Wednesday, April 30, 2014

This Date in History - April 30

Happy birthday, Cloris Leachman.  Are we triple digits yet?

313:  DURING THE BATTLE OF TZIRALLUM, EMPEROR LICINIUS DEFEATS MAXIMINUS II AND UNIFIES THE EASTERN ROMAN EMPIRE.

Good, because I was worried about the un-unification of the Eastern Roman Empire.

642:  CHINDASUINTH IS PROCLAIMED KING BY THE VISIGOTHIC NOBILITY.

Good, because I was worried that he wouldn't be.

1315:  ENGUERRAND DE MARIGNY IS HANGED ON THE PUBLIC GALLOWS AT MONTFAUCON. 

Good.  Period.

1492:  SPAIN GIVES CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS HIS COMMISSION OF EXPLORATION.

Here are the car keys.  Don't dent it.

1789:  ON WALL STREET IN NEW YORK CITY, GEORGE WASHINGTON TAKES THE OATH OF OFFICE TO BECOME THE FIRST ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

You mean there were presidents that were not elected???

1803:  THE UNITED STATES PURCHASES THE LOUISIANA TERRITORY FROM FRANCE FOR $15 MILLION, MORE THAN DOUBLING THE SIZE OF THE YOUNG NATION.

These days, $15 million gets you one year with a good-hitting left fielder.

1812:  THE TERRITORY OF ORLEANS BECOMES THE 18TH US STATE UNDER THE NAME LOUISIANA.

With a banjo on my knee.

1885:  NEW YORK GOVERNOR DAVID B. HILL SIGNS LEGISLATION CREATING THE NIAGARA RESERVATION, ENSURING THAT NIAGARA FALLS WILL NOT BE DEVOTED SOLELY TO INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL USE.

The spray starch notwithstanding.

1900:  HAWAII BECOMES A TERRITORY OF THE US, WITH SANFORD B. DOLE AS GOVERNOR.

Dole!  Ah.  I get it now.

1900:  CASEY JONES DIES IN A TRAIN WRECK IN MISSISSIPPI, WHILE TRYING TO MAKE UP TIME ON THE CANNONBALL EXPRESS.

Derailed.

1904:  THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXPOSITION WORLD'S FAIR OPENS IN ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI.

Meet me there, Louie.

1907:  HONOLULU, HAWAII BECOMES AN INDEPENDENT CITY.

Aloha.

1908:  ACTRESS EVE ARDEN IS BORN.

Our Miss Brooks!

1923:  ACTOR AL LEWIS IS BORN.

Grandpa Munster!

1925:  AUTOMAKER DODGE BROTHERS IS SOLD TO DILLON, READ AND COMPANY FOR $146 MILLION.

Today, that gets you seven seasons with a good-hitting left fielder.

1926:  ACTRESS CLORIS LEACHMAN IS BORN.

Okay, so it's 88 years.  I undershot.

1927:  DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS AND MARY PICKFORD BECOME THE FIRST CELEBRITIES TO LEAVE THEIR FOOTPRINTS IN CEMENT OUTSIDE GRAUMAN'S CHINESE THEATER.

"Hey, Ethel, Mary Pickford's block is loose."

1933:  COUNTRY SINGER WILLIE NELSON IS BORN.

Or found underneath the kitchen stove, more likely.

1938:  THE ANIMATED CARTOON SHORT " PORKY'S HARE HUNT" DEBUTS IN MOVIE THEATERS, INTRODUCING HAPPY RABBIT (A PROTOTYPE OF BUGS BUNNY). 

Eh, what's up?

1939:  THE 1939-40 WORLD'S FAIR OPENS IN FLUSHING, NEW YORK.

That's exciting.  I wish somebody would televise that.

1939:  NBC INAUGURATES ITS REGULARLY SCHEDULED TELEVISION SERVICE IN NY, BROADCASTING PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT'S SPEECH OPENING THE WORLD'S FAIR.

I'm guessing most of the day was still test patterns.

