WHAT IS THAT THING YOU’RE WEARING? – Marilyn Armstrong

“How come Gibbs is wearing a coat in Arizona in the summer?”

I was talking to Garry. It was an NCIS rerun. We watch a lot of reruns, though this new fall season of TV is shaping up better than I expected, so maybe there will be new shows to watch.

The question about costumes comes up often and on various shows. One of the more common “duh” moments is when the male lead is wearing a coat and the female lead is skimpily dressed. No explanation needed for that one.

More weird is when each cast member is dressed randomly, apparently without regard for the plot. One is wearing a heavy winter coat, another a light denim jacket. A third is in shirtsleeves. Some are clothed in jeans or other casual stuff while others look ready for Wall Street … or a cocktail party. Women are supposedly hiking. Or running from or after serial killers while wearing 4-inch spike heels. My feet hurt looking at them.

Garry and I have done a tiny bit of movie “extra” work so I’m guessing it goes like this:  “Go find something that fits in wardrobe and be on set in ten.”

Everyone hustles off to wardrobe, which looks like a jumble sale or the clothing racks at the Salvation Army store. Most of the clothing in the wardrobe probably came from a second-hand source, for all I know their local Salvation Army shop.

The cast dives in looking for something that fits. As soon as they find an outfit … any outfit … they head for a changing booth, then off to be on set before someone yells at them. Stars get slightly better wardrobe or wear their own clothing. Wearing ones own clothing on TV shows and movies are quite common. I understand why.

The real question is not why everyone on a show is poorly or inappropriately dressed. It’s whether or not the people who produce the show think we won’t notice.

My theory is they don’t care if we notice or not. They don’t want to spend money on a wardrobe. They figure if you and I notice, we won’t care. In any case, we’ll keep watching. And they’re right. It’s a bottom-line world. The wardrobe is an area where corners can easily be cut.

The thing is, we do notice. You don’t need to be a professional critic or especially astute to see the incongruities of television costuming.

It’s not just costumes, either. Sloppy editing, crappy scripts, stupid plots that include blatant factual and continuity errors. Ultimately, we do stop watching. Because it’s obvious they don’t care so why should we?

You notice it on long-running shows that had good scripts and editing, but not anymore. Quality drifts away. Producers are baffled when loyal fans stop tuning in. Obvious to a normal person, but apparently incomprehensible to network executives. Disrespect for viewers is at the root of much of the illness besetting the TV industry.

They should be nicer to us. We’re, after all, the customers. Aren’t we?

A BROADWAY AWARDS SHOW – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom was in charge of the audio for the Outer Critics Circle award show at Sardi’s in New York City on May 23, 2019. So Tom and I got to have a unique and fun and very ‘New York’ experience. The show is a mini version of the Tony Awards but done in the afternoon, so no glamorous evening gowns.

Event program
We had to drive into the city the night before to bring in all the audio equipment and set it up on site. My job was to gaffer tape the endless wires to the carpet and walls so no one tripped over them. It was interesting to watch the event coordinators set the tables (it was a lunch/dinner at 3 PM), decide who sat where and set out the place cards.

The 27 awards were announced beforehand so only the winners showed up, which limited the guest list to 120, or twelve tables of ten each. Most of the people were behind the scene stars who I didn’t recognize. People like producers, directors, composers, sets, costumes and lighting people, agents, publicists, etc. The room covered all aspects of what it takes to put together a theatrical production, both musicals, and straight plays.

Page in program listing award winners
The audio table was set up for Tom and me in the back near the back door so I didn’t expect to see any celebrities close up. Surprise! They had set up a black curtain with the Outer Circle Critics logo all over it right next to me, near the back door. I thought it was just for decoration and name placement. I didn’t realize that that door was where everyone entered so they could be photographed in front of the black curtain.

The press corps, photo, and video were directly right in front of me. The celebrities entered, one by one, and posed for the press in front of the curtain/backdrop.

They chatted briefly with the press. All this took place three feet in front of me! I was taking photos too and the press photographers moved out of the way so I could get good shots. I told them it was just for a blog, but I got professional courtesy and was treated like a member of the press corps.

Photographers lined up to take pictures of celebrities
I also got to see some video interviews — a real treat.

Tina Fey was one of the presenters/masters of ceremony and she was charming and funny, as usual. I got some close ups of her as she entered and posed for the cameras and I also took pictures of her talking at the podium.

