Thursday, April 30, 2015

Yay! I Finished Another Book - Even This I Get To Experience By Norman Lear

Or did I?   Finish another book, I mean.  Oh, I attempted to.  But I must say that I skimmed the last 150 pages or so of famed TV producer Norman Lear's memoirs.  It's hard to fathom how someone as groundbreaking and prolific and clever as Norman Lear can be, in the written word, so damn dull.

When I heard that Lear was publishing his autobiography, I knew I would be a buyer.  I mean, the man created some of the most memorable TV shows, including "All in the Family."  This was eagerly awaited.

And I began to read it and something felt wrong.  True, Lear is one of those memoir writers who scurried from event to event.  

"Then, I..."

"Then, I..."

"Then, we..."

The only trouble is that the only one who finds this particularly interesting is, well, Norman Lear.  For the first 150 or so pages, we are treated to every detail of his childhood and early life.  It's an cascade of information that is very dull.  

In the middle third of the tome, Lear finally comes across with the goods.  We learn about the battle to get "All in the Family" on the air.  His weekly script fights with Carroll O'Connor.  We hear about the fights with actors Esther Rolle and John Amos over their desires to ensure that "Good Times" was totally representative of the Black family in America.  Then there are the skirmishes with the CBS network over a "Maude" episode where the title character chooses to have an abortion.

Lear seems to love to death his creation of "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."  In that chapter, I learn to my surprise that his first choice of writers for that weird late-night soap opera was the "I Love Lucy" team of Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh Davis.  Wow.  That's not a tidbit they had shared with me.  But what a mismatch that would be.  They would not be good fits for a "comedy satire" that features a family mass murder down the block.

And, as compelling as this section is, there's an underlying attitude from the writer.   In all these battles, Norman Lear is never wrong.  There is zero humility in this man.   And, as a result, his book becomes exhausting.

During the last third of the book, which completely lost me, Lear gets into all the liberal causes he backs.  He's certainly entitled to his opinion.  But I certainly don't care.   And I doubt anybody else does either.  Hence, the aforementioned skimming of the last 150 pages.  

At the end of this ultimate waste of time, I learned a lot about Norman Lear.   But I don't think it's what the author had in mind.   

Yawn.

Dinner last night:  Asian chopped salad.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This Date in History - April 29

There's a lot of famous parties, but how can I not single out 1969 World Series hero Ed Charles???

711:  THE ISLAMIC CONQUEST OF HISPANIA.

For those who think all the current torture is a new thing for them.

1429:  JOAN OF ARC ARRIVES TO RELIEVE THE SIEGE OF ORLEANS.

Joan of Arc for the save.

1770:  JAMES COOK ARRIVES AT AND NAMES BOTANY BAY, AUSTRALIA.

And we care why?

1781:  DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, BRITISH AND FRENCH SHIPS CLASH OFF THE COAST OF MARTINIQUE.

Well, if you have to travel some place for a war, Martinique is always nice.

1861:  DURING THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, MARYLAND VOTES NOT TO SECEDE FROM THE UNION.

Go Terrapins!

1862:  DURING THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, LOUISIANA FALLS TO UNION FORCES.

Hey, with all the great restaurants in New Orleans, that was a smart move on the part of the North.

1882: THE ELEKTROMOTE - THE FORERUNNER OF THE TROLLEYBUS - IS TESTED IN BERLIN.

Change for the express to Munich.

1899:  MUSICIAN DUKE ELLINGTON IS BORN.

First stop for the A Train.

1910:  THE PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM PASSES THE PEOPLE'S BUDGET, THE FIRST BUDGET IN BRITISH HISTORY WITH THE EXPRESSED INTENT OF REDISTRIBUTING WEALTH.

For those who thought Obama invented this concept.

1917:  ACTRESS CELESTE HOLM IS BORN.

All About Her.

1933:  BASEBALL STAR ED CHARLES IS BORN.

The Gilder!!!

1933: POET ROD MCKUEN IS BORN.

There once was a hermit named Dave...

1933:  MUSICIAN WILLIE NELSON IS BORN.

With or without a beard?  Discuss.

1938:  BUSINESSMAN BERNARD MADOFF IS BORN.

Play Happy Birthday by banging your cup on the cell bars.

1945:  THE DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP IS LIBERATED BY US TROOPS.

A trifle late.

1945:  DURING WORLD WAR II, THE GERMAN ARMY SURRENDERS TO THE ALLIES.

One way train tickets to Nuremberg now available.

1945:  ADOLF HITLER MARRIES EVA BRAUN IN A BERLIN BUNKER.  

Don't bother finding out where they registered.   They kill themselves the very next day.

1946:  FATHER DIVINE, A RELIGIOUS LEADER CLAIMING TO BE GOD, MARRIES THE MUCH YOUNGER EDNA ROSE RITCHINGS.

God help her.

1953:  THE FIRST US EXPERIMENTAL 3D TV BROADCAST SHOWS AN EPISODE OF SPACE PATROL IN LOS ANGELES.

Those damn glasses still don't work.

1954:  COMIC JERRY SEINFELD IS BORN.

Who are these people?

1958:  ACTRESS EVE PLUMB IS BORN.

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.

1967:  AFTER REFUSING INDUCTION INTO THE US ARMY FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS, MUHAMMAD ALI IS STRIPPED OF HIS BOXING TITLE.

Muhammad, my ass.

1968:  THE HIPPIE MUSICAL HAIR OPENS ON BROADWAY.

Gee, those actors look cold up there on stage.

1974:  PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON ANNOUNCES THE RELEASE OF EDITED TRANSCRIPTS OF WHITE HOUSE TAPE RECORDINGS RELATING TO THE WATERGATE SCANDAL.

Anybody know who's got the Director's cut?

1980:  DIRECTOR ALFRED HITCHCOCK DIES.

Did I just see a wry smile on the face of Tippi Hedren?

1986:  A FIRE AT THE CENTRAL LIBRARY OF LOS ANGELES DESTROYS 400,000 BOOKS.   

