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Oklahoma!

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.”

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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:

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

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

https://youtu.be/BUX5B6W_Azs ( the infamous Clambake song)

 

 

 

 

 

Alan Alda

January 28, 2020

Made His Mark On M.A.S.H.

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.

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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:

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

https://extratv.com/2020/01/13/alan-alda-talks-living-with-parkinsons-and-not-giving-up-acting/

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.

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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.

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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.”

 

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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:

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricardo_Montalb%C3%A1n

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

 

It’s a Wonderful Life

No Man is a Failure Who Has Friends

January 7, 2020

This film, officially released in theaters on January 7, 1947, was plagued with missteps from the start. Its history of challenges, actually, seem appropriate as it is a film about failure and redemption and has become one of the world’s most beloved Christmas classics. The movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.DVD its a wonderful life.jpg

Its story begins in 1939 when Philip Van Doren Stern writes a short story he titles The Greatest Gift. Unable to find a publisher, Stern self publishes 200 booklets which he gives as presents to friends during Christmas 1943.

The story ended up being seen by Carey Grant who was interested in adapting the story into film with him as the lead. RKO, a movie studio, purchased the rights in April 1944 to do just that.  Work commenced on the screenplay. For whatever reasons, Grant went on to other projects and the partially completed script was eventually sold to Frank Capra’s production company in 1945.

Capra – recognizing the potential in the story – hired a writing team to work on the script. But there were problems. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Capra salvaged a few scenes from Odets’ earlier screenplay and worked with writers Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling, Michael Wilson, and Dorothy Parker (brought in to ‘polish’ the script), on many drafts of the screenplay.

It was not a harmonious collaboration. Goodrich called Capra ‘that horrid man’ and recalled, ‘He couldn’t wait to get writing it himself.’ Her husband, Albert Hackett, said, ‘We told him what we were going to do, and he said ‘That sounds fine.’ We were trying to move the story along and work it out, and then somebody told us that [Capra] and Jo Swerling were working on it together, and that sort of took the guts out of it. Jo Swerling was a very close friend of ours, and when we heard he was doing this we felt rather bad about it. We were getting near the end and word came that Capra wanted to know how soon we’d be finished. So my wife said, ‘We’re finished right now.’ We quickly wrote out the last scene and we never saw him again after that. He’s a very arrogant son of a bitch.’

Later, a dispute ensued over the writing credits. Capra said, ‘The Screen Writers’ Arbitration committee decided that Hackett and Goodrich, a married writing team, and I should get the credit for the writing. Jo Swerling hasn’t talked to me since. That was five years ago.’ The final screenplay, renamed by Capra It’s a Wonderful Life, was credited to Goodrich, Hackett, and Capra, with ‘additional scenes’ by Jo Swerling.”

In order to make the film ‘Oscar’ eligible it was released at the Globe Theatre in New York on December 20, 1946 rather than wait until early 1947 as originally planned. The change likely cost It’s a Wonderful Life a Best Picture Oscar as the competition for 1946 was much more difficult. Best Picture winner was a movie titled The Lost Weekend, a movie now pretty much lost in time. It’s a Wonderful Life ended up with five nominations including for Best Picture and Best Actor for Jimmy Stewart.

The movie was under water some $525,000 at the box office.

Clarence and GeorgeIt wasn’t until the late 1970’s when the copyright expired and the movie was ‘discovered.’ Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The film’s elevation to the status of a beloved classic came three decades after its initial release, when it became a television staple during Christmas season in 1976. This came as a welcome surprise to Frank Capra and others involved with its production. ‘It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen’, Capra told The Wall Street Journal in 1984. ‘The film has a life of its own now, and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be President. I’m proud … but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.’ In a 1946 interview, Capra described the film’s theme as ‘the individual’s belief in himself’ and that he made it ‘to combat a modern trend toward atheism’.”

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Our 1910 Fixer as it looks today.

It was in December 1981 when I first saw the movie. The hubby and I had purchased our first house six months earlier. It was a 1910 fixer upper in West Seattle and a hodge-podge of never ending projects. Our first weekend in the house involved ripping out pet urine soaked carpets and removing part of the narrow with a 90 degree turn staircase in order to get our queen size bed up to the bedroom.  Behind the 1960’s era kitchen cabinets we later discovered a painted over window with the curtain rod still attached to the wall. Unfortunately, the curtains – mostly rags – also still hung there. The fix list went on and on. During the time we owned that house, it was one critical project after another.

