In the past thirty years or so of Toobworld's reflection of the events and people in the Real World, we've come to expect to see the current world leaders portrayed within various TV shows.
President and Mrs. Clinton met Fran Fine at a ski lodge. ('The Nanny')
Premier Gorbachev corresponded with Rose Nylund, thinking she was a little girl. ('The Golden Girls')
Prime Minister Tony Blair greeted 'The Simpsons' at Heathrow Airport.
Even over in his own splinter dimension, Leo McGarry held clandestine meetings with Fidel Castro in Cuba. ('The West Wing')
And George W. Bush even had his own sitcom. ('That's My Bush!')
But before Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became the Shepherd of Rome, it would have been hard to imagine the Holy Father as being considered a viable candidate for any storyline in a TV show.
So far as I can determine, Pope Pius XII only figured as a secondary figure in the TV movie 'The Scarlet And The Black' (which was about a priest's determined effort to rescue Jews from the Nazis).
Had Television been as "progressive" as it was in the 1970s, post Archie Bunker, perhaps Pope John XXIII might have been utilized in a few TV shows During his short tenure as the Pontiff, (only five years), the former Angelo Roncalle seemed ready-made to be a TV character: affable, personable, downright cuddly. In a way, he was reminiscent of 'Columbo', but as played by Al Molinaro - he was a simple man of the people, yet crafty enough to stand his ground with those who moved in the circles of power and of high society.
John XXIII was portrayed at least twice on TV - first, by Raymond Burr in 'Portrait: A Man Called John', and most recently in a movie made for Czech Television with Ed Asner as the Pope.
Pope Paul VI seemed to be the exact opposite of John. He seemed to be cold, aloof, austere, stern; an aesthete. I could find no example of anyone actually portraying him in any TV show or TV movie. But then those were turbulent times (the late 60s through most of the 70s), and it seemed at least to me that his time as pope was defined by the debate over birth control. I doubt any network would have wanted to risk dealing with that and bring the Pope into the plotline as well.
There is only one instance I can remember seeing Pope Paul VII outside of news coverage of his mass at Shea Stadium and the like. His image was seen scurrying about in blackout sketches during the only episode ever broadcast of the comedy disaster 'Turn On'.
And then there was John Paul I...... The head of the Church for only 33 days, John Paul I made no more of an impact on the fictional universes than as part of dark conspiracies like in the movie "The Godfather III". (Actually, I'm surprised we never saw the Cigarette Smoking Man take credit for the Pope's sudden death on an episode of 'The X Files'!)
Which brings us to Pope John Paul II.......
It was a combination of factors that made the former Karol Wojtyla so popular a figure in TV shows. He showed up (usually as played by actor Gene Greytak) in shows as varied as 'Picket Fences' and 'The Wayans Brothers' because he made so many visits to the United States; eight in all - more than any other pope ever, - and so it never seemed outlandish that he might show in the tele-version of our country at any point. If 'Green Acres' was still on the air, we might have seen John Paul II clambering up the telephone pole in order to make a call back to the Vatican.
And he was a vital man of action, as could be seen in films of him skiing. And growing up and becoming a priest under both Nazi and Communist regimes, his life seemed perfect for dramatization in TV movies. And so it was with two films that bracket his "life" in Toobworld. First up was the eponymous movie starring Albert Finney as the Pope and Michael Crompton as the young Wojtyla.
And then just last year, a Polish/Italian production began filming in November with Piotr Adamczyk as the young man who would become the most travelled pope in history and the first non-Italian chosen to lead the Church in nearly 500 years. As mentioned in the last blog entry, the Pope himself told Adamczyk that he was crazy for taking on the role.
If he needed proof, he should probably talk to Gene Greytak who's made a career out of the role for the last twenty years or so.
Greytak must know by now how Vaughn Meader must have felt.....
(Coming up next.... John Paul II's "life" in Toobworld)