Favorite Fictional Characters, #292: Russell Huxtable
I wonder, if I had undertaken this exercise twenty years ago, how I'd feel about Bill Cosby and The Cosby Show. I watched it as a kid, we all did. It was a staple in the middle class entertainment week, a family of smart, attractive, affectionate, affluent African-Americans, an antidote to the Reagan-era mythology of the permanent racial underclass. It could be funny, warm, even thought-provoking at times. And yet I can't watch it now, no more than any of us can. The Cosby Show is tainted, like the once-wonderful OJ Simpson scenes in Naked Gun, like the 2004 rhetoric of John Edwards, like so many other once-noble things exposed as the product of rotten souls.
So I can't talk about Cliff Huxtable, about his weary, accessible fatherhood or stupid sweaters. Bill Cosby is a toxin, a blot, a super-villain. But you know what I can talk about? Russell Huxtable. Cliff's father on the show, Russell was played with gruff charisma and stern humor, with a permanently self-assured carriage that his life had been harder than yours and yet had not compromised his essential dignity. His romance with his wife still in comfortable bloom after their decades together, his pride in his family, his sense of identity, all hard-won and cherished. Cliff Huxtable was a bit of a bumbler (sitcom dad requirement), still seeking his old man's approval. I have to think he'll never get it now.
Besides, actor Earle Hyman, who debuted on Broadway in 1943 and is fluent in Norwegian, was also the voice of Panthro on the Thundercats.