Of course, no one was hurt because nobody goes to the Library in Los Angeles.

1986:  AMERICAN AND EUROPEAN SPY SATELLITES CAPTURE THE RUINS OF THE REACTOR AT THE CHERNOBYL POWER PLANT.

That's gonna be a bitch to clean up.

1992: RIOTS IN LOS ANGELES FOLLOWING THE ACQUITTAL OF POLICE OFFICERS CHARGED IN THE BEATING OF RODNEY KING.

Safest store to be in during these lootings?   A Barnes and Noble.

2004:  OLDSMOBILE BUILDS ITS FINAL CAR ENDING 107 YEARS OF PRODUCTION.

I once rented an Oldsmobile and I know exactly why they went out of business.  What a shitty car.

2011:  THE WEDDING OF PRINCE WILLIAM AND KATE MIDDLETON.

I didn't get an invitation.  A royal screw-up.

2014:  ACTOR BOB HOSKINS DIES.

Roger Rabbit delivers the eulogy.

Dinner last night:  Sausage and peppers at the Dodger game.




Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gee, I Wonder What Happens At The End

Disney is now putting out one of these sports "true stories" once a year and, if you seriously have to ask the question I pose above, you are crazy.  Of course, the good guys will win.  Triumphing over every obstacle thrown in their way.  Beating the odds at every turn.  Music swells.  Roll credits.

Yet, this obviousness should not detract one iota from the entertainment value of this new cottage industry from the folks at Disney.  Indeed, these films are incredibly likeable and the latest, "McFarland USA," is no different.   You can't leave without having a smile on your face.  Or craving a burrito.

Even though I had no clue about this story beforehand, the outcome was never in doubt.  But, still, the journey to the inevitable conclusion is what makes the story work and it gets the audience so riled up that I heard rare and lively applause at the end.   In a White Plains, NY cinema, no less.  New York movie audiences, unlike their Los Angeles counterparts,  almost never clap at the end of a film.  At the first sign of a credit, the coats come on and they immediately head to Bennigan's for some buffalo wings.  Yet, my showing of "McFarland USA" elicited cheers.   

So, the movie worked beautifully.

McFarland is some downtrodden town in north central California, circa 1987.  The population is 110% Mexican and poverty-stricken to boot.  Practically every one spends at least three hours a day picking lettuce.  The kids in high school go to work in the fields, then class, and then back to the fields.  

In comes equally downtrodden Jim White and his family.   They are the only Whites in town, literally and figuratively.  Jim's a gym teacher/athletic coach whose temper usually gets the best of him and unemployment usually ensues.   It's portrayed that McFarland High just might be the last stop for him.

White notices that some of the boys in school are particularly fast runners, most likely because they are dodging their abusive parents and/or the local police.  He resolves to start a cross country track team for the school.  The fact that these kids don't know the first thing about cross country track is immaterial.  Heck, neither did I.   How many of you know that, in a cross country meet, the team with the lowest score wins?  I didn't.

Well, conveniently, six of the boys come together, begrudgingly at first, under Coach "Blanco."  The kids are conceived in Central Casting to run the gamut of domestic problems, which would be unforgivable except they're all based on real people whom we meet over the closing credits.   There's the suicidal boy with the abusive dad just out of jail.   There are the three brothers who must spend at least three hours every early morning working for Dad in the fields.  There's the requisite fat kid who lags behind in every meet.   Hmmm.  You just know he's going to play a part in the big meet at the end.  Hackneyed writing?  Or just serendipitous reality?  Either way, you're rooting for the chubby one at the end.

Yes, the boys despise the coach at first.  Yes, the coach will consider leaving town.  Yes, there will be those heart-rendering moments where the coach will make a difference in each of their lives.   Of course, of course, and of course.  

But, still in some mystical way, "McFarland USA" works wonderfully.  Almost in spite of the presence of Kevin Costner, who is also making a cottage industry of appearing in sports-related films.  A fair actor at best, Costner did win an Oscar for "Dances With Wolves," which proves that even mediocre people can rise to the top at least once.  In this film, Costner's non-acting works in his favor as it provides a catalyst for his quiet anger.  Indeed, his family scenes feel real and organic with Maria Bello as his long-suffering wife and Morgan "I was so obnoxious on Homeland" Saylor as one of two neglected daughters.   Go figure.  It all fits together like a nifty little jigsaw puzzle.

"McFarland USA" is an ordinary film that turns out to be quite remarkable.  You will get sucked into the story and the characters.   And isn't that what a good time at the movies should be all about?

I can't wait to see what true sports story Disney will come up with next.  Hey, how about a movie on the 1969 New York Mets?  Heck, Len, what are you waiting for?  Start writing.

LEN'S RATING:  Three-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:   Leftover chicken and veggies.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Monday Morning Video Laugh - April 27, 2015

Still miss him to this day.
 Dinner last night:  Honey garlic chicken, vegetables, and salad.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Saturday Afternoon TV

Yeah, this is one of those crazy quirks of life.  A Sunday blog piece devoted to Saturday.

Back when I was a kid, Saturday morning television was a big deal.   One cartoon show morphing into the next.  From Crusader Rabbit to Bugs and Daffy to the Beatles.  You might have topped it off around noon time with a rerun episode of Sky King, which was wisely sponsored by Nabisco---the cookie maker that thrived on the moppets that were watching.

The only problem is that I was usually occupied on Saturday mornings.  Accompanying my dad on the weekend morning errands.  From dry cleaner to delicatessen to bakery to gas station.  If I was lucky, I was home for Sky King and his plane, the Songbird.  But, most of the time, all that TV was a washout for me.

I really didn't care.

For me, the really, really good stuff was on Saturday afternoons.

This is back in the New York day when you didn't have a lot of choices.  Three network channels plus three independent stations that pretty much existed on buying ancient sitcom reruns and old movies from the 30s and 40s.  

As it turns out, it was the latter that intrigued me most.

