TONTO RIDES AGAIN

I grew up with the Lone Ranger and Tonto racing around my bedroom.  No, not live, but I had authentic Lone Ranger wallpaper. Until the wallpaper was installed, I was sure he was the Long Ranger … as in “he rode a lot and covered great distances.” Y’know. Long range.

Other girls had Disney Princesses, flowers, and butterflies. I had “Hi Yo Silver, the Lone Ranger Rides Again!” Although my walls did not play the William Tell Overture, I could hum it well enough. I had many a long chat with Lone, Tonto, Silver and Scout as I lay abed pondering the meaning of life and how I could convince my mother to let me have a horse.

tonto_on_scout_with_gun

It was a hard choice between Lone and Tonto. It was even a difficult choice between their horses. Silver was magnificent, but Scout — a stunning paint — was gorgeous too. Really, I would have settled for any horse, any color, any heritage … but if I was going to ride only in my dreams, I got to choose. I was never was able to decide.

I eventually found Jay Silverheels, the man and actor, more interesting than the Lone Ranger. Silverheels was born Harold J. Smith of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in Ontario, Canada. He was one of 11 children, son of a Canadian Mohawk tribal elder and military officer, Major George Smith.

Silverheels raised, bred and raced Standardbred horses in his spare time. Once, when asked about possibly running Tonto’s famous Paint horse Scout in a race, Jay laughed. “Heck, I can outrun Scout!”

He probably could have outrun Scout. He was a natural athlete and played lacrosse. He wrote poetry, though I haven’t been able to find any of it or I would gladly post an example.

He never escaped his Hollywood stereotyping as a Native American who could only speak broken English. His career faded with the years. He died too young, at age 67 in 1980.

Silverheels spoofed his Tonto character on a number of occasions, most famously in a Stan Freberg Jeno’s Pizza Rolls TV commercial opposite Clayton Moore (TV’s Lone Ranger).

Jay_Silverheels_star_HWF

Jay Silverheels was the person who got me interested in Native American culture, got me reading real history. When anyone makes fun of the Lone Ranger, I always defend the show. Yes, it carried forward a lot of stupid stereotypes, the worse of which is the weird broken English spoken by Tonto in the show … but Tonto and the Lone Ranger were far more equal in their interaction than any other Native American – White Hero combination I saw for many long years. Talking funny wasn’t nearly as important as the mutual respect between the two men. It ultimately changed the way I saw the world and American history. That’s quite a bit of influence for a 1950s TV serial.

Eventually, as I rounded the corner into adolescence, the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian Companion (who had led the fight for law and order in the early west) returned to those thrilling days of yesteryear, whence they had come. They were replaced by plain, off-white paint. I would have preferred Lone and Tonto to live on, but the paper was old and peeling. Nothing and no one lasts forever.

Tonto and the Lone Ranger were the consummate good guys. The always fought the good fight, were always on the side of justice, fairness, and truth. They never asked for anything in return. As role models go … not so bad. Not bad at all.

My Dear Watson – Weekly Writing Challenge

IT CAN’T BE THAT BAD, CAN IT?

Can’t Watch This — When was the last time you watched something too scary, cringe-worthy, or unbelievably tacky to continue?


Almost everyday, I am offended by appallingly cliche-ridden, derivative shows proffered as “the next new thing” for us, the obviously dim-witted audience. Not to mention the “reality shows” like “Marriage Boot Camp” which has offended me merely by its advertisements. No, I haven’t watched one of the shows. If I become that senile or desperate, please shoot me.

Form unimaginative scripts, to the failure of the writers to do even the most basic research about the subject matter, to the inevitable use of tired old lines we hear thousands of times — “Stay in the car!” “Be careful out there!” “You’re off the case and on desk duty!” — to which we all say a weary, “Yeah, right, sure,” because no one stays in the car or on desk duty. And wouldn’t you think being careful would not be something of which you needed to remind police officers who’ve been doing it for years?

