The Lion King

The Circle of Life

June 15, 2021

An often repeated conversation in my household goes like this:

Hubby: “What movie would you like to watch tonight?”

Me (Scrolling through the list showing up on the TV): “How about __________________ (picks some random 1990’s era movie). We haven’t seen that one.”

Hubby: “Yes we have.”

Me: “Maybe you have. I didn’t see any movies in the 1990’s.”

This statement is not, however, entirely true. I did see movies in the 1990’s but most of them were rated “G” or “PG” and the main characters were animated.

On June 15, 1994, when The Lion King was released, I had a four year old and a one year old. It was one of the rare movies we went to the theater to see. More on that in a bit.

The Lion King is the story of Simba – a cub born to parents Mufasa and Sarabi. Mufasa is the king of the lion pride much to the consternation of his younger brother, Scar. Jealous of Mufasa, Scar convinces a pack of hyenas to trap and kill Mufasa but pins his brother’s death onto his young nephew Simba. Simba is driven from the pride and ends up in an unlikely friendship with a warthog and meercat (Pumba and Timon).

Eventually Simba grows up and, with the help of Pumba, Timon, and lioness Nala, battles with Scar. Victorious, Simba assumes his rightful place as the heir to Mufasa’s kingdom, ascending to the top of Pride Rock.

According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The Lion King was released on June 15, 1994, to a positive reaction from critics, who praised the film for its music, story, themes, and animation. With an initial worldwide gross of $763 million, it finished its theatrical run as the highest-grossing film of 1994 and the highest-grossing animated film. It is also the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time, as well as the best-selling film on home video, having sold over 30 million VHS tapes. (snip) The Lion King garnered two Academy Awards for its achievement in music and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. (snip)

In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.  It is, as of December 2019, the only Disney film to have been dubbed in Zulu, the only African language aside from Arabic to have been used for a feature-length Disney dub.”

The film appealed to both children and adults. The script was full of subtle jokes aimed at the grownups and lovable characters to inspire the imaginations of kids.

Soon after its release our family of four went to the theater to see it. Both our children loved the animated Disney movies. Peter Pan and Robin Hood were particular favorites of our four year old son. But as soon as he saw The Lion King, it took over his imagination.

‘Pride Rock’ was in the thick of play time from this March 1995 photo. The evil “Scar” is literally hanging from the edge.

That summer we would drive from our home on the east side of Lake Sammamish clear to the Burger King on 85th in Kirkland. Every week we made the trek in order to collect The Lion King figures from the Kid’s meals. Soon each child had their own Mufasa and Simba and all the rest of the characters. The two lion brothers would frequently engage in battle through the imagination of my child.

When The Lion King was released to VHS on March 3, 1995, the obsession really ramped up.

Our four year old had some other interests as well, of course. Chief among these was to build things. He was obsessed with hammers and nails and would spend hours pounding nails into Dad approved boards. The child even had his own workbench with real tools.

Getting in touch with his inner Simba in a Mom created costume for Halloween 1994

The acquisition of the VHS movie, however, turned into a daily viewing of the film. Soon there were elaborate sets constructed for the Burger King toys including a version of Pride Rock. Of course it really looked nothing like the Pride Rock from the movie. It was about 18 inches tall and built from 2 x 4’s and plywood. But in my son’s eyes it WAS Pride Rock.

I don’t recall when the obsession ended. What I do know is that I heard the songs so often that I know all the words and can sing every one. Eventually the wooden Pride Rock was disassembled and he moved on to new interests which included, at various times, dinosaurs, rocks, coins, Pokemon trading cards, Legos, and video games, to name a few.

For a parent there is a particularly poignant moment in the movie when Simba – still a cub – is frustrated by having to follow his father’s rules and declares, via song, I Just Can’t Wait to Be King. It is the oft heard child’s lament, in a hurry to grow up, not knowing just how special it is to be a ‘cub’ without real world worries.

For me, I think it was okay to not see the majority of ‘grownup’ TV shows or movies from the 1990’s. It’s one of the best things about having kids – one gets to immerse themselves in the child’s world – and, for a short time, see the world through their eyes. It’s the circle of life.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_King

Picture Perfect Postcards

June 8, 2021

No doubt if someone who lived in the 1870’s were alive today, they would be in awe of the instantaneous nature of an email or a text message. People then had equivalent forms of communication but without it being instant. A letter was very much like email, used to expound on longer subjects. It was the postcard, however, which served the purpose of a quick communication and, literally, cost only a penny to send; the text message of its day.

It was on June 8, 1872 when the US Congress endorsed the penny postcard. What this meant is that the US postal service began printing blank postcards with the postage paid… all for a penny.

The idea originated in Prussia, but was initially met with skepticism. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“A Prussian postal official, Dr. Heinrich von Stephan, first proposed an ‘open post-sheet’ made of stiff paper in 1865. He proposed that one side would be reserved for a recipient address, and the other for a brief message. His proposal was denied on grounds of being too radical and officials did not believe anyone would willingly give up their privacy. In October 1869, the post office of Austria-Hungary accepted a similar proposal (also without images), and 3 million cards were mailed within the first 3 months. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870, the government of the North German Confederation decided to take the advice of Austrian Dr. Emanuel Herrmann and issued postals for soldiers to inexpensively send home from the field.

The rest of the world followed suit and post cards soon became standard. Novelty post cards featuring some sort of image on one side can be traced to 1870, but they cost 2 cents to mail plus the cost of purchasing the cards. The first souvenir ‘picture’ post card is believed to have been a scene from Vienna sent in 1870.

