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March 30, 1964

What is the date Jeopardy Premiered?

If I mention the names Don Pardo and Art Fleming, what’s the first thing you think of?

For anyone born after about 1975, it’s unlikely those names mean a thing to you. But if I add in the name Alex Trebek , nearly 100 percent of people will immediately say “Jeopardy!”

Art Fleming, the original host

Long before Trebek became the host, the first two were the memorable announcer and host, respectively, of Jeopardy which premiered as a daytime TV program on March 30, 1964.

The 1960’s was the golden age of TV game shows. Jeopardy joined seven other game shows already on the air that year including Let’s Make A Deal and The Price Is Right. Only Let’s Make A Deal has run continuously on TV longer, edging out Jeopardy by 3 months.

The show got its start thanks to iconic TV producer Merv Griffin. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In a 1963 Associated Press profile released shortly before the original Jeopardy! series premiered, Merv Griffin offered the following account of how he created the quiz show:

My wife Julann just came up with the idea one day when we were in a plane bringing us back to New York City from Duluth. I was mulling over game show ideas, when she noted that there had not been a successful ‘question and answer’ game on the air since the quiz show scandals. Why not do a switch, and give the answers to the contestant and let them come up with the question? She fired a couple of answers to me: ‘5,280’—and the question of course was ‘How many feet in a mile?’. Another was ’79 Wistful Vista’; that was Fibber and Mollie McGee’s address. I loved the idea, went straight to NBC with the idea, and they bought it without even looking at a pilot show.

Griffin’s first conception of the game used a board comprising ten categories with ten clues each, but after finding that this board could not easily be shown on camera, he reduced it to two rounds of thirty clues each, with five clues in each of six categories.] He originally intended requiring grammatically correct phrasing (e.g., only accepting ‘Who is …’ for a person), but after finding that grammatical correction slowed the game down, he decided to accept any correct response that was in question form. Griffin discarded his initial title of What’s the Question? when skeptical network executive Ed Vane rejected his original concept of the game, claiming, ‘It doesn’t have enough jeopardies.’

Announcer Don Pardo whose recognizable voice graced the airwaves for decades

The format of giving contestants the answers and requiring the questions had previously been used by the Gil Fates-hosted program CBS Television Quiz, which aired from July 1941 until May 1942.”

Of course the references in the above article highlight just how long ago Jeopardy got its start, especially the citation of Fibber McGee. But I digress.

I’m pretty sure I’ve watched Jeopardy pretty much since its beginnings. Now mind you, as a kid the only time I saw the program would have been during summer vacation or being home sick from school. Holding down the 11:30 a.m. spot on NBC made Jeopardy required TV for the ill child. Once lunch was over (soup and saltine crackers, no doubt) and the boring old news came on, it was time to sleep.

The other reason I know Jeopardy occupied my brain is that I still have the Fifth Edition Jeopardy Board Game which I’m pretty sure was either a birthday or Christmas present, likely around 1967.

Imagine a completely old school sort of game. The answer board cover is made from white indestructium.* There are white one inch square removable plastic tabs that cover the answers for each Jeopardy round. You know its old because the dollar amounts (printed in blue on the tabs) are $10, $20, $30, $40, and $50 for regular and double those numbers (in red) for the second round. Oh, and did I mention how they kept the answers ‘secret?’ By use of the always cool, see through red plastic used in kid’s decoder kits of the 1960’s.

My 1960 something game… the blue clicker is missing but everything else is there.

But the best part was by far the ‘buzzers’ used by the players when they knew the right question. In this case, however, ‘buzzer’ is a misnomer because the devices were frog style clickers in red, blue, yellow, and green. After a few games of vigorous use those clickers no longer clicked; our alternative was for the contestants to make a buzzing noise with their mouths which, you might imagine, led to some hilarity.

My friends and I loved the game. It’s actually in amazing shape considering the use it had. Or maybe I’m misremembering all the use and, perhaps, it was just me who was the complete trivia nerd. The game, after spending decades tucked away in my parents’ house, came back to me in the fall of 2019.

Over the years, however, Jeopardy continued to be a part of my life. In the 1980’s, after dinner, the hubby and I would often watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. The hubby seemed to know every Jeopardy answer and had it out before my brain had time to process. In fact, I often thought that the hubby should try out for Jeopardy.