Tina posing for the photographers.

A film and TV actor, Hamish Linklatter was also very funny as a presenter,  The Big Short, and Fantastic Four movies as well as The Newsroom and The Good Wife on TV. He did a dramatic reading of his presenter speech, which was hilarious.

Hamish Linklatter

Bryan Cranston gave a delightful acceptance speech too — “Breaking Bad,” “Malcolm In The Middle,” and “All The Way” (TV) and the movie “Trumbo.”

Joel Grey
It was a thrill to see classic stars like Joel Grey — “Cabaret,” the play and movie. John Callum — “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” among numerous stage credits as well as TV’s “Northern Exposure,” and “Madame Secretary.”

John Callum
The legendary costume designer, Bob Mackie was also there. He did all of Cher’s clothes for her TV show as well as the costumes for the Carol Burnett Show. He also dressed many stars, like Judy Garland and Liz Minnelli, to name a few.

Bob Mackle

Another charming actress who got an award was Stephanie J. Block for her role as the older Cher in the musical based on her life. She said she had 29 costume changes during each show, eight times a week!

Stephanie J. Block
I also saw a favorite of mine, Brian D’Arcy James, who was in the TV musical Smash as well as originating lead roles in the musicals “Shrek the Musical,” “Next To Normal” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

Brian D’Arcy James
Our friend, Barbara Rosenblat was in the audience. She is a member of our Audio Theater Group, Voicescapes Audio Theater as well as being a world-renowned, award-winning audiobook narrator.

She has also appeared many times on the Broadway stage. She was in the original cast of “The Secret Garden” and got her caricature drawn and hung in Sardi’s. The restaurant opened in 1921 and is known for these caricature drawings covering all of its walls, representing the Broadway stars from the 1920s to today.

Barbara Rosenblat
I knew Barbara’s drawing was there but I had never seen it. We, along with the rest of the crew, were treated to a dinner at Sardi’s restaurant downstairs after the show. Coincidentally, I was seated directly in front of Barbara’s drawing. So Cool!

Barbara’s caricature on Sardi’s wall
All in all, it was an exhausting but wonderful adventure.

NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION by JOHN LAHR – 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 does a book which was written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago 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. 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. Eighteen 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 traveled in the United States and overseas.

I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. 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.

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 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 a musical comedy.

Lahr’s comic genius never 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 worried about financial security.

BertLahrEven when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt secure 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 did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel secure.

Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim but was never satisfied. It was never enough. 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 sure that others were trying to undermine him. He was insecure as he aged, a respected legend. He always believed 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, their laughter, and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor could he 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 the rest of 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 one’s perspective and one’s feet on the ground.

WE NEED NATIONAL BROTHERHOOD WEEK

CONVERSANT AGAIN – NATIONAL BROTHERHOOD WEEK AND CELEBRATING WORLD WAR THREE – IN ADVANCE (WE WON ‘T HAVE TIME, LATER)


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 probably 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?)

And because the news has been so … fraught … I thought I’d add a couple of  more shockingly relevant songs for this day in February, 2018.

My, how times have not really changed — except we really do have colored TV pretty much everywhere!

THE BIRTH OF A PHENOMENON – BY ELLIN CURLEY

It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to be in on something, at the beginning, that becomes huge and enduring. My ex-husband, Larry, and I had that opportunity in law school from 1973-1975.

Larry started at Georgetown University Law School (GULC) a year ahead of me. In the spring of 1973, Larry, with a talented guy named Jack Marshall and a few other law students, got together and decided to put on a show. They picked the Gilbert & Sullivan show “Trial By Jury” – very appropriate for a law school. This was unusual. Law schools are not known to have many, if any, extra curricular, non-legal activities. Students are overworked and overwhelmed just trying to keep up with schoolwork.

Jack Marshall

Nonetheless, Jack and Larry’s group forged ahead. Jack was the director. They got a popular professor to star as the Judge. There wasn’t much rehearsal time and no marketing, but everyone involved had a great time. The performance was free, so it was hoped at least a few friends and family members of the cast would show up.

Six hundred people came to see the first show. The auditorium only held 200. People stood sardine-style in the aisles or sat on each other’s laps. The show was a smash! The Dean of the Law School said the show had bound the school community together in a unique way. He asked Jack to continue to produce shows until he graduated.