As more and more people became literate, sending letters and post cards served as a way to keep families and friends connected. 1890 to 1915 was considered the ‘Golden Age’ of postcards. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Cards showing images increased in number during the 1880s. Images of the newly built Eiffel Tower in 1889 and 1890 gave impetus to the postcard, leading to the so-called ‘golden age’ of the picture postcard. (snip) …the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 excited many attendees with its line of ‘Official Souvenir’ postals, which popularized the idea of picture postcards. The stage was now set for private postcard industry to boom, which it did once the United States government changed the postage rate for private cards from two cents to one in May 1898.

(snip) Demand for postcards increased, government restrictions on production loosened, and technological advances (in photography, printing, and mass production) made the boom possible. In addition, the expansion of Rural Free Delivery allowed mail to be delivered to more American households than ever before. Billions of postcards were mailed during the golden age, including nearly a billion per year in United States from 1905 to 1915, and 7 billion worldwide in 1905. Many postcards from this era were in fact never posted but directly acquired by collectors themselves.

Changes in tariffs put a damper on postcards as the cost of producing them became much more expensive – or, perhaps, they were being replaced with newer technology. Coincidentally the first US transcontinental telephone network was completed in 1915.

Postcards today are primarily the province of tourists, purchased in gift shops and sent to friends and family back home to let them know they are being ‘thought’ of by the sender.

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with postcards. Like many vacationers, I have purchased them in gift shops with the intention of writing a short greeting and mailing them off. My office supply collection contains more than a few which were purchased but never sent. I admire those who actually mail the cards they buy!

The postcard sender award goes, hands down, to a good friend of my son’s. I first met Jim when he was 12. A gregarious kid, he took an immediate like to my more reserved child. They were going to be best buddies regardless of what my son might think. Soon they were hanging out together, sharing common interests and intellects. Jim was a frequent visitor to our house and he loved to talk. His brain retained everything and he was a voracious reader, especially of historical topics.

Then the unthinkable happened. His father got a job. In another state. Clear across the county. Junior year of high school, Jim moved to Virginia.

But Jim was undaunted, determined to not let his best friend or adopted family forget about him.

The first postcard from Jim arrived shortly after he moved. And then another arrived. And another. It started to feel a bit like the Dursley’s mailbox with the letters arriving from Hogwarts for Harry Potter. (see clip below)

Unlike the Dursely’s, however, our entire family looked forward to those postcards. We enjoyed seeing what interesting places Jim visited and reading the witty and funny things he would write. Every card was concluded with his signature close of “Cheers, Jim.” This went on for years.

Jim went on to college, got his degree in history and has turned his love of the subject combined with his natural oratorical abilities into jobs. He worked as a costumed history tour guide for the National Parks during the summers he was in college; he eventually became a professor.

It’s been quite a while since one of those postcards arrived but we have saved every one. At first I was the one who kept them and then my son, recognizing that there was something very special about them, took over the job.

Perhaps historians of the future will look back on earlier times and see the value of the written word on paper. It imbues our records with a personal experience that electronic communications cannot match. Jim’s postcards prove that it doesn’t have to be a fancy five dollar card to be special. A few lines on a postcard are more than enough and just as meaningful. Cheers to you, Jim, and that unique place you hold in our hearts.

The two postcards are from my grandmother’s things. The top one is probably circa 1915 as is the one of her 7th grade class in Selah, Washington. I have vintage postcards from the 1940’s onward… too many to share. The stack of postcards are ALL from Jim!

A link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postcard#:~:text=The%20first%20commercially%20produced%20card%20was%20created%20in,%22Lipman%27s%20Postal%20Card%22.%20These%20cards%20had%20no%20images.

Sonic Boom

A great day in Seattle History

June 1, 2021

Dennis Johnson. Jack Sikma. Gus Williams. ‘Downtown’ Freddie Brown. Paul Silas. Lennie Wilkens.

On June 1, 1979, these were the names on the lips of every Washingtonian as the Seattle Supersonics won their first and only National Basketball Association championship.

The 1979 Championship Team

The team was formed as part of the NBA expansion in 1967. The early years, while perhaps full of hope for the team, found the franchise consistently finishing near the bottom.

But the team and the fans were undaunted because Seattle was a basketball kind of town. It was the arrival of Bill Russell in 1973 that started the team on the path to glory. The next year the team made its first entry to the playoffs, losing in the Conference playoff round to the San Francisco Warriors.

For the next three years the excitement grew. At least until the disastrous 1976-77 season. The following year Bill Russell was gone as head coach and replaced by Bob Hopkins (who was, coincidentally, an assistant coach and Russell’s cousin). Hopkins was a catastrophe, being fired mid-year in the wake of a 5-17 start.

What happened next was, perhaps, a miracle. Lennie Wilkens, who had been a Sonics player and then head coach for a few years prior to Russell, returned and took the fairytale team all the way to the NBA finals.

The team lost the 1978 title in the 7 game series to the Washington Bullets.

Seattle SuperSonics’ Dennis Johnson (24) soars to the basket past the Chicago Bulls’ Mickey Johnson, right, on March 17, 1979. (seattlepi.com file)

Basketball fever, however, now gripped Seattle, the team and fans alike certain that the championship ring was within their grasp. At the close of the 1978-79 regular season, Seattle was atop the Western Conference and entered the playoffs with a 52-30 win/loss record.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In the playoffs, the SuperSonics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the Semifinals, then defeated the Phoenix Suns in seven games in the Conference Finals to reach the NBA Finals for a second consecutive season in a rematch of the 1978 NBA Finals, facing the defending NBA champion Washington Bullets whom they had lost to in seven games. The Sonics would go on to avenge their NBA Finals loss and defeat the Bullets in five games, winning their first and only NBA championship. Dennis Johnson was named the NBA Finals MVP.

This was Seattle’s first professional sports championship since the Seattle Metropolitans victory in the Stanley Cup in 1917.”

It was a moment never to be repeated. The Sonics did, in 1996, once again reach the NBA championship game where they lost the series 4-2 to the Chicago Bulls.

