Favorite Films – The 2000’s

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I picked back up on this series of blogs, so I thought I had better.  A while ago, I saw a post that suggested you pick one favorite film from every year of your life.  So far, I have covered 3 decades.  Some years were easier than others.  Some years were very difficult, because there were many “favorites”.  One quick reminder – the movies are movies that I have seen.  There may be a monster hit movie from a certain year that I wasn’t inclined to see, or just didn’t see it.

As I move into the fourth decade of my life, I noticed something that I want you to keep in mind.  In 2002, my oldest son was born.  As I began to look through the movies of the 2000’s and even in the 2010’s, I noticed the amount of animated and kid films increased.  What I also noticed is that in many cases, those movies ended up being better than some of the adult films of those years.  Agree with me or not, remember this is MY list. While many of my readers are from Facebook and do not have blogs, many of my readers DO have blogs.  It has been fun to revisit each year, and I would love to see the list of some of my blogger friends (hint hint).

That being said, let’s dive into the 2000’s!

2000

Ashton Kutcher became a household name in 1998 as Kelso on That 70’s Show, so it was only a short time before they had him star in a feature film, and naturally it was a comedy – Dude, Where’s My Car?  While I found it mostly stale, there were a few laughs.  2000 brought us the funny sequel to Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis were both very good in Unbreakable, Harrison Ford wound up being the bad guy in What Lies Beneath, and Russell Crowe starred in the visually brilliant Gladiator (although at times I was bored with it).

A runner up for my pick for this year was the very funny Emperor’s New Groove, the animated feature that starred David Space, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, and the amazing Eartha Kitt.  I loved this movie and Kitt’s voice work is just amazing.  However, music is what made me pick my favorite for 2000 – O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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George Clooney plays a convict who escapes from a chain gang and ends up recording a hit record.  I loved the story, and loved the soundtrack.  I was working in country radio when the movie came out.  The phones were constantly ringing for Man of Constant Sorrow!  The sound sounded so out of place among the current country hits of the time, but maybe that’s why it did so well.  It reminds me of when the Dixie Chicks first hit radio – their sound was so unlike anything on the air at the time that it stood out and sounded great!  I still have the entire soundtrack of this movie on my iPod!

2001

In 2001, Morgan Freeman reprised his role as Alex Cross in the movie adaptation of Along Came a Spider.  David Spade introduced us to Joe Dirt.  Amanda Pete, Jason Biggs, Steve Zahn, Jack Black and singer Neil Diamond all starred in Saving Silverman.  Much like Titanic, they tossed a love story into a real life historic event for Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck.  We also got the first installments of some BIG franchises – Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.  Wes Anderson offered up a gem with The Royal Tenenbaums with Gene Hackman, the Wilson Brothers, and Ben Stiller.  Wes Anderson’s films always have a very unique look to them and I almost chose this one as my pick, but instead, I chose Shrek.

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The film is based on the 1990 book by William Steig.  Chris Farley was supposed to be the voice of Shrek, but his death led them to re-cast the role.  Word is that Mike Myers did the voice straight, and was unhappy with it.  He recut the voice with his Scottish accent and the rest is history.  Now add the talents of Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow and it’s magic!  It was a fun movie to watch and remains a favorite that I still watch with my kids.

2002

There were a few animated and kids films in 2002:  Ray Romano starred in Ice Age, Disney brought us Lilo & Stitch, and there was a live action Scooby Doo movie.  The second (or fifth) installment of Star Wars hit the screen with Attack of the Clones, while other sequels included Men in Black II, Analyze That, and Austin Powers 3 – Goldmember.  Two big sequels were Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  Sitting here in 2019, who could have known that there would be a gazillion more super hero movies to come … but my pick for 2002 is Tobey Maguire as Spiderman.

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As a fan of Spiderman since I was a kid, I was excited to see this one.  I thought Tobey was a good Peter Parker.  The rest of the cast was great, too (James Franco, Willem Dafoe, JK Simmons)!  I always thought Kirsten Dunst was pretty, and thought she was great as Mary Jane.  It was a fun movie to watch with good special effects and a good story.

2003

The Lord of the Rings saga continued with the Return of the King in 2003.  Will Ferrell appeared in Old School, which I felt was “Animal House crossing the line”.  Uma Thurman starred in the first Kill Bill, and Johnny Depp appeared for the first time as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  A clown fish named Nemo stole the hearts of many in Finding Nemo, while Disney offered up the action adventure film Holes.  Again, music played a factor in my favorite – School of Rock.

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Jack Black is a rocker who gets tossed out of his band.  He fills in as a substitute teacher and teaches his class all about Rock and Roll.  He also uses the kids to form a band in hopes of winning a Battle of the Bands contest. The soundtrack includes cuts from the Ramones, The Darkness, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Nicks, and the song they play at the end is the classic AC/DC song, It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll).

2004

Damn you, 2004!  There were so many great movies that came out this year!!  7 of them easily could be my top pick!  Adam Sadler brought us 50 First Dates with Drew Barrymore.  Mel Gibson brought us the controversial Passion of the Christ.  Uma Thurman returned to Kill Bill again in part 2.  Harry Potter was back with the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan gave us a look at public school in Mean Girls. We enjoyed some high school football with Friday Night Lights.  Shrek and Donkey were back with a new friend (Puss in Boots) in Shrek 2.  Will Ferrell donned a mustache as he told the Legend of Ron Burgandy in Anchorman.  Harold and Kumar went to White Castle for some sliders.  Zombies were all over the place in Simon Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead (which I loved!). A very funny cast (Vince Vaughn, Rip Torn, Justin Long, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor) told us an underdog story in Dodgeball (Chuck Norris has a funny cameo). Nick Cage stars in a great film that makes you rethink history in National Treasure. Jamie Foxx was just brilliant as Ray Charles in the biopic Ray.

A word about a film from 2004 before I announce my pick.  I saw the DVD cover for Napoleon Dynamite in the video store.  I am not sure what made me get it.  Someone may have mentioned it to me, whatever the case, I rented it. We popped it in.  I watched it all the way through.  When it was done I remember saying “What the hell did we just watch?!”  I literally sat there scratching my head.  I just couldn’t figure it out!  It was so dumb!  But here is the weird part – after it ended and after I sat there for a minute – I started the movie over!!!  I watched it all over again.  The second time I watched it – I laughed like hell!!  All of a sudden, it was a funny friggin movie!  When I would recommend it to people, I would tell them “you may have to watch it twice”!  LOL

Ok, so my movie picking credibility may forever be tarnished because of that last paragraph….but here is my pick for 2004 – The Incredibles.

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Brad Bird (who does the voice of Edna) wrote this masterpiece.  Craig T. Nelson is Mr. Incredible and Holly Hunter is Elastigirl (also Mrs. Incredible).  Samuel L. Jackson is super cool as Frozone.  After getting sued for injuring a citizen, Super heroes are banned from performing their duties.  They go into the Super Hero Relocation Program and live as ordinary citizens.  Syndrome is a super villain (voiced by Jason Lee) and his antics bring the “Supers” back out into the public eye.  The music soundtrack is just amazing.  I was SO excited when the sequel was announced.   Just LOVE this movie!! No Capes!

2005

There weren’t many films I liked from 2005.  Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was good, as we see the “birth” of Darth Vader.  DreamWorks had fun with the animated film Madagascar.  Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were Wedding Crashers.  Goblet of Fire was the next installment of the Harry Potter series.  My pick for favorite of 2005 is a remake – I know, I know!  I have dissed many remakes, but I found Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be different enough that I liked it.

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Johnny Depp is one of those actors who amazes me.  When I look at the various roles he has played, each one of them is very unique.  His take on Willy Wonka is so vastly different from Gene Wilder’s in the original.  It is almost creepy – ok, it is creepy! The whole movie is a bit darker than the original, too.  While the story is basically the same, it is different enough that it stands alone as being worthy of my pick.

2006

The success of animated films becomes apparent by 2006.  DreamWorks put out two animated movies this year – Flushed Away and Over The Hedge, while Pixar released Cars.  Ben Stiller interacts with history in A Night at the Museum.  Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men’s Chest.  Little Miss Sunshine is a delightful film with Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, and Alan Arkin.  My pick for favorite stars Jack Black as Nacho Libre.