His rapid trivia skills were passed down to the next generation as our daughter also loves Jeopardy and is really good at it. In fact, both her former roommate and fiancé (now her hubby) got to the point of not wanting to even watch Jeopardy with her because she seemed to know every answer and, like her father, was very fast.

After she moved in the spring of 2020 and no longer had cable TV, she mostly quit watching. Some of the joy of the show, no doubt, was lost with the passing of Alex Trebek. She did admit that a couple of the ‘tryout’ hosts were pretty good.

Alex Trebek

“I need my Jeopardy host to be pretty dry in their delivery,” she told me.

I think any Jeopardy fan hopes that a worthy replacement will be found for Trebek ; one who will assure that the 57 year tradition that is Jeopardy will continue for years and generations to come.

Now, for those who want to play, here’s the final Jeopardy answer for today’s Tuesday Newsday: 22. Be sure to post your answer in the comments section below!

* Indestructium is a word coined by the hubby to describe any linoleum or plastic manufactured in the 20th century which is basically impossible to damage or destroy.

The Infallible Wikipedia links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeopardy!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_longest-running_American_television_series

Groundhog Day

Carpe Diem

February 2, 2021

This movie – written by Danny Rubin and produced and directed by Harold Ramis, was released in February 1993 based on a premise: What if you had to live the same day over and over until you ‘got it right?’

Groundhog Day – starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell – brought that concept to the big screen. The plot centers around Murray, a self absorbed TV reporter named Phil Connors, who is assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day event and do a story on whether or not Punxsutawney Phil would see his shadow.

Connors completes his report but a blizzard hits the region, forcing him to remain in Punxsutawney another night. When he awakens the next morning the radio is playing Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” just as it had been the previous morning. Connors soon learns that it is February 2nd once again and the events repeat themselves.

And on it goes throughout the movie. Murray is brilliant in the role. At first he despairs his situation, then he gets angry. He starts to alter things in an attempt to escape the ‘loop.’ He embarks on a life of crime, stealing from the townspeople. When that doesn’t release him from repeating each day, he falls into a depression and attempts suicide. But it’s impossible to kill himself and he continues to wake up to February 2nd.

Eventually, he hits on the idea of using his time to improve himself and the lives of those around him. He takes piano lessons and learns all about the people of Punxsutawney who he’s been encountering each day. He finds ways to help ease their burdens.

His love interest, Rita (played by McDowell), also eventually comes around to seeing him for this wonderful sincere guy who affects the lives of others in a positive way.

In the ensuing 27 years since the film’s release, there has been a lot of speculation as to how many consecutive February second’s Phil Connors experiences. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The duration of Phil’s real-time entrapment in the time loop has been the subject of much discussion. Ramis once said that he believed the film took place over 10 years. When a blogger estimated the actual length to be approximately 9 years, Ramis disputed that estimate and his own. He replied that it takes at least 10 years to become good at an activity (such as Phil learning ice sculpting and to speak French), and allotting for the down-time and misguided years he spent, it had to be more like 30 or 40 years. A similar estimate suggests that it takes at least 10,000 hours of study (just over a year’s worth of time) to become an expert in a field, and given the number of loops seen or mentioned on screen, and how long Phil could spend per day studying, that Phil spent approximately 12,400 days or nearly 34 years trapped. In Rubin’s original concept draft, Phil himself estimates that he has been trapped for between 70 and 80 years, having used books to track the passage of time.”

Additionally, many have delved into the ‘deeper meaning’ of the film, finding spiritual and religious meaning. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Rubin has been contacted throughout the years by different experts providing their own interpretations. It has been seen as a Christian allegory with Punxsutawney Phil representing Jesus Christ, an example of the Nietzschean concept of the eternal return, the spirit of Judaism, and the essence of homeopathy. It has also been interpreted as an adaptation of the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus who is also condemned to an eternal, daily punishment. (snip)

Groundhog Day can also be interpreted as a secular tale in which Phil is experiencing an existential crisis where primal indulgences are no longer satisfying, causing him to fall into a depression that he escapes by taking ownership of his own self-improvement; he then uses his improved persona to benevolently help others.”

On February 2, 1993, I was 7 ½ months pregnant and my son had just turned three. I can say for a fact that I did not see Groundhog Day during its initial release. I also, additionally, argue that as a young parent I was living some form of my own repetitive loop.