In 2008 the unthinkable happened. Seattle’s beloved team had been sold to an Oklahoma City consortium led by businessman Clay Bennett (ie – the most hated man in Seattle, perhaps tied with Ken Behring, former owner of the Seahawks who attempted a similar move with the Hawks). When unable to produce the blackmail money funding to build a new arena, professional basketball left Seattle.

The hubby – then the boyfriend – and I had been dating for less than a month on June 1, 1979. I had come over to Seattle from Yakima and was staying with my older brother and his wife in Ballard. That evening, all four of us had dinner and then we all watched the game.

It was a perfect late spring day. The temperature by 8:30 p.m. was an ideal 75 degrees, down from a high of 84 that day. When the final shot dropped through the net and the Sonics were the world champions it was as if the entire city of Seattle erupted in celebration.

Massive crowds came out for the Sonics

Like everyone else, we went outside and on to the back deck of their house which sported a territorial view to the west. In the distance we watched as aerial fireworks burst above downtown Ballard; a cacophony of honking horns – both car and air – marked the moment.

Never had I witnessed such a shared joy as in that moment. We sat on the deck steps for quite some time as the festivities continued. It was well past sunset when the final horns and fireworks faded away.

The Sonics were our team, our guys. By then we had the Seahawks but it would be decades before they won their championship. The only real game in town in 1979 was basketball. It was glorious. And no slick Oklahoma City flimflam man will ever be able to steal that moment from us.

A couple of links for those who want to know more:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1978%E2%80%9379_Seattle_SuperSonics_season

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979_NBA_Finals

The Facebook answers: Seahawks (blue and green), Mariners (A different blue and green), Sonics, UW Huskys (purple and gold), WSU Cougars (crimson and gray), and the Gonzaga Bulldogs (blue and red)

Star Wars

“I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This”

May 25, 2021

From the moment these words first scrolled up the movie screen – along with the dramatic opening chords of John William’s soundtrack – moviegoers were immersed in a fictional world full of drama, conflict, intrigue, good vs. evil, and – ultimately – a cliffhanger ending to the first of what was to become, arguably, the most successful franchise in movie history.

Star Wars: A New Hope was released on May 25, 1977. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“After a turbulent production, Star Wars was released in a limited number of theaters (snip), and quickly became a blockbuster hit, leading to it being expanded to a much wider release. The film opened to critical acclaim, most notably for its groundbreaking visual effects. It grossed a total of $775 million (over $550 million during its initial run), surpassing Jaws (1975) to become the highest-grossing film at the time until the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). When adjusted for inflation, Star Wars is the second-highest-grossing film in North America (behind Gone with the Wind) and the fourth-highest-grossing film in the world. It received ten Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), winning seven. In 1989, it became one of the first 25 films that was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’. At the time, it was the most recent film in the registry and the only one chosen from the 1970s. In 2004, its soundtrack was added to the U.S. National Recording Registry, and was additionally listed by the American Film Institute as the best movie score of all time a year later. Today, it is widely regarded by many in the motion picture industry as one of the greatest and most important films in film history.”

It was, in many ways, the quintessential ‘cowboy’ movie but updated for an audience which had watched men land on the moon in 1969. It appealed to, particularly, the male need for adventure. Its heroes were simultaneously recognizable, yet also fresh, characters: Luke Skywalker – still a boy – who chooses to leave his boring home and seek out adventure; Obi-Wan Kenobe, the sage elder who takes Skywalker under his wing and teaches him the ways of the freedom fighting Jedi; Princess Leia who redefines the idea of a damsel in distress; and, especially, the bootlegger Han Solo whose swashbuckling antics left millions of women with serious crushes.

Rather than recount the plot of the movie for those who have never seen it, the Infallible Wikipedia offers a summary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars_(film)) or you can Google ‘Star Wars A New Hope’ which produces 24.9 million results.

Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher in their roles as
Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia.

Personally, I think every person should watch at least the 1977 movie through the lens of the classic American cowboy movie. The weapons and horses may be different but the formula is still the same.

I must also admit that I did NOT see the first movie that year. At 19, I thought the movie was for kids. In fact, I cannot say for sure when I did eventually see the film. The second movie, The Empire Strikes Back, arrived in theatres on May 19, 1980 and the third, The Return of the Jedi, on May 25, 1983.

All of this is mentioned for one reason. As far as I’m concerned, episodes IV, V, and VI ARE Star Wars. The original cast, the campiness, and the fun of those movies were not to be replicated.

By early 1983 pretty much everyone had seen the first two movies and eagerly awaited the release of The Return of the Jedi. The hubby and me were no different.

R2D2 and C3PO

Finally the day arrived. Of course it was a Wednesday and with work and jobs we were not going to be a part of a midnight showing. Instead we waited a couple of weeks for when Microsoft reserved the ENTIRE UA150 theatre in Seattle for an exclusive showing for its employees (of which I was one).

That’s when the hubby and I hatched a plan. Across the street from that venue on 6th and Blanchard in downtown Seattle was the UA70 which was showing both of the first two movies. On the day of the event, we arrived that morning – like at 9 a.m. – to view movie number one. We may have been two of only a handful of people present when the place opened. This was followed by the second movie and then, after grabbing a bite to eat, we joined the Microsoft crew for Jedi. Now, we were not quite as crazy as some of the Microsofties who arrived dressed in costume and sporting light sabers. Although some people thought the marathon Star Wars day was kinda nuts.

I still experience the event in my mind when, as soon as the iconic ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,’ appeared on the screen a cheer rocked the theatre. For the next hour and half the venue was filled with cheers and gasps and applause as our heroes eventually won the day.

