Saturday, June 30, 2018

Hold On A Sec

Wait for it...there.  I just observed leap second.

Every now and then a leap second needs to be scheduled to keep the clocks on the right time.  They're done either in the middle of the year (today) or the end.  Leap second is actually scheduled for the end of the day, but I decided to a do it a little early, so I'll be a second ahead the entire day. (Or is it a second behind?)

Even the ancients understood the idea of a leap day or even month--they couldn't miss how the seasons were coming too soon.  But a leap second is a modern invention as humans get ever better at measuring time in small increments.

As I understand it, due to the slowing rotation of the Earth, a solar day is slightly longer than 24 hours, so these minor adjustments (by human standards--it's a big deal if you wait long enough) need to be made on a regular basis.

So I hope you enjoy your extra second today.  Try to put it to good use.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Go For It

Fred Grandy turns 70 today.  He's best known for playing Gopher on The Love Boat. a solid hit that lasted nine seasons. Though the show was a comedy, I believe he served as comic relief, or something like that--I never watched more than a few minutes at a time (even in an age before widely available remotes), but I'm pretty sure his character was sort of goofy.

What interests me about Grandy is he's part of that small group of actual celebrities who became members of Congress.  He represented Iowa from 1987 to 1995--almost as long as he was purser on the Love Boat.

I often wonder why someone would go from show biz to politics.  In a way, it's a step down.  You've got money and adulation, and now you're taking a pay cut and people hate you.  I'll charitably assume it's out of a sense of public duty and not a grab at power.

On the other hand, celebrity can be a stepping stone to politics in that it gives you name recognition, which is half the battle.  Grandy admitted he wouldn't have gone far without Gopher.  On the other hand, I suppose he had to fight the image of the dopey guy he played. (Apparently he wasn't dumb, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard.)

Could have been worse.  Imagine if Goober wanted to run.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Ringmaster

So Jerry Springer is calling it quits after 4000 episodes.  Truth is I didn't know he was still on the air.  I don't recall hearing anything about him in years.

Not that I ever watched the show.  I understood the concept--(fake) everyday people get together, discuss their problems, scream at each other and then come to blows before security guards break it up--and it wasn't for me.

There were apparently a lot of shows like this, though Springer's was the most notorious, and, I assume, the best in the genre.

I remember reading a profile of Springer years ago. He had a surprising past--a lawyer from Northwestern who had a career in politics, ultimately becoming the mayor of Cincinnati.

This truly turned me around on Springer.  Whereas before I assumed he was simply an entertainer who brought happiness to millions, turned out he was a slimy politician.  I've never really liked him since.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dictatorial

The Supreme Court has declared in Trump v. Hawaii that the President's travel ban was a legitimate use of executive power.  Unfortunately, the case was decided 5-4, along partisan lines.  I would have liked to see some crossover, since this should be about the powers of the executive branch, not about how one side likes it and the other doesn't.

Opponents of the decision, of course, raised the specter of Korematsu.  That decision, you'll recall, upheld the constitutionality of FDR's internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II.  Which is why Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, felt he had to deal with it.

Thus he wrote in his opinion that while the dissent invokes Korematsu, it's for rhetorical advantage and has nothing to do with the controversy at hand.  Roberts distinguishes rounding up U.S. citizens on the basis of race and sending them to concentration camps, with a facially neutral policy that denies certain foreign nationals admission to the country--the latter is an act any President can order (even if you mistrust his policy reasons).

Then Roberts notes

The dissent's reference to Korematsu, however, affords this Court the opportunity to make express what is already obvious: Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and--to be clear--"has no place in law under the Constitution." 323 U.S., at 248 (Jackson, J. dissenting).

Because of this, many are saying Korematsu has been overruled.  For instance, the Wikipedia page on Trump v. Hawaii notes "The decision effectively overruled Korematsu."

But did it?  This seems pretty clearly to be dicta.  The swipe at Korematsu wasn't part of the Court's reasoning, it was just them trying to distinguish that case, and noting by the way, it no longer applies, anyway.

