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Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Chowing Down" at the movies

I used to love the holidays when I was in college or in the Air Force. While in the Air Force I usually took leave for the holidays and in college they were either during term break or between terms. Hence, it meant plenty of party times and debauchery. How well I remember the three for a dollar happy hour martinis at the Peacock Lounge in Cincinnati in the mid-60s! Whew! Enough of that; I get a headache just thinking about that cheap gin.

I watch a lot of classic films, especially during the holidays since many of my favorites are on Turner Classic Movies or in my own library. Since the holidays mean eating more than usual, I was thinking today about films with great eating scenes.

One of my favorites is from Animal House (1978) where Bluto (John Belushi) goes through the line in the college cafeteria stuffing his mouth and pockets with everything in sight.

If you’ve seen Blazing Saddles (1974), you have to remember the scene of the guys sitting around the campfire eating beans with the expected result.

Then there is Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967) proving that yes, he can eat 50 hard boiled eggs in an hour in spite of George Kennedy saying it couldn’t be done.

Another favorite is the scene from Five Easy Pieces (1970) in the roadside restaurant with Jack Nicholson telling off a surly waitress after she will not allow any substitutes on his meal.

In 1931, James Cagney was becoming a star in films with his portrayal of Tom Powers in The Public Enemy. This is a famous scene at the breakfast table between Cagney and actress Mae Clarke. I haven’t been able to eat grapefruit since the first time I saw it!

Those are five of the best food related scenes I have seen in film. There are many more good ones and probably some that you think are better than those on my list. Although I love those five, I still have one that tops them all. At this moment you are probably thinking you know what it is since it is a real stand out. Click here to find out if you are right. (Clue: Think of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan from 1989.)

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some Christmas thoughts

Last night I dusted off my DVD of Miracle on 34th Street (1947) to give it its yearly viewing. Of the three greatest Christmas films I have seen, this one leads the way followed closely by The Bishop’s Wife (1947) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

There are other great Christmas films and I would be amiss if I didn’t mention A Christmas Story (1983) which as always will be shown for twenty-four hours over Christmas on WTBS. We all have our favorites and it’s comforting to watch them every year during the holidays.

Miracle on 34th Street is a great example of Hollywood’s use of the fine character actors of the day to produce a fine, heartwarming film about Christmas. The stars are John Payne and a beautiful 27 year old Maureen O’Hara with nine year old Natalie Wood playing her daughter. Edmund Gwenn stole the show and won an Oscar for his role as Kris Kringle.

Probably the most important thing to remember when watching the classic films is to watch them in the form in which they were originally intended. That means that if they were filmed in black and white, that is the way to see them.

Years ago when Ted Turner bought the libraries of the MGM and Warner Brothers films, he thought colorization of the black and white classics would be a genius idea. It wasn’t. A good example of the failure of colorization is what it did to the Jimmy Cagney classic Yankee Doodle Dandy. Cagney won best actor in1942 for his portrayal of George M. Cohan and to see him dancing across the stage in a powder blue jacket that looked like a poor excuse for a leisure suit reject, was incredible. Fortunately, viewers agreed.

I guess I am old fashioned about Christmas. Like all kids, I loved everything about the Christmas holidays and there was never any dissension about the day just because it was a Christian holiday. We would have a tree in our grade school classrooms and the schools would always have a Christmas show. Any kids who weren’t Christian went along for the ride with no concern about the Christian aspect. I think they and their parents figured "What the hell." The one thing we all agreed upon was how great it was to get off school at noon on December 24 if it landed on a school day.

Today is December 21 which is my wife’s birthday. That means a celebratory trip to the casino with dinner at the Orange Sky restaurant on the roof of the Talking Stick Resort. The views there are incredible. After that we might make a late night of it by turning on the Christmas tree lights and watching The Bishop’s Wife.

That may sound corny to some but I can’t think of a better way to end the day.

                         Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sheriff Arpaio of Arizona and Scottsdale stuff

Scottsdale, Arizona Mayor Jim Lane commented recently about a new city ordinance concerning littering that could hit downtown violators with fines of $300 or more: “This is another tool to be used, and it gives the city a higher level of control. This is a sincere effort, not a soft and fuzzy one.”

I guess what he is saying between the lines is, “Hey, drunks! Quit urinating, barfing, and throwing beer and whiskey bottles in the neighbor’s yards that surround the downtown entertainment district.”

Times have changed from my partying days. We used to think we were really raising hell on Friday nights but compared to the twenty-somethings of today, we were amateurs. Today, a Friday night for many seems to involve fights like the ten person battle in the Galleria garage a few weeks ago and strolling into nearby residential areas to throw trash in people’s yards or throw up on the way to their illegally parked cars.

All we wanted to do was meet babes and cop a phone number for a future date. Looking back, it seems old fashioned to remember how girls would give a guy a deposit slip to her bank account with her phone number and address printed on it. With the nuts on the loose today, that’s not likely to happen anymore.

Since 1981, the Scottsdale Airport has had four restaurants fail in their main building. One was the Left Seat which Barb and I frequented and thought they did a good job.

I think one problem those places had was the location of the airport being hidden a few blocks east of Scottsdale Road. Once you found it, it was pleasant to eat there and watch the planes come and go. Plus, the terminal was fun to explore.

Now, there is a catering company in the terminal called “Ciao Baby” that is going to re-open the restaurant und the name of the “Zulu Caffe”. Their idea is to offer Southwestern dishes, the ever popular “wood fired” pizzas and other dessert and salad items plus a happy hour.

They are getting the place for only $800 per month rent which seems cheap for that large space. If I was a rich and single swinger, I would have taken it, put up some partitions, and lived in the place. With that amount of square feet and the runway views, it would have been a natural.

A quick note about Sheriff Arpaio: Within the last few days, The Republic, with their usual crew of Sheriff Joe haters like Montini, Benson, and others, is going after the sheriff again. Even Eric Holder, who has plenty of problems of his own, has joined in. Holder ought to clean up his own backyard before he sticks his nose into Maricopa County. At the same time, maybe he should explain his laissez-faire attitude toward sanctuary city sheriffs.

Those of you who know me know I like Sheriff Joe and have voted for him every time he has run. I will continue to do so as one of my enjoyments in life is to hear the whining when those who run against him go down to defeat.

                         Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona and me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The virtue of thrift

Robert Robb of the Arizona Republic newspaper wrote an interesting column on December 9. He quoted Obama’s usual oration about how the middle class is threatened by greedy and irresponsible rich people and how it is up to the government to save them from those who dare to become successful.

Robb points out activities like globalization and the destruction of free markets as a couple of economic reasons that the middle class lifestyle has become “more volatile and less secure” and that “traditional pathways to the middle class for those without a college education, such as manufacturing and construction, have been eroded.” There is no question that income inequality exists more today but is it the fault of those who are successful?

In spite of Obama’s doomsday status of the middle class, Robb points out that they are living better than ever compared to a generation ago. Houses are bigger, more and newer cars are owned, there are flat screen TVs throughout homes, most family members have access to the Internet everywhere they go via iPhones or Droids, and families eat out a lot more.

Robb then points out an internal factor that leads to increased middle-class insecurity: “the abandonment of the virtue of thrift.” Wow, do I ever agree with that!

Does anyone follow the old adage anymore about saving for a rainy day? It looks like those rainy days are here for a lot of people and as much as Obama wants to use the rich as a scapegoat, maybe many of the problems of the middle class are their own fault.

I grew up in the middle class during the 1950s. Both of my parents worked and I worked after school in a grocery store. We saved a portion of our income every week and when we wanted something special, we paid for it in cash. There were no MasterCards to max out and pay down at 24% interest per month. We didn’t have a new car every year with the latest bells and whistles. We also had a cushion for intangibles like the furnace needing to be replaced or a bad economy.

Today, people want to have everything NOW! It’s so easy to pull out a plastic card to buy that new luxury while considering how to pay for it is a minor detail. In Scottsdale I see young families with a couple kids, two SUVs in the driveway, and one income. I wonder how they can possibly stay ahead of the curve.

If the number of BMWs, Mercedes, and other luxury cars I see with expired license plates is any indication, there has to be a problem. After all, renewing your car registration isn’t near as important as paying for mom’s gym membership is it?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

"TEARS" of the USS ARIZONA still flow

On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed Congress: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the empire of Japan."

With that statement describing the attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, this nation was thrust into World War II. The first wave of Japanese aircraft attacked at 7:53 a.m. and by the end of the second wave at 9:45 a.m., the U.S. had suffered casualties of 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians, while 1,178 were wounded.

Of the dead, 1,177 were men stationed on the USS Arizona, which was destroyed when a bomb hit the forward magazine, starting a series of explosions. Eight Arizona residents were listed among the dead on the battleship, which was moored near Ford Island on that dreadful morning 65 years ago.