The UA150 in Seattle during the 1980 release of The Empire Strikes Back. From the Seattle Times archives

We loved doing the Star Wars triple and learned a few things: Harrison Ford is much sexier than Mark Hamill; the line ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this’ repeats multiple times throughout all three movies; the hubby can ‘talk’ like a wookie; and ewoks are cute but totally annoying.

Eventually we purchased VHS, and then DVD, versions of the three movies and introduced our kids to them. We also watched subsequent Star Wars movies in the theaters but, truly, it was never the same. After enduring the obnoxious Jar Jar Binks character we quit watching and were content to revisit the three originals from time to time in that galaxy far, far away from the comfort of our living room.

The answer to the Facebook question is: all three- Han, Leia, and Luke – said it at one time during the three movies.

Mt. St. Helen’s

Vancouver, Vancouver! This is it!

May 18, 2021

There are only a very few days in our lives which we recall with complete clarity. One’s wedding day, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one. There are also days which are touchstones because they affect so very many people. December 7, 1941. September 11, 2001. May 18, 1980.

The last date was, particularly for those of us living in Washington and Oregon, the day when we understood the terrible, yet awesome, power of nature. In less than two minutes, the top 1,314 feet of Mount St. Helen’s was blasted away and swept down the north face of the mountain, leveling everything in its path.

Photographer Keith Ronnholm was in the right spot at 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980 when he captured the eruption in a series of still shots.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The landslide exposed the dacite magma in St. Helens’ neck to much lower pressure, causing the gas-charged, partially molten rock and high-pressure steam above it to explode a few seconds after the landslide started. Explosions burst through the trailing part of the landslide, blasting rock debris northward. The resulting blast directed the pyroclastic flow laterally. It consisted of very hot volcanic gases, ash and pumice formed from new lava, as well as pulverized old rock, which hugged the ground. Initially moving at approximately 220 miles per hour (350 km/h), the blast quickly accelerated to around 670 mph (1,080 km/h), and it may have briefly passed the speed of sound.

Pyroclastic flow material passed over the moving avalanche and spread outward, devastating a fan-shaped area 23 miles across by 19 miles long (37 km × 31 km). In total about 230 square miles (600 km2) of forest was knocked down, and extreme heat killed trees miles beyond the blow-down zone. At its vent the lateral blast probably did not last longer than about 30 seconds, but the northward-radiating and expanding blast cloud continued for about another minute.

Superheated flow material flashed water in Spirit Lake and North Fork Toutle River to steam, creating a larger, secondary explosion that was heard as far away as British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, and Northern California.”

This is the scientific description of what happened. The only way to describe that day on a personal level was ‘surreal.’

At 8:32 a.m. the hubby (he was the fiancé on that day) and I had just awoken. We were up in Blaine, Washington, the last town (population 2,683 in 1980) before crossing the border to British Columbia.

We had been there since Friday night when we arrived and sat in the family kitchen and announced our engagement. The weekend had been spent visiting, playing cards, and hanging out. The hubby and I were to leave in the early afternoon and head to Seattle where he lived. I would have to head further south to Eatonville.

But I digress. 8:32 a.m. and there are two loud ‘claps’ and the walls of the house shudder. I’m thinking earthquake or, possibly, that the bull my future father in law kept out in the field, had escaped and was ramming the house. This was not impossibility since it had happened once before.

I say to my hubby, “Maybe the bull got loose.” But his reply is prescient when he says “It’s Mount St. Helen’s.”

It was nearly two hours before his words were proven true and the TV news stations began showing video of the nearly 80,000 foot ash plume soaring above the now sheared mountain. Planes flew over the Toutle and Cowlitz rivers with photographers filming entire houses and forests being swept down the rivers, taking out bridges and all vegetation in its path. We were glued to the TV.

I had but one thought, I needed to get back to Eatonville as I was the sole reporter for the weekly paper and – although the community was not in the path of the ash cloud – being less than 60 miles from the mountain, it WAS the news story of the week, perhaps the year or even the decade.

That evening, after checking in with the publisher and working on a story for the paper to be included in the layout the next day, I was at my apartment fixing myself some dinner. I turned on the TV – KOMO 4 – and at first I thought something was wrong with the TV. It was a hand-me-down, early 1960’s, black and white which had been my grandmother’s TV when she was still alive.

All I could see on the TV was a black screen with a smudge of white appearing every so often. But it wasn’t the fact that there wasn’t much picture so much as what I was hearing. It became evident quickly that I was watching a film from someone who had been caught in the eruption. Someone who wasn’t sure if they were going to live or die. It was riveting. I later learned that the person was Dave Crockett and he did survive. But 57 others did not that day.

In the summer of 1985, the (now) hubby, me, my Mom and Dad, drove to Mt. St. Helen’s and along the forest service roads on the east side of the mountain. Nothing had yet been developed. There wasn’t a visitor centers or restroom. Just a few Honey Buckets set up where the crowds had organically gathered. We stopped at a pond where every tree surrounding it had been blown down or broken. Yet, new sprouts had started to grow, and tadpoles skittered through the shallows.

The pyroclastic flow tossed the trees around like toothpicks, laying them out in swirl patterns
I’ve always wondered about the occupants of this car and their last terrifying moments.

We saw a destroyed car, a sad monument to whoever was caught behind the wheel. We stood below the mountain and looked up in amazement at miles of the once 70 to 80 foot tall trees now scattered across the landscape like some giants’ game of pick-up sticks.

We stopped on a ridge to the northeast of the mountain and gazed down at a log clogged Spirit Lake and into the steaming crater of the mountain.

At the time – as is so often the case – we didn’t fully appreciate that the sites we saw that day would soon be gone, changed by snow and sun, rain and wind, and the regeneration of life.

A pond regenerates after the blast
My parents during the 1985 tour of Mt. St. Helens. They had been plunged into volcanic darkness in Yakima five years earlier the morning the mountain erupted.

