For a pipsqueak like me, The Millionaire was a godsend. Each week, the half-hour TV show opened with an exchange between puckish industrialist John Beresford Tipton, Jr. and his trusted secretary Michael Anthony, during which the former would give the latter a cashier’s check for $1,000,000 and would instruct him to hand it over to an unsuspecting, and always shaken, recipient, who was never to know where the money came from. Although Tipton well knew why he chose each beneficiary, we could only surmise.
Typically, those who were selfish with the money were undone by their own greed; those who were selfless with it were richly rewarded for their goodness. I knew things would go well for Tony Rogers, for instance, who used his money to help out a neighbor in trouble; or for Nancy Cortez, who used hers to coax her toreador husband out of the bull ring and into retirement. I didn’t need 30 minutes, though, to figure out what would happen to Nick Slade, an escaped convict who assumed the identity of Eric Lodek, a humanitarian who died shortly after receiving his check; or to Rod Matthews, who used his money to stick it to an old enemy.
The moral of each story was simple, really, and always boiled down to this: If you’re a conniving ass in real life, you’ll lose everything and end up all alone. I didn’t want to be a conniving ass. In my fantasies about what I would do with all that money, I was more a giver than a taker. If, for example, I bought my divorced parents tickets for a trip around the world, and if I also bought a ticket for my brother just so I could get the little crapper to stop tormenting me, I could then feel justified in buying myself a few dolls, preferably ones that cried. If I bought a movie theater and Coney Island for my family, then I could buy myself a whole pizza and some baby turtles.
I was reminded of the show this past week because of the kerfuffle surrounding Mirlande Wilson and her claim that she had the winning ticket for Maryland’s Mega Millions jackpot, worth a record-breaking $656 million. First, she said she hid it in the McDonald’s where she worked. Now, she’s saying she misplaced it. As you can imagine, the media has crucified her, though it wasn’t difficult. All they had to do was to get her to open her mouth on the 11 o’clock news and then stand back.
I can’t help but think that things would have gone better for Mirlande had John Beresford Tipton, Jr., been her benefactor. With him, there was always the possibility of redemption.