Saturday, July 20, 2024

Vital Viewing (Stammer Glamour Edition)



Bob Newhart famously started out as an accountant, and looked and even talked like a James Thurber cartoon character come to life. Except Newhart did what no Thurber character in drawing or prose was ever destined to do, and that is quit his job and become a stand-up comedian. He explains how he managed to pull off such a transformation in this 2005 interview with Larry King. Watch:


King mentions an "album that took off", I believe he's talking about...

...this album, which hit number one on Billboard in August of 1960 and stayed there for the next 14 weeks. Up against Frank Sinatra, Harry Bellefonte, and Nat King Cole, it eventually won a Grammy for Album of the Year, the first comedy album to do so.

So what was so special about Newhart's style of comedy? First off, he was part of a late 1950s-early1960s alternative comedy movement that eschewed the vaudeville tried-and-true rat-a-tat-tat setup-punchline-rimshot drumbeat for something somewhat more thoughtful. And contemporary. At least it was contemporary 60 years ago. Newhart himself can describe it best: There was a big sea change in comedy. There was Mike [Nichols] and Elaine [May], Shelley Berman, myself, Jonathan Winters and Lenny Bruce. We all kind of happened at the same time and the humor was different than the humor before that, when there were a lot of wife jokes . . .and they had no relevance to college kids who picked up these albums, which were about their fears and their concerns about life. They would get the record albums and go to someone’s dorm room and get beer and pizzas and someone had a record player. Those were their nightclubs. I think they really created that demand.” 

Here's a good example of Newhart's style, which (like the aforementioned Berman) frequently involved the use of a telephone. The setup and punchline are still there, but no rimshot. You get to decide for yourself whether to laugh: 

I laughed, though in-between laughs I found it strange that this...

...goes unmentioned. Had only someone hung up the phone on Sir Walter.

George, Gracie, Bob, and Jack. Newhart may have been part of a new breed of comic, but he respected his elders, and they respected him. In particular, Newhart had a lot in common with Jack Benny when it came to drollery and deadpan reactions, the latter of which may have reached full bloom on...

...this show.

Bob Newhart plays Bob Hartley, a Chicago mental health professional. What kind of mental health professional? MTM Productions originally wanted him to play a psychiatrist (who can prescribe medication), but Newhart felt he'd better off playing a psychologist (who can't prescribe medication), as their patients have less severe problems, and thus the potential for comedy is, well, safer:

You really wouldn't treat that kind problem of problem with medication? Apparently not back in the 1970s.  As I type this, I've actually spent the last hour trying to find out what exactly the mental health establishment (of which through my own experiences I've come to have a great deal of respect) thought of The Bob Newhart Show, but nothing good or bad comes up. Whatever their diagnoses, what made the show truly funny wasn't the severity (or silliness) of the patients' problems but nice guy Dr. Hartley's well-meaning hesitancy in trying to do right by them. And it wasn't just in his professional life he tried to do right, but in his...

 ...personal life as well:

Remember that bedroom, as we move on to Bob Newhart's next...

...TV series.

Here Newhart plays a writer of  how-to books named Dick Louden who moves with his wife to Vermont and buys a Revolutionary War-era inn. Just how different was Dick Louden from Bob Hartley? Watch the now-legendary ending of the series finale for that answer: 

The deadpan remains the same.




Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Quips and Quotations (Civics Tested Edition)




We must cry foul, we must call out the hypocrisy of anyone who would try to condone one and not condemn the other.

--Raphael Warnock

Friday, July 12, 2024

A King Feature We'd Like to See

"Help me! Help me! Somebody help me!"

 "I'm strong to the finich, 'cause I eats me spinich..."

Shelly Duvall 1949-2024


Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Smart Art (Industrial Impressionism Edition)


Pont Boieldieu in Rouen, Rainy Weather, 1896

The theme is the bridge near the Place de la Bourse with the effects of rain, crowds of people coming and going, smoke from the boats, quays with cranes, workers in the foreground, and all this in grey colors glistening in the rain...what particularly interests me is the motif off the iron bridge in wet weather with all the vehicles, pedestrians, workers on the embankment, boats, smoke, haze in the distance; it's so spirited, so alive.

