The camera showed a single actor in the spotlight in the middle of the stage. Of course, every one in the television audience wondered, "Who is that? Who gets to open the 40th anniversary show? It was Jimmy Fallon.
However, those familiar with Fallon and the works of Emmett Lee Dickinson (Emily Dickinson's third cousin, twice removed -- at her request) knew that Fallon was paying homage to Dickinson, whom he has said was "the greatest influence on my career." Yes, the show opened with Jimmy Fallon in the classic pose of Emmett Lee Dickinson.
Jimmy Fallon and nearly every past and current cast member of SNL has, in some way, been influenced by Dickinson, America's greatest poet. As a matter of fact, Fallon has portrayed Dickinson on stage and screen on numerous occasions, so it was no surprise to us at the Emmett Lee Dickinson Museum (above the coin-op Laundromat on Dickinson Boulevard) that he was channeling the poet one more time.
We were surprised, though, by a glaring omission in the star-studded show. While a host of past cast members took the stage and while countless clips of past sketches were highlighted throughout the show, one noteworthy cast member from the past was not even mentioned -- Toonces the Driving Cat.
Toonces appeared in many sketches, most often with Dana Carvey and Victoria Jackson, and he was instrumental in "bringing in the ratings for Season 14 of SNL," according to Lorne Michael himself -- but in all the hype and hullabaloo of the 40th Anniversary Show, somehow this important recurring character was all but forgotten.
Toonces the Driving Cat was named for Mr. Toonces, the beloved cat of Qwerty Jean Dickinson, Emmett Lee Dickinson's daughter. Dana Carvey, who attended the Emmett Lee Dickinson School for Boys in Missoula, Montana, suggested the name for the character, and all of the cast at the time -- all great aficionados of Dickinson -- agreed!
We were certainly thrilled to see the Emmett Lee Dickinson tribute at the start of the show, but we were very disheartened when Toonces the Driving Cat was all but forgotten. Here's hoping that such an omission does not occur 10 years from now when SNL celebrates 50 years of humor -- and 50 years of influence of Emmett Lee Dickinson.