Today the remains of the Arizona still lie in the same shallow water where she sat helpless during the attack. In 1962, the ship was declared a national shrine and a memorial was built across her remains. A room within the shrine lists the names of the dead crew members, and regular memorial services are performed to respect their memory. A new U.S. flag is raised each day above the site, and at the end of the day is folded and given to various dignitaries.

Time has taken its toll on the memorial and in September, 2005, Governor Janet Napolitano toured the site and pledged Arizona’s help in raising $34 million to build a new visitors’s center. ("Napolitano to help raise $34 million for USS Arizona," The Arizona Republic, Oct. 20, 2005).

"It’s Arizona’s battleship," she said in the article. "When it was commissioned (1916), they broke not just a bottle of champagne over its bow, but a bottle of water that had just come from the newly created Roosevelt Dam. We’ve always had a close connection with the USS Arizona."

Napolitano also declared 2006 as the "Year of the USS Arizona Memorial."

Many of the dead from the Arizona are still entombed within its hulk. Oil still seeps from the wreckage after 65 years and is sometimes referred to as "the tears of the Arizona." Each year the number of survivors decreases and many of them have made arrangements to be cremated with their ashes placed by their fallen shipmates at the site. Many of these men believe that the oil will continue to leak until the last survivor dies.


                                         The New Pearl Harbor Museum Opened on 12-7-2010
Every president since Franklin Roosevelt, and every emperor since Hirohito, has visited the site. All ships of the U.S. Merchant Marine, Navy, and Coast Guard show their respect by the tradition of "manning the rails." All personnel stand in silence at their ship’s guardrails and salute the Arizona Memorial as they enter Pearl Harbor.

It’s a fitting tribute to a bunch of brave guys who fought to defend their country.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Scottsdale golfer Kirk Triplett heads for Champions Tour

As any athlete will tell you, attrition takes its toll regardless of the sport and in most cases retirement is inevitable when Father Time makes his appearance. Fortunately, on the PGA golf tour, when the guys nearing middle age see the drives of their twenty-something competitors flying sixty yards past them, they can take comfort in knowing that at age fifty, they may be eligible for “Life’s Greatest Mulligan”; otherwise known as the Champions Golf Tour.

Scottsdale resident and PGA pro Kirk Triplett will be fifty on March 29, 2012 and will be fully exempt to play on the Champions Tour. For anyone who thinks the older guys can’t play anymore, all they need to do is look at the senior roster which includes guys like Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price, Tom Watson, and another Scottsdale pro, Tom Lehman. Those guys take their golf seriously and are making good money with Lehman leading the way at over $2 million in earnings this year.

Kirk plans to concentrate on the Champions Tour next year with little or no participation on the PGA or Nationwide Tours. Golf is a difficult game and he never takes it for granted so he knows he better be fit and ready in 2012. Hence, he is never far away from his long time coaches Laird Small, David Cook, and Glenn Albaugh who assist him with his swing and the mental side of the game. He realizes that “It takes more than just a good swing to play professional golf successfully.” He also realizes that success depends more on his innate ability to improve rather than trying to make quick fixes through gadgets or constant equipment changes.

Kirk Triplett turned pro in 1985 after graduation from the University of Nevada- Reno. Since that time he has won three titles, finished sixth twice at the prestigious Masters Tournament, and played on the President’s Cup team. His success has earned him $15 million in prize money to place him at 77th on the all time PGA Tour money list. Those are impressive statistics to us amateurs who have had numerous lessons and still struggle to break 90.

After losing his PGA player’s card in 2009, Kirk has played a limited schedule including some PGA and Nationwide Tour events. Even with the schedule disadvantage, he has earned $228,000 in 2011 including a $90,000 win on the Nationwide Tour against a lot of guys half his age who can drive a ball over three hundred yards with regularity.

Since he knew the Champions Tour was in his future, Kirk decided five years ago to adjust his outlook on golf based on anticipating play with the over fifty crowd. He feels he will fit in well with the format of the events but he also knows these guys are tough competitors who earned their spurs in the past and will not be easy to beat. Regardless, I think we will be seeing Kirk Triplett’s name on a lot of leader boards in 2012.

Kirk Triplett hoists the trophy after winning the News Sentinel Open In Knoxville, Tennessee last August.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Public speaking should not intimidate you

I read a recent article in the Republic business section about how so many people consider public speaking a terrible ordeal that involves sweaty palms and brows and the sudden inability to speak coherently.

Unfortunately, in the business world, it is possible that somewhere along the line, you may have to address a group; especially if you enter a personality driven profession like sales.

My career was in sales and when I started I met a lot of young guys who would freeze in front of a buying committee if they had to make a presentation and answer questions. I was fortunate because having been in college and the military for four years each, and being a bit older than some of the guys right out of school; I had some public speaking experience.

My first bit of advice on public speaking came from an old master sergeant in the Air Force who saw I was visibly nervous about having to speak to some new recruits concerning how to handle some various duties in supply squadron. He told me that since I was the one with the information that these guys needed and that I had more military experience than they did, THEY should be the ones intimidated. I never forgot that advice and used it throughout a career in sales and when hosting thirty-three episodes of “Scottsdale Showcase” for Scottsdale Community College.

I’ve given that advice many times. It seems so simple. Think about it: You are the knowledgeable one in the room and the audience has come to hear you because they are anticipating learning something. Why should you be intimidated? YOU are the smart one in the room; the audience is at your knee trying to become better informed. If anyone should be intimidated, it is them.

This doesn’t mean that you have a bunch of facts and figures to hand out without having them in a plan. You must be prepared with you text and practice it thoroughly. Speak clearly and never mumble and don’t be afraid to inject a little humor if the subject warrants it. Audiences have a habit of being a tough house sometimes and can lose interest in you in a hurry if you are not diligent.

Also, tailor you presentation to your audience by using terminology that they understand. Stay focused and don’t fall in love with your presentation to the point where people are starting to yawn and shift in their seats. Another good idea is to check out the venue where you will be speaking so you have a “lay of the land.”

Remember: The audience is there to learn from you. You have no reason to be intimidated.

                        Step right up to the mic.  The floor is yours      
                  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

E-Mail!

I am not an email “freak” although with my blog at azcentral celebrating its fifth anniversary on December 1st, I have answered thousands of comments from readers which I guess could be considered about the same as answering emails.

However, I look at those replies as being a bit different from an average email. Comments from people relating to a blog text impress me since they are the ones who took the time to read what I had to say and cared enough to give me a reply.

To be hung up on email in general is what I would call an addiction. We discussed recently how everyone seems to be staring at their Droids as though they will die if they don’t hear from somebody soon. Sometimes I think they send all those texts in the hopes of just getting an email answer to satisfy their addiction.

There is a guy named Dean Newlund who is a corporate trainer and executive coach. He is also extremely hooked on email to the point where he usually checks it about 40 times an hour. That’s about once in every 1 and 1/3 minutes! He says he checks it the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.

According to John Freeman’s book, “The Tyranny of E-Mail”, here are some email facts:

1. The average worker spends 40% of their day sending and receiving about 200 email messages.

2. They misunderstand the tone of emails 50% of the time and failing to respond to a sender can lead to a breakdown in trust.

3. E-mail has conditioned workers to talk and think in short bursts slowly eroding their ability to explain points or topics in a careful and complex way.

4. It takes workers 25 minutes to get back on track after an interruption and those interruptions equal 28% of the work day.

So, how does one get out of the dreaded and mostly unnecessary plethora of emails? When I was a salesman, I was an overachiever to the point where I never wanted to miss or be late in returning a customer’s call. In those days there was no email so when I checked my calls every three or four hours, I had plenty of time to maintain customer satisfaction via the phone.

Today, with email being so instantaneous, customers may expect faster service so what does one do? Newlund says to check email only at 8 a.m. and 4.p.m. and use the “out of office” assistance to let callers know you will not be responding immediately.

As far as email manners, don’t clutter customer inboxes. Use “cc” and “reply to all” sparingly and never ask for a receipt.

If email can’t handle your customer or personal connections take care of your situation the old fashioned way: face to face. Don’t hide behind email!

Whew! I’m a bit exhausted after this keyboard punching. Being a modern guy on the go-go, there is no time for coffee so I’ll pop open a 5 Hour Energy fix and drug my way through the rest of the day!

Welcome to the 21st century!

I simply MUST send this email!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The NBA season can take a hike

I think the National Basketball Association lockout is hilarious. The owners and the players are both fools who may get what they deserve: half empty arenas where everyone loses.

In cases like this, I usually side with the owners as I don’t think most of the players, especially in the NBA, are ever going to challenge Einstein’s IQ score. Not that the owners are geniuses, but most of them are rich guys who, unlike most of the players, probably at least went to a few classes in college, and were either smart or clever enough to accumulate the dough to buy the team. Their problem, however, is that in their quest to be a cool owner, they sometimes give away the doorknobs to a mediocre player which raises the level of income that other players feel they should get.