Every year on May 18 I pause and reflect on the events of that day, still as clear in my mind as if it was last week. Mt. St. Helen’s eruption changed me; in so many imperceptible ways it marked the moment when I began to view the world from an adult perspective, recognizing there are forces in the universe over which neither I nor anyone else has control.

Mt. St. Helen’s made me more cautious and more aware of the transitory nature of life. But it also brings to mind the phrase from the Roman poet, Horace, ‘Carpe Diem.’ Every day is the right day to do just that. Go seize yours.

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980_eruption_of_Mount_St._Helens

https://petapixel.com/2013/02/26/photographing-the-eruption-of-mount-st-helens-from-10-miles-away/

Monty Python

And now for something completely different

May 11, 2021

May 11, 1969 was one of the most important days in television, nay, world history. Why, you might ask? It was on that day when the British sketch comedy show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, was launched.

The name of the show alone is nonsensical. But then again, pretty much everything they did over the years bordered on the ridiculous.

That said, Monty Python forever changed the face of sketch comedy, stretching the boundaries of good taste and was, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, “an important moment in the evolution of television comedy.”

Python was the brainchild of six writers, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. The fact that they were writers – and not actors or stand up comedians – provided the environment needed for their unpolished, fly by the seat of their pants, style of comedy.

Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“…Jones remembered an animation Gilliam had created for Do Not Adjust Your Set called ‘Beware of the Elephants,’ which had intrigued him with its stream-of-consciousness style. Jones felt it would be a good concept to apply to the series: allowing sketches to blend into one another. Palin had been equally fascinated by another of Gilliam’s efforts, entitled ‘Christmas Cards,’ and agreed that it represented ‘a way of doing things differently.’ Since Cleese, Chapman, and Idle were less concerned with the overall flow of the programme, Jones, Palin, and Gilliam became largely responsible for the presentation style of the Flying Circus series, in which disparate sketches are linked to give each episode the appearance of a single stream-of-consciousness… (snip)

Writing started at 9 am and finished at 5 pm. Typically, Cleese and Chapman worked as one pair isolated from the others, as did Jones and Palin, while Idle wrote alone. After a few days, they would join together with Gilliam, critique their scripts, and exchange ideas. Their approach to writing was democratic. If the majority found an idea humorous, it was included in the show. The casting of roles for the sketches was a similarly unselfish process, since each member viewed himself primarily as a ‘writer,’ rather than an actor eager for screen time. When the themes for sketches were chosen, Gilliam had a free hand in bridging them with animations, using a camera, scissors, and airbrush.”

In the four years the comedy show aired in Britain it became a cultural phenomenon. It was exported to the United States after season two, airing on PBS. Americans loved the British humor and embraced not only the TV show, but the multiple movies produced by the group.

In the late 70’s I saw my first Python movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, at a drive in movie. I’m a terrible drive in movie goer because, for some reason, I always tend to fall asleep at some point. My date could not understand how I could do that since he was laughing through the whole thing. Eventually I saw the movie again in later years and appreciated the humor of Knights that say “Ni”, the encounter with the Black Knight who loses limb after limb, the killer bunny and, of course, the ridiculous question as to the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. The entire movie was irreverent and poked great fun at the Arthurian legend.

By the time my son was in junior high, I had introduced him to the comedy of Alan Sherman, and he also like Weird Al Yankovic. So for his birthday that year the hubby and I got him the complete Monty Python Flying Circus on DVD.

We had hit the Holy Grail of perfect gifts. Most days after school he would pop one of the DVD’s into the player and he and his sister would watch the shows. Soon laughter erupted from the family room and Python sayings were quoted at the dinner table. My kids learned how to walk silly, and imitate the voice and mannerism of a ‘Gumby’ who believes in peace and smashing bricks together. Randomly, someone might declare “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

The son invited his friends over to watch Monty Python, playing favorite sketches over and over. We felt responsible for introducing the irreverence to a new generation. The kids loved it and I never got complaints from other parents.

Like all things, his obsession eventually passed, but the enjoyment continues on. Occasionally, one of us will find ourselves quoting MP and it always brings out a smile.

This video covers 10 of the most memorable sketches. But, truly, you could spend all afternoon on YouTube going from one to the next and not run out of material.

The Infallible Wikipedia article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Python

The Sound of Music

I’ll Sing Once More

May 4, 2021

The 1965 promotional poster

When this film was released in the spring of 1965, I wonder if its creators ever dreamed of the incredible impact it would have on the world.

The Sound of Music was the number one film of that year and spent 29 of 52 weeks at the top of the box office lists; its popularity continued into 1966. In all, it was in the premier slot for a total of 40 weeks and became the highest grossing film of all time – a distinction it held for five years.

Frankly, one would have to have lived in a technology devoid place for their entire life to never have heard of the film.

It began life as a Broadway Musical in 1959 before it was adapted for the silver screen. The story was based on an autobiographical book by Maria Von Trapp who, along with her family, escaped Austria just as WWII was about to begin. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“Based on the 1949 memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp, the film is about a young Austrian postulant in Salzburg, Austria, in 1938 who is sent to the villa of a retired naval officer and widower to be governess to his seven children. After bringing love and music into the lives of the family, she marries the officer and, together with the children, finds a way to survive the loss of their homeland to the Nazis.”

The movie is first and foremost a love story

What sets the movie apart is a combination of elements. The story line has so many great themes: two different love stories. Maria and the Captain, of course, but also 16 year old Lisle and the confused Nazi youth, Rolf. There are gut-wrenching decisions to be made as the Von Trapp’s plot their escape from their beloved Austria, forced to give up everything rather than sacrifice their values. But most of all it’s the Rogers and Hammerstein score which has resonated through the years.