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While it is a comedy, it also has heart.  Jack Black is a cook at a monastery.  He grew up there.  There are many orphans that live there, and there is little money to feed them properly.  He decides to wrestle after hours in an effort to raise money for the orphans.  I love this movie, because while there are moments you laugh at loud, there are also heartwarming moments.

2007

Animation movies continued to be big in 2007 – Jerry Seinfeld had Bee Movie, Shrek was back for a third (and probably weakest of the series) movie, and Pixar had the marvelous Ratatouille.  Jack Sparrow returned in At World’s End, and Simon Pegg offered up the comedy Hot Fuzz.  Harry Potter returned in the Order of the Phoenix, and Nick Cage was back for the sequel to National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Jon Heder, coming off the success of Napoleon Dynamite, teamed up with Will Ferrell for Blades of Glory.  The gang from TV’s Reno 911 got their own film Reno 911:Miami.  My pick for favorite – The Bucket List.

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Admittedly, I did not see the movie until recently, I am glad I did.  This movie made “the bucket list” a phrase everyone now uses.  We all have items on a list that we want to do before we die.  Going to Italy is on mine.  Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are just wonderful in this film.  If you haven’t seen it – you have to!

2008

Comedies from 2008 included Simon Pegg’s Run Fatboy, Run, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. starred in Tropic Thunder, Rainn Wilson was The Rocker, and Will Ferrell and John C. Riley were Step Brothers (Boats and Hoes!!)  Animated films from 2008 included WALL-E, and Kung Fu Panda. Tom Cruise starred in a great story about the plot to kill Hitler in Valkyrie.  Harrison Ford reprised his role as Indiana Jones in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (I didn’t care for it).  Will Smith was a guy with super powers in Hancock.

Vantage Point was almost my pick for favorite.  Dennis Quaid stars in the film about an assassination attempt of the President.  The movie shows all the different views of the event – all the different vantage points.  It was a very cool film to watch.  I hate to say it, because it is kind of a remake, but my pick for favorite is Get Smart.

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TECHNICALLY, it is NOT a remake.  It is just based on the TV show.  At first I was angry to hear they were making this movie, because of my love for the TV show.  Then I heard that Steve Carell would be playing Maxwell Smart.  I thought he was perfect for the role.  Alan Arkin is great as the chief (I like him in almost everything he does).  Anne Hathaway is 99.  James Caan is the President.  The Rock is also an agent.  Great cameos from Bill Murray and Bernie Kopell, the orginal Seigfried (although I wish Bernie’s cameo had been longer).  Over all, it was a good story.  I loved the nods to the TV show, that earned bonus points for me.

2009

As we enter the final year of this decade, three films all stand out as ones that could easily be my pick.  Two of the dumbest films I saw were Paul Blart Mall Cop (which even got a sequel!!) and Year One.  I am stupider for watching both of those films!  Animation and kid films included The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the Monsters VS Aliens.  Harry Potter was back with the Half Blood Prince.  Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw starred in The Blind Side.  Woody Harrelson kills the undead in Zombieland. I’m gonna be honest – I NEVER saw Avatar, it just didn’t look interesting to me.  I was impressed with the new Star Trek movie – I felt the characters stayed very close to the original star’s portrayals.  I really enjoyed Inglorious Basterds (always been a fan of WWII movies).

That leaves me with four films – one that I disliked and three I loved.  I know that I am in the minority here, so I apologize in advance.  I didn’t care for the Hangover.  It obviously was major hit which spawned quite a few sequels.  Everyone kept saying, “You’ve got to see this movie”, so I did.  I really didn’t find it as funny as everyone else did.  I don’t know what it is, I just didn’t find it to be the great film everyone else did.

Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law was VERY well done!  I enjoyed it very much.  I really felt that it captured the Sherlock Holmes from the stories.  I found it funny, exciting, and thought it had a great story.  When I discovered Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, I felt that it was done in almost the same vain as this film.

I almost picked A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey as my favorite.  First of all, it is one of my favorite Christmas stories.  I am sure that I have blogged about it in the past.  Second, Jim Carrey does the majority of the voices in it and it just amazing.  I loved the animation and it has been one that I watch each and every Christmas season.  My pick for 2009, however, is another animated film … Up.

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Pixar continues to bring out amazing movies for the whole family.  Up is the story of Carl Frederickson(voiced by Ed Asner), and his quest to go to Paradise Falls to fulfill a promise to his wife.  The montage that shows the love story of Carl and Ellie is done with no voices – just action and music.  It is the most moving thing I have ever seen.  Yes, I cried.  It is beautiful.

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The adventure that Carl ends up going on with his newfound friends Russell, Doug, and Kevin is exciting and heartwarming.  I truly wish that Pixar would give us a sequel to this film, just to see more of this wonderful friendship that Carl and Russell have.  I LOVE this movie!

9 more years to go and I will pick up the series next in 2010.  I hope you enjoyed reading this!

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“Made in 1938”

 

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Introduction

Since I started blogging about a year ago, I have stumbled on some great blogs that focus on old movies, film noir, music, books, and various other things that I find interesting.  Some of these blog sites have hosted Blogathons, and I have participated in a few of them.  A while back, the “Pop Culture Reverie” and “In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood” sites announced their “Made in 1938 Blogathon”.  The only real rule that was that whatever you wrote about had to be something “made” in 1938.  This blog is my contribution to this blogathon. I am posting a day early, but you can read the other participants blogs by clicking:

https://popculturereverie.wordpress.com/

or

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/

At first, I began to look at movies from that year, hoping there would be one of my favorites from that year.  Then, because of the celebrity birthday page I had on Facebook, I wondered if there were any famous people born in ’38 that I might find interesting to write about.  In looking over the list of celebrities, three stood out as having a significant part in my life, so I chose to write about them.  I hope you find this blog interesting and entertaining. What follows is a brief salute to a great impressionist/comedian, a great radio personality, and a great actor.

Rich Little (Born November 26, 1938)

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Rich Little shares the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Voices” with the great Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc).  While they both have many voices that they do, Mel’s were more original voices and dialects for cartoons, while Rich did impersonations or imitations of real celebrities.  He claims to be able to do about 200 voices, and he has had quite a career “being” other people!  He even eludes to this in the title of his 2014 book “Little by Little:  People I’ve Known and Been…”

I remember when we first got cable TV.  HBO often featured stand up comedy shows and specials.  One of the first specials I ever saw was Rich Little’s A Christmas Carol. I was mesmerized by this guy!  This special was like an awesome dream come true – all these big celebrities playing the different roles of the Dickens classic – except, they were all done by one man, Rich Little.  Can you imagine WC Fields, Jack Benny, Peter Sellers, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Falk (as Columbo), Jimmy Stewart, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson, Laurel and Hardy, and Groucho Marx all in the same show?!  He made it happen!

As a kid, not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life, and thinking I was funny, I thought maybe I could do what he did.  After watching him often, and listening to him, I began to try out voices on relatives.  I really thought I did an excellent Richard Nixon, but in reality, I was doing a bad impression of Rich Little doing Richard Nixon.   (Later on in my radio career, while on Honey Radio I did create a few generic voices that I used on our morning show, but never anything close to what Rich has mastered!)

I was always excited when there was some new Rich Little Special on HBO, whether it was his stage act or his take on Robin Hood (which is where I first saw him do his Carol Channing, which blew me away).  Every time he did a new celebrity I hadn’t seen him do, I would watch in awe. There was no shortage of people he could do.

One surprising fact that I was unaware of was one of my favorite singers played a big part in his American TV debut.  He was asked by singer Mel Torme’ to audition for the Judy Garland Show in 1964.  He did, made an impression (pun intended) and made his first appearance on American TV on her show.  He stated in an interview that if you watch this appearance, you should watch Judy.  She had never seen him perform before they taped the show and her reactions are very genuine.  He went on to appear on other TV shows like Love on a Rooftop, That Girl, The Flying Nun, and Petticoat Junction in guest roles.  He is probably best known for his appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Kopycats (a show featuring impressionists), and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.

