Space: The Final Frontier

Star Trek

September 8, 2020

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

And so they did, at least in the world of 1960’s television series. Star Trek – which premiered September 8, 1966 – was a show ahead of its time, and as such, struggled to resonate with the viewing public of the day. More on the reasons why in a bit.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the premise was this: It’s 300 years in the future and the United States has commissioned a large, interstellar spaceship and crew to explore the Milky Way galaxy. Led by a cadre of futuristic cowboy space explorers into a rough and tumble world, the viewer experiences all of the things touted in the opening statement: strange new words, new life forms, and new civilizations.

The crew– save pointy eared Vulcan Mr. Spock – all look exactly like one might expect Americans from that era to appear. The elaborate costuming department, however, created an assortment of aliens such as the fierce and hairy Klingons, the blue skinned Andorians, the pointy eared, unabrow militaristic Romulans, and the fuzzy and rapidly producing Tribbles; it was these and other strange creatures the crew encountered each week.

The primary cast of the original Star Trek.
Front row: Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley.
Second row, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barret, Walter Koenig, James Doohan

The most formidable foe the captain and crew of the USS Enterprise faced, however, were the NBC executives who could not figure out how to promote and market this strange new program. Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, did all he could to keep the crew out exploring new worlds, but his earthbound benefactors shut the program down at the end of the third season and 79 episodes.

One might have asked the following question: who was the most likely viewing audience for a cowboy-esque show set in the future? Hint: Probably not the mom’s and dad’s of the day. So if you want to appeal to elementary and junior high kids, when might you air the program? Weeknights from 8:30 to 9:30 might not have been the best time. Certainly not at 10 p.m. on Friday night as it was during its final season.

In spite of the thick headedness of the NBC exec’s, the show acquired a dedicated audience whose demographics surprised the studio. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The enthusiasm of Star Trek‘s viewers surprised NBC. The show was unusual in its serious discussion of contemporary societal issues in a futuristic context, unlike Lost in Space which was more campy in nature. The network had already received 29,000 fan letters for the show during its first season, more than for any other except The Monkees. When rumors spread in late 1967 that Star Trek was at risk of cancellation, Roddenberry secretly began and funded an effort by Bjo Trimble, her husband John, and other fans to persuade tens of thousands of viewers to write letters of support to save the program.  Using the 4,000 names on a mailing list for a science-fiction convention, the Trimbles asked fans to write to NBC and ask 10 others to also do so. NBC received almost 116,000 letters for the show between December 1967 and March 1968, including more than 52,000 in February alone; according to an NBC executive, the network received more than one million pieces of mail but only disclosed the 116,000 figure.”

Cal Tech students protest for Star Trek. Photo from archives of the LA Times.

The threat of cancellation inspired fans not only to write letters but some 200 sign carrying CalTech students marched to NBC’s studios in Burbank in 1968; protests appeared in other cities also. New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller even wrote a letter to the studio. Also, according the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Much of the mail came from doctors, scientists, teachers, and other professional people, and was for the most part literate–and written on good stationery. And if there is anything a network wants almost as much as a high Nielsen ratings, it is the prestige of a show that appeals to the upper middle class and high-brow audiences.”

Alas, the show’s final episode aired in May 1969 and that was the end of it. Or not.

Despite the rule of thumb that a show needed at least four seasons to justify syndication, the show was soon seen during the late afternoon and a whole new demographic was hooked: school age kids. By the early 1970’s it was affecting the culture. Yes, the Infallible Wikipedia once again:

“Fans of the show became increasingly organized, gathering at conventions to trade merchandise, meet actors from the show, and watch screenings of old episodes. Such fans came to be known as “trekkies”, who were noted (and often ridiculed) for their extreme devotion to the show and their encyclopedic knowledge of every episode. Because fans enjoyed re-watching each episode many times, prices for Star Trek rose over time, instead of falling like other syndicated reruns.:  People magazine commented in 1977 that the show “threatens to rerun until the universe crawls back into its little black hole”. By 1986, 17 years after entering syndication, Star Trek was the most popular syndicated series; by 1987, Paramount made $1 million from each episode; and by 1994, the reruns still aired in 94% of the United States.”

Mr. Spock and his famous Vulcan salute.

As a teenager in the 1970’s, Star Trek was part of my daily world. I really had no choice, as my sister – a mere 21 months older than me – was one of those crazed Trekkie’s of the day and the program aired most afternoons. In our household, we frequently flashed the Vulcan hand symbol (middle and ring finger separated to form a “V”) and would intone, “Live long and prosper.” Another favorite was to parrot Dr. McCoy who said – in multiple episodes – “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a _____________.” This sentence was finished with ‘bricklayer,’ ‘engineer’, and ‘escalator’ to name the most famous ones.

Perhaps my favorite, yet macabre, part of Star Trek, was when the crew would be transported to the surface of some planet. Literally, the landing crew always seemed to be Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, Dr. McCoy, and at least one or two ‘new’ crew members. Unlike the trio of stars who donned gold or blue uniforms, these hapless souls seemed to always wear red shirts and were always the ones who lost their lives. Which gave Dr. McCoy the opportunity to intone his famous “He’s dead, Jim.”

Now, 54 years later, Star Trek has weathered the test of time. Like the troublesome Tribbles, it’s multiplied way beyond its original 79 episodes. Over the years there have been additional TV series, big budget movies, and cartoon programs; these have captured the imagination of new generations of fans, a cultural phenomenon that lives on… unlike the guys in the red shirts.

 The links:

Robert Redford

The Sundance Kid

August 18, 2020

1973 was a pivotal year for this actor, his role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (BC&TSK) catapulting him to the stratosphere of Hollywood stardom. Robert Redford, who turned 37 that year, didn’t look a day over 30 and for women – young and old alike – he became a sex symbol. Happy 84th birthday to, perhaps, the most successful actor of the late 20th century, who was born on August 18, 1936.

