Thursday, August 06, 2020

My First Beatles Songs

Mark Twain famously said that everything came to Cincinnati ten years after it had already hit everywhere else. Thus, Beatlemania to me was in the 1970s and Disco in the ‘80s. My first Beatle record was their last single, THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD. I had been only five years old when the Fabs first appeared on ED SULLIVAN. We watched THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH on WALT DISNEY’S WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR that evening. I wasn’t completely oblivious to the Beatles music in the Swingin’ ‘60s, though. I simply never heard much of it then nor ascribed much importance to it when I did.

Here, in what I believe to be the correct order, were my first Beatles songs:

1)   HELP: I remember hearing it for the first time in 1975 on my Uncle Jim’s car radio as we drove to Virginia Beach. I thought it was great and it got me interested enough to watch the movie when it premiered on TV a couple years later.
2)   RUN FOR YOUR LIFE: Never a single but I remember hearing it on the radio in a corner grocery store down the street from where we were living in 1966. I didn’t pay any attention to the creepy words. I just liked the sound.
3)   TICKET TO RIDE: I have always loved a good snow scene and this song is in the snow scene in HELP, which became my favorite scene when I caught it on TV.
4)   WE CAN WORK IT OUT: My mother didn’t listen to Top 40 radio stations but I remember hearing and really liking this one on one of her more conservative stations early one morning before school, probably in ’67 or ’68. 
5)   PAPERBACK WRITER: Heard this one on the radio a few times in 1968 and it became a constant earworm, even though I couldn’t understand many of the lyrics.  
6)   YELLOW SUBMARINE: Has anyone ever heard this song and NOT liked it. I was a pushover for the marketing blitz when the YS movie came out and it became the first movie I ever saw without my parents, age 9. Went with my pal, Terry, and we had to stand in line that stretched down the block to Woolworth! Convinced my mom to go with me to see it again a week later! Bought the comic book, too!
7)   COME TOGETHER: I didn’t know what it meant (still don’t) but I particularly liked John’s multi-tracked vocal on the title words and I invested a lot of dimes (Three plays for a quarter) in the fall of 1969 playing this on the jukebox at Liberty Chili. 
8)   HEY, JUDE: It was early 1970 when I somewhere, somehow discovered this one and it became an absolute favorite. Not long after I bought my first Beatles single in April of 1970, my first Beatles LP was THE BEATLES AGAIN aka HEY JUDE, a then-new collection of singles and B sides that had never been on an album before.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Help! I'm NOT Terry Gilliam

The other day I was digging through a box upstairs and ran across my actual physical copy of the issue of Harvey Kurtzman's HELP! seen here. It was one of the final issues, from when the young cartoonist Terry Gilliam had replaced Gloria Steinem as Assistant Editor. This issue is of particular interest as it contains a photo comic (fumetti) that stars a young British comic actor named John Cleese. Cleese was in the US on tour with other comedians from Cambridge and was asked to appear. Famously, this was when he first met Gilliam, which formed one of the seed that would eventually grow into Monty Python. And so call that Cleese was in the only issue that featured Terry Gilliam himself on the cover!

Only that's NOT Terry Gilliam.

I always thought it was Terry Gilliam. Looks like Terry Gilliam. The consensus on the Internet is that it's Terry Gilliam. But it's not. When someone posted a signed (by Terry Gilliam) copy in a Facebook group recently, it was pointed out that many people often mistakenly believe that Terry Gilliam is on the cover but that there's actually a photo inside of Terry with the cover model.

Having just found my own copy, I went and checked. Whaddaya know? There is! But, hey, you can't really see "Terry's" face in the photo and his name is listed first, as though he's on the left, where the cover guy is. Plus isn't the guy in the wet suit much thinner there than on the cover? Could Gilliam have replaced him as the model?

But then I found this post from a while back on Facebook, from the son of model John Massey, Sr.

As much as it seems like that should be Terry Gilliam on that cover, that's John Massey, Sr.
                                                       Not Terry Gilliam.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

WC Fields Vs. Charlie McCarthy by Sam Viviano

MAD artist Sam Viviano here illustrates moments from the legendary radio feud between the great WC Fields and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's wooden boy, Charlie McCarthy. I like little Candy's cameo. It's surprising that the artist, known for his caricatures, didn't even seem to try with Bergen, in spite of his decades of TV and personal appearances making his likeness very well-known.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Pop with Davy Jones

In July of 1972, Davy Jones headlined a Saturday afternoon TV special called POP that served as a pilot for a show to rival Dick Clark's AMERICAN BANDSTAND for teens. I never heard of it because locally it was pre-empted by a football game.

