Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mickey Rooney, R.I.P.

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I don't know why I've always had fond memories of Mickey Rooney. I don't remember having watched his Andy Hardy movies when I was a boy, but perhaps I did. Maybe there was something about his broad comedy style, or perhaps it was his diminutive size that appealed to me as a child. But whatever the reason, and despite the negative publicity that often surrounded him, I always liked him.

Yesterday Mickey Rooney died at the ripe old age of 93, and thanks to my friend Lisl Magboo, here are some clips of Mickey from an interview he did with the Archive of American Television.

End of an era.  For better or worse, they don't make larger-than-life stars like Mickey Rooney any more.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide: April 9, 1966

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We're a hard lot to please, aren't we? First we wonder when TV's going to give us new movies, and now we complain about the ones they won't let us see!  It sounds a lot more sinister (or provocative) than it really is.

For the most part, we're talking about movies that don't appear on TV because of rights problems of one kind or another, something we've gotten all too used to when it comes to the release of DVDs. The Cat and the Canary, a 1939 flick with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, 1947's Life With Father with William Powell, Irene Dunne and Elizabeth Taylor, and Irving Berlin's This Is the Army are among dozens of movies that have fallen victim to the inability to reach an agreement with the rights owners, usually the widows or estates of the authors.

Other movies are no-shows for various reasons: Anna and the King of Siam was kept from television so it wouldn't compete with its musical version, The King and I.  The Buccaneer, The Desert Song, and So Big are among films that the studios themselves have withheld in order to protect remakes.  And when movies are remade - Show Boat, Cimarron, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example - the originals are often shelved to avoid confusion, or have their names changed - the original State Fair, starring Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain, became It Happened One Summer to differentiate it from the newer version, with Pat Boone.  Blockbusters from years past - Gone with the Wind, the Disney movies like Pinocchio, Bambi, Snow White - are re-released periodically, and as long as they continue to make money for their studios, they'll be MIA on TV.

Have no fear, though; there's confidence that many, if not all, of these movies will eventually make it to the small screen - one way or another.  For example, a note elsewhere in this issue tells us that ABC has just paid a reported $2 million for the rights to the Oscar-winning Bridge on the River Kwai.  I just checked: you can get it today at Amazon for $8.48 and watch it as often as you want.

Read the rest here.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide: April 5, 1958

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When, the cover asks, will we see new movies on television?  Back in April of 1958, could one possibly have imagined that someday you'd be able to pay to see a movie on television the same day it premiered in theaters?  Or that the quality of some home theater systems would eventually rival that of a movie house?  That there would be entire networks that would show only movies, uncut and without commercial interruption (for a fee, of course)?  Or that you didn't even need television, just a machine into which you could put a tape or a disc and watch your favorite film, any time you wanted, usually less than a year after it premiered on the big screens?  This, I think, is one of the biggest ways in which we've changed the way we think about television, as a form of entertainment.  You don't even have to read the article - the headline says it all.

I do read the article, of course - it's part of my service to you, the loyal reader.  And the consensus is: television is hurting the theaters.  As our story opens, theater bigwigs are gathered in Mike Romanoff's Beverly Hills restaurant trying to figure out how to keep "new" movies - defined as those produced since August 1, 1948 - from making it to TV.  The Sindlinger research organization estimates that movie exhibitors have lost $50,000,000 due to movies being shown on TV, and that to release the post-'48 movies would be "'suicide' for the entire movie industry."

TV Guide, of course, isn't so sure about that.  Yes, it's "probably true" that old movies on TV have had an effect.  But there's also the high price of movie tickets (which in 1961 was $0.69), the increasing number of "boisterous youngsters" turning a trip to the theater "into an unpleasant experience," and that movies just might not be as good as they used to be.  And then there's the "dilemma" for talent guilds (actors, writers, producers, etc.) - on the one hand, they'd love to get the revenues that would come from selling newer movies to TV.  At the same time, they fear the effects on their business if television really is that harmful to the industry, so much so that if the studios decide to sell newer movies to TV, the guilds could strike.  In between are the television stations themselves.  They want the new movies, yes, but they point out that with over 10,000 already available, they can afford to wait for awhile.

Who knows where it will all end?  Well, of course, we do.  As I said at the top, I wonder if they could have imagined it?

Read the rest here.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

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The recent death of game show host Geoff Edwards at 83 reminded me of a very interesting comment I had read.

