Saturday, September 30, 2006
Today I noticed a facsimile edition of Abbie Hoffman’s STEAL THIS BOOK on the shelves in a bookstore and it reminded me of Abbie’s Yippie friend, singer Phil Ochs. Phil Ochs was a protest singer and a folk singer who, according to some, was on a par with Bob Dylan in the sixties and early seventies. Due to their status in the folk music field the two became uneasy friends and fellow travelers. Ochs, however, remained a footnote in the Dylan story while Dylan loomed large in the tragedy that was Phil’s life.
The two men rose to prominence around the same time but the difference is that both Phil’s songs and his voice were much more melodic than Bob’s. For some reason, though, the public latched onto the atonal troubadour with the straining voice while Ochs ran alongside just trying to keep up. The closest thing he had to a well-known song would have to be "I Ain’t Marching Anymore," a simple and wonderful song about the futility of war.
In his personal life, Phil Ochs’ lack of major success clashed with his mental and emotional issues, leading him down the sadly traditional pop star path of drugs and alcohol. In the seventies, he actually chose to become someone else, creating a surly alternate personality he called John Butler Train. Train denied being Ochs and for a time no one was certain if it was some type of anarchist put-on or if the singer’s bipolar issues had manifested themselves in multiple personalities. Train even claimed to have murdered Phil Ochs. Phil eventually became Phil again, though, but while recovering at his sister’s home from a recent accident in 1976, he chose to hang himself.
According to Marc Eliot’s book, DEATH OF A REBEL, one of several booklength bios, Phil Ochs was passionate about life and what he saw as the evil caused by war and man’s inhumanity to man. He had issues, as do we all, and his dreams never really came true. He left behind some marvelous music however, from his early protest songs to his later attempts at mainstream pop, his resonant voice shines through. There are many compilations including a definitive box set I could never afford but the CD seen here is a nice representative selection of some of his middle period music with a live version of "I Ain’t Marching Anymore."
Phil’s brother Michael collected music-related photos and eventually established the Michael Ochs Archives, the definitive collection of pop culture pictures which is probably credited in every single rock music book you have ever read. As time has gone on, Phil’s image as a cult figure has grown even as the general public’s awareness of him has dimmed. Music For Your Eyes: Phil Ochs recently ran a couple of clips of the handsome singer at his peak from Swedish television (he may not have been officially banned from US TV but his appearances were few and far between). Also, here’s a link to Phil Ochs - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and a site with lots more Phil Ochs links. As you might suspect, the Michael Ochs Archives is also represented on-line at Welcome to the Michael Ochs Archives archive.
Friday, September 29, 2006
A lot of websites have taken to running articles, excerpts or videos of "golden throat" performances—celebrities who can’t sing singing. Here at the Library, we’ve had this slim volume that covers a lot of that same ground, HOLLYWOOD HI-FI, since 1995. Underneath the photomanipulated Jerry Colonna cover the book itself is a fun putdown of celebs who come to believe they can do it all. It features mostly single page articles on each of dozens of albums and singles by folks who should never have been allowed near a recording studio. These include:
Lon Chaney, Jr.
and finally (how did she get in this list? She’s great!) Hayley Mills!
Thursday, September 28, 2006
The days when I anxiously awaited the new television season are long past. This year, I’d be surprised if I could even tell you the names of more than a half dozen new shows and even then, only a few like HEROES seemed the least bit interesting. Then I started hearing about UGLY BETTY.
At first I hated the name. What a terrible stigma to give to some poor girl! How sad that we could be making comedy out of the misfortunes of a plain girl in a fashion model world of beautiful people. I remembered that title, though, and I paid attention as I began to hear more and more about the series.
Produced by Hispanic actress Salma Hayek, UGLY BETTY is an Americanized (but still Hispanic) version of a long-running Colombian telenovela (soap opera) entitled Yo Lo Soy Betty La Fea. An hour-long comedy-drama, the basic plot deals with plain-Jane Betty as a fish out of water working as a personal assistant to a fashion magazine editor. Her common sense and ethics help her not always appreciative boss go up against the backstabbing co-workers after his job.