POP also featured, among others, The Osmond Brothers and the Mike Curb Congregation (pre-Kathy Coleman). Here's some info I found on the show. Maybe YOU saw it?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Review: Shame of the Jungle 1975/1981

Here's another review I just found that I wrote in 1981, this for a dirty feature length Franco-Belgian Tarzan cartoon comedy. I had seen ads for it when it played locally in 1975 and read a little about some controversy that led the character's name to be changed from "Tarzoon" but that was all I knew when I rented it on Beta in 1981. 

A strange little film, this feature-length European cartoon plops an irreverent version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan into a sci-fi tale of strange creatures and a would-be world conqueror. That plot takes a back seat to the film’s basic lunacy and satire, adapted into English by SNL’s Anne Beatts and Michael O’Donoghue. There are more than enough scenes f sex and violence to earn this picture’s original X rating. A bald woman with 14 breasts wants a hair transplant form Tarzan’s wife so June (not “Jane” here) is kidnapped by the woman’s penis-shaped minions. There follows a long chase scene in which our hero (whose name is consistently blacked out on the animation) finds and rescues his mate. The voices are provided mainly by SNL cast members, some uncredited. The best parts are the throwaway gags, both verbal and visual, such as John Belushi’s perfect voice for a 13-year-old slob who considers himself a Zen master and travels on a flying carpet carried aloft by birds. Much of the scatological humor gets old really quickly, leaving the voice acting to carry whatever’s left. Although the English-dubbed voice credits are woefully incomplete, Bill Murray is recognizably in there and classic Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller’s son, Johnny, Jr, is credited, presumably as the main character. SHAME OF THE JUNGLE is done in an original, although not particularly fluid, animation style and while there’s really not much here, it should be enjoyable to Tarzan fans, animation fans, or SNL fans who aren’t easily offended…because this movie IS offensive!

SHAME OF THE JUNGLE is now is on YouTube and has its own Wikipedia page detailing the credits and the film's history at length. Even Christopher Guest, aka Christopher Haden-Guest, Fifth Baron Haden-Guest--you know, that guy from THIS IS SPINAL TAP and BEST IN SHOW--voices several characters. And if you listen closely, you'll hear Judy Graubert, who played Jungle Judy on the kids' show, THE ELECTRIC COMPANY. 

Friday, July 17, 2020

Lum and Abner--Art and Makeup

LUM AND ABNER was a long running rural comedy on radio that also spawned a series of movies and books and even today a comic strip! It was a favorite of my father, who told me all about it for years before I ever ran across an episode of it. I'm not a huge fan but I quite enjoy it and will listen to it every once in a while. This vintage article gives some insight into the show and its characters.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

2010 Review: Batman vs the 3 Villains of Doom, 1966


Ten years and three months ago, a book blog entitled Pattinase invited me to write a guest review for their "Forgotten Books" column. This is the book I chose and the review I wrote in 2010.   

I’m known for an interest in old television and comics so I chose for my review a novel that combines the two…literally. Batman Vs. Three Villains of Doom by the pseudonymous “Winston Lyon” was originally published in the year of Batmania, 1966. To the best of my knowledge, it was the very first prose appearance of Batman and Robin and it isn’t at all bad. It is, however, rather an odd bird in and of itself.

Although ostensibly a tie-in to the then-new and phenomenally hot Batman TV series, Batman Vs. Three Villains of Doom is in actuality a bizarre hybrid of parts of that series and the more serious (by comic book hero standards at least) 1950’s DC comics stories of the Dynamic Duo.

The author seems to have been given at least some access to the TV series or perhaps simply early scripts as we have the familiar bust of Shakespeare opening the Batcave entrance, Alfred (who was deceased at that time in the comics!) protecting the characters’ secret identities from Aunt Harriet and over the top scenes such as Bruce Wayne reading and memorizing every story from a score of daily newspapers.

On the other hand, we also have the Batcave entrance being in the Wayne Manor living room as opposed to the private study, the batsignal displayed on the side of the tallest building in Gotham and we are introduced to “Inspector” O’Hara, the Irish cop.

As for this book itself, there’s a natural tendency to presume that it might be the source material for the Batman feature film that was made and released before the end of the year but it was not. There are three of the same four villains from the movie, there’s a yacht and there’s a scene where the Caped Crusader has to get rid of a bomb but the similarities end there. “Lyon” would, himself, go on to also novelize the Batman movie, but that’s another book and another story.