Which is why Wikipedia says Korematsu was "effectively" overruled.  In other words, it wasn't actually overruled.  And guess what--if you want to use that standard, Korematsu was "effectively" overruled years ago, since it was well understood that no justice would support it.

So I'd say Korematsu is still officially the law of the land.  Just don't use it in any argument you make in court.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Five Alive

There seemed to be no other way, so I bought the DVD of the fifth season of Community.

Community lasted six seasons (no movie yet).  For the first three it's at full strength, with the original seven students--and supporting cast--all there, and run by creator Dan Harmon.  These episodes were rerun many times.

Season four was also rerun, but Dan Harmon was kicked off the show, so the season doesn't quite work, though it has its moments.

Seasons five and six would have been different in any case, since the show was about a study group in college--they're going to graduate in four years and the plot has to go in another direction.  But season five is still a return to form, somewhat, since Dan Harmon came back.  Admittedly, Chevy Chase was gone, and Donald Glover appeared only in the first five of thirteen episodes, but the season was still pretty good.  However, it was never part of the rerun package.

Season six, done for Yahoo!, was missing too much--Chase and Glover were both gone and Yvette Nicole Brown had to miss a lot of episodes--so it was season five I wanted most to see again.

And now I will.  I haven't watched it yet, though, so I have nothing to say about it.  Instead, let's watch some Community credits done in the style of other shows.







Monday, June 25, 2018

Roseanne's Family

So it looks like the Roseanne show will be back on the air--without Roseanne. The working title is The Conners, and it'll be the same show, apparently, but missing its central figure.

There is precedent for this.  There was a sitcom known as Valerie--premiering just a few years before the original Roseanne--starring Valerie Harper.  Harper wanted more money and walked off the show when she didn't get it.  NBC killed off her character and called the show Valerie's Family.  Then they changed it to The Hogan Family.

The show was never a huge hit, but ran four years without Harper.  It did have a young Jason Bateman and, replacing Harper, Sandy Duncan.  Hey, maybe they'll revive it--if they could get half the ratings they got back then, it'd be a hit among today's chopped-up audience numbers.

I used to pitch at sitcoms, but haven't done so in years.  I wish I could pitch at The Conners, though, since I have a great idea for an episode.  It goes like this:

Darlene's daughter Harris brings home a boy she's dating to share dinner with the Conner family.  While they're having a conversation--actually, an argument--the boy drops a racial epithet.  A moment of silence, followed by a demand he leave the house, which he does.  They tell Harris this is unacceptable and she has to drop him.

But Harris goes on seeing him in secret.  It comes out, however, and they confront Harris, who explains he's fun to be around and he's actually pretty cool if they'd get to know him. They should try to be more understanding--after all, she's willing to tolerate them.  They explain she has to, they're family.  She tells them they can't tell her who to see anyway and runs out.

They wonder if they should go look for her, but figure they can wait her out.  She eventually returns, with boyfriend in tow.  He looks embarrassed.  He tells them he admits he's often done dumb things in the past, and expresses himself in stupid ways. But Harris explained how hurtful what he said can be, and he truly apologizes.

The family looks at each other.  Harris says don't ask me to start telling him all the stories I know about you.  Dan, head of the family (if there is one), finally speaks.  He's always believed in leading by example, and speaking the way the boy did is not the example he wants to set. But forgiving someone, when Dan knows he's far from perfect himself, would be a good example.  So they'll let the boy break bread with them...but he's on probation.

They sit down to dinner, and soon are in another heated argument.  The boyfriend is about to say something, and everyone shuts up to look at him.  He says pass the butter.  Get it yourself, says Darlene, and they continue eating and fighting.

If anyone knows someone who might be pitching at this show, I give them this idea for free.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

If At First

There are always new shows out there in this age of peak TV.  Most of them I never even watch, but I often give a looksee to stuff on premium cable, since I'm paying for it.

