2 Years of Ramblings – A Reflection

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Two Years Old

Word Press informs me that this blog turned two years old yesterday!  Two years and the blogging continues….

I wrote a blog reflecting on one year and some feelings remain the same.  Rather than look back on the entire two years, I thought I would reflect on the last year, which had many milestones!  Over the past year, I have gained many more followers, so for those new followers, let me give you a brief look at why this blog exists two years later.

The beginnings

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When I began this blog, I really didn’t have any idea of what it would be.  In my head, I thought that I might blog about some things I liked.  I also knew I would probably write about some favorite memories.  I might also write tributes to important people in my life or just random thoughts to help me deal with emotions or life situations.

This blog was meant for me.  It was to be a “sort of” therapy for me.  I envisioned it as a way to keep track of thoughts, write down stories I didn’t want to forget, and occasionally just vent. I had often joked about writing an autobiography, and in a way, this blog has become “chapters”.

I never thought that anyone would actually want to read these blogs (unless, of course, the blog mentioned them)!  Yet, here I am over two years later and I have “followers” – people who actually make it a point to read this no matter what the topic.  It humbles me.

Looking Back

If I were to compare “year one” with “year two” I would say the blogs leaned a lot more happy.  They contained many happy moments.  Looking back, I see how I have grown and learned to deal with certain people, certain situations, and look at things more objectively.  I have learned to think before reacting.  I have learned to separate myself from those things that bring on stress and make me uncomfortable.  I have gotten more in touch with the person I want to be. Looking back, I see much more happiness.  Life has been very good to me over the last year.

Musical Blogs

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Much like last year, there were plenty of blogs about music.  I began to post a song every Tuesday that held some special meaning.  Maybe the song was prompted by a singer’s birthday or it was just something I heard on the radio.  I admit toward the end of the year, I neglected the Tune Tuesday feature a bit.  I hope to be a bit more consistent with it in the year ahead.  Last year’s songs ranged from Dean Martin to Hugh Laurie to the Muppets!  I look forward to this year’s selections.

Memories of the Past

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Nostalgic memories are often featured here.  Many of them stem from things I see that bring back memories.  Some writings stem from an idea I got from a fellow blogger.  Some of the topics from last year included the ice cream man, toys I remember from my childhood, breakfast cereals from my childhood, memories of band class, the Sunday comics I used to read, books I read as a child and to my boys, and the summer baseball games I played in the neighborhood.  There was also a blog about Muppets phased out of Sesame Street.

Guest Blogger

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I toyed with this idea, and my little brother stepped up to bat.  It was fun to tell him to write whatever he wanted to and see what he came up with.  I really like this idea, and I hope to get a few others to write occasional pieces for this blog.  I am very open to this idea.  Let me know if you would like to do this!  You could write about me, our friendship, or expand on something I have already written.

Friendship salutes

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This year I saluted my oldest and best friend on his birthday.  I also saluted three of my friends from school/band in one blog because they all celebrated birthdays in October. Remembering some of the funny radio stories that involved my co-host Stephanie was a blast for sure!  Some blogs were inspired by friends and their posts on Facebook.  Year three I am already planning some overdue friendship blogs.  Stay tuned!

Movies

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This year, I did a series on my favorite movies by decade.  The idea was to pick one favorite film from each year you have been alive.  I was born in 1970, so I did a blog for each decade (70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s).  I neglected to do 2010-2019, but now that we have entered the new decade, I will have to make sure to wrap that series up.  I really enjoy being able to write about my favorite films, and I found it a challenge to narrow it down to one each year.

Celebrities

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Last year I wrote about less celebrities than the year before.  I wrote about The Three Stooges, in a round about way, as I went with the boys to the Stooges Festival in Redford.  I devoted an entire blog to some of the very funny lines that Paul Lynde had from the Hollywood Squares.  The great Jack Benny got an much deserved blog on his birthday.  I also wrote about Elvis on the anniversary of his passing.  I believe that there are a few other celebrities who I could easily devote an entire blog to, I just wonder if folks would read it.

Television

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Along with movies and music, TV tends to be a topic I love to write about.  This year I wrote a blog about the classic 1966 Batman show.  I also wrote about my favorite TV shows of the 1950’s.  For Tune Tuesday, I picked Sanford and Son because of the theme song.  I really need to write about that show and some of my other favorites.  This year I blogged about the remake of All in the Family and The Jefferson’s which again brought me back to one of my original blogging ideas – “why must they remake everything!?”  I also had a chance to talk about one of my favorite Christmas TV specials this year.

Serious Topics

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While many blogs tend to focus on entertaining things, some blogs wind up being of a serious nature.  I am human.  I can’t be upbeat all the time.  I finally had the guts to write about the topic of divorce – just to see if I could do it. Death was also a topic.  I lost some close friends this year.  I also had friends of mine who lost loved ones.  Just this week alone, my buddy Chris lost his mom and a co-worker lost hers.  It’s a hard topic to write about, but I did.

Emotional Blogs

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As I look back over “year two”, there is no shortage of blogs that brought about strong emotions from me.  One of those stemmed from a photo shoot for my oldest son.  Senior pictures.  I still choke up as I think about him being a senior and graduating.  Speaking of graduation, my wife graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in April.  I felt so much pride for her as she walked that stage.  She did all the work, so why it was so emotional for me, I don’t know.  I sometimes think I can get too emotional.  Rest assured – there are more emotional blogs in the year ahead!

Rants

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The blog also consisted of many personal rants.  Some I have mentioned (TV and Movie remakes, missing Muppets, and such), but I also ranted (and whined) about having the “man cold”.  That blog brought about much teasing from friends!  I also ranted about how much I miss record stores (prompted by a record player I received for my birthday).  I know I have other “rant” topics in my blogging notebook.