At 128 pages, this is a short novel but nicely laid out. In the beginning we are shown a conference of criminals in which the Joker, the Penguin and the Catwoman are all introduced as competitors for crimedom’s “Tommy Award,” a gold-plated tommy gun, to be presented for killing Batman. Tellingly, the characters are all described as they looked in the old comics instead of their television incarnations, with the Joker being tall and thin (a description that would never have fit Cesar Romero!) and the Catwoman having a “smoothly furred leotard” and a long green cloak.

Batman and Robin have already gotten wind of this confab, however, and arrive to break it up, capturing Catwoman in the process but being themselves bested by the Penguin. We then see Penguin take his shot at winning the award with a long, realistically paced chase scene and a genuinely thrilling blimp crime.

When the Tuxedoed Terror inevitably fails in his ultimate quest, the Joker takes his turn. It is pointed out that this is the truly insane Clown Prince of Crime from the early comics or as he returned in the 1970’s. The Joker is genuinely scary in some of his scenes, both to the other characters and the reader as well.

Finally, just when you think it should be over, an escaped Catwoman returns to the plot with the deadliest trap yet for the Caped Crusaders.

“Deadly” is a good word for the criminals’ intentions here, by the way. On the series, the serious consequences of the villains’ attempts at “getting rid of” Batman and Robin were always downplayed and even sugarcoated. Here, that is most definitely not the case. For example, the Joker tricks Robin into leaping at a dummy and then immediately opens a trap door beneath them so that Robin will fall directly into corrosive acid a mere five feet below him! How he survives that very realistic and scary trap is the biggest stretch of credibility that the reader is asked to buy in the entire novel.

Which brings us to the biggest fault of Batman Vs. Three Villains of Doom—it can’t make up its mind as to how serious it wants to be! The parts of the book that play like a straightforward crime story are the best with the author giving almost noir-ish descriptions of settings and fight scenes. On the other hand, the concept of “camp” as popularized by the TV series seemed to completely throw him and he instead relied on a vague Mad-style (or maybe Cracked-style) parody feel in the book’s few attempts at actually treading that fine line.

“Winston Lyon,” by the way, was the pen name for former comic book writer William Woolfolk. Woolfolk had worked on many comic heroes beginning in the 1940’s including Blackhawk and the original Captain Marvel. He even claimed to have coined the latter’s “Holey Moley!” catchphrase. Two heroes he had not worked on before, though, were Batman and Robin.

By the early 1960’s, Woolfolk won praise as one of the main writers for the long-running television legal drama, the Defenders. He became a successful novelist both as Winston Lyon and under his own name, eventually even hitting the bestseller list, a feat his daughter, Donna Woolfolk Cross, would repeat many years later with her 1996 novel, Pope Joan.

Batman fans all have their own idea of how the character “should” be so this unusual and unique combination of serious and silly versions may not appeal to everyone but taken as a product of its time I found it immensely entertaining and, for the most part, very well written by an author who seemed to have quite a good feel for the characters. I wish he had written more Batman stories!

Batman Vs. Three Villains of Doom, with its Adam West cover, was originally published in April of 1966 and is long out of print. If you’re intrigued, however, you can generally find inexpensive copies through EBay, Amazon, Abebooks and all of the usual Internet sources.

PATTINASE is still posting great book reviews at:

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Booksteve Reviews: Rich Little and Suzanne Somers, April 1980

Today, I ran across the review I wrote of the Suzanne Somers/Rich Little matinee show I saw with my mother at Cincinnati’s Palace Theater in April of 1980. I was 21 years old. This was just a couple of months before my mother was diagnosed with cancer. My dad was still recovering from his accident. This was the last event she and I attended together, just the two of us. When I got home, I wrote the following review. There was no Internet then so it’s remained unpublished until now, 40 years and nearly three months later. Here’s what I wrote:

The show began promptly at three, with the announcement coming from large speakers on each side of the stage. Out from the wings, attired all in silver, came Suzanne Somers. During the course of her act, she sang many songs including a Ted Lewis song, a slow dance number, and a medley of TV themes including THE JEFFERSONS, GOOD TIMES, ONE DAY AT A TIME, CHICO & THE MAN, MAUDE, ALL IN THE FAMILY, and, of course, she ended with parts of the THREE’S COMPANY theme. “They’re playing my song!”
Joined by two male singer/dancers for much of the show, she sang a tribute to Chrissy, her TV character, dressed in a pink Chrissy blouse and with the side ponytail. This tribute included some Chrissy jokes:

            Chrissy: I’m taking singing lessons.
            Man: Are they teaching you how to use your diaphragm?
            Chrissy: They don’t have to. I’m on the Pill!