After lunch and my chores upstairs were done, I'd race downstairs because this was quality TV time with my grandmother.  The independent stations like Channel 11 WPIX, Channel 9 WOR, and Channel 5 WNEW Metromedia dusted off some junk that was gold to Grandma and me.  They umbrella-ed it all under themes and we loved it all.  From October to March, that's where you would find me.  With her in front of her Philco TV.  If it was cold and rainy outside, it was even warmer with that black-and-white glow.

Of course, there was one particular snack I needed for this every Saturday.  I'd first dash around the corner to Charlie's Delicatessen and pick up my Saturday afternoon TV accompaniment.

Two Slim Jims.  I'd savor them bite-by-bite.  Slowly so they would last through one or two of the old movies that would hold me captive.
Obviously, WJBK-TV in Detroit did the same thing that WNEW-TV in New York did.  Charlie Chan Theater and we loved it.  The opening slide for it was totally inappropriate.   Chinese music with a caricature of Chan drawn with slanted lines.  We'd try to solve the mystery along with Charlie and Number One Son. 

Of course, there were several different actors playing Charlie Chan and none of them were Asian.  The best was this Swedish actor named Warner Oland.  He was our favorite.  Of course, just as she would do while watching her beloved wrestling, Grandma would shout warnings to the TV when Charlie or Number One Son got too close to some danger.

"Watch out, Charlie.  Somebody is hiding in that closet."

They must have heard her because the killer always got caught in the nick of time.  
Another big favorite for us on Saturday afternoons was the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller.  Indeed, as I have recently re-watched all of them, every single film has the same plot as the last.

White hunters come on safari looking for ivory in the elephant burial grounds.  They are led by a pack of good natives.

They meet Tarzan, Jane, and Boy.

One of the hunters plays with a lion cub.  The mother attacks him.  Tarzan comes to the rescue.

Invariably, there's a moment where Olympic champion Weissmuller needed to show off his talents.

"Jane, swim."

And they would cavort for a couple of minutes in the MGM water tank that later housed Esther Williams.

At another point, everybody is on a jungle river raft which capsizes.  Alligators and crocodiles attack.  Tarzan wrestles one underwater.

Jane and Boy are captured, along with the rest of the safari team, by a pack of bad natives.  Cheetah the chimp runs to get Tarzan, who does his yell.  Dozens of elephants show up to trample the bad natives.

The end.

None of them ever differed from this cinematic template.   We didn't care.  I munched on my second Slim Jim.  And Grandma coached from her chair.

"Hurry up, Cheetah.  Go get Tarzan."

Seriously.  

Cheetah, of course, was the scene stealer and, as the series moved on, the chimp became more and more human until it was laughing at people like your drunken father-in-law at the Thanksgiving table.
We could never get enough of Laurel and Hardy.  While I loved every single two-reeler that got unspooled on Saturday afternoons, my grandmother was waiting patiently for one particular short.

She had told me for years of an experience she had back in the Bronx of the 20s.  There was what she called an open air movie theater.  Indeed, she often called this as the very last time she had actually gone out to the movies.  Well, it was a Laurel and Hardy adventure running that time.  Grandma talked about it on numerous occasions.  

"It was a silent picture.  Laurel and Hardy were selling Christmas trees.  And it was the funniest thing I ever saw."

I heard that quotation over and over for years.  And, every Saturday afternoon when it was time for Stan and Ollie, Grandma would hope that they would show the short she remembered from decades before.

Because it was a silent film, they never did.  And, every Saturday afternoon, my grandmother would be disappointed.

I have since done my research and seen the short that she so anxiously waited for.   It's called "Big Business" and it is a laugh riot.  It's too bad I never got to watch it with her.



As the Saturday afternoon moved on, Grandma would leave the living room to start her dinner, which she would, of course, enjoy at no later than 4:30PM.  It was just as well because that's usually when one of the many Andy Hardy chapters would air.  They all started with the portrait you see above.   The very sight of it propelled my grandmother to her stove.

"Mickey Rooney.  Shrimp."

I, however, loved them all.  It was this idyllic life that nobody enjoyed any more.  When a kid could get into some sort of trouble and it would all be solved by your father taking you into the den for a heart-to-heart talk.

This never happened in my house.  For starters, we didn't have a den.

Nevertheless, the plots of all these Andy Hardy movies were as predictable and innocuous as the last.  

Andy gets into trouble.  

He falls for a girl. 

He ignores the one next door, usually played by Judy Garland.

Judy would moon over Andy with one or two songs.

The other girl dumps Andy.

Judge Hardy, in the aforementioned den, tells Andy all about life's travails.

Andy goes off to the malt shop to join neighbor Judy for an egg cream.

The end.

Maybe that was the attraction I had for all this Saturday afternoon TV.  It was film history, yes.  But, it was all as comfortable as macaroni and cheese and your favorite slippers.  Indeed, I probably only followed this routine for two or three years.   But the memories linger to this day.

Luckily, you can still watch all of the above on Turner Classic Movies.   And, almost mystically, they frequently air them on Saturday afternoons.  Guess who tunes in?   Or, perhaps, loads up a DVD on his Blu-Ray.

The only thing missing is Grandma yelling at the TV set.  But, I can still hear her.   And, miraculously, sometimes even with me holding a Slim Jim in my hand.

Dinner last night:  Garlic beef from Century Dragon.






 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - April 2015

Wunderbar!

Dinner last night:  Chef's salad.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Awkward Fools Day

Unreported child abuse.
And when Mom was done using the bowl to cut their hair, she served string beans in it.
Raggedy Humping.
Happy Easter????
All set for the Japanese touring company of  "Newsies."
Haircut by Hoffritz Cutlery.

Those poor groomsmen.
Everybody knows about Grandma and her weak bladder.
Safari Land.   Fun for the kids!!!
I'd like to Hawaiian Punch all of them.
Who left the corpse on the flume ride?
Just say yes.

Dinner last night:   Had a big lunch so just a salad.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Let Me Out of This Thing!

A good friend reminded me of this movie from the early 1960s.   One of those cheap horror films that traded on the diminishing star power of some oldtime Hollywood actor.  In this one, a claustrophobic Ray Milland fears being trapped in a coffin.  Of course, he is.