Redford as The Sundance Kid

Prior to his breakout role in BC&TSK, Redford found his first acting roles on Broadway which then led to television. These roles eventually brought him to the big screen with his first significant role as the male lead in the 1967 movie Barefoot in the Park opposite Jane Fonda.

But Redford was not content to be typecast due to his looks, passing up lead roles in both The Graduate and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In BC&TSK, however, he found a role which resonated with him and a co-star in Paul Newman which proved to be box office gold.

Over the next several years, Redford had hit after hit. According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Starting in 1973, Redford experienced an almost unparalleled four-year run of box office success. The western Jeremiah Johnson’s (1972) box office earnings from early 1973 until it’s second re-release in 1975 would have placed it as the No. 2 highest-grossing film of 1973. The romantic period drama with Barbara Streisand, The Way We Were (1973), was the 11th highest-grossing film of 1973. The crime caper reunion with Paul Newman, The Sting (1973), became the top-grossing film of 1974 and one of the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time when adjusted for inflation, plus landed Redford the lone nomination of his career for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The romantic drama The Great Gatsby (1974) was the No. 8 highest-grossing film of 1974. As well, 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid placed as the No. 10 highest-grossing film for 1974 as it was re-released due to the popularity of The Sting. In 1974 Redford became the first performer since Bing Crosby in 1946 to have three films in a year’s top ten grossing titles. Each year between 1974 and 1976, movie exhibitors voted Redford Hollywood’s top box-office star. In 1975, Redford’s hit movies included 1920s aviation drama, The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), and the spy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975), alongside Faye Dunaway, which finished at Nos. 16 and 17 in box office grosses for 1975, respectively. In 1976 he co-starred with Dustin Hoffman in the No. 2 highest-grossing film for the year, the critically acclaimed All the President’s Men. In 1975, 1977 and 1978, Redford won the Golden Globe for Favourite World Film Star, a popularity-based award that is no longer awarded.”

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the Academy Award’s 1973 Best Picture “The Sting.”

Of course not all his films were box office winners and, like so many celebrities, age puts certain roles and images out of reach. But Redford was, perhaps, the most committed actor of his generation, turning to directing and producing when acting had all but played out. His most significant achievement post Hollywood heartthrob was in the creation of the Independent movie festival, Sundance.

Held annually near Provo, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival has become the place to launch independent films. In 2008, for example, 125 such films premiered at the festival.

Although Redford officially retired from acting in 2018, there is little doubt that his legacy will be felt for years to come.

It’s so very difficult to pick a favorite Redford role and film. As a romance writer, for me there is perhaps no sadder film than The Way We Were… the 1973 hit with Barbra Streisand. It’s a film which very much influenced me creatively. The storyline was compelling to 16 year old me, rooting for the pair to live happily ever after. That is not how that story ends, however, and somehow I felt sorry for both of the main characters. Redford is outstanding in the role and one believes he is the golden boy Hubbell who wants and need the perfect life and wife, frustrated by Katie’s strident politicization of everything around her. That said, from a teenagers perspective, he was so very likable, while Streisand was not.

But he was also terrific in All The President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor, and The Electric Horseman.

In the past few years I’ve connected with one of my Dad’s former students, Lisa, on Facebook. The same age as me, she is not at all shy about her lifetime love of Robert Redford. I would bet you a dozen doughnuts by the time you read this, she will have posted birthday greetings to her high school (and beyond!) crush. And I will, as I have the past several years, give her a bad time about it. I mean, Redford is at least 20 years older than either of us… but that doesn’t matter to her. She loves all things Robert Redford.

As for me, I picture Robert Redford in my head during the final scene from The Way We Were. Moments earlier he – along with his new paramour – have a chance meeting with Streisand. He returns to where she is passing out Ban The Bomb fliers. From the look on her face, you know she still has a thing for him and why wouldn’t she? He’s devastatingly handsome… a shock of wavy blonde hair down across his forehead, suggestive blue eyes that seem to know it would never work, upturned coat collar, and his square jaw and ever so sardonic slight curve of the mouth. That’s the Robert Redford who captured the hearts of millions of women around the world. And if we had the chance to do it all again, would we? Could we? In a heartthrob’s beat, yes.

A few links:

Facebook answers:

Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep

American Graffiti

Where Were You In ’62?

August 11, 2020

AMerican graffitiWhen one thinks of Modesto, Californina, it is likely to be associated with an American experience which occurred primarily from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Having a car had become a status symbol and driving it among one’s peers – or cruising as its known – became an essential element of growing up. On August 11, 1973, the film American Graffiti was released, serving to enshrine the cruiser phenomenon into our shared culture.

The film was a dark horse hit that year, capturing five academy award nominations including one for best picture. It was George Lucas’ first film, show-casing his talent as an ‘outside the box’ filmmaker.

The original budget was only $600,000, which forced Lucas to use mostly unknown actors, a limited film crew, and to secure low cost contracts for the music. The lack of money kept the film from having an original soundtrack, only two cameramen, and truly the launched the careers of Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford.

To encapsulate the main plot, we turn to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“On their last evening of summer vacation in September 1962, recent high school graduates and longtime friends Curt Henderson and Steve Bolander meet two other friends, John Milner, the drag-racing king of the town, and Terry ‘The Toad’ Fields, in the parking lot of the local Mel’s Drive-In in Modesto, California. Curt and Steve are scheduled to travel ‘Back East’ the following morning to start college. Despite receiving a $2,000 scholarship from the local Moose Lodge, Curt has second thoughts about leaving Modesto. Steve gives Terry his 1958 Chevrolet Impala to care for until he returns at Christmas. Steve’s girlfriend, Laurie, who is also Curt’s sister, arrives in her car. Steve suggests to Laurie, who is already glum about him going to college, that they see other people while he is away to ‘strengthen’ their relationship. Though not openly upset, she is displeased, which affects their interactions the rest of the evening.”