1945:  ADOLF HITLER AND EVA BRAUN COMMIT SUICIDE AFTER BEING MARRIED FOR ONE DAY.

So that means Ernest Borgnine and Ethel Merman were technically married longer.

1947:  IN NEVADA, THE BOULDER DAM IS RENAMED THE HOOVER DAM A SECOND TIME.

I wonder why this didn't take the first time.

1956:  FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AND SENATOR ALBEN BARKLEY DIES DURING A SPEECH IN VIRGINIA.  HE COLLAPSES AFTER PROCLAIMING "I WOULD RATHER BE A SERVANT IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD THAN SIT IN THE SEATS OF THE MIGHTY."

Now that's an exit line.

1973:  US PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON ANNOUNCES THAT TOP WHITE HOUSE AIDES H.R. HALDEMAN, JOHN EHRLICHMAN AND OTHERS HAVE RESIGNED.

Leave your bathroom keys with the girl outside.

1974:  ACTRESS AGNES MOOREHEAD DIES.

Endora!

1975:  ACTOR JOHNNY GALECKI IS BORN.

I've seen the guy.  Incredibly short.

1975:  THE FALL OF SAIGON - COMMUNIST FORCES GAIN CONTROL OF SAIGON.  THE VIETNAM WAR FORMALLY ENDS. 

Well, that was a big waste of time.

1993:  TENNIS STAR MONICA SELES IS STABBED DURING A MATCH IN GERMANY.

No love for her.

2007:  ACTOR TOM POSTON DIES.

Married to Suzanne Pleshette at the time.  Over/under on whether it was due to second-hand smoke.

2009:  CHRYSLER FILES FOR CHAPTER 11 BANKRUPTCY.

If you have driven in an American car the last ten years, you will know why the industry fell apart.

Dinner last night:  Leftover chicken marsala.





Tuesday, April 29, 2014

If I Tweeted - April 2014

I don't, you know.  But, if I did, here's what might have been tweeted out this month.

#LenSpeaks  How does one misplace a jet liner?

#LenSpeaks  That MH370 is apparently on the bottom of the Indian Ocean and my globe didn't spin that far around when I was in Social Studies.

#LenSpeaks  If these passengers flew that far out of their way, do the new miles count on their frequent flyer accounts?

#LenSpeaks  I hear a pinging sound in my hallway closet and I would think that I could remember if a plane flew in there.

#LenSpeaks  Lent, meh.  The first baseball game of the season at Dodger Stadium is what renews me.

#LenSpeaks  Of course, with 70% of the market not getting the new Dodger TV network, the only way to see the games will be in person.

#LenSpeaks  I listen to the games now every night on the radio and hello, 1947.

#LenSpeaks  Sitting at my bedroom desk and listening to baseball on the radio, I feel like I should be doing my fifth grade homework.

#LenSpeaks  Starved for baseball on TV, I am watching the Mets.  Please note.  I am still starved.

#LenSpeaks  All those vacant seats at Citi Field.   It has more empties than Lindsay Lohan's trash can.

#LenSpeaks  You realize that, outside of NY and LA, local baseball announcers are horrible and the reason why the TV mute button was invented.

#LenSpeaks  Here's just how bad they are.  The Diamondbacks' moron just called Oliver Perez "former Met great."

#LenSpeaks  Wrigley Field in Chicago turned 100 this month.  It's aging at a much slower rate than its fans.

#LenSpeaks  It's hard to fathom that some Cub fans were born and died without seeing the team in the World Series.

#LenSpeaks  Andy Hardy Really Goes Home.  RIP Mickey Rooney.

#LenSpeaks  I saw him at the TCM Film Festival two years ago and he was so broke that he was asking the paparazzi for twenty dollar bills.

#LenSpeaks  His body was left unclaimed for several days.   If I had the room, I would have gone after this very cool Hollywood souvenir.

#LenSpeaks The President and the First Lady had another New York date night on the taxpayers' dime.   They went to see Denzel in "Raisin in the Sun."