There’s some shooting fish in a barrel (another fish reference!) skewering of the easy target fashion industry, some in-jokes with telenovelas and some typical twenty-first century TV sex but none of that matters. What makes UGLY BETTY work and moves it several notches above where it probably should be is actress America Ferrera as Betty. In an absolutely winning performance, Ms. Ferrera demonstrates a flair for comedy, drama and the most winning (if metal-enhanced) smile on this year’s screens.
Not only that, the title is a misnomer. As a geek of long-standing, I can truly say that if I had met Betty back in the day, she would have been a real babe to me. The first two girls I ever dated had braces and nearly all the women I know even now have glasses. What makes her pretty has nothing to do with her looks and everything to do with the way the actress imbues her still-fresh role with pluck, spirit, and a delightful personality. Based on how well she fits her role, I want to see where she takes Betty.
Vanessa Williams, on the other hand, is a comic-booky villain (I, of course, don’t have a problem with that) who bears watching. She does bitchy well in the classic TV tradition. It’s so nice that the former Miss America has not only survived her early career scandal (about which I was once interviewed on TV) but thrived as both a singer and an actress. If every episode deals with her machinations to wrest control of the magazine, though, this could get old fast.
Bottom line: America Ferrera makes UGLY BETTY one to watch. Let’s keep an eye on it, though, to see if the writers can keep it that way. Here's a link to the official UGLY BETTY website: ABC: Ugly Betty. Also, for an undoubtedly brief time, ABC has the pilot available for viewing on their website, ABC.com.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Ace Hart was a British post-war super hero. He appeared briefly in a post we did here at the Library earlier this year as an example of a character that never appeared in America that I'd like to learn more about. Ace had an absolutely fantastic emblem! Well, yesterday's email brought news of a fun new website devoted to good old Ace and, as we're in the middle of a deluge here at the moment, I thought I would direct you all there and then head for higher ground. Enjoy! Ace Hart - early British Super Hero
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Despite the recent revelation of my own personal lack of mammary fixation, the Library received the following 1967 clipping in an email from a kind and generous correspondent the other day. As long-time readers will recall, a favorite starlet of mine (and apparently many other folks) has long been actress Cisse Cameron, formerly known as Cissy Colpitts (seen in BILLY JACK, PORKYS II,etc). Here we have Ms. Colpitts as Miss Watermelon Bust 1967 along with a relatively recent convention photo found on the Net of Ms. Cameron with longtime husband, Reb Brown (TV's CAPTAIN AMERICA). Not too shabby considering it's been nearly four decades!
TV'S DYNAMIC HEROES was one of a series of wonderful trivia-oriented magazines edited by controversial uber-fan Ron Haydock in the 1970’s. These publications almost always employed the talents of pop culture experts such as Don Glut and Jim Harmon (my own editor on IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN 3, still available through BearManor Media) and presented photos and information found nowhere else. Although many of these mags were single subject one-shots, this 1976 one was the first issue of a short regular run.
Highlighting television’s amazingly popular Bionic heroes (THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and THE BIONIC WOMAN) with no less than four informative articles, you also have the ubiquitous STAR TREK piece as well as SHAZAM, WONDER WOMAN, ISIS, SPACE 1999, Ben Murphy’s GEMINI MAN and even Roger Moore’s then-current TV movie, SHERLOCK HOLMES IN NEW YORK. James Bond, Tarzan and even the original (Spencer, Tracy and Kong) GHOST BUSTERS turn up, too. Somehow or another they even manage to rationalize an uncredited rave review of the book, THE GREAT TELEVISION HEROES which just happens to be written by…Jim Harmon and Don Glut. It really is a great book but doesn’t this just scream "conflict of interest?"
Jim Harmon is a recognized expert on old-time radio in general and TOM MIX and Carlton E. Morse in particular. Don Glut may well be the world’s biggest Frankenstein expert and is known for his works on dinosaurs, also. Ron Haydock—actor, musician, writer, editor—was killed in an accident before the seventies ended. His mags were a ton of fun and covered items that weren’t really being covered elsewhere in those days. We’ll talk about more of them in the future.
