Books I Couldn’t Put Down

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I love reading.  I don’t get as much time to do it as I’d like.  I have a stack of books on my “to read” pile right now.  I really need to stop going to the library because every time I do, I bring home three or four and the “to read” pile doesn’t go down.

I was challenged to write this blog by another blogger I follow.  Interestingly enough, a different blogger had posted a few blogs about books and we had brief conversation about doing a blog like this, and then I received the challenge from a second blogger.

I took a piece of paper out and jotted down the first few books that came to mind and stopped when I reached 5 for the three categories.  Included is a brief description of each, should you be moved to read them.

Fiction

Pandora’s Clock – John Nance

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A plane carrying a “super virus” that could leave all the passengers dead within hours.  Word gets out about the plane and no one wants them landing at their airport.  Reviews I read afterward were not that great, but I enjoyed the book.

True Crime – Andrew Klaven

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A man is about to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit.  He tells his story to a reporter who investigates and finds the real killer.  It is a race against the clock to stop the execution.  I read this in one day!  I couldn’t put it down.  The movie made based on this book was a huge disappointment.

The One Man – Andrew Gross

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One of the best historical thrillers I have read.  A man is sent to sneak into Auschwitz concentration camp to save a man who has information that can start a war – or end it.  Loved this book!

The Godfather – Mario Puzo

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A classic!  I can re-read this over and over.  The story of the Corleone Crime family, which was turned into an Academy Award winning film.  A story you can’t refuse!

11-22-63 Stephen King

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What an amazing premise for a story!  Already fascinated with the assassination of JFK, this was a must read for me.  I was not disappointed.  A high school English teacher is recruited by a friend to stop the Kennedy Assassination by going back in time through a time portal in the neighborhood diner.  This is also on my “books to read again” stack.

Non-Fiction

Hiroshima – John Hersey

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Powerful and eye opening story of the bombing and aftermath of Hiroshima, Japan.  It is truly amazing to read the stories of people who survived this horrific event.

A Night to Remember – Walter Lord

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The minute by minute account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic.  I first read this in high school for my Survey of Non-fiction class.  It remains one of the most accurate accounts of the tragedy.

Maus – Art Spiegelman

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I read this for one of my first college classes.  The true story of a Holocaust survivor, as told by his son. It is a graphic novel based on conversations between father and son.

The Michigan Murders – Edward Keyes

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One of the first true crime stories I ever read.  Between 1967-1969, there were many murders of young women in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area of Southeastern Michigan .  The killer was being called the Ypsilanti Ripper.  At times gruesome, the story was fascinating.

Exit The Rainmaker – Jonathan Coleman

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I first learned of this book from a co-worker who was reading it one night at the radio station.  The book tells of the true story of Jay Carsey, a college president, who walked away from his wife, work, family and friends to start a new life.  I learned afterward that he not only did this once, he did it twice!  Carsey died in 2000, but his story makes you wonder just what makes someone do what he did!

Biography

Sid Caesar – Where Have I Been?

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Sid was a very funny guy, but boy did he have demons!  I had no idea just how many issues he had until I saw this one on a library shelf and picked it up.

Jack Benny – Mary Livingstone

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There are many other biographies about Jack Benny (by Irving Fein, Milt Josefsberg, and his daughter Joan Benny), but I chose this one written by his co-star and wife, Mary Livingstone.  I have read this one a few times, and even though the stories are the same, it just makes me love Benny even more.

One Fine Stooge – Steve Cox

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Steve Cox and Jim Terry do such an amazing job with this book on one of the most underrated classic comedians – Larry Fine.  Great stories, great photos, and a wonderful tribute to my favorite Stooge.

Moe Howard and the 3 Stooges – Moe Howard

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Moe on Moe.  In his own words, and with lots of pictures, Moe shares many stories from his days as leader of the Three Stooges.  This was one of the first books I ever bought on the Stooges, and remains one of my favorites.

Soupy Sez – Soupy Sales

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I wasn’t young enough to watch Soupy in the 60’s, but I did get to see his 70’s revival show on TV as a kid.  I also loved listening to his Moldie Oldies Show on the radio.  Soupy tells some great stories in this biography.

Closing Thoughts

I am sure if I really thought about it, I could come up with many more books I enjoyed.  For now, this satisfies the challenged posed to me.  What books are your favorites?  Tell me about them!  I’d love to add them to my list of books to read!