The next year, my first year in Law School during which I met my future husband, it was decided to try a more sophisticated performance. This show would have full sets, rented costumes and a large cast. Students, teachers and family members were recruited to do everything for the show, which was “The Pirates Of Penzance.” We ended up with a professional set designer and a professional seamstress volunteering their time.

I was in the chorus.

1974 “Pirates of Penzance“. I am in the purple dress, second from the left, second row

Larry was in charge of marketing. He had the brilliant idea to advertise the show in local papers and not just at the law school. Tickets were no longer free.

Jack was a brilliant director and the show was awesome. The cast was as close to professional as amateurs can get. We filled the auditorium for both performances. The cast and crew had a blast. The reviews were fantastic. The audiences were enthusiastic and the law school was thrilled. We made enough money to repay the school for what they had laid out for the production. We even had some money left over to put aside for the next year’s show.

That next show was “Iolanthe” and I was, again, in the chorus. This show became famous at the law school for a strange reason. William Rehnquist, who later became a Supreme Court Justice, loved Gilbert & Sullivan and came to our infamous dress rehearsal. It was an epic, four-and-a-half hour disaster. Everything went wrong. The set caught fire behind where I was sitting on the stage, and yet …

1975 “Iolanthe.” I am second row back, green dress behind the girl in pink dress

The actual performances turned out to be even more polished and well-received than the previous year. We made enough money to be self-supporting. A tradition was born.

Jack was hired by the Law School to stay on after graduation and keep the shows going. These shows have continued for 44 years. This is the only graduate student-operated theater company in the country. It also prides itself in being “America’s Only Theater Company With It’s Own Law School!”

The Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society (GG&SS) is part of the admissions office promotional material used to attract new students. The Company’s success and popularity over the years caused the law school to remodel the Moot Court Room which was being used as the theater. They turned it into a fully equipped, professional theater.

GG&SS logo

Over the years, shows and performances have been added to the repertoire. The GG&SS began producing three shows a year – a Broadway musical in the Fall, a straight play in the winter, and a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta in the spring. Each show gives at least four performances. The recruitment of cast and crew expanded to include the entire Washington, D.C. community as well as the law school. The productions are financed by Student Government.

The GG&SS is now an institution with its own history and fan base. Jack and his original crew are like rock stars at the Society. Stories about our first years are like folk-lore to each new batch of legal theater nerds.

In 2013, Jack Marshall came back and wrote and directed a 40th Anniversary alumni performed Gilbert & Sullivan revue. The current students also put on an anniversary production of “Trial By Jury.” A thousand alumni and fans came to see the four performances and celebrate the phenomenon that is GG&SS. Jack said that they were really celebrating that the law was unable to squeeze the humanity and fun out of generations of law students.

2013 40th Anniversary Playbill

It makes me happy and proud that I was there when all this began. I’m even in a photo of the 1975 “Pirates” cast on the website. Something that I was a part of has made a difference in people’s lives for more than four decades.

It’s still going strong. That says a lot.

WHY ARE YOU WEARING THAT THING?

“How come Gibbs is wearing a coat in Arizona in the summer?”

I was talking to Garry. It was an NCIS rerun. We watch a lot of reruns, though this new fall season of TV is shaping up better than I expected, so maybe there will be new shows to watch.

72-Garry-Fenway-Park_152

The question about costumes comes up often and on various shows. One of the more common “duh” moments is when the male lead is wearing a coat and the female lead is skimpily dressed. No explanation needed for that one.

More weird is when each cast member is dressed randomly, apparently without regard for the plot. One is wearing a heavy winter coat, another a light denim jacket. A third is in shirtsleeves. Some are clothed in jeans or other casual stuff while others look ready for Wall Street … or a cocktail party. Women are supposedly hiking. Or running from or after serial killers while wearing 4-inch spike heels. My feet hurt looking at them.

Garry and I have done a tiny bit of movie “extra” work so I’m guessing it goes like this:  “Go find something that fits in wardrobe and be on set in ten.”

Everyone hustles off to wardrobe, which looks like a jumble sale or the clothing racks at the Salvation Army store. Most of the clothing in wardrobe probably came from some second-hand source or other. The cast dives in looking for something that fits. As soon as they find an outfit … any outfit … they head for a changing booth, then off to be on set before someone yells at them. Stars get slightly better wardrobe or wear their own clothing. Wearing ones own clothing, both on TV shows and movies is quite common. I understand why.

The real question is not why everyone on a show is poorly or inappropriately dressed. It’s whether or not the people who produce the show think we won’t notice.