A Love Story

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Sam and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary.  I chose to take the occasion of our anniversary to tell “our story”. The people who were close to us knew the story, but many didn’t.  As sort of a “love letter” to my wife, and as a way to tell just how our wonderful relationship began, I wrote a series of three blogs leading up to our anniversary.  Those blogs talked of how we met and became close friends, how we began dating and how I proposed, and then how we got married.  Those blogs were among my highest read last year.  A blog followed about our anniversary trip.  Sam makes me SO happy and I am sure there will be many more blogs about our amazing relationship.

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On Father’s Day, Sam told me that we were expecting a baby.  It was SO hard to NOT blog about that!!  We waited some time before spilling the beans with our big announcement.  A series of blogs about expecting a baby, then finding out we were having a girl, and finally sharing the name we had picked for her remain the most read blogs in the history of this blog!  The support from our friends and family has been SO amazing!  Sharing stories of the baby shower and 3D ultrasound pics has been a thrill.  We are closing in on the due date (February 16) and she can come anytime.  The nursery is ready and so are we! We anxiously await her arrival and with it, I will have plenty of things to share with you about being a dad again!

The Future

As I said last year – Not so long ago, I was told my someone once close to me to stop writing.  “Nobody wants to read about that crap!  It is a waste of time.  Stop trying to be creative. Nobody cares about what you like and don’t like!”  If I have learned anything from Facebook and this blog, it is that people do care!  People do like to read what I write!  In the end, I don’t really write for others, I write for myself.  The fact that other people read this blog and get some enjoyment out if it is a little bonus.

In future blogs, I will continue to write about things I love.  I will write about things that people want to know about.  I hope to do more Question and Answer blogs and I will continue to participate in Blogathons.  I want to write about how Autism played a role on my life, which I never seemed to get around to last year.  I also want to continue to write on movies and music. I will continue to write about things in my personal life (and how it is affected by the arrival of our beautiful daughter). I will continue to write – because I enjoy it.  The minute this is no longer satisfying and I feel that I have written all I can write … I will stop.  Until then, thank YOU for reading my “various ramblings”.  I appreciate you!

Happy 2nd Birthday!!

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A Novel Idea

One of my favorite places to hang out is the library.  Last week, my oldest son asked if we could go there so he could look up some things for a homework project.  While he was working on that, I naturally started browsing.  I always start in the New Fiction/New Non-Fiction section.  By doing this, I have stumbled onto some books that I may never have read (I love to do this at the book store, too!).

While looking at the new titles on the book spines, one jumped out at me – “Marley”.  Two things come to mind when I hear “Marley”: (1) Marley and Me (the movie about a dog) and (2) Jacob Marley from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (which I just read for the holiday).  I picked up the book and saw that surrounding the title were links of chains.  Marley’s Ghost in Dickens’ story appears weighed down by chains.

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As you can see by the cover, the book is indeed about Jacob Marley.  I read that this author, Jon Clinch, also wrote a “back story” to Huckleberry Finn, which focused on Huck’s father.  This backstory, gives new light to the story we all know so well.  That is what this book does, as well.  In Dickens’ tale, we don’t know much about Jacob Marley.

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We know that he was Scrooge’s business partner and that he is forced to walk the earth bearing the chains he forged in life.  But what led him to this fate?  Why is Ebenezer Scrooge the way he is?  This book tells us.  I am only a few chapters in, but am enjoying it so far.

It’s been done before – many times

This is not a new concept.  There have been many books, movies, and TV shows that explored how well known characters became the way they are.  Fans of the TV show Taxi may remember a flashback scene where Reverend Jim was drug free!  Jack Benny did many shows telling the story of how he met members of his cast.  The TV show How I Met Your Mother used this entire premise for the entire series.

It is no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.  I loved the book, and loved the movie trilogy.  The novel was published in 1969, and the film was released in 1972.

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Marlon Brando played Vito Corleone, the head of the Corleone Crime family.

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Two years later, in 1974, The Godfather Part II was released in theaters.  It consisted of flashbacks of how Vito became the Don.  The role was played by Robert DeNiro.

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But what about other characters?  Ed Falco’s 2012 novel “The Family Corleone” tells us.

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The book is based on an unproduced screenplay that Mario Puzo had written.  It gives us a look at some of the minor characters, like Luca Brasi, and how they come to know the Don and how they join the family. A couple books that “fill in the gaps” between the Godfather movie trilogy came out in 2004 (The Godfather Returns) and 2006 (The Godfather’s Revenge) written by Mark Winegardener.

Good characters – Good Stories

When we come to love good characters, we tend to want to know more about them.  We want to see them or read about them in another story or adventure.  Perhaps that why there are so many books that feature a star character (like Alex Cross, or Cotton Malone) or movie sequels (like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Toy Story).  In the 60’s and 70’s, many TV shows had novels or short stories based on characters (like Get Smart, Kojak, Columbo, and countless Star Trek books).

I LOVE the concept of exploring a well known character and shedding light on their back story. I am hoping this book on Jacob Marley does not disappoint.

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Favorite Film – The 70’s

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I guess I saw this on Facebook some time ago.   Somebody had the idea to post a list of your favorite films.  The list was to consist of your favorites from each year of your life.  So, you start with your birth year and move ahead year by year and list all the films from each year.  I am SURE I have this idea written down in my notebook of “blog ideas”.  A post from the Avocado site came up in my “Reader” list of blogs that had the same principle, but with one exception – you can only pick one movie from each year. You can read that blog here:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/73828787/posts/2442817483

I am going to say that narrowing down just one film from each year will be next to impossible for me.  I am going to attempt to do it.  I have a feeling that I will go back in a day, a month, or year from now and think, “No, I should have picked _____ instead!”  At any rate, some of these will be easy to pick, and some I will have to “eenie meanie miney moe” to pick just one.  Maybe this is a topic I revisit each year?  I don’t know.

I am going to break it down by “decade”, so each post will include 10 films.  Deep breath.  Here we go – back to the year I was born:

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Of the 1970 films that made my personal favorite list, many have “war” themes:  M*A*S*H, Kelly’s Heroes, and Tora! Tora! Tora!  Other films include Dean Martin in Airport! and the Mel Brooks comedy The 12 Chairs.  Of all of the films from the year of my birth, if I had to pick my absolute favorite, it would be the classic biopic, Patton.

