Saturday, December 29, 2018

Vital Viewing (Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated Edition)

 It seems that during a flurry of Christmas posts, I let Penny Marshall's passing fall to the wayside. I should state right here that I'm neither legally nor morally obliged to comment on every famous person who dies (in case you're eagerly awaiting that George H.W. Bush tribute), but this really was negligence on my part, as I was a fan of her work, first as Oscar Madison's lackadaisical secretary Myrna on The Odd Couple, and then, what's she's best know for, Milwaukee bottle-capper Laverne DiFazio on Laverne and Shirley. She later became a filmmaker, with such popular and critically acclaimed movies as Big, Awakenings, and A League of Their Own to her credit. The woman was talented. In the following clip we find her, at the height of her L+S fame, talking to Dick Clark:

That was a Bronx accent? All this time I thought it was Brooklyn! But then... as I do in flyover country, what do I know about New York City accents?

Maybe if I took a crash course...

Now, I know this woman is definitely from Brooklyn, and if I really mull it over, her accent is a bit different from Penny Marshall's. But I've never really mulled it over...until now.

Brooklyn, but doesn't sound anything like Streisand, even when you take in account the different gender.

From Brooklyn, and same gender as Streisand, but, if we can talk, sounds more like King.

Finally! This guy is from the Bronx, but doesn't sound all that much like Penny Marshall. Again, different gender (but even so, he sounds more like Streisand's brother.)

Speaking of brothers, here's Penny's brother Garry. He's best known as a writer, producer, and director, but did a bit of acting when he played the network president on the original Murphy Brown series. And even he sounded a bit more like Larry King than Tony Curtis did. Perhaps he's the missing link between Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Queens, an entirely different borough from either the Bronx or Brooklyn. But, you know, I never felt the two pictured here had quite the same accent. Of course, they're fictional characters. In real life, she grew up in Manhattan, and he grew up in...Queens. So his was more genuine. No wonder he caller her a dingbat.

Queens. And she sounds much more like Edith than Archie, even though Jean Stapleton's not really from there, and Carrol O'Connor is! I take back the dingbat remark.

Also Queens, since she was married to the King of Queens. But she doesn't sound anything like Archie or Edith.  In real life, the actress herself was born in Brooklyn (so she was trying to pull a fast one on us!)

Bingo! This memorable TV character is indeed from the Bronx. However, Valerie Harper, the actress who portrayed her, was born in a village just across the Hudson River, and, as her father was a lighting salesman, moved around the country a lot while growing up, freeing her from any type of identifying accent. Another interesting factoid: Harper partially based Jewish Rhoda Morgenstern on her Italian grandmother (maybe the thinking was that the WASPs in the viewing audience would find the two ethnic groups as interchangeable as a Bronx and Brooklyn accent.)  

Brooklyn, soitenly.

 The Distinguished Senator from Vermont is originally from Brooklyn, though I imagine it was his political views, rather than his thick accent, that so captivated college-aged voters back in 2016.

 She may hear cases in Hollywood these days, but this magistrate is originally from Brooklyn, as her accent makes clear whenever she talks from the bench.

The Bronx, even though the Sunshine Cab Company is in Manhattan. Well, people often relocate for a job.

 The longtime (1971-2017) New York congressman was born in Harlem, grew up in Harlem, and still lives in Harlem--despite having a Bronx accent. Go figure.

 The Bronx. Sounds more like Charlie Rangel than Charlie Rangel sounds like Charlie Rangel.

The King of One-Liners. Of course, he's from Brooklyn.

Another comedian from Brooklyn. Thick accent often used for humorous effect. But these days he spends less time cracking jokes and more time issuing denials. 

 Yet another comedian from Brooklyn, but he doesn't have a trace of an accent. Unless he's from Brooklyn, Ohio (we have a Broadway too here in Cleveland, but that's beside the point.)

Now, Paul Newman did grow up in Cleveland (he spent his summers home from college working in his uncle's sporting goods store, where my mother and her high school friends would hang out and gaze longingly at him), but in 1981 spoke with a--well, had that movie been titled differently, I would have sworn that was a Brooklyn accent!

 Born and raised in Brooklyn. Very pronounced accent in Welcome Back, Kotter and Saturday Night Fever. In other roles, he sometimes dials it back a bit, but it never disappears entirely.  In fact... can even hear a trace of it in this movie!