It is not until one is caring for a baby that you really can appreciate the mind-numbing repetition which it presents.

The first months of a child’s life, particularly, are an exercise in repeated activities. Eat. Sleep. Poop. Repeat. Somewhere around month three you start to emerge from this fog and you notice that things have started to change ever so slightly. A first smile. The first time to roll over. If you’re lucky, the baby sleeps more than a few hours a night without waking up.

Six weeks may not seem like a very long time, but it’s interminable if you are sleep deprived. You might ask yourself “will it always be this way?”

As it turns out, the answer is no. My son was around age five and one night he had a nightmare and appeared in the hubby and my bedroom. I always allowed the kids to crawl in with us for a few minutes but then I would carry them back to their own beds.

The author with her newborn son… several decades ago when she could still pick him up

When I went to pick up my drowsy son, however, I could not do it. Sometime in the previous few days I had experienced the ‘last’ time I was able to lift and carry my child.

Life is full of lasts. And sometimes we don’t even know it will be a ‘last’ until the moment is past. The last time you had a conversation with your Mom or Dad; the last time you rode a bike or went sledding. Somehow an event slips by without you knowing it was the last time.

Groundhog Day is one of my top five favorite films if for no other reason than it reminds me that every day is an opportunity to improve myself and make a difference. It’s also a cautionary message which is best summed up by the Latin phrase ‘Carpe Diem.’

Unlike Phil Connors, none of us gets a repeating loop in life. Whatever your passion, whatever it is that brings you joy and fulfillment, go out and pursue it. Carpe Diem. Seize the Day.

Links:

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

Titanic

My Heart Will Go On

December 22, 2020

“Upon its release on December 19, 1997,” according to the Infallible Wikipedia, this film “achieved significant critical and commercial success. Nominated for 14 Academy Awards, it tied All About Eve (1950) for the most Oscar nominations, and won 11, including the awards for Best Picture and Best Director, tying Ben-Hur (1959) for the most Oscars won by a single film.”

Titanic, as measured by every metric, lived up to its name. The buzz around the film the third week of December that year had movie-goers flocking to the theater.

For those who have never seen the movie, you really should. It’s a study in ‘how to’ craft a compelling story. The backdrop is, of course, the tragic tale of how the luxury liner Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean during its maiden voyage. The ship did not have an adequate number of lifeboats available for the over 2,200 passengers resulting in the death of 1,517 people.

It was the singular vision of screenwriter and producer James Cameron which propelled the entire story. The Infallible Wikipedia summed it up this way:

“Cameron felt the Titanic sinking was ‘like a great novel that really happened’, but that the event had become a mere morality tale; the film would give audiences the experience of living the history. The treasure hunter Brock Lovett represented those who never connected with the human element of the tragedy, while the blossoming romance of Jack and Rose, Cameron believed, would be the most engaging part of the story: when their love is finally destroyed, the audience would mourn the loss. He said: ‘All my films are love stories, but in Titanic I finally got the balance right. It’s not a disaster film. It’s a love story with a fastidious overlay of real history.’”

As a Romance writer, it is Rose’s story which I have always found most compelling. She is 17 years old when she boards the Titanic and over the course of the next three and half days, falls in love, breaks off her engagement, faces disapproval from family, and then survives, arguably, the worst shipwreck in history.

What Cameron does with Rose is brilliant. We meet her at the very beginning of the movie, a still vibrant 101 year old woman, who is brought to the site of the Titanic’s wreckage to advise a treasure hunting crew looking for a valuable necklace believed to have been on board the ship when it sank. The story is then told through her eyes as she chastises one salvage crew member on his forensic account of the event. “The experience of it was somewhat different,” she says.

It is her love interest Jack, ultimately, who admonishes Rose to live life fully. He sacrifices himself for her and she promises him that she will.

Cameron uses black and white photographs of Rose, ostensibly taken throughout her life, to show the many things she experienced. She does exactly as Jack urged and lives her life to the fullest.

The reason I chose to feature Titanic today – since December 19th will not fall on Tuesday for two more years – is due to an amazing coincidence.

In 2005 – after a class I took on novel writing concluded – a number of us formed a writer’s critique group. Sometime during those first few months one of our members suggested the addition of another writer he knew from a different group. They had taken a class together from the same instructor a couple years earlier. Which is how I met the woman who I eventually dubbed ‘the real life Rose.’

