Monday, June 18, 2018


Is it possible?  Sir James Paul McCartney turns 76 today.  If he's not the best songwriter alive, I don't know who else it would be.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Not Just A Side

Yes, today is Father's Day.  But did you also know it's Eat Your Vegetables Day?  Notice there's no day that reminds you to eat your hot dog or your ice cream.

I don't know where the holiday comes from, or even how long it's been around, but it seems to be good advice.

There are lots of ways to prepare vegetables.  A common way is to simply steam them, which is not too exciting.  On the other hand, putting a butter-based sauce all over them is probably a lot less healthy.

There is a scientific difference between fruits and vegetables which I once knew but have long forgotten.  Yet I can feel the difference, and I'm sure you can, too.  I've been told that, technically, the tomato is a fruit, but I don't care what they say, it's a vegetable.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


Stan Laurel was born June 16, 1890.  Laurel and Hardy have been beloved for a long time, but are they still remembered?  Perhaps people would recognize them in a photo (by the way, they're on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper album), but have they seen their films?

Stan played the dopey one in the duo (not that Ollie was any smarter, he just thought he was), but he was the brains of the act, figuring out routines while Hardy just wanted to finish shooting and go play golf.

Truth is, Laurel had quite a career before he was associated with Hardy.  Laurel was born in England and joined Fred Karno's pantomime troupe as a young man.  He toured America, understudy to the troupe's leading man Charlie Chaplin.

In 1917, Laurel started making movies, starring in well over 50 comedy shorts before teaming up with Hardy--they appeared on screen the first time in 1921 in The Lucky Dog, though they wouldn't be a regular duo for years.

Laurel clearly was a talent, though he hadn't quite hit on a character yet.  Generally speaking, his character onscreen was fast and mischievous.  And in his earliest work with Hardy once they were teamed up, the two were still figuring out how to work it. Physically, they looked great together, but Laurel needed to get dumber and slower.  The deliberate pace was unusual in slapstick, and set them apart.  (They weren't unique in this--Harry Langdon could be childish and slow--it's quite possible Laurel was inspired by Langdon.)

The first official Laurel and Hardy film is considered to be Putting Pants On Philip in 1927, and though Laurel always loved it, it's nothing like a "Laurel and Hardy" film--for one thing, Laurel is a Scot who's woman-crazy while Hardy is embarrassed and tries to keep him under control.  But the team soon got into the groove with The Battle Of The Century in the same year, featuring a gigantic pie fight.

They were an immediate hit, turning out about one short per month over the next few years, with the occasional feature thrown in.  And when sound hit, they only got better, as their voices were perfect for their screen characters. (Also, in the early days of sound, they made some shorts in Spanish, French and German--no one had figured out dubbing, yet, so Stan and Ollie would shoot in English, then a new cast would come in and they'd shoot the same scene while speaking a different language phonetically.)

I'd say they're the only major silent clowns whose sound work is superior.  One of their movies, The Music Box (1932), even won Oscar for best short film.

In the late 30s they made mostly full-length films, since shorts were dying out and features were where the money was. They worked throughout the decade with producer Hal Roach,  but left for 20th Century Fox in 1941.  Unfortunately, these films are among their weakest, and by the mid-40s the team was done on film, except for Atoll K in 1951, which was probably a mistake.

The team, however, tour in their later career, performing in person in front of adoring crowds. By all accounts, they still had it.

Laurel lived till 1965, but didn't appear on TV or film.  He wanted his fans to remember him as he was.  Meanwhile, there was new interest in Laurel and Hardy, as the team's movies were shown on TV and revival houses.  He spent his last years in an apartment in Santa Monica, listed in the phone book and visited by major names in comedy who wanted to meet their inspiration.

He was far from the innocent he played, of course.  (And had trouble with women--Laurel married five times, twice to the same woman.)  But he created an indelible character, and I hope each new generation gets the joy of discovering him.  And Ollie too, of course.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Play DJ

D. J. Fontana has died.  He was the drummer in Elvis Presley's original band, which makes him a pioneer of rock and roll.  Not a fussy player, he kept the beat nice and steady.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Unluckiest People

This is sort of a double-cross.  People Of Earth, which had been renewed for its third season, has been canceled. In fact, the new season had already been written, and now it won't be shot.