For instance, the heavily promoted new HBO drama Succession. It's about a rich family fighting over who'll take over the company from the ailing patriarch (Brian Cox).

Now maybe this show could work, but haven't we seen enough Machiavellian rich families by now?  There's nothing going on here--dramatically or comically--that's anything special.  I bailed after an episode and a half.

Then there's Showtime's new mini-series Patrick Melrose, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Hugo Weaving.  Based on some novels I never read, it's about a rich, wasted British guy who has trouble dealing with life.  At least that's what it seemed to be about--I watched about half an hour before I gave up.

Maybe later I'll hear good things about these shows. And maybe then I'll give them a second chance.  But right now I don't feel like I'm giving up anything.

I also watched the pilot of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  It's available for free on YouTube.  Unfortunately, the rest of the season is only available on Amazon, which I don't have.  Otherwise I'd keep watching the show.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Add It Up

Today is SAT Math Day.  I used to teach test prep for the SAT and the GRE.  I did the best I could, but you could tell certain students had a way with numbers while others didn't.

There's one particular example I remember.  I would teach a section on averaging, and later give a quiz.  Part of the quiz featured questions with Column A and Column B, and you were given four choices--was A greater than B, B greater than A, were they equal, or was there not enough information to tell? (The joke was the last choice is correct--as far as I'm concerned, there's not enough information to tell.)

The question referred to a room filled with men and women.  Every man was 6' 0" and every woman 5' 6".  And 60% of the people in the room were women.

Column A was the number of inches for the average height in the room.  Column B was the number of inches of someone who's 5' 9".

So the students would take the quiz and they pretty much always got this one right.  The issue was how did they get to the correct answer.

Just having received a lesson on averaging, most would take the average of the people in the room. With an unknown number of people, they'd fill in the amount themselves.  They'd been taught to choose the simplest numbers, so most would have three women and two men.  Maybe some would have six women and four men.  I don't think anyone ever had sixty women and forty men.

They'd break down the heights to inches, and figure out 3(66) + 2(72) = 342.  Divide that by 5 and the average height is 68.4 inches, or 5' 8.4".  That is less than 5' 9" so Column B was greater than Column A.

I'm sure those of you who have a sense of numbers already see the problem.  Yes, the answer is correct, but this is a laborious way to solve the problem.  If you approach every problem like this you won't be able to finish all the questions on the exam (and are more likely to make simple arithmetical mistakes).

What you need to see is the average of every man and women combined is 5' 9" so if there are more women than men in the room, the average height is below 5' 9".

But how do you teach that sort of insight?  I don't know.  Something to contemplate on SAT Math Day.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Get Up, Stand Up

Princeton is taking a stand for free speech.

Due largely to a new book promoting free speech by Princeton University political scientist Keith Whittington and the unusual support and campus-wide promotion of the book by Princeton’s president Chris Eisgruber, Princeton is now in the forefront of those American colleges and universities that have said “stop” to the onslaught of thuggish campus militants intent on shutting down free speech. [....] Three years ago, in April of 2015, the governing board of the faculty at Princeton adopted the main body of what has come to be known as the Chicago Principles of free speech and free expression. Originally drawn up by a committee of the University of Chicago chaired by law professor Geoffrey R. Stone, these principles condemned the suppression of views no matter how “offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed [they may appear] by some or even by most members of the University community."

Some familiar names there--Stone was a professor of mine at the University of Chicago, and Eisgruber was a fellow student.

I guess this is good news, but it's also pretty depressing.  To say that people should be allowed to speak freely on a campus (or pretty much anywhere), shouldn't require any bravery.  It should be assumed. Instead, those who want to say controversial things--and often not particularly controversial things--actually fear for their safety.

By the way, the piece blames "thuggish campus militants intent on shutting down free speech."  Perhaps, but if it's just a small group of militants, then I suggest, across the nation, the rest of the campus stand up to them and let them know they won't be allowed to get away with it (though they too will be allowed to express their beliefs unmolested).