#LenSpeaks  Well, you didn't expect them to go see "Jersey Boys," did you?

#LenSpeaks  Some ten-year-old girl sent Michelle Obama her unemployed dad's resume.

#LenSpeaks  I wonder if he has any experience ironing hair extensions.

#LenSpeaks  Or laundering wigs.

#LenSpeaks  Or letting out the waist on a skirt.

#LenSpeaks  I have no idea what's going in Nevada with that rancher and I don't care.

#LenSpeaks  Except Harry Reid is against the rancher.   So that means I'm for the rancher.

#LenSpeaks   If we want the Russians to get out of Ukraine, why don't we simply ship the Kardashians there?

#LenSpeaks  This President takes more time off than Johnny Carson used to.   So, I'm thinking Joan Rivers on the off days is an improvement.

#LenSpeaks  No, I don't like Stephen Colbert and I won't be watching him when the dirty old pervert finally leaves television.

#LenSpeaks  It's time for 30 percent of Los Angeles to see Dodger baseball.

Dinner last night:   Chicken marsala.          

   

              

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday Morning Video Laugh - April 28, 2014

This is why I should go to McDonald's more often.
Dinner last night:  Chicken fried steak, fingerling potatoes, and green beans.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Sunday Memory Drawer - The Only Child

So, in our label-happy world, every day of the year is devoted to something.  I don't know who comes up with this nonsense.   There's probably even a day for them.  

"People Who Come Up With Ridiculous Stuff" Day.

And, of course, in our Facebook-laden worlds, these days and even more are regularly celebrated there.  Is there actually a schedule available that I can access?  Who is in charge?  Do they have a cell phone number?

And Facebook itself now has its own days.  The most notable of them is some dribble called "Throwback Thursday."  You're supposed to upload posts of you in previous times.   It's a fruit salad of big hair, curly moustaches, and bad acne.  Personally, I call it "Throw Up Thursday."   Because if I indeed showed you evidence of my past, that would be the reaction your body would have.

But I digress from Memoryland....

Recently, there was a mash-up of some national day and Throwback Thursday.  National Siblings Day.   Of course, Facebook went nuts.   Everybody and literally their brother posted old photos of siblings.  Brother and sister.  Sister and sister and sister.  Brother and sister and brother.  All with their arms around each other.   How special!

I salute all of you who have siblings.  Enjoy them until the day comes when your parents die and you wind up fighting over Dad's money or what dress Mom should be wearing in the casket.

Of course, this got me to thinking.   On the very next day, I posted my own remark on Facebook.

"Can I respectfully ask as to when we will be celebrating Only Child Day?"

Is that anywhere on Hallmark's calendar?  Anybody??  There is no response. 

And our loneliness continues.

But, truth be told, I have lived to tell the story.  It's not so bad.

Well, some of the time.

There's a natural stereotype that only children are spoiled rotten.  The popular argument is that these kids get all of the attention and don't have to share their toys.  Well, not true.  My parents did give me a lot of attention and that definitely did not work to my advantage.  I was focused on continually.  As a result, I frequently didn't have room to breathe.  I'd hide out in my grandparents' part of the house downstairs where there was always safety in their big couch next to the black-and-white television.

Yeah, I might have wanted a brother or a sister.  Just so my folks would have somebody else they could yell at.

There was one day where I asked the question.  And, please keep in mind that this was the era where children didn't necessarily ask their parents anything.  But I wanted to know if there was a brother or sister in my future.  I might have been four or five.   And, given my age, I got the scrubbed-down answer.

"God had only one seed to put on your mother's plate."

Oh, seriously????

In retrospect, I think about my parents' ages when I was born.  Both were already in their thirties.  Years and years later, my father made an out-of-left-field remark that my mother had a tough time getting pregnant.

Okay, too much information.  Let's head back to the more innocent years and focus on how I managed without.

On snowy or rainy days when I couldn't venture out to play with my friends in the neighborhood, I didn't necessarily need to have a brother or a sister to keep me occupied.  I had my fertile imagination.