I never saw the movie.   But, indeed, I recently lived it.

Has anybody out there had to undergo a medical test in a closed MRI machine?

Yep, the sensation is very much akin to what Milland went through in this film.  If you want to know what it's like to be entombed in the hereafter, definitely have your internist schedule one of these exams.   Or, better yet, don't.

This all came about as a result of the extensive diagnostic tests I had to undergo when the arthritis drug Celebrex started to screw with my body.  Ultrasounds and CAT scans were clean, but my on-top-of-things doctor wanted to be sure with a MRI, which is apparently the gold standard for photographs of your innards.

My previous tests were done at the same imaging place across the street from my doctor's office and they were all very pleasant to deal with.  I thought nothing of them scheduling the MRI at the same facility.

Yeah, wrong.

My own lack of knowledge comes into play here.  I know I've frequently seen signs at other medical imaging spots.

"OPEN MRI."

Okay, I knew there were more modern ways to do MRIs.  But, I had undergone them in the past on my knee and my ankle.  How complicated can this be?   In retrospect, I should have asked more questions.   Because I would have learned that this particular imaging place had perhaps one of the first MRI machines ever built.  

And it was one of those CLOSED contraptions.

Trust me, I was well down the road of this journey before I knew that.

What made matters worse was the technician that ran this test.   While all the other folks I had dealt with previously were top-notch and personable to boot, this guy had a major attitude.  I should have known when I saw him lingering around the reception desk looking for some sugar from the clerk.  Earring studs in both ears.  Smart and cocky because he was decked out in scrubs.  Acting like he was an important doctor when, in reality, any asshole can be taught to run a MRI machine.

Lucky me when he was the one who called my name next.  

He grunted some instructions to me as another nurse took blood and inserted the necessary IV.  He then led me into the room where the machine was housed.  I asked him how long this would take.  

"Thirty, maybe forty minutes."

This guy had the bedside manner of a Nazi commandant.  

Because the machine can be noisy, he popped some headphones on me.   Okay, this was nothing new to me.  In the past, I knew that the technician uses them also to talk you through the procedure.

And then it happened.  With arms up over my head, the gurney slid into this steel casket.   This was going to be way beyond my knee and my ankle.  Suddenly, I am in a tube with the top being no more than five inches from my face.

What the everlovin' fuck.

As a rule, I'm not claustrophobic, but this was one scary and unsettling experience.  I called out to the technician.   No response.

And he didn't answer any of my questions or pleas for the next thirty minutes.  I felt like I was shut off from the rest of the world.   And my only connection to civilization was a rabid pitbull.

Finally, I was inched out of the machine.  I guess my oppressor had grown tired of my complaints.   He yanked the headphones off me in one jolt.

"SIR, WE ARE AT THE TAIL END OF THE PROCEDURE."

He threw the headphones back on my head and I was injected back into the time capsule of death.

It seemed like an eternity, but it really was only ten more minutes.   When I came out of the MRI and the technician/fascist removed the IV from my arm, I apologized for my behavior.  I generally am a good patient.

"SIR, PLEASE BE STILL SO I CAN GET THE NEEDLE OUT."

Here's somebody who clearly hates his job.  Or some people.  Or maybe there was something more deeply engrained in his own body chemistry.  Because this was clearly a belligerent human being in a position that requires just a little bit of TLC.

My time in the coffin was over.   And I can imagine the sensations perhaps extolled in this Ray Milland movie.  If ever I need to have another MRI in my life, I will try to remember those places which advertised "OPEN MRIs."   

And I will try to make sure that the technician at the facility is not taking out his aggressions on the first patient that walks through the front door.

Oh, and by the way...MRI results were normal.

Dinner last night:  Leftover pasta.





Wednesday, April 22, 2015

This Date in History - April 22

Today is a big day for World War II fans, but let's not forget to wish Glen Campbell a happy birthday.  Because he might.

238: THE ROMAN SENATE OUTLAWS EMPEROR MAXIMINUS THRAX FOR HIS BLOODTHIRSTY PROSCRIPTIONS IN ROME AND NOMINATES TWO OF ITS MEMBERS, PUPIENUS AND BALBINUS, TO THE THRONE.

If this blog existed back then, it would probably be called Len Speaksius.

1519:  SPANISH CONQUISTADOR HERNAN CORTES ESTABLISHES A SETTLEMENT AT VERACRUZ, MEXICO.

If Cortes was alive today, he would already have fled to America.

1622:  THE CAPTURE OF ORMUZ BY THE EAST INDIA COMPANY ENDS PORTUGUESE CONTROL OF HORMUZ ISLAND.

If this happened today, I still wouldn't care.

1836:  DURING THE TEXAS REVOLUTION, FORCES UNDER TEXAS GENERAL SAM HOUSTON IDENTIFY MEXICAN GENERAL ANTONIO LOPEZ DE SANTA ANNA AMONG THE CAPTIVES OF THE BATTLE OF SAN JACINTO.

I think Texas is still revolting.

1864:  THE US CONGRESS PASSES THE COINAGE ACT OF 1864 THAT MANDATES THAT THE INSCRIPTION IN GOD WE TRUST BE PLACED ON ALL COINS MINTED AS US CURRENCY.

God....remember him?

1876:  THE FIRST EVER NATIONAL LEAGUE BASEBALL GAME IS PLAYED IN PHILADELPHIA.

The first recorded drunken brawl in the stands.

1889:  AT HIGH NOON, THOUSANDS RUSH TO CLAIM LAND IN THE LAND RUSH OF 1889.  WITHIN HOURS, THE CITIES OF OKLAHOMA CITY AND GUTHRIE ARE FORMED WITH POPULATIONS OF AT LEAST 10,000.

So that explains the traffic jam outside of Oklahoma City.

1906:  ACTOR EDDIE ALBERT IS BORN.

He died in 2005, so I guess you can say he got cheated.

1912:  PRAVDA, THE VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE SOVIET UNION, BEGINS PUBLICATION IN SAINT PETERSBURG.

