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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

NPR....RADIO SUNSHINE AMONGST THE CLOUDS

by Jim McAllister
http://jmcallister.blogspot.com

I have always been fascinated by radio. As a kid, I loved to listen to far away stations late into the night and let my imagination run wild wondering about those distant places. Radio was fabulous and was a theater of the mind. It was the number one source of entertainment for about thirty years until television came along to unseat it around 1950.
From 1920 to 1950 radio
was the king of the airways.
That ended in the early
1950's with the emergence
of television. (picture courtesy
of James Steele collection
copyright 2005)
Even with the advent of FM, radio remained a secondary choice for entertainment as it lost its live shows and settled into recorded programming. Today, radio is almost equal parts programming and commercials whether it be AM or FM. I don’t claim to be an expert on the business end of broadcasting, but I wonder if radio is shooting itself in the foot with all their commercials. It appears that they are when I see the appearance of satellite radio and its lack of commercials available for a small monthly fee. It is like listeners are crying, "Enough is enough!"
Fortunately, there is an alternative to heavily commercialized and "pay to listen" radio. That alternative is National Public Radio (NPR). NPR has been around since 1970 and like most enterprises, it started small with a staff of only 30 and a group of 90 stations. Today they have 700 employees and over 780 stations. Their listeners have doubled in the last ten years to 30 million as compared to 2 million in the early 1980's. The reason for this success is obvious to anyone who enjoys high class, intelligent radio: NPR’s goal is to provide commercial free news, talk, and entertainment to their listeners through private support. As part of their mission statement they proclaim that they "work in partnership with member stations to create a more informed public; one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas, and cultures." "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" are the two most popular programs on NPR and various published reports list "Morning Edition" as the number one listened to morning news program in the United States. Overall, these two programs are the second and third most listened to programs in America. Newer programs like "The Motley Fool Radio Show", a show of financial advice, and "Day to Day", a weekly newsmagazine, are continually being added.
A Crosley radio from 1950, a great little
companion in its day. Commercial
radio had reached its heyday by 1950.
(Courtesy: Crosley Inc.)
Although NPR produces about 120 hours of national programming weekly for its affiliates, local stations also provide important and interesting shows to complement the national stuff. Our affiliate in Phoenix is KJZZ-FM and they provide us great jazz recordings on week nights from 7-11 with local entertainer Blaise Lantana hosting the show. On Sunday nights from 6-11, we are treated to "Those Lowdown Blues" hosted by local blues club owner and musician Bob Corritore. Bob plays great selections from his own lifelong collection of blues recordings and has been doing his show for 18 years on KJZZ. Throw in local news, traffic, and weather cut-ins, all with no commercials, and you have an enjoyable local and national radio listening experience.
News is a big deal at NPR as evidenced by the aforementioned popularity of "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered". While many networks have decreased news coverage for various reasons, one of which being the dreaded "bottom line", NPR has stepped up their coverage with 37 locations around the world reporting with 22 news bureaus and offices in the United States and 15 in international sites. This coverage has been described by listeners as "vital, "essential", and "indispensable". In 2002, NPR West was established in Los Angeles to give better coverage of the western United States. By establishing this facility, NPR established a critical mass of editorial staff for both coasts. This newsgathering and production division captures news, trends, and ideas from California to Colorado and Seattle to Santa Fe. NPR West also allows more coverage of ethnic diversity, cultural dynamism, and vibrancy of the modern American West. In 2004, $15 million was set aside to invest over three years to expand news services and add more staff. Yes, news is a big deal at NPR!
How about entertainment? Politics and society? Business? People and places? Health and science? Holiday news? Books? Music? Arts and culture? You’ll find national and local coverage of them all on your local NPR affiliate and they will come to you commercial free with articulate hosts.
Radio in general may have lost its luster many years ago but we still have that ray of sunshine amongst the clouds, National Public Radio. (Comments? http://jmcallister.blogspot.com)

