Remembering Peg Lynch

1916 - 2015

Peg Lynch with her "Ethel and Albert" co-star Alan Bunce, 1953.

At the University of Oregon Libraries we were deeply saddened to learn about the recent death of Peg Lynch, a pioneer in broadcast entertainment whose papers are housed in our Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA). Lynch created, wrote, and starred in Ethel and Albert, a domestic comedy that debuted as a national radio program in 1944 and moved to television in 1950. She is widely acknowledged as one of the true originators of the American television sitcom.

“I base my show on the little things in life,” Lynch told The New York Times. “I believe that people like to find out that other people have some of the same problems they do.”

In its day Ethel and Albert was well received by the public and the critics. Kay Gardella of the New York Daily News wrote that the show was "generally regarded as the top domestic comedy on T.V. The warm, realistic characterizations and situations of this stanza reflect the personality of its creator. Peg is completely down to earth and so are her scripts." Looking back in later years, radio historian Gerald Nachman would characterize the Ethel and Albert show as "insightful and realistic . . . a real leap forward in domestic comedy . . . with a keen modern sensibility. Lynch made her comic points without stooping to female stereotypes, insults, running gags, funny voices or goofy plots." (Raised on Radio. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Print.)

Peg Lynch always retained the copyrights to her work; an unusual arrangement for media creators in her day. She was thereby able to exercise a high degree of creative control throughout the show's run. However, an unintended consequence was that Ethel and Albert never entered syndication in later decades. Few people have had the opportunity to watch the episodes since they originally aired.

Staff members from Special Collections initially approached Peg Lynch in the late 1960s, to talk about acquiring her papers. Our interest was in preserving her work—her legacy—and in the research value of the materials, which include original radio and television scripts, correspondence, business records, advertising promotions, and many kinescopes. These early 16mm film recordings of Ethel and Albert are the sole visual record of these shows, which were performed and broadcast live. SCUA is working to raise the funds to digitize the content of the kinescopes. For the first time in many years, the programs will then be accessible to a large audience—scholars of television history as well as fans of the show and of Peg Lynch. In the meantime, fans and curious newcomers will have to make do with a couple episodes that Lynch made available on YouTube only a few months before her death.

In 2013, UO Libraries staff members made three trips to visit Peg Lynch at her home in Becket, Massachusetts. There we collected her remaining papers and filmed an oral history with her. The UO Libraries YouTube channel has a segment from a preliminary interview with Peg Lynch.

Of the trip, Manuscripts Assistant Marilyn Reaves recalls: “At 97, she was remarkably talkative, insightful, and ever the comedian. At the kind invitation of Peg and her daughter Astrid King, several of us stayed at her beautiful house in the Berkshires and were able to engage with both of them over several days. It was an eventful and delightful time spent with two admirable, talented, and entertaining women.”

Want to learn more about this collection? A finding aid to the Peg Lynch Papers--including content descriptions and historical notes--is available here.