Friday, February 28, 2020

Time Runner

Actress Rae Dawn Chong (above, right) and I were both born in 1961, though her birth was toward the beginning of that year (on this date in fact) and mine took place toward the end. Nevertheless, we were the same age just yesterday, and will be the same age again before the year is out. Unlike other celebrity birthdays, this one doesn't necessarily make me feel older. It normally should make me feel older, since I've seen her in plenty of 1980s movies, as well as a Mick Jagger video, when she was in her 20s, and I was in mine. But I instead feel younger. "Why?" you ask. Look who's on the left side of that picture. Recognize him? Even if you don't, but were around in the 1970s and '80s, you will recall there was another celebrity with the last name Chong. That's right, it's Tommy Chong, of "Cheech and Chong" fame, and Rae Dawn's father. It also means that Chong is old enough to be my father! What so remarkable about that? Well, like a lot of hippies, or people pretending to be hippies, or people who just looked like hippies, I imagined him as not someone old enough to be my father, but kind of my generation, maybe an older brother. That's how I thought of rock stars in general, and though Cheech and Chong were comedians and not rock stars, they had kind of a rock star aura about them, especially given that so many of their comedy routines were about taking drugs. Now that's not something I did all that much of in high school, but at least I could smell the aroma of weed when I walked into the guy's john, after which I had the urge to head into the cafeteria, where the normally unappetizing food served there had suddenly become exactly the opposite.  But getting back to age, when I was in my teens (and Rae Dawn was in hers) I would have assumed Tommy Chong to be in his 20s (in fact he was in his 30s), which means I right now would be in my 40s! See what I mean about feeling younger? As for my own father, he was in fact born four years before Tommy Chong, and for most of his adult life (he died in 1979) wore his hair in a Fonzie-like ducktail, whereas the stoner-comedian wore his hair (and still wears his hair) past his ears. See what a difference being born in 1934 rather than 1938 makes? But that's neither here nor there. I'm still young enough to be Tommy Chong's son, whether I am or not, and you can't take that away from me!

Only the mirror can.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Vital Viewing (Runs in the Family Edition)

 No, not him.

Not him, either. It's a female I'm looking for!

You don't understand--a living female!

That's more like it! Actress Drew Barrymore was born on this day in 1975. The granddaughter and great-niece of a trio of once-famous thespian siblings (and today more well-known than any of them), Drew first achieved fame when she was only seven years old as one of three children who helped a homeless alien from outer space get back to the mother ship in 1982's E.T. the Extraterrestrial. That sudden debut led to a lot of hard partying (not that there aren't persistent failures who also do that), and a kind of breakdown, which she talks about in the following interview:  

I must admit, I'm usually quite cynical about these Hollywood rehab-with-a-happy-ending stories. There's been so many over the years that I'm beginning to wonder if it's because of some clause in famous people's contracts. I normally would have posted a far different clip in celebration of Drew's birthday, except this is Howard Stern she's telling all this to. Say what you want about the man, but once he decides to keep his considerable snark in check (and sometimes even when he decides not to), he's an excellent interviewer, and certainly not one to be bamboozled by celebrity phoniness. So, Drew, if Howard buys your story, then I buy your story, for whatever the latter transaction is worth (a pack of chewing gum, perhaps?)

Of course, even if she went in rehab a bad girl and came out a good girl doesn't mean she can't still play a bad girl in a movie. Here's Drew in what, after E.T., is probably her most famous film role, the title character of 1992's Poison Ivy:

I was surprised to learn this film tanked at the box office. Everyone I know seems to have seen it or at least heard of it. But what happened is it later became a hit on cable, video, and DVD, and is now regarded as a latter-day noir classic, thanks in large part to Barrymore's performance as a teenage femme fatale.