Rather than have a main protagonist, Lucas saw the four main male characters has being equal, all based on various stages of his adolescent self. Although somewhat cliché’ now, the four loosely represent the college man, the popular guy, the nerd, and the greaser. The entire movie takes place during the one night and culminates the next morning with information as to what happens with each of the four. At the time it was a unique storytelling method.

As word started to get around Universal Studios that the film was good, funds were put in place for marketing and other studio support. It paid off. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:


Richard Dreyfuss as Curt Henderson

“Produced on a $777,000 budget, it has become one of the most profitable films of all time. Since its initial release, American Graffiti has garnered an estimated return well over $200 million in box-office gross and home video sales, not including merchandising. In 1995, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’ and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.”


Bob Falfa, aka Harrison Ford

Perhaps the thing I find most interesting about this film as well as others from the 1970’s (see my post from July 28th on the film Animal House; link below) is that the adults in charge at that time truly did not understand the impact the Baby Boomers exerted on the culture. 1973, the year that American Graffiti appeared, there were 37 million teenagers and another 21 million in the generation were ages 20 to 27. For those 58 million people the storylines in American Graffiti resonated.

On the day the movie was released I was 16 years old, possessed a ten day old driver’s license, and lived in a city where the cruising culture was king.

yakima mid 1960's

This is the Yakima I remember as a girl in the 1960’s. I’ve seen this photo dozens of times and the bustle never ceases to amaze me.

Everyone there knew the term “Dragging the Ave” which meant cruising up and down Yakima Avenue. Initially, I was forbidden by my parents to drive on the Ave after dark. But, being the youngest of four, the other three had done an outstanding job of bending the rules for me and I’m not sure what, exactly, happened, but by the time I was a junior in high school, I was a regular in the Friday and Saturday night promenades.

One thing I never did was drag the ‘Ave’ solo. I participated with a variety of friends, but my frequent partners in crime were my two best buddies who – to provide them a bit of anonymity – will henceforth be called by their aliases Deborah and Cynthia.

On the particular night which stands out, it was Deborah riding shotgun. A warm summer’s evening and the opportunity to see and be seen was at its best.

SchoolLogo_1403Now, in Yakima in the mid-1970’s, there were two major high schools: AC Davis and Dwight D. Eisenhower (IKE). Yes, there were other high schools in the surrounding communities, but those two were the biggies. We attended IKE.

To us, those who attended Davis were cross-town rivals and somewhat of a mystery; a forbidden fruit, if you will. Although we recognized a few who attended Davis, for the most part we didn’t know them and they didn’t know us.davis

So Deborah and I are driving along and, at one of the stoplights, a car carrying a couple of guys is idling next to my car and we engage in a shouted conversation between the two vehicles. Mostly it’s Deborah doing the talking out the passenger side window. There’s flirting and banter. The light changes, we drive on.

At the next light, or perhaps the one after, first names are exchanged. Then one of the guys says to Deborah, ‘what’s your last name?’

To which she replies, “Guess.”

The two of us giggle away as the guys venture forth with such answers as “Smith? Jones?”

Deborah replies, “Nope.”

More names are proffered then followed by the same question “what’s your last name?”

And the same answer “Guess.”

This went on for at least two runs up and down Yakima Avenue as the guys try to get us to stop and meet them in person. The name guessing continues until Deborah says to me “These guys are not very bright, are they?”

All because they kept asking the same question and never understanding that she was, in fact, telling them her last name. Every. Single. Time. By now you, the reader, should have ‘Guess’-ed it, but they never did.

Once we became bored with the game, I managed to ‘lose’ them and soon the night was over and by the time I was 19 or 20, ‘Dragging the Ave’ had lost its appeal, relegated to the status of a cultural reference.

Thanks to American Graffiti, that phenomenon is preserved. Future generations who happen upon the movie will, perhaps, regret that they did not live in the era of muscle cars, cheap gas, and summer nights dragging the Ave.

Although the tagline was ‘Where were you in ’62?’ it was the summer of ’73 and American Graffiti which was the defining year for the Baby Boomers.

The links:


Answer to the Facebook question: Van Nuys Blvd, Los Angeles. 1972

cruising van nuys blvd 1972

Animal House

July 28, 2020

“Oh Boy! Is This Great!”

Of all the years to be a college co-ed, 1978 was the best.

Culturally, it was the height of the ‘me’ generation’s influence. Commonplace restrictions from previous decades had all but been abandoned, leaving the youth to do the one thing they wanted: have fun.

animal-house-movie-poster-1020258451On July 28, 1978, a movie hit the theaters which encapsulated precisely this attitude, capturing the imagination of a generation. That movie: Animal House.

The idea for the movie came about via National Lampoon, a wildly popular magazine with college students. In fact, the official title of the movie is “National Lampoon’s Animal House.” The plot – to sum it up in a couple sentences is this: “Loser college guys join fraternity where anything goes. Fraternity gets kicked off campus and members, in an effort to save the fraternity, wreak havoc on campus and during the homecoming parade.”

With a budget of only 3 million allocated to its production, the executives at Universal Studios almost didn’t allow it to be made. But the writers were committed to the project, effectively wearing down the studio who basically told them ‘okay, but don’t expect much.’

According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“National Lampoon’s Animal House is a 1978 American sex comedy film directed by John Landis and written by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller. It stars John Belushi, Peter Riegert, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, Thomas Hulce, Stephen Furst, and Donald Sutherland. The film is about a trouble-making fraternity whose members challenge the authority of the dean of the fictional Faber College.

The film was produced by Matty Simmons of National Lampoon and Ivan Reitman for Universal Pictures. It was inspired by stories written by Miller and published in National Lampoon. The stories were based on (Harold) Ramis’s experience in the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Washington University in St. Louis, Miller’s Alpha Delta Phi experiences at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and producer Reitman’s at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.”

