Friday, January 21, 2022

Vital Viewing (Served with Gravy and Grandiloquence Edition)



About five years ago, Texas born-and-raised rock star Meat Loaf sat down for an interview with Texas born-and-raised TV journalist Dan Rather. Where they were born and raised is about all these two men have in common, but neither seems to mind:

Did you catch that? Meat Loaf explained exactly what "that" was, so try not to forget it. As for this "Jim" person who was mentioned in passing, he would be...

...Jim Steinman, whose death last April went unnoticed by me, or else I definitely would have done a post about him. Anyway, sometime in the early 1970s, budding young singer and actor Loaf met budding young composer Steinman. When the latter's attempt to mount a rock opera based on Peter Pan fell through, the two men decided to take several of the songs from that show and turn it into a concept album. The big labels all turned them down, so they took it to a small one, Cleveland International Records, which had recently been founded by former Columbia Records and Epic Records executive Steve Popovich, a man with a Cleveland-like surname if there ever was one (oddly enough, he was born in Pennsylvania.) Popovich took on the two young men. The 1977 result:

How to characterize this album? Some say it's Chuck Berry by way of Richard Wagner. Others say it's Rebel Without a Cause with a Pete Townsend score. Still others say it's an Andy Kaufman parody of Born to Run. Finally, a compelling argument can be made that producer Todd Rundgren dreamt the whole thing up while dropping acid with Peter Fonda. Whatever Bat Out of Hell is, I bought the album when I was something like 17 years old, and loved it, just loved it. All these years later, I still love it enough that I'm tempted to play all seven tracks from it. However, I should show some restraint (not that Meat Loaf or Steinman ever did) and give you just two. First up, the title track:   

I wonder if he's an organ doner.

OK, sports fans, let's take a break from rock 'n' roll for just a second and look at a man who I'm told was originally a baseball player, and a very good one at that. Phil Rizzuto played shortstop for the New York Yankees from 1941 to 1956, his entire career, and a period of time when the team captured 10 American League titles and won seven World Series. Named the AL's Most Valuable Player in 1950, Rizzuto played in five All-Star Games, had a batting average of .273 with 38 home runs and 563 runs batted in, all of which I understand is to the good. As a shortstop, his 1,217 double plays rank second in major league history. Rizzuto has other impressive statistics, but I'm already in over my head, so let's cut to what he did once his ballplaying career ended.

Well, like a lot of ex-athletes, Rizzuto became a broadcaster, a radio and TV announcer for the New York Yankees for nearly 40 years. An example of his play-by-play style can be heard in the following clip, but not right away as there's some musical interludes. Just be patient:

There's got to be a morning after. Or postseason.

Bat Out of Hell yielded two sequels, but it's only the first, from 1993, that I want to get into since it in turn yielded one of Meat Loaf's biggest (and at nearly 12 minutes, longest) hits. Here it is, and don't forget what Mr. Loaf told Dan Rather about "that":

Um...I'm a bit embarrassed to mention this, but I'm going to have to watch that Dan Rather interview again, because now I'm not so sure what "that" was.

OH, WAIT! It suddenly occurred to me! The brunette in the video...

...could it have been that girl?


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Quips and Quotations (All in What Family Edition)


Maureen Stapleton and I get confused for each other all the time! When she won an Oscar, I got so many congratulations, and as long as she's working, I don't mind being mistaken for her. But one time, she said to me, "If another jerk asks if we're sisters, I'm going to say yes--and add, 'And Jean's the one who drinks!'"

--Jean Stapleton

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Brick Wall of Sound


In 1994, Woody Allen wrote and directed (but did not act in) a movie titled Bullets Over Broadway, the plot of which hinged on an artistic genius who turns out to be a cold-blooded killer. Or was it about a cold-blooded killer who turns out to be an artistic genius? Whichever it was, toward the end of the film, an Allenesque character played by John Cusack declares art should not be exempt from moral concerns. With that in mind, we'll skip the artistic genius in the forefront of the above photo and look at the three young women in the background. From left to right it's Estelle Bennett, Veronica Bennett, and Nedra Talley, better known as the 1960s girl group The Ronettes. Veronica, nicknamed Ronnie (hence the group's name), was the erotically-nasal-sounding lead singer, leading the group to such chart-topping successes as "Be My Baby", "Sleigh Ride" and "Walking in the Rain". It also eventually led her and her record producer, the aforementioned artistic genius, to the alter, at which point she became Ronnie Spector, the name she's best known by today. According to Ronnie's now-all-too-credible autobiography, the marriage was a volatile one, which could have ended with her as a chalk outline on the floor. Fortunately, it didn't, though the artistic genius threatened to send a hit man (a la Chazz Palminter?) after her if she didn't agree to leave him with the entire estate after the divorce. Some years later, she and the other Ronettes successfully sued the artistic genius for back royalties, and lived to talk about it. Ronnie Spector's unforgettable voice was itself an ingenious work of art. Sometimes referred to as the bad girl of rock and roll, at least she was never evil.