To be clear, this ‘Rose’ did NOT survive the sinking of the Titanic. In fact she was not born until 1920, six years after the fact.

Plus, her name is Irene, and not Rose. As I became friends with Irene over the past 15 years I learned much about her life and experiences and, when I would tell people about her, I often referenced Titanic and continued to call her “The real life Rose.”

For the past two December’s our little group celebrated Irene’s 98th and 99th birthday’s during our weekly meeting at the Bellevue library. Last year we vowed to do something bigger to fete her on her 100th.

Our band of authors – sans the cameraman – on Irene’s 98th

And then the COVID pandemic hit and our method of meeting changed. Five of us, including our ‘Rose’, switched to Zoom. Last week – knowing I planned this as my topic for the blog – I casually asked Irene what the date of her birthday was. Her reply: December 19, 1920. I literally shook my head at the coincidence that Titanic had been released on a December 19th also.

Irene’s story is that of a young woman who met and married a dashing RAF pilot; he trained at an American AFB run by Irene’s father. It was the height of WWII and the only way she could be with her new husband, was to find a way to get to England. That ticket turned out to be working for the Red Cross. The newlywed’s grabbed snippets of time together as their assignments took them to opposite locales throughout Great Britain.

Tragedy, however, struck when his plane was lost, leaving her a young widow, pregnant with their child.

Hence the reason I started calling her the real life ‘Rose.’ And like Rose in Titanic, Irene has embraced life and lived it to its fullest. She’s climbed the Great Pyramids in Egypt, hiked Machu Pichu in the Andes, been on cruises to Panama and Hawaii (and others). She was a single mother in an era when doing so caused most people to look at you askance. She pursued a career in hospital administration, providing for herself and her family, never falling into the trap of self pity. She’s written multiple novels, dabbled in painting, and holds a wide variety of interests.

As I’ve told her more than once, she’s my role model of how I want to age.

Irene braving the weather for her driveby party

To this she will reply, “Barbara, growing old is a privilege not everyone gets to have.” And then, in her humble way, will say how appreciative she is – despite some of the infirmities that accompany the aging process – that she has been given that privilege.

This past Saturday (the 19th) her family (son, daughter-in-law, and grandson) arranged for a drive by birthday party. I imagine they were thinking a few friends might come by. It turned into a much bigger parade. I was, unfortunately, late due to some obstacles. But that turned out okay. I got to visit with her for a few minutes and promised that we’d have a proper party next year on her 101st birthday!

While the fictionalized account of her marriage and what occurred in England will likely never garner the same level of interest as Titanic, the story is no less compelling. It’s available on Amazon. (See link below)

Thank you, Irene, for being an inspiration to me and to so many others. You’re amazing.

And, of course, the link to the Infallible Wikipedia and two more movie clips:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanic_(1997_film)

Anything Goes

Take A Bow

November 10, 2020

The cover from Eisenhower’s production of Anything Goes in 1975

Now, 86 years after the fact, the musical Anything Goes is showing its age. One thing about it has aged well, however, and that would be the music of Cole Porter. For those unfamiliar with the musical, here’s some background from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Anything Goes is a musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The original book was a collaborative effort by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, heavily revised by the team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.The story concerns madcap antics aboard an ocean liner bound from New York to London. Billy Crocker is a stowaway in love with heiress Hope Harcourt, who is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Nightclub singer Reno Sweeney and Public Enemy Number 13, ‘Moonface’ Martin, aid Billy in his quest to win Hope. The musical introduced such songs as ‘Anything Goes,’ ‘You’re the Top,’ and ‘I Get a Kick Out of You.’

Since its 1934 debut at the Alvin Theatre (now known as the Neil Simon Theatre) on Broadway, the musical has been revived several times in the United States and Britain and has been filmed twice. The musical has long been a popular choice for school and community productions.”

The best way to describe Anything Goes is as a wild adventure with hidden identities, love triangles, and a whole lot of sexual innuendo. It was, in its day, considered inappropriate. Hence the title.

Despite its racy themes, Porter’s lyrics are masterfully written and crisp and so very sing able.

My readers will be forgiven if they’ve never heard of the show.

I had never heard of it either until December of 1974 when my high school choir director, Mr. Jim Durado, announced that our spring musical would be Anything Goes.

