I was going to do a post on the above but it's just too damn depressing. These shootings are happening so often now they might as well keep the flags permanently at half-mast.
Looking for something else to blog about I decided to travel 213 miles southwest of Nashville to Memphis, where a famous building is once again in the news:
Sneer all you want at the shallowness on display, but if a story like this was the only thing to make the news, the only thing deemed worthy of our attention, then the world in fact would be a much better place. No matter who loses this "fight", it seems farfetched that either Priscilla Presley or Riley Keough will show up at Graceland the next day toting an assault rifle. Their agents wouldn't allow it. And unlike issues involving the widespread availability of firearms or insufficient resources for the mentally ill, local politicians can with all honesty say it's not their problem to solve (in fact, it's up to a court in California, where both participants live.) None of this is to say that the feuding grandmother and granddaughter aren't genuinely distressed by all this, but compared to news elsewhere, I for one find it damn near uplifting.
--Nick Ercoline, unaware for an entire year until the album came out that photographer Burk Uzzle had snapped a picture of him and his girlfriend--later his wife--Bobbi at some point during the famous 1969 three-day music festival. Bobbi Ercoline, 73, died last week after a year-long illness.
Jasmine Guy was born on this day in 1962. She's best known for playing the self-absorbed Southern belle Whitley Gilbert on the late 1980s-early '90s African American college sitcom ADifferent World. Jasmine ended up being the breakout star of the series, though that wasn't...
...always the case. Clockwise from the bottom left we have The Cosby Show's own breakout star, Lisa Bonet, continuing her role as Denise Huxtable, the mildly rebellious daughter of Cliff and Claire (as opposed to the wildly rebellious costar of Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad); next is Kadeem Hardison as (the initially) horny math whiz Dwayne Wayne; Dawnn Lewis as Jalessa Vinson, a divorcee who's returned to school; and Marisa Tomei, as talkative white student Maggie Lauten. Missing is the star of today's post, Jasmine Guy. She was on the show, but her character was considered such an outlier that she wasn't even included in the cast picture. The snobbish Whitley also had kind of an antagonistic relationship with the other characters and would have seemed out of place in such a chummy picture. Nevertheless, the character was seen more and more as the first season advanced, and she even got to meet...
...Denise's mother when she paid a visit to fictional Hillman College (said to be based on Howard University.)
Antagonist or not, the character of Whitley Gilbert was eventually deemed important enough to the show that Jasmine Guy got to be included in this later cast photo, and as the first season ended and the second season began, her importance would only increase. For starters, Lisa Bonet got pregnant. This was too much for A Different World's morally righteous executive producer, Bill Cosby. Rumor has it that Cosby was so upset that he mixed a drink to calm his nerves. Or maybe it was to calm somebody else's nerves. Anyway, it's not like Bonet was going to have this child (the future Zoe Kravitz) out of wedlock, but even though she was married in real life, her TV character wasn't. Bonet was canned and off TV for about a year. When she returned it wasn't to A Different World but once again The Cosby Show, as a stepmother(?!)-to-be.
As for ADW, more changes were in the works. The series got great ratings, but sandwiched between the show it was spun off from and another monster hit, Cheers, how could it not? Truth is the show just wasn't that funny (despite the best efforts of Guy and Hardison), was kind of preachy at times (the usual old fart authority figures showing up to wag their fingers at the collegiates latest scrapes), and supervising producer Anne Beatts, who was white, seemed to be merely guessing at what a black college must be like. Actually, she seemed merely to be guessing at what any 1980scollege must be like, as her view on the subject seemed to be informed by a 1930s Jack Oakie campus comedy. Former Fame star (as well as Phylicia Rashad's sister) Debbie Allen was brought in to revamp the show. I suspect that she was giver freer rein than former SaturdayNight Live writer Beatts, possibly because Allen was an alumnus of Howard University and thus knew the territory well. Several actors, including Marisa Tomei--how was anyone to know there was an Academy Award in her future? --were let go and new ones were brought in. From the second season onward, the show was much funnier, much more edgy, and much more steeped in the black youth culture of the day. There were still moral lessons to be had, at times about some very serious things like racism and date rape, but like any good story, be it a drama or comedy, it avoided the finger-wagging and instead let the characters oftentimes self-created problems speak for themselves.
