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!

 

 

Picking a Partner

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a radio buddy who is now out-of-state. He was surfing around the internet and came across an article written by one of my radio mentors, Jay Trachman. It is probably a huge coincidence that just a few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about him, but then again, sometimes the stars line up … as you will soon see. The article was one that Jay had written based on an email I sent him. Let me set this up for you.

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In 2007, I was hired for a second stint at B-95. This time I was coming back to do mornings. Upon arriving, I worked with the amazing and talented Jeff Kelly, who always had me in stitches. The program director, Coyote Collins, pulled me into the office one morning and said that we were going to do a contest. The contest was going to let some non-radio person be my co-host for a year.

As a radio guy, I really had some deep concerns about this. How do you bring someone in who has never done this before and expect them to “get it”? I was scared to death. I was doing full-time, making decent money, and this whole thing could literally leave me without a job! It made me very nervous.

I found out that we were going to run auditions at the local mall. People were going to come in, come up on stage, we’d ask them some questions, jot notes and rate them and narrow the field down to like the top 20 people. From that point, we had those people come in and record a “Hi I am contestant # ___ in the Bee a Radio Star Contest. Vote for me” greeting. Those ran throughout the weekend and then the field was narrowed again. The top contestants came in and had pictures taken and they went up on the website with “Why you should vote for me” audio. Once we had our top 5 contestants, they each came in and did a show with me. Five contestants – five days – five shows. Then the audience got to vote for who they felt should be my co-host.

Back to the article – I asked Jay what kinds of questions he thought I should ask. I asked him what things I should be judging the contestants on. The article was his response. As I sat I read this 12-year-old article, and saw Jay’s suggestions, it made me smile. At that point, we didn’t even know if any one would show up to the auditions! The fact that people did was awesome. In hindsight, looking back at the article and his suggestions and knowing who eventually got the gig, the winner was the absolute PERFECT co-host.

The Auditions

There were more females than males who auditioned for the position. One by one people walked up to the stage and the panel of judges asked questions. I remember getting in trouble because I was asking questions that you really couldn’t ask in a job interview (about family, marital status, etc). “You can’t ask that,” I was told. I replied, “Well, I need to know if the candidate is going to have life content to bring to the show.”

Stephanie

While many of the people auditioning were a little shy when they got to the microphone on stage, Stephanie grabbed it and showed no fear. I remember she was asked to tell us about herself. She mentioned that she was married with a house full of kids! I remember thinking that there would have to be many great stories to share there (I was right). Steph recently reminded me of the question I asked her and her answer. I asked her who her favorite country singer was and she said George Strait. I asked her why and she said something about him “rocking a pair of Wrangler jeans”. Pure Steph! I don’t remember much more about the rest of her audition, but I know she stood out.

There were some really great people who auditioned. Steph told me that she almost didn’t go through with the audition. I guess there was a young red-headed gal who auditioned and Steph was like “I’m voting for her!” She called her husband, Thom, and said she wasn’t going to do it and he told her to follow through – THANKS THOM! Long story short (so I can share some funny Steph stories) – She won.

The Bee Morning Buzz With Keith and Steph

We always prepped a show. We had some sort of idea of what we were going to do on the air every day. We almost always knew the day before a few of the things we were going to talk about. If I am being honest, most of that stuff was NOT our best stuff! Much of the “greatest hits” material came from unexpected moments, bloopers, and ad-libs.

Before I move on, I have to give major credit and kudos to Hal Maas. He was our news guy. He was also on the morning show at WHNN. Since we both did news at the top and bottom of the hour, we recorded Hal from Saginaw at quarter after and quarter to the hours. When it was time for Hal, we’d record while music or commercials played on the air. Sometimes we knew we wanted to ask him about stuff we were going to do later, most of the time we’d just start rolling tape and some of the passing conversations made it on air. Hal is a MASTER. Hands down, he is the best damn newsman I have ever worked with. He could set you up for a line, or have the best line of the bit. While our show would have been funny without him, it was hilarious with him. He was an equal part in the success of the show!