A spoof of TV commercials featured Suzanne in a feathered chicken outfit shuffling across the stage singing the Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup jingle. The Q & A session that followed saw her asked her age, weight, and measurements (“Thirtysomething, twentysomething, thirtysomething.”) and, “Is John Ritter really gay?” “I can tell you from personal experience,” she said, “that John Ritter is the horniest heterosexual in the world!”

A short reel of THREE’S COMPANY bloopers followed and featured John supposedly nude under a box but holding the box high enough to accidentally reveal his brief briefs. Suzanne and Dick Sargent were seen continually breaking  glasses and breaking up during a  toast and then Suzanne was seen messing up and the clipboard man going “Take Two, “Take Three,” etc., eventually shouting, “With all due respect, Take FIVE,” followed by Suzanne’s quiet aside on film, “Wise-ass.”

She then performed a medley of “Your” songs—“This One’s For You,” “Your Song,” etc., finally closing with “Razzle Dazzle,” a real show-stopper. Or rather, that SHOULD have been her closing number. The fact that she then went right into a badly timed “American Traditional” medley probably cost her a standing ovation. Several costume changes—two or three literally onstage—left her in a glittering dress. She said that now she’s a star of “Stage, Screen, TV, and PLAYBOY. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, professional show with a few dull moments.

After a 20-minute intermission, the curtain lifted again and Rich Little, shrouded in dimly lit blackness, stood above the orchestra and sang an introductory song for himself before leaping onto the stage to begin his act. 
Filled with political humor, risqué jokes, and some serious film star tributes, he offered a good selection of his famous impressions including Paul Lynde selling an album of “1000 Golden Stinkies” by John Wayne (“My Horse is Queer”), Boris Karloff, Johnny Carson’s Carnak, and others. The beginning of his act had Rich commenting on the cold weather and someone in the audience yelling as if on cue, “How cold IS it?” which prompted Rich to crack up and say, “This audience is really on the ball!”

Later, in Groucho makeup, Rich ran through the audience, tossing off one liners like, “Do you know the difference between making love and making a salad?” only to get the answer, “Yes,” from an audience member who said he had read the reviews of the show. Everyone cracked up, once again including Rich. 

George Burns and the late Jack Benny had a discussion on modern politics next. Rich himself called the Ayatollah, “Rip Van Winkle.”

An MGM tribute was the highlight of the show with Rich channeling Durante, Kelly, Satchmo, Bing, Louis Jourdan, Howard Keel, and, the show’s best moment, Clark Gable. To a film tribute to Gable—scenes from throughout his career—Rich, in character, sang “It Was a Very Good Year” very poignantly, even somehow managing to LOOK like the King of Hollywood. 

Tough to top that but he moved on into a political debate with Cronkite, Brinkley, and Reasoner asking questions of Ford, Nixon, Kennedy, and Carter. At one point during this section, Rich had trouble with a Chinese joke and instead talked about Chinese people who were in the audience at one of his shows in Vegas.

A few other of the many voices the man did were Bogart, Walter Brennan, and Maurice Chevalier. He finished up with singing impressions that included Neil Diamond, Perry Como (his best!), Frank Sinatra, Anthony Newley, Tom Jones, and Robert “Ghoulie” as he called him. 

Afterwards, he came off stage and walked through the audience as the orchestra played, shaking hands with everyone all around, including me! 

A fine, funny show from two very talented people!


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Voting Is Your Super Power!

Here's a very important new book that both Rene and I worked on a while back. Take a look and, if you are able, support its Indiegogo campaign, please. 

"Of the estimated 25,000 different promotional/giveaway comics of the ’50s and early ’60s, a little more than a handful were devoted to the subject of voting. Sadly, these comics are the most relevant of all the mid-century titles in today’s world. The comics reprinted in Voting Is Your Superpower that were done first in the Cold War period and then in the Civil Rights era contain essential messages for today’s public."

"And this exciting  buzz-worthy book is hosted by a new super hero for our times... General Election! In her first appearance General Election is ablaze with voting power on our special cover by Eisner nominee Sanford Greene the fan-favorite artist of Bitter Root."