NOTICE OF NEW LINK

If you read this column (and I hope you do!) you know that I write a lot about movies. The vintage stuff is what I enjoy the most, especially from the 1930's and 1940's. This was the golden age of movies in my opinion. It was the era of the great character actors, the emergence of sound films and, hence, the introduction of new stars and the demise of many who couldn't cut it with the new technology. It was a time when the Depression cut the heart out of the American economy paving the way for wonderful musicals followed by the era of film noir in the 1940's.
It was a wonderful time for the movies. Television had not yet made its appearance as a serious threat to the silver screen and radio, as big as it was, was more of a companion than a serious competitor. When television did make its move in the 1950's, it brought about panic driven changes in Hollywood that caused the 1950's to be one of the less enjoyable eras of motion pictures and one possessing far less quality than the previous two decades.
I have added a link to my list that may be of interest to those of you who like to know about the details of various films. That link is "IMDB" and will probably give you all the information you would ever want to know about films. If you are watching something and see an actor that you like but can't think of his or her name, just go to IMDB, type in the movie name, and read the credits. IMDB goes into great detail on cast lists printing all members even if they did not receive billing when the film was made. It is a wonderful link for those interested in film, I use it every day for research and enjoyment.
Enjoy a movie today! JM

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

MERRY CHRISTMAS, THAT'S RIGHT, CHRISTMAS

by Jim McAllister

I love the American people. Nobody can take a series of punches to the jaw and then get up to score a knockout like they do. That is the epitome of resiliency and I am proud to admit I am one of them.
For many years now, the purveyors of political correctness, along with their buddies from the sensitivity police, have been trying to destroy Christmas even though 95% of the people in the United States celebrate the holiday. They would like to substitute greetings like "Merry Winter", "Happy Holidays", and "Season’s Greetings", for "Merry Christmas". Hopefully this year, we are seeing the beginning of the end of that practice as it appears that the multitudes have arisen and said "Enough is enough, we want Christmas!"
Some examples of this backlash are the changes in policy by some large retailers like Sears, Target, and Lowe’s, who have reinstated the word "Christmas" into their advertising. They haven’t done this just because they want to be nice guys. They did it because of some mass boycotts taking place on their stores such as Target which had a 700,000 person boycott staring at them.
(Photo courtesy Ian Britton)
Some may say, "What about the other religious holidays in December? Isn’t it demeaning to them to try to shove Christmas down everybody’s throat?" I don’t look at it that way. Other beliefs are entitled to celebrate in their own way and should receive the respect they deserve. It is just a case of the United States being overwhelmingly Christian, hence, Christmas is a big deal. To use an analogy from sports, what is the biggest sporting event in the United States and probably the world? It’s the Super Bowl. Should the people from the Major Indoor Soccer League complain because they don’t get the coverage of the Super Bowl? Of course not, their sport, although it is respected for what it is, has a much smaller following than football.
It is a shame that it has come to this but there is actually a group of lawyers available to fight for the rights of those who want to celebrate Christmas. This nationwide group of attorneys is "poised to fight the battle for Christmas" and are trained in Christmas related litigation. It’s them against the American Civil Liberties Union in the battle over "Merry Christmas" v. "Happy Holidays". It is sad that a time of year that used to be set aside for joy and happiness has resulted in legal battles.
I have no personal religious beliefs one way or the other, but I have grown up with Christmas and have always enjoyed the feel of that holiday with the tree, the presents, and the fellowship of the family. So, to those of you who dislike that type of celebration, please bear with us. We respect you and mean no harm. We are just stuck in our ways and prefer to keep things that way.
(Photo courtesy Ian Britton)
Last year in this space, I listed my five favorite holiday films in no particular order. They were and still are: "A Christmas Story" (1983), "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947), "Holiday Inn" (1942), "It’s a Wonderful Life" (1946), and "The Bishop’s Wife" (1947). These are shown endlessly during the holidays so there are plenty of opportunities to view them.
Here are some more Christmas and holiday films that I like and think that you would enjoy: "A Christmas Carol": This one has been made many times for television and the movies and, although most of the versions are excellent, I prefer the 1951 film with Alastair Sim as Scrooge and the 1984 television film with George C. Scott in the same role. "Christmas in Connecticut" (1945): Barbara Stanwyck stars as a supposed cooking expert who has to entertain a war veteran (Dennis Morgan) and her boss (Sydney Greenstreet) for Christmas dinner. The results are hilarious. "Holiday Affair" (1949): This stars a beautiful and young Janet Leigh as a widow with a young son who is being pursued by two guys (Robert Mitchum and Wendell Corey) with very different personalities. It’s funny and heartwarming. "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1941): Monty Woolley is superb as the Alexander Woollcott type critic who breaks his leg and is forced to spend the winter with a mid-western family. Woolley re-created his role from the hilarious Broadway play of the same name.
Regardless of one’s beliefs, these are all great films to watch. I hope you get a chance to see them and have a great holiday.