Hence, we now have a stalemate between millionaires and billionaires, both of whom feel they are getting the short end of the stick or, as many of the players like to say, are being “disrespected”. Since “disrespected” is considered a “hip-hop” term at best, maybe some of the players should have at least darkened the doorway of an English class while they got their free ride at some college.

They might even impress someone who cares if they could speak and dress to league standards. But, isn’t that one of the problems with the players? Many don’t come across as mature adults and rebel at league policies concerning proper dress when traveling or doing interviews. They want to “have their cake and eat it too.” My advice is for them to quit the NBA and see if they can get another job that pays millions a year for about six months work. Tattoo covered player Allen Iverson once said that not being able to dress in hip-hop style was “preventing me from expressing myself.” Maybe he would be happier expressing himself as an all night clerk at a Circle K.

Dan Bickley and Paola Boivin of the Republic are leaning toward the side of the players. Boivin calls Commissioner David Stern of the NBA a “bully” and Bickley warns the owners to be careful to not insult the players. What have those two been drinking? With polls showing that 76% of those asked could not care less about the NBA, what leverage is there for the players?

I’m in the 76% group but it wasn’t always that way. I loved the NBA of the 1960s with guys like Connie Dierking, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek, and many others. I always looked forward to the ABC Sunday afternoon games with announcers Chris Schenkel and Jack Twyman. Today, ticket prices are way too high and TV ratings too low and management and players are both responsible.

Jared Dudley, the union rep for the Phoenix Suns who is a bench guy, says it well: “Fans don’t want to hear it……..I make a lot of money to play basketball. I’m going to get at least 3 to 4 years of my deal. I’m a role guy. I can live off that the rest of my life.”

My suggestion: Cancel the season. I’m tired of June basketball playoffs anyway.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Is it "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"?

Sometimes I think I am the only one left on the planet who doesn’t spend the day staring at a Blackberry or Droid screen to check messages, send messages via text, or just play games to keep busy during an obviously unfulfilled life. When I see people sleeping on the sidewalk in front of an Apple store to get the latest creation from that company, I just smile and move on.

What did these people do before all this electronic stuff was invented? How often have you seen people sitting together in a restaurant and instead of speaking to each other they are talking on cell phones? Are they just being rude or is that the accepted lifestyle of today?

I live in a neighborhood which has a nice workout room. It’s rare that when I go to lift weights, there is someone to converse with under age forty. Why? Because the younger crowd always has ear buds stuck in their head so they don’t have to spend one second of their lives without being entertained. If they see someone they are quick to look at the floor to avoid human contact. Whatever happened to interesting conversation?

School kids apparently are not being taught the importance of being able to do cursive writing anymore. Computers can take care of that for them and as far as learning how to spell words correctly; why bother? Good old spell check will always be there to save them. I wonder if kids even take spelling tests anymore in school. With texting burned into their brains they probably couldn’t pass one anyway. In their minds “you” is “u”, “great” is “gr8”, and “some” is “sum”. Hey, when you only get 140 characters, you have to improvise, right? What’s the big deal if you’re illiterate?

When is the last time you saw kids get together to go outside and play a game of baseball? I can’t remember when I have seen it and Scottsdale has plenty of ball fields sitting empty that they could use if they could pry themselves away from their indoor electronic games. No wonder childhood obesity has become a problem. Jay Leno remarked recently that “Kids still love Halloween and all the candy it provides. It’s than darn walking they have to do to get it that they don’t like!”

It isn’t so much that I dislike the above as much as it makes me wonder why people have allowed themselves to fall into the dependence on outside sources to control their lives. Have they decided that stopping and smelling the roses is not that important anymore or are they the result of the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”? Is typing out a text message while swerving on the road in a car THAT important? I see a lot of drivers who must think so. Beware of them if you are in a bike lane.

There is a TV ad where a group of people in an office have been texted to meet for tacos. One guy shows up late and feels he wasn’t informed of the meeting until he notices that his provider was ten seconds slower than the rest. It’s considered a big deal that he is late. In today’s world I guess ten seconds is a lifetime.

Our world and welcome to it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Common sense and restraint

I enjoy the editorial comments of Mencken’s Ghost in a local newspaper. I know his real name and have been reading his stuff for years. He usually hits home with his remarks which I’m sure annoys some people, especially those on the left. Maybe that is why I enjoy his writing so much. In a recent column he talks about the lack of common sense and restraint of some Americans.

While shopping at a Scottsdale Walmart recently, he picked up a 15 pack of Schick double edged razors for $5.47 or 36 cents per razor. Nearby, he watched a tattooed covered guy in his 30s along with his tattooed covered wife. The guy saw an end cap display of Gillette razors for $7.80 each that contained one three edged blade cartridge. Replacement cartridges were $3 each. But, the Gillette razor had an Arizona Cardinal’s logo which fascinated the couple. In fact the wife exclaimed “That’s awesome!”

Was this couple poor, not smart, rich eccentrics who are slumming, a couple of losers with no common sense, or were they just conned by an attractive display built by the Gillette representative? Who knows for sure but I would say they lack restraint and common sense and probably are not rich. You can decide for yourself.

Next example: Mencken is reflecting on a nanny that he and his wife had employed when both of them were working and their son was in grade school. In her early twenties at the time, she was smart, single, and attractive. She also was always in dire financial straits due to her love of partying, smoking, paying six dollars apiece for drinks at bars, and dating losers who mooched off her.

Creditors called his house just about every day. He would advise the girl to save her money and use her flexible work schedule to get a college degree or learn a trade. She didn’t take his advice, but she did ask him to delay giving her some of her weekly earnings, because, she said, “If you give all of it to me at one time, I’ll have it spent by the next day.” No doubt, she is still living on the brink of bankruptcy and getting calls from creditors.

Was she an airhead and irresponsible; or just wanting to have a good time while young and not worrying about the future? Maybe she is all three but on the bright side, she might have met Mr. Right who really loved her and was rich. That’s a big risk though. Being conservative as I am, I believe in having a good time while simultaneously putting away something for a rainy day.

It’s called being an adult and living within your means. Does that make a person boring? Maybe, but it beats being broke.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Good luck, job hunters!

I'm glad I am not out beating the bushes looking for a job. It's highly competitive today and you better know all there is to know about current technology if you want any chance to succeed. Then, next week when the technology takes another step forward and leaves your knowledge from the week before obsolete, you have to re-invent yourself again to establish another positive online identity.

According to Dilemma #1 on the CareerBuilder list, you need to have your name showing up in search engines like LinkedIn and making sure you are carefully leveraging the site. You also need to be on additional social networking sites like Plaxo, XING, or Viadeo and be sure you are on Facebook for professional networking. Don’t forget social media sites like Twitter and be sure to create a blog using a platform that will sync to your LinkedIn profile.

I don’t know about you but I don’t understand what a lot of that even means. My first job after college in 1969 was at Lever Brothers Company calling on headquarter and retail accounts selling Lever products like Dove Soap, Imperial Margarine, Close-Up Toothpaste, and many other items.

Nothing listed in the first two paragraphs above were heard of yet so I went to the want ads in the Kansas City Star newspaper. Want ads are extinct now but they were a good way to find a job in the 1960s. I saw the ad from Lever for a salesman and made a call on a pay phone for an appointment.

Since the appointment was a few days off, I had to type up a resume to submit to the interviewer so I got a book from the library about how to do a resume, and typed one up on my 1955 Smith-Corona typewriter.

When I arrived for the interview, I felt that I was ready although I was nervous as hell. I had my checklist covered: shined black shoes, dark blue suit, conservative white shirt and tie, good haircut, close shave, no political or religious buttons, nothing weird hanging out of my nose, and hopefully a polished, professional demeanor.

The interview went well and after one more interview I got the job. I don’t know if I was that great or the other guys interviewed were a bunch of stiffs and I didn’t care. I had a $140 a week job and a 1968 Ford company car. Combined with my wife’s teaching job we were pulling in a cool $13,500 a year, not bad in 1969 dollars where two steaks and a bottle of wine went for about $10!

I have no problem with the technology of today; it is what it is. Today you need all the items mentioned above to even have hope of an interview. I got mine with one call on a pay phone and when I typed my resume on that long gone Smith-Corona, I don’t think I even had liquid paper to correct mistakes.

Good luck, job hunters!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Before TV, there was radio

"Hello, Mr. Radio"........Electric Light Orchestra, 1973

Election Day in 2010 was on November 2 and the broadcast media crush was quite a contrast to the November 2, 1920 Election Day, exactly 90 years before. Unlike 2010, 1920 was a presidential election but there was no television flowing into the nation’s homes to influence voters. Radio was even in its infancy so the main form of campaigning was through the “whistle stop” which took candidates across country campaigning in every significant town via the platform on the back of trains.