Barrymore said in the Stern interview that after she got out of rehab, she went to stay with, of all people, David Crosby. But I found out that this was after Crosby's own stint in rehab (as well as jail), and the stay came about because he and his wife were both committed to sobriety. Barrymore also mentioned that she met Neil Young while there. So it's only appropriate that we finish with this ode to the domestic life by Crosby, Young, and two other dudes who may also have also paid a visit from time to time:

Stern forgot to ask Drew about the two cats in the yard.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Quips and Quotations (Ecological Comeuppance Edition)

It costs me never a stab nor squirm
To tread by chance upon a worm.
“Aha, my little dear,” I say,
“Your clan will pay me back one day.”

 --Dorothy Parker, "Thought for a Sunshiny Morning" 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

In Memoriam: Kirk Douglas 1916-2020

I fell a bit behind this weekend and am unable to give Kirk Douglas the sendoff he deserves. Suffice to say he was one of the most compelling, exciting, and vibrant actors ever to come out of Hollywood. How best to describe his acting style (beyond compelling, exciting, and vibrant)? The man was the closest human equivalent to an active volcano to ever appear on the silver screen, and we in the audience might as well be the city of Pompeii. Fortunately, the analogy stops there or else we're covered with lava. It's enough that we get the wind knocked out of us. A succession of good guy roles later in his career obscures the fact that for a while in the 1950s he was one of the great movie antiheroes, right up there with Marlon Brando, with the added attraction that you could actually make out was Douglas was saying (or hissing.) Good guy or bad guy, his characters lived, and often loathed, life to the fullest. His characters also quite often died to the fullest. Looking at his filmography, I count at least 12 death scenes, and I haven't seen every Kirk Douglas movie so there may be more. About half the time his characters deserved their demises, the other half he played the martyr, but usually not before he killed someone else on his way to his reward. Hey, fair is fair. These were his good guy roles!

I do have enough time this weekend to present you scenes from his various films. So go put on your hazmat suits. Here's Kirk Douglas at his foot-stomping, muscle-flexing, vein-popping, eyeballs-glaring, nostril-flaring best:


Champion (1949) 


 Young Man with a Horn (1950)


Ace in the Hole (1951)


Detective Story (1951)


The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)


 Lust for Life (1956)


Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957)


                                                                      Paths of Glory (1957)

                                                                Spartacus (1960)

Had enough lava? Here, from 200,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), is the lighter side of Douglas:

 He was slumming.

Friday, February 7, 2020


Here's a between-the-world wars power couple for you, Sinclair Lewis and Dorothy Thompson. Husband and wife were equally famous in there day, but I'm afraid Thompson has more or less sunk into obscurity, whereas Lewis is still fairly well-known. This is due to the fact the latter is now part of the literary canon (thanks in large part to winning a Nobel), and if you take a college literature course, he's one of those dead white males you have to read if you want to pass, graduate, and get a job writing ad copy for electronic billboards. However, you don't really need to have Lewis forced upon you. You can read him simply because his 80, 90, and 100-year-old books are...readable. More than that, they're actually relevant. Works such Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, and Elmer Gantry satirize provincialism, materialism, pharmaceuticals, and born-again con men. Like I said, relevant. In fact, the current U.S. President could have come out of a Lewis novel.

Fiction is often written with an eye on posterity. You write it now and hope it can still be appreciated a hundred years hence. However, journalism, Dorothy Thompson's chosen profession, is written in the here and now. Of course, the subject matter journalists cover can be of interest 80 or 90 years hence, but as history, written by historians living a 80 or 90 years hence. The journalism of the here and now may very well still exist in those far-off history books, but as the footnotes and bibliography in the final pages, proof that the historian did his or her research. So if you're an avid footnote and bibliography reader, you've heard of Thompson. Or came across her in a biography of her husband.'ve read a biography of Thompson herself. There's been at least three in the 59 years since her death. She did a lot of living in what used to be the here and now.