Forward to the week before Christmas 1981. I was home sick from work with a bad cold, puttering around our drafty old house, doing what I could to get ready for the holiday. I had the TV on to keep me company when this old black and white film appeared.

I was hooked within moments and, snuggled up on the couch in a blanket, I watched the whole thing. The afternoon light faded to night just as George Bailey descended into his own winter solstice crisis. There I sat, commiserating with poor George over a house that needed constant fixing and worried about how he was going to find the money that Uncle Billy lost. I could relate as money was tight for a pair of house poor, married barely a year, kids.

No man is a failureThere’s a moment in that film which sums it all up. It’s when George arrives back home – alive once again – and hugs the kids but cannot find Mary, his wife. The bank examiners arrive and tell George they are going to arrest him and his response is just the best. He tells them how wonderful it is for no other reason than because he’s alive and that is enough.

Just then, Mary bursts through the door, she and George embrace and he tells her how much he cherishes her. But she has a surprise for him – the community has come to their rescue and raised more than enough money to cover the missing funds.

It’s this scene which had me bawling. What a gift it is to be so loved, so valued, that your friends and family will do anything to ease your burden. Every time I watch It’s A Wonderful Life I hold it together until that scene comes on and George receives a gift from his Guardian Angel, Clarence, with the following sentiment:

“Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings, Love Clarence.”

As always – the links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It’s_a_Wonderful_Life

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

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:

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

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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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mister_Rogers%27_Neighborhood

Nineteen Eighty Something

The Goldberg’s

September 24, 2019

Great storytellers often revert to their youth as a way to mine for fictional gems.

In the 1970’s it was the TV program Happy Days which took us back to the 1950’s. Then there were The Wonder Years which aired in the late 80’s but was set from 1968 to 1974.

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The Goldberg’s TV family

For anyone who grew up in the 1980’s they can tune in to ABC’s current program The Goldberg s and see their childhood come to life. It premiered on September 24, 2013.

Created by Adam F. Goldberg, the show is based on people he knew and events which happened to him while he was growing up.  Season 7 begins on Wednesday (Sept. 25) (For 2020, Season 8 begins October 21)

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Murray in his recliner

Like all great TV shows, excellent writing and casting are key. Adam’s is a wacky family which begins with his father, Murray, whose main goal in life is to be able to relax in his recliner (sans trousers) and watch TV undisturbed by his three children, who he calls ‘morons.’ The heart of the family is the ultimate intrusive mother, Beverly, who Adam and his siblings, Erica and Barry, call the ‘Smother.’ Although she ‘could have been a lawyer’, her only focus in life is finding ways to stay inappropriately relevant in her teenage children’s’ lives. The travails of the three siblings are fleshed out by a host of friends and rivals.

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Beverly going in for a smothering snuggie

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The Goldberg’s is set in the 1980’s in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. The show is loosely based on the show runner’s childhood, during which he videotaped events, many of which are reenacted throughout the program. It shows the reality of the 1980’s through a young boy’s eyes.

The series stars Jeff Garlin as patriarch Murray and Wendi McLendon-Covey as matriarch Beverly. Their two older children are Erica (Hayley Orrantia) and Barry (Troy Gentile). The youngest child, Adam (Sean Giambrone), documents his family life with his video camera. Beverly’s father, Albert “Pops” Solomon (George Segal), is frequently around to provide advice or to help out his grandchildren (often behind his daughter’s back).

TROY GENTILE, HAYLEY ORRANTIA, SEAN GIAMBRONE

Barry, Erica, and Adam

The present-day ‘Adult Adam’ (Patton Oswalt) narrates every episode as taking place in ‘1980-something’.

Many references to real-life Philadelphia-area businesses are made, including the Wawa Inc. convenience store chain, Gimbel’s department store, Willow Grove Park Mall, and Kremp’s Florist of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.”

It was halfway through season six that I saw my first ‘Goldberg’s.’ Over the past 10 years, I have traveled frequently to Yakima to assist my parents. What started as an every five or six weeks visit to cook meals for my dad has shortened over the years as the needs increased. I’ve literally spent hundreds of days there helping both of them and dealing with a variety of crises. There have been hospital stays for both my parents, my mother living in multiple care facilities for 8 years, legal battles, her passing in November 2017, and now the decline of my 96 year old father.