"In this 104 page book are rare, cool, vintage, comics collection, you will find a timeless and compelling message of inspiration, motivation, and duty to exercise your right to cast your vote for progressive action so badly needed today. And when you finish and put down this book you will not only have been entertained and enlightened, but you will have realized voting IS your superpower, more formidable than a bat-a-rang, x-ray vision, spider-sense, and a magic-lasso assembled together!"

"Ironically Voting is Your Super Power is introduced by Julie Newmar, infamously known as a super-villain! Here the Tony-winning star of stage and screen known for her role as Catwoman now heroically roars to get out the vote!" 

Best of all, it contains the first ever reprinting of a rare Silver Age Marvel comic book!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Return of Johnny Dynamite

Been reading this new JOHNNY DYNAMITE book this week. MAN, these old 1950s stories really are hard-boiled!! The sex scenes are off-stage but described in such a way that you feel like you need to go wash up after you read 'em. Drugs are all over the place, "call girls" are a fixture, and the violence is cold, gory, plentiful, and unforgiving! And yet all done up nicely in PAM's smooth and stylish photo-referenced art! It really is like watching a noir film on paper or reading a Mickey Spillane novel with pictures. The stories are terrible...but in a weirdly GOOD way!

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Lon Chaney Murder


 I had never heard of this. The trial was in 1929. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

My Father's Accident-1978

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This is not a tragic story. A sad story, yes, but not tragic. My father, Frank Thompson, was a working class laborer for most of my life. In my first 10 years, my dad worked in factories, foundries, he was a security guard, an insurance collector, and a liquor store clerk (for one day-long story). When I was about 10 years old, an upstairs neighbor pulled some strings and got him a civil service job as a janitor at the main Cincinnati post office. It may not sound like much but it paid better than he had ever been paid before and had excellent benefits. Best of all, he enjoyed the job! 


Thus, all during my teenage years, he had steady work for the first time in my life. When I was 14, he even took on a second janitorial job for the Social Security office building right next door to our apartment house. My mother and I helped him with that one. For a few hours each night, we would go next door and clean. My mother would wash down all the tables and desks and vacuum the carpeted areas. I would empty all 50 trashcans and probably twice that many ashtrays and clean the restrooms, while my dad would mop and buff the entire floor. Most of the time, the employees were all gone so I could crank up music or, later, Sally Jessy Raphael, while I worked.


In 1977, at age 18, I graduated high school near the top of my class. No one at the school had ever discussed college with me so I had no idea what to do next. At one point, at the last minute, I was offered a full ride to NKU but I turned it down because I was ignorant and confused and felt I had been abandoned by the system. I didn’t even realize what that meant and it was never explained to me.


So that’s where we were a year later in 1978. I was living at home and had taken over most of the office building janitorial position next door as my job. My mother was still working in a factory as she had done since the 1930s, and my dad was still at the post office. 


On December 28thof that year, age 68, he walked uptown for a quick trip to the bank one day and was going to bring me home some coney islands from Covington Chili. It should have been a half hour trip, tops. He never arrived home. 


I was home alone. I considered going out looking for him but was afraid I’d miss him if he DID show up back home. I called my mom at work. She was frantic and told me she was coming straight home. We had only one car, though, and my other didn’t drive so she had to take the bus and that took about an hour. Just before she got home, I got a telephone call from the hospital, which was literally just a block and a half away from our apartment! He was there. He’d been hit by a car but he was okay. A broken shoulder, a lot of bruises, something wrong with one leg, and everything fractured. We had had to get an unlisted phone number after a series of harassing phone calls the year before so they had to wait until they could get him to give the number before they could call me. 


I waited until my mother arrived, explained the situation to her, and off we hurried on over to the hospital. He looked bad. Real bad. I don’t recall for sure but I believe they kept him for a night or two. 


The next day, we saw he had made the front page of both newspapers! What a weird feeling! First of all, why was “Man Gets Hit by Car” front page news? Second, why did both papers send a photographer? And why did each photographer snap such odd pics—one with the passerby just staring down at him and the other with the cop’s rear end dominating the shot? Oh, well. Being the archivist I was even then I dutifully clipped them out. Later, when he saw them, he was amused. 


The woman in the one picture is the woman who hit him. It was a cold, sunny afternoon, and by all accounts both she and he had the sun blinding them. He was crossing the street at the crosswalk next to the Public Library, just three blocks from our house, and she was turning from the side street. He supposedly told first responders to take the coney islands home to me so they could tell me what was going on.    


When he finally came home, he had his arm in a leather brace covering a fleece lined pad. They said he was to never take it off, even in the shower. Since we didn’t even have a shower, that part was easy. He started walking with a cane. The physical bruises slowly healed but he just seemed very depressed all the time.