Thursday, June 21, 2018

I Don't Believe It

The first day of summer, so you know what that means.  It's Atheist Solidarity Day.

That's an interesting idea--atheists sticking together.  Atheism's hallmark is a lack of belief, so how do various people get together behind something they don't do?

On the other hand, atheists are threatened in many parts of the world, so I guess I can see some solidarity to support the right to believe (or not believe) what you want to believe (or not want to believe).

The ribbon to wear, by the way, is half scarlet, half black.  I get that, especially the scarlet letter A aspect.  Somehow, though, I doubt I'll be seeing too many ribbons out on the street today.

By the way, if you feel celebrating atheism is too negative, it's also National Peaches and Cream Day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Show

People are noting it's the 30th anniversary of Bull Durham.  It's maybe the best film ever made about baseball, except I'm not sure it's a baseball film.

It's about people in the world of baseball, but it's not about winning the big game--the hallmark of sports movies.  I think Kevin Costner gives the best performance as Crash Davis, a minor league veteran who came close but never quite made it.  Not far behind are Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy, a baseball groupie who gets involved with the players, and Tim Robbins as Nuke LaLoosh, a raw rookie with talent but not much control.

And there's some fine supporting work from actors like Trey Wilson and Robert Wuhl that helps create the milieu of minor league baseball.  Of course, above all, there's writer-director Ron Shelton, a former minor leaguer himself.  (He'd go on to create Tin Cup, also starring Costner, which may be the best golf film ever.)

There have been a number of tributes to the Bull Durham, but one thing about them bothers me.  Let me quote from one to give you an example.  This is after listing a number of good moments from the film:

And Crash delivers a monologue that’s so good it transcends its earnestness. He concludes the speech with this: “I believe in the sweet spot, softcore pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”

If I have one problem with Bull Durham, it's this speech. I consider it the low point of the film.  It's far too calculated, and comes across as fake--clearly written.  I cringe when I see it.  And yet, in so many appreciations, they quote it.

The film is 108 minutes. If only it were 107.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

No Thanks

I saw The Incredibles 2 over the weekend.  Before the film started, there was a short film where the cast (Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson) and the writer-director (Brad Bird) thanked the audience.  I'm guessing this short is being widely shown. (Or at least being shown in the cinemas owned by the same corporation.)

Do we need this?  I've already bought the ticket and am waiting to see the film.  I'm in.  I don't need a come on, and I don't want any hints or behind-the-scenes views of what's coming up.

This isn't the first time I've seen such a film before the actual film.  It's annoying.  If they really want to thank me, don't get in the way of the entertainment.  Or they can film something to be shown after the film (which I've seen some theatres offer).  Then I can decide if I want to hang out and see more, not be forced to see something to diminish the experience.

So just leave it alone.  I'd be grateful.

Monday, June 18, 2018

PM

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

SL

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.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Category Error

It's hard to comment on the winners and losers at last night's Tony Awards since I didn't see any of the productions under consideration.. (And I'm not interested in all the hatred expressed toward Trump--the whole thing is getting tired.)

But one thing intrigued me.  Andrew Garfield won for best lead actor in a play for his Prior Walter in Angels In America.  Meanwhile, Nathan Lane won for best featured actor in a play for his Roy Cohn in the same.

Angels in America requires eight actors (though this production had more to fill in smaller roles) and each has a major part.  All of them but one double in other roles, though each has a main character to play.

Angels In America is also two playsm both lengthy--part 1, Millennium Approaches, and part 2, Perestroika.  But here's the thing--in the first Broadway production, the actor who played Prior Walter (Stephen Spinella) and the actor who played Roy Cohn (Ron Leibman) both won Tonys.   However, Leibman won for best actor and Spinella won for best featured actor--the opposite of what happened last night.