Originally a suffragette, Thompson decided once she had the right to vote that learn a little bit about the world before pulling a lever for this candidate or that. Journalism seemed a good way to accomplish that. A foreign correspondent in Ireland, she interviewed a leader of the Sinn Féin party. She then headed for Vienna where she met John Gunther, a highly respected journalist of the day (though today he may be best known for the rather sad book Death Be Not Proud, about his son who died of cancer.) For a while she was the Chief of the Central European Service for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Two years later she switched to the New York Post (this was decades before Rupert Murdoch got his greedy little hands on it), and became head of its Berlin bureau, where she witnessed the rise of National Socialism, better known as Nazism. In 1931, she interviewed Adolf Hitler, who at the time something akin to a congressman. He failed to impress Thompson, who described him in her subsequent book I Saw Hitler as the "very prototype of the little man." Once the little man became Chancellor (akin at first to a president, then to a dictator), he had Thompson kicked out of the country, and then spent the rest of the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s looking for ways to impress her. No, no, no, I shouldn't lay all that on Thompson. Hitler clearly had issues, even as people to this day disagree what those issues were (rejection to art school? Syphilis? A missing testicle?) Back home in the United States, Thompson was asked to write a column for the New York Tribune titled "On the Record". Soon carried by more than 170 newspapers, giving her a readership of over ten million people, she became one of the most popular syndicated columnists, and the second most popular syndicated female columnists behind First Lady Elinor Roosevelt. NBC took notice, and hired Thompson as a radio commentator. Thompson didn't waste her fame on trivialities, as she became a leading spokesperson against the rise of fascism. What did her husband think about all that? Lewis was worried about fascism, too, and not just its rise in Europe. He wrote a novel in 1935 titled It Can't Happen Here about an American dictator (according to Amazon, there's been a spike in sales of late. I can't imagine why.)

Unfortunately, their shared political beliefs wasn't enough to save the marriage. it lasted just 14 years and produced one child, a son. What went wrong? Here's one clue. Lewis joked to his friend, the journalist John Hersey (best known for the book Hiroshima), that he was going to divorce Dorothy Thompson and name Adolf Hitler as a co-respondent. Of course, no such assignation took place. I take it to mean that Lewis didn't like all the globetrotting his wife's job required. Should we then see Sinclair Lewis as a male chauvinist who though a woman's place was in the home? That would be at odds with both his literary output and his romantic life. Lewis was attracted to career women (his wife before Thompson was also one) and this is reflected in his novels. In fact, the heroine in Main Street is a career woman. That book and others he wrote further criticizes a society that forces women to be stay-at-home wives, some 40 years before Betty Friedan made the same argument. Then again, writing about career women in the abstract is one thing. Marrying one may have caused him to blink.

There were other problems, like infidelity. Thompson had affairs with both men and women. Despite Lewis' rather ghoulish appearance (hoping to rid his face of acne scars, he tried expensive radium therapy that only made things worse), he used his fame as a novelist to bed a girl on occasion. But his real mistress was the bottle. An alcoholic long before he met Thompson, Lewis would pass out in the midst of social gatherings, embarrassing Thompson. He also sometimes passed out in their bedroom, which brought it own humiliation. But even minus adultery or booze, the union might not have lasted. They were both writers but different types of writers, he a novelist, she a journalist. Novelists tend, and are even compelled, to be homebodies, with as limited contact with the world as possible (which is why some of the more successful ones end up in cabins in the woods.) Journalists, on the other hand, often work erratic hours and are away from home quite a bit. These two just didn't see each other all that often, and sometimes absence makes the heart grow fouler. The divorce finally came in 1942, albeit without Hitler's name being dragged into it. Some things fortunately don't happen here.





Saturday, February 1, 2020

Quips and Quotations (People Will Talk Edition)

 Circa 1988

Whether I slept with her or not is irrelevant. I'm perfectly willing to have people think that I did.


It was really fun. We would go to parties and be bitchy--we were bitchy to Joan Rivers....I had a little crush on her, and I loved that people were, like, "Ooh, Madonna likes Sandy!"

--Sandra Bernhard