Monday, September 25, 2006
On a recent perusal of the newsstand (once an almost daily ritual, now a rare occurrence) I couldn’t help but notice a magazine called TRUMP, ostensibly put out by "the Donald" receiving major distribution and placement. This was certainly not the case five decades back when another gazillionaire, one Hugh M. Hefner, published two issues of his own TRUMP edited by Harvey Kurtzman. Regular readers know that Harvey is a personal hero of mine. Founder of MAD, inspiration to the anti-war movement, grandfather to the Underground comics and the man who gave both Terry Gilliam and Gloria Steinem their starts, the pop culture world of today would no doubt be vastly different had Harvey never existed. In a dispute with Bill Gaines over the newly magazine-sized MAD, Kurtzman jumped ship and took the original "usual gang of idiots" with him, picking up Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee along the way. Hefner, himself a frustrated cartoonist, funneled early PLAYBOY profits into the creation of TRUMP, an ultra-slick MAD-style magazine of his own, satirically attacking Wall Street, Hollywood, Madison Avenue and all other sacred cows of American culture, popular and otherwise. Kurtzman’s TRUMP was beset by both distribution problems and the fact that Hefner needed to financially divest himself of his non-PLAYBOY interests soon after its creation. It ran only two issues. In spite of the problems, it reportedly sold quite well. On slick, glossy paper with lots of interior color, it was certainly the most impressive looking satirical mag of them all (and there were a HELL of a lot of them in the mid-fifties!). Written mostly by Kurtzman, the mostly hilarious features were illustrated with some of the best art ever from the holy triumvirate of Wally Wood (in the first issue only. Then he returned to MAD), Jack Davis and longtime collaborator Willie Elder. Kurtzman and Elder would return to PLAYBOY as creators of the long-running LITTLE ANNIE FANNY after a few more failed attempts to rival the monster success of his original creation, MAD. TRUMP faded into history as a pop culture footnote with little of its features being reprinted in any fashion. If you’re a fan of the early MAD, however, you have to get copies of the two 1957 issues of TRUMP. Forgotten as they are, they may just be the pinnacle of Harvey Kurtzman’s influential career.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
I mentioned Avery Schrieber the other day and it occurred to me that some may not remember him by name. Burns and Schrieber were a favorite comedy team of mine in the sixties and seventies. Their signature routine was one in which tired cabbie Schrieber picks up a talky boor of a fare who goes on and on about nonsense and keeps trying to drag the driver into the conversation. Scores of variations on that theme never failed to make me laugh.
Jack Burns had started out as part of a comedy team with, of all people, George Carlin but an amicable split left Jack at Second City where he eventually met Avery. Jack Paar led them into a long list of TV variety shows that would eventually net them a short lived one of their own in the early seventies.
Along the way, both men continued solo acting careers with the amicable Burns attempting and failing to replace Barney Fife on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and blustery Schrieber stuck in the historically bad MY MOTHER THE CAR as the villain. After their variety show (from which comes this image) Jack opted to spend more time behind the scenes writing and directing and Avery became arguably more famous than ever in a long-running and popular series of Doritos commercials. He died in 2002 after years of small character parts. Jack Burns’ voice continues to be heard on still-running crash test dummy PSA’s from more than a decade ago and he does still appear on television on rare occasion. With no real reruns or DVD releases of variety shows to speak of (yet) their vast comic output becomes more and more forgotten as time moves on but in their day… "Cab? Caaaab? Caaaaaab?" "Yeah, it’s a taxi cab!!!!" Ya hadda be there.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
I am not a breast man. Never cared for Russ Meyer films, never found Rusty Warren records amusing, not a big fan of Victoria’s Secret catalogs. After some consideration, I do believe that this has something to do with the fact that the very first woman I ever saw topless in real life was Morganna, Baseball’s famous "kissing bandit." No one else could possibly live up to that first viewing. At 60 inches in early 1981 when I saw her (twice), Morganna’s bosom was large enough to be stunningly impressive to my 22 year old mind and yet not freakishly large like that of some other exotic dancers.