When Mark Goodson originally pitched Family Feud in 1976, he originally wanted Edwards to host Feud, but it never panned out.  Fast forward to 1988, when CBS had made an order for the first (of two) revivals of Feud (the second revival, in 1999, is now in its 15th season with Steve Harvey hosting).  Once again, Mark Goodson had a host in mind, but it was not the host that made it to final production.

The answer:  This "Broadway" legend was originally planned by Mark Goodson to host the 1988 (CBS) revival of Family Feud, but a contract could not be signed.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Congratulations, Serena!

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Those who have read Our Word over this decade will have known for years I took voice from Serena Hill, now The Mrs. Michael LaRoche, and have sung with both Michael and Serena in two choral gigs (2009, Die Jahreszeiten excerpts, 2012, Fauré's Requiem and Mozart's Misse Brevis No. 10 in C Major).

On Monday, the LaRoches announced their newest project, a baby girl, Madeline Randal LaRoche. She was born Monday at 11:48 AM, seven pounds, twelve ounces, and twenty and a half inches tall. Their graduate school said Miss LaRoche has "a head full of dark hair and an incredible sets of lungs!"

Congratulations Serena and Michael!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

They're at it again

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The "sexual freedom" fighters of the sexual deviancy lobby believe they have it won, and are using the common leftist propaganda terms to advance their cause.  Now this disturbing piece of news came across my wires this week.

A man who claims to be a "woman" after "gender reassignment surgery" has now sued CrossFit and The CrossFit Games for $2.5 million and the right for this natural male to compete in the events held at the StubHub Center, in the women's category.

A women read this news and had this to say about the absurd lawsuit"
Would I want to go into a women's locker room with a woman who has a (male sexual organ)? No. That would be out of line. (H)e chose to change h(is) body, CrossFit is trying to be respectful. I'm sorry, my personal opinion here is if you want to make a change in your life you gotta accept the consequences. Don't blame CrossFit for your decisions.

The disturbing point about this lawsuit was following domination by the Soviet-era Press Sisters in Athletics events at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, the IAAF imposed gender verification tests for the 1966 European Championships after concerns by national officials some East Bloc women participating in events were actually men.  This issue began as early as the 1930's, when US Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage asked for tests after suspicious performances in 1932 and 1936.  The Atlanta Olympics was the last time such tests were mandated, though the IAAF can (and has) request one if suspicion arises (and there has been in 2006). After Atlanta, there has been a push by the sexual deviancy lobby to outlaws the sex tests, which happened in time for the next IAAF European Championships.

The organisation that conducts the CrossFit Games is based in Carson, California, and the this questionable athlete is using the legal system and Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose strategy brought down voter-approved Proposition 8, to apply the state's nondiscrimination laws to force this competitor into the CrossFit Games as a woman.  If the courts treat this man the same way as the sexual deviants have favourable judges to play favourites to claim "you can't put a check on us" by overturning state constitutional amendments, we clearly have a judiciary that, in the words of the Heritage Foundation, is "playing favourites".  It would make no sense for a man to be competing in a women's competition.   

Monday, March 24, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide, March 25, 1961

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It's possible you might be getting just a bit tired of 1961, since we've spent most of March there. To tell the truth, regardless of my affinity for the year I'm getting a bit tired of it as well. However, you deal with what you have, and for some reason March was never one of the big months in my collection.  Therefore, we're back to '61 one more time!

Unfortunately, in many respects this week's issue looks a lot like last week's.  NBC telecasts the NIT championship from Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon (Providence defeats Saint Louis 62-59), Channel 11 covers the championship of the Minnesota State High School basketball tournament Saturday night, and on Palm Sunday evening Hallmark Hall of Fame presents James Daly in "Give Us Barabbas."  Armstrong Circle Theatre is on both weeks, and Paul Hartman, subject of a feature story last week, is a featured player this week in NBC's Bell Telephone Hour on Friday night.

Don't despair, though - there are certainly enough differences for us to be able to squeeze something interesting out of this week.