Hal often ended his newscast with what we call a “Kicker” story. It’s those funny little stories about crazy people like the woman who recently was drinking wine from the Pringles can in Walmart on her scooter. We never knew what the story was going to be, so many of the comments made were on the spot or ad-libs. Sometimes they were funny, sometimes they fell flat. A lot of these stories and punchlines were featured weekly on our “best of” shows.

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Favorite Bits

Let me say here that we were probably very lucky that we recorded these newcasts before they aired. You see, Steph sometimes forgot that some things (while they were very funny) were inappropriate for our “family friendly” show. Many kicker stories were followed by a Steph comment with some sort of innuendo to which I was forever saying “No! No! Not on this show!” “Absolutely not!” “Are you crazy?! I need this job” and so on and so forth…..Off air, we had some big laughs. Here’s an example:

Right around the time of the Kentucky Derby, there were many stories about a horse named “Big Brown.” He was on pace to be a Triple Crown winner and it seemed like he was talked about for weeks. Right around the same time, Barbara Walters had admitted to having an affair with African-American Senator Edward Brooke. After Hal read that story Steph said, “Well, I guess, he was her Big Brown!” I can’t even begin to tell you how glad I was that we were not live!! I pictured hundreds of complaint letters rolling in and me in the unemployment line!!

A line that DID make it on the air had me waiting for the complaint letters: Steph was telling me about how her and Thom were watching this little squirrel who was outside their window tossing acorns onto their trampoline. She kept saying how it was the funniest thing and they couldn’t stop watching him. Then she says, “You should have seen him bouncing his nuts off the trampoline!” How we weren’t called into the boss’s office, I will never know!!

I was often the butt of jokes from Steph and Hal. One time we were talking about elementary school pictures. I mentioned that kids in grade school always have pictures with teeth missing. I told them about my 2nd grade picture which I had three or four teeth missing. Steph had the best ad-lib, “Let’s get the visual, Hal. That’s back when Keith had hair and no teeth, now he has teeth and no hair!” That was ALL her! It still remains one of my favorite lines!

With all of her kids, she was often on the phone with them as they got ready for school and such. Sometimes I would be giving her the “eye” that said, “the song is ending – we need to talk here” so she would get off the phone. One day, I heard something seconds before we had to go on the air and it cracked me up. Naturally, I had to point out on the air that “Steph just said to he kid – ‘don’t forget to wear pants today’!”

One day, Steph and Hal did something that comedy legend Jack Benny would often do – there would be a joke early in the show and as his show went on, that joke or a variation of it would show up later to bigger laughs. I don’t really recall what we were talking about, but Steph called me a “bald-headed freak” going into a newscast. Hal did all his stories, does his kicker story about a groom who baked an engagement ring in a cake for his fiance (who swallowed the ring). Steph says something about it being ‘karat” cake, and as I went to say how bad a punchline that was, Hal chimes in and says, “Karat cake – did you get that you bald-headed freak?!” to which I was left rolling on the floor in laughter!

Another great bit (well, we thought it was) was about Sarah Jessica Parker. One of the radio personalities that I exchanged bit ideas with shared a website (www.sarahjessicaparkerlookslikeahorse.com) which shows Sarah Jessica Parker’s face next to horses that look like they are in a similar pose. For whatever reason, this website kept coming up in conversation. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup that year, and we were talking about how each team member got to take the cup for a day. The bit we did asked what listeners would do if they had the Cup for a day or what celebrities would do with it. Hal, without skipping a beat said that SJP would “eat her oats out of it”!

One of my favorite bits started with an argument. Steph asked for a sheet of paper, so I grabbed one off the printer in the studio. Whether someone had sneezed on it, or someone got some food on it, something had hardened on the edge of the paper. She literally asked me “Why do you have to give me the one with the booger on it?” I told her I didn’t do it on purpose and that I had grabbed it off the printer. She told me how gross it was and that I was sick for putting “boogers on the paper.” Hal jumps in and says, “That actually has the makings of a great country song.” and I started singing “Our love’s like boogers on the paper … but it’s snot” which led to hilarious laughter. Another great ad-lib.

