Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Vital Viewing (Keep Up Your Premiums or Else It's All for Nought Edition)

 Actress Barbara Stanwyck was born on this day in 1907. Three years before her death in 1990, Stanwyck received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award, and, in the forthright manner that had become her persona, showed her appreciation:

During her acceptance speech, Stanwyck made mention of...

...filmmaker Billy Wilder, who she claimed taught her how to kill (and then threw in a "Thank God!" for good measure.) What's she talking about? Let's take a quick look a her 1944 tutorial:


Jumpin' Jehosephat! Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray make two very ruthless people.

Even while grocery shopping!

But don't be too alarmed. They mellow out later on. After all...

...who has time for Murder One when raising a family?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Quips and Quotations (Post Office Edition)

 I am married to a fine actor named Rip Torn....The mail carriers are used to our mail box, which reads Torn Page.

--Geraldine Page

Saturday, July 6, 2019

In Memoriam: Arte Johnson 1929-2019


Arte Johnson's show biz career starts when, while on lunch break from some boring Manhattan office job, he happened to see a small line outside a theater: an open audition for musical. Having done a bit of acting college, Johnson decided to stand in line just to see what would happen. What happened was he got a small part in an off-Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Goodbye boring office job. In the late 1950s and early-to-mid '60s, Johnson had small parts in movies, and played many one-shot characters on various TV shows. A number of these roles were dramatic in nature, but his real forte was comedy, and in fact did stand-up between acting gigs. His most memorable role toward the end of that period may have been as a stubborn government assassin in writer-director Theodore J. Flicker's 1967 national security state satire The President's Analyst (a flop in its day but now considered a more-relevant-than-ever comedy classic.) But his big break came when he joined the inaugural cast of TV's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, a sketch comedy show comprised almost entirely of blackout gags (short skits with a single punchline.) Johnson was easily the most versatile male actor on that show, his talent for accents rivaled only by a TV sketch comedy star from a decade earlier, Sid Caesar (which may have proved problematic for both men later on when comically exaggerated foreign accents came to be seen as politically incorrect.)  Johnson's most famous character was an anachronistic World War II-era German soldier named Wolfgang who would poke his head above some shrubbery and comment on the sketch that had just concluded: "Stupid but [here comes the catchphrase] ver-r-r-y interesting" But my personal favorite of his character was a dirty old man named Tyrone whom, for reasons know only to him, found Ruth Buzzi's homely Gladys character attractive enough to continuously make passes at her. By 21st century standards, Tyrone may have been a bit of a stalker, but he paid a mighty price for all that stalking, as the sketch usually ended with him taking a savage beating from Gladys' purse.

Johnson became a household name doing Laugh-In and probably saw it as a stepping stone to greater things, leaving after the fourth season (out of five total.) As it turned out, Laugh-In WAS the greater thing. Both Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin ended up with lengthy movie careers, so lengthy in fact that their Laugh-In beginnings now seem like a answers to Jeopardy questions. For Johnson, however, it was back to pretty much what he was doing before Laugh-In, a lot of guest-shots on TV shows and small parts in movies, though he was at least more recognizable the second time around. His most notable role may have been as the insect-ingesting Renfield in the 1979 movie, Love at First Bite, a Dracula parody. It was a hit but a hit that far better advanced the career of star George Hamilton than Johnson (even, if for my popcorn money, Johnson was the funniest thing about the movie.) Johnson's fall from show biz grace (my view--he never complained about it) had nothing to do with a contraction of talent. He was probably just as funny in 2009 as he was in 1969. But audiences, as well as producers, casting directors, and agents, had come to associate him with a certain time in television history, a time that was now long past. If you happened to have been around during that time in television history (I remember the show that made him famous well, even if I was just in elementary school and probably didn't get some of the more risque jokes), then Johnson's stint on Laugh-In should have had you laughing out loud.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Springfield Pride

I know this is a few days past the Pride Month deadline, but it can't be helped. I found out today is actress Yeardley Smith's 55th birthday, began rooting around as I usually do to see if I could make a blog post out of it, and came across this picture of her at a Human Rights Campaign gala. If you don't know what the HRC is, it's a major LGBTQ advocacy group, though Smith herself is not an L or a G or a B or a T or a Q but instead a straight ally, which is always heartening. Outside of all that, who exactly is Yeardley Smith? Is she, like, a celebrity? Well, you may not recognize her name or her face, but you should be very familiar with her if you've been watching the Fox network on Sunday nights for the last three decades, for it's Smith who brings this character to life:

She was always the smart one in that family.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

One, Maybe Two, Degrees of Seperation

I have a quick question for you.

 What does Mark Twain and...

...Patty Duke have in common?

They both knew Helen Keller!

Twain, then 59, first met the 14-year old Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan at a literary gathering at a private home in Manhattan in the 1890s. Impressed by Keller's comic book-superpower sense of touch, her only means of comprehending the world around her, Twain became and remained a close friend of hers for the rest of his life.  When Twain found out Keller was having some trouble getting into the college of her choice--schools of higher learning, being much less interested in diversity than they are today, were reluctant to give a scholarship to a blind and deaf girl, even one with her immense intelligence--he persuaded his friend Henry Rogers, a Standard Oil executive who in his off-hours preferred the company of authors to corporate bigwigs, to fund her education. She graduated from Harvard's Radcliffe College with high marks in 1904 and went on to become a world-famous writer, lecturer, and political activist (without going into particulars, her views were closer to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than to the Koch brothers.)

On to Patty Duke, who came into the world a little more than three-and-a-half decades after Mark Twain left it. As I'm sure many of you already know, Duke played Helen Keller in the stage and film versions of William Gibson's The Miracle Worker (a phrase coined by Twain.) Duke and Keller seem to have met only once, when filming began on Worker, so the photos that emerged from that meeting--I had several to choose from--may have been publicity shots. Nothing wrong with that. The 1962  Arthur Penn-directed movie was more than worthy of the publicity. Duke turned in a superb Oscar-winning performance, convincingly playing not just a blind and deaf girl but a seven-year-old as well, even though she was fifteen at the time!

Without further adieu, and with no sign whatsoever of Mrs. Robinson or the identical twin cousin from Scotland, here's the trailer:

I have nothing particularly profound to say about any of this. I just find it interesting when famous people come into contact with each other.  

I have nothing particularly profound to say about this, either. And besides, Lucy's kid's not as famous as he used to be.