Morganna Cottrell earned her footnote place in American sports by running out on the playing fields and kissing famous players that she liked, partially for the publicity but mostly because she loved sports, particularly baseball! She began her on the field shenanigans in 1970, much to the chagrin of the powers that be. That year she kissed several players including Cincinnati’s Pete Rose before being arrested for the first time at the All-Star game. The novelty gone, she retired from the kissing game for a few years only to return with a vengeance in the late seventies. Her antics outraged some, delighted others and earned her a place in the official Baseball Hall of Fame.
Having heard about her since I was twelve, I decided to go see her act with my friend Terry a decade later when she came back to the area. I’ll be honest, as a comic book geek and nerd in good standing, I just wanted to see a naked lady and this was my way of rationalizing it. I was surprised, though. Not just a stripper, she was also a comedian and a storyteller, regaling the audience at the smoky Kentucky bar with her Southern-accented baseball anecdotes as well as producing a baseball player hand puppet for an amusing visual gag. She then proved that she could bump and grind in the great tradition, swirling and twirling in a sheer cape to pounding disco music. At the end of her act, she said she’d be out front in a few minutes if anyone wanted to meet and talk and get her autograph. My friend and I went. We were the only ones who did. It was sad that this woman who had just given literally her all to entertain a mostly drunken group of guys could not get them to even speak to her when she had her clothes on. I think it was at that moment that I began to realize that all women are naked under their clothes and that all women you see naked under any circumstances have brains, hearts and feelings. It kind of took the fun out of strip clubs. We stood out there in the lobby talking with Morganna for about fifteen minutes. She was courteous, friendly and asked about us as much as we asked about her. We each bought one of her Farrah-like posters and had her sign them, noting the conceit that she dots her "M"s appropriately in her signature. Soon afterwards, I even picked up more autographed pics, clippings and an official press release from a columnist at the newspaper where I cleaned up after hours. Morganna continued her career as well as her baseball hobby, appearing in a lovely soft focus photofeature in PLAYBOY a few years later. Eventually, she retired to her home in Columbus, Ohio where, last I heard, she had become a bit of a recluse. I hope she’s happy, though. She was a nice woman and I remember being impressed by more than just her measurements. In fact, after Morganna, measurements never really impressed me at all.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
After a series of showy but basically rather stoic performances as villains or surly supporting characters in films such as FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, THE STING, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 and JAWS, British actor/playwright Robert Shaw suddenly found himself a leading man in mid-1970’s Hollywood. One of his star vehicles was 1976’s SWASHBUCKLER, a good old-fashioned romp of a pirate film in the Errol Flynn tradition. Met with mixed reviews on its initial release (and still in the various video review annuals) and looking more than a little kitschy from this contemporary TV GUIDE ad, it really was a lot of fun with Shaw winking at the audience the whole time in perhaps the most energetic performance of his career. I recall having a hard time reconciling Irish gangster Doyle Lonegan with Red Ned Lynch.
James Earl Jones, Geoffrey Holder and Avery Schrieber stole the show as supporting pirates with Peter Boyle as the slimy villain and Genevieve Bujold (almost VOYAGER’s Captain Janeway) as the less than distressed damsel. Beau Bridges was even along for the ride.
Despite several other star turns, Shaw would die just two years later and be remembered mostly for his supporting roles and his plays. The pirate film made several other attempts at a comeback (including two musical versions!) before Captain Jack Sparrow finally struck treasure on the silver screen as a much more traditional pirate anti-hero in Disney’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN nearly thirty years later.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
In yesterday's post, we ran a couple of DICK TRACY ads from more than half a century back. We neglected to point out, however, that the history of Tracy is far from a done deal at this point. In fact, in recent weeks alone, word comes of a complete reprint project for the 75 year old strip and, perhaps best of all, Dick has become a supporting character in the current GASOLINE ALLEY storyline by Jim Scancarelli (marking a rare non-gag crossover in comic strips). DICK TRACY has appeared in numerous reprint comics (often censored) over the decades, perhaps most noticably from Harvey in the fifties and sixties. Even DC did an over-sized one-shot in the seventies. A number of hardback and trade paperback books have offered histories and "best of" compilations and several companies have done long chronological reprintings of strips. The book seen here was put out in conjunction with Warren Beatty's early nineties movie version and, in my opinion, offers perhaps the best history of DICK TRACY as it does so through the marketing and merchandising that made the character so legendary.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Continuing my sojourn into golden age comics reading, I find the ads sometimes more interesting than the relatively lackluster stories and art of some issues. Here are just a couple of the probably hundreds of tie-in items that DICK TRACY spawned. Note that the tommy gun would provide your child with a "healthy outlet for his boyish enthusiasm." Uhhhhh-huh.