Rich is often asked which impressions are his favorites.  He says he has many, but the two that stand out are Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Stewart.  His Reagan is just wonderful and President Reagan loved it too!  He did two albums as Reagan – “The First Family Rides Again” and “Ronald Reagan Slept Here”.  I owned them both, and they are very funny (one of them features a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards)! His Reagan is a great example of how Rich can find something unique about someone and use it in his imitation.  I’ll be honest, I never knew how many times Reagan started a sentence with the word “Well…” until I saw/heard Rich doing it in his act!

Jimmy Stewart was the first celebrity impression he worked on (and it is amazing).  Rich was on the dais of The Dean Martin Roasts when Jimmy was the “Man of the Hour”.  He got to the podium and began to school Jimmy Stewart on how to do Jimmy Stewart!  After Jimmy tries to do all the things Rich is telling him, Rich finally tells him that there is no hope for him and that Jimmy was doing “The Worst Jimmy Stewart” he’d ever heard! Rich even went as far as to have the audience stand up and do Jimmy, to which Rich tells Jimmy that everyone does a better Jimmy Stewart than he did!  Word is this was all ad-libbed and Jimmy, being the amazing guy that he was, went along with it all.

It would be hard for me to pick my favorite Rich Little Impressions, because they are all so good.  Among his best, in my opinion, are Reagan and Stewart (just mentioned), Richard Nixon, Jack Benny, Don Rickles, Raymond Burr, Truman Capote, James Mason, John Wayne, Paul Lynde, and Johnny Carson.  His Carson was so good, he was asked to play him in the movie about the David Letterman/Jay Leno feud called “Late Night”. After seeing Rich do an impression of him, Jack Benny sent him an 18 karat gold money clip  that was engraved; “With Bob Hope doing my walk and you doing my voice, I can be a star and do nothing!”

How good are his impressions?  When David Niven was ill, he actually dubbed in lines for Niven in a couple Pink Panther movies.  He did the same for James Cagney in the 1984 film Terrible Joe Moran and for Gene Kelly in a 1991 Christmas special.  I’m not sure how true it is, but some people say that there was some fierce competition between Rich and Frank Gorshin (The Riddler on TV’s Batman), who was also a good impressionist.  Those sources say that this little rivalry only made Rich work even harder to perfect his voices.

In researching for this blog, I came across a quote from Rich that really made me admire him even more.  He said, “I don’t like it when people imitate someone for political reasons or if they hate somebody.  I’ve never imitated anyone that I’ve really hated.  Usually, it’s people I admire.”

Thanks Rich, for the many laughs you provided throughout my childhood. Sorry about my Nixon impression!

Wolfman Jack (Born January 21, 1938)

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Radio Legend!  What more can I say?!  He was one of the best.  He knew what people wanted and gave it to them.  He was a master at talking to his audience.  He could be making you laugh out loud one minute, and crying  the next.  I never had the chance to hear a live show of his, but I was lucky enough to hear some of his syndicated stuff growing up.  I can tell you this, I can only WISH to be as good and as talented as he was! In my 30 year radio career, I have never come close!

With the creation of the Internet and access to YouTube and other radio websites, some of Wolfman’s radio stuff is available to listen to and enjoy.  I’m no dummy, I know that he must have done a lot of prep for his shows, but everything seemed so spontaneous and ad-libbed!  Maybe it was, I don’t know, but I do know that it was good.  His interactions with listeners were always entertaining.  His random thoughts about peace, love, and brotherhood always hit the nail on the head.  In this world where hatred runs amuck, we could use more people like Wolfman spreading the “love” on the air.

I got into radio because of the guys I listened to growing up (Paul Christy, Jim McKenzie, Richard D., Boogie Brian, Dick Purtan, etc…), and so did Wolfman Jack.  To keep him out of trouble, his parents bought him a radio and he fell in love with R&B music.  He listened to Jocko Henderson from Philadelphia, Dr. Jive from New York, the Moon Dog from Cleveland, Alan Freed (who coined the phrase “Rock and Roll”), and his mentor John Richbourg from Nashville.  He spent a year at The National Academy of Broadcasting and landed a radio gig in Virginia where his on air name was “Daddy Jules”.

Three years later, he took his “Wolfman” character to XERF, a Mexican radio station that broadcast at 250,000 watts (5 times the power of any US radio station), and people listened!  The station pretty much covered most of the US.  The music he played (lots of great R&B) and his vocal stylings started to make news. His popularity grew and there were feature stories about him in Time magazine, Newsweek, and Life magazine.  Newspapers from all over the country all wrote about him, too, wondering, “Who is this guy and where did he come from?!”

In 1972, he became the host of an NBC show called “The Midnight Special” where he co-hosted and interviewed musical guests.  Director George Lucas grew up in North Carolina and was a fan of Wolfman’s show growing up.  In 1973, he cast him in the film “American Graffiti” and made sure that he got a small percentage of the profits from the film.  The success of the film brought Wolfman to New York to do a radio show on WNBC, but the commuting back and forth to do TV and radio became a hassle, so he moved back to California.

Wolfman Jack became the first radio DJ to nationally distribute his radio show.  The show was heard on over 2000 stations nationwide and in 53 countries! Along with his radio work. he continued to do movie work  and appeared on TV shows like The Odd Couple, What’s Happening, Vega$, Wonder Woman, Hollywood Squares, and Married…With Children. He also appeared as himself in the 1974 hit single by The Guess Who entitled “Clap for the Wolfman.”

In 1995, he wrote his autobiography (a must read for people in radio) “Have Mercy:  Confessions of the Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal,” which received good reviews in The New York Times and LA Times.  On July 1, 1995, after finishing a broadcast from The Hard Rock Café in Washington DC he boarded a plane and flew home.  He had been away from his family for days promoting his book.  He told his limo driver as they pulled in front of his house that he was happy to finally be home.  He walked inside, hugged his wife, and collapsed after having a massive heart attack.  He was 57 years old.

To close this section of my blog – here are some of my favorite Wolfman quotes:

“We are put on this earth to have a good time.  This makes other people feel good.  And the cycle continues.”

“I know it may sound corny, man, but I like to bring folks joy and I like to have a good time.  I know folks like to be with someone who’s having a good time.  You sure as hell don’t want to be with somebody who’s having a bad day.”

“Love is not a matter of counting the years – it’s making the years count.”

“If you do right.  Everything will come out right.”

And my favorite quote, which I often used (giving him credit, of course) to close my own radio show:

“Remember to keep smiling because a smile is like a light in the window letting people know your heart’s at home”.

Thanks, Wolfman, for being an inspiration to young DJ’s like me, and for being a positive in a world full of negativity!

Christopher Lloyd (Born October 22, 1938)

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When I first saw the trailer for Back to the Future, I was filled with anticipation.  It was everything a 15 year old boy could ask for, action, adventure, and time travel! I’ve always been a fan of time travel stories.  I have a collection of old radio shows that all have time travel as a theme.  What kid didn’t wonder, “What would it be like to see my parents as kids?  What would it be like to go back to the past?”  I had to see this movie!

The Back to the Future trilogy remains one of my favorites (second only to the Godfather).  Looking back now, I can’t imagine anyone but Christopher Lloyd playing Doc Brown.  While there are great characters (and actors) in the film, Lloyd makes it all worth watching!  He’s the epitome of a crazy scientist!  He’s everything you expect one to be!  He’s manic!  He’s constantly moving!  He’s always thinking and processing!  In an interview he said that there were times he was so into the role that he didn’t know exactly what he had done until he saw it on screen!  Believe it or not, he almost passed on the role!!

In an interview I found, he said that when he was initially contacted about playing the role, he had some doubts about it and seriously considered passing on it.  He was in Mexico when his agent called to tell him that the producers wanted to meet with him.  “I was anxious to do a play that I had been offered back east, and I wasn’t sure this was something I wanted to get involved in at that point.”  Luckily, his future wife Carol reminded him that “I always told myself never to turn anything down without at least checking it out.” After the meeting he says he was “ready to put on the wig and hop into the Delorean!”