I've written before of the adventures I concocted all by my lonesome.  I would take all the lawn furniture or party chairs and do my own personal set design.  Sometimes, I'd arrange it like a TV talk show with me as host.   Or I'd dream up a standard sitcom set that could easily be shot in front of a live studio audience with Yours Truly as Dick Van Dyke. 

It helped to mold me into who I am today.

There were isolated and lonely moments when I was a kid, but very infrequent.  I had television.  I had Colorforms.   And I had good friends "up the block" and at school.  Indeed, only children have the capacity to form tighter and closer bonds with others.  We might even appreciate relationships even more. 

It's not a scientific study but I have concluded that only children gravitate naturally to other older children.  Or the eldest child in a family who would have the same sensibilities as they can easily remember what it was like to be the only kid in a household.   As I look through my Filofax of addresses from my life, I think most of my really good friends fall into one of those two categories.

So, childhood as an "only" wasn't so hard.  But you feel it more as you get older.   And your parents get older.  You suddenly realize that you're it on that day when the evolution of life intervenes and your role does reverse.   When health issues come into play and your mom or dad becomes the child and you are thrust into the parental position.  

You come to grips that it's up to you and nobody else to make a life decision.  The bad news is that it's all you.  The good news is that it's all you.   There is no one to argue your choice with.  There is no need for compromise.  It's all your responsibility.  And you live with that.

I have quite a few friends who have siblings.  In a lot of cases, there have been skirmishes that tear apart the whole family.  They fight over issues involving their parents.   Some wind up not speaking for years.  My father and his own brother did exactly that.  Ironically, all of that drama got them nowhere.  They both died within days of each other.  Not speaking.

I had nobody to fight with.  And I did get support during those times of crisis.  From my closest friends.  Some of them only children.  They get it.

Of course, the solitude can get compounded when you don't even get the benefit of that extended family called the "in-laws."  If you're not married, it's even quieter.  A bad thing.  But, in the ying and yang of our cluttered worlds, sometimes a good thing.

You hold those closest friends then even tighter.  Those are relationships to savor.

A few years ago, a good friend of mine lost his only brother to an extended illness at a very premature and sad age.  At that time, my friend announced to me that he now was just like me.  An only child.

Oh, no, you're not. 

While his loss was great, he did, even for an abbreviated time, have a sibling relationship.  Something I will never have or come to appreciate.  It is truly a different world when that's been your whole life. 

So, as an only child considers his life, I see it neither as good or bad.   It has aspects of both.   They combine to offer the standard color of all of our lives.

Gray.

As we get older, I've been thinking about the friends I have held dear for many, many years.  Some still with me after we met at the age of five.   Others still joking and mailing after our first collision in college or at an early job.  In future Sundays, I'm going to be writing about some of these cherished relationships and then asking that person to do his or her version on the following Sunday.  As lives get shorter, you want to spend them with people who...well...get it.  They might be only children or the oldest of five.  But, friends, nevertheless.

In the meantime, this particular Sunday is all about the only children.  So, in our very exclusive club, I invoke a roll call.   And recognize the uniqueness that we all share.

Here's to you.  Barbara, Dolores, Donna, Patti, Lorraine, Elyse, the Bibster, Bob, Gary, Larry, Amy, Djinn from the Bronx, Lauren. 

And anybody else who didn't have a sibling photo for "Throw Up Thursday" on Facebook.

Dinner last night:  Pepperoni pizza at Stella Barra.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - April 2014

Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year...

Dinner last night:  Vegetable stir fry.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Awkwardness Springs Eternal

So, lemme get this straight.   This family is dead??
Everybody's got their bear to cross.
No gunslinger will be afraid of this sheriff.
Dig the photos on the wall.   I hope this isn't his office.
The black sheep of the family.
Everybody likes to hang with the baby.
A simple silver chain around your neck might be less "constricting."
 Okay, so the eyesight gene is on Dad's side.
Nice family entertainment.
Look at the painting behind him.
 Can I take the chair without him?
Casual Fridays have gotten out of hand.