Monday, September 18, 2006
At left is the cover of YOUNG ALLIES # 1. Below is a house ad for this same book that appeared earlier in HUMAN TORCH # 5. Note the completely different cover that seems to be by Jack Kirby (who's listed as art director in the actual book and drew the first page of each chapter). Even the ad seems to be signed "Kirby" inthe lower right hand corner in spite of the fact that the drawn in figures don't look all that much like his artwork. (As stated earlier, please pardon "Whitewash" in his historical context. They knew not what they were doing.)
Sunday, September 17, 2006
My son, now 9 and soon to be 10, has recieved, as you might expect, a classical education. Early on, he would tell people that his favorite singer was Chuck Berry. In school now, if someone asks "What's the answer?" he shouts out "42." The password is, of course, "swordfish" and he DOES know whether the chalice from the palace has the pellet with the poison or the brew that is true. Thus, it shouldn't surprise anyone that, when we ventured to purchase our very first DVD player when he was about two or three years old, the very first thing he wanted to get was Winsor McCay's GERTIE THE DINOSAUR. Widely considered as the first actual cartoon character, McCay did thousands of simple drawings to animate the benign brontosaurus for her 1914 debut. Originally considered as a novelty, he took the act on the road in vaudeville and later filmed silent inserts of his stage setups for the film itself. As the creator of the classic, visually and architecturally amazing LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND (whose animated debut is also featured on this DVD), McCay's legacy as a newspaper cartoonist is secure. As the creator of Gertie, his place as a pioneer animator is equally important. Oh wait a minute! I just remembered! We had to ORDER this one in! So we'd have something to watch in the meantime, we bought the Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman AVENGERS movie! Errr...so much for taste?? Here's a link to a nice Winsor McCay Biography with illustrations. His cartoons, all of the surviving ones of which are collected on this disk with a number of extras, have been recently repackaged in what is undoubtedly an upgrade but this one will always be special to my son and me.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
From YOUNG ALLIES, a kid gang book from Timely featuring Bucky, Toro and a particularly unfortunate stereotyped black character called Whitewash, comes this one page recycling propaganda featuring Captain America and Bucky from 1944. Of course, its because of paper drives like these that so many comic books of the period were destroyed driving golden age prices into the mega-thousands that they are today! Oh, well...at least the Allies won the war.Guess there's a bright side to everything.
Friday, September 15, 2006
The Crimson Comet is an Australian strip that premiered in 1946 and was created by Comic creator: John Dixon. I became aware of Dixon when THE MENOMONEE FALLS GAZETTE began reprinting his early sixties newspaper strip, AIR HAWK AND THE FLYING DOCTOR in the mid seventies. His art style was similar to that of Jim Holdaway who did MODESTY BLAISE. In the forties, it showed an Alex Raymond influence but also resembled that of the later Charlton artist, Pete Morisi. THE CRIMSON COMET was a RED RAVEN looking character and that's about all I can tell you except for what I learned from the links above. The covers seen here are a page from the British book, NOSTALGIA ABOUT COMICS. Anyone out there familiar with this series?