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George C. Scott is brilliant as Patton!  He won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role.  The film won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.  It’s an amazing film.

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1971 was the year that George Lucas would release his film THX 1138, Gene Wilder starred in the classic Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Clint Eastwood starred in the film that scares all radio DJs – Play Misty for Me.  But it is another Clint Eastwood film that gets my vote for my favorite film of 1971, Dirty Harry.

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There are so many good Clint Eastwood films!  It doesn’t take long for Eastwood to establish what kind of character Dirty Harry is! Come on, you know the quote:

“I know what you’re thinking: “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”

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1972 was the year we saw Burt Reynolds in Deliverance, Charles Bronson in The Mechanic, and the all star cast of the Poseiden Adventure that included Gene Hackman, Shelley Winters, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons and others!  It was also the year that introduced many to two of the best known adult films, Behind the Green Door and Deep Throat.  1972 is probably the easiest year to pick a hands down favorite for me – no doubt about it – Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

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The novel is amazing.  The movie is just as powerful!  The cast (many unknown at the time) is just perfect!  It is hard to imagine anyone else as these characters.  Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Abe Vigoda, Richard Conte, Alex Rocco, and so many others star in this superb film about family and power.  I don’t think a week goes by without me quoting this film!  The film won the Best Picture Oscar and Brando won (and refused) the Oscar for Best Actor.

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While 1973 had some good films, in going through my list, they all are just “ok” to me.  In other words, there is no real “WOW” movie for me.  Charlton Heston is good in Soylent Green, Al Pacino is good in Serpico, The Sting had Paul Newman and Robert Redford (and the tune The Entertainer), Clint Eastwood is back for a Dirty Harry sequel called Magnum Force, and then there was the Exorcist.  I guess if I HAD to pick a favorite, it would be American Graffiti – because of two things (1) the music and (2) Wolfman Jack!

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1974 was a bit more difficult to narrow down to just one film.  The reason for this is that I have some classic favorites that were released in ’74 and “how do I just pick one?”  Two of my favorite Charles Bronson films, Mr. Majestyk and Death Wish, came out this year.  Also, two of my favorite Mel Brooks films were also released – Young Frankenstein (“That’s Frahn-kun-steen”) and Blazing Saddles!  It did, however, become clear that the one film that had to be at the top for 1974 was The Godfather Part II.

Al Pacino In 'The Godfather: Part II' Woody Allen And Mia Farrow In 'A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy' '

The first time I saw it, I hated it!  I can’t lie about that.  I was confused by the shifts from past to present.  However, it became very clear with a second and third watch that the shifting from past to present is what makes this movie SO amazing.  If you really must see it all in order, you can rent the Godfather DVD and watch it chronologically.  This movie is where you really see the genius of Francis Ford Coppola.  Robert Deniro is just amazing as Vito and Al Pacino’s portrayal of Michael is about as perfect as it can get.

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1975 was the year that had us doing the Time Warp, thanks to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The Sunshine Boys was supposed to star Walter Matthau and Jack Benny (there are clips of screen test shots on YouTube somewhere), but when Benny died, George Burns stepped in.  Jack Nicholson is “crazy” good in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Dean Martin starred in a forgotten favorite, Mr. Ricco.  The one movie that really stands out for me from 1975 is based on the Peter Benchley novel – Jaws!

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Like many, I couldn’t swim at the beach for some time after seeing it!  Now, they actually show it on a screen while people float in rafts and tubes on a lake in the summer time!  And who can forget the Jaws theme?

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In 1976, America celebrated it’s bicentennial year.  It was a very patriotic year and there were some good films in theaters.  The Watergate Scandal was the focus of All The President’s Men.  Clint Eastwood returned in another Dirty Harry sequel, The Enforcer and the western The Outlaw Josey Wales.  The wonderful Barbara Harris was featured in both Freaky Friday and Hitchcock’s Family Plot (two very opposite roles!).  Mel Brooks offered up Silent Movie, while an all-star cast (Charlton Heston, Robert Mitchum, Glenn Ford, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, and Cliff Robertson) appeared in the war film, Midway. We were first introduced to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa in Rocky and Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor were first teamed together in Silver Streak.  There are many reasons I could pick any one of these as a favorite, but I am going to go with one I already featured as my favorite – Murder By Death.  You can read that blog here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nostalgicitalian.com/856

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It’s such a fun film and I revisit it often.

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1977 was a year of great films!  There was Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  Then George Burns first took on the role of God in Oh, God. John Travolta danced to the Bee Gees in Saturday Night Fever. We were introduced to the comedy of the Zucker brothers with Kentucky Fried Movie. Mel Brooks saluted Alfred Hitchcock in High Anxiety.  The “other” space movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, hit theaters, too.  From here, I was able to narrow things down to two faves, but as I said, I can only pick one for the year. While Star Wars could easily be the top pick for 1977, I am going with Smokey and the Bandit.

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Burt Reynolds, Jerry Reed, Sally Field, and Jackie Gleason took us on a wild ride and this remains my favorite for a number of reasons.  First, it’s just funny.  Second, there are some very cool stunts.  Third, “East Bound and Down”.  Last, there are so many great quotes!

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Smokey JUST beats out Star Wars, probably because it’s a comedy.  Don’t get me wrong, Star Wars is a CLASSIC, and at some point I really need to blog about the influence of that film on me as a 7 year old kid!

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In 1978, we first meet Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s Halloween.  Peter Falk appears in the “sorta” sequel to Murder By Death in The Cheap Detective.  Robert Deniro and Christopher Walken star in The Deer Hunter.  Cheech and Chong go Up in Smoke.  Christopher Reeve first donned the cape in Superman.  Burt Reynolds starred as a stuntman in Hooper and tried to kill himself in The End.  We got chills that multiplied as we sang along with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease.  I’m honored to have Eddie Deezen (who plays Eugene in the film) as a friend on Facebook and he often shares cool stories about the film.  Time to pick my favorite from 1978.  It is yet another very quotable movie – a comedy – National Lampoon’s Animal House.