In many ways, the low budget contributed to the film’s success. No one had heard of any of the actors, John Belushi and Donald Sutherland excepted. Rather than turn the film into a showcase for the popular cast of Saturday Night Live as was suggested, it turned out that the ensemble of newcomers brought an element of collegiality to it that made the film unique.

One big hurdle was finding a college willing to allow the movie to be filmed on their campus. One after another turned it down since, after reading the script, determined the publicity would be detrimental to their institution. It was an act of bravery that one administrator finally agreed to it. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The president of the University of Oregon in Eugene, William Beaty Boyd, had been a senior administrator at the University of California in Berkeley in 1966 when his campus was considered for a location of the film The Graduate. After he consulted with other senior administrative colleagues who advised him to turn it down due to the lack of artistic merit, the college campus scenes set at Berkeley were shot at USC in Los Angeles. The film went on to become a classic, and Boyd was determined not to make the same mistake twice when the producers inquired about filming at Oregon. After consulting with student government leaders and officers of the Pan Hellenic Council, the Director of University Relations advised the president that the script, although raunchy and often tasteless, was a very funny spoof of college life. Boyd even allowed the filmmakers to use his office as Dean Wormer’s.”


John ‘Bluto’ Blutarksi leads the way during a Delta House Toga party

Now, I will say, if you’ve never seen the movie you should. As my now adult children know, there are some cultural references one absolutely needs to have. Animal House is such a film. The film is littered with quotable and iconic concepts many of which repeat to this day.




Ever hear of a toga party? You have Animal House to thank.

Double secret probation? Animal House. 

“Was It Over When The Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell No!” Animal House.

“Fat, Drunk, And Stupid Is No Way To Go Through Life, Son.” Animal House.

Food Fight? Animal House.

That summer, it went on to become the third highest grossing film of 1978 and – in the course of its run – took in a whopping 141.6 million. Not bad for a film which cost under $3 million to make and which the studio execs thought would flop.

When all was said and done, once again from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’ and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Animal House is first on Bravo’s 100 Funniest Movies. In 2000, the American Film Institute ranked the film No. 36 on 100 Years… 100 Laughs, a list of the 100 best American comedies. In 2006, Miller wrote a more comprehensive memoir of his experiences in Dartmouth’s AD house in a book entitled, The Real Animal House: The Awesomely Depraved Saga of the Fraternity That Inspired the Movie, in which Miller recounts hijinks that were considered too risqué for the movie. In 2008, Empire magazine selected Animal House as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. The film was also selected by The New York Times as one of The 1000 Best Movies Ever Made.”

Back to 1978 and the phenomenon which had college students donning sheets and partying to the chants of “Toga! Toga! Toga!”

When I returned to the University of Puget Sound that September, everyone was talking about Animal House. Soon the Toga parties began and there were a handful of fraternity guy’s intent on channeling their inner Bluto.

Alpha Phi Halloween event 1978

A few sorority sisters ready for a Halloween party 1978.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, my sorority was located next door to the house which fashioned itself after the Delta’s of Animal House fame. There were shenanigans and crazy antics all that fall. Parties flowed out of their house and into the common areas, empty aluminum cans smashed against heads exactly like the John Belushi character did in the film, Christmas lights tossed into our basement level patio where they would ‘pop.’ And who knows what, exactly, was going on the night that a group of them appeared on the lawn outside our windows with that blow up doll.

Around 10 pm one night I heard a commotion outside of my room and the unmistakable thump, thump, thump of a large group of people making their way in unison down the hallway. What the heck?

A moment later: the sound of running feet. The door bursts open and one of my two roomies, Sheila, rushes in, slams the door behind her and presses her back to the closed door.

I can still picture her, a wild look in her eye, dressed in her full length flannel nightgown, hands pressed hard against the door, panting.

“There’s naked Phi Delts in our hall,” she gasped.

Now, to be clear, my other roommate Cathy and I DID NOT reopen that door to confirm her report. In fact, we wanted nothing to do with the conga line of nude men mooning the members of our sorority.

A minute or two later, the group reached the end of the hall and exited the building. Their bare hineys were last seen disappearing back into what I would consider UPS’ nominee for ‘Delta’ house.

In retrospect, my two years there were a rather surreal experience, greatly amplified by the culture of the time embodied in no small part by the movie Animal House.

In the iconic words of Kent ‘Flounder’ Dorfman “Oh boy! Is this Great!”

Indeed it was.

The links:

180726143707-animal-house-780x439Who’s who in the Facebook Photo (left to right):

Bruce McGill – “D-Day”; Tim Matheson – “Otter”; Peter Riegart “Boon”; John Belushi – “Bluto”; Tom Hulce – “Pinto”; Stephen Furst – “Flounder”; James Widdoes – “Hoover”










But, oh, those summer nights…

June 16, 2020

On June 16, 1978, this iconic American film burst onto the scene and soon held the record – for the next 15 years – as the highest grossing film of all time. It hearkened back to a more youthful time of the 1950’s but with a 1970’s twist: innocence was but an illusion and that inside every sweet girl was a naughty one wanting to break out. That movie was Grease which starred John Travolta as Danny Zuko, king of the greasers, and Olivia Newton-John as the naïve Sandy.

The movie was based on the 1971 Broadway musical of the same name and, as such, had a fantasy sort of feel to many of its scenes, especially the musical numbers Grease Lightning, Beauty School Dropout, and We Go Together. The thin plot line is held up by incredible music and the star performance of Travolta.

