Thoughts on The Godfather (1972)

It has been some time since I have been able to participate in a Blogathon, but when I saw that The Ultimate Decades Blogathon was being hosted by my friends over at Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews, I had to take part in it. The basic theme is to blog about a movie that was released in a year ending in “2.” While scanning the releases from 1972 – it became very obvious which movie I would be writing about – The Godfather. (This blog may contain spoilers.)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the film. This puts me at a disadvantage. Why? Because, let’s face it, there will be plenty of articles, books, internet articles, magazine special editions and more about this movie. You will not have to go far to find material on this masterpiece. As a matter of fact, I am currently reading one of the books that was released just a few months ago about the film.

I had actually hoped to finish the book prior to having to write this blog. I am just over halfway finished and it is fantastic!

This week, I watched the film in its entirety in preparation for this blogathon. With every viewing, I come to appreciate it more and more. It remains a film that I never tire of watching. It never gets old. It still holds up 50 years later. The Mark Seal book I am reading has certainly made me more aware of the difficulties that surrounded the making of The Godfather. At times, you wonder how it ever was finished!

At any rate, what could a lowly blogger like me possibly present to you about the Best Picture Winner of 1972? My thoughts, my observations, and my reasons for loving it. Now that I think about it, I guess I chose this film for selfish reasons. I have quoted it and referred to it in passing in past blogs, but I have never actually devoted an entire blog to it.

Unlike some blogs, mine is a personal blog that features stories from my past, posts about my family, posts about my struggles, posts about my passions, likes, and dislikes. It is a picture of “me.” No picture of me would be complete without The Godfather. So, here goes….

The First Viewing

I was two years old when The Godfather came out. I don’t recall exactly how old I was when I first saw it. What I do remember is that it was not a complete viewing.

As a teen, I remember my dad would always be laying on the floor watching TV. I had come into the room and dad was watching the movie which was playing on one of the local networks. I remember being instantly being caught up in it. As my memory serves me, the scene I was watching was where Michael goes to the hospital and no one is watching his father. I remember him begging the nurse to help move him because people were coming “to kill him.”

Once the Don (Marlon Brando) is moved to another room, Enzo the baker is shown walking up the stairs and down the hall. The entire scene where Michael and Enzo are out in front of the hospital as the car carrying the murderers pulls up (and drives away) had me at the edge of my seat! I watched the rest of the movie with my dad and remember asking him a gazillion questions.

Eventually, my dad purchased the movies (Part 1 & 2) on VHS. I remember watching part one from beginning to end and being blown away. I was never really aware of the film’s length because it held my attention all the way through. Admittedly, it took more than a couple viewings to finally get all the names of the various characters right.

For the next couple years, it seemed like HBO or The Movie Channel played the Godfather films in a hot rotation right around Christmastime. I remember going over to my girlfriend’s house and her dad was watching it. I sat down on the couch and we bonded immediately over the film. I’m not sure she was too happy that our time together was sitting on the couch watching a “mob movie.”

The movie is one of the few films that I have to sit down and watch if it is on TV. If I am scanning channels and it is on, I stop and watch. I can’t help it. I get caught up into it immediately.

The Big Screen

In 2002, select theaters were showing the film for its 30th anniversary. This was an opportunity that I had to take advantage of. My wife at the time had never seen the movie and I asked if she would like to see it. She said yes and we bought tickets.

I wish I could convey to you the amount of excitement that I felt as I sat in the seats of the Royal Oak Main theater (in Michigan) as the lights dimmed and the movie started. This was my first time watching this masterpiece on the big screen. The camera fired up and there was the solo trumpet playing the opening 7 notes of The Godfather Theme. I had chills!

“I believe in America….” The words of Amerigo Bonasera came through the sound system. The camera fades in on his face as he tells the story of his daughter and the boys who beat her. The camera pulls further and further away from him and eventually we see the back of Don Corleone. We hear the dialogue between them and it isn’t until we see Bonasera whispering in the Don’s ear that we finally see the man – Don Corleone.

The opening scene of the film remains one of my favorites of all time. It is just brilliant. It is perfect. Watching it on the big screen for the first time remains one of the coolest moments!

Mario Puzo’s novel does not open with this scene. Director Francis Ford Coppola stated that he knew this was the scene that should open the film. I can’t imagine it opening any other way. So much is conveyed it this scene – respect, disrespect, power, and family. It is the perfect springboard for the remainder of the film.