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Kent Dorfman.  Flounder.  Pinto.  Bluto.  D-Day.  Otter.  Animal House remains as funny to me today, as the first time I saw it.  John Belushi is just awesome in this film.  I have said before that Belushi can emote more with just his eyebrows than any other actor.  I also love John Vernon as Dean Wormer – he is such a great actor!  It’s amazing that “Shout” from Otis Day and the Knights is still requested at weddings 40+ years later.  One of my most quoted movies!

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“Zero.  Point.  Zero.”

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Closing out the decade, I see my list of favorites for each year growing more and more.  In 1979, Sigourney Weaver appeared in the first (of many) Alien films.  George Hamilton’s comedic take on Dracula was in Love at First Bite.  Sylvester Stallone appeared for his second “round” as Rocky in Rocky II.  Star Trek became relevant again, as it appeared on the big screen for the first time (with the original cast members) with Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Steve Martin brought The Jerk to life.  Alan Arkin and Peter Falk are great together in The In-Laws.  Robert Stack, Eddie Deezen, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and so many others appeared in 1941 (It didn’t do all that well at the box office, but I still love this silly film). To me, my favorite of 1979 goes to the genius of Jim Henson – The Muppet Movie.  I STILL marvel at this one!

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This was such a breakthrough film.  For the first time we saw Muppets walking!  We saw them riding bikes!  The technological stuff that was achieved in this movie is still awesome to me.  This movie had tons of big cameos (including Edgar Bergan’s last film role) and just wonderful music.  I blogged about the music previously and you can read that here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nostalgicitalian.com/1218

What a “groovy” and “far out” list, huh?  I will have to move on into the 80’s next time.  I can tell you, it will be much more difficult to pick just one for every year in THAT decade!

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Guest Blogger: My Baby Brother

Introduction:

A week or so ago, I posted a blog stating that I was toying with the idea of inviting someone to be a guest blogger.  Without hesitation, my younger brother Christopher said he would love to write one.  Let me say that he is WAY more qualified to write than I am.  He has published a book and has been writing short stories and other things for as long as I can remember. 

I saw his email this morning as I was getting ready to take the boys home.  I had to open it and read it.  I stood in my kitchen laughing as I read it.  My wife was still asleep, and I thought for sure that I was going to wake her up.  My son, looked at me and asked “what’s so funny, dad?”  I looked at him and said, “Just something Uncle Chris sent me…”

At this time, I’d like to introduce you to my brother, Christopher. I hope that you laugh as much as I did….

What the heck are they laughing at?  By Christopher Louis

Growing up my brother and I were crazy and rambunctious kids.  There is no denying that we gave our parents a run for their money.  If we weren’t pushing their patience by staying up long past our bed time or begging them to buy us the newest Star Wars figure, we were beating the snot out of each other or purposely egging the other on to do something totally stupid.  While we were not angels, we also weren’t devils.  We just loved to have fun, laugh, and have a good time.  We wanted to make each day an adventure.  Sure, it got us in trouble sometimes, but it was almost always good natured.

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As with any siblings there are lots of growing pains as you discover new interests, new friends, and truly come into your own and the relationship between you and your sibling changes. Sometimes for the good, and sometimes not so good. Despite our many differences, there has always been one thing that could bring us together – laughter. Laughter has helped us to remember and rebuild our bonds. When friends ask about my brother, I love to share how we can have the other laughing within seconds simply by sending a photo (usually of William Shatner), copying a movie quote (Airplane is always a good bet) or sharing an inside family joke (usually something our dear Grandpa mispronounced).

I admit there was a time when I swore I had to be adopted because I could not understand the joy that Keith, my dad, and my grandparents found in watching Sanford and Son.  However, the same could be said for him in my guilty pleasure of watching Dynasty.  While I am sure neither of us would relish the idea of sitting down and watching either of those shows together, there are still so many movies, TV shows, and old radio shows that provide us with so much laughter and delight.  I thought I would share a few of them with you now.

Your Money or Your Life!

Mugger: Your money or your life.

(Long, awkward pause)

Mugger: Look bud, I said your money or your life.

Jack: I’m thinking it over!

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The first to share is one of the greatest comedians of all time – Jack Benny.  I am forever thankful for my dad introducing us to the joys of old radio shows.  While we both love many others (Fibber McGee and Molly, Burns and Allen, or Suspense), The Jack Benny Program is our favorite.  Whether Jack is giving sales clerk (Mel Blanc) the worst time possible by constantly exchanging show laces (he can’t decide between plastic tips or metal tips), or constantly insisting he’s 39 years old (which can’t be confirmed because there is a hole in his birth certificate from erasing it too many times) it is comedy gold.  Plus, both of us can totally tell you what LSMFT means or what the six delicious flavors of Jell-O were.  (For those not in the know, those are both from sponsors of the Jack Benny Program – Lucky Strike Cigarettes and Jell-O).

(Keith Note:  Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco!  Strawberry, cherry, raspberry, orange, lemon, and lime!)

“Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

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The 60’s Batman TV show is a treasure trove of comedy genius.  Adam West’s portrayal of the Dark Knight is played so straight and even that it is impossible to not start laughing at the utter absurdity!  Don’t get me wrong – I love it, but it is odd to think how anyone couldn’t see that Batman and Bruce Wayne were one and the same.

(Keith Note:  I pointed out to my brother how he hits the nail on the head here!  It really is absurd!  Proof of the absurdity – and how Commissioner Gordon must be clueless – can be seen as Adam West has a conversation with himself as both Bruce and Batman in the following video clip!)

Of course, the many guest stars paraded through as villains brought much of the laughter.  There was Cesar Romero as the Joker with white paint over his mustache, Frank Gorshin jumping all over the set as the Riddler, Victor Buono running around as King Tut, and Vincent Price as Egghead making more egg puns that you can imagine. Of course, part of the fun is trying to count how many times Robin says “Holy ____” in an episode.  My favorite will always be “Holy Hole-in-a-Doughnut, Batman!”