My theory is they don’t care if we notice or not. They don’t want to spend money on wardrobe. They figure if you and I notice, we won’t care. In any case, we’ll keep watching. And they’re right. It’s a bottom-line  world. Wardrobe is an area where corners can easily be cut.

The thing is, we do notice. You don’t need to be a professional critic or especially astute to see the incongruities of television costuming.

72-Garry-Baseball-HOF_003

It’s not just costumes, either. Sloppy editing, crappy scripts, stupid plots that include blatant factual and continuity errors. Ultimately, we do stop watching. Because it’s obvious they don’t care so why should we?

You notice it on long-running shows that had good scripts and editing, but not any more. Quality drifts away. Producers are baffled when loyal fans stop tuning in. Obvious to a normal person, but apparently incomprehensible to network executives. Disrespect for viewers is at the root of much of the illness besetting the TV industry.

They should be nicer to us. We’re, after all, the customers. Aren’t we?

WHY ARE YOU WEARING THAT THING?

“How come Gibbs is wearing a coat in Arizona in the summer?”

I was talking to Garry. It was an NCIS rerun. We watch a lot of reruns, though this new fall season of TV is shaping up better than I expected, so maybe there will be new shows to watch.

YLE Wardrobe

The question about costumes comes up often and on various shows. One of the more common “huh” moments is when the male lead is wearing a coat and the female lead is skimpily dressed. No explanation needed for that one.

More weird are when each cast member is dressed randomly, apparently without regard for the story in progress. One is wearing a heavy winter coat, another a light denim jacket. A third is in shirtsleeves. Some are clothed in jeans or other casual stuff while others look ready for Wall Street … or a cocktail party. Women are supposedly hiking and running from or after serial killers while they wear 4-inch spikes. My feet hurt just looking.

Garry and I have done a tiny bit of movie “extra” work so I’m guessing it goes like this:  “Go find something that fits in wardrobe and be on set in ten.”

Everyone hustles off to wardrobe, which looks like a jumble sale or the clothing racks at the Salvation Army store. Most of the clothing in wardrobe probably came from some second-hand source or other. Everyone dives in looking for something that fits. As soon as they find an outfit … any outfit … they head for a changing booth, then off to be on set before someone yells at them. Stars get slightly better wardrobe or wear their own clothing. Wearing ones own clothing, both on TV shows and movies is quite common. I understand why.

NCIS Filming

The real question is not why everyone on a show is poorly or inappropriately dressed. It’s whether or not the people who produce the show think we won’t notice. My theory is they don’t care if we notice or not. They are cheaping out on wardrobe figuring if you and I notice at all, we won’t care or we’ll keep watching anyhow.

It’s a bottom-line driven world and wardrobe is one area where corners can easily be cut.

The thing is, we do notice. You don’t need to be a professional critic or especially astute to see the incongruities of television costuming. Movie costuming is often no better. Whoever is in charge figures if you’ve noticed the clothing, you are must be watching the show. They’ve got you. Why worry?

The thing is, the overriding disdain for viewers adds up over time. Eventually it feels like a virtual slap in the face. As a viewer, I have to assume they think I am astoundingly unobservant or plain stupid … or so hooked on their product they needn’t worry about retaining my loyalty. They are wrong.

NCIS Filming

This nonchalance extends beyond costumes. Sloppy editing, crappy scripts, stupid plots that include blatant factual and continuity errors … Ultimately, we do stop watching. Because it’s obvious they don’t care so why should we?

You notice it on long-running shows that had good scripts and editing but suddenly don’t. The quality of the show starts to slide. Producers are baffled when loyal fans stop tuning in.

It isn’t baffling to a normal person but is apparently incomprehensible to producers and network executives.

The most surprising thing is when quality stays high for longer than two seasons. Few shows survive more than 3 anymore. An embedded disrespect for viewers is, in my opinion, the root of much of the illness besetting the television industry. They either treat us like morons or discount us because we are too young, too old  or some other incorrect and undesirable demographic.

If you are under 18 or over 49, you literally don’t count. There are other, subtler forms of discrimination. Someone decided young people and old people don’t buy enough stuff. No TV for us!  Reality never intrudes into the decision-making process. I’m pretty sure I buy a lot of stuff and so does my granddaughter. Her and her friends are always shopping.

They should be nicer to us. We are, after all, the customers. Aren’t we?