Read the rest here.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

The prodigal and the pope

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Last Friday, you may recall, I compared the current state of the Catholic Church to that of a family without a father, or at least without one taking responsibility for keeping the family together. I was reminded of this reading through the Catholic blogosphere at the various sniping going back and forth between those who praise the pope and those who criticize him, and between traditionalists at odds with the pope and traditionalists who refuse to offer public criticism. Once again, as is so often the case, you can't follow these various disagreements without also appreciating that the future of your very soul seems to be at stake if you don't agree with someone who used to be your ally but now may be your enemy.  I'm tempted to think of the Church today as a group of teen-aged girls bickering back and forth, with each insult raising the stakes until the whole thing goes nuclear.

On the other hand, maybe it's more appropriate, in light of what I wrote last week, to compare it to one of those dysfunctional family dramas that every Lifetime program seems to contain, where everyone's sitting around the table at Thanksgiving or Christmas, pretending to get along, until someone recalls a long-ago insult, and before you know it everyone's at everyone else's throats.  That is the state of the Catholic Church today, and the problem is that there's no father sitting at the head of the table who finally stands up and tells everyone to shut the hell up.

Anyway, a friend of mine suggested that I should consider the parable of the Prodigal Son, and that those of us concerned about the future of the Church should not emulate the "other" son, the one who had remained loyal to the father, but instead turn away from bitterness toward both the pope and those, who haven't always (ever?) practiced perfect Catholicism, to whom he seeks to reach out.

Unfortunately, before I got to ponder this too closely I ran across today's Bleat by one of my favorite writers, James Lileks.  Lileks, for a completely different reason, was also pondering this parable, one of the most famous in the Bible, and while he makes some very humorous points (as he is wont to do), he also, quite seriously, voices the same reservations toward that parable that I have, ones that ultimately make it impossible for me to apply it to the current situation.  It's long, but worth it.

I have to tell you: I get it. But I do not. Yes yes happiness at the return of the one who was thought DEAD, rejoicing at the return to the fold. But the other brother has a point. The pastor explained that the Other Brother did not understand that his father loved him entirely and gave to him everything without condition, at which point I wanted to raise my hand:

Excuse me, rewind that to the point where the son says he never even got a goat to cook when his friends came over, and now you’re giving him the fatted calf?

Because that seems to be a salient point, and suggests a backstory wherein the favored son was indulged, and the dutiful son was held to a higher standard because Dad off-loaded his manliness lessons on the one who wasn’t going anywhere, and needed to toughen up. Golden Boy gets his talents and heads off to the big city to dip his wick and play knuckle-bone gambling games, but the dull son has to stay behind and run the barn. Dull son has his father’s managerial instincts, but his father does not value them as much as he prizes Golden Boy, who represents high-cultural attributes. As the favored son succeeds, so is the father enobled.

So Golden Boy goes off, and time passes, and Dad hears nothing. Assumes the worst. Then one day the son returns, and says in his abject humiliation that he blew all his money on hookers and drink. Dad doesn’t care because he’s glad to see his son again. I get that. I do not get why the dutiful son is the bad guy in this story. He’s making a good point: forgiveness is a noble act, but absolution without consequences is an insult to ME, THE GUY WHO’S BEEN RUNNING THE BARNS. I know, I know, judge not lest ye be judged, but what the hey, judge me, pop. Did I vanish one day with a bag of talents and never write and squander it all? No? Let’s start with that, then. My brother goes to Babylon and gets hammered every night on your dime and we’re having calf for dinner, but I bust my butt every day to make sure the flax gets in the granary and off to market and I don’t get a goat when my friends drop in once a year.

It’s the day after the celebratory banquet I’d like to visit.

Golden Boy to Dutiful Son: I imagine you’re a bit . . . put out.

Dutiful son: Don’t. Even. Start.

Golden Boy: honest, I was fully prepared to work as a slave. I was positively famished.

Dutiful Son: hand me the scythe. No, not that, that. By the grinding stone.

Golden Boy: Father said we should talk.

DS: I think he said it all last night. I suppose you’ll be calling on Sarah once word gets around you’re back.

GB: Oh dear Sarah, I hadn’t thought. How is she? You were sweet on her. I’d have thought you’d have -

DS: She was taken with the fits when you left and would see no one. Her family had her married to Mordechai the money-changer.

GB: That old sot? Sink me. Well, she doesn’t lack for anything, I’m sure.

DS: Nay, nothing but the love of a good man, but what’s that when you’ve pails of myrrh? I’d advise you stay clear.

GB: Is she still comely?

DS: (gritting teeth) Aye.