MISCELLANEOUS RAMBLINGS....

My prediction came true, at least so far. "King Kong" doesn’t appear to be the blockbuster that was expected. It took in $50 million its first week to be number one at the box office but that doesn’t seem like that much when compared to what other blockbusters have done. Let’s wait for the word of mouth reactions before we make a real judgment.
My feelings all along have been that these movies are relying too much on special effects. The audience feels that it has "been there, done that." Also, this flick has a running time of 3:07, much too long. A lot of kids are going to this one so there will be a lot of squirming in the seats once they are bored with the repetitive special effects. Good luck to parents on that one!
Another factor is that they tried to make a spectacular remake of "King Kong" in 1976 and it failed. Are audiences really that different now? I don’t think so plus the fact that not as many people are going to the show anymore with all the other options available to them including home theaters.
The stars in this one don’t intrigue me either. Naomi Watts is a pretty girl and a good actress but I think that at 36 (37 now) she is a bit old for the Fay Wray part. Fay was 26 when the original was made and that seems a lot more logical for that part. I like Jack Black but not as Carl Denham, that role will always belong to Robert Armstrong. Suggestion: See the new "King Kong" if you must. Then, check the schedule for Turner Classic Movies and watch the original 1933 version. If you are a true movie buff I think you will enjoy the period charm of the older version more.
A CHRISTMAS STORY starring (L-R)
Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, and Peter
Billingsley. A nice Christmas movie narrated
by Jean Shepherd who relates memories
of past Christmases. (Turner Entertainment)
"A CHRISTMAS STORY" all day on TBS...Starting at 9:00 p.m. (MST) on Christmas Eve, WTBS will be showing "A CHRISTMAS STORY" (1983) all night and through Christmas Day. I’m sure that everyone has seen this wonderful film that takes us back to Jean Shepherd’s memories of Christmas in an earlier time. There are wonderful performances by Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, and Melinda Dillon. It is worth having on all day just for background and that great line, "You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!"
....And with that, I bid you all, "Merry Christmas".

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA: FANTASYLAND, U.S.A.

by Jim McAllister

(Author's note: The three topics mentioned here have been controversial in Scottsdale: Speed cameras on a very dangerous freeway to attempt to stop the carnage, huge American flags on a large tent roof located in a fairgrounds area, and the installation of light rail. In the following paragraphs I give my opinion, what is yours? If you are from elsewhere in the country how would you feel if these items applied to your area?)

