How Have I Never Seen Don Rickles on The Dating Game before?
He asks those three poor bastards the questions in place of the bachelorette. And it just writes itself.
My Past Continues To Die
A flurry of celebrity deaths of people all connected to the entertainment of my childhood and beyond…
First, producer Gene Reynolds died at a ripe old 96. He’d produced the early seasons of M*A*S*H along with Lou Grant and Hogan’s Heroes, Room 222 and a bunch of other stuff. Especially considering that M*A*S*H’s best years were under his & Larry Gelbart’s supervision, countless hours were spent (and often still are) watching Reynolds’ shows.
Then Orson Bean got hit by two cars while walking in Venice Beach. The first knocked the 91 year old to the ground and the second ran him over. I haven’t read any more about it – I hope it wasn’t some moron on their phone. Bean was a mainstay on game shows like To Tell The Truth back in the day, and more recently was wonderful in Being John Malkovich. Long ago, a friend of mine appeared with Bean in a small theater production out here – a very odd musical about John Cleves Symmes’ attempt in the 19th century to find the hole at the north pole leading to the center of the Earth. I’ll always remember hearing how after the playwright got stone-drunk after witnessing the flop of premiere night, supposedly Bean, playing Symmes’ old professor narrating the tale, came backstage and announced something along the lines of “Looks like we got us here a real bomb, folks!” and everyone erupted in laughter.
For the record, the actors were fine, some set design items were clever… but the script? Ye Gods!
Every backstage story I heard about Bean fit his TV persona.
And then, Robert Conrad died yesterday, star of one of my favorite old shows, The Wild Wild West. Conrad was always reliable for fist fights with his stuntmen buddies in numerous scenes (usually the legendary Red West and Whitey Hughes), and for playing tough guys. He played one of the scuzzier Columbo villains as well, a fitness guru who runs a string of crooked health clubs and murders the guy who discovers the Ponzi scheme behind them. His WW2 TV show got made fun of a lot in its day, but looking back on it in reruns, it’s a decent wartime adventure show with its plots loosely based on the memoirs of Conrad’s role, “Pappy” Boyington.
Conrad had a sense of humor about his image, doing those silly battery ads or losing foot races to Gabe Kaplan on Battle of the Network Stars. Many years ago when Howard Stern’s fans made it their business to phone into the Larry King Live show on CNN and annoy King with endless Stern promotion after King and Stern had some feud, Conrad was on King’s show being interviewed about some project he had coming up, and the Stern-themed calls started rolling in. King kept getting angrier and angrier, but Conrad couldn’t stop laughing and playing along with them.
It’s what Jim West woulda done, with Artie Gordon calling in.
Want more treasured elements of the past to blow up before your eyes? Well, why not start with tonight’s Oscar Awards.
I won’t make any Oscar predictions this year. I just don’t care anymore. I haven’t watched the broadcast in the last couple of years, and I’m not missing anything. I still love movies, but this event no longer has any sort of luster or importance to me at all.
And the WORST of all?
Well, I just got back from running some errands which included a stop at the 99 Cents Only store. And as I browsed the aisles, I noticed more and more items that are NOT 99 cents, but are labeled as supposed “bargains” at 2.99, 3.99, 9.99 and so forth.
They ought to change the name of the store to 99 Cents On Some Stuff, Anyway instead of 99 Cents Only. Amirite?
AND they didn’t have a big plastic pasta strainer to replace the one I have that developed a few cracks. NOR did they have the brand of deodorant I like. THOSE BASTARDS.
But karma – the shopping Gods smiled upon me, and I found a very nice wool winter jacket up the street at Goodwill for only twenty bucks. SO SUCK IT, 99 CENTS FOR WHAT WE BAIT AND SWITCH YOU WITH STORE.
Now I’m home, about to check the math on my friggin taxes. Bah.
Larry Storch Tested For James Bond
Little known outside of Hollywood lore, when Sean Connery quit playing Bond the first time after You Only Live Twice, numerous actors were tested to replace him before they settled on unknown Australian model George Lazenby.
Adam West was one. And while they were bringing in television actors whose series were over with, they brought in Larry Storch, who assumed somewhat of a make-over for publicity shots like the one above.Continue reading “Larry Storch Tested For James Bond”
A Meandering Sunday Post
Enjoying a Jack Daniels & water on this lazy Sunday before my classes begin.
I’m watching a Monkees episode with Rip Taylor as a guest star, so all is well.
It’s got what had to be Jeffrey Epstein’s favorite Monkees song “Cuddly Toy” featured, as well as “The Door Into Summer,” a tune co-penned by Nesmith’s bud Bill Martin. I was apartment neighbors with Martin for a while some years back. Nice guy.
And for MORE small world coincidence, I was also neighbors with Martin’s screenwriting partner for a few years before that. Another nice guy.
But not Rip Taylor. I never got to be his neighbor. I wonder if he’d throw his toupeé over my fence.
Now they’ve switched over to the Fairy Tale episode, one of the weirder and more clever ones, actually. Complete with “Daily Nightly” just to run the table on making it a 1967 time capsule.