Dinner last night:  The Dodger Stadium Club buffet.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Let This One Go

I'm here today in support of all the small boys in America.

No, this is not the voice of somebody in a raincoat hanging around a playground.   I'm simply a moviegoer who is incredibly disturbed about what has happened to Walt Disney Animation over the past two decades.

You see, when you look back over the collective product released as Disney "cartoons," you'll notice that the main character in all of them is...a girl.  And not just your run-of-the-mill girl.  Nope, these characters are smart, feisty, strong-willed, and wit. Completely empowered.  You had that Mulan.  The Rapunzel knock-off in "Tangled."  "The Princess and the Frog" updated to give little African-American girls a role model.  That ragamuffin Brave in a movie that was nothing more than "Braveheart" without Mel Gibson's anti-Semitism.

Because Disney Studios has made a shitload of money catering to these little would-be princesses, all their animated movies are now cookie-cutter productions designed to make a little girl feel like she can do it all.  And sing an Oscar-winning song to boot.

When can we get a boy to star in one of these things?  Heh?   And don't counter me with Aladdin.  That was over twenty years ago, smart ass.

Oh, sure, there are male characters.  Usually they are oafish and not very bright.  Incredibly good looking but generally their best friend is a horse.  That they talk to.  They are won over by the star...wait for it...the girl.  And they will live happily after.  As long as the poor schmuck remembers to take the trash out before his wife has to remind him.

This brings me to the latest propaganda.  "Frozen."  Another in an increasingly long line of Disney cartoons that look exactly the same as the last one released. 

I grew up on Disney cartoons and devoured them on their first release and then eventual re-release every seven years.  These were the hallmarks of animation.  Terrific stories.  All magnificently hand-drawn.  Wonderful characters.  Hilarious gags.  Great songs.   No two Disney cartoons looked alike.

"Cinderella."   Okay, it was a girl.

"Peter Pan."  Yes, he was a boy in the cartoon.  Girls play him on stage.

"Lady and the Tramp."   Equal billing for both sexes.  My mom's favorite Disney cartoon and also mine.

"The Sword in the Stone."  Yes, a boy.  And a big old rock.

"Sleeping Beauty."  Okay, a girl but the damn thing was in widescreen and looked amazing.

"Pinocchio."   A real boy after he overcame his wooden acting.

You get the point?  Each of these films was very distinctive.  And original.

Contrast this now with the junk Disney has subjected us to over the past ten years.  Computer generated images singing the same tune that you might have heard in the last five movies.   And the films, while called "animation," go out of their way to make the characters look like real human beings.  The new style is to get as far away from looking like a cartoon as possible, but still be able to compete in the Best Animated Feature category on Oscar night. 

What's the point, really?   When I want a cartoon, give me a freakin' cartoon.  

This brings me to the latest fare, "Frozen," which I finally got around to seeing.  I had heard great things from friends who saw it.  Their kids (girls, by the way) are singing the tunes and collecting the dolls.  It's made a gazillion dollars at the box office and allegedly is the biggest animated grosser ever.  Of course, that's much easier to do now than when "Lady and The Tramp" opened in 1955.  Back then, kids saw it for a quarter or fifty cents.  In 2014, a Frozen event for your moppet will run fifteen bucks.   Or more if you want to give them the VIP treatment at the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.

So, as you can see, it's easier to be a top grossing film when the prices are so high.  But, nevertheless, "Frozen" turned out to be a rousing success and supposedly cures cancer as well.

I am not sure why.  Because, once again, Frozen looks exactly like the last sixteen animated films that Disney has concocted.