James Cox and Franklin Roosevelt were the ticket for the Democrats. Their opposition for the Republicans was Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Cox and FDR did whistle stops from August until Election Day but it didn’t help as the Republicans won.

That election was the beginning of media coverage for election returns. A guy named Frank Conrad, who worked for Westinghouse was desperately, along with his crew, completing a radio transmitting station on the roof of the tallest building on the Westinghouse campus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Their goal was to be ready on election night to broadcast the returns to the few folks in the area who had radios.

On October 27, the facility was complete and given the call letters KDKA. On November 2, four men recorded the election numbers that were received from the Pittsburgh Post via telephone and a gentleman named Leo Rosenberg read them over the air through a clumsy array of wires used as a microphone.

On that night broadcasting was born. The next day, the Westinghouse switchboard was flooded with calls from people wanting to know how they could get a radio. Radio had the excitement in the 1920s that the Internet would have many years later. Imagine if you can how those people felt in that era. One day, they are seeing live entertainment in clubs or theaters and the next they could turn the knob on a box of tubes in their living rooms and get the same entertainment for free.

During the 1920s, many colleges had radio clubs and as the decade progressed, sporting events like the baseball World Series were broadcast along with many highly followed prize fights and musical programs. Election results continued to be important programming. Today, we have several TV networks on election night feverishly reporting every trend and vote throughout the night and into the early morning.

Eventually, entertainers like singer Rudy Vallee, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Amos ‘n’ Andy ruled the radio waves through the 1930s and into the 1940s as radio was a primary form of entertainment until about 1950 when Television started replacing it as a major entertainment forum. By then the “Golden Age” of radio was over.

Today, radio is mostly used as background entertainment for music or to possibly listen to a sporting event while doing something else.

Frank Conrad died in 1941 at 67 but he got to see radio flourish from the humble beginnings at KDKA to the number one form of entertainment at the time of his death.

 Frank Conrad and crew feverishly broadcasting election returns
                 in November 1920 to the few people who had radios.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Era of Adult TV Westerns

Westerns were always a popular genre in film starting with the ten minute production of “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903. The popularity continued through the silent era with stars like Hoot Gibson and the Farnum Brothers. As sound film evolved Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, and others cashed in.

In spite of some adult western features like “The Westerner” (1940), and “The Ox Bow Incident” (1943) the Western was primarily aimed at rural and juvenile audiences. With the popularity of TV in the early ‘50s, stars like Rogers and Autry got their own shows along with transfers from radio like “The Cisco Kid” and “The Lone Ranger.” By the mid ‘50s, classier productions like “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin” and “Davy Crockett” came aboard the tube.

The month of September, 1955 provided a watershed moment as John Wayne appeared on CBS to introduce a new show that would change the public’s vision of the Western. The show was “Gunsmoke” and it was the first of the successful “adult” Westerns. It was to run for twenty years and make a star out of James Arness, a personal friend of Wayne.

With the success of “Gunsmoke” came ”Cheyenne”, “Have Gun, Will Travel”, and “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.” These shows were a lot different from the kiddie fare provided by Gene, Roy, Hoppy, and Cisco. The adult Western caught on with TV because of the success of early ‘50s Western films like “High Noon” (1952) and “Shane” (1953) which carried adult themes.

Adult Westerns were a natural for the tube. They captured the interest of parents while having enough action scenes to attract the kids. It was a perfect setup for the networks.

In the 1955-1956 season, there were nine Westerns in prime time on television. By the 1958-1959 season there were 31! Shows like “The Rifleman” with Chuck Conners, “Tales of Wells Fargo” with Dale Robertson, and "Wanted, Dead or Alive” with Steve McQueen were ratings winners along with “Yancy Derringer.

                                         Chuck Conners as "The Rifleman"

     
In spite of the success of the adult Western, it was not without its critics. By the late ‘50s and early 60s, many complained about the excessive violence, most notably Newton Minnow who was the head of the FCC during the Kennedy Administration. He referred to television as a “vast wasteland” in a 1961 speech which singled out the Western in particular.

As the 60s began, the popularity of Western was declining. Violence was one issue but there also were too many of these shows so the public was growing a bit weary of them. Besides, Nielsen ratings were showing that Westerns appealed to an older demographic; one that was not as likely to buy many of the sponsor’s products.

The “smooth detective” was becoming a popular genre after the fade of Westerns although shows like “Gunsmoke”, Bonanza”, and “The Big Valley” hung on for several more years.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I went to the show Monday and saw Moneyball. It was a profitable experience as while sitting and waiting for the 11:00 showing at my neighborhood Harkin’s theater, technical problems occurred and the movie couldn’t be shone. Luckily, the theater had another screen where we could see the show at 1:00 so my wife and I packed up our Milk Duds, the free passes the management gave us for our inconvenience, and saw the show a little later.

That experience got us off on the right foot and it only got better with the showing of Moneyball. I think it is a fine film but I want to issue a couple of warnings to those who may not be familiar with what this is about: It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you; this is a baseball movie that stars Brad Pitt. Other than fine support from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill (Cyrus), you probably will not recognize any supporting players.

The film runs 2:06 which is normally about twenty minutes longer than I prefer but it is worth it. There are no romantic scenes. It is the story of a major league baseball general manager named Billy Beane (Pitt) and how he goes about building a team (The Oakland A’s) via computer printouts on player performances rather than offering outlandish contracts to superstars. Pitt and Hill are outstanding as Beane and his computer nerd buddy Peter Brand.
Moneyball , the book, by Michael Lewis was published in 2003. I enjoyed it and being a baseball fan I liked the way Beane was able to create a major league baseball team on a short budget via using aggregate statistics of two to three lower priced played to equal the output of expensive superstars. Pitt plays Beane to the hilt and is in basically every scene.

Unless your girlfriend or boyfriend is a baseball fan, this is not a “date movie.” Pitt is great looking as usual and if that is all you care about, Moneyball is for you. He laughs, he yells, he smiles, and he owns the movie: all the things people like to see him do. Hoffman is good as manager Art Howe who is in total disagreement with Beane 99% of the time.

In its first weekend, Moneyball took in $19.5 million, not bad for a specialized movie. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 94% on the tomatometer and the audience reaction is 92% liked it. IMDB gives it 8.3 out of 10. It has humor, drama, good acting and, of course, the still handsome Brad Pitt at age 47 and in terrific shape and luckily without Angelina in this one.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Classic Sayings

I love expressions and items from the past, especially the ones we see in classic films. These items were once applied universally to our lifestyles and the technology of the time but most have become a bit out of date. For those of a certain age, you will understand them. For the younger crowd, maybe not. Either way I’ll give a short explanation on each.

Asleep at the switch. I still hear this occasionally as a description of someone who is not giving full attention to something. However, it originated from the days when railroads had humans doing a lot of work that is automated now. If a guy didn’t change the tracks for a train going to Chicago and it wound up in Cleveland, he definitely was asleep at the switch.

That and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee. Yes, there was a time when coffee was a nickel a cup. I saw a sign in a diner when I was a kid that read "cup of coffee, cigarette, and a toothpick: 7 cents." Throw a nickel on the counter at Starbucks and see what you get.

Came in over the transom. Does anyone remember transoms? They were windows above the door that many old hotels and houses had to allow for better ventilation. In some comedy movies with stars like The Three Stooges, you may see them going through the transom.

Put through the wringer. If someone was working too hard, they may have said they were “put through the wringer.” Many years ago the wringer was used to squeeze the water out of washed clothes before they were hung in the backyard to dry on the “line”. The “line” was a piece of rope the clothes were hung on to dry. The clothes were held on the line by “clothes’ pins”. Wringers were replaced long ago by the spin cycle in modern washing machines.

Best thing since sliced bread. Sliced bread was quite an invention at one time and anything that was also newly invented and convenient could be referred to being the best thing since sliced bread.

Film at 11. That was the tease for TV news in the days long before live reporting.

Beam me up Scotty. "Star Trek" technology from the 60s and an expression you may still hear occasionally.

Let’s get cranking. Popular in the days when cars had cranks to start them, no ignition switches and starters then.

Dial her up. This comes from the days when if you called a girl you liked; it would be on a rotary dial phone. No push buttons in those days. No caller ID or call waiting either.

Here is one of my favorites. In the great crime film from 1931, "The Public Enemy", James Cagney is a wise guy crook driving a new stick shift fancy roadster. The stick shift (or synchromesh transmission) was a new item at that time and when a valet at a fancy club goes to park Cagney’s car, he grinds the gears. Cagney shouts, "Hey, stupid, be careful! That thing’s got gears. That ain’t no Ford!"

Cagney was referring to the Model T Fords of that era which, as he said, didn’t have gears.