The premise was Earth was being visited by aliens--greys, whites and reptilian--who were planning an invasion. In particular, they picked up a group of humans as stage one to observe them (stage two being the invasion).  These people's memories were wiped, or changed, but they felt something was wrong and got together to form a support group.

I liked the show. It was a comedy with quite a few eccentric characters (humans and aliens alike) and a fairly decent plot.  And now, not only is the show canceled, but we're forever left hanging.  The main character, Ozzie--a reporter investigating the support group, but also an abductee himself--was apparently killed.  For that matter, it wasn't clear how far the aliens would get with their plans.

But nothing stops and invasion better than a cancelation, I guess.  People Of Earth was on TBS.  Is there any chance Netflix or some other charitable organization will pick it up?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

There It Goes

I recently watched There Goes My Heart (1938), one of the countless romantic comedies made in the early days of sound.  The 1930s (and early 40s) are Hollywood's golden age of romantic comedy but that doesn't mean they're all top tier.  There Goes My Heart is a good example of the more run-of-the-mill sort that audiences usually saw.

The basic concept is not especially original.  A beautiful heiress is unhappy with her life, so she escapes from the boat where she's being held and goes underground. She starts working as a salesgirl in a department store her family owns, and is soon followed by a newspaperman who wants to reveal who she is.  They start to fall in love, however, and are split apart before they finally end in each others' arms.

There are so many famous moves this plot takes from--It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes To Down, My Man Godfrey, etc.--that the audience must have felt a sense of deja vu.  It stars Virginia Bruce--not quite A-list, but lovely and game--and Frederic March, a bigger name and Oscar-winner who sometimes tried his hand at comedy (just the year before he'd played another newspaper reporter in the classic screwball Nothing Sacred) but wasn't exactly Cary Grant.  In support are some of the great character actors of the era such as Patsy Kelly, Eugene Pallette and Alan Mowbray.

The concept is good enough to make something of, but the writers and director (Norman McLeod, who made some decent comedies) don't seem able to handle it.  Incidentally, the story idea is credited to Ed Sullivan. Since the idea is so basic, was this to get on his good side, as he was a major columnist and broadcaster?

The film starts okay, where Bruce is complaining to her grandfather (usually it's the father) that she's not having any fun. Meanwhile, March is a rebel reporter who's tired of listening to his editor.  We've seen this all before, but it goes down easy enough.  It's once the complications start that the movie's in trouble.

Bruce, on the streets of New York with no money, meets Patsy Kelly and moves in with her.  There's a lot of alleged comedy with Kelly's fiancé, played by Mowbray, but it goes nowhere and adds nothing to the plot.

March, who was assigned to cover Bruce by boss Pallette, though he considers her a spoiled brat, discovers by chance where she's working.  You think he'd go for the big story right away, since everyone is looking for the missing heiress, but he decides to take his time, for some reason.  He also gets someone to take photos of her while he's allegedly buying something, but in a poorly done comedy scene, we can tell her face is blocked in all the photos.  Then, for some reason, he tells his boss about the film roll, but decides to hold onto it, not develop it right away.  Why?  We keep waiting for the shoe to drop, but when it finally does, very late in the movie, we don't care any more.

His romance with her, which is central to the film, never quite works.  The screenwriters have to balance them falling in love with him betraying her, but it's never clear where he's at in the relationship, or what he thinks he doing.

Late in the film they sail to a nearby island where he's got some sort of run-down shack of a house that no one knows about.  It's supposed to be romantic, but it's more huh, what's that?

Then, when he should be making his move to show he loves her, he takes far too long for no reason, and she finds out what's actually happening, just as her grandfather catches up to her. (The grandfather and his servants aren't particularly funny, and they occasionally pop up in the film destroying whatever rhythm the plot has.)

The two are split, but for a split second.  Then they're back without much explanation.  Then Kelly and Mowbray have a minister drop by (played by Harry Langdon, no less, and he's not even credited!).  Was this necessary?