To be clear, I never had a shot for any sort of solo singing role in the production. In fact, Mr. Durado was legendary at our high school for somehow selecting musicals which seemed to ‘fit’ the students who filled the leads. That was, I’m certain, by design.

And so it was for Anything Goes. The lead role was for a female and he had a very talented vocalist who he cast as Reno Sweeney. More about that a bit later.

My role, however, was also a rather important one and I was selected by Mr. Durado specifically for it as surely as he picked any particular cast member.

It all began the previous spring when he asked me if I would be his Teacher’s Assistant (TA) for the following year. It required me to have TA as one of my classes. I said yes.

During the course of that year, I ran every errand, copied copious amounts of sheet music, tracked down students, kept attendance records, and made sure things happened on time. If there was a job to do, he gave it to me to get it done. When it came time to start rehearsals, my post was to sit at the mid-point of the theatre, three rows back from the stage, and follow along in the script. If someone needed prompting, I was the one to do it.

My photo was in the program along side all the lead actors

Every day after school – for three months – we rehearsed. I swear it became a muscle memory thing because to this day I can sing most of the songs without missing a word. For a number of years I could even say all the lines of every character.

It was a great experience and I am forever indebted to Mr. Durado for trusting me to do the job.

For Mr. Durado, however, 1975 turned out to be a time fraught with conflict. As a student, I was not privy as to what was going on his life. All I know is that there were moments when I would wonder what I had done to make him so sullen and incommunicative. It took months to learn the truth.

We were only a couple weeks in to rehearsals when the lead he’d chosen to portray Reno Sweeney told him she couldn’t take the role as she was very uncomfortable with the innuendo and believed it violated her faith. Thus the scrambling began to find a replacement. Another senior, Jennifer, was quickly selected and her part was then given to Mr. Durado’s own daughter. There was some amount of complaint from the cast who felt that a different girl deserved the role.

Reno and Sir Evelyn – aka Jennifer and Doug – during a performance

But the show, as they say, must go on. The next couple of months saw the production come together and, on March 19, 1975, Anything Goes opened. The page in my yearbook states:

“The eighty member cast worked three months in preparation for the standing ovations they justly received. Mr. Jim Durado proudly produced and directed his tenth musical production, one which originally opened on Broadway in 1934.”

By April, the intense schedule of rehearsals and a successful musical behind us, it was time to focus on recruitment for the next year. In addition to the main choir, there was a 16 person four part harmony swing choir, called Lancers. It was THE premiere vocal group at the school and dozens would vie for a coveted spot. Tryouts were looming for that and several performances by both groups were on the schedule.

One morning in mid-May, however, Mr. Durado was not at school. I cannot to this day recall exactly how I heard the news. It was probably announced to the whole choir when we arrived for class. But Mr. Durado had been shot by his wife. The bullet hit near his shoulder. He was alive and was in the hospital and that was all we were told.

That afternoon – in spite of the shock – the entire choir went to Franklin Junior High to perform a scheduled show. Somehow we got through it with a substitute teacher. The memory which sticks in my head from that day is that a group of a half dozen girls were walking out of the Junior High after the performance and everyone was talking about it; some of the girls were crying. All of us were upset.

I did go see Mr. Durado in the hospital a day or two later. He was making jokes about how bad a shot his wife was. It was surreal.

Less than a month after I graduated and heard little more about my teacher. The next year there was a new choir director who had huge shoes to fill. From Mr. Durado’s first musical production in 1966 until his last in 1975, he had built a dynasty.

Being in choir was cool. Those who were selected for Lancers were the coolest (I was not in that group!) It was getting to participate in the musical, however, that was everything. My oldest brother was in Funny Girl – which was Mr. Durado’s second production – in 1967. My cousin Susan was selected for the role of Mrs. Paroo in 1973’s The Music Man. That was also my sister’s first of two years in the cast; in 1974 both my sister and I were in The Most Happy Fella. I closed out our family participation with Anything Goes.

Mr. Durado moved back to his home state of Montana after he recovered from his wounds. From an adult perspective I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult the whole situation must have been for the family, especially for his daughters. No shortage of victims in this story but it seems as if it’s often the kids who are most hurt.

Mr. Durado lived out his days in Montana, taking his final bow on March 19, 2013…38 years to the day from the opening night of the last musical he produced and directed, Anything Goes.