Doc Brown is probably one of two roles that Christopher Lloyd will forever be identified with.  The other is that of “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski on the TV show Taxi.  That character won him two Emmy Awards!  I have always appreciated when a TV show has a great ensemble cast – Taxi was one of them.  Each character stands out in their own way, and Reverend Jim never ceased to make me laugh!  One of the greatest scenes in this show is when Jim has to take his driver’s test.  Almost all of the gang is there while he is taking it and trying to help him.  If you’ve never seen it – it’s comedy gold! Here is the link:

Christopher is one of those actors who is believable in comedy roles as well as dramatic roles.  I have always felt that is what makes a great actor.  He reminds me a lot of Robin Williams, in that he can play comedy for comedy, play straight for comedic effect, and nail a dramatic role perfectly.  In his first movie role, as a psychiatric patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he is brilliant!  It is one amazing performance!

He is one of those actors that has so many memorable roles.  It would be impossible to give space to each one of them.  One movie that sometimes gets over looked is the 1985 comedy Clue.  As Professor Plum, we are treated to Christopher playing straight for comedic effect.  In one of my favorite scenes, the characters are paired off to search areas of the house.  Plum is paired with Mrs. Peacock (played brilliantly by Eileen Brennan) and he looks at her and says, “It’s you and me, honey bunch.”  As strait as he says it, that line cracks me up every time!  What an amazing cast in this film!

As someone who doesn’t care too much for movie remakes, I was pleasantly surprised at the Addams Family films.  I loved Christopher as Uncle Fester.  I always felt like the TV show was more comedy than dark comedy.  The films were closer to the comic strips and I thought Christopher captured that dark comedy and mischievous aspect of the character in his portrayal of Fester. This is probably because he was a fan of the comic strip and claims to have always read the New Yorker Magazine (where the strip was featured in every issue).

Two of Christopher’s roles were so powerful they scared me!  The first being that of Klingon Commander Kluge in the 1984 film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  He is just so vicious, and over the top in this film.  One of my favorite scenes is where one of his crew destroys a ship and he yells that he wanted prisoners.  The crew member says it was a lucky shot.  At this, his anger boils over and Kluge kills the crewmember.  After this, he simply says “Animal.”  He really does a great job of showing us how crazy the character is.

The other role that scared me was his role as Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  As much as I hated him throughout the movie, when he snaps and goes nuts at the end, wow!  When he is run over by the steamroller you are almost happy!  When he melts, you are ecstatic! When an actor makes you hate a character he is playing that much – he’s done it right! He says that people come up to him often and mention how much this character scared them, so I am not alone.  He also says that he loves playing villains, because it’s a “license just to be as bad as the script allows you to be”.

There are many other movies that Christopher has played in that you may be familiar with, like The Dream Team, Dennis the Menace (Switchblade Sam is an awesome villain), and My Favorite Martian.  He has done so much more that I wish I had been able to see.  For example, in 2010, he starred as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in a Weston House Production. I can only imagine how well he played this iconic role.   In 2008, he played Scrooge in a production of A Christmas Carol with John Goodman and Jane Leeves.  WOW – I would LOVE to see him as Scrooge!!!!  Many have played Scrooge, and played him well…but I know that Christopher’s interpretation would have been off the charts!

He continues to do voice work (my kids loved him as the Hacker on Cyberchase), television, and movies and is very active on social media. If you don’t already, follow him.

Thanks, Christopher for entertaining so many over the years!  You are a treasure!

In Closing

I want to thank the hosts of this blogathon, “Pop Culture Reverie” and “In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood”,  for allowing me to participate.  It was a lot of fun for me to think about these three influential men and their work, and ultimately write about them.  I hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

 

 

Keeping Christmas All The Year

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Well, the Christmas presents are now opened. The music books with Christmas Carols are now back up on the shelves and the Christmas music on the radio has abruptly ceased. It is painfully obvious that Christmas is over!  I have never understood how these radio stations that go “all Christmas music” LONG before Thanksgiving, can just stop it immediately at midnight on December 26th.  Ok, I get it, Christmas is over, but you could casually fade back into regular music.  I mean it is Wednesday and I know some people who aren’t even going to get together with their family until this weekend to celebrate the holiday. Besides, there are plenty of “winter” songs that could easily still play in rotation, much like those oldies stations sprinkle in “summer” themed songs during the summer. I am sorry – I digress.

The fact that Christmas is over, however, is important for me to make a point with this blog.  Much like it was important for readers to know that “Marley was dead” to completely grasp the story of a Christmas Carol by Dickens, we must understand that Christmas is over.  Speaking of Dickens, a quote from his holiday classic is the exact thing that has me writing this blog.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year” – Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Keeping Christmas All Year

It is easier to be nicer to people in December.  We are naturally friendlier, we put a little more into each handshake, we smile a bit bigger, and we are more charitable.  Think of the things that you “over look”, “forgive” or choose not to say anything about because “it’s Christmas”.  Because of the season, it’s easier to do.  I heard someone call Christmas Spirit a “limited time offer” once.  That, in itself is humorous, but what if we didn’t put a limit on this?  What if we made a choice to be nicer to people, forgive more, and to spread Christmas Spirit throughout the other 11 months of the year?  Just HOW do we even go about doing that?

Imagine if we all made a conscious choice to live every day with the Christmas spirit?  Elvis Presley said in one of my favorite (and underplayed) Christmas songs: “Oh why can’t every day be Christmas?  Why can’t that feeling go on endlessly?  For if every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world it would be.”  Powerful lyrics!  So powerful, that I would like to present a challenge.

I wish I could say that I thought of this on my own, but I didn’t.  I am sure that there have been others who have posed this same challenge throughout the years.  However, perhaps if I keep presenting it, maybe, collectively, we CAN make a difference and keep the spirit of Christmas alive well into 2019 and beyond.

Realistically, I understand that it would be odd to be singing Christmas Carols at the swimming pool in July or dressing up as an elf with an ugly sweater for work.  So Just what are some ways we can “keep Christmas” in the months ahead?  Here are some ways:

Know What is Important and Make Time for That!

During the Christmas season, we make our families a priority.  We spend time making memories and celebrating with them.  After Christmas, the “world” takes over and tries to monopolize your time.  Your job, your bills, and other things can often interfere and beg for your attention.  Remember what is truly important to you.  Make family a priority.  When you are able to bring yourself back to what matters most, you can make the most of every day and every situation.

Be Kind To Everyone.

I’ll admit, this isn’t always an easy thing to do.  At Christmas, everyone seems to be a bit nicer to each other, so let’s start here.  Treat everyone with a bit of kindness – especially those who aren’t necessarily nice to you.  This, in itself, is a great way to keep that Christmas Spirit alive.  Think about how you would treat that person if it were Christmas.

Be Thankful.  Focus On What You Have.

During the holidays, we often reflect on the things that we are thankful for – our family, our friends, and the things that make us happy.  When we bask in the appreciation of what we have, and reflect on those things with happiness – we continue that Christmas feeling well past Christmas Day!  The key to making this happen is to focus more on what you have instead of what you want.  Instead of saying, “I want …” and “I need….” think “I’m very grateful I have …”

Find the Good.  Surround Yourself With It.

At Christmas, we see many things that bring about a childlike wonder.  We take note of the things like Christmas lights, special ornaments, an ongoing tradition, and the curiosity of what’s in a beautifully wrapped present.  Look on life in wonder and amazement.  Find those things that bring about that wonder and embrace the good things you see in everyday life.  Marveling in those things is another way to keep the Christmas spirit alive.

Giving to Charity

During the holidays, we tend to give a bit more.  We drop extra change in the red buckets and exchange pleasantries with the bell ringers; we adopt families at church; we donate to organizations who provide Christmas presents for kids without families and are a bit more open to helping.  Doing something for a charity throughout the year is an amazing way to keep that spirit of Christmas alive AND you’ll feel good about doing it.  The need doesn’t go away after Christmas.  The shelters still have people in need.  There are always people who have been hit with tragedy that can use your help.  Even donating to a local food bank can be a huge help.  It is better to give than to receive, and should you ever need to be on the receiving end, you will be thankful for those who gave.

