Thursday, May 30, 2019

Vital Viewing (Beauty is Only Skin, Ink, Pixels, and Lime-Colored Cosmetics Deep Edition)

Actress and singer Idina Menzel was born on this day in 1971. Obviously, though an attractive woman, she doesn't look anything like Queen Elsa of Arendelle. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, as standards of beauty in the real world are quite different than that of the world of animation. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not making some feminist argument that Disney cartoons create an impossible standard for real life females to live up to. Quite the opposite. I think real life creates an impossible standard for a Disney cartoon female to live up to! Think about it. In the real world that we all live in, a female with eyes as large as Elsa's in proportion to the rest of her face would not be asked out on a date but instead send a flesh-and-blood human, straight or gay, male or female, running and screaming in the opposite direction.

This is Idina as she looked in the 2007 Disney movie Enchanted. But she doesn't remain that way. It's all very complicated, but by the end of the film, she's a...

  ...cartoon. As you can see, her eyes have expanded in size, though they're still not as ridiculously large as Elsa's. It really doesn't work that way in Enchanted, but if she could retain the above look in a real world setting, it might be biologically plausible, though she'd save money on eye liner. 

Here from the same film is Susan Sarandon, cast by Disney (and, lately, in the minds of many Hillary Clinton supporters) as an evil queen:

 Again, from the same film, Susan Sarandon:

I'm not sure there's that much of a difference.

But then she's always kind of had cartoon eyes.

 Of course, there's Bette Davis.

But even her eyes were no match for a Looney Toons counterpart.

 Anyway, it's Idina's birthday, so let's get back to her. Whether she resembled Queen Elsa or not, she voiced her in Disney's 2013 computer animated flick Frozen. In the following interview, she tell us what that all involved:

In the following scene from Frozen, Idina sings her version of Foreigner's "Cold as Ice". No, no, just kidding. It's actually called "Let It Go" which may very well be what Lou Gramm is trying to convince...Well, let's not go there. Just watch and listen:

 Maybe it has nothing to do with the computer animation. Could it be that cold weather causes the face to shrink but the eyeballs to expand?

Prior to Frozen, Idina was perhaps best know for originating the role of Elphaba in the 2003 Broadway musical Wicked (and no, David Letterman wasn't in the cast, but it sure would have been cool if he was):

  Even with green skin, Idina makes a very fetching witch.

 Now, this woman, playing a 1939 version of supposedly the same character, is not fetching at all! But the situation is far from hopeless. If she can use her magical powers to conjure up a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, she might want to get a nose job, have that wart removed, and do something about that pointy chin. Afterwards, maybe see a dentist about the overbite, get the eyebrows plucked, put on some lipstick and eye shadow, ditch that dreary black ensemble and slip into something a little more flattering to the figure. Do all that, and she could end up looking just like an...

...Orion slave girl.

One drawback, though. There's more money to be made in casting evil spells.

There's money to be made in repeating yourself as long as what you're repeating strikes a chord with certain segments of the population. If you listen carefully to the lyrics of "Letting Go" and "Defying Gravity", you might notice that both songs express the same basic idea: the liberation one feels when  (according to the AP style book I'm allowed to use the following word in the singular sense) they finally defy orders and stop waging war on their own authentic self (something to keep in mind if you happen to watch a parade in the next few weeks.) Someone with a YouTube account certainly noticed the similarities and came up with this ingenious amalgamation:

Be she witch, cartoon character, or even flesh-and-blood human, Idina Menzel's own authentic self beautifully comes through loud and clear.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Hollywood Squares Babylon

Has the coarsening of the culture got you down? If so, return with me to a more innocent, wholesome time, some forty to fifty years ago, when the TV censor ruled with an iron fist...

Q: Paul, we've all heard the old phrase "pig in a poke". What is a poke?
A: It's when you're not really in love.

Q: Paul, Elizabeth Taylor recently stated "It wasn't easy," and hubby Richard Burton added, "But we both sleep a lot better." They were both talking about the same thing. What?
A: Separate bedrooms.

Q: Paul, true or false. Research indicates that Christopher Columbus liked to wear bloomers and long stockings.
A: It's not easy to sign up a crew for six months.

Q: Paul, before a cow will give you any milk, she has to have something very important. What?
A: An engagement ring.