I have lived in Scottsdale since 1987 and I have never regretted the decision to leave the icy winter climes of Kansas City and Cincinnati for this oasis in the desert. It's not that those are bad places. I grew up in Cincy and lived in Kansas City for many years after being stationed there in the Air Force so I had to leave many good friends behind but I felt the time had come to make my move. I think it all started when I was a kid in Cincinnati and would watch the football games from the west coast on television and see everybody in the stands in their bright colored clothes, laughing and having fun in the sunshine. As I watched the games it would be dark in Ohio, usually with icy rain beating against the windows, and the prospect of another thirty days without sunshine. Winter in the mid-west: ugh! Unlike the typical conservative Cincinnatian who would never leave their home town, all I could think about was the day I could live out west and fulfill my lifetime dream: to wear shorts and see lawn sprinklers operating on New Year's Day.
A Scottsdale sunset, there is none more
beautiful.
In December of 1979, I decided to run in the Fiesta Bowl Marathon in Scottsdale. A friend of mine, who had run many marathons with me, and I decided to drive from Kansas City to do the race. Well, that was that as I was hooked on the area as soon as I saw the flowers blooming in December. Eight long years later I made the move and am glad I did.
As great as modern Scottsdale is, there are still some things that people here worry about which cause me to roll my eyes and shake my head: Concerns about the speed cameras on the 101 freeway, the "dreaded American flag" of Westworld's tent, and light rail.
Why would anyone complain about speed cameras being anywhere? The speed limit is posted and that is the maximum you drive, period! If you do complain you are obviously in favor of breaking the speed limit and simply do not want to get caught. Isn't 75 MPH enough? I can't believe you are in that much of a hurry. I don't want to hear this silliness about speed traps, big brother, and a loss of rights either. Ask the families of the people whose loved ones have been killed on that road about rights. Besides, Scottsdale has their ubiquitous little radar vans on the streets every day to catch speeders, I don't hear complaints about them. Admit it, you just want to fly down that freeway.
The controversial American flags at
Westworld in Scottsdale.
I like the Westworld flag. Note to complainers: You probably got on the bandwagon after the gulf war and 9-11 adorning your cars with flag stickers and banners. At that time you didn't seem to worry about the aesthetics of patriotism. Of course, those flags are gone now as that is yesterday's news. Well, in case you haven't noticed, we are still involved in war and the protection of our country from people who would like to kill you and your family. I suggest you put those flags back on your cars and salute the Westworld tent every time you have the pleasure of seeing it. Don't tell me that it is unsightly and destroys the looks of your neighborhood. It is your country's flag plus it is not even close to you, it is surrounded by Westworld's barns, fairgrounds, ugly three story apartments, an ice rink, and an office park.
Light rail in Houston, Texas. It seems
expensive for Phoenix at $54 million per
mile plus will anyone ride it? I don't think
anyone in Scottsdale will.
Light rail is nothing but a modern streetcar. Phoenix used to have those but disbanded them about 50 years ago for gasoline buses. They do need some type of public transportation and if they want to waste their money on light rail that's up to them. As far as Scottsdale, I'm proud of the city council for shelving the idea. Of course, the idealists disagree. They think that the citizens of Scottsdale will actually ride light rail. Yeah, just like they ride the buses in Scottsdale, one at a time and that's the driver by himself. Do they really think that people who live in Troon or Desert Highlands are going to inconvenience themselves to save a couple bucks on gas and help the environment? The people who believe that are sadly lacking in knowledge of human nature. Remember, this is the place where people sit parked in their idling $50,000, 8 miles to the gallon air conditioned SUV's, burning $3 per gallon gas and talking on their cell phones. They are not going to ride a streetcar and at a $54 million installation cost per mile plus subsidies this would be a folly of utmost proportions.
Yes, Scottsdale is wonderful but some of us are spoiled with our great lifestyle. Maybe we need to stop a moment and smell our Starbuck's coffee.

Friday, December 09, 2005

ANY QUESTIONS? ASK JIM!