The insurance rep for the woman who hit him contacted us. She was a young black woman. As I’ve written before, my dad was typical of many old school prejudiced white people. He disliked every black person he NEVER met! Once he met them, he rarely had a problem with them. In this case, both he and the insurance agent bonded over one thing. Both of them were put out that the driver never came to see him at the hospital nor contacted him in any way to see how he was doing after he got out. Ultimately, the insurance agent arranged a $10,000 settlement. 


A lot of money, yes, but things changed from that point. He couldn’t work anymore. Since he was already past the age of retirement by several years, he officially retired, taking his generous pension and social security, and thankful that his civil service years had put him in such a good position. As for the next-door janitor position, I took it over completely. It became my job. 


He couldn’t drive anymore. Or at least he chose not to. Neither my mother nor I could drive, either, so our car sat in front of the house for the following year. Finally, someone complained and my dad was given a ticket. He drove it once around the block, then paid a neighbor to drive it out to his brother’s house in the country, where it sat until he sold it a while later. Since we lived just a block or two away from then main bus route, as well as within walking distance of downtown Covington AND downtown Cincinnati, we could still get to most places easily.


Although both my mother and I had convinced ourselves that this was the beginning of the end for my dad, we were both proven wrong. In the months that followed, his sense of humor slowly returned. His interests came back. He had had to give up horseshoes after years as a champion on several state levels. But he tried it again, brace and all. 


The brace…stunk. When they said not to take it off, they meant NEVER. I checked. So it stunk. Always. After a while, he was set up with physical therapy and I would go with him on the bus to that. I would also accompany him to his monthly doctor checkups. Since the doctor was in Florence, we would come out and then take the bus further out to nearby Florence Mall where we would have lunch at his favorite barbecue place in the food court.


Once, the doctor said his shoulder wasn’t setting right and he needed to re-set it there in the office. He gave my dad some heavy painkillers and then essentially rebroke his shoulder in front of me so he could reset it. As he was doing it, my drugged-up father was moaning something awful but afterwards the doctor asked him how it felt and he replied calmly, “Didn’t feel it at all.” Against my better judgement, we went on out for our regular barbecue and, naturally, that’s when the anesthetic wore off!


Months went by and he got slowly better. He FELT slowly better! He started going places on his own again, walking uptown via the same route he had taken the day he had been hit. Sometimes, he even helped me at the office next door again. 


After another solid year, he was allowed to take off the leather arm brace for good! He made a big deal of tossing the smelly old thing but the fleece pad was washed and stuck up in a closet for some reason. 


By 1980, things were back to what felt like mostly normal, except we had no car anymore. I didn’t drive because I had motion sickness issues, and I was feeling tremendous pressure, not from my parents but from other relatives, to now learn. I started looking again at moving out, getting a better-paying job and my own apartment. I had even found one I liked and later taken my parents to see it.


Then one day, my mother said her co-workers were commenting that she looked a little jaundiced. A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer followed along with an emergency operation. My dad had been declared diabetic some years earlier. He was so nervous about my mother’s  operation that he dropped his controls and ended up in the hospital himself that day in a coma. Worst day of my life, with BOTH parents in the hospital. First time in 21 years I was home completely alone overnight.


My dad bounced back quickly, again, though, and for a while it seemed my mother would, too. Six months of chemotherapy took their toll, and she said later if she had to do it again, she would choose to pass on the treatments. But by mid-year of 1981 she was looking good again and preparing to return to work. My dad and I were both pleased and once again I considered moving out on my own. But then the cancer returned and she went downhill rapidly. She passed just before Christmas.


My dad was devastated. In some ways, he never got over her passing. More than once, I caught him placing my mother’s photograph on her side of the bed and lying down next to it. I felt lost, myself, too, and decided once again NOT to move out as we needed to take care of each other.


But in other ways, the 1980s would prove to be surprisingly active and exciting for him. Having rarely flown before, he decided to join a travel group. They saw plays and attended festivals. He flew or took the bus to all sorts of destinations, including Las Vegas! He even flew out with me to San Diego and went twice with me to Chicago for comic book conventions.


I gave up the night janitor position and began my long bookstore career. We remained in the same apartment I had lived in since I was 7 years old and yet so much had changed. We were now roomies as much as father and son and the new dynamic allowed for us to get to know each other differently than when I was growing up.