First comic strip?  Little Socialist Annie.

1915:  THE USE OF POISON GAS IN WORLD WAR I ESCALATES WHEN CHLORINE GAS IS RELEASED AS A CHEMICAL WEAPON.

Chlorine?   Like the way the pool in my high school gym used to smell??

1923:  PRODUCER AARON SPELLING IS BORN.

The Love Boat is making another run...

1926:  ACTRESS CHARLOTTE RAE IS BORN.

You take the good, you take the bad.  You take them both and there you have...the Facts of Life.   The Facts of Life.

1936:  SINGER GLEN CAMPBELL IS BORN.

Sorry to see that he didn't win the Best Song Oscar this year.  That would have been a nice way for him to wind it all up.

1937:  ACTOR JACK NICHOLSON IS BORN.

Yeah, this is as good as it gets.

1945:  DURING WORLD WAR II, PRISONERS AT THE JASENOVAC CONCENTRATION CAMP REVOLT.

And they probably were totally justified.

1945:  DURING WORLD WAR II, ADOLF HITLER ADMITS DEFEATS AND STATES THAT SUICIDE IS ONLY HIS RECOURSE.

Agreed!

1954:  WITNESSES BEGIN TESTIFYING DURING LIVE TELEVISION COVERAGE OF THE ARMY-MCARTHY HEARINGS BEGIN

Rat bastards.

1964:  THE NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR OPENS FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Right across the street from spanking new Shea Stadium.

1970:  THE FIRST EARTH DAY IS CELEBRATED.

Tree huggers unite!

1972:  INCREASED AMERICAN BOMBING IN VIETNAM PROMPTS ANTI-WAR PROTESTS IN LA, NY, AND SF.

Oh, so that's marijuana I smell?

1977:  OPTICAL FIBER IS FIRST USED TO CARRY LIVE TELEPHONE TRAFFIC.

And years later, you still can't get a conference call that doesn't have any static.

1978:  ACTOR WILL GEER DIES.

Good night, Grandpa.

1983:  A GERMAN MAGAZINE CLAIMS THAT THE HITLER DIARIES ARE FOUND.   THEY ARE LATER REVEALED TO BE FORGERIES.

You mean somebody's actually trying to copy Hitler's penmanship??

1984:  PHOTOGRAPHER ANSEL ADAMS DIES.

Thank God somebody invented the coffee table so his books had some place to go.

1994:  PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON DIES.

And God now makes it perfectly clear.

1996:  AUTHOR ERMA BOMBECK DIES.

The grass is not only greener.  It's on top of you.

1998:  DISNEY'S ANIMAL KINGDOM OPENS IN ORLANDO, FLORIDA.

And there's another way to make money.

2000:  THE BIG NUMBER CHANGE TAKES PLACE IN ENGLAND.

I'm holding out for the Small Number Change.

2002:  PORN ACTRESS LINDA LOVELACE DIES.

I find this hard to swallow.

2013:  SINGER RICHIE HAVENS DIES.

Make that Richie Heaven.

Dinner last night:  Leftover chicken sausage and vegetables.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Repeated Blasts from the Past

Talk about delayed reactions.  Here's a movie I first saw at a screening two years ago.   It had already been kicking around for three years at that time.  And most of it was shot and completed in 1996.  

Well, I just saw it again in 2015 as it has finally been officially officially officially released.  I guess I might as well finally review it.

And a rave review it would have been in 2013 or 2015 or 2008 or 1996.  "The Wrecking Crew" is the kind of documentary that has you dancing in the aisles.  Of course, given that the target demo is probably a little...well...older than most, said audience might want to make sure they had taken their daily dose of Celebrex in the morning.  But, pain medication or not, this is a film that will educate you by way of tremendous and frequent infusions of joy.

I had no clue what the Wrecking Crew was.  As it turns out, they pretty much dominated the Los Angeles record industry back in the 60s.  No one is quite sure just how many musicians were part of the Wrecking Crew.  10?  20?  25?  Regardless of the exact number, this small cadre provided the musical background for virtually every hit record fifty years ago.  

You name it, they did it.  The theme from Bonanza.  The actual orchestrations behind the Monkees.   Ah, you thought they played their own instruments?  Wrong.  The same with the Association and the Byrds and the Beach Boys.  The Wrecking Crew worked behind-the-scenes and often didn't get the attention they deserved for such magnificent musical craftmanship.

And they covered it all.   Doing arrangements for everybody from Dean Martin to Sonny and Cher to Frank Sinatra to daughter Nancy to the Righteous Brothers.   This movie doesn't just have a soundtrack.  It possesses a life force.  Indeed, it's the reason why it took so long to get a formal release.  The rights for all these songs needed to be compensated for.  That alone probably is the biggest itemization on the movie's production budget.

Director Denny Tedesco started this all almost two decades ago to honor his father, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, who was a major force within the Wrecking Crew.  His guitar work can be heard most notably in the opening strains of the aforementioned Bonanza theme.  But his talents are so engrained in our musical memories that likely a day doesn't go by that you don't hear an old song that had some part of Tommy on it.   

The same with other Wrecking Crew members like Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye (the lone gal in the group), Don Randi, and surprisingly Glen Campbell.  In the film, the latter's memory bank includes a lot of Glen's input.  I'm glad they got that on camera before it was too late.  And is there more lush and delicious a sound than Glen's "Wichita Linesman?"  I shiver every time I hear it.

So much of this music still plays in my car on a daily basis, where the car radio infrequently strays off Sirius/XM's 60s channel.  It's a touchstone with my very young youth from a house where my mom played Top 40 radio all the time.  "The Wrecking Crew" film provides a touchstone for anybody who appreciates good music and the sounds that will never ever be duplicated again.  Kudos to Denny Tedesco for keeping up the good fight and getting this film out there.  The pleasure is all ours.

Run, don't walk if there is an opportunity to see "The Wrecking Crew" in your neighborhood.

LEN'S RATING:  Four stars.