Thursday, January 13, 2022

Vital Viewing (How to Succeed in Show Business Without Really Trying Edition)

 Actor Charles Nelson Reilly was born on this day in 1931. He died in 2007, but, as he relates in this excerpt from his autobiographical one-man show Life of Reilly, there earlier had been many unconfirmed reports of his death: 

If there's one thing that's forever perpendicular, it's a blog. My time, however, is limited, so instead of the entire story of Reilly's life (the whole play, in bits and pieces, can be found on YouTube), I'd like to just provide you with a few close-ups: 

"You can't do anything else once you do game shows. You have no career."

That turned out not to be true as Reilly went on to direct plays, including a few on Broadway, direct opera productions, and teach acting at the highly regarded HB Studio in New York City. Still, you can't blame Reilly for thinking his career had come to a kind of dead-end as the 1970s drew to a close. Like Paul Lynde, an actor to whom he's often been compared, he achieved his greatest fame not from any play (not even one for which he won a Tony) or movie, but for portraying a campy version of himself on a game show. And as with Lynde, there are some of us who were around at the time who just love that his career turned out like that, even if he didn't. Lynde's game show was Hollywood Squares, whereas Reilly's was the 1970s version of Match Game. On Squares, Lynde's job was to add a bit of carnal unpredictability to what was otherwise a tightly structured show. On MG, the carnal unpredictability was the structure. Reilly's job was to make sure the actual game being played didn't intrude on the party atmosphere too much. His accessories in this crime against competition were the show's emcee, former Steve Allen announcer/sidekick Gene Rayburn, who had now brought his naughty uncle routine to daytime television, and the outlandish Brett Somers, Jack Klugman's wife and an Actors Studio graduate with a long list of TV credits, but only in supporting roles and bit parts. Her only real claim to fame was as a famous person on Match Game itself. The child sent to the principal's office for being a disruptive influence all grown up, Somers' celebrity panelist forte was talking out of turn to uproarious effect, and the only real contest on Match Game was who would talk out of turn the most, her or Reilly. It was usually a draw, but in the following clip, the victor is clearly Reilly:

Just in case you're wondering...

...that's Tommy on the right, and Jimmy on the left.

OK, we've seen Charles at his most manic. As an actor, was he able to tone it down any?

Let's look at a show where the ambiance is much different than that of Match Game:

Oooh! Scary stuff. Unfortunately, that promo neglects to mention that week's special guest star, the actor playing best-selling novelist Jose Chung:


Even though he was left out of the promo, Charles Nelson Reilly nonetheless got the last word:

The _____ is out there.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Smart Art (Adolescent Pontifications Edition)



What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.

--Auguste Rodin

(No, Rodin wasn't Dwayne Hickman's agent, but the latter sure looked good in front of a paper mache replica of the original Thinker for four seasons on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis--Kirk) 


Saturday, January 8, 2022

Pieces of Time


As 1960s yielded to the 1970s, a term was coined to describe the present state of the American film industry: New Hollywood. What did that mean? Well, that it was different from Old Hollywood. Different acting styles, different camera angles, different cinematography, different art direction, different screenplays, and last but not least, in fact first and foremost in most people's eyes, swear words and nudity, not seen or heard in American mainstream movies prior to 1967. And people who made these movies were seen as rebels. What's so surprising is how often so many of these New Hollywood rebels--Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian de Palma, William Freidkin, Paul Schrader, John Carpenter, John Milius, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg--expressed their love for Old Hollywood films. And then there's Peter Bogdanovich (1939-2022.) As a programmer for New York City's Museum of Modern Art in the early-to-mid 1960s, a period of time when the idea of Hollywood once having had a "Golden Age" (roughly 1930 to 1950) began to take hold, Bogdanovich curated retrospectives of such filmmaker from that era as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, and Orson Welles. He wrote about these directors, interviewed these directors, and actually became close friends with these directors. In particular, Orson Welles, whose last big hit was Touch of Evil in 1958 and was now spending the 1960s and '70s scrambling around looking for financing for whatever cinematic project he was working on, taking on all kinds of odd acting assignments along the way. So strapped for cash was Welles by 1972, Bogdanovich let him stay in his Bel Air mansion for a couple of years. 