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Here' s the recently published Gemstone Official Anniversary Book for DISNEY COMICS -75 YEARS OF INNOVATION. A bargain at any price, this is a well-chosen collection of international Disney stories dating from the 1930's to more-or-less the present. Besides Donald, Mickey and Scrooge, the most obscure characters can be found in these pages. Fethry Duck, a huge hit in the rest of the world for forty years but an also-ran in the US, appears with beautiful animation style art by Al Hubbard from 1964. Bucky Bug, Super Goof, and Arizona Dipp appear, also, in stories originally published in Italy, Sweden, Brazil, the Netherlands and elsewhere. William Van Horn, Dan Jippes, Freddy Milton, Don Rosa, POGO's Walt Kelly and, naturally Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson are all represented. If you've never read a Disney comic, this is a good sampler of old and new. If you have, it's a rare treat of a collection! At $12.99 for more than 150 pages of fun and adventure, it doesn't even cost much more than the $6.95 regular price of some of Gemstone's Duck comics! Either way, head to your local comic shop and ask for it today!
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
When I was growing up, I really wanted to be a magazine cartoonist. I studied the humor and the art styles of the cartoons in the magazines my mother would read. This being the early sixties, though, I had already missed the solid cartooning of Stan and Jan Berenstain. After creating the now classic BERENSTAIN BEARS in 1962, they never looked back at their magazine cartooning career. Thus it was only after I grew up that I discovered their books for adults done in the 1950's. Offering lighthearted--if ocassionally rather conservative--advice, 1956's BABY MAKES FOUR is a good example of the child-rearing books the talented couple wrote and illustrated. It's designed primarily as a humorous look at a new baby in the house and yet a number of chapters offer specific advice on acceptable TV shows, toys, etc. Their thick-lined drawing style was clean and very smooth even then and although it later developed into the familiar ultra-slick "bear" style, their humans were just as funny and reminiscent of DENNIS THE MENACE. Here are just a couple of the many examples from the book. Although their greatest success would come in children's books, the fact that they started out as cartoonists may qualify them as the most successful cartoonists of all time. Stan Berenstain died in 2005.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Aged twelve, I was playing at my friend Terry’s house on New Year’s Day, 1972. It was late afternoon and we had the radio on when a report of actor Pete Duel’s suicide came on the news. Duel had been starring in ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, one of my then-favorite TV series. I had enjoyed seeing him on anything since I had first noticed him in an obscure sitcom entitled LOVE ON A ROOFTOP. He was handsome and brooding but had a deft delivery with a funny line and his characters always seemed smarter than anyone else on the show. For the next couple days, I was obsessed with trying to make some sense of this senseless act. Then, in those pre-Internet days, the news reports faded. The show itself continued without even acknowledging the death, simply inserting another handsome charmer into Duel’s role.
"Inspired" by the success of 1969’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, the TV series presents the adventures of two personable young outlaws trying their best to go straight and get a pardon from the Governor. Duel’s Hannibal Hayes was the smart, wisecracking con man while Ben Murphy’s Kid Curry was the fastest gun alive. With a wealth of great guest stars (Sally Field, Walter Brennan, Jack Elam and even Dick Cavett and Dave Garroway!), generally lighthearted scripts and a great chemistry between the two leads, the series quickly built a fan base in spite of the ratings competition from THE FLIP WILSON SHOW.
Coming toward the end of the second season, the chronically depressed Duel’s choice of suicide would seem to have dealt a death blow to the series as well but actor Roger Davis, late of DARK SHADOWS and formerly the show’s announcer, pulled a "Darren" by stepping into the Hannibal Heyes role without any sort of explanation. Having previously appeared in an earlier episode as a charming villain, it was interesting to note there the differences with Duel. That said, little or none of the on-set animosity between Davis and Murphy (fueled by lack of grieving time) is detectable in the episodes that played out the second season. In fact, their chemistry was good enough for an entire third season to be made with a slightly different style but no loss of quality scripts.
With the passing of years, the fact that the show did NOT acknowledge its star’s suicide means that new generations can judge the series without the stigma with which that tragedy marked it at the time. Recent cable reruns reveal ALIAS SMITH AND JONES as a true gem of a show every step of the way. The 2005 book above (available from BearManor Media) is a fitting tribute that not only serves to pay tribute to Pete Duel and all involved but also, for the first times in decades, reunited Roger Davis and Ben Murphy. ALIAS SMITH AND JONES is soaring to a new popularity on cable. This is finally what Pete Duel is being remembered for, not his sad end. If you haven’t seen ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, I highly recommend it. The book, too!