For those of you who have followed my column from the old blog, you know what I write about in these weekly forays. For anyone new who has stopped by, I appreciate your patronage and hope you enjoy my stuff. Mostly I cover entertainment items like movies, music, books, radio, television, and sports with an occasional look at something I consider important like the recent columns about World War II.
I am a history guy, in particular American history, as I feel that it is a subject that is important to all. Most events happen in cycles and by studying history we get a better idea of what is happening now and what may be happening in the future plus maybe some will realize that this good life we lead now is not something that was just handed to us for no particular reason.
Enough oratory....I invite anyone who has a question to please bring it on. You can leave it on the "comments" section of any of my blogs or email me at azjimmcallister@cox.net. I'll do my best to give an intelligent response! Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

WORLD WAR II AND THE RATIONING YEARS

by Jim McAllister

Can you imagine today’s American society being placed in a time machine and being transported back to the dark days of World War II? With today’s attitude toward overbuying and waste and looking at bankruptcy as a viable way out, how would these people handle the teamwork approach to rationing of major consumer items? It would be interesting to see their reaction to the rallying call of, "If you don’t need it, don’t buy it!"
With the arrival of the war in December of 1941, a lot of strain was administered to the pipelines of supply and demand. The war consumed a lot of goods which threatened to cause shortages on the home front, so in the spring of 1942 the rationing of items such as most types of food, gasoline, and even clothing was instituted. Everybody was affected and the way Americans coped with this inconvenience is a testimony to their strong will.
People formed clubs to work together to maintain supply channels so that the guys fighting on the fronts could have more. Scrap drives were organized to provide more metal, paper, and rubber and many people removed bumpers from their cars to help that effort. Recycling became popular as used cans were a good source for ammunition casings. In order to provide more fresh produce for the troops, many families planted "victory gardens". These gardens provided families with produce so that normal supplies would benefit the soldiers. This program was an inexpensive enterprise for the people as all they needed was a small piece of ground, a little fertilizer, and some seeds. It is estimated that there were over 20 million victory gardens planted during World War II providing 40% of America’s produce. War bonds were a source used to provide funds for the war. Hollywood played a big part in the sale of bonds as stars entertained around the country to solicit sales.
WAR RATION BOOK and stamps
from World War II (courtesy of
Roz Becker)
Rationing was handled by using stamps contained in a "War Ration Book". Red stamps were used to buy meats, butter, fat and oils, and cheese. Blue stamps were used for canned, bottled, and frozen fruits and vegetables, plus juices and dried beans, soups, baby food, and catsup. The stamps had expiration dates and all families were issued enough to allow for their fair share of these commodities. Other items such as gasoline, tires, coffee, clothing, and fuel oil were also rationed and while the pooling of stamps and watching expiration dates was a dizzying experience, it was necessary for the success of the war effort and very few complained. The America of the wartime 1940's had a teamwork discipline. The mentality of the people was reinforced by the pleas of the Office of War Information which cried, "Do with less so they’ll have enough".
Some items were not rationed such as pancake flour, canned turkey and chicken, pasta, and pickles so the use of these items went up considerably because of their availability and the weariness of some citizens who were tired of trying to keep track of the red and blue points and their expiration dates. Actually, most people were eating healthier during this time as shortages encouraged them to explore the seven food groups instead of relying so heavily on fatty items like meat and dairy products. Macaroni and cheese became a popular item since two boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese dinner could be bought with one ration coupon. That item sold 80 million boxes in 1943! Cottage cheese also became a popular substitute with sales ballooning to 500 million pounds in 1944. Oleomargarine became a substitute for butter as it became common to see housewives squeezing the familiar oleo plastic bag to spread the yellow color into this awful tasting item.
One of the negative side effects of all this patriotism was the appearance of the black market. By utilizing the black market, a person could buy a lot of items that were in short supply even though they would have to pay inflated prices. It was annoying to those who worked hard to conserve but it still existed to supply such items as meat, sugar, and gasoline to those who could afford it.
So there it was, wartime America and the reality of what rationing was all about. As always, we faced up to adversity and made it through. Although World War II ended in 1945, rationing was continued until 1946 as the much depleted pipelines had to be refilled. By the late 1940's, prosperity was returning and the Depression of the 1930's was just a bad memory. More women were entering the workplace, and television was making its move into the living rooms of America sending a chill up the spine of the movie business. However, there was room for everyone and both survived.
Let’s hope that we never have to live through rationing, but if we do, I hope we handle it as well as those brave souls of the wartime 1940's.