Speaking of boogers. We got into a discussion one morning about raisins. I don’t recall why. I told her that I couldn’t eat raisins made from green grapes. She asked me why and I told her that they looked like boogers. I even call them Booger Raisins! I am sure we had some sort of phone bit with the topic and listeners were calling about it or foods they couldn’t eat. I remember we were sitting in our boss’s office and he commented how “Maybe the topic of boogers wasn’t such a good thing to discuss while people were eating breakfast. But I thought it was funny as hell!”

One of the great tricks I played on Steph came from a kicker story from Hal. The story was about someone who got struck by lightning twice. Steph said “Lightning doesn’t strike three times in the same place” and Hal said, “No that’s knock three times on the ceiling if you want me” (a hit for Tony Orlando and Dawn) which led to a long discussion on our COUNTRY station about this 70’s song. I waited for Steph to leave the studio and quickly found the hook from “Knock Three Times” and had it ready on our audio player. I waited for her to read the sponsorship for the traffic or weather (I don’t remember) and as soon as she started to read it – I played the hook from that song. She couldn’t hold it together. I faded it out. Waited for her to gain her composure and as soon as she started reading it again, played the hook again! I did this off and on a few times because it just made me laugh.

One thing that I will forever associate with Steph, and she can probably remember how this topic came up (because I can’t), was a character from a Flintstones spin-off. On Saturday mornings, there was a Pebbles and Bam Bam show which features the kids from the Flintstones as teenagers. There was a character who always moped around and had a cloud over his head that was raining. His name was Shleprock. She probably called me that once, I don’t know, but whenever I see that character – I think of her.

The station partnered with a bowling alley to do a bowling league. We invited listeners to come out and bowl with us once a week. We had bowling shirts printed up and many of our listeners came out and joined the league. Steph’s bowling was always the talk of the show the next day! She would throw the ball down the lane and dance and swing her arms and try to “control” the ball and where it was going. It was hilarious! I’m not sure who had more fun, the listeners or us!

We worked together for two years. We had three bosses. Two that “got us” and liked what we did on the air, and one that may not have. I can’t be sure. We were told that they wanted to save money and they brought in a semi-syndicated live show which was based in Grand Rapids and Flint. Our positions and salaries were eliminated.

Perfectly Aligned

The words “Steph – B95” have been on the pad of paper where I write ideas for future blogs for some time. I knew there were stories to share – I wasn’t sure how to present them. For example, I think the fact that she called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays the “Tampa Day Bevil Rays” is hilarious! Oh, I suppose one day, I’ll have to tell you the story about the “Hoover Maneuver”!!

At any rate, just like the “stars aligned” to set me up to write this blog, they also aligned to make her the winner of the contest and my co-host. I couldn’t be happier for that. She brought so much realness to the show. She was funny. She was entertaining. She was genuine. She was literally our target audience!

Jay told me to consider the following things in a co-host:

* Do they have something to say?
* Do they have a colorful way of expressing themselves?
* Are they reasonably comfortable with who they are?
* Are they emotionally varied?
* Do they like their lives?
* Do they respond to things you say?

He then said, “Get them to talk, and listen to how it feels. If they’re expressive and varied, and they make you respond to them, then you’ve got a decent chance of success.”

She was PERFECT!

After B-95

You would think that when we got let go, we’d have gone our separate ways. I mean, we got her to leave her full-time job to work in radio – only to get fired two years later for no reason! Thankfully, we have been friends ever since! Over the years, it is not odd for one of us to call each other with some story and say, “Man, that would have been a great bit to tell on the air!” I have looked back and seen her children get married, go off to college, give birth to her grandbabies….there is no shortage of great stuff that she could share on the air.

Over the past few years, she has been a true friend and was always there to lend an ear in tough times. She was honest and supportive through my divorce and rejoiced with me when I got remarried. How cool is it that a radio contest not only gave me a co-host, but a life long friend?!

Thanks for the wonderful memories, Steph!

“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)

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson - Season 12

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.