As noted, all the roles are major, so perhaps anyone can win for anything.  I don't know who decides which category the actors will be nominated in.  But could it possibly be that Leibman was a bigger name than Spinella, while Andrew Garfield is a bigger star (in the movies, anyway) than Nathan Lane?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Not So Bright

I was watching the well-regarded 1948 version of The Winslow Boy.  Early on, we see people in church singing the hymn "All Things Bright And Beautiful."

The chorus is quite familiar:

All thing bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all

Then, in the movie, they go into the verse, singing:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God mad them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate

Wow.  Not exactly what you'd expect.

The words were written in the 1800s, when supporting the class system wasn't that controversial.  I understand this verse is generally omitted in modern times.

I'm not sure how it would have sounded in 1948.  The Winslow Boy was adapted by Terence Rattigan from his play, and is about a very proper British family in 1912.  Whether the hymn was meant as a comment on the situation, either in a straightforward or sly way, I don't know.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Just One Of Those Days

Happy birthday, Cole Porter.  He said he was born in 1893, but actually it was 1891.










Friday, June 08, 2018

Count On Me

I recently read Sticky Fingers, journalist Joe Hagan's biography of Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine. The title, of course, is taken from a Rolling Stones' album--just as every chapter in the book is named after a song or album.  It's a decent book about an interesting life.  Wenner promoted rock music, but was just as interested in promoting himself. 

But sometimes I wondered about the editing.  For instance, look at this sentence on page 99:

Wenner, in his early column called Rock and Roll Music, defined and defended the local [San Francisco] scene, which consisted of seven "indigenous" bands (the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Country Joe and the Fish, and Quicksilver Messenger Service) and was defined by long live shows with liquid light displays.

One can argue about the merits of the San Francisco sound, but what one can't argue about is there are only six bands listed, not seven.

What's the missing band?  Blue Cheer?  It's A Beautiful Day? Sopwith Camel?  Whoever it is, I doubt they'll be good enough to raise the quality to a level where it backs up Wenner's claims.

Or look at page 317:

With Anne Wexler's Rolodex and Avedon's fame, Rolling Stone procured access to Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger, Cesar Chavez, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jerry Brown, Katharine Graham, Bella Abzug, Nelson Rockefeller, Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, George Herbert Walker Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, George McGovern, George Wallace, Lady Bird Johnson, Ralph Nader, Ted Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter.

In case you missed it, the list starts and ends with the same name.  I know there are a lot of names in between, but are there so many no one could remember them all by the time they got to the period?  Or was Hagan trying to make up for the missing name on page 99?

Thursday, June 07, 2018

If You Can't

I recently saw Catch Us If You Can, also known as Having A Wild Weekend.  It's a 1965 feature starring The Dave Clark Five.  The band was very popular back then in both the UK and the US.

The plot is about five stuntmen (played by the band) who work with a young model, Dinah, in an ad campaign for meat.  In the middle of the working day, the lead stuntman (Dave Clark himself, playing a character named Steve for some reason) decides to run off with Dinah and escape to an island she's thinking of buying.

We follow them through their travels as they meet proto-hippies, a jaded middle-aged couple and a would-be dude ranch owner.  Meanwhile, the ad men put out a story that Steve has kidnaped Dinah, and the police follow them as part of the publicity campaign, before they all converge on the island.

The film was made the year after Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night changed everyone's perception about rock star films. They didn't have to be silly or sappy, or little more than cheap exploitation.  They could actually be smart and witty, perhaps even say something.  Of all the pop star films of that era, Catch Us If You Can probably tries to hardest to be a significant film in its own right.

Alas, it fails.

Like A Hard Day's Night, it's made by a major director early in his career (John Boorman) and features a screenplay written by a serious playwright (Peter Nichols).  But it just doesn't work.

First off, you've got The Dave Clark Five.  They're simply not The Beatles.  Their songs aren't half as good, and they don't compare as personalities.  Actually, it's really just Dave Clark.  The rest of the band make practically no impression--they aren't much more than extras. And Clark himself is both boring and way too serious--he barely ever smiles.