Wait a second. Bel Air mansion? The Museum of Modern Art pays THAT well? No, it doesn't. After having seen so many films (up to 400) and interviewing so many filmmakers, Bogdanovich decided he'd like to be a filmmaker himself, so he and his then-wife Polly moved to Hollywood. The major studios were closed off to him at first, but an independent producer and director by the name of Roger Corman was willing to give him a try. After doing a few bit parts in motorcycle and monster movies (originally an actor, he had been trained by Stella Adler, who also had taught Marlon Brando), Bog--

--hold on, my smart phone is flashing. Something to do with Sidney Poitier. I'll worry about it later--

--as I was saying, Bogdanovich got a chance to write (or cowrite with then-wife Polly) and direct 1969's Targets. An above-average, metafictional exploitation film that cannily contrasts the pending retirement of a horror movie actor with the real-world horror of a crazed sniper on the loose, it was a drive-in movie with a bloody drive-in movie climax. As is so often the case with B-movies, no matter how well-made, Targets came and went without much notice from the general public. However, the major studios DID notice Bogdanovich's talent. He signed some sort of contract and co-wrote and directed The Last Picture Show (1971), a not-so-nostalgic look at the 1950s. Like any New Hollywood movie it had swear words and nudity, but it looked like it had been directed by John Ford and was in black-and-white to boot! A big hit, it was followed by two more big hits, What's Up Doc? (1972) and Paper Moon (1973.) Peter Bogdanovich was a filmmaker to reckon with.

Or so everyone thought. His next four films were box-office flops, and a romance with a Playboy Playmate of the Year ended with a murder-suicide (though Bogdanovich himself was neither the murderer, murdered, or suicide.) He bounced back in 1985 with Mask. After that, well, Bogdanovich was pretty much like his old friend Orson Welles, scrambling around looking for the right comeback film. It never happened. Now, to put this in perspective, films fail at the box office for all sorts of reasons that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with quality of the product. Some of his flops have cult followings. Some may have cult followings in the future. For now, let's look at the movies that everyone AGREES were good, and have the box office receipts to back those agreements up.

If you blinked, you may have missed that tall elderly gentleman at the end. Well, here he is again as he puts the whole film in context:

Tell them Boris sent you.

OK, those were the hits...

And now, a movie that wasn't a hit and doesn't have a cult following (unless it has a cult following for the wrong reasons), but no mention of Peter Bogdanovich's' life or career or even his times would be complete without it:

 Audrey Hepburn! John Ritter! Ben Gazzara! Actors whose mere presence could make any film better, even a so-so one like They All Laughed. However, their performances aren't what makes this movie an object of morbid curiosity, but rather:

As another Golden Age filmmaker (and Bogdanovich interviewee), George Cukor, once asked in a different context, What Price Hollywood? 


Quips and Quotations (Dream Un-Deferred Edition)

(Yes, two posts in one. Don't blame me, blame the news cycle--Kirk)


Before Sidney, African American actors had to take supporting roles in major studio films that were easy to cut out in certain parts of the country. But you couldn't cut Sidney Poitier out of a Sidney Poitier picture.

--Denzel Washington

Friday, January 7, 2022

Graphic Grandeur (Grand Guignol Giggles Edition)

Though his output may seem better suited for October, it just so happens that cartoonist Charles Addams was born on this January day in 1912. Most of his cheerfully chilling single-panel cartoons appeared in The New Yorker, and after James Thurber, a special case that demands some qualifying, Addams was easily the most famous comics artist to emerge from that magazine. And while Thurber's prose now has its place in the literary canon, Addams' imagery is more firmly rooted in pop culture, even 34 years after his death. I'll show you why at the end of this post, but for now here's a 1980s interview with the macabre mirth maker: 

I'm a bit disappointed that there's no philosophy of life, but absent that, we'll just have to let the work speak (or shriek) for itself:




If a few of those characters in the above cartoons look familiar, that's because there's been some... crossovers.

I know Christmas is over, but I couldn't resist showing you this:

Who is that Secret Santa?