The opening scene alone, with the larger than life song Sound of Music being belted out by the heroine Maria on the Austrian mountaintop, pulls the audience in. From there, the music truly tells the story. Maria is a problem to be solved; one must ‘Climb Every Mountain,’ and face life’s difficulties in ‘I Have Confidence.’

The toe tapping tunes continue on: My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, and Sixteen Going on Seventeen.  And so many more.

The movie won multiple awards. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

The Sound of Music received five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, Wise’s second pair of both awards, the first being from the 1961 film West Side Story. The film also received two Golden Globe Awards, for Best Motion Picture and Best Actress, the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement, and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical. In 1998, the American Film Institute (AFI) listed The Sound of Music as the fifty-fifth greatest American movie of all time, and the fourth greatest movie musical. In 2001, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

For Americans in 1965, life was quite different than today. Most of the families I knew rarely went out to eat in a restaurant or to the movies. Going to see The Sound of Music at the Capitol Theatre in Yakima was such a treat and likely only the third film I’d ever seen in a theatre; the first two being Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady from the year before.

In the mid-sixties, women and girls still wore dresses everywhere. Such was the case for when I saw the Sound of Music. I have a distinct memory of wearing a pink dress and, likely my saddle shoes. I was hooked from the first moment.

Soon after seeing the movie, the album arrived in our house and was played over and over – to the point, no doubt, where it developed skips and that crackling sound that comes from a worn out record.

My sister and I acted out the Sound of Music in our bedroom or in the backyard with the neighbor kids. We took on the various roles. I always wanted to be Lisle but the character of Brigitta, her nose always in a book, was more accurate.

Brigitta,, played by Angela Cartwright, was always reading

The year I was 10 I learned that the local Warehouse theatre group was going to produce the stage version of the Sound of Music. I got a wild hair that I needed to try out and get the role of Brigitta. But when I asked my Mom, it was a resounding ‘you don’t want to do that.’ Which when translated meant that SHE didn’t want me to do that.

I was crushed that I wasn’t going to be able to live out my dream of being on stage in the Sound of Music. A girl I knew from school got the role of Brigitta. I don’t believe we ever went to the production.

But even that disappointment did not deter me from my love of the Sound of Music. When they first started broadcasting the film on commercial TV I made sure to watch it every year. This was followed with owning the VHS version and, ultimately, on DVD.

Sing Along Night poster for the Lincoln Theatre

Up until the Covid-19 Pandemic shut down large gatherings, the Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon would host an annual Sound of Music viewing and singalong, encouraging attendees to dress as characters from the movie.

I haven’t yet made that event, but it’s on my bucket list. For the record, I no longer identify with Brigitta or Lisle, but to join all the other wannabe Maria’s out there would be the best.

A couple of links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sound_of_Music_(film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_1965_box_office_number-one_films_in_the_United_States

Casey Kasem

“Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

April 27, 2021

For anyone who was a teenager in the 1970’s, these words were said by the one person who – each week – united millions of baby boomers.

That person was Kasey Kasem, born April 27, 1932.

Casey Kasem in the early days of American Top 40

For those who are younger than about 40, you can be forgiven for not knowing WHO Kasey Kasem was. But for the rest of us he was the voice of American Top 40, a weekly radio countdown show which began in the summer of 1970.

Kasem began his career in radio, but branched out to pursue acting. He only found limited success in television and movie roles. It was his distinctive voice, however, which catapulted him to fame.

From the ever Infallible Wikipedia:

“Kasem acted in a number of low-budget movies and radio drama. While hosting “dance hops” on local television, he attracted the attention of Dick Clark, who hired him as co-host of a daily teenage music show called Shebang, starting in 1964. Kasem’s roles on network TV series included Hawaii Five-O and Ironside In 1967, he appeared on The Dating Game, and played the role of “Mouth” in the motorcycle gang film The Glory Stompers. In 1969, he played the role of Knife in the film Wild Wheels, and had a small role in another biker movie, The Cycle Savages, starring Bruce Dern and Melody Patterson, and The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (also with Dern).

Kasem’s voice was the key to his career. In 1964 during the Beatlemania craze, Kasem had a minor hit single called “Letter from Elaina”, a spoken-word recording that told the story of a girl who met George Harrison after a San Francisco Beatles concert. At the end of the 1960s, he began working as a voice actor. In 1969, he started one of his most famous roles, the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! He also voiced the drummer Groove from The Cattanooga Cats that year.”

The creation of American Top 40 – which he devised in collaboration with three other individuals – is what made him a household name. He was the on-air voice of the program for the next 18 years.

For many Baby Boomers, Kasem was like a friend we’d never met or an older brother. None of us probably realized he was of our parents’ generation. He seemed to ‘get’ us and our music.

When he left AT40 in 1988 it was due to a contract dispute. He then created a competing countdown known as Kasey’s Top 40.

He later regained an ownership interest in AT40, once again doing the countdown for several years. Additionally, he continued his voice acting work well into his late 70’s.

Ad for AT40 in a trade publication

By the fall of 2013, it became known that Kasem was suffering from either Parkinson’s disease or Lewy Body Dementia (it’s unclear which it was). From then until his death in June 2014, a fight over his care erupted between his second wife and his children from his first marriage; the travails of that fight spilled into the pages of the tabloid press for the next six months.

It would have been exactly the sort of story he would have shared on AT40; one filled with conflict and intrigue, definitely tabloid worthy.

I think, perhaps, it was his storytelling ability which was most compelling. He ferreted out interesting facts about the musical artists, the songs, and songwriters and you could tell he was truly interested in what he was sharing. This, to me, is much like writing Tuesday Newsday each week as great part of the enjoyment of writing is in researching and learning new things.