Here is a quiz: In the mid 1930’s, Warren William played Erle Stanley Gardner’s lawyer Perry Mason in a series of films. The Perry of that era was a lot different from Raymond Burr. William played him as a playboy drunk. In one film Perry is returning to his office after a night on the town when a friend describes him as “so drunk that as the elevator went up he began doing the rumba to the starter’s castanets.” Can you explain what his friend meant?

If you know the answer, you are a true classic movie expert.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Having a beer, seeing a film

Whether we call it suds, a cold one, a draw, a brewski, a dime draft or whatever, most of us will admit that there is not a better beverage than beer. It’s the world’s most highly consumed alcoholic beverage and third overall behind water and tea. That’s not bad considering that technically it is illegal in most places to drink the foamy stuff if you are under the age of 21.

I used to go to town on weekends with my buddies during my Air Force days to get sloshed in a hurry as there were two reasons we were there: Find a good bar with a band and meet girls. Our standard procedure was to eat a few 15 cent McDonald’s burgers, drink a few shots and follow them down with some beers. My standard order was three or four bottles of Schlitz and a couple shots of Southern Comfort. Needless to say, it created a nice buzz and occasionally I would actually meet girls if I didn’t throw up first. I still wonder how many times I danced the Twist and the Limbo in those days.

That’s enough about my immature past. Here is a question: What are your favorite beer movies? I have three: "Strange Brew" (1983), "Animal House" (1978), and "Revenge of the Nerds". (1984)

In "Strange Brew", those two beer guzzling clowns from SCTV, (Bob and Doug McKenzie) get mixed up with evil scientist Max von Sydow who is trying to take over the world by adding a chemical to beer. Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis star as the brothers. Anyone who doesn’t like this film is a true “hoser”.

What more can be said about "Animal House"? It’s one of the best gross out films ever made. How could it not be with John Belushi as the star? Did you ever hear of a toga party before this film? Did you ever believe that that much beer could be consumed?

"Revenge of the Nerds" is a good film because it shows how a bunch of misfit underdogs can beat out the self centered jerk “popular kids”. It’s worth the price of admission just to see Booger (Curtis Armstrong) win the belching contest with the loudest beer burp.

Here is some stuff relating to beer that you may not know but will know within the next minute. We’ve all used the terms “Rule of thumb”, “Wet your whistle”, and Mind your P’s and Q’s”. “Rule of thumb” comes from the days before the thermometer was invented to test the temperature of beer. The brew masters would simply dip their thumb in the foamy stuff to determine if it was too hot or cold to add the yeast. The yea or nay determination was called the “Rule of thumb”.

“Wet you whistle” comes from the days when English pub drinkers had a whistle on the rim of their mugs so all they had to do was blow the whistle to get a refill.

Also in the English pubs, the order sizes were pints and quarts. If the barkeep decided that someone was getting unruly from being snockered, he would tell them to “mind their P’s and Qs.”

That is today’s lesson so let’s review: You have learned some interesting information about beer and beer terminology, read about my three favorite beer movies, and heard probably more than you want to know about my immature 1960s lifestyle.

Since that is settled, let’s go have a cold one!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

NAT AND LENA; BORN TOO SOON

“Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark”………Nat “King” Cole, 1957.

When I was a kid, Nat “King” Cole was one of my favorite singers; especially before Rock and Roll took off in the 1950s. His string of hits earned him a 15 minute TV show on NBC in November of 1956, the same type of show as headliners like Perry Como (Chesterfield Supper Club) and Eddie Fisher (Coke Time) had.

Since a 15 minute format only allowed a couple songs to be sung, Nat’s show stayed on until July of 1957 when NBC decided to move it to Tuesdays and put it in a 30 minute format. This allowed Nat to have more guests and variety which at the time made perfect sense: Nat Cole had a string of popular songs, had a smooth and likable personality, and wasn’t the least bit offensive. Surely his show would be a hit.

Unfortunately, the show had problems from the start. Remember: I’m talking about 1957 and Nat Cole was the first black entertainer to headline a network musical variety program on national TV. Apparently, being a successful recording artist was not enough to draw a large audience on TV which meant that notable sponsors weren’t interested. During 1956-1957 he only averaged 19 percent of the viewing audience compared to 50 percent who were watching Robin Hood at the same time on CBS.

Nat "King" Cole, 1919-1965

NBC tried its best to keep the show on the air but by December of 1957, Nat canceled it before they did. Many great guest stars from the black community like Count Basie, Pearl Bailey, Billy Eckstein, Cab Calloway, and Ella Fitzgerald had appeared for gratis or minimum fees. The same applied to white stars like Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Tony Martin and Peggy Lee. It was to no avail as the audience just wasn’t there.

Nat “King” Cole’s experience was a sad one but he wasn’t alone in his rejection. Black stars like Lena Horne faced similar treatment. Lena was a beautiful woman who was forced into “insert parts” in some major MGM films like “The Duchess of Idaho” (1950). By inserting her doing a number which had nothing to do with the story, MGM could edit her out of showings in the South because of her being considered black.

The beautiful Lena Horne

It was a different world then even though slavery had been abolished almost 100 years previously. That didn’t mean that black stars like Cole were singled out for failure as Frank Sinatra and Julie Andrews, among many other white stars, also had failed with variety shows. It also didn’t help him any.

Nat Cole died in 1965 at the age of 45 from lung cancer probably not knowing that Bill Cosby would soon break the color barrier on TV with a starring role in the “I Spy” series which ran from 1965 to 1968. The ice was broken and the late 60s became known as the golden age of blacks in television. That era saw more than two dozen shows with black actors starring as leading characters or in prominent leading supporting roles. In 1970 comedian Flip Wilson became the first black entertainer to have a successful variety show. It ran from 1970-1974.

Nat had a lot of success but also had the misfortune of being a talented black entertainer who was probably born about ten years too soon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dancing with Fred and Ginger

Of equal importance with the Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930s were the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. How these two even met is a mini-story of its own.

Born in 1899, Fred was a popular Broadway star during the 1920s along with his sister Adele. When Adele retired in the late 1920s, Fred started looking toward Hollywood. Ginger had some Broadway experience but by 1930 was still only nineteen years old. However, like Fred, she had Hollywood on her mind.

Both scuffled a bit out west but in 1933, RKO was looking for a dance team for their Dolores del Rio-Gene Raymond musical, “Flying Down to Rio”. In spite of their minimal film experience, Fred and Ginger were given the parts along with fourth and fifth billing. They looked a bit odd: He was a balding mid 30s guy while Ginger was a gorgeous young blonde babe of twenty-two. That was forgotten after they did their sensual eighteen minute dance of the Carioca. They started a Carioca dance craze and assured themselves stardom for the next six years after gliding across those white pianos.

Next came “The Gay Divorcee” where Astaire-Rogers started another dance craze with ”The Continental” along with a number to Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”.

They were on a roll in the mid 1930s as they recorded successes like “Top Hat” (1935), “Follow the Fleet” (1936), “Shall We Dance?” (1937), and “Carefree” (1938).

After nine films in six years, they decided enough was enough and decided to move on. Their only film together after 1939 was “The Barkley’s of Broadway” (1949) which was a reunion flick and also their only film done in color.

Fred had gone on to other musicals with dancers like Rita Hayworth while Ginger tried straight acting. After playing so many light hearted musical parts, she surprised everyone by winning the Best Actress Oscar for “Kitty Foyle” in 1940. If you haven’t seen that film, check it out the next time it is on TCM. It is worth your time.

Fred danced his way up to 1976 with an appearance in “That’s Entertainment, Part II”. He also did a lot of straight acting and got an AA nomination for “The Towering Inferno” (1974). Ginger continued acting but after “Kitty Foyle” the good parts dried up.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers doing what they did best. (RKO Pictures)

As a side note, Ginger’s mother was the quintessential stage mother who didn’t think that Astaire was that good and that Ginger should have received more credit for her work. At one time she supposedly said “Ginger does the same things he does only she does them backwards with heels.”

Regardless, for a couple of kids from Nebraska and Missouri, Fred and Ginger did pretty well. In an early screen test one movie executive said that Fred “can’t sing, can’t act, can dance a little.” So much for his evaluation!

Fred died in 1987 and Ginger followed him in 1995. A couple of years ago, Ginger’s childhood home and birthplace in Independence, Missouri was for sale at $20,000. There were no offers.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Film Censorship: Hays and Breen

What would Will Hays think if he was alive today and saw the nudity in films along with the dreaded “F” word used so frequently? Since he was brought in by the MPAA to “tone down” the action on the screen it was assumed he was a hardnosed guy. Actually, he was pretty mild mannered having worked in the Harding administration as the Postmaster General before Hollywood called in 1922.