Q: Paul, according to psychologists, when a child gets curious about sex, what is the one question it will ask mommy and daddy?
A: Where can I get some?
Q: Paul, does Mark Spitz believe swimming in the nude helps you go faster?    
A: Well, it's easy to steer
Q: Paul, can you get an elephant drunk?
A: Yes, but he still won't go up to your apartment

Q: Paul, Teddy Roosevelt maintained that he had something removed from two United States coins purely for the sake of art. What?
A: The bottom half of the buffalo.

Q: Paul, Burt Reynolds is quoted as saying "Dinah Shore is in top form. I've never known anyone to be completely able to throw herself into a..." What?
A: A headboard.

Q: Paul, during the war of 1812, Captain Oliver Perry made the famous statement, "We have met the enemy and..." What?
A: They are cute

Q: Paul, Nathan Hale, one of the heroes of the Revolutionary war, was hung. Why?
A: Heredity.

Q: Paul, when is it a good idea to put your pantyhose in the microwave for two minutes?
A: When your house is surrounded by police.

Q: Paul, it's considered in bad taste to discuss two subjects at nudist camps. One is politics. What is the other? 
A: Tape measures.

Q: Paul, it used to be called "9-pin". What's it called today.
A: Foreplay!

Q: Paul, why do the Hell's Angels wear leather?
A: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.

Q: Paul, Dale Evans recently revealed the three secrets behind her happy marriage with Roy Rogers. Now, listen carefully: "We work together, we pray together, and we're darn good..." What?
A: In the saddle.

Q: Paul, can anything bring tears to a chimp's eyes?
A: Finding out that Tarzan swings both ways.

Q: Paul, it may be the most abused part of you body. What is it?
A: Mine may be abused, but it certainly isn't neglected.

Q: Paul, from what animal do you get silk blouses?
A: An animal to you, Peter, but kind and generous to me.

Q: Paul, in a survey of teenage mothers, most of them said they were listening to this when they got pregnant. What is it?
A: A pack of lies.

Q: Paul, is it normal for Norwegians to talk to trees?
A: As long as that's a far as it goes.

Q: Paul, is it true that lightening once fused a man's zipper shut?
A: Yes, it was God's way of telling him to slow down.

Q: Paul, in Greek mythology, what would the god Morpheus do to you while you slept?
A: I don't know, but I got an enchanted hickey.

Q: Paul, is there such a thing as an F cup in bra sizes?
A: Yes, it sleeps four.

Q: Paul, the great writer George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "It's such a wonderful thing, what a crime to waste it on children." What is it?
A: A whipping.

Q: Paul, is it possible for the puppies in a litter to have more than one daddy? 
A: Why, that bitch!

Q: Paul, what unusual thing do you do if you have something called "the gift of the tongues"?
A: I wouldn't tell the Grand Jury. Why should I tell you?

Q: Paul, Glen Campbell recently stated, "Love to me is something..." Something to what?
A: Purchase.

Q: Paul, did the recently deceased Smokey the Bear leave a widow?
A: Let's just say at the services they had to sedate Ranger Bob.

Paul Lynde

The TV censor may have ruled with an iron fist, but that doesn't mean he had a clue.

Monday, May 20, 2019

In Memoriam: Tim Conway 1933-2019

When I do these "In Memoriam" posts, I usually don't mention the deceased's name change, if any. These are more or less tributes, not full-blown biographies. If it's vitally important for you to know that Doris Day was born Doris Kappelhoff, well, you can look it up on Wikipedia. But since Conway was born right here in my hometown of Cleveland (actually, Willoughby, a suburb of Cleveland) I've decided a little more detail is necessary, since you might not get it anywhere else. First off, Tim Conway was known as Tom Conway here in Cleveland. Not that he was all that well-known here in Cleveland before he was anywhere else, but that's the name he went under when he first went on the air here.