Starting from the left in what I guess is the back row we have Glynn Thurman (ROTC/math professor Colonel Bradford Taylor), Dawnn Lewis, Kadeem Hardison, Lou Myers (Vernon Gaines, the crotchety owner of the campus hangout, The Pit), Sinbad (multiple sports coach and dorm director Walter Oakes, a recurring character in the first season, joined the main cast in the second.) Right to left in what seems to be the front row we have Darryl M. Bell (Dwayne Wayne's best friend and perennial screwup Ron Johnson Jr, another recurring character in the first season, part of the main cast in the second), Charnele Brown (level-headed Kimberly Reese), Cree Summers (hippyish Freddy Brooks), and Jasmine Guy. Though there was some comings and goings as the series run neared its end (a young Jada Plinkett arrives at Hillman), this was the primary cast most of the time. Many, many stories were told, and there were many, many season-length story arcs, with each cast member getting their turn to shine. However, looking at the series as a whole, it's very clear there were two...
...firsts among equals, with their own multiple-seasons-long story arc.
Some years after A Different World went off the air, Jasmine and Kadeem had a talk with Oprah:
Man-oh-man, the way she whips on that that Southern accent! Who needs Gone with the Wind?
Since Jasmine and Kadeem provided most of the laughs in the largely laughless first season, it made comic sense that their characters should get together. It just didn't makeany other kind ofsense, as Whitley and Dwayne didn't have all that much in common. It's hard to make the case that they were perfect for each other. So what? At the end of the day comedy is about nothing if not about imperfection, and this was the TV era of mismatched lovers. Whitley's and Dwayne's on again-off again-and-on again yet again-relationship, with its miscues and failed seduction attempts, as well as the sudden and surprising opportunities seized, provided just as much laughs as could be had from Sam and Diane on Cheers or David and Maddie on Moonlighting.
Looking for videos online that chronicle Whitley's and Dwayne's rollicking relationship proved no problem at all. In fact, there was an embarrassment of riches. I was ready to post four, five, even six clips in order to give you a fuller picture of the passionate peaks and vitriolic valleys of their riotous romance. Fortunately, I happened upon a single video that tells you in four-and-a-half minutes what six clips otherwise would have told you in a half-hour or so about these loopy lovebirds:
You may have noticed that they're not always boyfriend and girlfriend in those clips. In fact, the relationship almost ends permanently when a politician named Byron Douglas III (Joe Morton) catches a heartbroken Whitley on a rebound of such force that it lands both of them right smack dab at the altar. And Dwayne? Obviously, for him this the nadir of an off-again relationship. But the nice thing about the light switch metaphor is that the switch flicks up as well as down. Watch:
Diahann Carroll was not known for her physical comedy skills, but that was a pretty neat backwards pratfall at the end. I wonder why she never did anything like that on Julia. Humor too subtle I suppose.
As for Whitley and Dwayne, theirs wasn't the first pop culture instance of a man crashing an ex-girlfriend's wedding, but at least this time...
As you may have heard, cartoonist Scott Adams Archie Bunkerish views on race has gotten his comic strip Dilbert dropped from newspapers right and left. Well, maybe middle-of-the-road and left. A fellow cartoonist, Clay Jones, responded with the above op-ed page cartoon. Of course, these day such cartoons aren't just found in endangered species-listed newspapers, but on social media as well. Which reminds me, this isn't Jones first comment on the issue, but that first attempt, as fellow cartoonist John Buss reminds us, got...
All the leaves are brown (all the leaves are brown) And the sky is grey (and the sky is grey) I've been for a walk (I've been for a walk) On a winter's day (on a winter's day) I'd be safe and warm (I'd be safe and warm) If I was in--Huh?
Stella may have told this magazine, but since I only have the cover and not the insides, I can't tell you why she posed in the nude. What I can tell you is that like fellow nude models Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, Stella Stevens possessed actual acting talent, particularly when it came to comedy acting. To prove my point, I've enlisted the aid of...
...these two guys.
First up, Jerry:
The Andy Griffith Show fans will have recognized Ernest T. Bass himself, Howard Morris, in the above clip. Note how uncharacteristically subdued Jerry seems. He may have met his match in Morris.
But back to Stella...
...this time with Dean:
A very earthy woman. Dino could have done a lot worse.
My family was very conservative, and I had a traditional upbringing. I was not brought up to be a sex symbol, nor is it in my nature to be one. The fact that I became one is probably the loveliest, most glamorous and fortunate misunderstanding.
If a man were going to become a woman, he would want to become the most beautiful woman in the world. He would become Raquel Welch.
--Robert Fryer, producer of the film version of Gore Vidal's novel Myra Breckinridge
I can't recall what Gore Vidal thought ofRaquel Welch in Myra Breckinridge, his transgender comedy, though he wrote off the film itself as "an awful joke." The movie managed to piss off everyone including the White House which demanded that old clips of Shirley Temple be excised from the movie because it demeaned her position as a delegate at the United Nations. So it had that going for it. Still the film seems even more relevant to our time than the late 60s.