Dinner last night:  Ziti and meatballs.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Morning Video Laugh - April 20, 2015

A classic moment from Everybody Loves Raymond.   I am still wondering how they shot this in front of a live audience.

Dinner last night:  Chicken sausage, rice, and vegetables.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Sinatra

HBO has been running this month a two-part, four-hour documentary on Frank Sinatra.   You can find it frequently on their broadcast schedule, on demand, and is viewable on TVs, tablets, computers, phones, and probably some bathroom walls.  While it requires a healthy sit, the documentary is well worth your time.

Admittedly, the film is a trifle biased.  Documentarian Alex Gibney had the full cooperation of the Sinatra family, as if Frank Jr. and Nancy have anything else to do these days.  But, given the involvement on a personal level, you know that you'll get to see a lot of wonderful personal photos.  At the same time, it will be very short on details regarding arrests, jail time, domestic violence and the like.  

Still, for the music alone, it's worth the price of your monthly premium cable bill.  You do get some of the mob connection stuff as well as Frank's less-than-stellar behavior.  Most noteworthy to me was his liberal political leanings and his ongoing fight for equal and civil rights.  Of course, you'll find that all pretty contradictory when you see Frank perform with Sammy Davis Jr. and reduce that talented singer and dancer to a 1963 incarnation of Willie Best.  

But that was Frank.   The purest form of an enigma.  Talented but egotistical.  Kind yet ruthless.  Caring yet heartless.  You hear the terrific renditions of his songs throughout, but you also realize that, in later years, he gave concerts despite the fact that he couldn't sing any more.  Or remember the words.   "That's why the lady is a shoe."

You get the picture.   

As I watched this documentary, I was kicked back one more time to my youth.   When stars seemed bigger than they really were.  When places like Hollywood and Las Vegas seemed so far away.   And your perceptions of celebrities and show business were formed by the adults around you.   In this case, my family.

For us on South 15th Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York, Hollywood might as well have been on the moon.  But we, as a family unit, were certainly entranced by the glamour of it all.  We had our favorite TV shows on one of the three networks available to us.  My mom and her girlfriend Ronnie went to the movies on Monday nights every week.  I remember her talking on the phone the next day with somebody else about what she had seen.   She always seemed to be focused on a movie star's physical appearance.

"Eleanor Parker's eyes were so bloodshot."

"Shirley McLaine's haircut looks ridiculous."

"When did David Niven start looking so fat?"

I sort of had an idea who these people were.  Every month, one of my errands was to go around the corner to Bob's Candy Store and pick up the latest editions of TV/Radio Mirror and Photoplay for my mom.  These were gossip magazines always centered on who was getting a divorce from whom.  I remember one particular cover story headline that was confusing to me at the time.

"WHY LIBERACE CAN'T FIND THE RIGHT WOMAN."

In retrospect, I wish I had read the article at the time.   But this was all alien to me and I formed my opinions based on what I heard around the house.  I started to like the same shows and stars that my family did.  So, as a result, I loved Debbie Reynolds and Bob Hope and Dean Martin.   And hated the likes of Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor, who, in my grandmother's own words, was "such a tramp."

And, through it all, another hated icon for me and my family was...Frank Sinatra.

"He's a nasty man."

"If I couldn't sing any better than that, I wouldn't try."

"That ugly string bean."

My grandmother fueled most of this vitriole for some reason.  As a result, we became a Dean Martin household as if he and Frank were pitted against one another in a competition.   All this despite the fact that my family always needed to acknowledge that Dean was "always drunk."

Nevertheless, there was tons of venom against Ol' Blue Eyes and I never understood it.

Of course, the sight of him spooked me for the longest time.  One of the many Friday afternoon movies that my mother took me to at either RKO Proctor's or Loews was the original edition of "Oceans 11," which starred Frank and the rest of the so-called "Rat Pack."  

In the plot line, the crooks rob all the Las Vegas casinos and hide the money in the coffin of one of their members who suffered a heart attack during the heist.  Except the joke's on them when the coffin is cremated and they listen to it burning in the chapel.   

At that time, I had no time what cremation was.   And, after I asked my mother about it, I was completely scared and repulsed.   And, as a result, I could no longer see Frank Sinatra's image without hearing that damn crematory sound in the movie.

Some things never get away from you.

Still, Frank Sinatra was one of those people who was bigger than life to me.   He epitomized the Hollywood star and was clearly light years away from my own existence.  I had no real viewpoint of his singing talents.  I just heard he was a bad guy and I accepted that from my family as if they were telling me not to touch a hot stove.

A few years later, Grandma really got a lather up over Frankie.   As I have written here before, my grandmother and I watched together the steamy prime time soap opera called "Peyton Place."   On that show, as a young and teenage Allison McKenzie, was one Mia Farrow.   And we all became aware of Frank Sinatra's involvement with and ultimate marriage to Farrow.   

"What the hell does she see in that stupid greaseball?"

"He could be her father.  How disgusting."

"Wait till he punches her in the head.  Good bye, Mia."

My grandmother didn't know Mia Farrow, but it's as she was defending her own child.  I sucked this all up and the anti-Sinatra feelings rose in me geometrically.

Again, my opinions were their opinions.

Over the years, I always had this disdain for Frank Sinatra.   I had friends who saw him in concert from time to time and would extol his virtues.  I wouldn't hear it.   I guess this is how prejudice gets handed down in some families.  The venom was engrained in me.  And, as a result, I wasn't as objective as I could be regarding Frank Sinatra.

The HBO documentary was a perfect leveling agent for me.   Even though the content was a bit stilted, I learned a lot and realized that I had been blinded by the viewpoints of others.  Is he my favorite singer of all time?  Nah.  I'm still partial to Dean Martin and Rosemary Clooney, who were played in my house constantly.   

But, I could see the mysticism around Sinatra.   And understand it a little better.   

However, one of my favorite memories of Frank was not included in the documentary and understandably so.  It was the night he died in May of 1998.