In January 2019, my dad took ill and ended up in the hospital. Upon his release my siblings and I recognized that we needed to place him into a facility as my brother, who had lived with him for the previous five years, was not able to provide the level of care needed.

I was in Yakima to facilitate dad’s move and arrived back at my Dad’s place one evening sometime the last week of January. My brother told me he had discovered a new TV show and asked if I wanted to watch. I did and, like him, was soon hooked on The Goldberg’s.

For most people it’s a simple thing to be able to watch and enjoy a TV program. That was not the case at my Dad’s house.

While Dad was still at home, the TV was his main activity, particularly after my mother died, and there were only a few programs he watched: Sports and News.

During the five years my brother lived there those were the choices during the hours Dad was present.

In those first weeks after Dad moved to Assisted Living, a weird quiet descended over the house. I think both my brother and I were in a bit of state of shock as the new reality settled in.

Enter the Goldberg’s. My brother set up the TV to record every episode as it played since season’s one through five were being rebroadcast. Many evenings in the next few months during the days and weeks I was in Yakima, I’d arrive back after visiting Dad and my brother and I would binge watch, often staying up way too late.

In many ways it was a lifeline and a way to deal with the stress. Laughter and the occasional cry do that for you.

On another level there was a more subtle lesson to be learned. One that comes through from the Goldberg’s in every episode:

Sure, stuff happens in life and we’re not always at our best with our family and friends, but in the end cherish your family because things change – sometimes in an instant – and you cannot get it back.

We recently completed an estate sale at my Dad’s place. Soon the condo will be on the market. As we went through the process of sorting everything last summer, we’d come upon items which triggered emotional responses. When I handed the electric griddle to my sister in law to use for her grand kids it hit me that I would never cook another pancake (I made thousands in those 10 years) or a pot pie for Dad in that kitchen, or stay there, or hear my dad’s walker thumping overhead in the morning. Everything had changed.

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The author with Reggie, one of the double doodles

But a new and different way of loving and supporting family has emerged. When I’m over there I now stay with my sister and her husband. Herbert and Teddy, their two dogs, announce every arrival in a cacophony of barking. Shop Cat – who is an outdoor pet – will come and hang out on the deck and has decided I’m okay, rubbing against my legs and looking to be petted. My sister’s adult daughter – who lives nearby – arrives most every evening, bringing with her Reggie and Rex, the Double Doodle dogs, who join in the melee.

I visit dad at least once a day when over there. He has good days and bad days… last week he had one particularly good day and insisted he wanted to have Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner. So what the heck? I loaded him and his walker into the car and we went to KFC. Was it easy? No. But I recognize his days are short and doing something so simple made him happy for a little while. And that makes it all worthwhile. No regrets.

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Dinner with Dad at KFC

2019 has been a hard year, but it was made better thanks to the Goldberg’s and my own family.

Here’s the link to Wikipedia, but really, it does not do justice to the show. Give yourself a treat and watch an episode.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Goldbergs_(2013_TV_series)

With A Twitch of the Nose

September 17, 2019

Bewitched title captureFrom the moment this TV show premiered, on September 17, 1964, a spell was cast over the American public and everyone fell in love with a beautiful witch named Samantha.

Bewitched was an instant hit, drawing everyone in to its crazy premise:

What if a witch were to fall in love with a mortal and give up her magical world to become a modern day housewife?

Samantha Darren EldoraOf course that’s not quite how it worked out. Week after week we were given a glimpse into the life and marriage of Darren and Samantha Stevens who, with interference from her mother Endora and a wide cast of other relatives, seemed to stir up trouble for poor Darren. Add to that mix the nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz, and Darren’s demanding boss, Larry Tate, and you had the recipe for a sitcom which aired for the next eight years.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The witches and their male counterparts, warlocks, are very long-lived; while Samantha appears to be a young woman, many episodes suggest she is actually hundreds of years old. To keep their society secret, witches avoid showing their powers in front of mortals other than Darrin. Nevertheless, the effects of their spells – and Samantha’s attempts to hide their supernatural origin from mortals – drive the plot of most episodes. Witches and warlocks usually use physical gestures along with their incantations. To perform magic, Samantha often twitches her nose to create a spell. Special visual effects are accompanied by music to highlight such an action.”

The combination of great script writers coupled with outstanding casting was, no doubt, key to the series success. Elizabeth Montgomery, as Samantha, is frequently seen using her nose to make the dishes wash themselves, clean up a mess, or handle some mundane chore. Darren was frustrated each week at his wife’s use of magic to handle life.