Monday, September 11, 2006
In July of 2001, my wife had the privilege (due to her involvement with the Million Mom March of 2000) to be invited for a week as a sort of civilian ambassador to a special United Nations conference on gun control issues. Just a year after having had her back seriously injured when thrown from a horse, she was uncertain as to whether she could or should go. I urged her to take the opportunity as it was unlikely ever to be offered again. She went. She spent five marvelous days in New York City getting lost in the UN Building, attending meetings, hanging with celebrities such as Judy Collins, appearing briefly on GOOD MORNING AMERICA and making friends with a longtime hot dog vendor who was retiring at the end of the week. When she flew out to come back home, the plane circled Manhattan and she saw for the first and only time the majestic twin towers of the World Trade Center. A month and a half later, a couple other planes saw that view one last time.
I was off work that morning and our son, then aged five, was in Preschool until noon. My wife and I were flipping the channels on the TV when, just before 9 AM, Bryant Gumbel on CBS noted that their cameras had detected a fire at one of the twin towers and that the show, which normally left the air at 9, would stay with it live. As we watched, they began to receive reports that a small plane may have accidentally crashed into the upper floors. Then, in one of the most shocking moments in television history, a second plane exploded into the picture and we all immediately knew what was happening.
At my son’s preschool, they chose not to tell the teachers what was going on so as not to panic the children. Blissfully ignorant, they worked with the kids on cutting, pasting and stapling crafts that day. Seen here, the project my son did that day featured a somewhat plane-shaped "X" seemingly impacting against a tower-shaped rectangle. It’s also been described as looking like an explosion from the middle of the rectangle. The teacher wrote his name and the date on it and it’s been on our refrigerator ever since.
Whether or not we knew anyone who died that day, all Americans lost so much. Probably more than we even suspect as yet. My new job is at an Airport and every day that I go in reminds me of how my world has changed since those few terrible hours that day. All I can do is sigh. On the evening of September 10, 2001, my son and I stood in our back yard and watched a plane as it flew across the night sky. We wondered where it was going, who was in it and wished it a safe journey. That innocence was stolen from us all the next morning.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
In the seventies, after more than two decades as a successful character actor, Charles Bronson followed in the path of Lee Van Cleef by becoming one of the most popular actors in the world...everywhere except here in America. A series of popular Italian westerns and gangster movies made Bronson and wife Jill Ireland an unlikelypair of international jet setters. Finally, in 1974, the movie DEATH WISH made him a superstar in America, too. This book, CHARLES BRONSON, SUPERSTAR was one result. Now a major player in the Hollywood system, the ultra-macho actor gave standout performances in films such as HARD TIMES and BREAKHEART PASS (one of my personal favorite westerns of all times) making him an actor to reckon with and not just a "movie star." Whether it was bad advice, bad contracts or just plain bad karma, Charles Bronson never plateaued like Clint Eastwood. A series of throwaway vehicles (like KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS)derailed his career and the sad and very public passing of his wife from cancer clearly aged the man. Exploitation films such as the umpteenth unneeded low-budget DEATH WISH sequel became the norm and no real acting was required. Oddly enough, it was television, where Bronson had started out long ago, that came to his rescue at the end of the day. In his final years, he was able to show his acting skills again in a series of TV movies tailored for him. Starting with YES, VIRGINIA THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS and ending with several well-done FAMILY OF COPS films, Charles Bronson was able to remind us all a few more times that he was a better actor than he was often given credit for. That's a better legacy than being a superstar.