Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Coming Attractions (Part II)

"What the hell is taking so long?!"

"Patience, Doctor, patience."

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Coming Attractions

Yeah, I know he left us, but there's a lot I want to say about this man and the memorable character he created, and I don't have all the time in the world--or Vulcan, for that matter--to say it in, so please be patient.

In the meantime, live long and prosper.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

In Memoriam: Lesley Gore 1946-2015

When Lois Sasson confirmed on February 16 that her longtime partner, Lesley Gore, a non-smoker, had died of lung cancer at the untimely age of 68, feminists, freedom fighters, humanitarians and Catwoman lovers of all stripes mourned the passing of an iconic ally and inspiration.

--Peter Rothberg, The Nation  

"It's My Party" remains one of the most vivid evocations of adolescent heartbreak ever waxed--Quincy Jones produced the record, although you'd swear it was [Melrose Place producer] Aaron Spelling instead."

--AllMusic Critic Jason Ankeny

If you don't mind hearing it twice, here's a video Gore made of the song some 25 years later:

That looked like Mike Myers' Dr. Evil at the end, didn't it? I've checked and re-checked. The video is from 1989 (as if you couldn't tell that already from the clothes and the hair) and Evil didn't make his debut until 1997.

Now, I, or at least Peter Rothberg, promised you a freedom fighter:

Not exactly Che Guevara, but in that time and place...

You could savor every bitchy second of Lesley's triumph with her sequel "Judy's Turn to Cry".

--Music journalist Lillian Roxon

Now, the feminist:

Now, THAT'S Che Guevara (or Gloria Steinem.)

My take on the song was: I'm 17, what a wonderful thing, to stand up on a stage and shake your finger at people and sing you don't own me.

--Lesley Gore

Left unsaid is whether that was her middle finger that's she shaking (after all,the video was shot from the neck up.)

Now, for Catwoman lovers of all stripes:

Holy 45 rpm record, Batman!

The iconic alley and inspiration:

Afraid to go on American Idol? Hell, they've played her songs on that show!

Finally, the humanitarian:

Hey, she made people happy. What's more humanitarian than that?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Baritone Banter

Gary Owens 1934-2015

Gary Owens died a few days ago of complications from diabetes, a disease that had plagued him since childhood. In fact, he once overheard a doctor tell his parents that he probably wouldn't make it out of his teens! He did anyway, as an adult becoming a very popular afternoon disc jockey in Los Angeles. Actually, a suburb of Los Angeles: "beautiful downtown Burbank" a phrase first heard on his radio show. As I grew up in neither Los Angeles nor Burbank in the 1960s, I can't vouch for you just how funny or entertaining he may have been as a deejay, only that there's been many tributes on-line from Angelenos who laughed their asses off at his radio antics, which included asking the audience to "send in for yours", only to receive a postcard with nothing but the word "yours" on it.

What I can vouch for is a TV show I saw first as a kid and then decades later when it popped up on Nick at Nite. Before I tell you what it was, let me tell you how Owens came to be on it. He walked into the men's room at a popular LA restaurant and saw an acquaintance of his, a TV producer by the name of George Schlatter. As a joke, Owens shouted "George! The acoustics are great in here!", his rich baritone bouncing off the tiled walls. Now it just so happens Schlatter had a show in development, one composed almost entirely of blackout gags, i.e. short skits lasting less than five minutes, sometimes less than a single minute. Owens comic announcing would be the perfect linking devices for those gags. Of course that show was Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In:

Some of Owen's Laugh-In announcements not found on YouTube:

"This show was prerecorded earlier, because it didn't make much sense to prerecorded it later."

"The preceding was recorded earlier because we were ashamed to do it now."

"Meanwhile, later that evening..."

"What you're about to see is true. [the word "false" appears on screen, hands on clock moved back] Only names and faces have been left unchanged...to protect the innocent."

And, of course the phrase I mentioned earlier, first on his radio show, "Coming to you from beautiful downtown Burbank!"

A phrase later appropriated by the fellow above.

Owens did more straightforward announcing as well, including stints on The Wonderful World of Disney and America's Funniest Home Videos.

And he did cartoons. Unlike Mel Blanc or Daws Butler, Owens didn't have a hundred different voices at his disposal. Basically he had just two--dramatic macho posturing and comedic macho posturing.