This time, you have not one, but two little princesses.  Elsa and Anna who live in some far-off place that will likely be recreated as the next big ride attraction at California Adventure.  Elsa somehow causes an accident for Anna who hits her head on the ice.  You would hope that the kid loses her memory and completely forgets she's in this movie, but no such luck.  Ultimately, their parents, the King and Queen of Sleep Apnea, disappear.  They are either lost at sea or stuck in the popcorn line.  This leaves the two gremlins alone in the world.  It's Bambi after the forest fire all over again.  Except, in some bizarre way, Elsa has created this eternal winter.  All frigid all the time.  And don't I remember that from dates in college?

It's up to Anna to save her sister and bring back summer.  Maybe she's got Dodger tickets.  We meet the requisite boy characters and predictably they are either a villain or an idiot.  Prince Hans is good looking and a fiend.  Christoph is also good looking and a dunce.  He spends most of his time talking to his moose, his horse, or a wise-cracking snowman that you just wanted to see salted.  There are about two dozen songs that all sound like they belong in the musical "Wicked."  Or maybe they were.   Indeed, the whole plot of this mess is nothing but a ripoff of that tale.  Two sisters (or witches) at odds.  "Frozen" is really nothing more than "Wicked" as if it was produced by the Weather Channel.

Since this is Disney animation, you do realize that one of the songs will undoubtedly win Best Song at the Oscars.  And the tune "Let It Go" does just that for "Frozen."  The song is played repeatedly throughout and, by the fourth reel, it was going through my head like a Japanese bayonet on Corregidor.  Co-written by the guy who did the music for the inventive "Avenue Q," the "Frozen" soundtrack is nowhere nearly as clever as the songs he wrote for politically incorrect felt puppets.  But, then again, this is Disney animation in 2014 and righteousness must win out at every tune.  At least, "Let It Go" isn't nearly as obnoxious as that overplayed and overhyped "I'm Happy" from "Despicable Me 2."  That ditty actually has made teeth fall out. 

Essentially, "Frozen" is one more sad chapter in the destruction of what used to be a history of glorious animated features from the Disney studios.   It made me glad that I was a kid when I was a kid. 

And a boy who actually had something on the silver screen that I could identify with.

LEN'S RATING:  One star.

Dinner last night:  German cold cut sandwich and German potato salad.








Wednesday, April 23, 2014

This Date in History - April 23

Today is Valerie Bertinelli's birthday.  I declare this a national holiday!

599: MAYA KING UNEH CHAN OF CALAKMUL ATTACKS RIVAL CITY STATE PALENQUE IN SOUTHERN MEXICO, DEFEATING QUEEN YOHL IKNAI AND SACKING THE CITY.

Have some fun.  See how many letters of the alphabet are in that sentence.  And how many are missing.   Answers later.

711:  DAGOBERT III IS CROWNED KING OF THE FRANKS.

I thought that was Oscar Mayer.   Just so you know, I use that joke every time one of these historical facts talks about the King of the Franks.

1016:  EDMUND IRONSIDE SUCCEEDS HIS FATHER AS KING OF ENGLAND.

Cue the Quincy Jones theme.

1348:  THE FOUNDING OF THE ORDER OF THE GARTER BY KING EDWARD III IS ANNOUNCED.

Please place it on the right leg of the bride and bring the best man forward.

1635:  THE FIRST PUBLIC SCHOOL IN THE US, BOSTON LATIN SCHOOL, IS FOUNDED IN BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS.

By 1636, there were cries for integration.

1661:  KING CHARLES II OF ENGLAND, SCOTLAND, AND IRELAND IS CROWNED.

He sure covers a lot of ground.   And, for that matter, so did Jackie Gleason.

1815L  THE SECOND SERBIAN UPRISING ERUPTS SHORTLY AFTER THE ANNEXATION OF THE COUNTRY TO THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE.

That quiz above.   The opening sentence used 22 of 26 alphabet letters.   Only B, J, W, and Z are not included.

1910:  US PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT MAKES HIS "THE MAN IN THE ARENA" SPEECH.

And that's a big deal, why?

1921:  BASEBALL PITCHER WARREN SPAHN IS BORN.

Spahn and Sain and two days of labor pains.