Mario Puzo, author of the Godfather

Casting

It is probably easy for me to say that the cast of the Godfather is perfect, especially since it is 50 years old. Believe it or not, Paramount was against Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone. They also were not keen on Al Pacino as Michael. Can you imagine James Caan as Michael (and NOT Sonny)? How about Martin Sheen instead of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen? There was quite a lot of fighting over who should play who in the movie. In the end, Coppola wound up with the cast that he wanted, and when you see the finished product, you see that he had it right all along.

The Corleone Boys – Michael, Vito, Sonny and Fredo

Fun Fact: Mario Puzo actually wrote a letter to Marlon Brando telling him that he thought Brando would be perfect for the role of Don Vito Corleone in the film. He stated in his letter that Brando was the “only actor who can play the Godfather.”

Fun Fact: Throughout the entire film, the word “mafia” is never uttered.

Not Just Another “Mobster Flick”

People who have never seen the Godfather assume that it is just another mobster film. I would tend to disagree. To me, it is more about family, greed, power, and loyalty. Coppola stated somewhere that he wanted to show that the Corleone family were real people, with jobs (illegal or not), children, a home life, etc…

One of the first things we see in the film is a huge family wedding. There is laughter, dancing, music, food, and plenty of friends and family. We also see the mixture of business and family, as the Don is “working” in his den as the wedding is going on. We see him as a husband and father, dancing with his wife and his daughter at the wedding festivities. The importance of family is present as the family poses for a photo, but the Don states that it cannot be taken until Michael arrives.

The “Family” Business

The phrase “family business” is used a few times in the film. To me, the term illustrates that the two are separate, yet connected. It becomes very clear that when it comes to business, the Don, his consigliere (Tom Hagen) and his two older sons (Sonny and Fredo) are involved. The youngest son, Michael, is not a part of the family business. Sonny says that he didn’t want to “get mixed up in” it. Michael is also referred to as a “civilian” by family members. Yet his entering the business is one of the most intriguing things to me about the movie.

When Michael makes his entrance into the film he is walking hand in hand with his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) in his military uniform. We see him walking from behind almost swaying, without seeing his face, we know that he is happy and in love. He is a far cry from the man he will transform into. He is soft spoken, even when he explains to Kay some of the terrible things his family is responsible for. He also makes it a point to explain, “That’s my family, Kay. NOT ME.”

In an interesting turn of events, not very far into the movie the “star” is shot and absent for much of the middle of the film. I am talking about The Godfather himself, Vito Corleone (Brando). This event leads to the beginning of the transformation of Michael. The soft spoken son, who had had his jaw broken by a corrupt cop, is now telling his brothers that he will step in and knock off the man responsible for shooting his father (which brings about a lot of laughter at first, but ultimately is what the family decides to do).

It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s just business.

In this scene, Coppola again works magic with the camera. As Michael describes what he wants to do, the camera slowly moves closer and closer to him. As the camera stops he states firmly, “I’ll kill them both.” The transformation has begun.

It continues quickly. During the scene where Michael does it, you can see him lost in thought as Virgil Solozzo (who sets up the hit on the Don) and the police captain are sitting next to him at the table. I love that as the camera sits on his face, the sounds of the trains get louder and louder until he finally stands and shoots his victims.

By the end of the film, Michael has become Don. His dark eyes tell a story of tragedy and anger. He is cold and heartless. He has “settled” all family business.

To me, this is one of the most amazing character transformations in all of film. He has gone from likeable to someone you cringe at when you look at him. He makes your stomach turn.

Final Thoughts

I feel as though I have not even begun to scratch the surface of just what a powerful movie this is. When someone thinks about the Godfather, they think of:

  • The horse’s head
  • Leave the gun. Take the cannoli
  • Sonny getting shot at the toll booth
  • Luca Brasi
  • The meeting of the Five Families
  • The interplay between the “settling of family business” and the baptism

There are so many wonderful scenes throughout this picture. I could write a blog about each of those scenes just as easily as I could write a blog about each character. The things presented here, are the things that stood out for me right from the get go when I wondered what to present.

For anyone who has never seen the movie, it is a must watch. You also need to watch it more than once. As I stated, it gets better every time. I also recommend reading the book, whether you do it before or after watching the movie, it really doesn’t matter. In some cases, reading it before will give you a better chance at remembering who is who. For me, it gave me a lot more insight as to what characters were thinking during key scenes.

(Note: Pick up Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Notebook. It has pages from the novel and his notes. It is fun to see how he thinks about what to keep and what to leave out. It is also cool to see what he thought was important and just how to convey things on film.)

There is plenty of imagery throughout the film. One of my favorite examples of this involves the scenes where someone kisses the Godfather’s ring. Like a pair of book ends – we see two Dons (Vito from the beginning of the film and Michael from the end of the film) in an almost identical scene. The family’s power has been transferred from one to another.