Review of the film from that time ranged from those who loved it to others who were not as impressed. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Gene Siskel gave the film three stars out of four, calling it ‘exciting only when John Travolta is on the screen’ but still recommending it to viewers, adding, ‘Four of its musical numbers are genuine showstoppers that should bring applause.’ Variety praised the ‘zesty choreography and very excellent new plus revived music’, and thought Travolta and Newton-John ‘play together quite well.’ Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times was negative, writing, ‘I didn’t see ‘Grease’ onstage, but on the testimony of this strident, cluttered, uninvolving and unattractive movie, it is the ’50s—maybe the last innocent decade allowed to us—played back through a grotesquely distorting ’70s consciousness.’ Gary Arnold of The Washington Post also panned the film, writing, ‘Despite the obvious attempts to recall bits from Stanley Donen musicals or Elvis Presley musicals or Frankie-and-Annette musicals, the spirit is closer to the New Tastelessness exemplified by Ken Russell, minus Russell’s slick visual style … I’ve never seen an uglier large-scale musical.’ David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, ‘Too often, ‘Grease’ is simply mediocre, full of broad high-school humor, flat dramatic scenes and lethargic pacing. Fortunately, there’s nothing flat about John Travolta … Travolta can’t dominate this movie as he did ‘Fever,’ but when he’s on screen you can’t watch anyone else.’”

Danny and Sandy drive in sceneEven now, 42 years after its release, Grease enjoys a true fan following. It’s been released in various home video formats over the years, the most recent in 2018 on Blu-Ray DVD for its 40th anniversary.

I’ve seen the movie a number of times but did not see it during its original release. I’m not quite sure what, exactly, I was doing in the summer of 1978 except that it was the year I turned 21 and, really, going to see a musical based on high school students in the 1950’s was not all that cool. Or so I thought. When I did finally see it I was sad I’d missed out that summer.

In thinking about the plot from a writer’s perspective, however, I’ve always had a problem with the final scene of the movie. Sandy’s character – as I wrote above – was of a naïve and innocent teenager. When she gets involved with the Pink Ladies – a group of young women of questionable characters – it doesn’t ring true. Where were Sandy’s parents to put the brakes on her going to a slumber party with these girls? And one look at Danny and her parents – based on her persona – would have been pulling her out of Rydell High.

Despite these obvious disconnects with real life, in the final scene of the end of the year school carnival, we see Danny has now toned down his greaser persona to try and prove to Sandy that he’s the guy for her. Throughout the movie, Danny’s character is portrayed as complex and we suspect that he became a greaser tough guy simply for social status and not because that’s who he truly is.

When Sandy emerges in the final scene, however, she’s suddenly become this black leather clad sexy siren that smokes and is aggressive and suggestive. There is nothing in her character development previously introduced which portends that she is capable of such a transformation.

In the world of a story-teller, this is a big no-no as the reader – or in this case the viewer – feels like they’ve been misled. These inconsistencies are often referred to as ‘plot holes’ and are similar to driving over a pothole on a road in that it can jar you out of the story. Such is the case for this – and several other – scenes in Grease.

With this musical, then, there really is only one thing to do. Ignore the plot and character problems and just enjoy the multitude of toe-tapping, memorable tunes. Think of Grease like a 1950’s root beer float: a fizzy mix of soda and ice cream, but the top two inches are all empty – but tasty – foam; a perfect treat for a summer’s night when you want to immerse yourself in something fun and frivolous.

A link or two:


Facebook Quiz answers: 1. Animal House 2. Heaven Can Wait 3. Grease 4. Jaws 2 5. Revenge of the Pink Panther


The Beginning Of An Era

March 31, 1943

For those of us who love musical theater, there is no greater duo than Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. But, prior to March 31, 1943, the pair had never collaborated. It was on that date when their first co-written musical hit Broadway.

okmusicalOklahoma! was a smashing success as both a stage production and also as a 1955 movie. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943. It was a box-office smash and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances, later enjoying award-winning revivals, national tours, foreign productions and an Oscar-winning 1955 film adaptation. It has long been a popular choice for school and community productions. Rodgers and Hammerstein won a special Pulitzer Prize for Oklahoma! in 1944.

This musical, building on the innovations of the earlier Show Boat, epitomized the development of the ‘book musical’, a musical play where the songs and dances are fully integrated into a well-made story with serious dramatic goals that are able to evoke genuine emotions other than laughter. In addition, Oklahoma! features musical themes, or motifs, that recur throughout the work to connect the music and story. A fifteen-minute ‘dream ballet’ reflects Laurey’s (the heroine) struggle with her feelings about two men, Curly and Jud.”


Richard Rogers (left) set Oscar Hammerstein’s (right) lyrics to music in one of the greatest collaborations of all time.

A string of successful musicals followed followed for Rogers and Hammerstein including their most well known: Carousel, State Fair, South Pacific, The King and I, Cinderella, Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music.

The death of lyricist Hammerstein in 1960 ended the partnership.

By the time I was a teenager the American Musical, in the form perfected by Rogers and Hammerstein, had passed its apex. But that did not stop me from loving musicals. Occasionally, one would be shown on television so that by the time I was an adult, I had seen a great many of them.

It was, however, the VCR and the DVD which made it possible to explore this genre in depth and contributd to somewhat of a revival.

When my kids were somewhere around ages 11 and 8, we set up a ‘home theater’ complete with a 8 foot by 8 foot screen, a projector which could connect to a DVD player, and a sound system. I would request movies through the King County Library. It was always a mystery as to which musical we would watch because we never knew when one might become available. Most every weekend for a couple of years we experienced all of the old musicals.

My daughter and I, especially, became de facto critics, evaluating each musical for its songs and story line.

It was the night we were watching the film version of the musical Carousel when I knew that she had truly become a qualified critic. Certainly You Never Walk Alone is an incredible piece, but on the other end of the spectrum is a ridiculous song titled, This Was A Real Nice Clambake. Yet we endured and watched the entire musical. When the lights came on my daughter turned to me and said, “Worst. Musical. Ever.”

For me personally, it’s hard to choose a favorite musical. Of the classics, I love The Music Man, The Sound of Music, and Fiddler on the Roof especially. On the other end of the spectrum I agree with my daughter, Carousel is without question the Worst. Musical. Ever.