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Place your bets …

“Show me a gambler and I’ll show you a loser” – Mario Puzo

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This is the first year I didn’t have any “squares” for the Super Bowl.  I am sure I could have purchased some.  Some friends on Facebook posted that they had some available, the issue was getting them the money (let alone the fact that money is pretty tight right now anyway!).  I usually get a square or two from a few people every year.  Since I began working on Sundays, I rarely go to Super Bowl parties, and the opportunity to get squares seems to be more difficult.

I was first introduced to foot ball squares when I bowled on a Sunday morning league.  I bowled at a small place called Pastime Lanes.  It was a cool place because the owners were awesome and everybody pretty much knew everybody.  I watched my buddy Joe bowl a 300 game there!  We were usually done bowling by 1 in the afternoon, and during football season, many of us went into the bar afterward to eat and watch the game.  It didn’t matter if it was the home team (Detroit Lions) playing or not.

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The above picture is what a typical “board” would look like.  Each square cost $5 or $10 and you’d buy however many you wanted.  After all the squares were filled, numbers were drawn and filled in on the top and side.  Each side of the board was also assigned a team.  The numbers would correspond with the score at the end of each quarter.  For example if the Lions were on the left and the Patriots were on the top, and the score at the end of the first quarter was Patriots 14 – Lions 0, you would find the 4 on the top and the 0 on the left and the winner is …Chaz Mee.  I never got rich off the squares, but hitting for $50 every so often was nice.  A buddy of mine on Facebook hit a square for $2000 during the Super Bowl (that’s a lot of diapers!)!

I wouldn’t consider myself a big gambler.  I will buy an occasional “instant” scratch off ticket when I pump gas.  I will also play the daily 3 digit every so often.  When I play the 3 digit, it is often the birthdays of my boys and my wife, my anniversary, and my old license plate number – 596.  Sometimes, I win, but most often I lose.

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Gambling is something many take seriously!  You can literally bet on anything!  The morning show on one of the stations I work at was talking about the list of “prop bets” people were making on the Super Bowl.  It was crazy stuff!  I had never heard the term “prop bet” before.  For those who don’t know what it is it is defined this way on Wikipedia: in gambling, a “proposition bet” (prop bet, prop, novelty, or a side bet) is a bet made regarding the occurrence or non-occurrence during a game (usually a gambling game) of an event not directly affecting the game’s final outcome.

Prop bets can be:

  • Who will win the coin toss?
  • How long the national anthem will be?
  • Who will score first?
  • Will a quarterback score a touchdown?
  • Will there be more than 50 points in the game

They can also be on silly things like:

  • What color microphone will be used by the singer of the national anthem?
  • Will Betty White appear in a Snickers ad?
  • Will a player use a “prop” during a TD celebration?
  • Who will show cleavage during the halftime show?
  • Who will win the Puppy Bowl?
  • What color liquid will be poured on the winning coach?

I’m sure that there are crazier things than the above that people bet on during the game.  I’ll stick to squares…

Baby Bets

We didn’t wager for any money on this one, but I did go to my Facebook family and friends and ask when they thought our baby would be due.


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I didn’t make a cute chart like the above picture, but I do have all the guesses on a spreadsheet.  As each day passes, we get closer to the due date (2/16).  My wife guessed 2/20.  She liked the idea of her birthday being 2/20/20.  I liked the idea of 2’s, as well, so my pick was 2/2/20 (without really thinking about the palindrome thing).  Needless to say, I am officially out of the running now.  It would have been cool to tell her “Daddy, knew what day you were going to be born!”  With each passing day, I cross of the day and the people who guessed it.  Only two of my friends actually picked the actual due date.

Despite the fact that she picked the 20th, my wife is MORE than ready for the baby to be here.  I am sure she will not mind at all being wrong about the arrival date! We are Week 38 today and if she waits until the due date, it is going to be a LONG and MISERABLE two weeks!

The wait continues … maybe I can come up with some prop bets??

  • Will Dad pass out during the delivery?
  • How many nurses will be in the room?
  • How many hours of labor?
  • Which eye will I get punched in by my wife?
  • Will I use left or right hand to cut the cord?
  • Will Daddy cry?

Ok, the last one is a SURE bet!!!

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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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