A couple of links:

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/195146855/james-rocco-durado

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

Fiddler On The Roof

Tradition!

November 3, 2020

Until November 3, 1971, this musical play could only be viewed on Broadway or in a community or school production. With the release of the movie, however, Fiddler On The Roof, cemented its place as one of the best musicals ever.

The 1971 Movie Poster

Prior to being made into a film Fiddler was a Broadway staple. The Infallible Wikipedia sheds a bright spotlight on its history:

“The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run. The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It won nine Tony Awards, including best musical, score, book, direction and choreography. It spawned five Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation and has enjoyed enduring international popularity.”

What’s so captivating about Fiddler is its unique story. The audience – from the first notes of the fiddle’s haunting tunes – is immersed in the pre-Russian revolution community of Anatevka.

Soon the viewer sees the world through the eyes of Tevye, a Jewish peasant ‘blessed’ with five daughters and no sons. Tevye narrates the entire play through words and song in an often humorous yet bittersweet evaluation of his – and his fellow villager’s – life.

What ties it all together, however, is the incredible music. From the foot tapping lament of If I were A Rich Man, to the witty Matchmaker, and the wistful Sunrise, Sunset, each song expertly captures the feeling of a unique time and place in history.

Fiddler – perhaps more than any other musical to grace the silver screen – is a serious film which explores the foibles of human nature and one’s ability to adapt to change.

I know I saw the film in the theater as a teenager and also a production of it at Eisenhower Sr. High (IKE) in Yakima in the spring of 1972. The IKE production, in fact, was the event which inspired my resolve to be in the choir since you had to be in that group if you wanted to perform in the musical.

I was in my ninth grade year – in junior high – when I wrote this diary entry on March 24, 1972:

“I went to ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ It was very good, we had front row seats and I felt like the lead was singing to us in some parts. It was really neat.”

First of all, a big thank you to my parents for being first in line and purchasing the front row seats. Second, that is not the most eloquent bit of writing, but I’ll forgive my 14 year old self…at least she captured the moments. I bought a book of Fiddler songs on sheet music and learned to play many of them on the piano. I even sang Matchmaker for a talent competition… I no longer recall WHY I thought this was a good idea (it wasn’t) or the specific event… but I was much more fearless then.

A page from the 1972 IKE yearbook, Reveille, of the Fiddler on The Roof production. I wanted to be just like this group, on stage singing in a musical.

Years later, when my kids got to about ages 8 and 11, I hatched an idea. The hubby and I ordered and installed an 8 foot by 8 foot movie screen. A speaker system was set up to create surround sound and thus we created a part time media center in our living room.

This all coincided with my discovery that the King County Library ‘rented’ to anyone who held a library card films on DVD and VHS. And when I say rent, I mean for free. The catch was that you had to put a hold on the movies you wanted and then wait until the email notice arrived advising that a particular one was ready to be picked up. Much less expensive than Blockbuster and with an element of surprise; we never knew which movie would be the one for any particular Saturday night.

And thus began my mission to introduce my kids to every musical ever produced. My budding film critics soon developed opinions about every selection I brought home. My daughter, for example, declared the musical Carousel as The Worst. Musical. Ever. Personally, I would put it up against The Fantasticks for that title.

The Worst. Musical. Ever.

On the night of Fiddler, the sights and sounds of 1905 Russia filled the room and the whole family was enthralled. For me it was as if visiting with an old friend for a couple of hours. I tamped down my temptation to sing along and once again enjoyed the wonderful story and characters.

Finally, when I had exhausted all the musicals available through the library, I asked my children one day of all those we had watched, which was their favorite? While I don’t recall what my daughter said, my son did not hesitate: Fiddler On The Roof. An opinion he confirmed recently.

As for me and my dream of being in the cast of my high school’s musical… well, that’s a story for next week.

To learn more about the incomparable Fiddler, one needs only to access The Infallible Wikipedia:

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

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

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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek%3A_The_Original_Series

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

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:

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

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

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

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:

dreyfuss

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.”

hARRISON FORD

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:

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

https://barbaradevore.com/2018/04/17/1965-ford-mustang

https://barbaradevore.com/2020/07/28/animal-house

 

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.”

ah-party

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:

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

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”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grease!

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:

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

https://screencraft.org/2018/03/09/do-you-know-the-five-different-types-of-plot-holes/

 

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