His dramatic macho posturing.

Owens didn't do the tongue-in-cheek version of Space Ghost that aired on the Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" in the late '90s. However, his own comedic macho posturing could be heard in plenty of other places.

Such as Roger Ramjet in the '60s...

Or, a decade later, as the Blue Falcon in Dynomutt, the Dog Wonder.

Back to announcing. One of Owens most recent gigs was doing the voice-over promos for a digital network devoted to reruns Antenna TV: "Classic television, but without that musty odor!"

One last tribute from a former Laugh-In cast mate:

"Gary will be greatly missed...His presence of optimism and joy will live on! He was a gift to us all."

--Goldie Hawn




Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Quips and Quotations (Sex, Lies, and Videotape Edition)

My God, what’s happening to Brian [Williams] is in the Zeitgeist...He’s trumping Bruce Jenner on social media. I mean, cross-dressing Bruce Jenner killed somebody, but Brian Williams is still trending.

--Unidentified NBC News source.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Vital Viewing (Golden Age of Hollywood Multitasker Edition)

Ida Lupino was born on this day in 1918. Raised in a London acting family, she took up the profession herself and eventually landed in Hollywood. Keeping whatever British accent she may have had well-hidden in her most best-known roles, she became, in her own words, "the poor man's Bette Davis", due to the off-kilter characters she played. However, her films (a few of which were turned down by Davis) tended to be much more gritty, and she was soon a mainstay of a genre now known as film noir (French for "dark film".)

Though she first appeared on film in 1931, it wasn't until 1940's They Drive By Night that she finally became a star, thanks largely to the above nervous breakdown (which I don't believe originally was done with subtitles.)

The next year she appeared opposite another actor who took a decade to find his niche in movies, Humphrey Bogart. High Sierra was one of the earliest doomed-lovers-on-the-run films. Screenplay by John Huston.

From a story by Irwin Shaw, The Hard Way (1943) was based on the relationship between Ginger Rogers and her mother, though Lupino wasn't a mom here but Joan Leslie-as-Ginger's older sister (I imagine because the actresses were only seven years apart in age.)

In Road House (1948) Lupino got to sing the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer standard "One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)" You might recall that Bette Midler won an Emmy for singing this same song on the last regular The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I'll admit the Divine Miss M is technically a much better songstress than Lupino, but her version never led to betrayal and murder as it does in this film (though it is my understanding Carson stopped returning Ed McMahon's phone calls after a while.)

Though she more often than not played femme fatale types, Lupino got a chance to portray a more sympathetic character in On Dangerous Ground (1951). I mean, what could be more sympathetic than a blind woman? Especially when opposite another mainstay of film noir, the underrated Robert Ryan?

Ryan was not at all sympathetic in his next movie with Lupino, 1952's Beware My Lovely.

Now on to her other career. I have to jump back in time a few years.

That's an actress by the name of Sally Forrest and not a pregnant Lupino in the above ad, yet the latter was very much involved in Not Wanted (1949) behind the scenes. Not content with merely acting, Lupino also liked to write screenplays, which she then produced herself. The director, Elmer Clifton, had a mild heart attack and had to leave the picture. So Lupino stepped in and finished the job, though, out of respect for Clifton, she kept his name in the credits.

Lupino calimed she never thought about directing before, but now it was all she wanted to do.

The first few movies she directed were "women pictures", though they often had provocative and controversial themes, such as the one above about rape.

In 1953, one of the queens of film noir got a chance to direct a noir herself, the extraordinarily suspenseful The Hitch-Hiker. That's Lupino on the left in the sunglasses.

Now regarded as a noir classic, in 1998 The Hitch-Hiker was considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" enough to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

A montage of moments from The Hitch-Hiker, featuring Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy and William Talman. Perry Mason fans may remember Talman, here playing the title character, as assistant D.A Hamilton Burger. Playing a homicidal maniac in this film, he probably could have used Perry's help.

Lupino sometimes appeared in her own films. Here she plays one of the wives of the aforementioned Edmond O'Brien (a great character actor) in The Bigamist. 

IdaLupino still appeared in other director's pictures as well. In Women's Prison (1955) she plays a prison superintendent who herself should have been under lock and key. 