However, standing out from the crowd of mediocrity is a movie we had never seen. Was it an instinctive knowledge it would be terrible? Presenting (drumroll) …

WUSA (1970) 115 min – Drama | Romance – 12 March 1971

From the IMDB, a plot summary:

Rheinhardt, a cynical drifter, gets a job as an announcer for right-wing radio station WUSA in New Orleans. Rheinhardt is content to parrot WUSA’s reactionary editorial stance on the air, even if he doesn’t agree with it. Rheinhardt finds his cynical detachment challenged by a lady friend, Geraldine, and by Rainey, a neighbor and troubled idealist who becomes aware of WUSA’s sinister, hidden purpose. And when events start spinning out of control, even Rheinhardt finds he must take a stand.

Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Writers: Robert Stone (screenplay), Robert Stone (novel)
Stars: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Perkins and more.

WUSA_(movie_poster)It looks good on paper, doesn’t it? I mean Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, right? How bad could it be?

Bad. Very bad. The script starts off slow, but degenerates with each passing minute until it is so stunningly awful, so over-the-top hysterical and preachy, you find yourself glued to the screen, mouth hanging open, bits of drool falling from your slack jaw.

If, by some bad juju, this movie is showing on a television near you, save yourself! Find an oldies station and watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island.

There are probably worse movies lurking in the vaults of Turner Classics. I just hope we have the good sense to not watch them.

NATIONAL BROTHERHOOD WEEK?

Way back in the dark ages, the third week in February (an otherwise dreary and neglected month) was designated National Brotherhood Week. As designated special weeks go, it was never a big hit with the general public. In the 1980s, it disappeared completely. Probably because it failed to sell greeting cards. Which is, I believe, the point of such created events.

brotherhoodweek-624x446

The National Conference for Christians and Jews (NCCJ) came up with the idea of National Brotherhood Week in 1934. Given the current political climate, maybe we can agree more brotherhood year round would be an improvement. Sadly, we no longer have even that one, measly week.

February is now Black History Month which seems to mean movie channels run films featuring non-white stars. Unless you watch PBS or the History Channel where you might see a documentary or two.

The man who took it seriously — even in the old days — as he took all politics seriously, was Tom Lehrer. He taught math at Hahvid (Harvard, if you aren’t from around here). He didn’t write a lot of songs since he, till his dying day (which hasn’t occurred yet as he’s alive and living in California), thought of himself as a math teacher who wrote silly songs. Not as an entertainer.

Despite this unfair self-assessment, I’ve always felt Tom got this particular holiday dead to rights. Ya’ think?

He got a lot of stuff right. Check him out on YouTube. He only wrote about 50 songs and most of them are posted in some video or other. Me? I’ve got the CDs. (Remember CDs?)

TERTIARY SOURCES. LIKE ME.

facts

Garry and I watched “Paris When It Sizzles” on Netflix last night. Universally panned, it is generally regarded as awful. Except among movie buffs — like us — for whom it is an officially designated guilty pleasure. We laughed all the way through it.

It got us talking about other movies we’ve seen that were panned, but which we liked.

The one that came immediately to my mind was “Flypaper,” starring Ashley Judd and Patrick (“McDreamy”) Dempsey. It opened and closed without a single good review and made less money in its American release than I made on my last freelance job. But it cost $4,000,000 to produce.

On February 27, 2013, I reviewed it on Serendipity — FLYPAPER (2011): A PLEASANT SURPRISE. It’s been getting a slow but steady stream of hits ever since. When I looked in my stats, I saw I’d gotten a hit on that review, the source for which was Wikipedia.

Wikipedia? How could that be? I clicked. There was my review, referenced by Wikipedia. Flypaper (2011 film) has two numbered references in the reference section. Number 1 is my review. What are they referencing? The grosses.

That Flypaper made a pathetic $1100 and opened on just two screens in one theater during a single weekend. Serendipity is their source for this data.

facts expert

Where did I get my information? I looked it up on IMDB (International Movie Database). Not the professional version. Just the free area anyone can access.