The dialogue never rises above serviceable, and the farcical comedy is mostly awkward--including a lengthy sequence in a skating rink that's supposed to show the characters bonding, but seems to go on forever.  But I could live with all that is the plot flowed properly. Good writers know how to build, so the story and characters draw you in and get you concerned over what will happen next, but There Goes My Heart is too haphazard to do that.  (Still better than most comedies today.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mrs. C

Marion Ross never wanted to write an autobiography, but, with her 90th birthday coming later this year, she's finally succumbed.  Thus we have My Days: Happy and Otherwise.

It's yet another actor's memoir, but her story is different.  Usually they spend a few years in the wilderness before becoming stars, but Ross didn't make it until she was well into her 40s.  Generally, if you don't make it big by your early 30s (especially true for women), you're not going to make it.

But she got cast in Happy Days, which turned out to be a gigantic hit, and eventually America came to love Mrs. Cunningham.  I expect most people will buy this book to find out about the show.  But due to the arc of her life, it's half over before we get there.  Happily, she's got a fascinating story.

Growing up in Minnesota, she dreamed of making it big.  Not in the movies, by the way, but on Broadway.  So it's ironic her family moved to San Diego, just a stone's throw from Hollywood.

She studied acting with various teachers and performed in many plays.  And, moving to Los Angeles, she could see movies and TV were where the action was, and eventually got put under contract by Paramount.  She was cute, but no raving beauty, which is the kind of thing that limits a career in show biz.

So though she worked regularly, she did mostly bit parts in movie and TV (and even got a role on Broadway).  Meanwhile, she married a fellow actor.  Oddly (for the time, certainly), she was the one with all the ambition while he seemingly had none, so she was the earner.  I guess the husband did have one ambition--he liked to drink.  They had two kids, but called it quits after 18 years of marriage.

By the time Ross hit 40, she figured she'd always be a nobody.  But then she got a part in the gigantic hit  Airport--a nonspeaking role as a passenger which her friends said she shouldn't even audition for--which led to a meeting with a casting agent who put her up for a pilot called New Family In Town. Created by Garry Marshall, it was set in the 1950s. She played Ron Howard's mom.

The pilot didn't sell.  The networks figured no one wanted a show set in the 50s. Ross understood that was how things usually worked out.  The pilot was burned off as an episode of Love, American Style entitled "Love and the Television Set." (Later in syndication it became known as "Love and the Happy Days.")

Then the 50s hit it big.  Ron Howard starred in the blockbuster America Graffiti (cast because George Lucas saw him in the TV pilot).  Grease became a huge hit on Broadway.  Now ABC thought maybe they should dust off that Garry Marshall show.

There was no guarantee Marion would be brought along, but she, Ron Howard (of course) and Anson Williams as the best friend made it to the new version.  They were joined by a number of others, including Tom Bosley as Mr. Cunningham, the husband of Marion (both her name and her character's) and Henry Winkler as Fonzie.

The show did well, and when Fonzie became a breakout character, it hit #1.  While Winkler got most of the attention, a lot of people started noticing, and loving, Marion Cunningham.  She was the heart of the Cunningham family, and also had a special relationship with Fonzie--she was the only one who called him by his first name, Arthur.

Happy Days ran 11 seasons and around the time Ross was 50 or so, she finally had a steady enough income that she could enjoy a little extravagance.

Ross spends many pages on Happy Days.  For instance, while they were happy they had a hit, there was some grumbling about Fonzie grabbing all the attention.  No grumbling about Henry Winkler, whom they loved, but about the character.

In general, it was a loving cast (as opposed to Marshall's other huge hit, Laverne & Shirley, where everyone fought).  At first, however, Ross had trouble with TV-husband Bosley, who was difficult and demanding. Only later did she discover during those early years his wife was slowly dying of a brain tumor.

The book also features short interviews with many of Ross's castmates, as well as her children.  And she does talk about her career after Happy Days--after all, she's done over a hundred roles since--but she knows what she'll be remembered for.

While she was doing the show, she sometimes felt guilty. Here she was, playing the perfect mom on TV, while trying to raise to kids by herself but being absent most of the time.  Regardless, she was--and still is--America's Mom.

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