Here's Lupino in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

However, it was another episode she directed, but did not appear in, that's more memorable. Titled "The Mask" don't watch it if you're planning on going to a masquerade ball.

As she moved from movies to television, Lupino didn't just direct dramas, but also sitcoms...

...such as this episode of Gilligan's Island, featuring Tina Loise as Ginger, and guest star Hans Conried as Wrongway Feldman. Amusing enough on its own terms, I guess, but a long way from The Hitch-Hiker

Lupino continued to act, but as is often the case with female stars, the parts got smaller as she aged and her looks faded a bit.

Still, she got to meet Columbo.

All in all, a remarkable career. Ida Lupino died in 1995 at age 77.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Civil Tongue-Lashing

TV newsman Edwin Newman was born on this date in 1919, a year in which the average person wasn't listening to the radio, much less the boob tube. Perhaps I shouldn't call it that, at least not when the subject of this post is Newman, for the man was no boob. He was part of a breed that was somewhat common when I was growing up: the Wry Newsman.

There was David Brinkley, who deliberately paced his delivery for wry effect. When commenting about a drawing that had been produced by a computer, this back when a computer was an enigmatic, room-sized machine and not the much smaller, reassuringly cozy appliance you're likely viewing now, Brinkley refused to adopt the alarmist, apocalyptic oh-dear-man-will-be-supplanted-by-technology tone and instead, implying the robot-produced picture didn't look like much, wryly stated, "When we return...we'll look at some art...if you can call it art...and if you can't call it art...what can you call it?" There! The attempted computer coup against humanity foiled with a smirk and a few well-placed pauses.

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus of Wry TV Newscasts may have been 60 Minutes in its 1970s-80s heyday. Yeah, it's still on the air, but current correspondents like Steve Croft and Leslie Stahl seem to grateful to have the gig to report on crimes and misdemeanors with anything but the sincerest consternation. Only octogenarian Morley Safer is still around to hold up the wry end, expressing perverse wonderment at the industrialist trying to tell him the fish in the river just outside his dry rot repair epoxy resin factory all committed suicide. Thirty years ago, however, Safer had such wry company as Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, and, best of all, the late, great Mike Wallace.

Here's Wallace interviewing a former Mafia hit man (wryness italicized):

WALLACE: Tell me, did you ever feel guilty about killing someone?


WALLACE: Can you think of any circumstances where you would have felt guilty killing someone?

HIT MAN: Well, I suppose if I had to kill an innocent person.

WALLACE: And who would you consider an innocent person?

HIT MAN: Well, you. I would consider you an innocent person.

WALLACE: Well, I would hope you would consider me an innocent person.

Ha! That Mike Wallace had one set of wry testicles on him, didn't he? I think in the same situation Steve Croft would have curled up in a ball and cried.

Now, wry shouldn't be confused with humorous. Yes, a person can have a "wry sense of humor" but the very fact that "humor" needs to be foreshadowed by "wry" proves its failure as a synonym. Or look at it this way, Moe could be funny on occasion, but I think he was able to successfully pull on Larry's hair without having to resort to wryness.

According to the dictionary, "wry" means "to pull out of its expected shape." That's the word's literal meaning as a verb. Of course, I using it as an adjective to describe a personality trait. Thus, it's further defined as "understated, sarcastic, or ironic". You can be those things without being funny. Of course, those things often are funny (italics no longer denoting wryness.) Though I can't quite pinpoint the punchline, I'm sure Brinkley decelerated discourse on the nature of art was meant to amuse, and Wallace's mock indignation that he should be considered anything other than innocent was a bit of comic relief in an otherwise tense interview (the mafia hit man actually seemed the more tenser of the two.)