IMDB is, to the best of my knowledge, an accurate source. But it’s not a primary source. Clearly the financial data had to have come from somewhere else. Maybe the distributor? IMDB got the info from elsewhere, I got it from them, then Wikipedia got it from me. The beat goes on.

How in the world did I become a source? If you have ever wondered how bad information gets disseminated, this is the answer. I don’t think this information is wrong. If it is, it’s harmless.

But a lot of other stuff proffered as “fact” is gathered the same way. Supposed news outlets get information from the Internet. They access secondary, tertiary and even more unreliable sources. They assume it’s true. By proliferation, misinformation takes on a life of its own and becomes “established” fact.

Scholars, journalists, historians and others for whom truth is important should feel obliged to dig out information from primary — original — sources. A blogger, like me, who gets information from who-knows-where shouldn’t be anyone’s source for “facts” unless you’ve confirmed the information and know it’s correct.

For me to be a source for Wikipedia is kind of funny … but it’s also troubling. How much of what we know to be true … isn’t?

NOTHING SAYS INDEPENDENCE DAY LIKE ARTILLERY

Yankee Doodle Dandy

It’s the 4th of July. Happy Birthday America!

Hurricane Arthur (spirit of Arthur Fiedler?) changed the schedule. With the hurricane heading up the coast and thunder and lightning racing in from the west, the festivities were moved up by 24 hours. The fireworks went on early, barely ahead of the weather. WBZ didn’t have all their cameras ready and had to show the first half of the display from the helicopter cams. After a while, the rest of the cameras came on and it was even better than last year.

The live 1812 Overture was preempted by a massive lightning storm. Instead, WBZ broadcast a taped version (dress rehearsal?). Which was fine.

For the historically challenged, our Guv (Deval Patrick) offered up some history, what the music is about. NOT our War of 1812. The war going on across the pond. Napoleon. Russia. I think this was the first time I’ve seen them do that, so everyone got a bit of remedial European history.

No place does Independence Day like Boston. It’s our holiday. The rest of the country is a Johnny-Come-Lately. It happened here. The Declaration of Independence. The battles of Lexington and Concord.

Boston knows how to hold a party … and let’s not forget the howitzers, the most important instruments in the 1812 Overture. Nothing says independence day like artillery.

HatchShell2013

When we lived in Boston, we could see the fireworks and hear the concert from our balcony in Charles River Park. It was one of the perks of living in Boston. If we wanted to get closer, we could stroll a few hundred yards west enjoy the party from the Arthur Fiedler footbridge over the Charles.

It was the best view in town. Watching it on television is okay too, now that we live in the country and getting into town is out of the question. Still, being there was the best.

bostonfireworks2013-2

Boston has had a pretty good year. Nothing awful — other than the appalling collapse of our World Champion Red Sox — happened. Even more reason for us to get together and have a gigantic party to celebrate America’s birthday. The rain has put (ahem) a bit of a damper on it, but we’re adaptable.

1997 fireworks on the charles

Now it’s time to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy again. We always watch it. It’s part of our personal celebration of being American.

When Garry and I were growing up in New York, the old Channel 9 had Million Dollar Movie. It was on not only every day, but several times a day and it played the same movies for a full week. The theme for the show was “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind. I had never seen GWTW, so when I saw it for the first time, I said “Hey, that’s the theme for Million Dollar Movie.”

I wasn’t allowed to watch TV on school nights and even then, only for a couple of hours on Friday and Saturday night. But, if I was home sick, I got to watch all the television I wanted. Better yet, I got to watch upstairs in my parents bedroom. The television was black and white (as were all televisions then). I don’t know if color TVs had been invented, but if they had been, no one I knew had one.

Channel 9 with its Million Dollar Movie was the movie channel, so whatever they were playing, I saw it a lot. They didn’t have a large repertoire. Odds were good if you got sick twice, you’d see the same movie both weeks.