Radio and television comedian Jack Benny was born on St. Valentines Day in 1894 (he died the day after Christmas in 1974.) Since this is the holiday that celebrates romantic love, I thought it best to include the love of Benny's life, Mary Livingstone, whom he married in 1927. Mary was a fixture on Benny's radio show (where she played not his wife but his secretary), but with the switch to television in the 1950s, she developed a crippling case of stage fright, and her TV appearances were sporadic. Here's one of those sporadic appearances, her stage fright quite unnoticeable:
Romantic comedy with some women's gymnastics thrown in.
From 1955 to 1970, Mary Livingstone didn't appear on TV at all, but Benny finally managed to convince her to appear on this Nixon Administration-era special:
Lucille Ball's appearance toward the end of that clip reminds me that she was a Beverly Hills neighbor of the Bennys for a number of years. Lucy did not like Mary Livingstone, once referring to her as a "hard-hearted Hannah" and complaining that she kept Jack on a "short leash". In fact, there doesn't seem to have been much fondness for Mary among Benny's immediate circle of friends. Benny's best friend, fellow comedian George Burns, tried putting it in context:"Mary wasn't a bad person, she was just difficult, a little jealous and insecure. She didn't want to have better things than her friends had, particularly Gracie [Allen, Burn's wife and comedy partner]; she wanted to have the same things, but more of them. And bigger." Gracie herself once confided, "Mary Benny and I are supposed to be the dearest of friends, but we're not. I love Jack and I can tolerate Mary, but there are some things about her I don't like." The Benny's adopted daughter Joan wished her mother "could have enjoyed life more." None of this says much for Mary, huh? As always, there's a wrinkle. Outside that immediate circle of friends, things were said about the husband. The fey mannerisms that so superbly abetted Benny's almost supernatural comic timing led to some speculation--David Niven and Paul Lynde were among the speculators--that when he wasn't performing, he wasn't...performing. At least not his husbandly duties. The bedroom joke in the above video may have been no joke, certainly not to Mary. Denials on Benny's part notwithstanding, his interests were rumored to lie elsewhere, and given the mores of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, that could have been potentially career-damning if found out. Was this, then, a marriage of convenience? Was Mary Jack's beard? Well (to borrow a Bennyism), all that can be said for sure is that people often lead complicated lives, even celebrities. Especially celebrities.
Whatever did or didn't go on in that bedroom, and whether or not the couple had some sort of agreement or understanding, Jack Benny seems to have had a genuine affection for Mary. He may even have loved her. Shortly after his death, Mary wrote this in the then-popualr woman's magazine McCall's:
Every day since Jack has gone the florist has delivered one long-stemmed red rose to my home. I learned Jack actually had included a provision for the flowers in his will. One red rose to be delivered to me every day for the rest of my life.
Mary Livingstone survived her husband by nine years, dying in 1983 at the age of 78. Do the math and that's just over 3200 long-stemed roses. Perhaps it helped make up for any compromising that may have led to the hard-heartedness.
Hal David, Dionne Warwick, and Burt Bacharach. By 1962 lyricist David and melodist Bacharach, both working together and separately, had enjoyed some success as songwriters. However, the success wasn't so immense that they could just sit back and let the record companies and recording artists come knocking on their door. They still had to take their wares and hawk their wares to labels big and small, and that was best done with demos. Hire a competent sessions vocalist to give voice to a song the two had composed, and if the record exec liked what they'd heard, they'd assign the song to a different vocalist, one who was already a star, or on the fast track to becoming a star. The sessions vocalist Bacharach and David hired was a young woman by the name of Dionne Warwick. Stories vary, but Warwick seems not to have realized at first that the two men wanted her only as a demo singer, to be merely a tool to make someone else a star, rather than turning her into a star herself. Once she wised up to their nefarious plan, she was said to have shouted out in anger, don't make me over! Rather than take offense at this act of insubordination and fire her on the spot, Bacharach and David looked at each other and said something along the lines of, hey, that might not be a bad idea for a song title. The demo for "Don't Make Me Over" with Warwick's vocals was sent to a label. The record exec heard it and didn't assign the song to a different vocalist who was already a star or who was on the fast track to becoming a star, but to Dionne Warwick herself, who quickly became a star herself. Many, many more Warwick/Bacharach/David collaborations followed. In the little booklet that came with my The Very Best of Dionne Warwick CD, I count fourteen and I'm sure there were more. Eventually, Bacharach and David themselves became songwriting stars, and recording artists as disparate as B.J. Thomas and Jackie DeShannon and Herb Albert and Tom Jones and The Carpenters came knocking, even banging, on their door. Dionne Warwick lives on, but Hal David died in 2012 at age 91, and Burt Bacharach (who also cowrote several hits with third wife Carole Bayer Sager) passed away just the other night at 94. R.I.P Burt.
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