Hizzoner grew up in the Bronx, but doesn't sound much like the other Bronx residents I've mentioned. Seeing as he needed to convince all five boroughs to cast a vote for him, perhaps he tried to make his accent as generically New Yawk as possible.

 He played a Transylvanian, but the actor himself grew up in Brooklyn. That said, if he and Ed Koch from the Bronx were in the same room talking when the lights went out, I think you'd have a hard time telling which was which.

 Queens, and still has the accent (maybe he's the son Archie Bunker gave up for adoption.)

 OK, that last joke was a bit unfair--to the people of Queens. This guy also was from there. Back in the 1980s, some thought his accent (as well as Italian name, and rumors of ties to the Mafia) might hinder his chances to become President. For whatever reason, he never did run. Incidentally, not only were the Mafia rumors unfounded, but two years ago a Sicilian hit man claimed there were plans in 1992 to whack the then-New York Governor during a visit to Italy! The hit was called off after whatever Godfather in charge saw just how big his security detail was.

Ever hear him talk? Thick Brooklyn accent. But as with Streisand, it disappears entirely when he sings. 

Brooklyn. I don't know if the "Wah, wah, wah" would have necessarily given him away, but he talked differently than everyone else on Happy Days, including cousin Fonzie.

I don't know if it entirely accounts for his broadcasting style, but the man who Monday Night Football fans once loved to hate grew up in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn. Sounds like a campy Larry King.

Daphne and Skippy sometimes sounded like they might be from Brooklyn or the Bronx--anywhere but Mayberry.

Mel Blanc, who voiced the wacky wabbit for so many years, once said his speech was a combination of a Brooklyn and Bronx accent. Maybe so, but to my ears, the hare sounds kind of like Cyndi Lauper, from Queens.

 As you can see, when it comes to pop culture representations of New York City accents, Brooklyn beats the Bronx (and, of course, Queens) about 2-1, so I think I can be forgiven for mistaking Penny Marshall for a Brooklynite. I mean, where else was I supposed to think she was from, Wisconsin?

Speaking of Penny Marshall, let's get back to the matter at hand...

Laverne and Shirley never got much respect from the critics. The 1970s was the era of the cerebral sitcom, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show was the gold standard that all else was measured. But L+S came from a more lowbrow, farcical direction, and, if you accept that, as I do, then it was for a number of years one of the funniest shows on TV. Plus, though I wasn't around to witness it first hand, my gut tells me that not since The Honeymooners had there been a more faithful depiction of 1950s working-class life. And remember, The Honeymooners was actually made during the 1950s. Laverne and Shirley had to recreate it some 20-odd years later from scratch. And did so beautifully (at least up until a head-scratching move from beer-drenched Milwaukee to sun-soaked Los Angeles.) However, the biggest reason for the show's success may have simply been the comic chemistry between Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. This may sound sacrilege to some, but they were, at least at times, on par with Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, they were that good. Marshall and Williams had an interesting, even fascinating, relationship. They were already friends when Penny's brother Garry asked the two to play a couple of girls from the wrong side of the tracks who go out on date with Richie and Fonzie in an episode of Happy Days, which then became the springboard for their own series. Ironically, it was the very success of that spinoff series that proved disastrous for Marshall's and Williams' friendship. A rivalry developed, the two started feuding. The crux of the problem seemed to be Williams' belief that the show favored Marshall, that she got more lines and airtime (speaking for myself, I remember the two actresses being in virtually every scene together. You saw one, and there was the other. Still, the sitcom was produced not just by Penny's brother but her father as well. Cindy would have been less than human if all that nepotism didn't occasionally get under her skin.) Then Williams got pregnant and dropped out of the series. Laverne and Shirley without Shirley? Not surprisingly, the show tanked in the ratings, and was cancelled in 1983 after eight years on the air. The good news is that, after a cooling off period, Marshall and Williams became friends once again. A few years ago, Cindy was quoted as saying the two often watched TV together. If that's not a sign of closeness, I don't know what is.

Friends or foes, here's Penny and Cindy at their best:

Ah, to be young and single.

And, finally...

 Yep, it's almost upon us, and I just happened to come across a clip of Penny Marshall arriving at a New Year's Eve party. Watch:

I hope she had fun.

RIP Penny.



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