GB: Perhaps I shall enjoy being home again. You know I do recommend a stint as a slave, it really does give one a new perspective. One gets positively morose.

DS: (whirls around, face aflame) And I imagine that all the rest of the men felt a great pity for you, being the son of a rich man like them, each of you wondering when you’d finally swallow your pride and go home, am I right? Or did they not have the possibility? I can’t imagine you hid your story under a basket. I imagine you left because you heard them discussing which one would have the honor of slitting your throat while you slept.

GB: (sniffs) I got along quite well. They wanted for amusement and I would like to think I provided it.

DS: Oh I am certain that you did, brother, I am certain that you did. So why have you come to the barn?

GB: Father says I am to count the cows. He says that is my duty from now on. Every morn.

DB: There are thirty-two cows. Would you like to know their names?

GB: You name our cows? That’s precious.

DB: Our cows, he says.

GB: I didn’t catch that, brother.

DB: I said they’re our cows, are they.

GB: Well, yes. Ten for you, ten for father, ten for me. Tell me, what do they fetch in the market?

DB: You won’t be -

GB: If they’re all our cows, brother, then some of them are my cows. Oh, don’t look like that. You’ll still have yours. (looks at the ground) (looks up grinning) Sarah had a sister, didn’t she? Young thing when I left but time doth ripen the fruit in its wondrous ways.

DB: Amaranth.

GB: Oh, yes. That was her name.

DB: No.

GB: I’m sorry?

DB: Amaranth is the cow in the far stall there. You might want to visit her and give thanks.

GB: A cow. And why would I wish to do that?

DB: Because you ate her child last night. For your feast. Because all were happy that you had returned. Save one.

GB: Dear brother. Don’t tell me you hold a grudge,

DB: I don’t. It’s not a thing that does a man well. (glares) But if you have an apology in you, tell it to the beast. They listen. They hear much. You’d be glad to know they tell naught.

And therein lies the crux of the matter, for if we're gong to apply the parable as my friend suggests, we have to accept that the joy shown to the Prodigal (the "Golden Boy," if you will) is still different from that enjoyed by the Dutiful Son over all these years.

But what if the Dutiful Son has always felt like the red-headed stepchild, taken for granted, unappreciated?  As Tommy Smothers would say to Dick, "mom always liked you best!"  Under those circumstances, it could almost seem as if the father had wished it was the Dutiful Son, and not the Golden Boy, who had left home early.

See how family dynamics like this play out?  It is a soap opera!  But families often are, and without a strong, fair, impartial patriarch at the head, things can get ugly.  To view the pope as the father looking for the prodigal, the shepherd searching for the lost sheep, one must imply that the Dutiful Son is being nothing more than jealous and petulant, resenting the attention suddenly lavished on the lost sheep return home.  And that, I would contend, is not the situation facing the Church today.

True, over the time of Pope Benedict there was a sense that those who had kept the tradition of the Faith alive over the years had finally gained the upper hand (the "Cafeteria is Closed" crowd), but even then there were complaints that things didn't go far enough, that Benedict hadn't fully integrated the traditionalists back into the Church mainstream.  And though the pontificate of John Paul II was an enormous improvement over that of the disastrous Paul, you still get this feeling that, if anything, it's the traditionalists in the role of the Prodigal, seeking to be welcomed back into a Church that has marginalized them for the better part of the last fifty years or so, excluding them from influence, ridiculing them for holding on to "old-fashioned" values, mocking their desire for Latin and sacred music in the liturgy.  In fact, from many quarters there's been a thinly-concealed (if that) hatred for these people and what they represent.

The only difference in this analogy is that the Prodigal receives no welcome, no fatted calf, nothing but the back of the father's hand.  He's said that he'd be willing even to serve as a slave, and he'll be lucky if the father gives them that much.

Is that how the parable of the Prodigal Son plays out in the Catholic Church today?  If not, it's up to this pope to demonstrate in his actions and in his words that he's not that kind of a father.  Because, frankly, in a situation like this foster fathers are hard to come by. 

Top Gear remembers Ayrton Senna

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This is a bit of a change of pace, I know, but the timing is right. Today would have been the 54th birthday of Ayrton Senna, arguably the greatest Grand Prix driver ever. Senna was killed in an accident during the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994; already a legend, what kept Senna from then becoming a myth more than a man was the way he had lived his life, as you'll soon see.