I had always loved my father but now I liked him quite a bit, too, and his eternal resilience set the example for me, showing me that one can choose to just give up or one can choose to bounce back from almost anything, no matter how life-threatening, no matter how devastating. 


Even when he was hit by a massive stroke in 1990, he bounced back more than expected, and survived another 16 months before leaving us for good not when the doctor said but when HE was ready to go, when he was sure he had taught me all he could teach me. One of the last things he said that we could understand, after Rene and I were married, was that now he wanted grandkids. 


On this Father’s Day weekend, in this time of uncertainty, I hope I have learned the lessons. I hope I have passed them on to his grandkid. 


Oh, and that fleece pad that got stuffed up in the closet? Years later, when we got our first cat, Chauncey, we dug it out of storage as a cheap toy for Chaunce. He took to it like I’ve never seen a cat with a toy! He carried it everywhere, he spoke to it, he wrestled it, he padded it, he slept with it. When Chauncey passed, 17 years later, we had it cremated with him. We weren’t allowed pets in our building when I grew up but my dad was a cat person. I think he would appreciate the legacy of that accident all those years later. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

40 Years Ago Today--My Showbiz Debut

It was 40 years ago today! On June 18th, 1980, I entered show business for the first time. The Ohio River Swim Club was the comedy group I had joined in Cincinnati earlier in the year. Members came and went but we had settled down (for a while, at least) to 8 folks—Pat (our founder), Alex, Mindy, Cordelia, Ed, Joe, Judy, and myself, all of whom had been there since the first meeting. Alex, Pat, and I wrote sketches and we met at various members’ houses once or twice a week to rehearse our material. 


Pat had arranged our first gig, at a trendy bar in Covington, KY that just happened to be at the opposite end of the alley from the apartment house where I lived, age 21, with my parents. Recently I found the diary I kept during that period. Just in case we became famous, I wanted to be ready to write our book. Sadly, that never happened. I always say we did one club show, one live show on Cincinnati’s Fountain Square, one local TV show, recorded skits for an LP that went unused, and then we broke up in a haze of pot smoke and sexual politics. The actual fact is that that was my personal experience with ORSWIC. There had been, in fact, one earlier tryout show that I did not attend, and Pat did at least one or two shows with nearly all new members after I left, taking a couple members with me to create my own brief comedy group—Central Casting. 


But Coco’s was our real debut! We wanted to be different so along with our live comedy bits, we had pre-recorded some fake television commercials to run on the TV in the bar. Whoever heard of a bar with no TV? So Pat borrowed three sets and was down there all day the day of the show hooking them up along with a Betamax to run the ads we had recorded a the night before.


From my diary:


“June 15: It’s three days away from the show at Coco’s—we were even mentioned in today’s paper! —but we’re at least three weeks out from being well-prepared! I have no doubt that we can throw together some of our better material by Wednesday, but with no real time for last-minute rehearsals, can it work?”


 Some of the titles of our mostly long-forgotten sketches:

            Ham Acting School

            The Apartment

            Mansion in the Sky

            S & M Detectives

            Lude and Blend

            Dishwashing Liquid


Eight Ball Lite

            The Disease of the Month Club

            The Map


            Baseball Announcers



Those last two were written by me and I still think they were pretty good, especially Baseball Announcers, which featured Ed and Mindy. We would later perform that one before a noontime crowd on Fountain Square and then still later in our television appearance on Bob Shreve’s all-night movie show.


Overall, though, our comedy bombed before a crowd of regulars used to light jazz. The TV ads were paced wrong and hard to hear. I seem to recall one of the TVs didn’t work right, either. A rolling picture or something. Our dressing room was a tiny, smelly storage closet in a back hallway. Outside of catching a glimpse of one of our women partially undressed as we were both preparing for the next sketch, it was a nightmare.


As to the actual sketches, my glasses were in my pocket in the Vampire! sketch when Ed jumped at me as per the script, but knocked them out and nearly stepped on them. As I was only in about a third of the sketches, I was off the floor the rest of the time but I got the impression that just nobody cared. At the end of the night, Pat attempted to salvage the evening (I guess) by starting a totally random singalong of “Happy Birthday” to Paul McCartney, who turned 38 that day. Today, Paul turns 78. Time flies. Happy birthday, Paul. 


By the way, Coco’s apparently didn’t think we were funny enough to pay, so a couple of our guys stole a case of beer out the back door. I didn’t hear about that until later.