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(Keith Note: Oh, and I had to add the above picture because of the sub-title of this section!)

“What’s the matter, Colonel Sandurz?  Chicken?”

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There are truly so many wonderful Mel Brooks movies and while I am not as into Blazing Saddles as Keith is, we can’t deny the laughter that comes from watching his films. I’m choosing Spaceballs for this blog. Plus – what’s not to love about this amazing spoof of Star Wars, a movie Keith and I both loved and played and recreated more times than I could count with many, many action figures.

Some of my favorite quotes include:

  • No sir, I didn’t see you playing with your dolls again.
  • How many Assholes we got on this ship, anyhow?
  • Keep firing Assholes!
  • We ain’t found shit!
  • Why are you always preparing? You’re always preparing. Just go!
  • Smoke if you got ‘em.
  • So the combination is 1-2-3-4-5. That’s the stupidest combination I’ve ever heard in my life. That’s the kinda thing an idiot would have on his luggage.

(Keith Note: Love the bumper sticker – “We Brake for Nobody!”)

“Kiddie Car, June Bride, Rookie, Phantom Fox, Blarney Stone, and Clunker”

AKA – The North Avenue Irregulars.  We loved this movie!  It was one of those great Disney gens of the 1970’s that we found and just loved as kids.  I remember how excited we were watching our dad record our own copy of the movie from one VCR to the other.  I also remember the exact spot where it cut out for a moment.  Oh, those good old days of VHS tapes…

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Anyway, who would think that kids would love a movie about a group of church ladies who work to take down an illegal gambling ring? But we did! It had so many big stars of the era; Edward Herrmann, Barbara Harris, Karen Valentine, Cloris Leachman, Michael Constantine, Ruth Buzzi, and Dena Dietrich (famous for playing Mother Nature in Chiffon Margarine commercials).  Each character was different and came with their own burdens and personal issues but came together to bring down the bad guys. As with many 70s movie, it includes its own car chase / demolition derby.

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One of my favorite scenes includes three of the ladies “going undercover” to place a bet and they are all wearing trench coats and sunglasses.  One has a tape recorder hidden inside her coat and just as she is about to place her bet, she is advised to start recording.  She accidentally presses “play” instead of “record” and the song “Roll Out the Barrel” starts blaring from her coat.

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(Keith Note:  My Favorite quotes:  “It’s her money.  Get two” and “Butt out, lady!”)

“Help!  Help!  The Alcalde has all my money!”

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George Hamilton playing dual roles!  Enough said!

Zorro the Gay Blade is one of those movies that just makes me smile and laugh. While George is hilarious as Don Diego and his twin brother Ramon (aka Bunny Wigglesworth), Brenda Vaccaro and Ron Leibman as Florinda and Esteban are so over the top and crazy you can’t wait for them to come back on the screen.

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Some of my favorite lines:

  • You naughty, evil Alcalde! I’m going to do . . . such . . . terrible things . . . to you!
  • Two bits, four bits, six bits, a peso. All for Zorro, stand up and say so!
  • Thank goodness for small favors!
  • Know me? Sink me! We were once womb-mates!
  • There is no shame in being poor! Only in dressing poorly!

(Keith note:  It’s funny that Chris mentions this movie.  Look for a full write up on it from me in early September for the “Costume Drama Blogathon”!)

“Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home …”

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Airplane! One of the great comedies of the 1980s. There is something about spoofs that if not done correctly are painful to watch. This is not one of them. I think Keith and I have quoted this movie since our first viewing and haven’t stopped yet. There are just so many great lines that I could do an entire post on this movie alone!

Some of my favorite lines:

  • It’s a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows, wheels. It looks like a big Tylenol.
  • Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.
  • Surely you can’t be serious? I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.
  • Joey, do you like movies about Gladiators?
  • A hospital, what is it? It’s a big building with patients in it, but that’s not important right now.
  • Get me someone who won’t crack under pressure. How about Mr. Rogers?
  • I haven’t felt this bad since I saw that Ronald Reagan movie.

There are many, many more movies and TV shows I could have included here, but I decided to focus on just a few for now, but as I near my wrap up, how can I not share the one photo that I think we’ve shared back and forth more times than I can possibly imagine? I mean, I even mentioned the person’s name at the beginning of this blog. Without further ado, I present the one image guaranteed to make both of us laugh.

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You can totally hear him right now, can’t you??  The king of the dramatic pause – William Shatner.  There are no more words necessary – this image is all you need.

(Keith Note:  Ricardo Montalban should have won an Academy Award for his performance in this film.  He is brilliant!  My brother once got me a Khan figure to put on my desk for Christmas!)

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Laughter.  It has been a delight revisiting these few memories as they have helped spur so many more that could fill numerous more blog posts.  Thank you for joining me on this guest post, I hope it brought you some laughter as well. I will end with one final image that encompasses a big part of our childhood: Keith and me playing with our Star Wars figures.  The fun and adventures we created beyond the films!

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(Keith Note:  My brother could not have picked a more awful picture of me – ok, maybe he could have.  What makes me laugh about this picture is that he has Star Wars figures, and I have that Fisher Price motorcycle dude (who we called “Ginge”)!  I am also appalled that I am wearing black socks in this picture!  The picture, however, is a wonderful time capsule, though.  Besides the toys of the 70’s and 80’s, you will notice ugly shag carpeting, HUGE books called phone books (where we used to look up phone numbers), a stack of newspapers (where we got news before the internet), and one of the first video game systems – the Atari 2600!

It’s always fun to see what others remember and what you forgot.  The North Avenue Irregulars was something I had forgot about!  I am so glad he mentioned it.  In speaking to my brother after reading this, he stated that writing this blog for me, brought about many other things that he “could have” wrote about.  I am encouraging him to keep notes on those things and return for another “guest” spot.  Thanks, Chris!  I love you!)