I polled the family yesterday morning about which musical is their favorite and which is least liked. Here are the answers:

Hubby: Phantom of the Opera is his favorite but he couldn’t identify a least liked.

Son: Ditto. Phantom of the Opera followed closely by A Chorus Line and no least favorite. He did say he connects with more angst-y music.

Daughter: Wicked is her favorite (she has seen it on stage twice as it has yet to be made into a movie). It was her answer to the second part which surprised me. I expected Carousel as her answer. But it was not her only answer. Another musical has joined it as least favorite. It’s the musical which ushered in the era of great musicals: Oklahoma!

A couple of links:! ( the infamous Clambake song)






Alan Alda

January 28, 2020

Popular Actor from 1970’s TV Series

This actor has been nominated for Emmy Awards 34 times and won 6, the majority for his role as the irreverent realist Hawkeye Pierce in the TV Series M.A.S.H. January 28 marks his 84rd birthday.


A few of M*A*S*H’s original cast members: Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, and Loretta Swit

Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo, aka Alan Alda ,was, for the 11 years M.A.S.H. was on CBS, one of the most popular and recognizable actors of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Although the series was based on a 1970 movie of the same name which starred Donald Sutherland in the Hawkeye role, Alda embraced the persona and made it his own during the TV shows run. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Between long sessions of treating wounded patients, he (Hawkeye) is found making wisecracks, drinking heavily, carousing, womanizing, and pulling pranks on the people around him, especially Frank Burns and “Hot Lips” Houlihan. Although just one of an ensemble of characters in author Richard Hooker’s MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, in the television series Hawkeye became the center of the M*A*S*H unit’s medical activity. In the television series, he becomes the Chief Surgeon of the unit early in the first season.”

Unlike the notorious skirt chaser Hawkeye Pierce, Alda was married in 1957 to Arlene Weiss. Their nearly 63 year marriage produced three daughters and eight grandchildren. In the TV series, Hawkeye never marries but has an unending string of relationships with nurses and enticing female visitors to the 4077th.

One interesting tidbit I learned about Alda – and one which may have contributed to his being able to play his M.A.S.H.role convincingly – is that he spent six months in Korea as part of the US Army Reserve in 1957. The Korean hostilities were long since over, but his experiences in the ROTC followed by a year in the army likely provided him a true understanding as to the ways of military life.

During the M.A.S.H. years, in addition to his role as Hawkeye, Alda gradually became one of the show’s writers, producers, and creative consultants. In all, he either wrote/co-wrote and/or directed 36 of  M.A.S.H.’s episodes. He is also the only actor from the series to appear in all 256 episodes.

Alda, according to firsthand accounts, was not easy to work with. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“For the first three seasons, Alda and his co-stars Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson worked well together, but later, tensions increased, particularly as Alda’s role grew in popularity. Rogers and Stevenson both left the show at the end of the third season. At the beginning of the fourth season, Alda and the producers decided to find a replacement actor to play the surrogate parent role formerly taken by Colonel Blake. They eventually found veteran actor and fan of the series, Harry Morgan, who starred as Colonel Sherman T. Potter, becoming another of the show’s protagonists. Mike Farrell was also introduced as Hawkeye’s new roommate BJ Hunnicutt.

In his 1981 autobiography, Jackie Cooper (who directed several early episodes) wrote that Alda concealed a lot of hostility beneath the surface, and that the two of them barely spoke to each other by the time Cooper’s directing of M*A*S*H ended.”

After M.A.S.H., Alda went on to act in a variety of projects which included the TV series West Wing, a number of Broadway plays, and several movies. Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Alda continues to work and told ExtraTV recently, “”Eighty-three was very nice; I’m trying for 84 now. When I wake up and say, ‘I’m done,’ that will be when I’m already dead.”

M.A.S.H. was, for my family in the 1970’s, one of a handful of ‘must watch TV’ shows. It started as a Sunday night show then moved to Saturday and then Tuesday for its second and third years. Eventually, after back and forth time slots on Friday’s and Tuesday’s, it eventually found its permanent night on Monday.

But none of that mattered to my mother. She loved the show and found it on whatever night it aired.

This 4 minute video is interesting to watch… Alan Alda in his own words reflects on his life and career.


I never really thought much about Alan Alda’s age when M.A.S.H. was popular. In reality he was a contemporary of most of my classmate’s parents, having been born in 1936. Even though my own parents were over a decade older, Alda did such a great job in the role that he became ageless. Part of the reason to tune in each week was to hear his wry and pithy observations on the inconsistencies of human behavior.

It was easy to relate to the character of Hawkeye and see the delicious irony of life – even in a war zone – through his skeptical eyes.

So be sure to raise a toast to Alan Alda and cheer his positive attitude  which, in spite of life’s hurdles, continues to inspire.

A couple of links:







Ze Plane! Ze Plane!

January 14, 2020

Welcome To Fantasy Island!

These four words have become – for many middle aged Americans (and older) – a now cliché phrase to signify one’s involvement in something almost other worldly or unbelievable.

When the made for TV movie, Fantasy Island, premiered on January 14, 1977, I’m not sure the viewing audience quite knew what they were watching.

The premise was this: a mysterious foreign proprietor granted fantasies – for a price of $50,000 – to people looking for resolutions to a problem in their life. Add to this a little person with an annoying voice and childlike demeanor, a tropical locale and, voila! you had a successful TV series.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Before it became a television series, Fantasy Island was introduced to viewers in 1977 and 1978 through two made-for-television films. Airing from 1978 to 1984, the original series starred Ricardo Montalbán as Mr. Roarke, the enigmatic overseer of a mysterious island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, where people from all walks of life could come and live out their fantasies, albeit for a price.

mr. roarke

The dapper Mr. Roarke

Roarke was known for his white suit and cultured demeanor, and was initially accompanied by an energetic sidekick, Tattoo, played by Hervé Villechaize. Tattoo would run up the main bell tower to ring the bell and shout ‘Ze plane! Ze plane!‘ to announce the arrival of a new set of guests at the beginning of each episode. This line, shown at the beginning of the series’ credits, became an unlikely catchphrase because of Villechaize’s spirited delivery and French accent.”