But then, the plot is too serious.  What could have been (and perhaps was meant to be) a romp comes off as glum.  It's not helped by the drab black and white photography.  Sometimes Boorman goes for the comic montage, but he doesn't have the same knack as Richard Lester.  Worse is Nichols' script, which goes from one minor, random episode to the next, and never builds momentum.

Barbara Ferris as Dinah at least shows some life, but it's not a good sign that the characters they meet tend to have more interesting stories than the central couple.

There are those who think this is the masterpiece of 1960s rock films.  I hear Boorman himself wasn't too impressed. He was right.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Two Billions

Showtime's Billions, about to air its third-season finale, has changed.  I don't mean just that the dialogue has become more rococo, with countless pop references each episode. I mean the basic concept is different.

The original idea was a show with two men facing off--U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) versus billionaire hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis).  In between were their wives, especially Maggie Rhoades (Wendy Siff), married to Chuck while working as in-house psychiatrist for Axelrod's company. (Seems to me a hopeless conflict of interest, but there it is.)

One of my problems with the show, originally, was you can't have two protagonists.  You've got to root for one against the other, but the show treated both as if they were the lead.  In the third season, however, it seems they got tired of the never-ending clash which no one could win.

So, mid-season, with Wendy being legally attacked, the two men got together and quickly shut down the criminal case.  Since then, they've been drifting, each Ahab missing his Moby Dick.  Which also means they've come up with replacements.

Axelrod, only recently free from legal jeopardy, is trying to revive his firm. However, this means he's got to raise capital from questionable sources (including John Malkovich playing a Russian Oligarch who seems to be a sequel to Teddy KGB--that's a pop reference the show doesn't dare make).  He's also got a mutiny on his hands, with top employee Taylor, who took over while Axelrod was grounded, threatening to start a new fund.

Meanwhile, Chuck Rhoades has new enemies (aside from his father, played by Jeffery DeMunn, who's often been a thorn in his side).  They come from above and below.  There's former employee Brian Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore) whose investigation Rhoades and Axelrod teamed up to shut down.  After that, Rhoades kicked his opponent out of his office, so Connerty is now hoping to find some dirt on his old boss--and if there's one lesson this show teaches, if you dig enough, you'll find dirt on anyone. He's even teamed up with another man brought low by Rhoades, Oliver Dake (Christopher Denham).

Worse, Rhoades is being forced to dance like a puppet on a string by the new Attorney General Jock Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown).  So Rhoades does the only thing he knows how to do--he plans to bring down the top legal officer in the United States by getting dirt on him.

So the raison d'etre of the original show--the struggle between two wily and powerful men--is no longer center stage.  It doesn't even exist any more.  The show has split in two.  Some may mourn this change, but since I didn't like the original idea, I prefer it.  I hope they keep it going in the fourth season.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Masterpiece Theatre

Everyone was waiting for the blockbuster, but it wasn't even a firecracker.  Which is why there's not much to say about the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision handed down yesterday by the Supreme Court.  (It may also be why it wasn't the last decision of the term, which of often saved for the biggest and most controversial.)

The question was, or seemed to be, can a bakery be forced to make a cake for a gay wedding, even if the baker opposes the ceremony.  There's no question you can't be forced to support gay marriage in your private life, while Colorado civil rights law was clear you can't discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation.

There were two main First Amendment arguments made by the baker:

--his freedom of speech allowed him to turn the request down, because it would be compelled speech.  (Part of the question is whether making such a cake is an expressive act--there could be words on the cake, and the cake itself arguably expresses support for something).

--his free exercise rights meant he couldn't be forced to make a cake that went against his beliefs.

The Court decided neither. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion, joined by Roberts, Alito, Breyer, Gorsuch and Kagan, sliced the cake pretty thin, declaring the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling against the baker didn't respect neutrality toward religion.  It is true the Commission's review of the case was pretty hostile toward the baker's religious arguments, and very different from how they treated other exemptions..