Hays took the job and set some informal guidelines for the studios to follow. By 1927, he formalized the rules and, although he meant well, they were largely ignored. The studios liked the 48 year old ex-Postmaster because he kept the government off their backs, but 1927 was the Jazz Age so who wanted rules?

With sound taking over movies in 1930, it became apparent that stronger censorship was needed. On March 31, 1930, the Production Code (Hays Code) was adopted and as had been the case with the original Hays Code, was ignored. By 1934 the Catholic Legion of Decency was established with the goal of strictly enforcing the code. Also, the Production Code Administration was established in July, 1934 as a response to the lewd movie fare of the early 1930s. A tough character named Joseph Breen was named as its director and was very literal in his enforcement.

Will Hays: Mild mannered censor from Indiana

The era of 1930-1934 was known as the “pre-code era” because, even though a code existed, it was not followed. Take a look at films from the pre-code times and compare them to 1934 and afterwards when Breen took over. There were no more shots of a scantily dressed Fay Wray or thinly veiled nipples as in “Gold Diggers of 1933”.

A couple of Breen’s encounters were “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934) where he deleted a nude underwater scene involving a stand-in for Maureen O’Sullivan. Later, Breen battled with Howard Hughes in 1941 over whether there was too much use of Jane Russell’s breasts for promos of “The Outlaw”. The discussions went on so long that the film wasn’t released until 1943.

Joseph Breen of the Catholic Legion of Decency

Some of the rules enforced by the Production Code seem tame by today’s standards. Of course, nudity and profanity were not allowed and screen kisses had to be close mouthed and limited to six seconds. When two people embraced, one of them had to have his or her foot on the floor. Words like “broad”, “pregnant”, and “hold your hat” were not permitted. Hold your hat?) Also, seduction could not be used as a form of comedy.
This mentality lasted well into the 1960s.

Because of changes in attitudes, an influx of foreign films which clearly violated the Hays Code, and various social movements, the Code was disbanded in 1967 and replaced by the MPAA’s own rating system. Hays died in 1954 at age 74. He never got to see his Code replaced.

1930-1934 was an interesting period and besides being known as the “pre-code era” is sometimes called the era of “sound and sexuality”.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

TV Sitcoms: The 1960s

Television sitcoms in the 1950s contained a lot of carryover shows from radio like Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Ozzie and Harriet, “The Aldrich family”, “Beulah”, and “The Goldbergs”. It was funny stuff but nothing new. The most successful new sitcom of the decade was “I Love Lucy” which ran from 1951 to 1957. Everyone loved Lucy and it showed in the ratings.

From the mid 50s into the early 60s, comedy slipped in favor of westerns which became more popular than anyone could imagine; more on that in a future post.

As the 1960s emerged, TV was searching for something to boost ratings. They came up with a lot of shows that I would call “screwball sitcoms”. Please don’t confuse the term “screwball” with the great movie comedies of 1934-1941. The TV shows were not in that league and many of them were just plain bad although two stand out as high quality productions: “The Dick Van (inappropriate term) Show” (1961-1966) and “The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-1968).

A lot of the 60s’ sitcoms depended on gimmicks or “shtick” to gain an audience. One of the most popular entries was “The Beverly Hillbillies” with Buddy Ebsen . It somehow managed to stay on CBS as a rating’s giant from 1962-1971. The plot was oxymoronic: Hillbillies from the Ozarks invading the luxury of Hollywood with the result being the funny interaction of the two cultures. Robert Osborne even appeared in one 1962 episode.

Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett in "The Beverly Hillbillies" (TV Land)

CBS salivated over the ratings of “The Beverly Hillbillies” so it was quickly followed by “Gomer Pyle, USMC” (1964-1970), “Green Acres” (1965-1971) and “Petticoat Junction” (1963-1970). Gomer was a spin-off from “The Andy Griffith Show” and starred Jim Nabors as a marine bumpkin who was always irritating his nemesis, Sergeant Carter, played by Frank Sutton.

Frank Sutton (L) and Jim Nabors in "Gomer Pyle, USMC (MPTV.net)



“Green Acres” starred Eddie Albert and was the opposite of “The Beverly Hillbillies” as it placed city slickers in the country with the expected hilarious results. “Petticoat Junction” followed the antics of the townsfolk of Hooterville, USA.

I used to feel sorry for quality actors like Ebsen and Albert having to participate in this canned laugh track fare but they were in the acting business and had to eat too. On the plus side, I’m sure they were well paid for those nonsensical shows.

The same goes for Ray Walston who starred in another gimmick show, “My Favorite Martian” (1963-1966). Do you remember the Francis the talking mule films with Donald O’Connor? In this show Ray plays a Martian who will only let co-star Bill Bixby know of his powers. Does that sound a bit like Francis only talking to Peter Sterling (O’Connor)? It was pretty bad.

Then there was “Bewitched” (1964-1972) where Samantha’s witchcraft was the gimmick usually at husband Darrin’s expense. It’s no wonder he slugged down those Martinis after work! “I Dream of Jeannie” (1965-1970) used a similar scenario where Jeannie (Barbara Eden) used her powers over her “master” Larry Hagman.

If you liked macabre humor there was “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters”. “Gilligan’s Island” and “McHale’s Navy” provided slapstick. Family humor was alive with “Dennis The Menace” and “Leave it to Beaver” along with the ever sweet “The Donna Reed Show”.

Most of these shows were inane but they did provide some innocent fun during the 1960s. Like the music of the time, TV was emerging from the innocence of the 1950s while also bringing a bit of carryover from that era. By the end of the decade and the beginning of the 1970s, wholesale changes were in store for the tube.

More on that later.

Friday, July 29, 2011

SOME TV vs. FILM HISTORY

Although the early days of television hurt the movie business, they didn’t ruin it like they did radio. Sure, starting in the late 1940s TV was new and exciting even if it was on a 7” to 16” black and white screen. However, not every home had one for two main reasons: Sets were very expensive and they were hard to get.

As a kid in Cincinnati, I can remember our first TV. It was a 16” B&W “National” and it cost about $500. Those were big bucks in 1949 and there was no remote, just 3 channels, and “rabbit ears” on top of the set for an antenna. When reception got bad, a little Reynold’s Wrap around the antenna helped a bit except when an airplane passed over. Nothing could help that but it at least was just a brief interruption.

Most of the shows were local but NBC from New York had a network followed shortly after by CBS and ABC. One of the events responsible for the great interest in TV in the late 1940s was NBC’s successful broadcast of the 1947 baseball World Series. One of the popular showcases for TV was the local bar. Almost every one of them had a TV and packed in the customers who wanted to watch sporting events.

OUR FIRST TV, A 1949 NATIONAL 16" BLACK AND WHITE

It took about six months to get a set as the demand was high. Everyone was in the business including brands you probably never heard of like Muntz, Hallicrafters, and Capehart. I mentioned above our National was $500 but if you wanted an “entertainment center” you could get a 7” TV, 78 rpm record player, and AM radio combination for about $800!

TV broadcasts in the early ‘50s usually came on about 5:00 in the afternoon and signed off at about midnight or 1:00 a.m. Popular network shows were the Texaco Star Theater, Arthur Godfrey, and Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” which, a few years later, would cause a controversy when Elvis appeared with his swiveling hips. The camera could only show him from the waist up because of protests.

For the kids, there was Howdy Doody. Before we had a set, all the kids in my neighborhood would crowd every afternoon at 5:30 into the living room of a girl up the street and watch Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob, and the Peanut Gallery. The TV was a 14" Admiral B&W trable model but it looked like a 60" color flatscreen to us.

If you turned on the TV before “sign on” you would see a “test pattern” which was a bullseye looking thing usually with an Indian’s head that showed on the screen accompanied by an annoying hum.

AN EARLY 1950s TV TEST PATTERN



It all sounds primitive now, but at the time it did a lot of damage to theater ticket sales. From 1948 to 1953, home ownership of TVs in the US increased from 1% to 50% and by the 1960s was 90%. Suddenly, color films were flowing out of Hollywood in response to the black and white one eyed monster in all those living rooms across America.

In 1952, a gigantic screen with three projectors and a superior sound system made its debut in select theaters. It was called Cinerama and was followed closely by 3-D with its flimsy cardboard glasses. Other attempts by the film business to thwart TV were Cinemascope and Vista Vision which we already mentioned in another blog.

Cinerama was discontinued in 1962 and 3-D only lasted a couple years in the 50s. Both systems plus the more standard wide screen stuff were basically stopgap methods used to try to win customers back into the theaters. Eventually, both genres found their niche and gimmicks gave way to more quality films while the movie studios started working with TV making “made for TV” films.

The dust had settled.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Remakes: Good or Ripoffs?

At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I think some film remakes are good and some bad. Some film makers try to cash in with remakes of blockbusters just to take advantage of the good fortune some other guy took on a big career risk.