I’ll savor my drink, do the crossword, and make dinner. Back to work tomorrow. Oy.
So Long, MAD Magazine
A post-war American institution, really… MAD taught the entire boomer generation irony & satire (along with Rocky & Bullwinkle, I guess) and became a regular staple of American popular culture.
And now it’s going away.
A few more issues of new material, then they’ll rerun old material until all existing subscriptions run out, then…. they are done. Over. Kaput.
Partly due to the declining readership of print magazines in general, partly due to over-dilution of their brand among far too many other outlets for their younger target audience, and saddest of all, partly due to the overall dearth of satire and cancer of hypersensitive offense and humorlessness pervading our zeitgeist.
Fancy words for NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO JUST LAUGH AT CRAP ANYMORE.
MAD started out strong in comic book form under Harvey Kurtzman – the throw-everything-at-the-wall style of satire from those early issues holds up beautifully today. While some of the genre parodies are dated, the comic art and execution of the jokes still hit their marks. When MAD transitioned post-Kurtzman’s fallout with William M. Gaines into the b/w magazine format, the types of pieces varied somewhat, though the direct parodies of movies and television shows remained. The “usual staff of idiots” each stood out in their regular pieces for the magazine in the days I grew up with it – the observational humor of Dave Berg, the weirdness of Don Martin, the offbeat dark humor of Al Jaffe, the distinctive comic art variances of Antonio Prohias’ Spy vs Spy juxtaposed against the boxiness of Paul Coker’s people… the magazine was always well designed and very rich visually.
Before the age of video and before they got bought out by Warners for even more access, they’d parody movies a few months after they hit theaters, with uncanny reproductions of specific scenes by brilliant artists like Mort Drucker.Continue reading “So Long, MAD Magazine”
RIP, Arte Johnson
He did a lot of other stuff besides Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, but that stuff’ll stick with you…
Ruth Buzzi is from Westerly, Rhode Island. This recurring bit became so well known that there is a park bench named after her there.
So long, Arte.
A Bittersweet Tour Through Yesterday
Back in the 1960s, resorts in the Poconos attracted fun-seeking young marrieds and celebrities, sort of an alternate Catskills. Numerous fancy schmantzy hotels & spas dotted the landscape.
And now, many of them are abandoned ghost resorts. Lance Longwell of Travel Addicts has a nice article about a lot of the abandoned resorts here – check it out for background and then…
Check out this great piece on dcist by photographer Pablo Iglesias Maurer where he took old matchbook cover photos and postcards of the resorts in their heyday (like the pic above) and then took current-day photos of the same locations from the same angles, cross-fading them online. It’s fascinating and depressing all at once, watching the slick resort locales dissolve into graffiti-laden ruin.
Then for more wonderful photography of the abandoned sites, Seph Lawless’ work can be found here in some clickable galleries.
I’d like to think the ghosts of Morty Gunty and Tubby Boots are still putting on shows in those places… but it all has an eerie “The Shining” vibe to it, don’t it?
DVR Theater: Don’t Trust Anyone Edition
If I’m watching a movie where the characters keep messing with each others’ minds, I should be enjoying the experience of having my own mind messed with.
I appreciate a movie that can fool me. I’m always trying to outguess them, either solving the mystery halfway through or even predicting a gag here and there.
So the first time through movies like Sleuth or The Usual Suspects or The Last of Sheila are a great joy – because there’s nothing I respect more than the movie that can fool me. Granted, Sleuth & Sheila fooled me when I was a kid and Usual Suspects almost fooled me… yeah, that’s right. There’s a very strong tell about halfway through the movie.
Sometimes the tell can be the casting, if you’re up on the inside jokes. That’s what gave away Dead Again to me.
Games (1967) stars James Caan and Katherine Ross as a rich young art collecting NYC couple who enjoy playing scary practical jokes on people. Simone Signoret inserts herself into their lives and joins in. And then these punkings continue until they get very much out of hand, involving the murder of a creepy grocery boy (Don Stroud), paranoia and the occult.
BUT as with Dead Again, I figured the ending because of the tell. Still not a bad film about no one trusting each other. The one thing that made me doubt the (correct) solution I’d figured about halfway in was a lack of what I felt was a reasonable motive. When the motive was revealed, it still really didn’t add up. I can’t say more without major spoilers, sorry.
Well, maybe one major spoiler for anyone who remembers Simone Signoret in the wonderful French film Diabolique. Actually, just making the connection is spoiler enough.
Also – an excellent TV remake of Dialbolique starring Joan Hackett, Tuesday Weld (in the Signoret role) and Sam Waterson is on youtube. Reflections of Murder, directed by John Badham. Thumbs up!