There are many reasons why I ranked Top Gear number one on my Top Ten list, but amidst the wackiness and absurdity and dumb fun, one of the things the show does best is to draw out the romance of cars and the humanity of those who drive them.  Never was that more apparent than in this tribute to Senna from four years ago on the occasion of his 50th birthday.  James May introduces the piece as "a slight change of mood," but even though the show's off-the-wall humor is replaced by an uncommon solemnity, the underlying theme is no different than it has been on so many occasions.

There is something magical about the automobile - always has been.  And when someone drives a car, as Senna did, doing things that few people had ever seen done before, then we take note that this is a special person.  It is right that we should honor people like that, for their accomplishments, for doing things that we would like to do but can't, for doing what we might not have even considered possible.  He was human, as we all are, oftentimes for better and occasionally for worse, and we remember him for his extraordinary humanity.  But when he got behind that wheel, Ayrton Senna ceased to be human; he was a visible representation of a gift that had been given to him and which he sought to make the most of, and in doing so he guaranteed that we would never forget him.

So here's Top Gear's remembrance of Ayrton Senna, which says much about both the man and the program.

This piece originally appeared at It's About TV!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Classic phrases on the radio

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The greatness of radio broadcasts in sports in the past is how crucial plays led to timeless phrases heard for many occasions, whether it's the catbird's seat, or the stories Vin Scully can form after being sent information from information staffers, or crucial plays that led to phrases that are forever etched in sport.

During Saturday's first game of a doubleheader in the Southeastern Conference, South Carolina radio broadcaster Andy Demetra went to one of those baseball greats in calling a crucial game-tying home run. As the game-tying home run went sailing, considering what had happened earlier in the series and why the player who hit the shot had been relegated to his duties of hitting at this point, you could have been somewhere else when listening to the radio.

You could almost sense one of the greatest home runs in baseball, over a quarter century ago, all over again when listening to the radio, down to the phrase that made it feel that way.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide: March 23, 1968

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We are, in a sense, revisiting this week's issue, having used it once before in last year's discussion on the content of Saturday morning children's programming.*  And that was an interesting topic, but by no means does it exhaust the material at hand.

*I just love it when I link to myself.  Because, as they say, if you won't do it, nobody else will.


One of the great controversies of the 1950s surrounded Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth's sister, and her romance with the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend.  A marriage between the two was vetoed by the Church of England, which at the time forbade divorce and remarriage (head of the church: Queen Elizabeth), and in 1960 she married the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, who upon marriage became Earl of Snowdon.  Tonight, CBS Reports presents "Don't Count the Candles," a photographic essay by Lord Snowdon on aging.  In addition to pictures depicting ordinary people dealing with various aspects of getting older, there are interviews with people at both ends of the aging spectrum, from Twiggy to Noel Coward to Field Marshal Montgomery.

For her part, Margaret turned out to be the black sheep of the royal family, having scandalous love affairs, saying outrageous things, and in general embarrassing the rest of the family at every opportunity.  My mother always thought Margaret did those things on purpose, and while I don't know whether or not there's any empirical data proving this, it doesn't require an advanced degree in psychology to suggest that Maggie was getting back at Liz for what happened with Townsend.  The only thing that could have made this story better was if the stymied Group Captain went on to become a rebellious rock musician, but such was not the case.

Eventually, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon divorce (a delightful line from the always-reliable Wikipedia notes that their marriage was "accompanied by drugs, alcohol, and bizarre behaviour by both parties such as Snowdon's leaving lists between the pages of books the princess read for her to find, of 'things I hate about you'"); Snowden goes on to marry (and divorce) the former wife of film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, while Margaret never remarries, but carries on a, shall we say, colorful life.

As was the case with the Ingrid Bergman story last week, what we see here (albeit in a far more tangential way, since Margaret is mentioned nowhere in the listing*) is more evidence of how perspectives on marriage have changed over the years.  It was one thing for Margaret, not even the heir to the throne, to scandalize Church and Country by marrying a divorced man; it is, apparently, something else that the current heir is, in fact, married to a divorced woman with whom he apparently conducted an affair while married to his former wife.  Again, no judgement here, merely observation.

*But if you insist on a television link, the subject of Margaret's later relationship with Roddy Llewellyn was once brief fodder for an episode of We Interrupt This Week, a show I looked at a couple of days ago.

Read the rest here.