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Back in January, during my association with the esteemed Bubblegumfink, I posted this brief ode to Robin Williams on that site. With Robin and his rehab making the news recently, I thought I'd repost it here for those of you who didn't see it there: Lenny Bruce paved the way for Richard Pryor and Pryor paved the way for Robin Williams. It's a good thing, too, because Robin hit the ground running in the late seventies with TV's MORK & MINDY and hasn't really slowed down much since.MORK & MINDY was spun off of a HAPPY DAYS episode in which Richie meets space alien Mork. Robin Williams had thought that his big chance would be on the remake of George Schlatter's sixties favorite, LAUGH-IN but that series stayed pretty much under the radar during its brief run. Luckily, that freed Robin up to be cast as Mork from Ork. It was a silly show by anyone's definition, similar to the latter ALF (and with Robin just about as hairy as ALF!). Pam Dawber was cute but somewhat inconsequential. That said, it quickly became one of the most watched shows on TV and a national phenomonon. From the beginning, the audience was tuning in to see the rampant lunacy of Williams. How could we ever have imagined then that he was holding back for network TV? Quickly becoming an exploitable favorite, there were magazines and books put out for a quick buck including those seen here. THE MORK & MINDY SCRAPBOOK was just that: light, fluffy stuff about the show with a few good pics but largely filler like vaguely Ork-related games and puzzles. THE ROBIN WILLIAMS SCRAPBOOK by Mary Ellen Moore is actually a more or less serious biography, looking at his troubled life as well as his career and offering a look (without any real quotes as it was still aimed at a younger market) at the whirlwind of no holds barred comedy that Robin Williams became on stage. The later ROBIN WILLIAMS SCRAPBOOK (What the heck is it with Williams and scrapbooks??) by Stephen Spignesi came out in 1997, long after Robin had left Mork behind and established himself as a serious actor as well as arguably the funniest man alive. Still, in spite of GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM, MRS. DOUBTFIRE and THE BIRDCAGE, much of the early part of the book deals with Mork. Like Farrah, Robin Williams was a seventies icon. Unlike Farrah, he re-created himself over and over and over again without ever losing the underlying wackiness we loved in him when we first met him at Richie Cunningham's house all those years ago.For Christmas of 2004, my wife got a Robin Williams Live DVD and she was so excited she insisted on watching it even though our eight year old son was still in the room. Afterward, she turned to him and explained that, "Mr. Williams used some err... inappropriate words in that show." "You mean like 'fuck'?" he asked casually. "Well, uh...yeah. Exactly,." she said. "He sure used 'em a HELL of a lot didn't he?" was my son's reply. I like to think Robin would appreciate that remark.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Just an update to let you know that work continues with John O'Dowd (see John O'Dowd Presents: Hollywood Starlet - Barbara Payton) on what promises to be the definitive look at Christa Helm, the lost seventies starlet who was murdered with her only starring role left unreleased. Both John and I are following up on leads regarding both Christa and the film, LET'S GO FOR BROKE so there will probably be little info released here for awhile. In the meantime, here are a couple more screen captures found on the Net showing Christa in her memorable WONDER WOMAN guest shot.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder spent many years doing LITTLE ANNIE FANNY in PLAYBOY. By all accounts, it was the most expensive comic strip ever produced. Appearing semi-regularly in the magazine for a couple of decades, the fully painted parody became a bit of an institution, thus making it itself ripe for lampooning in the best MAD tradition. As far as I know, though, MAD never touched it (perhaps assuming its young readers wouldn’t be familiar with PLAYBOY). In 1983 and 1984, however, there appeared on the newsstands of America two—count ‘em, TWO—complete magazine parodies of PLAYBOY. One was called PLAYBORE and the other more definitely entitled PLAYBOY—THE PARODY. I may write about them in their entirety at some point but for now, let’s note that these DID actually parody the parody that was LITTLE ANNIE FANNY. PLAYBORE appeared first, offering LITTLE GRANNIE FANNY. With nice art by sometime LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES artist James Sherman, this one is the funnier of the two. PLAYBOY—THE PARODY offers LITTLE ANDY FANNY by one Richard Chenoworth which turns the whole piece into a mildly amusing satire of reporter Andy Rooney from 60 MINUTES. A few years back, Kitchen Sink collected the Kurtzman/Elder originals in two beautiful annotated trade paperbacks. We’ll probably write about them some day also.