Besides the mysterious Mr. Roarke and the diminutive Tattoo, the guest stars for the series featured popular actors and actresses of the day.

What I found interesting in researching Fantasy Island was the difference between what I recall when watching the show and the summary I found. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The nature of a fantasy varied from story to story and were typically very personal to each guest on some level. They could be as harmless as wanting to be reunited with a lost love to something more dangerous like tracking down a cold-blooded killer who murdered someone close to the guest. Usually, the fantasy would take an unexpected turn and proceed down a quite different path than the guest expected. Some resolve in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ style. He or she would then leave with some new revelation or renewed interest about themselves or someone close to them. Many times, Roarke would reveal in the end that someone they met during the course of their fantasy was another guest living a fantasy of their own. Both guests often left the island together. (snip)

Although some fantasies were rooted in the real world, many others involved supernatural (such as ghosts, demons, or witchcraft) or mythological (mermaids, genies, Greek goddesses) elements. Time travel was often a required element, if not a specific request, to fulfill one’s fantasy.


Tattoo ringing the bell to announce guests’ arrival

Roarke often preceded particularly risky fantasies with a stern warning, a word of caution, or even a suggestion that the guest select another fantasy instead. He would then inform his guests that he was powerless to stop a fantasy once it had begun and that they must allow the fantasy to play out until its ultimate conclusion. Despite this, on rare occasions, Roarke would appear halfway through a fantasy to offer a guest an opportunity to terminate their fantasy, warning the guest that continuing the fantasy may lead to serious consequences (possibly even death). However, at that point, the guest would decide on their own to see the fantasy to its end, either for selfless reasons (regarding someone they had met during the fantasy) or naivety of what is in store for them. In the most serious cases, however, Roarke would invariably intervene and ensure his guests’ safety.”



The plane bringing the guests

Mostly I recall that Fantasy Island aired on Saturday nights right after the Love Boat. Despite the two memorable main characters and the predictability of the opening scenes, I could not tell you who or what particular plot was featured during the show’s run. It was a surprise to read the summary above as I would have said it was a lighthearted sort of program. Clearly that was not the case.

The series was revived for one season in 1998-99 and a Horror movie based on the characters is set for release on February 14, 2020. Count me out on that one. I don’t do Horror. Ever. The producers must figure there’s a market for it despite the flop of the revival series 20 years ago.

The thing I found most interesting about Fantasy Island was to learn that Ricardo Montalbán  died on January 14, 2009… 32 years to the day after the 1977 premiere. An unbelievable coincidence which seems apropos…

A couple of links:

Answers to the FB quiz:

  1. Robin Williams as Mork. Mork and Mindy
  2. Judd Hirsch as Alex Rieger. Taxi
  3. Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner. The Incredible Hulk
  4. Ricardo Montalban as Mr. Roarke. Fantasy Island (the made for TV movie debuted in 1977, the series in 1978


Back To the Future

“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.” – Doc Brown

back to future poster.jpgTo be able to travel through time has long sparked the imagination of mankind.  It has been fictionalized in countless books, TV shows and movies. But there is one movie so original in its interpretation that when it was released it spent 11 weeks in the top box office spot and was the top grossing film of 1985. That film is Back To The Future.

November 5 was not the date the film was released. But for those of us who are cult followers of the film, we know that when Marty McFly stepped into Doc Brown’s DeLorean the date on the computer was set by the Doc to November 5, 1955. With the aid of plutonium stolen from Libyan terrorists, the Doc’s time machine – once it reached 88 mph – sent Marty back 30 years. There he encounters his parents, George and Lorraine, who are both teenagers.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Marty finds himself transported to 1955 without any plutonium to return. He encounters the teen aged George, who is bullied by his classmate Biff. After Marty saves George from an oncoming car, he is knocked unconscious and awakens to find himself tended to by Lorraine, who is infatuated with him.

Back-to-the-future-honest-trailers.pngMarty tracks down Doc’s younger self for help. With no plutonium, Doc explains that the only power source capable of generating the necessary 1.21 gigawatts (1,620,000 hp) of electricity for the time machine is a bolt of lightning. Marty shows Doc a flyer from the future that recounts a lightning strike at the town’s courthouse due the coming Saturday night. Doc instructs Marty to not leave his house or interact with anyone, as he could inadvertently alter the future; because of this, Doc refuses to heed warnings from Marty about his death in 1985. When they realize that he has prevented his parents from meeting by saving George from the car, Doc warns Marty that he must find a way to introduce George to Lorraine or he will be erased from existence. Doc formulates a plan to harness the power of the lightning, while Marty sets about introducing his parents.

After Lorraine asks Marty to the school dance, Marty devises a plan: he will feign inappropriate advances on Lorraine, allowing George to ‘rescue’ her. The plan goes awry when a drunken Biff gets rid of Marty and attempts to force himself on Lorraine. George, enraged, knocks out Biff, and Lorraine accompanies him to the dance floor, where they kiss while Marty performs with the band.

As the storm arrives, Marty returns to the clock tower and the lightning strikes, sending Marty back to 1985. Doc has survived the shooting, as he had listened to Marty’s warnings and worn a bullet-proof vest. Doc takes Marty home and departs to the future. Marty awakens the next morning to find that his father is now a self-confident and successful author, his mother is fit and happy, his siblings are in their own successful businesses, and Biff is now an obsequious auto valet.”

There is so very much to like about Back To The Future, that I don’t even know where to begin. A couple of great scenes come to mind, however.