Actually, I was living about three blocks away from the Cedars-Sinai Hospital he was rushed to.  The news broke through prime time programming.   And we later learned that daughter Nancy did not make to the hospital before he ultimately passed.  They had tried to reach her but she had taken her phone off the hook so as not to disturbed.   You see, that was the night they aired the series finale episode of "Seinfeld."

To this day, that little sidebar still makes me chuckle.  

The very next morning, I was driving through Beverly Hills and I stumbled across a sea of news vans.   As it turns out, they were all camped out in front of his gated home.   I surveyed the attention.  And understand it a little bit better today as a result of the HBO show.

Frank Sinatra was still bigger than life.   And, apparently, even bigger in death.

Dinner last night:  French dip panini.

   

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Classic TV Theme of the Month - April 2015

Well, not all the shows are classics.

Dinner last night:  Beef stir fry.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Your Weekend Movie Guide for April 2015

 Check out this vintage ad for Radio City Music Hall in days past.   

The "Great Easter Show."

Okay, they have...no pun intended...resurrected this production at Radio City Music Hall.  There's no movie, of course.   And now it's called a Spring Holiday Spectacular, so as not to offend anybody.

Puh-leze!

One more time, I am longing for the old days.   And a visit today to the multiplexes of America makes you wish they were still making movies like this one which played at the Showplace of the Nation.   

Um, no such luck.  You know the monthly deal, gang.   I'll sift through the movie pages of the Los Angeles Times and give you my gut reaction to what's polluting our screens this month.   Trust me, plenty of Easter eggs are being laid.   

And I did say "Easter."

Cinderella:  Disney's live action version of the girl who can't keep her shoe on.  Not to confused with their cartoon edition or the Broadway musical.  Or, for people who read this too fast, the Coachella concert.

5 to 7:  6:55 to you.

Broken Horses:  What happens when you have overweight riders.

Get Hard:  Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, and probably not one single laugh.

Furious 7:   They apparently send off the late Paul Walker in a sweet way.   After glorifying car crashes for two hours before.

While We're Young:   Review to come.  Yes, I did see a Ben Stiller movie.

Danny Collins:  Al Pacino plays an aging musician.  Show of hands for those people who actually want to hear him sing.

The Longest Ride:  A sappy romantic drama that features an unrecognizable Alan Alda in a supporting role.

White God:   Dogs rebel.  Apparently there are not enough hydrants around.

Woman in Gold:  Helen Mirren searches for a Gustav Klimt painting.   Yeah, that's not a typo.

Ex Machina:  Did they leave out "Deus?"

It Follows:  Another horror movie from Hollywood.   But, then again, aren't they all?

El Nino:  Boy, do we need one of those in Southern California?  The weather phenomena, not the movie.

Home:  More non-Disney animation with Jim Parsons, Jennifer Lopez, and Rhianna among the voices.   Mel Blanc was...ahem...unavailable.

Paul Blart - Mall Cop 2:   For those three people who can't get enough of Kevin James.

Unfriended:  The first Facebook-based slasher movie.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter:  The title alone keeps me away.

Salt of the Earth:   Being boycotted by anybody with high blood pressure.

The Divergent Series - Insurgent:  I know no one who is into this franchise.   But, then again, most of my friends are over 15.

Effie Gray:   Victorian scandal with Dakota Fanning.   Okay, if you insist.

Dial A Prayer:  God makes robo calls.

True Story:  A killer assumes the identity of a New York Times reporter.   As if the newspaper isn't having enough problems with fact checking.

Beyond the Reach:  Michael Douglas as a crazy billionaire on a hunting trip. This might be a documentary.

Child 44:  A disgraced intelligence agent in 1953 Russia.  Nyet.

Monsters - Dark Continent:  More aliens.   The ones from outer space, not across the border.

The Squeeze:  A gambler and his young protege.   Odds are I won't see it.

Kill Me Three Times:   Which I believe is redundant.

Seymour - An Introduction:  A documentary on pianist Seymour Bernstein.  Unless he's the guy who composed "Chopsticks," I'll pass.

Lost River:   Ryan Gosling is the director.  That's a yellow flag.

Alex of Venice:  A workaholic attorney restarts her life.   At $250 per hour.

The Road Within:  A young man with Tourette's sneaks out of his clinic to be with his OCD love interest.   Bring your own medication.

Dinner last night:  Pasta shells with sausage and portobello mushrooms in olive oil at Casa Nostra in Pacific Palisades.





 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Moron of the Month - April 2015

Hey, it's April and the baseball season is starting. Let's find our idiot designee from the world of MLB. And, frankly, this guy comes off lucky being acknowledged simply as just a moron.   Because he's one of the biggest shitheads around today.   

And he's the main reason why the New York Mets baseball organization will never amount to anything while this Jeff Wilpon jerk is in charge.  

Oh, sure, you can hear all the good stories from spring training.  Matt Harvey, this.  Matt Harvey, that.  Frankly, it's Matt Harvey everything.   The Mets who are really the Mutts are now the Matts.  To the point where the ball club has jiggered their pitching staff to coincide with attendance expectations.  Why throw Harvey on an Opening Day at home when there's an automatic sellout?  Let's save him for the game of the opening series when we expect less bodies in the stands?

This is the kind of inane bullshit that Jeff Wilpon does.   From all accounts, the internal stories about him are rampant.  He meddles.   He weedles his way into all baseball-related decisions.   He would not hire a general manager that wouldn't allow him to interfere.  He's also allegedly childish, tyrannical, and unethical.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your New York Mets ownership.

Jeff is the son of senior owner Fred Wilpon, who, along with Nelson Doubleday, got the team to rebound in the mid-80s.  Fred's still around, but he mainly dribbles in his cup and stares blankly at the wall photos of him and high school buddy Sandy Koufax.  Oh, and when he's not doing that, he's allowing his wallet to be picked by the likes of Bernie Madoff.   Yep, lots of Wilpon dough helped to contribute to court-ordered jail time.   As a result, Fred Wilpon wound up without a cup to dribble in and nary a nickel for a decent shortstop.