Thus “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the great James Cagney docu-musical was engraved in my brain. I believe that during at least three sick weeks (tonsillitis was my nemesis), I watched it repeatedly until I knew every word, every move, every song — except for the pieces the station randomly removed to make room for commercials.

No one danced like Cagney. No one had that special energy! Believe it or not, I never saw any other Cagney movie until One, Two, Three came out many years later.

Tonight, we’ll watch James Cagney dance down the steps in the White House. We always replay it half a dozen times. Can’t get enough of it.

In case you feel the same way, I’ve included it so you can replay it as many times as you want. Cagney won his only Oscar for this performance. I never knew he played gangsters until many years later. Million Dollar Movie didn’t play gangster movies.

Only one questions remains unanswered through the years. How come they didn’t film it in color? Does anyone have a sensible answer to that?

FREE AT LAST

Instant Celebrity - If you could be a famous person for a day, who what would you be? Why?


 

Silver-reaingI would choose to be Silver, the Lone Ranger’s horse. Strong, powerful, beautiful. Galloping free on the range, the wind in my mane, my snow-white tail streaming out behind me. Leaping fences, rearing high on my powerful legs declaring myself the king horses.

I might deign to carry one special man — my Ranger — when he rides out to rid the west of the bad guys and make the world a better, safer place. But when the saddle comes off, I will be free again.

White horse free

I will live off green grasses under blue skies. The wind and running streams will be my friends. No beeping, dinging, or buzzing.

No chores to do, schedules to meet, or bills to pay. I will live my life under the sky with no pain or shame of the past — nor fear of the future.

When my life is over, let me rejoin the earth, My Mother.

ASK A SILLY QUESTION, GET A SILLY ANSWER

Worldly Encounters

The friendly, English-speaking extraterrestrial you run into outside your house is asking you to recommend the one book, movie, or song that explains what humans are all about. What do you pick? Sharing is caring.


I am not religious and would never proffer a bible or other religious foundation book as an explanation of humans and their behavior. I can’t imagine that such a book would do more than confuse our poor alien anyhow.

But there’s some fun music I’d like to share. Because life is complex and uncertain. Always eat dessert first.

These are personal favorites. Take them seriously at your own risk!

There IS no book, movie or song to explain humankind. We’d have to be pretty simple creatures for that. I don’t think you could explain a canary that easily.

However, there are a lot of great movies, books, and songs! Enjoy a little taste from me!

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY

Teen Age Idol

I’m too old for this. Teen age idol? Aw, c’mon.

I was madly in love with Johnny Mathis (who?) then traded him in for Marlon Brando who I thought was very cerebral and deep. I loved (still love) the Beatles. the Doors and the Stones, but they weren’t my idols … just great bands I enjoyed.

I had a bit of thing for Harry Belafonte, but he was hot.

72-Beatles-Imperial_02

it was more than 50 years ago. Seriously. That’s half a century.

If it was ever relevant, it has long passed over into mildly amusing trivia of the distant past.

 

BERT LAHR – NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION, GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s been a while since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved. Why?

Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.

Part of the job is celebrity too. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Twelve years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs. Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve travelled in the United States and overseas. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. Yes, I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.

Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz...

I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented. As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville. I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of what I used to perceive as Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well honed craft and squeeze it into their movie concept of musical comedy.

Lahr’s comic genius never really had a chance  to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion. Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story. Back to Bert Lahr.  Born into poverty, Lahr was always very conscious about being financially secure.

BertLahrEven when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt financially secure even though he was earning top star salaries. In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he ever did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel financially secure.

Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring with the likes of E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim, but was never satisfied even when he received it. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom. He was insecure as a star thinking others were always trying to undermine him. He was insecure as an aging, respected legend believing people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father — demanding but not giving. Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly,  he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.

As the curtain closed on his life — with his loved ones gathered around him — Lahr still longed for his audience and their laughter and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography. I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.