 

 

Pondering an idea: Be My Guest

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I’ve always enjoyed when TV shows bring in guest stars for appearances on my favorite shows.  For example, That 70’s Show brought in many stars from the 70’s as guests or for cameos.  This is not a new concept, Jack Benny’s Show in the 50’s often featured stars like Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and more.  In the 60’s Batman had guest stars featured in the villain roles.  The Big Bang Theory had some great guest stars! Today, I believe there are even Emmy Awards for Guest Actors in Dramatic and Comedy Roles.  I suppose I could write a blog about my favorite Guest Stars, but that’s not what this blog is about….it’s actually about YOU.

This blog is over a year old now, and much of my writing is personal.  Some of it is about movies and music.  Some of my writing comes from my observations or is brought about by a writing prompt.  While I have a notebook with “future blog ideas” written in it, I have not yet gotten to the point where I feel I am ready to write about them.  There is, however, one “writing prompt” that has come up occasionally that I have thought about using: a guest blogger.

I realize that my blog doesn’t necessarily fit into a “category”.  If I wrote about nothing but movies, I know three or four “movie” people that I would go to and ask if they would consider writing something for this blog.  If it were exclusively about music, there are even more people I know who could write something musically oriented for me.  With this blog being a bit of everything, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really sure how to handle a “guest appearance”.

Again, this is still up in the air, but here are some preliminary thoughts.  First, someone would actually need to WANT to write something for me.  Once someone expressed interest, I’d want a general idea of what the topic might be.  Topics could be:  favorite memory of us, favorite movie we both like, why you liked working with me, song that reminds you of me, why you read this blog, things that only you and I laugh about, or something like that.

I guess what made me decide to even post about it was listening to an old Jack Benny radio show this week.  In the 1945-1946 season of his radio show, they ran an “I Can’t Stand Jack Benny Because….” contest.  The idea was that listeners wrote, in 50 words or less, why they couldn’t stand Jack Benny and the winner won $10,000.  Let me be clear, if someone wants to write a guest blog for me, it will be for free.  I’m lucky if I have $10 in my pocket.  Maybe I can buy you a beer or send you a nice card or something, but money is a bit hard to come by.  I digress.  I think it would be fun to read your thoughts about what we have in common or your favorite “us” story.

By even opening the door to the possibility of having a guest blogger, I am hoping for a few things.  First, I hope to be reminded of a funny or special moment that I may have forgotten about.  Second, I hope to hear a familiar story, from YOUR point of view.  Third, I’m hoping to learn a bit more about me.  How have I made an impact in the lives of others?  How am I perceived by my friends? Am I a good or bad friend? (and why?)  Do I make a difference?  You know, things like that.

This could actually be something very cool and fun.  It can also be something that I regret.  We’ll see.  Maybe I tossed this idea out and no one will respond – that’s ok.  If you are interested, let me know.  It can be something short or it can be long.  Maybe you don’t want do it at all.  Maybe you just want to suggest something you want me to write about.  I’m ok with that, too.  If you read this through a Facebook link, you can comment there.  If you are reading this on Word Press, you can make a comment here.

I’m interested to see what happens…..

Thanks for reading, and for humoring this idea with me.

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“For the record …”

In keeping with my tradition of following Jack Benny’s example, today I celebrate the 10th anniversary of my 39th birthday.

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My wife is the best gift giver – hands down.  She picks up on things that I say in passing and turns it into an amazing gift.  She knows I love the Godfather and mafia related stuff.  For Christmas, she found the Godfather Notebook, which is a simply amazing book compiled of some of the novel, Francis Ford Coppola’s notes, and some very cool pictures.

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My dad and I were talking about how my grandpa used to use a cup and brush to lather up to shave one day.  For our anniversary, she bought me this sweet shaving set with razor, cup, brush, and more.  Truly a unique and wonderful gift!

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She topped both of those for my birthday. I guess one day my dad and I were talking about vinyl records.  I was talking about how I would sit in on the floor in our front room and listen to them.  I was raised listening to vinyl records – and just a few blogs ago talked about them!  As a kid, I had this red and white record player and played my records on it – if you’re old enough, you probably did too!

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My wife has a hard time keeping secrets.  She tried to give me hints:  “It’s something you were talking to your dad about.” That could be anything from music to TV to movies…you name it!!  “You were just talking about it.”  Again, no help.  I told her to stop trying to tell me or give me hints.  I told her I would wait until my birthday and see what it was.  She was obviously quite happy with whatever she was giving me and said, “It’s gonna be hard to beat this one…”

Over the weekend, my brother came up from Ohio for a visit.  He wanted to visit my mother’s grave for Mother’s Day.  I also had my sons for the weekend, so she decided that when I got home from work on Saturday, we were doing a small birthday celebration.  She got a cake, ice cream, and I had to open my present.

No doubt, you know what it is based on what I have written.  She had me open the album she got me first.  A perfect choice –

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A double album of Sinatra!  I have to be honest, it had been so long since I held an album, I thought it was a picture or something.  I mean, the cover art is beautiful and could easily be framed!  Then, I opened the main present –

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I’m not going to lie, I got emotional.  What an amazingly thoughtful gift!  I was speechless.  My brother captured the moment in pictures, but the angle makes me look awful, so I am not posting those pictures!  This machine is wonderful.  It has speakers on the front, a headphone jack to listen privately, the capability of recording to a USB device, and RCA outputs to play through my DJ equipment, if I am so inclined.

As I pulled the album out of the sleeve, I could feel my hands shaking.  I carefully put the album on the turntable and dropped the needle gently in the grooves……and there was Frank singing “One For My Baby”.  Wow.  The sounds of Sinatra on vinyl.  Only those who appreciate the sounds of music on vinyl can relate to what I was experiencing.  I probably could have sat in the corner with headphones on and spent the rest of the afternoon like that.  What a surreal experience.

