show said it all. Years later when I began to meet with producer Niki Vettel about creating fund-raising shows for public television, I told her about my early TV viewing. I remembered how I sat transfixed listening attentively to Bishop Sheen speak directly to me about the power of my own mind to create the kind of life I wanted for myself.
I so loved that Tuesday night show—it was a well-constructed, entertaining, and informative lecture that held the attention of viewers in their homes back when television was in its infancy. Sharing this memory with Niki, I was confident that I could do likewise and make it work for all concerned—and that I’d have celestial assistance as well! I recalled Milton Berle’s comment when he discovered that the popular bishop had earned an Emmy Award, while Berle had been overlooked that year. Berle quipped, “He’s got better writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” I wondered if I could enlist these same writers in my presentations as well!
As my 10th special for PBS, based on my new book, I Can See Clearly Now, begins to air next month, I am still thinking about Bishop Sheen. His title, Life Is Worth Living, has turned out to be the theme of my life’s work. In fact, it could have been the title for all of my books! That early encounter with Tuesday night TV inspired something in me that has been unfolding in my life ever since. That’s something I can see clearly now and I hope my sharing these experiences in my book and in the new PBS special will be as much a gift in your life!