It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.

It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep ones perspective and ones feet on the ground.

LEDA AND THE SWAN – THE MUSICAL

Back in my bright college days, I was a music major. I hung out on the quad with other wannabe musicians on warm sunny days where we planned projects which would make us famous. Symphonies. Great achievements as conductors and composers though my class never produced anyone huge. Medium is as good as we got.

The Concept

My great project was going to be musical comedy based on the myth of Leda and the Swan.

In the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces — or rapes — Leda. I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing being rape by a swan.

Zeus or not, swans are slow and clumsy on land, unlikely to successfully attack anyone or anything. Being heavy-bodied, they have trouble getting airborne. Without hands or arms, rape seems unlikely.

Leda becomes pregnant from the experience. She bears Helen and Polydeuces, both children of Zeus. Simultaneously (and I’d like to know how she managed this), she gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra — the offspring of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

96-SwansPost-NK_13

Leda is able to convince her parents and husband that her extraneous pregnancy is not the result of a lover or promiscuity. “No! Honest to gods, really, no kidding, Mom, Dad, Tyndy … it was Zeus! Not some guy. He was a swan! Really.” Right.

The first … and perhaps my favorite scene … would have to be the first act closer. In this highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending lyric soprano rich with passion. In it, she explains that it really truly was Zeus.

I could imagine another hilarious show-stopping moment. The eggs. Her Zeus children are born as eggs. Who sat on the eggs? Did they build a nest on her throne? Did she get her ladies-in-waiting to sit on them while she did her Queen business?

Dialog Tidbit

Leda: The swan didn’t fool me. I knew it was Zeus. You all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird? No kidding. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Tyndareus, King of Sparta: I want to believe you, but I’m having some problems.

Leda: Trust me, dear. It was Zeus. As a swan. You know how tricky he is.

The All-Important Dream Ballet

In a brilliantly choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. Some of the technical aspects of the experience make interesting mental meanderings. How, exactly, did … well … ? It will make a heck of a scene.

How Many Curtain Calls?

I’m telling you — the audience will be on its collective feet! I can hear the applause already. I see the royalties rolling in.

Swan's Nest

I’m a bit long in the tooth now for to write a musical comedy, but I freely offer this incredible concept to anyone who wants to flush it out. It might launch more than one career.

You think?

MARILYN MEETS MOSES AND MR. ROBERTS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

midway-poster“Call me Chuck”,  Charlton Heston beamed down as Marilyn stared up. Manhattan, 1976 and a gathering for the world première of “Midway”. Marilyn and I were in the middle of what they used to call a “gang bang” press conference to publicize the new blockbuster movie. There were scores of writers and columnists from around the world seated at dozens of tables in the posh mid-town restaurant. Everyone wanted scoops from the handful of super stars assembled to meet and greet the media. Think of a wedding where hundreds of people want quality time with the bride and groom. Never happens. Almost never.

“Chuck” Heston and I had met several times in recent years when he stopped in Boston to promote films. Somehow, we became “friends” of a sort. He was fascinated by the TV film equipment we used. I scored a few points when I told him I used to shoot my own film earlier in my career. I never mentioned the mediocrity of my work at a small station where I had to shoot my stories.

We compared notes about film style. He’d shot film when he was in college. I segued to Heston’s first film, “Dark City” and – voila – the “friendship” began. When I mentioned “Will Penny”, an underrated western classic, Heston beamed and we were on a roll. We swapped stories about working for “suits” and laughed a lot. He would always ask for me whenever he visited Boston.

CharltonHeston6X9

Chuck held Marilyn’s hand tightly at the “Midway” press luncheon. She stared up at him. His teeth were yellow. His white turtleneck looked worn and his plaid sports jacket was a bit frumpy. No matter. He looked directly at Marilyn as if no one else was at our table. The well-known entertainment scribes around us seemed a bit agitated. No matter. Chuck told Marilyn he was tired and felt like these PR luncheons were meat markets. Marilyn stared and nodded. He patted her hand, glanced at me and told Marilyn that I was ‘a good man and a fun guy who knew his stuff ‘. I beamed. The other people grew more agitated. Marilyn’s stare turned into a smile. Chuck excused himself for a moment saying he wanted us to meet some friends.