Get Active in Your Community

During the holidays, many will take part in the Christmas Tree lighting or Christmas Sing Alongs.  Throughout the year, the community is always looking for volunteers to help with various events.  Get involved with things that make a positive impact on your city.  Help with community clean up projects, support local businesses, or go to a city council meeting.  Be proud of the city you live in and be a good neighbor to others!

Listen to Some Tunes

Who says it has to be December to listen to Christmas songs?!  I have Christmas songs on my iPod and when I am listening at work, I very rarely skip them.  Those songs that make you happy during the holiday season can bring a smile to your face anytime of the year.  Winter Wonderland is a good song to cool you off in the summer!  For some, the religious Christmas songs serve as a reminder that we need God/Jesus in our lives every day.  There is no law as to when one can listen to Christmas songs…so crank them up!

Christmas Shop All Year

No need to wait for Black Friday deals.  Here’s a great idea that you may actually relieve some stress next Christmas – shop now!  Whenever you see a great deal on a toy or something that would be a great Christmas gift, buy it now and store it away until December.  How amazing would it be to have all that shopping done for Christmas BEFORE all the madness?!  It will also help you with your budget!  So many people go into debt at Christmas because they use the last few paychecks of the year to do all of their shopping.  Take that extra $20 each paycheck throughout the year and buy a gift, you’ll thank me in December when everyone but you is stressing at the store.

Send a Card – For No Reason!

One of the things I look forward to each Christmas is getting the mail.  I love to see who has sent us a Christmas Card.  I love the “Year In Review” notes that update me on the various news from friends and family.  In this day and age where we spend so much time on social media and texting – a handwritten note or card in the mail can spread so much joy! Grab some Forever Stamps and make it a point to write a note to someone.

Light a Christmas Candle

Who doesn’t love the smell of a Christmas tree?  Peppermint? Pumpkin Pie? Sugar Cookies?  You can find candles that smell like these things and more.  My wife loves the smell of cinnamon sticks, so we often light candles throughout the year.  This is an easy way to get into the spirit.  Maybe you can light a candle while you write out the card I just mentioned?

Grab a Beverage

My sons bought me my favorite coffee (mentioned in a previous blog) for Christmas.  I can brew a pot of Cinnamon Holiday Blend from Coffee Beanery any time of the year and it makes it feel like Christmas.  Why not have some hot chocolate during the summer?  Who says you can only drink egg nog during the Christmas season?  There are plenty of recipes on the internet – make your own!

Christmas Feast – In July

We have a turkey in our freezer right now.  When you are hearing about all the Christmas in July sales all over town, why not celebrate it with a Christmas Dinner?  I am all about a good meal.  This is another way to keep the spirit alive – why not invite the whole family over for a mid-summer feast?  Have Christmas cookies for dessert! What a great way to enjoy good food and good company!

I Triple Dog Dare You!

So there is a hefty challenge!  I challenge you (and myself) to go forward over the next 11 months and prolong the Christmas season!  Spread that cheer in the months to come!  Let’s be like Scrooge and keep Christmas the whole year! Let’s help make that Elvis lyric come true – “for if every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world this would be!”

“So remember while December
Brings the only Christmas Day
In the year let there be Christmas
In the things we do and say
Wouldn’t life be worth the living
Wouldn’t dreams be coming true
If we kept the Christmas spirit
All the whole year through.”     ~Author unknown, c.1962

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To: S. Claus. North Pole.

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December 19, 2018

Dear Santa,

I know it has been some time since I have written a letter to you, and I bet you are wondering why I have chosen to do so after all these years. Well, to be honest, there have been a lot of changes in my life over the past few years. I am seeing life with different eyes, and it is wonderful! I have made a decision to weed out negativity and to stay positive. There is too much judgment, hate, and sadness in the world and I have done what I can to steer clear of that. By doing so, I have found great happiness. So, why am I writing to you, you ask?

The answer is that I am not sure. It may be the combination of a couple of things. First, I have played the song Grown Up Christmas List a few times at the radio station, and this year the words hit me a bit harder than in previous years. Second, I’ve watched a few movies where the lack of Christmas Spirit has played a big role in the plot, and I fear my Christmas Spirit may be lacking. Third, I am newly married to a beautiful woman who has changed my life in ways I can’t even begin to explain. She has brought about a happiness that has been absent from my life for way too long. Finally, after my annual reading of A Christmas Carol, I have pondered some things about the future, while thinking about the present and the past.

The Christmas season has always brought me great joy. As a little boy, rushing out to see what you had left under the tree, I remember being overcome with happiness! I recall the many notes that you left for my brother and I each Christmas morning. I recall the notes that you left for my sons years later. (We often wondered (and I still do) how you could eat so many cookies and never gain weight!) What an amazing job you have! To quote Stan Freberg in his record Christmas Dragnet, you’re the only guy who “can make everybody happy in one night.”

With the passing of many years, I now sit here to write you this letter. I want to say first of all, thank you for the many gifts that you have brought over the years. While I was never too keen on the socks and underwear, as an adult I do realize that they were something I needed. Thank you for the Millennium Falcon, the numerous Star Wars figures, the countless books and movies, as well as the straight mute for my trumpet. Thank you for the various games, Hot Wheels cars, my bike with the cool handlebars, and the Sound Gizmo! Thank you for the many Lego sets, the Wii, and the toys you brought for my sons! Before I give you my list of requests, I wanted to be sure that you are aware of just how grateful I am for the many gifts of Christmas Past.

I do realize that you get many requests, and this is probably your busiest time of year, but I hope it is not too late you ask you for a few things. This list is kind of a tall order. Take all the time you need on them, I will understand.

For Kids

I have noticed that children seem to be growing up faster than they should. It is almost as though their innocence is taken from them sooner than it should be. My first wish is that they be allowed to be kids and do kid things for longer periods of time. Allow them to play and imagine! Allow them to experience the happiness and freedom of not being an adult. Shield them from the miseries, tragedies, and unpleasant things of the modern world. Allow them to share more smiles and less tears. Fill their lives with laughter and people who care. Protect them from harm and needless worry. Allow them to experience the magic of childhood, free from cruelty and bullying. Children are our future and we need them!

The Nations of the World

It seems that every time I hear a news report, there is a story about crimes related to gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and racism. When will the people in charge realize that the more we are different, the more we are the same?! The words of Maya Angelou ring true here – “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” I hope you can help us with this. We all come from a family. We all have the ability to love. We all have the capability to do good. We all have the ability to problem solve and to find “middle ground”. We all can take advantage of the power of “compromise”. My secnd wish is that you please help people to remember the following powerful quote: “We are all one race – the human race – and we are all members of it.”

Financial Freedom?

This one is a bit of a sore spot. Is it too much to ask that people be allowed to earn a living? I’m not talking about overabundant wealth, because you and I know that sometimes comes with its own set of troubles. My third wish is that people have the ability to go and work at a job and make enough money to live debt free. That they have the ability to live within their means, and enjoy life. Now, I am completely aware that there are many people who suffer because of their own addictions and actions. I am not talking about those people. However, there should be no reason for someone to have to work two and three jobs while their spouse works more than one job and still struggle to make ends meet. I hope you understand, I am not against working! I have a college education (and student loan debt out the ying yang) and I have a good job. Many people are just like me and struggle to keep their heads above water. Perhaps you and the elves can find a way to help out the ‘average Joe’ ? We are worrying too much, working too much, and stressed beyond belief. They say we need to stop and smell the roses, but it seems that life won’t let us slow down enough to do that.

Enough with the Cancer

This one is a bit selfish. This cancer thing has taken some people from me who I loved very much. It’s not just me, though – cancer has taken people from some of my friends, too. Let’s face it, it is out of control! Cancer is a monster that knows no age, I learned that when I visited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Kids should never have to deal with fighting cancer and their parent’s shouldn’t have to be burdened with all that treatment entails! You’ve got connections, right? You have to know people who can finally find a cure for this. Maybe you can even help us figure out what is the cause of cancer and why we see so much of it? The elves can magically whip up any and every toy imaginable – isn’t there something you can do to help us find a cure for cancer? If you can figure this out, maybe we could tackle the other health issues and diseases, too!