Regardless, remakes are nothing new. Even in the early 1930’s, the philosophy was that if something was a hit, let’s beat it to death until the audiences say “No, we’ve had enough!” Remakes then were as they are now: either a remake of the same film (sometimes scene for scene) or sequel the audience to death.

An early example is “The Maltese Falcon”. There was an excellent version made in 1931 starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. In 1936, it was copied poorly as “Satan Met a Lady” with Warren William. Hollywood was not satisfied that they got all they could out of that story so in 1941 we got the benchmark version with Bogart and Astor. In this case, the third version was worth waiting for.

Next, we have “The Front Page”. There have been four versions of it with all of them good: 1931, 1940 (as “His Girl Friday”), 1974, and 1988 (as “Switching Channels”). My favorite? It has to be “His Girl Friday”. It was done as one of the last screwball comedies and how can we improve on a cast of Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy plus a room full of great character actors?

“High Sierra” is in my top five favorites and the remakes (“I Died a Thousand Times”, 1955), and Colorado Territory (1949), are decent.

Now, we have the stinkers: “Doctor Doolittle” (1967), (1998). Why even do a remake? The first version with Rex Harrison was a snoozer at 144 minutes in length. The second with Eddie Murphy was a little better but still induced yawning.

It’s the same with “Rollerball” (1975). It was OK and had a good cast with James Caan and John Houseman but did it warrant a remake? If you saw the 2002 version, I’m sure you’ll agree that once was enough.

In the case of “Stagecoach” (1939), it isn’t that the 1966 version is bad, it's just that the original from 1939 was so good that it was impossible to improve upon. “Stagecoach” re-launched John Wayne as a major star after he floundered in the 1930’s. With the combination of the Duke with Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine and others the 1966 cast with Bing Crosby, Robert Cummings, Ann-Margret and Slim Pickens had no chance.

Do I dare mention “Psycho” from 1998 vs. the 1960 Hitchcock version? Think Janet Leigh vs. Ann Heche as Marion Crane and Anthony Perkins vs. Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. Enough said?

Test yourself: Name four films made during the 1940s that included Barton MacLean and Humphrey Bogart.

John Wayne in "Stagecoach". So long to "The Three Mesquiteers".

Thursday, July 14, 2011

LET'S NOT FORGET "HOPPY"

This is “singing cowboys month” on TCM and although William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy was not a singing cowboy, I think he deserves a mention for the contributions he made to the western genre.

Unless you are a certain age, you may be scratching your head and wondering, “Who was Hopalong Cassidy?” “Hoppy” was, along with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, one of the great western heroes in the movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Also, like Autry and Rogers, he was very successful on television in the late 1940s and for years afterward.

Bill Boyd was 12 years older than Autry and 17 years older than Rogers. Although they all had success on TV and in films, Boyd led the way. Unlike many western heroes, he wore a totally black outfit including a black hat instead of the usual “good guy” white hat. At age 40 in 1935, he became Hopalong Cassidy along with co-star and future Roy Rogers and Gene Autry sidekick, Gabby Hayes.

His series of 66 quickly made “B” westerns was very successful as kids loved to watch Hoppy beat up the bad guys. With his black outfit, silver hair, and white horse Topper, he was quite an imposing figure as his fast paced action made quick work of the villains.

HOPPY WITH TOPPER

By 1944, the producer of his films ended the series. Bill Boyd mortgaged everything he had to buy the rights to the films and by 1946 was back in business as Hoppy. By 1948, the “B” western was losing its edge in theaters but, like Rogers and Autry, Boyd was a good businessman and saw a future in the new world of television.

NBC was a new network at that time and Boyd sold his films to them in edited versions that would fit into the television format. Later he made a series of 30 minute shows which ran from 1949-1951 on NBC and for years afterward in syndication. At age 58, he retired in 1953.

William Boyd’s future wife, Grace Bradley, married him three weeks after they met in 1937. Although she was 18 years younger, she said he was “the love of my life.” They were together until 1972 when he died at 77.

At the Lone Pine Film Festival in 1995, 82 year old Grace said, “Everybody I talk to is looking for a hero. They say ‘If only we had Hoppy again’, or somebody like him. The children have no role models. Who do we have?” I understand her point.

Grace Bradley Boyd died on her birthday last September in Dana Point, California. She was 97 and died of age related causes.

I feel lucky to have grown up in the Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers era. It was exciting to see their movies and TV shows on cold Ohio winter days with a cup of Ovaltine or Campbell’s tomato soup as we eagerly watched them round up the bad guys on our 16” Admiral black and white TV.

Trivia question: Where did Hoppy's horse Topper get his name?

Lobby poster for a Hoppy western

Monday, July 04, 2011

Hooray For Hollywood (1930s style)

Do you have memories of going to the show as a kid? I remember my mom telling me to not let my head touch the back of the seat or I might get ringworm. We also never worried about starting times for shows. We would simply leave “where we came in.” Do you remember the “Air Cooled” banner on the marquee to indicate air conditioning?

Here is guest writer Joe Finnerty's account of a day at the movies with his buddies in the 1930’s.

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD (1930's style)

By Joe Finnerty

Hollywood is to blame. Moguls such as Cecil B. De Mille stopped me from experiencing real life as a child. Movies, with their dream world of adventure and comedy, captivated me while growing up. Thank goodness for TV documentaries which allow me to catch up on the events that passed me by while the big screen kept me glued to my seat.

I joined legions of Hoboken’s waifs every Saturday afternoon to watch endless numbers of films at the nearby U. S. Theater, a grand name for a somewhat shopworn venue. Half the fun of attending the matinee was trying to sneak in without paying. Two fire escape doors on either side of the balcony led to steel stairways. With precision, at an appointed time, some paying customer would open one of the exit doors, allowing a horde of waiting boys to race inside. This mad dash came to mind when recently reading a news report of a mob of illegal immigrants who charged en masse across a border checkpoint. A few lucky ones managed to elude the police. That is the way it was with my boyhood pals. Only a small number managed to avoid detection. Most were corralled and booted out by the ushers. The excitement generated by this storming of the gates sometimes exceeded that of the latest adventure film which followed.

Sneaking in to see a show this way was not my style. Rather than rely upon cohorts to help me enter the theater, my preference was to steal a few deposit milk bottles to earn my ten-cent admission fee. I had SOME pride, after all.

Most of the pre-teen boys chose to sit in the balcony. The pre-teen girls sat in the orchestra. This seating preference allowed the boys to shower the girls with wads of gum and candy wrappers. The mezzanine was an unmarked hard-hat area. Usually this barrage ended when the first serial began showing. Then, everyone focused their attention on the screen for the next three to four hours.

Few ‘B’ movies made in Hollywood from 1935 to 1940 escaped my viewing. It was a time of innocence. The plots taught me values that became etched in my psyche. Good guys always won. Bad guys always got their comeuppance. A few Native Americans were okay, like Tonto, but most of them were low-down (inappropriate term). Mexican cowpokes, especially the Cisco Kid, always spoke broken English in a hilarious way. The Chinese were definitely inscrutable, especially Charlie Chan, although his son was a nerd. Some Black people had rhythm. Did you see that old butler Bojangles dancing with Shirley Temple?

One afternoon, in the summer of 1938, while returning home after spending four hours of movie watching, my weary eyes began to observe that something unusual had occurred outdoors that afternoon. In plain view were many canvas window awnings torn to shreds, flapping loosely. It puzzled me, but not sufficiently to discuss my observation with my family who never brought up the subject either. Not until years later did I learn that a great hurricane had smashed the eastern seaboard that afternoon, destroying lives and property across a wide region of the northeast including metropolitan New York, Long Island and much of New England.

All the movies I saw that day were memorable, legendary even. In one, Tom Mix and his horse Tony became lost in New York City. The Marx Brothers stole his nag and took it to the races. Meanwhile, Mickey Mouse chased a big ape up a tall building. I know. I was there. I saw it.

The marquee of the Orpheum Theater in downtown Phoenix in 1942. Notice the "Cooled by Refrigeration" banner.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

GIRL TUNES

I was listening to the radio in the car today and one of my favorite old "girl name" songs was played. It was "Francine" by ZZ Top, a cut from the 1972 album "Rio Grande Mud." Needless to say, I turned the volume all the way up and broke off the knob. (Got a girl, her name’s Francine, finest thing you ever seen, and I love her). Oh, yeah!

ZZ Top’s use of a girl’s name in the title made me wonder about all the other great "girl name" songs that have been popular through the years. If you are like me and grew up a pop music fan, each song will bring back a memory of when you heard the song in the past.

The first one I thought of was "Peggy Sue" by Buddy Holly. What a great tune to take me back to high school in 1957. I had just gotten my drivers’s license that year and must have heard that song a million times on the radio cruising through Frisch’s Drive-In restaurant in Cincinnati and looking for girls.