1927:  TURKEY BECOMES THE FIRST COUNTRY TO CELEBRATE CHILDREN'S DAY AS A NATIONAL HOLIDAY.

The second was Michael Jackson.

1928:  ACTRESS SHIRLEY TEMPLE IS BORN.

First birthday in heaven.

1932:  THE 153-YEAR-OLD DE ADRIAAN WINDMILL IN HAARLEM, NETHERLANDS BURNS DOWN.

So, is a basketball team over there called the Haarlem Globetrotters?

1935:  THE POLISH CONSTITUTION OF 1935 IS ADOPTED.

You would think there would be an easy joke to write, wouldn't you?

1939:  ACTOR LEE MAJORS IS BORN.

Or, in the case of this TV character, manufactured.

1942:  ACTRESS SANDRA DEE IS BORN.

Look at me, I'm.....

1945:  ADOLF HITLER'S DESIGNATED SUCCESSOR HERMANN GORING SENDS HIM A TELEGRAM ASKING PERMISSION TO TAKE LEADERSHIP OF THE THIRD REICH, WHICH CAUSES HITLER TO REPLACE HIM WITH JOSEPH GOEBBELS AND KARL DONITZ.

The final episodes.

1951:  AMERICAN JOURNALIST WILLIAM N. OATIS IS ARRESTED FOR ESPIONAGE BY THE COMMUNIST GOVERNMENT OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA.

Oatis, Czech, please.

1954:  FILMMAKER MICHAEL MOORE IS BORN.

Fat bastard.

1960:  ACTRESS VALERIE BERTINELLI IS BORN.

God bless her.

1968:  DURING THE VIETNAM WAR, STUDENT PROTESTERS AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY IN NEW YORK CITY TAKE OVER ADMINISTRATION BUILDINGS AND SHUT DOWN THE UNIVERSITY.

That's one way to avoid a pop quiz.

1983:  ACTOR BUSTER CRABBE DIES.

Flash Gordon!

1985:  COCA COLA CHANGES IT FORMULA AND RELEASES NEW COKE.

That was a bad idea that lasted just three months.

1986:  SONGWRITER HAROLD ARLEN DIES.

His real name was Hyman Arluck.   No fooling.

1986:  DIRECTOR OTTO PREMINGER DIES.

Talk about an exodus.

1990:  ACTRESS PAULETTE GODDARD DIES.

She shtupped Charlie Chaplin.  Oh, and made some movies.

1993:  FARM ACTIVIST CESAR CHAVEZ DIES.

He actually became a state holiday in California.  Once again, no fooling.

1995:  JOURNALIST HOWARD COSELL DIES.

That's another way to shut him up.

1996:  AUTHOR P.L. TRAVERS DIES.

Nothing can save Mr. Banks now.

1998:  ASSASSIN JAMES EARL RAY DIES.

Dirtbag.

2005:  ACTOR JOHN MILLS DIES.

He was 97 at the time.   Please, nobody say he died prematurely.

Dinner last night:  Leftover bratwurst and sauerkraut.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Blowing Hot and Cold


That's the way I feel about Billy Crystal.  Hot and cold.  And those temperatures are in the extreme range.

When he first hit the ground running as a stand-up comic, I didn't find him particularly funny.  The Howard Cosell/Muhammad Ali bit can only go so far.

But, way back when, he was a cast member for Saturday Night Live for one year.  It was a season that might arguably be the very last time the show was consistently funny.  I mean, look at the talent in that one single year.  Crystal.  Harry Shearer.  Christopher Guest.  Martin Short.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  Wow.  Billy is hilarious that season with his dead-on impersonations of Sammy Davis Jr. and Fernando Lamas.

But then he goes into films.  The City Slicker movies are awful.  But, amazingly, Crystal delivers an almost Oscar-worthy performance in "When Harry Met Sally."  Go figure.

From there, he heads into directing.  Most of his work behind the camera is terrible.  But, out of nowhere, he directs a terrific baseball movie about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle called "61."  To me, it's in the top five of films devoted to America's pastime.  Go figure again. 
 