Onwards to a very relaxed & realistic Cold War spy drama, a purposeful flipside to the gadget-and-superheroesque Bond/Flint/Matt Helm type stuff filling screens around the same time – The Quiller Memorandum from 1966 features George Segal as an American operative put to work by Alex Guinness in West Berlin to smoke out a nest o’Nazis led by Max Von Sydow while getting involved with eye candy Senta Berger. The striking thing in this one is just how bad Segal is at his job – he gets captured easily, finds himself at the mercy of his enemies repeatedly, and totally misreads the people around him, both friend and foe. The pacing is slow, deliberately, and the affect of everyone is extremely methodical and calm. The screenplay by Harold Pinter is terse, intelligent and direct. I’m so used to seeing Segal in comedy that he seemed miscast, although that makes him the perfect spy, I guess. No one would suspect him.
This one sits on the Cold War spy movie scale as less depressing than The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and certainly less ridiculous and silly than ANY of the Bond movies. It’s also better than the Harry Palmer series, since it manages to depict the tedium of intelligence work without taking the self-hatred of the main character so far as to make the audience wonder why they should care either. The cast is great, as well as some wonderful locations in West Berlin used well. And while not approaching the total paranoid nihilism of 1970s spy thrillers like Three Days Of The Condor, Quiller creates a similar cynical atmosphere where our central character really can’t trust anyone around him.
So a thumbs up to Quiller, and a meh to Games, I guess.
Summer Of Movies: Bedtime Story (1964)
I play hooky from writing by watching more and more old movies. And the combo of whatever speed bumps I’ve hit while working on Wagstaff 3 and the discovery of WAY too many old noirs and the like on youtube have produced a lot of regular movie viewing the past few weeks.
I also needed to screen a bunch of stuff to evaluate for classes.
So I’ll begin a run down of what I’ve viewed so far, with some brief reviews and commentary.
I started with Bedtime Story from 1964, the original version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. David Niven and Marlon Brando play the roles that’d be redone as Michael Caine and Steve Martin, while Shirley Jones gets to play the mark that’d be redone with Glenn Headley. And redone better, actually – in the original, Jones is basically the innocent, whose honest love reforms the Brando character. Changing her to another con artist in the remake is a rare example of a story change in a remake that improves on the original. The character change for Headley is altogether brilliant – a way to basically redo the original set-up, where the Niven/Caine and Brando/Martin characters have their private challenge to see who can get rid of the other by taking Jones/Headley for a sap. We can have all the same gags where Brando/Martin pretends to be the soldier with psychological paralysis and Niven/Caine swoops in pretending to be the psychiatrist and so forth, but now our memory of the entire story arc changes when we find out that Headley was not the sappy mark but instead a superior con artist playing both of them (and us) at the same time. I kept waiting for that in the original, but instead got the standard character-reformed ending common to older films.
The original is still fairly funny. Niven is a natural, and Brando isn’t too bad at comedy. This was post-Mutiny on the Bounty, when Brando’s star power had waned and his reputation for being difficult started to affect his casting, but I suspected he only did a little movie like this only to work with Niven, possibly bed down with some of the babe extras playing other marks, and a little research proved me right, at least on the Niven part. Jerry Lewis’ theory on Brando (and actors in general) was that directors that worked well understood how to confer with the inner “troubled child” inside every actor – Kazan could confer with it, but Lewis Milestone could not. Watch Hearts of Darkness to see Coppola deal with it, or perhaps, lose the ability he once had during The Godfather. Or even better, watch Lost Soul, a fascinating 2014 documentary on Richard Stanley’s failure to complete the awful Island of Dr. Moreau remake. Brando’s sabotage of the film seems to be an act of revenge in defense of Stanley once he had been fired. Val Kilmer’s sabotage was more in defiance of Stanley’s authority on set to begin with. Two great docs on moviemaking, and windows into the later career of Brando, anyway.
Brando took direction here, however. And from Ralph Levy, a longtime TV director. This was his only feature. He went back to episodic TV right afterwards. And this was back in the days where television people were routinely looked down upon like minor leaguers in the entertainment field.
And now we see how important the Niven factor may have been, eh?
For some reason this one never turns up on TV or TCM and I’d never seen it. But you can find it on youtube, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
And yes, I know it’s presently being remade AGAIN with the STARTLINGLY ORIGINAL IDEA of SWITCHING THE GENDERS!!!!!
OMIGOD!!!! THAT’S NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE!!!! Pat yourselves on the back for that one, Hollywood!
And yes, let’s make sure we follow save-the-cat/McKee story structure like it’s Holy writ, people.
And yes, make sure to insert current pop culture catch-phrases, buzzwords and the like.
And to run the table: keeping in line with the current trend in Hollywood comedies, let’s go totally overboard on bathroom humor, body excretions, and other overused and trite attempts at gross-out humor.
Oh dear GOD, will it most certainly SUCK.
Hollywood actually got a remake correct back in 1988, I guess they couldn’t just let it be. Gotta make sure all remakes are unnecessary and pointless somehow. Just another day at the office.
Meh. The more I think about what will most certainly be in the upcoming re-remake, the more I like the simplicity of the original, and the silliness of the first remake.
When do we get the gender swapped version of Victor/Victoria? I think we will have reached the singularity by then.