The major risk involved in wry news reporting is that you can come across as unlikable. People back in that three-network era often looked to their broadcast personalities for comfort, hence the beloved Walter Cronkite. Because David Brinkley was around for so long, people did, finally, take comfort in him toward the end. He was popular at the beginning of his TV career, too, as one half of The Huntley-Brinkley Report, his acerbic wisecracks (trying to solve to controversy involving the renaming of well-known dam on the Colorado River, he suggested a former president should now call himself "Herbert Boulder") provided as color commentary to Chet Huntley's more straightforward reporting. The duo ruled the early evening news roost from the late '50s into the mid-'60s. Then CBS put Cronkite opposite them. With Vietnam heating up and all sorts of civil strife bedeviling the nation, people seem to want less comedy and more comfort, and headed toward Uncle Walter's warm embrace. Huntley soon retired, and Brinkley continued on alternately as a solo act or partnered with John Chancellor. Eventually his role was reduced to a three-minute commentary a couple times a week, his smirk hardening into a sneer as the television news parade largely passed him by. Brinkley's career was resurrected when he switched from NBC to ABC and network big shot Roone Arledge, who had earlier made an unlikely star out of Howard Cosell, gave him a Sunday morning political affairs program called This Week with David Brinkley. The show was a success, and he settled quite nicely into the role of Living TV News Legend. Brinkley still cracked the occasional joke, but he now seemed downright cuddly when contrasted to regular panelist Sam Donaldson, who was not so much wry as raw.

As for Mike Wallace, really, how likable was he? I remember reading one press account that described him as a knight out to slay a dragon. Made you feel occasionally sorry for the dragon. Especially if the camera lingered a bit too long into the stare of the beast's frightened eyes, a standard 60 Minutes technique. It actually made the bad guy seem like the underdog at times.  There's been more than one program where, against my better judgement, I felt like saying, "There, there, corporate polluter, it's gonna be all right, the nasty reporter is going away now," or "Oh, corrupt politician, my heart goes out to you! Have a good, long cry during the commercial break." Not exactly the response that was expected of me watching 60 Minutes, a show that never actually questions or challenges the status quo itself, but merely goes after the endless stream of nogoodniks who always seem to find exciting new opportunities within it.

That leaves us with Edwin Newman, who actually was likable. Instead of Brinkley's smirk and Wallace's sarcastic gape, there was a bit of a twinkle in his eyes. He could be funny, often dropping a joke into his reporting or commentary, as long as the subject matter wasn't too serious. And he knew his grammar, putting several books--humorously written but expressing concern nonetheless--about the deterioration of the English language on the best-sellers list (God knows the problems he would have found with this post.) On top of all that, he even hosted, on Eddie Murphy's last regular show yet! That had to be some kind of honor.

Newman was such an amiable presence on the various NBC news shows in which he appeared (usually those hosted by others) that some might say wasn't wry so much as folksy, a la Charles Kuralt who did the popular "On the Road" segments on the CBS news, driving around the country to one backwoods local after another looking to interview a man who a treehouse out of old Yellow Pages or the town that threw a party to commemorate the invention of pull-open beer can tab, touting it as a real example of Americana. Newman could never have done such a program. The first time some hillbilly said the word "ain't" in his presence he would have hightailed it back to the big city to write another book.

Besides, Newman was just too irreverent to be another Kuralt. Here's his deadpan joke-filled description of the 1964 World's Fair:

"Cluster's Last Stand." As much as a stickler Newman may have been when it came to the English language, he was also a sucker for a good pun.

Here's Newman in a more serous moment, on November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed:

"Our image is not good...We do not appear as an adult nation...grossly diminished people" Folksy Edwin Newman is really laying it on the line here! Of all the video commentary from the day of the assassination or shortly thereafter, this has got to be the least sentimental. David Brinkley, in his commentary, kind of ducks the issues Newman raises, even suggesting that to talk about them might be in bad taste. Other than that, Brinkley tells viewers that the events of the day are shocking, which I'm sure they already knew. Newman, meanwhile is not telling people what they already know, or what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. Something in the culture broke down, and that's where the ultimate bad taste lies. What I find amazing about Newman's commentary is how contrary it is to the way the Kennedy assassination has been handed down and explained to me, as a sudden and dramatic loss of innocence. Newman, on the day of the assassination, will have none of it. It's not innocence but childishness we have too much of it. True then, true now.

Newman's commentary is of course not meant to be funny. Should it then be considered wry? There are hints of understatement, sarcasm and irony, but I'd go for the first definition, you know, wry as a verb: to pull out of its expected shape. Newman was probably expected to do a nice little eulogy on the day's tragic events, giving lip service to our greatness as a nation and how we'll emerge from this ordeal stronger, blah, blah, blah, and instead told some harsh but very necessary truths.

All with a wry sense of drama.