Coppola is a master at tying things together and the pictures above illustrate that.

I, on the other hand, tend to ramble (hence the title of my Blog Page). I hope that you have found my thoughts on the film enjoyable. I hope that they move you to watch the film again or for the first time.

In closing, I want to thank my friends at Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews for allowing me to take part in this blogathon. I highly recommend that you follow them for some pretty amazing content. Check them out here:

https://klling.wordpress.com/

https://drewreviewmovies.wordpress.com/

Cue the Godfather theme …..

Looking Ahead …

A radio friend discovered my blog on accident. He was doing a search on Honey Radio and my blog came up. He messaged me and asked “Is this yours?” After messaging back and forth, I told him to let me know if there was any specific topics he’d like to see on the blog.

It’s been some time since I have done a “Question and Answer” blog, so I may do that again. I also am considering hosting a guest blogger. If you are interested, let me know.

There are a couple things on the way that I am excited for. First of all, next month I will be taking part in the Ultimate Decades Blogathon. It’s a cool idea where you can write on movies released in years that end in “2.” 1932, 1942, 1952, etc… You can imagine my excitement when I remembered that The Godfather was released in 1972.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the film. While I have eluded to it in many other blogs, I am excited to dedicate an entire blog to the movie. I plan on finishing a book that recently came out about the movie …

Watch for this blog in February. #UltimateDecadesBlogathon

I am also looking forward to the TV Show draft, which is currently on hold for a bit, but should be starting up soon. My first pick is a show that only lasted 6 shows and spawned a successful movie series. More on that soon.

What’s In A Name (Part 2)

When Sam told me we were expecting again, I was pretty sure the baby was a girl. As a matter of fact, I even had a dream about about it. I blogged about that here: https://nostalgicitalian.com/2021/04/23/and-the-baby-is-a/

This pregnancy has been difficult for Sam. She has been in a lot of pain. We found out that the reason for this is that the placenta is positioned anterior. Because of this, she has had a few extra ultrasounds to make sure everything is ok. While at her OB a couple weeks ago, he stated that while doing the ultrasound, he should be able to see the gender and asked if Sam wanted to know. Sam told him that we had already gone to the 3D place and found out the gender.

The doc told her that those places are right “about 50% of the time.” While he checked her, he really couldn’t tell for sure what the baby’s gender was. He even stated that there was certainly “a possibility” that it could be a girl. The reasoning was that the position of the placenta could have made it look like something it wasn’t.

This threw a big curve ball at us. What if the baby was a girl? We had already made the announcement that we were having a boy. We would have to wait and see. If it WAS a girl, we had a solid name picked out. Just like with Ella, it was a name we both agreed on almost immediately. The only thing that we hadn’t nailed down was a middle name, but we had our top choices all picked.

So we kept things quiet until this week. Sam went in for the 20 week ultrasound and we can confirm that the baby is indeed a boy. He is a very active boy (as Sam has been able to see in all the ultrasounds). Due to the placement of the placenta, however, it really limits how much Sam gets to feel him move. So with the confirmation of gender, we moved back to our list of Boy Names and had to nail one down!

We had a few names that really stood out. We went back and forth on a couple of them. We had one name that we really liked, but it was ruined by a story from a family member. There was another we liked and just really kept going back and forth with it. Finally, we came to a decision.

The baby’s name is …

Andrew Joseph to be exact.

Sam’s grandfather was Joseph, which is where the middle name comes from. Andrew was just a first name that we both liked. It works out great in the “nickname” department, too. We can call him Drew or “AJ”. I like AJ a lot!

There is lots of excitement and anticipation for his arrival. October seems a long way away, but at the same time, it will be here faster than we know it!

Funniest Observation of the Week.

Leave it to my dad! I called him to let him know the baby’s name before Sam posted it on Facebook. I loved to see his reaction. It was a few hours later that my dad commented on the post on Sam’s Facebook page. He observed that now I will have three sons and a daughter – just like Don Corleone in the Godfather!

David O’Keefe’s fantastic Godfather artwork!

Only my dad would have observed that!! That’s just one of the reasons I love him! Thanks Dad!