For a while, Billy is the darling of Hollywood with his Academy Award hosting duties.  But, for me, most of his work there is way too cute and pretentious.  The warts show again and, after a while, he falls completely off everybody's radar screen faster than a Malaysian Airlines jet.  Nobody cares.  Again.

So, about a decade ago, when I heard that Crystal was doing a one-man show about his childhood on Broadway,  I naturally said "meh."   Given his track record of being very good or very bad, who wants to roll those dice again at $100 a ticket?  I have friends who loved it.  I trusted my own instincts more.

Well, apparently the show called "700 Sundays" won a Tony and was ultimately revived about a year or two ago.  This time, HBO taped it for posterity.  And allowed me to avoid the 2014 box office price of probably $150 for the free admission comfort of my own living room.

And I didn't say "meh."  Much.

But I did say it a little bit.  And, in typical Crystal fashion, "700 Sundays" was a microcosm of the way I feel about him overall.   There were parts I loved.  There were parts I hated.

The play, written solely by Crystal, is essentially his memoirs played out in front of a set that resembles his Long Beach, Long Island family home.  The title itself represents an approximation of the number of Sundays he and his father shared together.  Sadly, Papa Crystal dropped dead prematurely in a bowling alley when Billy was 15. 

Naturally, this subject matter would be catnip for this kitty.  Thinking of this blog, Crystal's play might mirror some of the memories you read here each and every Sunday.  Of course, I think my recollections are funnier and more poignant but I am slightly biased.  Nevertheless, Crystal introduces you to his whole family and there are lots of grandparents, aunts, and uncles to me.  Indeed, there is an extended family of jazz musicians as Billy's dad also dabbled in that arena. 

Of course, as America's self-proclaimed foremost baseball fan, you get the story about his first trip to Yankee Stadium which he has repeated ad nauseum over the last two decades.  May 30, 1956.   His walk down the tunnel which explodes into the bright green of the field.  He tells of Mickey hitting a homerun to the top right field fa├žade of the park and, yes, that happened on that day.  But, then, Billy talks about a Mantle triple and the Mick slides into base right in front of Crystal's third base field box. 

Um, no.  Not according to Retro Sheet.  There was no Mickey triple that day.  Okay, not all viewers are going to do the fact checking that yours truly will do.  But, the mis-information made the memory a little hollow and suspect for me.  And I began to wonder about the authenticity of it all.

This particular passage also reminds me of a Crystal story that was once shared in this blog.  About Billy's man-crush for Mickey Mantle and the opportunity he once had to play catch with him in the Yankee Stadium outfield.  It was told to me first-hand by a person who witnessed it.  It was a moment that Billy cherished the rest of his life.  Unknown to him, the Mick didn't share the same fondness.  Indeed, it was one the slugger's most anti-Semitic episodes.  Billy doesn't know it, so it doesn't find its way into "700 Sundays."

But a lot of good stuff does.  And that confounds me.  I absolutely adored the storytelling.  The family comes alive and Crystal is an expert at putting you in that house during the 1950s.  At times, the play is hilarious and, at other intervals, sweet.  Indeed, the extended portion of the second half is devoted to the passing of Dad and the sadness engulfs Crystal and the audience.  I could feel the pain.

And then it punctuates this all with a joke, that is so stark and jarring that you don't recover for several minutes. Billy might be trying to represent the sudden twists and turns of life.  But he doesn't have the acting chops to pull this off on stage.   So, in the space of five minutes, you have him all.   The expert Billy Crystal.  And the inept Billy Crystal.  I wish that he had run through the script just one more time to fill in these major dramatic potholes.

So, one more time, I'm impressed and confounded by Billy Crystal.  As, in the past, he surprises me.  Or maybe he shouldn't.  When it comes to him, I should simply expect to love him or hate him.   And, as in the case of "700 Sundays," those two extremes can happen in the same two hours.

Dinner last night:  Grilled bratwurst, sauerkraut, and corn.