Here's what happened. Originally Conway wasn't in front of the camera but behind it. Waaay behind. Like at some desk with a typewriter. He wrote copy for the local NBC affiliate, KYC (these days it's WKYC.) It was there that he became lifelong friends with a fun-loving, deep-voiced announcer by the name of Ernie Anderson. Stories vary as to why they left the TV station, and that would be more detail than even I would want to get into, but after about a year, both ended up at local CBS affiliate WJW (these days a FOX network affiliate.) Anderson had earlier been a radio personality, excelled at ad libbing, and the station thought he might be the right person to host old movies in the afternoon hours. The show was called Ernie's Place, and one of the first things Anderson did was make sure his pal Conway got hired on as the show's director, even though he had actually no directing experience. In fact, Chuck  Schodowski, a sound engineer and friend of both men who had also made the transition from KYC to WJW, did the actual directing. Anderson knew Conway to be an even better ad libber than he was, and thought they could put together Bob and Ray-like comedy routines before and after the commercial breaks. The management at WJW soon found out about this little scam, but kept Conway on anyway, since their comedy bits did seem to attract a following. As it happened, it caught the attention of ex-child star and current sitcom performer Rose-Marie, who was in town to drum up support for the first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show, where she played wisecracking Sally Rogers. Rose-Marie was impressed by Conway, and took a tape of Ernie's Place back home to Hollywood, where she showed it to the then-popular TV personality Steve Allen. Equally impressed, Allen asked Conway to be a cast member of his variety show. Amazingly, Conway was reluctant to take the job. Anderson wouldn't be going (Allen considered him to be a mere straight man), and he enjoyed working with him. Conway took his misgivings to WJW's station manager, who replied that this was too good an opportunity to pass up, and promptly fired him for lying on his resume about being a director! So Conway went out west.

Here's where we come to the name change. There already was a then-famous, now-obscure actor named Tom Conway (brother of the then-famous, now-obscure actor George Sanders), so the Tom Conway from Cleveland became Tim Conway of Hollywood. Unfortunately, the newly-christened Tim Conway's career as a Steve Allen Show player lasted a mere fourteen episodes. After a six-year run (five on NBC and one on ABC), the variety show was cancelled, and at that point it probably did seem this was indeed an opportunity that he could have passed up. Except that people in the industry were now as impressed with Conway as Rose-Marie and Allen had been.  Among them the producers looking to cast a sitcom starring Ernest Borgnine that was to take place in the South Pacific during World War II, McHale's Navy. Conway was called on to play Ensign Parker, an inept junior officer. The sitcom was a minor hit, and Conway became a minor celebrity, and he would remain just that for some time to come. McHale's Navy ran for four years, after which Conway headlined a couple of other sitcoms that didn't stay on the air for very long (resulting in him ordering license plates that read "13 WKS".) Meanwhile back in Cleveland Ernie Anderson had become an extraordinarily popular late night horror movie host called Ghoulardi. But despite his success, he yearned to join his old friend Conway in Hollywood. So after four years of showing monsters movies and making fun of people who wear white socks, eat kielbasi, listen to polka music, and have pink flamingos on their front lawn (jokes only Clevelanders will get, but, hey, I'm from there), Anderson, too, headed out west. He and Conway decided to form a comedy team, and recorded two comedy albums, Are We On? and Bull! I've heard only snippets from these albums, but they're pretty funny snippets. However, you might have noticed that the comedy team of Conway and Anderson is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, or even Allen and Rossi. As Conway himself put it, the albums ended up in "the browsers bin at the A+P". But it was no more of a mistake for Anderson to have left Cleveland for Hollywood than Conway (meanwhile, I've stayed behind--see what a good civic citizen I am?) He soon became one of television's most highly sought-after and highly-paid announcers. Most memorably, he instructed viewers to watch "The Lo-o-o-ve Boat." He was also the guy that would tell you who was guest-starring on The Carol Burnett Show every Saturday night. Among those guest-starring was a then-minor celebrity named Tim Conway.

It was a once-in-a-while thing at first. Two, maybe three appearances in the first season (as always, sources, especially Internet sources, vary) several more appearances the second season, then a few more the third, even more the fourth. I was in the sixth grade by the time of show's seventh season, and I swear Conway was on about every other week. Kind of a regular guest star. And usually not the only guest on any given Saturday night. Or let's put it this way, he was kind of a B guest, and a bigger star would be the A guest. In season 9 (1975-1976), right after regular Lyle Waggoner left the show,  Conway went from being a frequent guest star to castmember, but no one probably noticed the promotion (or, arguably, demotion, since being a guest star was supposed to be kind of a special thing) because they thought he had already been one for years! It's hard to pin down what he did as a guest star and what he did as a cast member, but there were several recurring characters. The World's Oldest Man, who moved at the World's Oldest Snail's pace. Mr. Tudball the  stuffy businessman with the odd accent. And in the Mama's Family sketches (later spun off as a sitcom) he was hard-of-hearing country yokel Mickey Hart (was Conway a Grateful Dead fan?) But mostly, there were sketches where he played one-shot characters whose main goal seem to be make Burnett castmember Harvey Korman break up laughing on the air. In fact, it's said that these sketches were taped twice, first with Conway sticking to the script, and second with Conway allowed to ad lib, and the funniest version is what ended up on the air. Much to the chagrin of Burnett's writers (some of whom also wrote for Mad magazine), the second tapings often won out.