Despite the rather messy situation at the end of his life, I think Kasem filled his years doing what he loved. There is no better way, in my opinion, to live one’s life except to find and pursue the thing which brings you joy and fulfillment. Certainly he faced challenges – just like all of us – but on whole it would seem that his chosen path led him to the top of the charts . We should all be so lucky to live such a life.

The link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casey_Kasem

Answer to the Facebook question is for the other three besides the ATF photo, are all voice characters of Casey Kasem: Shaggy, Robin, Cliffjumper

Mousemania!

The Microsoft Mouse

April 20, 2021

The 1980’s was an exciting era in the world of computers. Where once only large corporations had such capabilities, the advent of affordable, personal computers heralded a decade of new products to make computer use easier.

Microsoft’s first mouse circa 1983

Until 1983 no one outside of engineering labs had ever heard of a computer mouse. Yet today, the device is an essential piece of a desktop computer set up.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The earliest known written use of the term mouse in reference to a computer pointing device is in Bill English’s July 1965 publication, ‘Computer-Aided Display Control’ likely originating from its resemblance to the shape and size of a mouse, a rodent, with the cord resembling its tail. The popularity of wireless mice without cords makes the resemblance less obvious.

The plural for the small rodent is always ‘mice’ in modern usage. The plural for a computer mouse is either ‘mice’ or ‘mouses’ according to most dictionaries, with ‘mice’ being more common. The first recorded plural usage is ‘mice’; the online Oxford Dictionaries cites a 1984 use, and earlier uses include J. C. R. Licklider’s ‘The Computer as a Communication Device’ of 1968.”

One company which saw the potential in the mouse was – at the time – fledgling software giant Microsoft.

They got on the mouse bandwagon early, bundling their version of a mouse with two of their software programs. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

Being a bit of rebel, I had a Macintosh computer for many years and had just such a mouse on my desk.

“The Microsoft Mouse is a computer mouse released by Microsoft in 1983. It is the first mouse released by the company, and it was bundled with Microsoft Word, Notepad, and an on-screen teaching tutorial for an initial price of $195.

Nicknamed the ‘green-eyed mouse,’ the Microsoft Mouse featured a pair of green buttons. It also featured a more curved body than the blockier designs more common of mice at the time. As with other mice at the time, the Microsoft Mouse used a steel ball for tracking.

The initial version featured an InPort ISA interface, requiring a Microsoft bus card to be installed in the computer. Later versions were available with DE-9 or DB-25 serial connectors. All versions of the Microsoft Mouse could be used with IBM-compatible and other DOS systems.”

In 1983, I was working for Microsoft in the telemarketing sales division. The company was small enough, however, that friendships developed with individuals across all departments. One such friendship was with one very enthusiastic National Training Manager who, one day, saw me walking down the hall and asked me to step into his office as he wanted to show me something.

The memory is crystal clear. Alan’s office is little more than a cube, big enough for his desk, chair, and a file cabinet. But what I most recall is that his office is an interior one and has no window (ironic for Microsoft, right?). Additionally, his overhead light is not on and all illumination is provided by the glow of his computer monitor. Again, computers and monitors in 1983 had no graphical interface, just glowing green letters on a black screen.

He sits at his chair and says ‘watch this’ and then proceeds to put his hand on a little box and push it around his desk while a tiny straight line cursor jumps all over the screen. The demonstration continues as he clicks a button on the device which locks the cursor in place, then types a few words.

A few months later, our telemarketing group had ‘Mouse’ day with the introduction of Microsoft’s version of the device. Product introduction days were always exciting as our group created ways to make it special and get ourselves motivated.

Two of my telemarketing co-horts, Sue and Susie, on ‘Mouse’ day.

Mouse day, it turns out, featured everyone wearing Disneyland mouse ears as we called every last buyer in every computer store in the nation. At the front of the room was a large white board where our goals were written. As the day wore on, we would add our sales to the list, and whoops of excitement echoed through the cube farm as we reached each new goal.

I don’t recall how many we sold that first day or in subsequent weeks, but the bundle was hugely popular as consumers embraced the technology.

Most memorable was a funny incident which happened a short time after. In addition to the telemarketing group, we also had a customer service division for people to call in and get help when their products had issues. Often those calls were directed to a crack group of the most patient people in the universe: technical support.

I can clearly see two of my tech support buddies, both of whom were always willing to answer our questions when a buyer would, inevitably, ask us some technical thing that we – as mere salespeople – had no clue how to answer.

I can’t recall if it was Clay or Dolores who told me this story; but one day he/she received a tech support call from a woman who was complaining that her mouse was not working correctly. The tech people always worked through a list of known issues first, asking questions to drill down in order to solve the problem. Most issues they’d encountered before and would either be able to get it fixed it or would send the person to customer service to start the order replacement process.

This particular woman was certain that her software had a problem because every time she moved the mouse around all she got on the screen were squiggly lines and gibberish text. So the tech person had her move the mouse, click the button, and then type something. On the call went for five, then ten minutes, with no known bug causing the issue.

Finally, the woman – clearly exasperated – yelled ‘my arm’s getting tired.’

The tech support person paused and then asked her to describe how she was holding the mouse. It turned out that she was treating the mouse as though it was a touch screen device. All that time she had been holding it up and moving it around on the screen’s surface.

Over the years I’ve had ‘Microsoft’ dreams – not quite nightmares but close – where I’m back working at the company. In these dreams, however, I’m not donning Mouse ears and calling buyers; I work in tech support and field calls from people asking me questions for which I do not know the answers. Talk about stress.

The telemarketing crew fall of 1983, goals on the white board and all in the ‘Mouse’ spirit. The author with her big 80’s hair is at far left.

I think of Clay and Dolores often and smile at the stories they shared which often made the stress of working at Microsoft in the early 80’s just a little bit less. Hats off to all tech support people everywhere, you are my heroes.