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As I mentioned a bit ago, I had just blogged about missing record stores a few days ago.  You can read that blog here:

https://nostalgicitalian.com/2019/05/08/i-miss-record-stores/

She thought I was on to her when I posted that blog!  What a coincidence, huh?  What are the odds?  She literally had purchased the record player a few days earlier!

This weekend, she has more plans for me.  She let the cat out of the bag that we are celebrating my day throughout the weekend with more surprises.  She did let me in on one stop – we are going to make a trip to the record store, so I can purchase a few albums to listen to on my birthday present.

Thank you, baby, for your wonderful gift!  I love it and I love you more than I can say!! Thank you for making my birthday and my life so special!

 

 

The Comedian’s Comedian

Introducing – Jack

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125 years ago, in 1894, a blue-eyed baby named Benjamin Kubelski was born.  He would grow up to be one of the world’s most beloved comedians – Jack Benny.  He was given the gift of a violin at an early age and his parents had hopes that he would grow up to be a concert violinist.  His career, however, took a different turn.

This is one of those blogs that was very difficult for me to write.  I know that many readers may not even know who Jack Benny is.  Because of this fact, I thought maybe I should write a “biography” type blog.  On the other hand, when I think of Jack Benny, I think of the way he broke ground on the way comedy was done.  His shows really were the early blueprints from which modern day sitcoms were based on.  I don’t know that this blog will fit into either one of those formats.

Even after sitting and pondering, I still really don’t know how this is all going to come together.  So let me apologize up front for what may be a very disorganized writing about one of the greatest comedians to ever live.  A man who was loved by so many probably deserves a blog with much more structure.  I hope you can still walk away from this blog with a greater appreciation for an amazing entertainer.

Evolution of his character

If you were to go back and watch an early episode of Seinfeld, Friends, or any sitcom for that matter, you would notice how “different” some of the main characters are.  Their idiosyncrasies, their personality traits, their quirks, mannerisms and what “made” them who they are and who you THINK they are, have not fully developed.  Those things developed over time.  The same is true of Jack’s character.

If you are unfamiliar with Jack’s persona, here is a partial list:

  • He was always 39.  His birthday was always in question.
  • He was cheap.  He did not like to spend money and hoarded it in a vault in his home.
  • He was a terrible violin player.
  • He was a bad actor and made bad movies (The Horn Blows at Midnight)
  • He drove an old Maxwell car.

The aspects of his character were things that developed over time.  He wasn’t always cheap, for example.  Jack once said that they wrote a gag about him being cheap and it got a big laugh, so they wrote another joke the following week.  The more jokes about it, the cheaper he was perceived in real life.  The truth is, in real life, Jack was a very generous man.

Jack understood that “extremes are funny”.  Take something that is grossly exaggerated and it can be a funny bit.  Examples of this are the fact that on the show he had a pet ostrich and polar bear!  One of the great bits about his cheapness, which is considered to be one of the biggest laughs on radio, took his cheapness to the extreme.   Jack is walking down the street at night when he is asked by a stranger for a match.  The stranger then pulls a gun on Jack and says, “This is a stick up.  Your money or your life!”  A master of comedic timing, Jack pauses (the audience begins to chuckle in anticipation), and the crook gets inpatient.  “Look, bud,” the stranger yells, “I said your money or your life.”  Jack simply replies, “I’m thinking it over!”  Comedy brilliance!!!

His violin playing was also always made fun of on the show.  Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny) often played Professor LeBlanc, Jack’s French violin teacher (using a voice that was similar to Pepe LePew).  Many shows consisted of Jack during a violin lesson and playing badly.  He once stated in an interview that it was harder to play bad than to play normal!  While he was no concert violinist, he was a good one.  Over the years, he raised millions of dollars doing benefit orchestra concerts.  However, he’ll always be remembered as a terrible violin player.

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During one lesson, his teacher yells, “Mr. Benny, please!  A violin has a heart and a soul.  You’ve already broken its heart – have pity on its soul!”  Another time, while describing Jack’s playing, he says that the “bow is made of horse hair and catgut.  In order to describe your playing, picture a cat being stepped on by a horse”.

As I said, the traits developed over time.  Jack wasn’t always 39 … until he got there.  Once he got there, he stayed there!  Jokes surrounding his age were plentiful on the show.  They often joked that he was so old, he was friends with famous people from history.  Jokes about the number of times the year had been erased from his birth certificate and his driver’s license were other ways to establish this major part of his character.  In his New York Times obituary in 1974, it was pointed out that “decades of insistence on the air that he was only 39 years old, made the joke better than cornier” calling it one of “show business’s most durable hits.”

His Timing

If there was every anyone who was a master of comedic timing, it was Jack Benny.  It was something that he mastered in his time on the Vaudeville stage.  He knew just how to pace himself.  Timing was effortless for him.  He seemed to know the perfect time to tell a joke and when he should remain silent.  Sometimes, the silence brought more laughs than the joke itself.  As with the “money or your life bit”, in many cases the anticipation of the line …. preceded by silence … made the audience laugh before the joke was even finished!  This was due to great material – and the establishment of Benny’s character.

Jack was a different kind of comedian.  Bob Hope, Red Skelton, and Milton Berle often got on the air and told joke after joke after joke.  They would tell three jokes to Jack’s one.  Jack was meticulous in how a show was prepared.  He was involved in the entire process.  He very rarely ever strayed from the script unless there was a flub. He was very serious during the writing and rehearsing.  He was detail oriented and hired very good writers who knew how to write things based on his character or the others on his show.

The Joke’s on Him

One of the most admirable things about Jack is that he was one of the first comedians to let others share the laughs.  So many comedians needed to be the center of attention.  They needed to be the star.  Jack and his writers often gave the best lines to the other people on the show.  His co-stars Mary Livingstone, Don Wilson, Dennis Day, Rochester, and Phil Harris (to name a few) became big stars because of this.  The cast of his show often told jokes that made Jack the butt of the jokes.