For Me, Personally

Before I close, I do have a few personal requests to make. If possible, throughout the year, please help me to be a good husband, a good father, and a good friend. Send along little reminders throughout the year that remind me to be like Scrooge and keep the Christmas Spirit throughout the year. Help me to be a giver of gifts that do not cost anything:

  • The Gift of Listening. Help me to REALLY listen to others! No interrupting. No planning my response. No daydreaming. Just truly listening.
  • The Gift of Affection. Help me to be generous with appropriate hugs, kisses, hand holding and pats on the back. Help me to show my family and friends how much I treasure them.
  • The Gift of Laughter. Help me to spread a smile. Help me to bring joy and help others forget their worries and stresses. Help me to always make people happy!
  • The Gift of Writing. Help me to expand on the writing that I enjoy. Help me to find topics that others find interesting and thought-provoking. Help me to remember that sometimes a handwritten note is sometimes more meaningful than a phone call or meaningless text message.
  • The Gift of a Compliment. Help me to always compliment someone on a job well done. Help me to compliment someone on a simple haircut or new outfit. Help me to never let someone’s work be unnoticed.
  • The Gift of a Favor. Help me to always do something nice for others. Help me to lend a hand. Help me to assist those who need something. Help me always think of ways to lend a hand.
  • The Gift of a Cheerful Disposition. Help me to always wear a smile. Help me to stay positive. Help me find the positives in a negative world. Help me to spread cheer through a smile.
  • The Gift of Solitude. Help me to be conscious of when someone needs a few moments to themselves. Help me to respect when someone does not want to talk or share feelings. Help me to occasionally get this gift for myself, too.

Thanks for taking the time to read my letter. Thanks for spreading Christmas Cheer throughout the entire world. Thank you for the awe and wonder that you bring to little children who look forward to your yearly visit. On behalf of parents everywhere, thank you for helping those little ones steer away from doing wrong and making an extra effort to be on their best behavior.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

Keith

A holiday tradition since 1982 …..

“Marley was dead: to begin with” … so begins the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.  It was originally published on December 19, 1843 and the first edition was completely sold out by Christmas Eve (that’s less than a week!). This was not Dickens’ first Christmas story.  As a matter of fact, he had written three before writing this one and would go on to write four more afterward.  The story of the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, however, remains his best known holiday story.

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1982 – English Class – Lincoln Junior High

While I was familiar with the story, and had even seen a few movie versions of this classic ghost story, I had never actually read the novella.  However, in 7th grade, I was blessed with one of my all time favorite teachers – Mrs. Shirley Kellogg.  She was a no-nonsense teacher who could even make diagramming sentences fun.

I remember one day I got caught daydreaming and looking out the window.  She  saw me and asked me a question, which I obviously did not hear.  I was startled by her calling my name and I must have looked scared to death.  She looked at me and said, “Well just don’t sit there like a Willie Lump Lump – answer the question.”  I started laughing, because I was well aware of the Red Skelton character she was referring to and even though I didn’t have an answer, I immediately connected with her! Rest assured, I saved my daydreaming for other classed!

Back to A Christmas Carol – I remember that we would often read from this big blue book that had the word “Literature” in the title.  It was a collection of modern stories, short stories, classic stories, and poems.  Charles Dickens’ tale was in this book. In elementary school, we would often read stories aloud, with each student reading a chapter.  What makes my first “reading” of this story unique is that Mrs. Kellogg read it to us – not live though…it was Memorex!  She had spent time recording herself reading the entire story and played it back to us on a cassette tape.  This allowed us to read along while she graded papers and such. Because of this, when I read the story today, I can still hear certain lines in her voice.

Stave One

Dickens divides his tale into 5 “staves” or chapters.  In the first one, the story opens on a miserable Christmas Eve, 7 years after the death of Scrooge’s partner in business Jacob Marley.  Dickens’ opening line stresses the importance of the fact that he was dead.  In fact, he stated that this “must distinctly be understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story” that follows. Dickens’ description of Scrooge is something that I can still hear in Mrs. Kellogg’s voice – “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” Right from the start, we learn what a miserable man Scrooge truly is.

In this stave we are also introduced to Fred, Scrooge’s nephew.  His visit only continues to illustrate Scrooge’s hate for the holiday and the season. Another main character is Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s clerk.  As we hear of the poor working conditions and his measly salary, we are left to wonder why this poor man is working for such a jerk like Scrooge. We are also introduced to two men collecting for charity, who are basically told by Scrooge to “get lost”.  He tells them that he supports prisons and workhouses and those in need should go there for refuge.

Before the chapter is over, we follow Scrooge to his empty, damp, dark, and desolate home where we are introduced to his deceased business parter, Jacob Marley and begin to witness the beginnings of Scrooge’s transformation.

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Marley’s ghost is a ghastly sight.  He is wearing heavy chains and lockboxes.  He tells of the misery and gloom that he suffers in the afterlife.  He gives Scrooge a warning that his fate is far worse than his, as he has had additional years to labor on the chains he is forging.  A doubtful Scrooge tells him he must be some sort of mirage or illusion, to which Marley scares him into believing his presence.  Marley sets the stage for what is to follow – the visits from three spirits.  These visits are the only chance that Scrooge has to avoid Marley’s fate.

Stave Two – The Past

Scrooge’s second spiritual visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge then asks the spirit if it is the spirit of “long past”, and the spirit tells him “your past”.  The spirit whisks Scrooge away to Christmases where Scrooge was a boy, a young man, and a young adult.  We begin to get a sense of why he is the way he is.  As a boy, he spends Christmas at a boarding school.  As a young man, we see him as an apprentice – an apprentice who loves Christmas.  We also see him as a young adult, where the love of his life leaves him, because money has grown the most important thing in his life.

The older I get, the more this part of the story stays with me.  Scrooge, as he witnesses all these past Christmases, is given a gift.  He is allowed to see a younger self and those who he grew up with.  He calls out the names of the school mates, he sees his beloved sister who died giving birth to his nephew, he speaks highly of his fellow apprentice and his old boss, and he relives the pain of the loss of his love. We witness scenes that spark many emotions with Scrooge.

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Imagine, being able to go back in time to witness past Christmases!  What I wouldn’t give to relive those childhood memories!  I would love to see:

  • My grandfather’s face as I opened the cribbage board he gave me
  • The joy on me and my brother’s faces as we opened up the entire collection of Star War Figures.
  • The homemade Christmas ornaments mom made for our tree
  • My children’s first Christmases
  • A family pinochle game in the sun room at my grandparents
  • Dad putting together one of our toys with a gazillion stickers to place on it
  • Mom in good health, laughing at a gag gift I bought her
  • The adults playing guitars and the organ after having a few too many rum balls
  • The spread of Italian food we’d feast on every Christmas Eve

The list goes on and on. To be able to hear the voices of loved ones who are no longer with us … wow.  What a gift Scrooge is treated to.

Stave Three – The Present

The second spirit is the Ghost of Christmas Present.  He is a jolly spirit who shows Scrooge what is to happen this Christmas.  He is first given some enlightenment about his clerk as he visits their home.  He learns first hand of the struggles that they face, financially and emotionally.  He is shown the small feast that the entire family is to eat and also introduced to the Cratchit’s lame boy, Tiny Tim.

We really see the events of the past and present stirring in old Scrooge here, as he very uncharacteristically asks the spirit if Tiny Tim will live.  The spirit informs him that if the present course remains, Tiny Tim will die.  The amazing change that is beginning in Scrooge is seen clearly here.  The glimpse of compassion and worry as he asks the question of Tiny Tim’s fate, followed by the hanging of his head in grief when he hears the answer.

Ever wonder what people are saying about you when you are not there?  In some cases, it’s better that you not know.  Scrooge visits his nephews home next and is shown the dinner that he was invited to.  What he sees is the guests making fun of him.  He sees his nephew telling everyone in disbelief about his uncle’s abhorrence of the holiday. The more he sees the angrier he gets and tells the spirit to take him away from the scene he is watching.