In 1966, a garage band from Chicago called The Shadows of Knight recorded the Van Morrison written tune "Gloria." It was a great, grinding, song that was easy to sing and dance to, especially after you had downed a few beers. I was 6 months out of the Air Force and had met a beautiful, 20 year old co-ed at the U. Of Cincinnati named Barb, who would eventually be my wife. We were both young, enjoying life, and having a great time together. Thanks, Van, for writing "Gloria."

A couple years later in 1968, I was living in Missouri and The Monkees were popular. One of my favorites from those guys was "Valleri." We had parties at a vet’s club near school where "Valleri" always made the playlist. I loved the part where we sang to the record: And her name is Val, al, al,al, al leri! Those were fun days, I wonder what happened to those guys.

In 1972, it was Derek and the Dominos (Eric Clapton) doing "Layla." Another great song and I remember it at many parties. 1972 was the year we bought our first house in Kansas. $26,000 for 3 bedrooms, 2 car garage, large lot on a lake and cul-de-sac. Falstaff beer was also $1.00 per 6 pack and I had my share of that while working in my new yard and listening to that new phenomenon, rock music on FM radio.

ERIC CLAPTON AT WORK



I could go on forever about girl songs. I’m sure you have great memories of your own and when you hear your faves, relate to a time and place when you heard that tune.

Here’s a few more you probably know: "Sherry" 1962, by The Four Seasons, "Eleanor Rigby" 1966, by The Beatles, "Mustang Sally" 1966, by Wilson Pickett, "Brandy" 1972, by The Looking Glass, "Maggie May" 1971, by Rod Stewart, "My Sharona" 1979, by The Knack, "Jenny 867-5309" 1982, by Tommy Tutone, "Billie Jean" 1983, by Michael Jackson.

What are your favorite "girl name" songs? I have barely scratched the surface with my list.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

REMEMBERING DRIVE-IN THEATERS



Those of you who are old enough can remember the fun of going to the drive-in theater. Whether you went as a child with your parents, went with your teen age buddies, or with a date (if you were lucky!), the drive-in was THE place to go for kids of the 1950s.

It was fun to go to the drive-in as kids. My parents always knew better than to park behind a pick-up truck because of height and we had a great time on the swings before the show. We would frequently bring lawn chairs or sit on the hood of the car and lean back on the windshield. For whatever reason, I always remember the refreshment stand having great barbecue sandwiches. It was probably because of how they promoted them so much between double features.

The Oakley Drive-In of Cincinnati is where I made a career choice. It was usually easy to sneak into the place by driving down the exit drive with your lights off. On one particular night in 1957, I drove in with some buddies, parked, and put the speaker in the window when suddenly the manager appeared and he was angry. He had been watching for "sneakers" and had caught us red handed. I got out of the car acting humble and apologetic and generally playing the role of the "good kid" who had done something stupid on a dare. He actually believed me, softened up, and even let us stay and watch the movie for free. I said to myself, "Jim, you are a born salesman", and that is what I eventually became. I’m glad we didn’t have any guys hiding in the trunk that night or the guy may not have been so forgiving!

When I went out with my 1959-1961 girl friend, I don’t remember us doing much other than going to the drive-in to make out. Even in the winter, it was great even though those cheesy little heaters they had didn’t do much good. You also had to be careful of the window speakers. Many customers would drive off without replacing them and break the wires or the car window. Today, at the few drive-ins left, most have the sound play through the customer's radio.

If you are too young to remember these places, you can still go to the few that are left and enjoy an evening "1950's style." It’s about $6.50 admission these days (75 cents in 1957!) and I suggest taking your own food and drinks. Also, since the sound comes through the radio now, bring a boom box if you sit outside, it’s better than turning up your car radio.

Arizona had its share of drive-ins during the 1950s with a high of 49 being in operation in 1958. Sadly, today there are only a few left in the state, mostly in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

HOLLYWOOD FANTASIES

The ability of actors, musicians, and directors to instill laughter or pathos into an audience is fascinating. As a kid I used to cry when Lassie was in trouble as I was oblivious to the fact that everything turns out all right in a Lassie film.

It’s the fantasy of Hollywood at work. One of my favorite scenes in “Casablanca” is where Rick and Sam are standing in the rain at the train station waiting for Ilsa, and Rick reads her rain stained Dear John letter. I can picture Michael Curtiz calling “Cut!” five minutes later and everyone heading down a sunny street to the Warner’s commissary for lunch. There may be a lot of tear jerking emotion in scenes like the train station but in reality, films are a business with schedules and deadlines.

HUMPHREY BOGART AND DOOLEY WILSON IN "CASABLANCA"

An imagination is a necessity at the movies. How else could Western heroes shoot twenty rounds out of a six shooter without reloading? How could the Cavalry arrive just in time to save the fort? How could Bob Steele at 5’ 5” in height beat up all those big guys?

How about the age fantasies? Would Leslie Caron really fall for Fred Astaire in “Daddy Long Legs” with Fred being 32 years older and looking like Charlie McCarthy? Even a good looking Gene Kelly was still 20 years older than Caron in “An American in Paris”. Another classic mismatch was Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn in “Sabrina” where Bogie was 30 years older than Audrey. It’s one of my favorite films but my imagination was working overtime on that age difference.

It doesn’t seem fair that leading men got to play romantic roles into their 50s and 60s while the ladies were losing starring roles at 40 or younger. Men were still considered “handsome” or “distinguished”. Women were “getting older.” Welcome to Hollywood!

One of my favorite female character actors was Rosemary DeCamp. Rosemary always looked older than she was and in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” she played Jimmy Cagney’s mother in spite of being eleven years younger than Cagney! Jesse Royce Landis played Cary Grant’s mother in “North by Northwest” even though she was three months younger than Cary. Where else but Hollywood?

These examples go on forever and are fun to talk about. That’s what makes Hollywood fantasies so much fun because isn’t it the perception rather than the reality of motion pictures that we like? When Rick tells Ilsa, “Here’s looking at you, kid”, we all sigh. When Depression audiences laughed at screwball comedy, the movies were doing their job by giving those people a couple hours of happiness before they had to face the harsh realities of the real world.

A little backstage artificiality isn’t going to do any harm; it’s just part of the fantasy that we know and love about Hollywood.

Friday, June 10, 2011

JUNE IS BUSTIN' OUT ALL OVER

By Guest writer Joe Finnerty

Another D-Day has come and gone. Much to my surprise, this year’s anniversary (2011) received no media coverage. It should come as no surprise given the ongoing Afghanistan war and the declining number of WW II aged citizens who represent the core audience.

D-Day, June 6,1944. "At the Hedgehogs" (Robert Capa)

In 2006, PBS aired a documentary that brought together three veterans of the invasion, an American, a Brit, and a German. These three men shared their respective experiences and made the epic battle that began on June 6, 1944, engrossing and personal. Their reenactment of the day was vivid and compelling. However, it did not match the story a participant in one of my Reminiscence Writing classes told one year. A physician, he described in graphic terms the carnage he had witnessed on Omaha Beach and elsewhere for months thereafter. Until this class, he had never shared his harrowing memory with anyone.

In contrast and inexplicably, I have no vivid recollection of D-Day. The landing of troops on French soil happened without my knowledge, apparently. It took place two days before my seventeenth birthday, a few weeks prior to my high school graduation and matriculating at college. These events in my life overshadowed the greatest invasion in man’s history.

Until the following June when I turned eighteen, I gave little thought to the prospect of my having to fight in the war. Not until the draft board sent me my induction notice did this possibility hit me. As events unfolded, I entered military service just as the war with Japan ended. After being discharged in 1947, I reentered college and graduated in 1950, soon after which I moved to California. Along the way, I lost track of my high school chums.

As you might imagine, I was delighted to receive an invitation to attend my 50th Anniversary Class Reunion in 1994. During a cocktail hour, we conducted a survey and determined that of the sixty boys who graduated, forty six served in the military. The remaining fourteen had been classified 4-F, which struck me an unusually large percentage. None of my classmates had died or suffered wounds in combat. I regret to say no one surveyed the girls to find out if any of them entered the service, or how many went to college, immediately or later on in life.

The class produced a number of male college graduates, including two priests, one physician, a chemist and five mechanical and engineers. Many attended college under the provisions of the G. I. Bill, including myself.

I learned that the majority of my classmates still lived in or near Hoboken. Some had spent their entire lives working in nearby factories. A few had died, including the class president (valedictorian and priest), and the vice president (best athlete). My best friend and fellow college graduate had died at age fifty, a suicide.

Plans to have another reunion fizzled out, thwarting me from asking my classmates: Do you recall D-Day? I am convinced they would have said yes, leaving me as the only dummy in the class who doesn’t. The explanation is simple. At the time I was in love with what’s her name.