So it's understandable that two of the Court's liberals joined in the decision. In case there was any misunderstanding, Kagan, joined by Breyer, wrote a concurrence noting how narrow the decision was. 

Meanwhile, Thomas, who didn't sign the majority opinion, wrote a concurrence, joined by Gorsuch, saying the Court didn't get to the main arguments of free speech and free exercise, and he would have found for the cakeshop on those grounds.  Ginsburg, joined by Sotomayor, dissented, stating the Commission did nothing illegal.

It's uncertain how the Court would have decided on the two main grounds that had been argued. I think we can be pretty sure where the four liberals would have stood, but some of the conservatives--let's name them, Kennedy and Roberts--were probably far less certain and happy enough to punt.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Cover Band

The Beatles were an influential band, but not just musically.  The look of their albums also had a big effect.  At least half their covers are iconic.

So let's rank this aspect of their albums--the original 12 British albums made while they were a going concern. This means no Magical Mystery Tour, which was not released as an LP in Britain till after the band broke up.  I'm also not including the Beatles Oldies collection in 1966 that took a bunch of hits not previously on their albums.  Neither one of them would have ranked very high.

Also, just the cover, not the back or anything inside.

1.  Rubber Soul -- A very nice portrait of The Beatles looking their best, done as an elongated photo (a look discovered by chance by the group, which they then demanded for the cover).  Also, the first time their name wasn't on the front.

2.  Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- It shouldn't work, but it does.  They went all out, with a colorful cover that features a whole bunch of people the band admired, not to mention The Beatles themselves dressed in uniforms, as well as an earlier version of the lads, and a lot of flowers.  So much from the psychedelic era has dated, but this is still lovely.

3.  The Beatles (aka "The White Album") -- After the super-busy Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles go in the opposite direction, with an all-white cover and the most basic title possible.  There's an embossed "The Beatles" and also each edition (for the first few million anyway) stamped with an individual number.

4.  With The Beatles -- Their first arty cover, with their faces in half-shadow (and poor Ringo down at the bottom right while the other three are on top).  Inspired by previous photos of the boys by Hamburg pal Astrid Kirchherr, it's elegant and tasteful.

5.  Abbey Road -- It was going to be a big production.  They were thinking of calling the album Everest and doing a photo session in the Himalayas.  Then they said screw it, let's just go outside and take some shots. Many have discussed the symbolism of the photo, but who cares--it's the Beatles walking across the street outside the studio, and it looks cool.  Also, they decided to dispense with both the title and their name, because this is the group's new album and they're so famous you'll figure it out.  This is probably their most copied cover, especially if you include the countless fans who have taken their photos at the same spot.

6.   Please Please Me -- EMI didn't know what it had, so it looks like any other album of the time, with the band's name written in big letters, plus the promise of their two hits and 12 other ditties inside.  But it's nice to have a conventional cover (made with presumably little input from the band) not to mention the lads looking down from the same stairwell they'd use for a photo just before they broke up as a comparison shot. (Originally they were going to the zoo for their first album cover, planning to get a shot outside the insect house.)

7.   Help! -- The band apparently spelling out "HELP" in semaphore.  That it's actually "NUJV" makes it even better

8.   A Hard Day's Night -- Nothing too special, but still it's nice to have 20 separate shots of the Beatles (somewhat taken from the movie).

9.   Revolver -- Created by their pal from Hamburg Klaus Voormann, it's considered a classic.  Well, the album is, but I've always consider this collage a bit of a mess.

10. Beatles For Sale -- They look tired, and the four standing next to each other with nature behind them is done so much better on Rubber Soul

11. Let It Be --  It's the four Beatles, each in a separate box, each looking very different.  While you can't go wrong with that, it's not a great collection of shots, and they don't fit together well.

12. Yellow Submarine -- I love the movie, but the cover just looks like an ad.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

That's The Ticket

I saw this guy buying lottery tickets at a machine in my local drugstore.  They were the scratch-off kind.