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As the spirit’s time grows short, Scrooge notices something that looks like a claw coming out from underneath the spirit’s robe.  The spirit reveals two children – a boy and a girl who are anything but pretty.  They were children, but they looked terrible.  Scrooge asks the spirit if they belong to him.  The spirit answers that they are “Man’s”.  Scrooge learns that the boy is Ignorance and the girl is Want and is told to “Beware them both, and all their degree”.  175 years later – these words are still true!  Beware ignorance and want!

There is nothing that is more embarrassing than to have your own words thrown back at you, especially when those words take on a whole new meaning in a situation.  As the ghost’s time expires on earth, he answers Scrooge’s question about finding some sort of refuge. His powerful reply consists of Scrooge’s words to the men collecting for charity “Are there no prisons?  Are there no workhouses?” With that, the spirit is gone…

Stave Four – Christmas Yet To Come

Fear can be a very good motivator.  Imagine the fear that now engulfs Scrooge as he sees his final spiritual visitor!  The Phantom which is described as being “draped and hooded” is now coming toward Scrooge”slowly, gravely” and “silently – like a mist on the ground.” Rather than run away in a panic, Scrooge faces the spirit who speaks not a word.  Words can be scary – silence can be scarier!  How he comes to know that he is in the presence of the ghost of the future must have be based on his knowledge of his previous two visitors. He confirms this by asking the spirit if that is who he is and the reply that he gets is a slow and deliberate nod.

Scrooges’s fear is no secret, as a matter of fact he tells the ghost that he fears him “more than any other Spectre I have seen.”  The change that continues in Scrooge is apparent here as he goes on to say that he knows that his “purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company”.

No surprise that the topic everyone shown to Scrooge is discussing is death.  The death of one nameless man in particular. He sees business men standing on the street talking about an “old scratch” who “got his own at last”.  Then he is shown a sort of pawn shop where three people meet up to pawn stuff they took from a dead man’s home – including the shirt off the man’s dead corpse.  He is then in a dark empty room where a dead man lays on a bed under a sheet.  The spirit points to the head of the body – he wants Scrooge to look at the man.  Scrooge says that he cannot do it.  Every situation the spirit showed Scrooge was one where the man’s death brought pleasure.

Scrooge begs the spirit to show him some “tenderness connected with death”.  He is taken through town to the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit.  The mood is somber there as they continue to deal with the death of Tiny Tim.  There is much hurt and many tears in the house.  Scrooge then has the realization that the time with the spirit is almost gone and asks to know who the man was that had died.  He is taken to a church yard that is overrun with weeds and not upkept.  The spirit stands with nothing but a hand pointing to a gravestone.

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The culmination of all that he has seen is now coming to a head.  Scrooge must have some sort of inkling of who is buried in this terrible place, because he now becomes frantic and asks if the things he was shown are things that “will be” or things that “may be” and whether or not they can be changed.  Upon reading his own name on the gravestone, Scrooge breaks.  He begs the spirit to wipe his name from the stone.  He insists that he is not the man he was and that he will live an altered life.  He makes promises to honor Christmas and live by the lessons taught by all the spirits.  He grabs the spirit and continues to plead, but the spirit disappears and turns into his bedpost.

In the classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey is shown what life would be like if he was never born.  He is frightened by so many things that he sees.  He understands just how many things would have been different if he were never born.  With A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge sees the product of the present and future because of his life and how he lives it.

Stave Five – The End of It

The climax of the story – the miracle of the story – all culminates here.  Scrooge is now a changed man!  He is awake on Christmas day and he is filled with joy and happiness which have eluded him for many many years.  His first order of business is to buy the prize turkey and send it to his clerk anonymously.  He even splurges for a cab to send it there. He then dresses in his best and heads out.  He see’s the men who were collecting for charity and whispers a huge sum of money to them – saying that there are many back payments included.  He goes to church and then heads over to his nephew’s house.  Fred is surprised but welcomes him with open arms.

The one man who is unaware of the change in Scrooge is Bob Cratchit.  When he arrives a few minutes late, Scrooge lays into him asking him why he is coming in late and how he is not going to stand for it anymore!  Then he announces he is giving Bob a raise and vowed to help his family in all ways possible.

Dickens ends by telling the reader that he was better than his word.  He was a great man and second father to Tiny Tim.  He also says that there were plenty of naysayers who still laughed at the transformation in Scrooge, and said it didn’t bother him one bit. We are told that there is no more spiritual intervention and that he “knew how to keep Christmas well”.

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Closing Thoughts

I have been reading Dickens A Christmas Carol every year for 36 years now, and each year I am grateful for the start of the tradition.  I was lucky enough to have had Mrs. Kellogg for English Class in 7th and 8th grade and she read it to us both years.  Every holiday, I think of her fondly as I read those opening words.

I have seen almost every film and TV adaptation of this story and it is hard for me to pick a favorite.  What hold true for all of them is the amazing transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge and a renewed appreciation for the Christmas season.  During the holidays, just like Scrooge, people tend to give more to those in need, they tend to be kinder, and they tend to be happier.  Here’s a thought – why not do this all year round?

Elvis Presley had a song on his Christmas CD which stated my feelings perfectly:

Why can’t every day be like Christmas? Why can’t that feeling go on endlessly?  For if every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world this would be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Take a Quiz and Thank a Teacher … or two.

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The following “quiz” has been published in books and can be found all over the internet. It is attributed to the cartoonist Charles Schulz, who drew Snoopy and Charlie Brown for many years. An inquiry to the Charles Schulz Museum has proven that the quiz is NOT something he said, however, it does make an amazing point and is a good starting point for today’s blog.

Here’s the first quiz:

  1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
  2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
  3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.
  4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.
  5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
  6. Name the last decade’s worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?

The facts are, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here’s another quiz. See how you do on this one:

  1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
  2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
  3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
  4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
  5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
  6. Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.

Easier?

The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care.

When I look back on my life, there are many teachers that have made a difference in my life. Some of them are no longer around, and some of them, I am lucky to still be in contact with. Today, I salute some of them.

Mrs. Waters – Kindergarten.

Back when I was a kid, you didn’t have all of these levels of preschool to go through. Kindergarten was your first stop. It was the first time you were away from mom and dad. I wish I could remember more about kindergarten than I do, but what I do remember is that Mrs. Waters was one of the sweetest ladies and she was always smiling. I remember it was either Mother’s Day or Father’s Day and we had to each paint something for Mom or Dad. I had a floppy “paint shirt” which was one of my dad’s old shirts and I remember she took a picture of each student in this shirt and sent a black and white 5X7 of it home. Sadly, it is probably long gone. I remember before she took the picture she came over and fixed my hair and said, “we want mom and dad to see those beautiful brown eyes of yours”. Probably the one and only moment from kindergarten I remember.

Mrs. Cook – Second Grade.

Why is she so important? We moved in the middle of second grade. I was leaving all of my friends behind and starting new. I remember my dad taking me to school that day and we were in the office as the National Anthem was playing. I was taken down to the room and Mrs. Cook walked over to get me at the door. She brought me up in front of the class and had me introduce myself. I know this is hard to believe, especially with all the public speaking have done in the past, but I was scared to death. All these kids were looking at me. She helped me by asking me questions, letting me answer, and then asked the class if they had questions. I don’t recall if they did, but she made that whole experience so much less stressful for me.

Mrs. Gallop – Fourth Grade.

She was fun. I would have to say that my love for reading probably came from her. I remember how reading was such an important part of class. I recall her reading us “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”, “SuperFudge” and “James and the Giant Peach”. She was so animated as she read to us each day. She loved reading and we loved hearing her read. One of the first chapter books I got for my sons was “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”. I remember in “James and the Giant Peach” there was a swear word. To be honest, I don’t recall what it was, but she warned us. She tried to play it off. When she read it, there was shock then giggles. Mrs. Gallop swore!!! She kept reading as animated as ever. When I took my sons to see the play at the Flint Youth Theater not too long ago, I remembered sitting around on small pieces of carpet listening to the story.