“Hank, I want you to meet a couple of friends”, Chuck introduced Henry Fonda to Marilyn and me. The familiar, laconic gait was very real. “Hank” Fonda took Marilyn’s hand looking a little like Wyatt Earp meeting Clementine.

henry-fonda

Marilyn stared up at the film legend. He had incredibly thick, gray eyebrows and, like Chuck Heston, looked very tired. But he smiled as he chatted with Marilyn and said something about how nice it was meeting Chuck’s friends. My, oh, my!!

A notoriously reclusive man who disdained doing publicity things, “Hank” actually seemed at ease as he chatted with Marilyn and acknowledged me. The other people at the table had moved from agitation to resentment while pretending to enjoy the attention we were receiving. Marilyn seemed a bit more relaxed as Fonda continued to chat with her. Chuck nodded in approval as Hank talked briefly about dealing with the press. He talked about the “Mr. Roberts” publicity campaign two decades earlier. That had been personal for him because “Mr. Roberts” had been his baby from stage to screen.

“Hank” looked down at Marilyn and said something about getting too old for ‘this stuff’. He did look very thin and sallow. Fonda’s smile and good humor covered up his physical weariness. Little did we know that his body would give out five years later. Hank and Chuck said goodbye to Marilyn (and me), waved to the others at our table, and walked into the crowd. Marilyn was beaming.

LET MUSIC FILL THE AIR!

Daily Prompt: Groupthink 

by michelle w. on February 2, 2014

Photographers, artists, poets: show us a GROUP.

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Nothing I can think of more represents “group think” in a positive way than does an orchestra and choir. Here, people coöperate, play their parts in a carefully arranged order. Anyone who plays or sings out-of-order will ruin the harmony, destroy the beauty of the whole. For me, a concert represents human society at its finest.

Working together, all focussed on the success of the group without regard for individual attention. Anyone who has ever worked in a troupe of performers, whether it be dance, music, song or drama understands that coöperation, coördination and putting the welfare of the group ahead of individual achievement is tantamount to success … and how great it feels when it all comes together.

Group think doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of ones individuality, but can mean the subordination of ones talent to create something far greater than any individual could do alone. Let there be music!

Often considered the most beautiful melody ever written — there’s to my mind a good deal of competition in this category, but it is wonderful — this is the finale to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, “Ode to Joy.” Orchestra and chorus, together to make a truly joyous noise!

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REVIEWING THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, 1964

Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

The Americanization of Emily (1964) is an American comedy-drama war film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller, loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by William Bradford Huie who had been a SeaBee officer on D-Day.

With a brilliant script by Paddy Chayefsky, it features impeccable direction by Arthur Hill and a radiant Julie Andrews in her first non-musical feature role. James Coburn displays his comedic chops,  which are considerable, and James Garner is perfect as the Admiral’s dog robber … a role he also played in The Great Escape, released the previous year (1963). Chayefsky put a strongly anti-war slant on the story and the film includes some of the most memorable monologues in any movie ever made.

I first saw this in the theatre when it was newly released. It was a powerful experience and stayed with me since. It was a premium time for anti-war sentiment here and abroad, but the movie still suffered from being seen as unpatriotic.

This isn’t a movie that you hear about much although it was nominated for two Oscars — Best Art Direction – (George W. Davis, Hans Peters, Elliot Scott, Henry Grace, Robert R. Benton and Best Cinematography – (Philip H. Lathrop). Julie Andrews was nominated by BAFTA for Best Actress.

It is not available on DVD at the moment, but is available as a download from Amazon.com. It will probably become available again at some point. How and when movies are released or dropped seems whimsical and without any particular logic.