Personally, as a child, I very badly wanted to live in that world. My bedroom was ALWAYS a disaster of toys, books, and games, with never enough space to store them. If, of course, I was inclined to be tidy, which I was not.

My sister, who is 21 months older, forbade me from stepping foot onto her side of the room during those years. An invisible line was drawn between our matching twin beds and across that boundary I dared not venture. Oh to have Samantha’s nose which I could just twitch and get everything cleaned up in an instant! Then I might have been allowed across the magic threshold.

gladys kravitzBut my favorite character on the show had to have been the ever vigilant neighbor Gladys. The woman epitomized the term busy body and was often seen skulking around the Steven’s house. She would climb into the shrubbery and peer through windows, certain that all sorts of strange things were going on inside. Of course she was right but she never succeeded in convincing her disinterested husband, Abner, or the occasional law enforcement officer she would call, of the shenanigans which took place.

In fact, when I encounter a nosy person, I will refer to them as Gladys. In a loving way, of course, but the name does sum up such a person which members of my generation instantly recognize.

No doubt, when the show went off the air in 1972, it was with a whimper. The original Darren had left in 1969 due to complications from a severe back injury 10 years earlier which made working impossible. The original Gladys died in 1966 as had Samantha’s confused Aunt Clara. These hits to the cast affected the show profoundly. In many ways, in retrospect, it was almost as if a spell had been placed on the show. Elizabeth Montgomery died in 1995 at the age of 64 from colon cancer. Dick York succumbed at age 63 from emphysema. Agnes Moorehead, who played Endora, was stricken with uterine cancer which took her life in 1974 at age 74.

Bewitched lives on in syndication and, subsequently, on DVD and the internet. Although there was a movie made based on the characters, and proposals for a new TV series, no remake will ever be able to replicate and achieve the success of the original. Magic often only happens once.

For more about Bewitched:

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

 

Practically Perfect In Every Way

Mary Poppins

August 27, 2019

mary-poppins_poster_goldposter_com_3Unlike most of the musical films of the previous decades, this one was aimed at children. It introduced new words into our collective vocabulary and catapulted its two stars into the stratosphere. Children everywhere wanted a nanny just like Mary Poppins and her chimney sweep friend Bert.

Mary Poppins hit the silver screen on August 27, 1964, and soon everyone was exclaiming Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and singing Chim-Chim-Cheree.

The movie was based on a children’s book by P.L. Travers. It was the song writing brothers of Robert and Richard Sherman who created over 30 songs for the movie. Of those, 14 made the final cut.

It was, however, the superb casting, particularly of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, which provided the magic needed for the story.  Andrews, who was a Broadway actress at the time, transitioned to film and would, the next year, define the iconic Maria Von Trapp in the Sound of Music.

Between the incredible casting, the musical score, and the script, it proved a recipe for success. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“It received a total of 13 Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture – a record for any film released by Walt Disney Studios – and won five: Best Actress for Andrews, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Song for ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’. In 2013, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’. Mary Poppins is considered Walt Disney’s crowning live-action achievement, and is the only one of his films which earned a Best Picture nomination during his lifetime.”

For a seven year old, getting to go to a theater and see a movie was a big deal. Especially when it was the very FIRST movie that seven year old had ever seen in a theater.

I have a distinct memory of being dropped off at the Capitol Theater in Yakima along with my older siblings to watch the movie. I doubt my then 15 year old brother was thrilled at being the designated baby sitter for the event. Of course that mattered not to me. I was enthralled from the moment Mary Poppins, umbrella unfurled and carpet bag in hand, floated down to the Banks house.

In the days, weeks, and months which followed, I strove to be Mary Poppins. If I was outside playing it was with an umbrella in hand, running down the street wishing to be lifted from the ground so that I could float away to magical places. Alas, despite some pretty strong winds at times, my Mary Poppins dreams went unfulfilled although I did manage to get airborne quite often.

Mary arrives at Banks houseAfter I had children of my own I made it one of my missions to expose them to the cultural phenomenon of Musicals. Although they enjoyed Mary Poppins I do not believe it impacted them quite the same way.

On a trip to Disneyland when my daughter was near the magical age of seven, we were on Main Street early one morning. Across the plaza I spied Mary Poppins. Determined to get her autograph for the daughter’s book, we hurried over.