Mrs. Kellogg – 7th Grade.

I just loved her! She was no nonsense, and yet enjoyed a little nonsense at times. I was lucky enough to have her for 7th and 8th grade for English. She was tough and I learned a lot about writing because of her. She also was instrumental in getting me to be proactive about working. Yeah, I was not very self-motivated at this point in my life. We were supposed to be doing some quiet reading, and I think I was staring off out the window or something and she called my name and said, “Don’t just sit there like a Willie Lump Lump! Get your eyes on the book!” Well, Willie Lump Lump was a Red Skelton character, who I knew because my dad let us listen to old radio shows. I laughed at this and a special bond was created. I never wanted to disappoint her, and I took initiative to get my work done.

She is also responsible for a yearly tradition for me. We read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 7th and 8th grade. I have read it every year since. I kept in contact with her long after she retired and sadly, I lost her address in between moves. She passed away before I had the chance to reconnect with her. She was a fine example of a caring teacher.

Mr. Harvey – 9th Grade.

I was probably the worst algebra student. I got sick and missed about two weeks of school. When I returned I had no clue what we were doing. I tanked quizzes and tests and we were closing in on the finals. He asked me to stay after class and asked what was up. I told him that I was just lost. He told me he was worried that I was not going to pass the class. He offered to stay after school with me to reteach some of the things I was confused about. Needless to say, there was a lot I was confused about and he realized it right away. He asked why I didn’t ask for help. He worked with me and I squeaked by with a D. Not a proud moment, but it would have been an E for sure if he hadn’t gone out of his way to help.

Mr. Benefield – 9th Grade.

Remember that scene in Stripes when John Candy says as a kid he “swallowed a lot of aggression … along with a lot of pizzas”? That was me. Gym class was not my favorite because I was overweight and never felt like I could do what everyone else was doing. Mr. B was fair. He knew when I was slacking and all he had to say was my name and I would kick it up a notch. Gym class was not like your other classes where there were 25 kids – there were double that or more in gym. If he was calling me out – it wasn’t because he was being mean, it was because he knew I wasn’t giving all that HE knew I was capable of. Side note – he was one of the best damn football coaches our school has ever had!

Mr. Balos – 12th Grade.

Ok, I had him for a senior elective class called Life in America, and it wasn’t a very hard class, but I still learned a lot from him. First of all, he taught us the importance of history. Granted this was entertainment history, but it was still history. Second, he knew that hard work had to be balanced with a little fun. He always wrapped up class five minutes before the bell and told us a “story”. These “stories” were jokes older than he was. While there were many kids who either groaned or stared off dumbfounded because they didn’t get the punch line … I was always laughing like hell. He once said “A bad joke is ALWAYS worth sharing”. It is – throughout life, some of the most awkward situations I have been in were always made a bit less stressful because I told one of his “stories”. I also learned a lot about golf from him and I can hear him every time I get on the tee … “the ball is seven feet long”.

Mr. Yanoulaki – 12th Grade.

As I stated already, I sucked at math. I was lucky enough to have Mr. Y for math in 12th grade. I want to say that the class was called “Math for Life” or “Math for Everyday Living” or something like that. It was the class I felt everyone should have. In it we talked about figuring out gas mileage, how to balance a checkbook, learning to calculate volume and measurements, how to calculate percentages, and a whole lot of other things that I use every day. He was very energetic – it was like he had ADD. He was always moving from the time he walked in to class until class was over. Many people tried to take advantage of him and make fun of him, but I really thought he was great. He was such a genuine man. He knew when people were toying with him and often just ignored them. Sometimes people would push him a bit too far and it would make him angry. Respect is something that many of my classmates did not have. He could be very fun, but when it was time to work – that’s what we needed to do. It was when someone decided to try to get him talking about something off topic that he’d get mad. He did not have any issues having someone removed from class because of things like this. I think many just pushed him so they WOULD get kicked out. I have remained in touch with him after all these years and he is still doing well and as energetic and healthy as ever. His nephew is my chiropractor and we’re hoping to get together for coffee one day soon.

Mr. Shaner 9th-12th Grade.

Mr. Shaner was my band director. If you are looking for my stance on Music Education in schools – here it is. “I LEARNED MORE TO PREPARE ME FOR LIFE FROM BAND CLASS THAN ANY OTHER CLASS IN SCHOOL”. There. I said it. I learned the importance of preparation. I learned the importance of punctuality. I learned the importance of practice. I learned the importance of team work. I learned the importance of organization. I learned the importance of patience. All of my time management skills came directly from band class. I learned about discipline and work ethic. I learned the importance of cooperation and respect. The list goes on and on. The lessons that I took from band class in itself can be an entire blog.

I recall one day in 9th grade, I was running late for school. I grabbed a pair of khaki pants from a basket that was in the laundry room. I walked into school and TS said “Hey, man, you know an iron can get those wrinkles out of your slacks”. Now some people might think this was mean. I didn’t take it that way. Instead, it made me aware of little things like looking good. It was a simple nudge to take an extra minute to dress right.

It was not odd for him to call someone in the office and ask if everything was ok if they looked like something was bothering them. Sometimes he would get wind of a situation someone was dealing with and he would be aware that there was a lesson in it for everyone. He would just tell some story in class with the lesson at the end and it did two things – it helped the person in the situation AND it helped the rest of us in case that situation ever popped up in our lives.

I remember one time Steve and I were goofing off during a rehearsal. It was the day before festival, so it was not the time to be fooling around. He stopped the band and asked us what was so funny. Because we did not have an answer he pointed to the door and said “I’ll see you after rehearsal”. We sat at the end of the hall and pondered how much trouble we were going to get into not only with him but with our folks. He sent Kelly, the band president down to the end of the hall to get us. He looked at us dead in the eye and said “I did not want you to go with us to festival tomorrow, but the band as a whole voted and said you should come”. He proceeded with the rehearsal. The following day, I was the first to arrive in the band room. He greeted me with a smile and I was completely confused. He was SO angry the day before. I asked if he had a second and he said to follow him to his office. He sat down and looked at me, like he had no idea why I was there. I apologized for my behavior the previous day and told him it would never happen again. He stared at me for a few seconds and got up quickly (which scared the hell out of me). He extended his hand and said, “It takes a lot of guts to admit when you are wrong. It takes a real man to apologize. Thank you for taking responsibility for your actions. I have a lot of respect for you.” He took it a step further and made sure the entire band knew what happened. He said he thought that they should know that I cared enough about them to apologize for my actions. Talk about respect? I have the utmost respect for that man and all of the lessons I still carry with me to this day. I am glad that we have remained in contact all these years later. He was a major influence in my life and in the lives of many students.

Christine, Michele, and Angie – College.

It would not be fair for me to write about teachers if I did not mention these three ladies. They were the instructors in college for my sleep program. Each of them taught differently and with different styles, but they still got the information to me. You know that saying “Learning can be fun”? They made it fun. But wait…it was college. I was late to the college party as I didn’t go until I was over 40. Everything I had seen about college had big classes with serious teachers who took no BS. While we learned, we laughed. There were plenty of funny stories and we learned from them. And each one of them cared for their students. Never once was I turned away if I had a question about something we learned in class. If I didn’t understand, they would go over it and over it until I DID understand. Sure there were other classes I had to take in college, but these classes and these three wonderful ladies – who I also call my friends – helped me to walk across a stage with a college degree … something I NEVER thought I was capable of doing.

There are many more teachers I can mention (and knowing me, probably will in future blogs), I want to say thanks to each and every teacher who was a part of my school years. You made a difference. You should be applauded and commended for the work you do. The many hours of your own time that you spent grading papers. The extra time you took to help that one student who was struggling. The money that you spent out of your own pocket to get something for your class. You may never know the influence that you had on a student, but I am here to tell you on their behalf that you did make an impact and to thank you.

If you are a teacher in the classroom setting today, whether it is grade school, high school, or college. You are one of the most important people in this country. YOU matter. YOU are helping tomorrow’s scientists dream. You are helping feed the doctors of tomorrow wisdom. You are shaping our future. I thank you!