As I mentioned before, his show was the predecessor of today’s modern day sitcoms.  Each character had their own persona.  For example, Phil Harris was a playboy bandleader who was often drunk.  Don Wilson was a big man and so his weight and eating habits were poked fun of.  Dennis Day was an adult who was a dimwit.  He was child like and he played it to the hilt.  Rochester was one of the first African American stars on radio (in an era where many African American roles were played by white actors).

It should be noted here that Jack Benny, his cast, and his writers were creating entertainment over half a century ago.  During this time cultural norms were very accepting of great amounts of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia (a dislike or prejudice of people from other countries).  It is important to remember that the show was a product of its time, much like many of the cartoons made during that time.  It should also be noted that while Rochester’s role on the show was that of a butler/valet and stereotypical, Jack was very good friends with him.  While their radio show was on the road, the cast was slated to stay at a certain hotel.  When they refused to give Rochester a room because of his color, Jack took his entire cast to another hotel.

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Television

With the dawn of television, Jack embraced the new medium.  At first, he did a show every six weeks.  Then he did one every four weeks.  As time went on, he did TV more frequently.  Sometimes, the writers would adapt a radio script for a TV show.  One of these is the classic Christmas Shopping episode.  Mel Blanc plays a clerk that Jack buys a wallet from.  At first he has to chose between a cheap wallet or an expensive one.  It is for Don Wilson, who has been with him a long time, so he opts for the more expensive one.  Over the next 25 minutes, he is constantly back bugging the clerk to change the card he wrote for Don, to sign the new card, and eventually, change the wallet.  Blanc’s performance is priceless and even cracks Jack up.

There were some challenges with the move to TV.  On radio, it was “theater of the mind”.  Listeners would hear Jack going down the steps to his vault, with Jack describing his steps (“watch out for the aligators”, etc).  To a listener, the vault was HUGE and had all kinds of booby traps, and such.  How do you show that on TV?  He still was a great success bringing on big stars like Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe.  In many cases, the play on extremes led to some very funny visuals!  After the TV show went off the air, he did many specials.  He did “Farewell Specials”, “Anniversary Specials” and more.  The last special aired shortly before his death.

Jack on Humor

He was called the comedian’s comedian because they could all make him laugh.  His best friend, George Burns, could make him laugh by just looking at him.  George would look at him and say, “Why are you laughing, I didn’t do anything.”  Jack would reply, “Yeah, but you did it on purpose!”  George called him “the greatest audience”.  When he laughed, he was often laughing so hard, he’d fall on the floor.

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In 1968, Jack said, “To become successful your public must have a feeling like, ‘Gee, I like this fella.  I wish he were a good friend of mine.'”  This is one of the great principles that we were taught in radio – “be a friend to your listener.”  There is no doubt that lots of people liked that “fella.”

In reading things for this blog, a great nugget that I found was Jack’s thoughts on comedy.  He believed that comedy is based on 7 principles, and he used every one of them often during his career.  Those principles were:  1) The joke 2) Exaggeration 3) Ridicule 4) Ignorance 5) Surprise 6) The pun and 7) The comic situation.  Jack once said, “Never laugh at the other fellow; let him laugh at you.  I try to make my character encompass about everything that is wrong with everybody.  On the air, I have everybody’s faults.  All listeners know someone or have a relative who is a tightwad, a show-off or something of that sort.  Then in their minds, I become a real character.”  With those principles and attitude – he became a comedy giant!

The following “rules” Jack used could be applicable today in any sitcom or radio show.  Rule 1:  Don’t just rattle off a litany of old jokes.  Instead, create conversations between the speakers and characters on the show.  Real conversations lead to great comedy situations.  Rule 2:  Let your speakers unique personalities and voices shine as individual, quirky characters.  Listeners will get to know them, and hence, build a relationship with them and connect with them.  Rule 3:  Don’t be afraid to turn the humor on yourself.  His character was a self-confident braggart often, and usually made a fool of himself in the process.  Jack said that with a character like that, you laugh at him, but you also pity him a little, too.

One piece I read stated that Jack’s radio character “suffered all the indignities of the powerless patriarch in modern society – fractious workplace family, battles with obnoxious sales clerks, guff from his butler, the withering disrespect of his sponsor, every woman he met, and Hollywood society.  And yet, he was a lovable schlemiel.”  Think of how he can be compared to modern sitcom characters like Jerry Seinfeld, and others!

What others thought of Jack

Comedian Don Knotts said, “My idol was Jack Benny and he was the master of subtlety and timing.”

Comedian Bob Newhart said, “Jack Benny was, without a doubt, the bravest comedian I’ve ever seen work. he wasn’t afraid of silence.  He would take as long as it took to tell a story.”

Bob Hope said at Jack’s funeral, “For a man who is the undisputed master of comedy timing, you’d have to say this was only time when Jack Benny’s timing was all wrong. He left us much too soon. He was stingy to the end. He only gave us eighty years and it wasn’t enough.”

After Jack passed away, President Gerald Ford said, “If laughter is the music of the soul, Jack and his violin and his good humor have made life better for all men.”

What I think of Jack

Jack passed away when I was 4 years old.  Thanks to my dad, I was introduced to old radio shows early in my childhood.  The Jack Benny Program was one of those shows he played for us.  Growing up there was a show called “When Radio Was” that aired on one of the radio stations at night and we’d listen to old shows every night.  The Benny shows always were a treat.

When we got cable, I don’t recall if it was WGN or WTBS, but one of them aired old Jack Benny TV shows at night.  That was the first I ever saw of them.  They still make me laugh even though I have seen them numerous times.  In high school, as a senior, I took an elective class called “Life in America”.  It had an entire unit on Jack Benny.  We watched one of the tribute specials (which is still available on YouTube) called “A Love Letter to Jack Benny” and another called “Jack Benny: Comedy in Bloom”.  They are two specials that I would highly recommend if you are a fan.  They are loving done and wonderful tributes to a man who brought many laughs to the world while he was alive, and still brings laughs long after he has left us.

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Happy 39th Birthday, Jack!