The only laugh I heard all evening came consistently from one of Pat’s girlfriends who came down to watch our show. I had met her just before the show started. Her name was Lisa. Over the next few weeks, I would talk Pat into letting her in the group. Over the next few months, I would start going out with her, and when I left the group in October to form my own one-shot comedy group for Alex’s radio show, I took Lisa and Mindy with me. 


So my first major (?) writing gig and my first acting gig—40 freakin’ years ago tonight!

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Lone Ranger Restaurants

Seen here is a 1969 comic book that was given out free at the Lone ranger Restaurant chain that flourished for a few years in Southern California. At various times Roy Rogers, Bonanza, Ponderosa, Kenny Rogers, Minnie Pearl, Ed McMahon, and even Archie Andrews had restaurant chains, so why NOT the Masked Man?

Fully licensed by the Wrather Corporation, who had purchased all rights to the character, they even wisely got Clayton Moore to do ads for them (about a decade before the debacle that led to him wearing shades rather than his mask).

Anyone ever eat there?

Friday, June 05, 2020

Review: The Adventures of Spike the Wonder Dog by Bill Boggs

I’m more of a cat person myself, although we do also have a dog so I found myself very much able to relate to the protagonist of Bill Boggs’ hilarious novel, The Adventures of Spike the Wonder Dog. 

Not that one needs any background to enjoy the book on its own merits but it helps. Author Bill Boggs is a renowned talk show host and writer going back a number of years. His track record makes him about as much an industry insider as anyone can be. Although Bill writes himself into his book as an actual character, another character, Bud, seems clearly based on him as well. It’s all very meta, you see. Bud is the owner of Spike, the Wonder Dog, a bull terrier who drops more pop culture references per page than a 1980s Stephen King novel.

Inspired by a real bull terrier, Spike is our hero, and the book’s narrator. Was it Alan Moore, or perhaps Lewis Carroll, who said if you ask your reader to accept one impossible thing, the rest shall follow naturally? The impossible thing Bill Boggs asks is that we accept that the dog is capable of narrating his own story to Bill, who wrote it all down for us to read. 

And the story is a doozy! Bud is a small time TV host/reporter who becomes popular when his dog Spike gets involved in his career. Spike gets so much fan reaction that he’s made an official employee of the station where Bud works. He also appears at various local and eventually national events, while Bud is wooed away to the big time in New York City. 

But fame has its perils and in Spike’s case, that involves, amongst other things, getting kidnapped to be used for dogfights! How he gets out of it and reunited with Bud makes up the last part of the book but the real fun is in how Spike describes the events in his world through his own bizarre mix of pop culture and canine sensibilities. At first it’s a bit jarring to have him telling the reader about his ancestors, whom he couldn’t possibly know about, or quoting characters from some old TV sitcom he couldn’t possibly have ever seen, or cared about if he had, even if dogs paid attention to sitcoms. With a non-stop barrage of such thoughts from our four-legged friend, though, one quickly gives up any questioning and just accepts that Spike somehow is exceptional enough to just KNOW all the things he talks about. 

Other characters come and go, and sometimes come again, often parodies of some of the more vacuous show business types that surely our author has run into many times in his career. My favorite is Ike “I Got Money” Piles, aka “Money Piles,” a pro boxer turned millionaire who loves to throw his money around in any and all ways, no matter how ludicrous, impulsive, or impractical those ways might be. Money takes a liking to Spike from their very first meeting in a TV green room and is frustrated when Bud won’t sell him at any price! Bud does, however, take advantage of some of Money’s drugs and women.

Oh, did I mention that The Adventures of Spike the Wonder Dog is VERY politically incorrect? It’s dirty, racist, misogynistic, and whatever else might qualify it for an NSFW rating. But it’s FUNNY! It’s not in any way being mean-spirited, just unashamedly and unabashedly non-PC.

As far as the writing, the only thing even close to a complaint I have about the book is that it feels…well…written. As much as we’re meant to buy that Spike himself is narrating his adventures, I can sense Bill taking his sweet time to find just the right words here or come up with just the right expression there. Not a bad thing because he succeeds admirably. Just an observation.

Along the way, there are lots of digs at various over-the-top celebrity types, lots of veiled social commentary on the excesses of the pre-pandemic world, and lots of dog poop jokes. If you’ve ever had to clean up after a dog you loved, you’ll split your sides laughing at all the messes Spike has to have cleaned up by the end of The Adventures of Spike the Wonder Dog. Read it to your own canine pals but don’t let it give them any ideas!

Excitement, intrigue, mystery, romance, and most of all, humor. I literally LOL'd at this book more than any book in recent memory.

Booksteve recommends.