He'd buy one, go over to an empty counter, and scratch.  He'd lose, buy another, scratch that one, lose and do it again.  He must have done this five times. (I suppose if he'd won, he'd collect his winning and buy more until he was done.)

I have a suggestion.  Since I don't imagine he wins that often (and when he does win, he doesn't win big), what he must enjoy is the anticipation.  This could be the one!

So what he should do is buy one ticket, take it home and enjoy the anticipation on the trip back.  Scratch, lose and then wait till your next trip to the drugstore to buy another.

And then start to wait longer and longer before you start the scratching.  Let that anticipation build. Eventually you'll get down to one ticket a week.  Then once a month.  Maybe once a year.

But won't he miss out on the million-dollar ticket?  Hey, you play the lottery, you take your chances.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Just In Time

Just as the regular TV season was ending--the network TV season, that is (not that anyone cares any more)--new episodes of two fine comedies dropped on Netflix: Arrested Development and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Arrested Development was a fine show about the troubled Bluth family that ran for three seasons on Fox from 2004 to 2006, winning Emmys but no viewers.  It was revived by Netflix in 2013 with a fourth season that many didn't go for, but I liked a lot.  The show had always been complex, but many thought it had crossed over into confusing.  Each episode concentrated on one of the characters, often showing the same events from a different point of view.  I thought it was like a huge puzzle, but I guess a lot of people don't like solving puzzles in sitcoms. (Some believe the original show didn't get viewers because it was too hard to follow.)  I note the 15 overlong episodes of season 4 have been recut into 22 normal-sized--and presumably clearer--portions.  I don't have the strength to watch and compare.

I did watch the first episode of season 5, and it's good to have the Bluth's back. The plot was mostly a chance to catch us up with the characters (including the dad, played by the controversial Jeffrey Tambor) as they're coming off the problems they faced last season and rushing headlong into new ones.  I don't know where they're going, but I'm willing to follow.

Kimmy Schmidt has released the first half of its fourth and final season.  I see the show as the last (long) gasp of 30 Rock.  It's got the same people in charge--Tina Fey and Robert Carlock--and the same style.  It's even got the same sort of music and some of the same actors (particularly Jane Krakowski as a regular).

By style I mean almost every line (or two at most) is a joke of some sort--not even necessarily based on the situation, just someone saying something funny.  The reality level is pretty low, but it doesn't matter if the jokes work.  And while the supporting actors are fine, it's the high-spirited Ellie Kemper in the title role who's the heart of the show.  The first episode of season five (which starts with an old-style sitcom musical opening) continues where the show left off, with Kimmy working in a tech company filled with nerds.  But, as always, the specific setting is less important than how the characters react to what happens.  I'm already feeling sad the show won't be with us much longer.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Do A Donut

Today is National Doughnut Day.  Or National Donut Day.  Your call.

Donuts, or something very much like them, have been around at least a couple hundred years.  The holiday was started 80 years ago by the Salvation Army to honor WWI veterans.  I believe many donut outlets offer their wares free today, but I don't have a list, so don't expect anything.

What do you think of when you think of donuts?  Dunkin'? Krispy Kreme?  Cops?  Homer Simpson?

Perhaps the biggest local donutery in Los Angeles is Winchell's.  It's got 170 locations in six western states, including one just up the block from where I live.

One of the most famous L. A. landmarks is the giant donut at Randy's Donuts.  I've never been to a Randy's franchise, though it's donuts we're talking about, so I'm sure they're fine.

The best local donuts I've encountered are Stan's Donuts--a hole-in-the-wall place in Westwood with surprisingly good products--and SK's donuts, in a cheap little mini-mall in Hollywood.

All the stuff at Stan's is good, but I like their peanut butter donuts the best.  SK's (which has been closed a few months for rebuilding) makes great specialty donuts, including Nutella walnut, Oreos with cream cheese, and the latest rage, cronuts.

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