Of course, the franchise's death watch really began as soon as the Wilpon family took full control of the team.  And Daddy installed his know-nothing lummox of a son Jeff as its leader.  When it comes to baseball, I wouldn't let Jeff coordinate a Strat-o-Matic team, let alone a real one worth millions of dollars in the number one market of America.   But, Jeff got the job and the task of leading the Mets into the 21st Century and its transition from Shea Stadium to Citi Field next door.  Yeah, none of that has worked out.

But, early on, I knew the weasel we were getting with Jeff Wilpon.  He and I crossed paths.

Back in the late 90s, I still had my Saturday ticket plan at Shea.  From Los Angeles, I would still make it back for five or six games a year.   But, with the team descent at the time, it was not hard to sell off the rest.   

One season, when my package arrived, I noticed that it included a Saturday pre-season contest against the Baltimore Orioles.   In late March when usually you could still find small mounds of blackened snow residing in the Shea parking lot.  How the hell was I going to sell off these?

Even worse, I realized that I was charged full price for this game.  Huh?  Not even a discounted fee for this absolutely nothing game.  It was one of those moments in my life where I thought a letter was in order.   And I decided to address to the head guy.

I suggested that this was a poor practice to expect longtime plan holders to choke down at full price a game that was meaningless.  I presented an alternative.  Make any Shea pre-season games optional to plan holders and at a reduced price.

I got a response from Jeff.   Oh, sure, you can tell me that perhaps some underling drafted the letter back, but the swarmy and condescending tone pretty much confirmed it was done by Jeff himself.

The jackass told me that there was plenty of interest in this game.   After all, it was the first meeting of the Mets and the Orioles at Shea since they played the 1969 World Series!  How could I not be intrigued by such a hot ticket?

This shithead's letter was so offensive to me that I couldn't let it go.  

I thanked Mr. Wilpon for his response.   I still wasn't that interested in this game and neither were any of my 50 or Met fan friends.  As a result, my seats would be empty that Saturday.   So, I invited Jeff to use them for himself.   And, oh, if he did, he should remember to bring his warmest coat and gloves to combat the 30 MPH March winds.

I don't know if he did.   But that's just the kind of prick Jeff Wilpon is.

Indeed, over the years since, if there was a wrong decision to be made about this franchise, Jeff Wilpon managed to make it.  He allegedly told manager Terry Collins that, under no circumstance, would Matt Harvey not be available to start the All-Star Game at Citi Field.   Collins admitted as much in a candid interview on Dodger Talk in Los Angeles.  Who cares about the pitcher's health?   Let's just maximize the focus on the team.  

Guess who ended up having Tommy John surgery the next season?

The Met team and the stadium operation is nickel and dime all the way in a market that demands top notch structure at all levels.  The place is run like it's a team in the NY Penn League---minor league all the way.  There is nothing even remotely classy about the Mets organization.  It's as hollow as the papier mache head on Mr. Met.

And it's all thanks to Jeff Wilpon, the one-man-baseball-franchise-wrecking-crew.

He and I ultimately had another skirmish.  Well, indirectly.

The partial plan holders from Shea Stadium, some of us with tenure as long as several decades, got kicked from pillar to post with the move to Citi Field.  It became almost impossible for us to get any satisfaction with seat locations, etc..  We were treated like gum on David Wright's shoe.  Of course, there was never any consistency in the ticket office.   Our personal ticket representative changed every year because people were leaving their jobs regularly.   Another sign of a poorly run organization and a fish that stinks from its head.

In the winter which ultimately became the one where I did not renew my Mets partial plan for the first time in ages, I took one last swipe at getting satisfaction with seat location.  Things were going from bad to worse with the new ticket rep assigned to us.   I decided to find out who was the new head of season tickets.  I found out it was a gal, one Leigh Castergine.   I got her address and sent an e-mail.   I reminded her that the fans being treated like dirt had supported the team for years.

I actually got an immediate response.   She said that she was sorry about her poor experience and would do everything in her power to make something happen.   She would pass off our accounts to her best ticket representative.   Leigh noted that she would handle this all personally but this was the very last day for prior to her maternity leave.

Well, that was something.  

Of course, we tried hard with the assigned ticket rep but it didn't work.   We could actually get better (and cheaper) seat locations on Stub Hub than through a partial plan.

I dealt with the sorrow of this divorce.   And, then a while later, I heard about a pending lawsuit in the press.   

A Leigh Castergine was suing the Mets and specifically Jeff Wilpon.

I'll let the New York Post fill in the blanks. 

The first woman senior vice president in the team’s 52-year history claims in a federal lawsuit filed in Brooklyn Wednesday that Wilpon, the struggling team’s chief operating officer, canned her from her post heading ticket sales last month because he was “morally opposed” to her being pregnant and unmarried.
 
University of Pennsylvania grad Leigh Castergine, says in the suit, that Wilpon “frequently humiliated [her] in front of others by, among other things, pretending to see if she had an engagement ring on her finger.”
 
The suit claims Wilpon even stated “in a meeting of the team’s all-male senior executives that he is ‘morally opposed’ to Castergine ‘having this baby without being married.’”
“Wilpon told her that when she gets a ring she will make more money and get a bigger bonus,” the filing claims.

Well, none of that sounded surprising to me.  I wondered if I could actually sit in on the court proceedings.  

There was an out-of-court settlement ultimately, buried in the back pages of the local newspaper.  I am sure Castergine made out well.   Because, deep down, I knew all those allegations were likely true.  It was just following the normal character traits of one Jeff Wilpon.

There are Met fans with hope in their hearts for this season.   They are excited more than in many past seasons.  But, I know that, at the end of the day and the baseball calendar, the Mets will screw it up.   Because, somehow and in someway, Jeff Wilpon will be involved.  Met fans deserve a lot better than this scumbag in an Armani suit.

The New York Mets have no real future while the Wilpons control the franchise.   With this weasel in charge.  The man who single-handedly broke the intimate relationship I've had with this team since I was ten years old.   I'm no longer a Met fan because of Jeff Wilpon.

I'll be back.   When this asshole is gone.

Dinner last night:  Pepperoni pizza at the Dodger game.