--Camille Pissarro, born on this day in 1830

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Fasten Your Snorkels


As if dangerous heat, dangerous wildfires, dangerous rip tides, dangerous flooding, dangerous spiders, dangerous mosquitoes, dangerous sharks, dangerous new strains of Covid, dangerous Boeings, and dangerous Supreme Court rulings weren't dangerous enough, this summer we also have to worry about a dangerous lifeguard shortage. So, how do we solve that problem? Raise the pay? GET REAL! If you want to talk some high school or college kid into risking their life over some idiot who didn't wait 30 minutes after eating and got the cramps while treading water, then what you need to do is provide that unformed young person with a role model.

What kind of role model? Well, take a job as a lifeguard as the young woman above did and someday you just might end up on...

...Turner Classic Movies.

That's right, back in 1926 Bette Davis was not only a lifeguard but the first female lifeguard at Ogunquit Beach in Maine. Imagine almost drowning and having her come to your rescue!

Unless your last name happens to be Crawford, in which case you might want to think twice before going into the water.


Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Graphic Grandeur (Firecrackup Edition)


Don't know exactly what illustrator J.C. Leyendecker had in mind when he came up with this cover one hundred years ago, but it sums up my fears for our nation in July of 2024: napping away, completely unaware that your ass is about to get blown off.

Monday, July 1, 2024

Vital Viewing (Comedy 2 Night Edition)


Comedian, actor, musician, and, having spent part of his childhood in the area, Cleveland booster Martin Mull died this past Thursday. Here he is sometime in the 1980s as a guest on David Letterman's NBC late night talk show. As it turns out, Mull was something else other than just a comedian, actor, musician, and Browns fan:

"Representational" doesn't quite describe Mull's retro-photorealistic collage-like paintings. Not that "retro-photorealistic collage-like" describes the artworks all that much better, but I like 'em:

The Ides of August

Sunday Morning

Carpe Diem


Band on the Run

Some noted celebrities have taken notice of Mull's artworks, and used them for their own endeavors:

So was painting just Mull's hobby? Actually, it was his main line of work. Or rather, it's what the Rhodes Island School of Design Bachelor of Fine Arts (1965) and Master of Fine Arts (1967) graduate would preferred to have been his main line of work, but fine art doesn't always pay the bills, thus the comedy, acting, music, and boosting. A closer look at how he paid those bills:

Martin Mull first came to public attention in 1977 playing wife-beater Garth Gimble on the late-night black comedy soap opera Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Doesn't sound too pleasant, I know, but if it's any consolation his character got his comeuppance when he was fatally impaled on an artificial Christmas tree. Mull's stint on MHMH didn't end, however, as he soon returned as Garth's identical twin show biz brother Barth. This led to the spinoff Fernwood 2 Night, the titled small town's local TV station's misguided attempt at a talk show that had host Barth spending as much time fending off announcer/sidekick/buttinski Jerry Hubbard (Fred Willard) as he did interviewing guests:

Fernwood 2 Night eventually morphed into America 2 Night, which had Barth and Jerry moving to California and interviewing real-life celebrities but with the same disastrous results. That show ended its run in 1978, but it wasn't the end for Mull or Willard, who nearly two decades later would make...

...sitcom history. Martin Mull had for some time been appearing on Roseanne where he played the title character's boss and later business partner Leon Carp, who was eventually revealed to be gay. Fred Willard played Scott, Leon's old flame, and the two eventually decided to get married (some 20 years before the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples could do so.) Now, Mull and Willard were straight in real-life, but here at Shadow of a Doubt we hold no objection to heterosexuals playing homosexuals as long as it's done with some understanding of what that state of being must be like (or at least as much understanding as you're likely to get on a sitcom.). And they did. Unfortunately, all I could find on YouTube was the following clip in which someone very obviously pointed a video camera at a TV screen and started recording. It's still very watchable, but just not listenable. Turn up the volume all you want. All you'll hear is a mutter. Undaunted, I went to the website IMBd and found out just what  muttering went on between Mull and Willard. It's just below the video. Watch (that's Norm Crosby officiating) and then read:  

  • Scott: I love you in a way that is mystical and eternal and illegal in 20 states.
  • Leon Carp: That's the most beautiful thing I've ever heard.

 Martin Mull did a lot of movies and TV guest shots in his lengthy career, but it was as a stand-up, or rather sit-down, comedian that I found him at his funniest:

That ended kind of abruptly, but who else but God always leaves them wanting more?

Finally, a hometown promo:

That was from the early 1990s. These days we have two downtown stadiums, one for the Browns and one for the Guardians, as well as a casino and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but even if we didn't, Mr. Mull still would have convinced me to stay, just as long as he made me laugh in return for doing so.