The daughter proffered the souvenir and asked ‘Mary’ if she would sign it. A nanny’s eye landed on my daughter, said good morning, then proceeded – in character – to instruct the child to stand up straight, feet together, toes turned slightly out, with the admonishment of “spit spot.” Although my daughter was slightly flummoxed by the encounter, I was enchanted.

The whole nanny thing, I decided, might still be a good idea for seven year old children although I don’t think it’s a great idea for those same children to take flying leaps into the air in an effort to fly.

 No article is complete without a link to the Infallible Wikipedia:

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

Life is like…

… a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. – Forrest Gump

July 9, 2019

Hanks with OscarWith two academy awards and five total Best Actor nominations to his name, this performer is considered one of – if not the – best of his generation. Yet, while in school, he was a self identified geek, extremely shy, unpopular, and average looking. He, however, has more than made up for his rocky start. Happy 63rd birthday to Tom Hanks.

Hanks career began like many other actors: performing parts in plays in high school and in college. As connections were in the theater world, those led to television auditions. He landed a role alongside Peter Scolari in the 1981 sitcom Bosom Buddies, a show about two men who disguise themselves as women to secure inexpensive housing. Hanks TV career did not last long. According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“After landing the role, Hanks moved to Los Angeles. Bosom Buddies ran for two seasons, and, although the ratings were never strong, television critics gave the program high marks. ‘The first day I saw him on the set,’ co-producer Ian Praiser told Rolling Stone, ‘I thought -Too bad he won’t be in television for long- I knew he’d be a movie star in two years.’ However, although Praiser knew it, he was not able to convince Hanks. ‘The television show had come out of nowhere,’ Hanks’ best friend Tom Lizzio told Rolling Stone.”

Hanks role on Bosom Buddies earned him a guest role on the immensely popular TV show Happy Days and drew the attention of up and coming director, Ron Howard. Howard encouraged Hank to audition for the role of the wisecracking brother in the 1984 film Splash. Instead, Hanks won the romantic lead role of Allen Bauer, a young man who falls in love with the mermaid (Daryl Hannah).

tom-hanks-big-movie-poster.jpgMore leading roles followed. He was nominated for his first Academy Award for his portrayal of a 12 year old boy who is transformed into an adult in the comedy Big.  The true date of his stardom can be set as 1993 with the blockbuster film Sleepless in Seattle, followed immediately by his performance as a man dying of AIDS in the dramatic movie Philadelphia.

His performance in Philadelphia garnered a second Academy Award nomination and his first win. In 1995, Hanks became only the second actor in history to be awarded the Best Performance by an Actor in a lead role in consecutive years. Forrest Gump also earned the Academy Award for Best Picture, was the highest grossing US film of 1994, and second behind Disney’s The Lion King in the entire world.

woody-personnage-toy-story-2-06.jpgIn the subsequent years Hanks has been involved with innumerable projects both in front of and behind the camera as director and as a voice actor. One of his more memorable and enduring roles is that of Sheriff Woody in Toy Story and its sequels.

His work and legacy continue to the present. According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Hanks is ranked as the fourth highest all-time box office star in North America, with a total gross of over $4.5 billion at the North American box office, an average of $100.8 million per film. Worldwide, his films have grossed over $9.0 billion. (snip) As of January 2019, Hanks is currently voted #1 on Ranker’s ‘The Best Actors in Film History.’”

I think I first became aware of Tom Hanks in his role as Josh Baskin in Big. Although I had seen the movie Splash I would not have been able to identify Hanks as the lead! But in Big, his every-man persona really shone through. By the time Sleepless in Seattle hit the big screen I, like so many others, was a fan.

I find it difficult to identify just one of his performances as my favorite. But I do have a list and it mostly involves the romantic comedy’s (is anyone surprised?).

  1. Sleepless In Seattle (I covered it in a Tuesday Newsday blog last year: https://barbaradevore.com/2018/05/01/sleepless-in-seattle/)
  2. Big
  3. Toy Story
  4. The DaVinci Code
  5. You’ve Got Mail

You can read all about Hanks long and continuing career here:

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

I leave you with this quote from Hanks and his philosophy on movies: “A story has the opportunity to enlighten us, because as we connect the extraordinary moments on film with the ordinary moments of our lives, we ask ourselves, ‘What am I going to do the next time I’m scared? What would it be like to say goodbye to my family for the last time?’”

Answers to the Facebook quiz? All of them! Jimmy Smits – 7/9/1955, Fred Savage – 7/9/1976, Kelly McGillis 7/9/1957