HUMPHREY BOGART: THE MAN OF THE '40's

by Jim McAllister

Humphrey Bogart ("Bogie") was an interesting guy. When we see his screen persona as the dark, brooding, film noir antihero, it is hard to imagine that he grew up in the midst of wealth. Born in December, 1899 to a prominent New York doctor and his wife, who was a famous children’s illustrator, Bogie was actually the image of the Gerber baby at one time. Wealth did not equal happiness though as his parent’s constant bickering and drinking may have played a part in the Bogart image of years later.
As an unhappy youth, he spent some time at a private school before being expelled in 1918. A couple of years in the navy followed but in spite of his drifting, he had developed an interest in acting and made his stage debut in 1921 playing a Japanese butler in a play in Brooklyn. His drifting days were over and from1922 to 1935 he appeared in twenty-one Broadway productions.
A couple of attempts at Hollywood failed during this time but his big break was to arrive in the form of a 1934 play by Sherwood Anderson, "The Petrified Forest". He had rave reviews as the killer Duke Mantee and he won the role in the movie version produced by Warner Brothers. After being nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar though, he was relegated to a string of Warner’s "B" features between 1935 and 1941.
The 1940's were now arriving and along with them came the era of film noir: movies with dark and sinister overtones beset with dishonorable characters and lots of gray and black scenes. Bogart was a natural for this style and won the role as "Mad Dog" Roy Earle, the sympathetic antihero of "High Sierra"(1941). This was to be the last film where he did not get first billing (Ida Lupino did). With the success of that film he was now on the "A" list and on his way to 1940's stardom.
To reinforce his new found fame, he followed "High Sierra" with his role as detective Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) based on the Dashiell Hammett story. In 1942 he made perhaps his most memorable film, "Casablanca". In this best picture Oscar winner, he plays Rick, the nightclub owner with a mysterious past, who encounters his lost love (played by Ingrid Bergman) in a tense wartime situation. After this success, he received a new $200,000 per film contract from Warners and a chance to make decisions regarding his roles.
Bogie was on a roll now as he made the popular "To Have and Have Not", based on an Ernest Hemingway story, in 1944. Fate was involved in this film as this is where he met his future wife, Lauren Bacall. In 1946 he made the classic, "The Big Sleep", based on the Raymond Chandler story, as he played the role of the Chandler private sleuth, Philip Marlowe.
In 1947 there appeared a different Humphrey Bogart in the role of the paranoid Fred C. Dobbs in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre". It was another great role for him and proved his versatility. In 1948 there was "Key Largo" with Bacall which was about a group of people held captive by gangster Edward G. Robinson in a Key Largo hotel. In this one Bogie got to be a sort of antihero again.
He was to make two more movies in the 1940's giving him twenty-five for the decade, but his best work was behind him. In 1951 he finally got his well earned best actor Oscar for his role as Charlie Allnut, the riverboat captain in "The African Queen", but this was a departure from the film noir roles that seemed best suited for him.
Humphrey Bogart died on January 14, 1957 at the age of 57. His great friend and director, John Huston, in his eulogy to his friend, stated that "He is quite irreplaceable, there will never be another like him." I agree.
HUMPHREY BOGART and LAUREN
BACALL in DARK PASSAGE (1947)

ONE OF MY PERSONAL "BOGIE" FAVORITES

DARK PASSAGE (1947) It’s Bogie and Bacall with nice support from Agnes Moorhead and Bruce Bennett in a preposterous plot but entertaining Warner Brothers entry about an escaped convict (Bogart) having plastic surgery to change his appearance while he looks for the person who actually murdered his wife. It’s a nice 1940's curio with some good street scenes and fun dialogue. It’s not high on most Bogart lists but enjoyable.