Right before it stopped being available, I made sure to get a copy for us. Many of my favorite movies from the 60s and even through the 1990s are no longer available. I know that downloading and streaming video is all the thing, but I don’t want to be limited to watching movies on my computer nor do I want to be entirely dependent on the whimsical technical capabilities of my cable company. I prefer owning my own media and frankly, I neither like nor trust my cable company. They already have much too much power and charge much more money than they ought.

Garner’s role as Charlie Madison was originally slated for William Holden, with Garner set for the Bus Cummings role played ultimately played by Coburn. Holden dropped out of the project. This was great from Garner’s point of view. He viewed The Americanization of Emily as the best role he had in his long movie career. In interviews, Coburn echoes the sentiment. If one wanted to judge a role by the number of brilliant speeches the leads get to make, this has to be the top vehicle for Garner, Coburn and Andrews. Paddy Chayefsky wrote some of the best dialogue ever heard on stage or screen. He was an actor’s gift and well they knew it.

 

The actors in The Americanization of Emily were aware how important an opportunity the film offered. Great movie roles don’t come along everyday in any actor’s career.

If you can catch this on cable or anywhere, watch it. The script is brilliant, the kind of scriptwriting that’s becoming extinct. For me, the language, the words, will always be the best part of a great film. If you are a “word person,” this is your movie. The acting is first-rate, the photography is perfect. It’s everything you want a movie to be.

AGENT TO THE STARS, J0HN SCALZI – THE AUDIOBOOK, NARRATED BY WIL WHEATON

AgentToTheStars

This was the first book by John Scalzi I ever read. I so loved it, I’ve been following him ever since.

This book is funny, clever, witty. The characters are oddly believable even though the story is totally wacky. Or is it? Michelle Beck — former cheerleader and box office hot ticket is Hollywood agent Tom Stein’s biggest client. Until Tom meets extraterrestrials who hires Tom to represent them. The Yherajk believe their best hope for a peaceful first contact between their race and humanity is via the movies. Even out in space, they know they need a great agent to make it in Hollywood … and they’ve decided Tom is it.

Agent to the Stars stands out as one of the most memorable science fictions books I’ve read in the last decade. Which is saying a lot since I read a great deal of fantasy and science fiction. From my first reading, it has been in my top five favorite sci fi audiobooks and in the perhaps dozen science fiction books I’ve read more than once.

One of the mast interesting things about Scalzi is his ability to write in a wide variety of styles. He can be serious, funny and often, a mix of both. He can be wild and crazy or highly technical — or both –and he makes it work. No one writing in the genre today works harder or produces more good science fiction. This was the first of his books I read, but it hooked me like a fish on a line.i

Read it. If you like sci fi, humor, wit — or just appreciate well-written stories. It will not disappoint you.

Daily Prompt: It Builds Character — Star Struck

I met my first celebrity while working at the Steinway building in New York. Down the street from CBS Studios. It was 1967 and the filming of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was finishing up. For several weeks, each lunchtime I bumped into Sidney Poitier on his way to lunch. He was tall. I’m short. Tall people — even non-celebrities — awe me. And he was oh my wow handsome.

sidney-poitier-barack-obama1We crossed paths at least a dozen times during a three-week period and never once did I have the courage to do more than look yearningly in his direction. Later, I could think of lots of cool stuff I could have said, but I was tongue-tied and incoherent. I  could just look. That would be my pattern with celebrities for the rest of my life, at least on first meeting. If I was able to spend time with them and get past awe, recovering my ability to form words, I could have a conversation.

So while I passed by, mute, other people stopped him, asked for autographs and he graciously complied. But not me.

The area was crawling with celebrities. CBS wasn’t the only studio in the area. NBC’s 30 Rock was not far. And the Russian Tea Room, a very popular eatery for stars of stage and screen was across the street. One day, at the deli where everyone ate — it was the only fast lunch place on West 57th street — I found myself sitting next to George Hamilton. 55 years ago, he was unreal, so good-looking he might have been molded from dreams. What did Marilyn say? He was right next to me at the counter, knee to knee on stools at the counter.