Conway now went from being a minor to a major celebrity (so it was a promotion after all.) And he became kind of a movie star, too. It happened when he and Don Knotts  were given secondary roles as two imbeciles but with one, Knotts, a more assertive imbecile than the other, a la Laurel and Hardy, in a G-rated Disney comedy titled The Apple Dumpling Gang. The movie was a surprise hit in an era when Disney rarely had hits and was constantly in danger of being gobbled up by a larger media company. That was followed by a sequel in which Conway and Knotts were now front and center, another big hit for Disney. Who knows? Perhaps Conway and Knotts were ultimately responsible for putting Disney on a sound financial footing, which eventually allowed them to expand and gobble up 20th Century Fox lo these years later. Stranger things have happened, such B-movie mogul Roger Corman snatching up Conway and Knotts and having them make a couple of G-rated films for his New World Pictures, The Private Eyes and The Prize Fighter (both co-written by Conway), and those becoming hits. It's fair to say that Tim Conway and Don Knotts were the biggest stars of the G-rated feature film in that era. Unfortunately, there was such a stigma attached to G-rated feature films in the 1970s that this meant Conway and Knotts couldn't have bit parts much less starring roles in any other-rated feature film. So they were major movies stars and box office poison at the same time. That's show biz for ya.

Tim Conway finally got to do a PG-rated movie when cult filmmaker and Corman protege Paul Bartel (Death Race 2000, Eating Raoul) agreed to direct a screenplay of his titled The Longshot, a thoroughbred racing comedy (Conway's father was a horse groomer.) I found the film funny, but it tanked at the box office, thus depriving the world, or at least the segment of the world that likes to go to midnight showings of movies, of further Conway-Bartel collaborations. So Conway went back to more innocuous fare, a good chunk of which involved a very little man with even littler feet and an  odd accent, similar to Mr. Tubury's except this fellow's name was Dorf. Conway first played the character--supposedly a world-famous racehorse jockey--in a sketch on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. After that there was a how-to video parody titled Dorf on Golf that sold extremely well, leading to eight more videos, each of which had Dorf giving a lesson in a sport that he hadn't come close to mastering himself. It was shamelessly broad comedy, but the sheer technical brilliance and slapstick skill in which it was carried out--Conway had to stand in a hole with fake shoes taped to his knees--was worthy of Buster Keaton.

So what else is there? In 1999 he was reunited with his McHale's Navy castmate Ernest Borgnine, as both lent their voices to the characters Barnacle Man and Mermaid Man on the animated SpongeBob SquarePants show. And he did guest shots on a lot of other shows, both animated and live-action, picked up several cabinets-worth of Emmys and lifetime achievement awards, and was a ubiquitous pop culture presence up until about a year or so ago when declining health finally got the best of him.

For all his show biz success, I think Tim Conway was an underrated comic, and maybe even a bit of a misunderstood one. Though all his awards and I suppose his bank statement would suggest, would affirm, otherwise, and Conway himself never expressed any regrets, I can't help but wonder if his career was somewhat mismanaged. When he was on talk shows rather than in sketches, he could still be funny but funny in the course of a conversation. He actually came across as droll, even cerebral, closer to Bob Newhart than Robin Williams. What I've heard from the two comedy albums Conway did with Ernie Anderson suggests he could have gone in that direction, as they kind of remind me of the early '60s classic, The Buttoned-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. But, as I said before, no one bought Conway's albums, and he probably decided that there was only room in the entertainment mainstream for one Bob Newhart at a time. So Tim Conway broadened his shtick considerably, but never to the point where his penchant for a dryer form of comedy was completely hidden. The combination of the two worked wonders.

Earlier I mentioned a fellow by the name of Chuck Schodowski, who directed Ernie's Place, even though Conway was supposed to direct it. Well, like Ernie Anderson before him, he eventually became a late-night horror movie host. For over forty years, "Big Chuck" and, originally co-host Bob "Hoolihan" Wells, later "Little" John Rinaldi, presented Friday night viewers in Northeast Ohio Laugh-In-style blackout gags along with the usual black-and-white vampires, werewolves, and tentacled aliens. In the following two such sketches, an old friend pops up: 

Tom Conway never forgot where he came from.