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Mouse

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_mouse

Kittenmania!

A Bakers Dozen of Cats

April 13, 2021

One of the things I look forward to each week is getting ‘show prep’ from my favorite Disc Jockey who also happens to be my brother. He sends interesting and humorous facts and events in advance of each Tuesday, providing me fun ideas for the particular date I need.

This week he shared the following for today, April 13. He writes:

“1969: An Australian Siamese cat named Blue Danielle had 13 kittens. It’s no longer a record, but it deserves honorable mention. The purring alone must have driven everyone crazy.”

Which got me wondering, what WAS the largest litter of kittens ever born?

When you really, really love kittens. Son and daughter with kittens Winky and Peop.

The record was set the very next year when a four year old Burmese cat named Taragone Antigone produced 19 kittens. Unfortunately, only 15 survived (14 males, one  female). I gleaned this information from a website called The Nest which also stated “Clementine, a mixed domestic shorthair gave birth to 15 (11 survived) in New York in 1976, and that same year a Siamese named Tikatoo had a litter of 15 in Canada.” (see link below)

The Infallible Wikipedia does not list the information on the largest litters, but helpfully details the, ahem, mating habits of felines. Perhaps the most interesting fact in that regard is this:

“Because ovulation is not always triggered by a single mating, females may not be impregnated by the first male with which they mate. Furthermore, cats are super fecund that is, a female may mate with more than one male when she is in heat, with the result that different kittens in a litter may have different fathers.”

Another interesting aspect is that cats are known to give birth to as many as three litters a year. With litters averaging from 3 to 9 kittens, it doesn’t take long to be overrun by cats. I should know.

My family’s kitten adventures began in December 1998 when our one and half year old cat, Purr, went into heat. It was a conscious decision on my part to let the cat do this as I knew that having a batch of kittens was highly desired, especially by my then 5 year old daughter.

As Purr’s big day approached, the excitement in the house grew. Then, one morning late in February 1999, the process began. Much to my daughter’s delight, she got to witness the birth event and immediately bonded with all four of the kittens.

Purr in the ‘nest’ my daughter prepared for her. The kittens were born shortly after.

It didn’t take long for each cat’s personality to shine through and the four were named: Kinky – the lone male – named for the crook in his tail; Winky – who had one eye which blinked independent of the other; Phantom – who had a half dark, half light face; and, finally, People Cat – so named because of her propensity to climb out of the box and love on whatever person was there.

Kittenmania took over. The cats lived in our large laundry room, kept inside by a baby gate once they started roaming. But soon they were all over the house and, especially, upstairs in the playroom or the kids’ rooms.

Since keeping five cats was not an option, at five weeks I’d moved fully into ‘find them a home’ mode but not before promising that we would keep ‘one’ of the kittens. My targets for people to adopt them were classmates of the kids and soon Winky left to be loved by a third grade girl and her family.

Phantom, it turned out, was not the right cat for us. She was afraid of everything: loud noises, sudden movement, and the other cats. Sudden incontinence was the response to these factors, so she needed a calm environment with an understanding owner. Her salvation was the veterinary assistant.

It looked as though Kinky would be our cat as my son’s teacher, Mrs. B., was all set to adopt Peop (as we had started calling her). But when Mrs. B’s husband objected, the adoption was off. I was secretly glad as Peop had become my personal assistant, supervising whenever I worked at my desk, and I wanted to keep her.

So our little family of three cats was set. Or so I thought.

One day in early April I had an appointment to have Mama Purr spayed. Then the unthinkable happened. She escaped the house and was gone for 24 hours. The last time that happened…

Purr looking beautiful and irresistible to the eligible bachelors

Yep. She was pregnant once again.

Purr got bigger and bigger and soon we were anxiously awaiting the new arrivals. She rejected Peop and Kinky (something which was true for the rest of her days) who moved upstairs to hang with the family and Purr stayed downstairs as she began the process of nesting once again.

Unfortunately, I had an out of town conference which took me away at the critical moment. With Grandma and Grandpa there to watch the kids we were all set.

Then on day two of the conference, a flurry of emails from my nine year old son announced the kittens’ arrival.

Peop helping the author with editing.

“Mom,” the first email proclaimed, “Purr has four kittens!”

I noticed a string of emails from him and clicked open the second, then the third, fourth and fifth emails.

“Now there are five!”

“Mom – there are six kittens!”

“Now there are seven!”

My stomach dropped as I counted three more emails in the thread. How many kittens did Purr just have? What were we going to do with all those kittens?!

I open the next email.

“Purr has eight kittens!” the email happily proclaimed.

It took every ounce of courage to open the next one.

“That’s all.”

I let out a shudder. While eight would be hard to manage I was thankful it had ended there.

Kinky wanted to be king of the household but Purr never let him usurp her throne.

When I arrived home the next day I found a moving mass of cats in the laundry room. Purr looked oh so pleased with herself.

Soon the reality of having ELEVEN cats in the house took over. The litter box for Mama and babies required cleaning every two hours. I took old vinyl tablecloths and turned them upside down in the laundry room to keep the carpet (who puts carpet in a laundry room? Asking for a friend) from getting urine soaked. Our house smelled like a cattery. Probably because it was.

When our niece came to visit, the kids ‘introduced’ her to the new kittens – three of which are shown here.

That summer all we did was manage cats and eventually were able to find homes for the crew, much to Purr’s dismay. And Purr? That randy lady did make it to the vet (as did Peop and Kinky) so that future, possibly record breaking, litters of kittens would not happen.

But had I known then that the record was 19 I totally think Purr could have broken it. Then she would have been famous and I would have had a nervous breakdown. It probably worked out for the best.

A couple of links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat

https://pets.thenest.com/record-number-kittens-born-one-litter-8346.html