George Hamilton 1“Pass the ketchup, please?” I squawked. It was the only thing I could think of. There’s a very small possibility our hands brushed during the transfer.

Fortunately, stars are familiar with these reactions. They are aware the effect they have on “civilians” and do not necessarily assume we are babbling idiots or mute. They just assume we are star struck. And that’s what we are. Star struck.

I am not normally tongue-tied, but each time I’ve met a celebrity, I can’t say a word. I stand there like a stuffed dummy making gurgling noises. I did once have a little tug of war with Carly Simon over possession of a clearance sale blouse in Oak Bluffs.  We didn’t talk. She pulled. I pulled. She had height on her side; I had grim determination on mine. I got the blouse. She could have out-talked me, but fortunately for me, no words were required. We eye-balled each other and she decided it wasn’t worth a cat fight.

Married to Garry, I got to meet President Clinton and his family twice. Close and personal with POTUS, most people find they have nothing to say. It’s not just me or the man. It’s the office. The aura of power surrounding it. Not to mention William Jefferson Clinton was a big, handsome guy in whose presence I would likely have been awed even if he weren’t the Prez. I believe I squeaked out “You’re the President; I’m not.” Witty, eh?

It turns out that my behavior isn’t unusual. Regular people in the presence of fame and power tend to stutter or blurt out something stupid. No one is immune, not even celebrities meeting other celebrities. We are all, on some level, Star Struck.

Just once, I’d like to meet someone I admire and say something intelligent. Anything coherent would do.

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ALMOST MEL BROOKS: THE RAVEN (1963)

The Raven (1935 film)

It’s that time of year again. When every television station digs into its archives and hauls out the hoariest old horror flicks they can find. They don’t have to be good or even scary. If they feature one of the “classic” horror movie actors — Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi (you can sing along because I’m sure you know the usual suspects) — it’s good to go.

After avoiding the movie for 50 years, I sat through an entire showing of The Raven. It stars the usual suspects: Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre. It features some very serious curtain-chewing by Vincent Price who can barely keep a straight face.Given the dialogue, I can well understand why. Boris Karloff is very Boris Karloff. And surprise! There’s a major role for a very youthful Jack Nicholson. Directed by (who else?) Roger Corman.

Jack Nicholson? In a B horror movie? Yesiree. I didn’t recognize him until Garry pointed him out. Then he made a Jack Nicholson face and I said, “OH yeah, that’s Jack.” He did a couple of films with Roger before Easy Rider catapulted him to fame and fortune.

Vincent’s recitation of Edgar Allen Poe‘s at the beginning of the film is (sorry about the pun) priceless. It’s an unintentionally funny poem anyhow, but Price’s recitation  is so camp I realized the movie was never intended to be taken seriously. This was being played for laughs.

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Sure enough, the movie is a comedy. So much so  I felt as if I were watching “Young Frankenstein.” It wasn’t belly laugh or guffaw funny, but it was funny. Kitsch, camp and way over-the-top.

If you haven’t seen it — on purpose or by omission — take a look. I assume it’s playing on more than one cable channel. Consult your guide. It is bound to be playing somewhere. It’s funny and no, it isn’t scary unless you are 3-years-old and extremely easily frightened.

I will not burden you with the plot. It’s irrelevant. Not to worry. It’s just a bunch of old horror movie stars doing their thing, playing parodies of themselves. And a historically interesting performance by a very early Jack Nicholson, long before he found his way to superstardom.

This is a movie that’s fun to watch and surprisingly entertaining.

For extra credit, try reciting “The Raven.” No laughing allowed. Ham it up as much as you can. I’d be surprised if you can come anywhere near Vincent Price’s classic performance. He was The Ham of Hams. I don’t believe anyone before or since can match his lugubrious tones.