  1. Marty is in the soda fountain and tries to order a “Tab” which, of course, is a beverage from 1985. The soda jerk chastises him and tells him he can’t give him a tab when he hasn’t ordered anything. The gag continues with Marty trying to order a ‘Pepsi Free’ which really makes the guy mad.
  2. marty and lorraine.pngWhen he meets his teenage mother she has rescued him after his being hit by his grandfather’s car Marty wakes up – having been put to bed for recovery from the previously mentioned accident – and she addresses him as ‘Calvin.’ Marty questions Lorraine on why she calls him this and she tells him it’s on his underwear… there was no designer underwear by Calvin Klein in the 1950’s of course. But even more disturbing is the thought of how Lorraine found this information.
  3. Doc Brown, upon meeting Marty, is skeptical as to Marty’s story about traveling from the future and peppers him with questions in the following memorable exchange:

“Then tell me, “Future Boy,” Who’s President in the United States in 1985?”
“Ronald Reagan.”
“Ronald Reagan? The actor? Then who’s VICE-President? Jerry Lewis?”





 When asked for a list of my top ten favorite films, this is one of three films which I love and can watch over and over, never tiring of it.

This past weekend was my father’s funeral and, because my older siblings declined to do so, I was the designated eulogist. It is very difficult to distill someone’s life down into a ten minute speech. Ultimately I decided to share a couple of stories which were illustrative of my dad’s spirit and determination. Upon reflection I realized I had gotten, during the past ten years of going to Yakima and staying with him to cook meals and help, my own version of time travel. Although is not possible to actually experience it, this was the next best thing. Here’s what I wrote:

“In those early days (2009-2014), Dad was starved for conversation and companionship. While I know he appreciated the meals, I think he liked getting to tell his stories and talking with me more.  Over time I heard about his time in the Army Air Corps and the day he buzzed the tower at Chanute Field in Chicago; or the hurricane he went through while stationed in Lakeland Florida in 1943. I learned that before he knew Mom, there were a number of young women he dated – one in every town it seemed – and one of them brought her mother along and followed him from Buffalo New York to Dothan Alabama. Fortunately for all his kids and grand-kids, he was not ‘catchable’ at that point.”

But there was particularly memorable moment in Back To The Future which has always resonated with me. When Marty returns to the future, his parent’s lives have changed and his father – who never once stood up to anyone before Marty altered the past – is completely different.  Instead of being in a dead end job, George McFly is now a successful author.

The message is clear: each of us is in charge of our own destiny and it’s possible to create your own Back To The Future moment. Mine came when I walked into a novel writing class in the fall of 2004. As I sat there listening to the fictional pages others had written and were sharing that day I had an epiphany. I knew – and believed – that I also could write the stories which rolled around in my head. Six completed novels later – with others still knocking about in my brain – perhaps now is the time for me, like George McFly, to take that next step.

The item featured on Facebook is a flux capacitor.

The link:


Won’t You Be My Neighbor

October 15, 2019

Mister Roger’s Neighborhood

“One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away.”

Mr RogersThis philosophy by the late Fred Rogers guided his unlikely career as TV personality and the creator and host of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood (MRN). It premiered on October 15, 1962 as a regional show on CBC Television (out of Toronto, Canada). In 1966 he moved the program to Philadelphia. A year later, with funding from Sears Roebuck, it was nationally syndicated.

Like many such programs of the 1950’s and 60’s, MRN was low tech and low budget. It featured simple puppets which acted out plays with what looked to be handmade cardboard buildings and props. Rogers was always seen entering the front door of his house and many of his scenes – which featured such visitors as delivery man Mr. McFeely and Officer Clemons – take place in a very basic living room.

Rogers, however, ventured out into his ‘neighborhood’ to share with his young viewers interesting things about the world. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“During each half-hour segment, Rogers speaks directly to the viewer about various issues, taking the viewer on tours of factories, demonstrating experiments, crafts, and music, and interacting with his friends. Rogers also made a point to simply behave naturally on camera rather than acting out a character (snip). The half-hour episodes were punctuated by a puppet segment chronicling occurrences in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Another segment of the show consisted of Rogers going to different places around the neighborhood, where he interviews people to talk about their work and other contributions that focused on the episode’s theme, such as Brockett’s Bakery, Bob Trow’s Workshop, and Negri’s Music Shop. In one episode, Rogers took the show behind-the-scenes on the set of The Incredible Hulk, which aired on CBS from 1978 to 1982.

At the start of each episode, the show’s logo appears as the camera pans slowly over a model of the neighborhood, while the ‘Neighborhood Trolley’ crosses several streets from left to right as the text reads ‘Mister Rogers Talks About…’, as the camera goes from the neighborhood to inside the Rogers’ television house. (snip) Fred Rogers is seen coming home with his jacket on, singing ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ He goes into the closet door by taking off his jacket, and hanging it up, and grabs a cardigan zipper sweater to put on. After that, he takes his dress shoes off, and grabs a pair of blue sneakers to put on. One of Rogers’ sweaters now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution, a testament to the cultural influence of his simple daily ritual.”

The last episode of the show was filmed in December 2000. Fred Rogers died on February 27, 2003.

I was only peripherally aware of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood since it aired on PBS when I was ten and far beyond the target audience’s age. That all changed, however, when my son was little. At age three, watching MRN became a daily ritual and, I think, greatly impacted him. It was one of the few programs on TV which had his rapt attention. Mostly, my child would turn the thing off if given a chance. But not that show.

One morning I was busy with my infant daughter and happened to walk into our family room during MRN. There my son, still in his pajamas, sat on the floor in front of the TV and he was ‘talking’ to Mr. Rogers. Of course that was how the show was designed. Fred Rogers would look directly at the screen and often ask questions of his viewers as to their feelings. My son was answering every one. To him, Mr. Rogers was a friend and as real as any other person in his life.

I greatly admire Fred Rogers and how he followed his own vision and path and I try to live by his mantra by being my ‘honest self’ as it’s one of the best gifts anyone can give to another person.

You can read much more here: