The Doctor Is Out
Remembering Dr. Joyce Brothers, a pioneer
Ladies and Gentlemen, the doctor is out.
Dr. Joyce Brothers, the legendary television psychologist and $64,000 question boxing maven (she later credited her expertise in this area to a producer suggestion, hours and hours of furious cramming, and a truly prodigious memory), has died of a respiratory ailment at age 85. Gentle, approachable and calmly articulate, Dr. Brothers was a ubiquitous but always charming media presence, from her television show to her columns to her multitude of cameo appearances, including The Simpsons, Hollywood Squares, Happy Days (in which she famously dissected the latent homosexual tendencies of the Cunningham’s dog—it’s on the blooper reel) and my personal favorite, her gracious turn on the country club catwalk during the Wilderness girl-themed, Robin Leach-hosted celebrity fashion show in my favorite movie of all time, Troop Beverly Hills (“clad in khaki for a luxury stroll or a walk in the woods.”)
But since I happened to be visiting my parents in Omaha when I received the news, I couldn’t resist asking my favorite attractive and genteel Jewish female psychologist how she felt about the passing of the most famous of her kind. Fellow neurotics, I give you Dr. Aveva Shukert!
“She was a pioneer. She was the first television psychologist, highly visible just as psychology was entering the mainstream. And because she was a woman, she was a double pioneer. You weren’t used to seeing female doctors at all then, let alone psychologists, who you never saw. And she was pretty. When you did think about female psychologists at the time, you thought of these frumpy German women with the thick ankles, and you know, the buns. But she was pretty, and she was funny, which I don’t think people necessarily thought psychologists ever were. So she broke a lot of stereotypes, and as a young female psychologist, that was all really important.
“As for her being Jewish, about 90% of psychologists then were (author’s note: this is not a corroborated figure) so that wasn’t such a big deal. She didn’t really use her Jewishness as a reference point, the way someone like Dr. Laura, who isn’t even really a psychologist, and converted to some bizarre fundamentalist strain of orthodoxy that she doesn’t practice herself but tries to force on other people (author’s note: my mother does not think much of Dr. Laura.) I mean, Dr. Laura is a charlatan. But Dr. Joyce Brothers wasn’t sort of grandmotherly like Dr. Ruth, either. She was very charming and very reasonable, and she made talk therapy seem not so scary, and not just for the very disturbed. She made it acceptable and mainstream, and she did that for female doctors—and maybe female Jewish doctors—as well. And she had a pageboy haircut, just like me. Maybe that’s why I wear my hair like this, who knows?”