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

one man

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

rainmaker

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?

sid

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

moe

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

soupy

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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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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The Challenge: #PayClassicsForward for Christmas

pay

A blog that I follow, Once Upon a Screen, posted a challenge that she has done for a few years now.  The idea is to share some of your favorite movies with others – by “paying classics forward”.  You can my friend, Aurora’s post from this year here:

The Challenge: #PayClassicsForward for Christmas

From the above link, you can also click on her posts from previous years.  She loosely follows the “format” of The 12 Days of Christmas.  Another buddy at Movie Movie Blog Blog II posted his here:

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/157990146/posts/1162

What follows is my attempt to share some movie “classics” with you.  Perhaps you can check some out during your holiday break?  Here goes:

One AMAZING performance –

James Cagney as psychopath Cody Jarrett in White Heat.  He had given up playing gangsters a few years prior, but returns with this electrifying and mesmerizing performance in this film.  The ending is classic!!

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Two Musical Brothers –

Jake and Elwood Blues are on a “mission from God” to raise money to save an orphanage, but first, they need to put their band back together.  Based on two characters they did on Saturday Night Live, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, along with an amazing band, great cast, stellar cameos from legendary singers, and the Bluesmobile are a MUST see!

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Three Movie Trilogies

The Star Wars Original Trilogy.  Yes, I know that there are prequels and sequels, but the original trilogy (Episodes 4, 5, & 6) are required viewing for everyone!

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The Back to the Future Trilogy.  Time travel has never been so much fun! While I still feel that Part 3 could have had a better ending, I still love watching the adventures of Doc Brown, Marty McFly, and Biff Tannen.

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The Godfather Trilogy.  Movie perfection!  Godfather 1 & Godfather 2 are such masterful works!  While Godfather 3 was panned by many critics, I still find it to have some wonderful moments.

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Four Star General

George C. Scott won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of General George S. Patton.  I have always loved him as an actor, and his performance in this film is truly worthy of the award.

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Five Card Stud

I love a good western.  I could have had an entire list of westerns to suggest to readers (maybe that’s a future blog).  Five Card Stud stars two of my favorite actors, Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s good stuff! Shuffle the cards….

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The Sixth Sense

I remember seeing this one in the theater. I remember exactly how blown away I was at the ending.  If you have never seen it, you need to!  Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment are terrific.  Still one of my favorites of all time.

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Seven “Hoods”

Robin and the 7 Hoods is one of two Rat Pack films on this list.  Take the story of Robin Hood and set it in 1920’s Chicago and you have a fun flick.  There are some great musical numbers, including a Sinatra classic, “My Kind of Town”.  Peter Falk is brilliant in this film, as is Bing Crosby.  Then, of course, you have Dean, Frank & Sammy!

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Favorite Eight film series.

The Harry Potter series.  Whether you are a child or an adult, this wonderful world of wizardry is very well done.  What makes it extra special is that the main characters are played by the same people throughout the entire series.  I saw the movies before I read the books.  My kids and I love watching these together.

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Nine Players

I’m talking baseball movies.  I’ll give you a drama and a comedy.  For laughs, Major League is my pick.  The all star cast includes Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen, and Wesley Snipes! Bob Uecker as the Indians announcer is worth the watch!

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In the drama category, The Natural with Robert Redford is my suggestion.  Roy Hobbs and his bat “Wonderboy” lead the Knights to many victories in this wonderful film!  Wilford Brimley is great as the manager.  Watch for Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey, and Robert Duvall as well!

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Ten Commandments

The Cecil B. DeMille epic is an amazing movie with a phenomenal all-star cast and pretty cool special effects for 1956!  Charlton Heston is Moses.

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Others in the cast include Vincent Price, Anne Baxter, Yvonne De Carlo, Yul Brynner, and Edward G. Robinson.

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Watch this.  “So let it be written.  So let it be done.”

Ocean’s Eleven

The original!  Not the George Clooney, Brad Pitt remake!  This is my second Rat Pack selection.  Sinatra is Danny Ocean, and him and his old military buddies are going to rob all the major casinos in Las Vegas.  I have always loved the ending of this film – so much is said (and felt) with nothing but silence and no dialogue.

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Twelve Angry Men

Henry Fonda leads an all-star cast of jurors who must decide whether a teen is guilty, sending him to a death sentence.  In the film, we see 12 very different personalities all trying to work together to come to a conclusion.  The clashing of these various personalities is what makes the film so brilliant.  Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, Jack Warden, and Lee J. Cobb all put in thrilling performances.

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Now it is your turn – pay it forward.  What movies are must sees for other film fans?  You have freedom to pick what you want and use your numbers how you wish.  Use my post and the examples of my friend as a guide.

 

 

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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Mad About Mad!

I had a paper route as a kid.  It was nice because I had an income (not much, but a lot for a kid).  With the money I earned, I would run up to the record store and buy records or tapes or maybe I’d go to Circus World and buy some new toy I wanted.  If I wasn’t buying toys or music, I was in the book store buying my favorite magazine – Mad.

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This week it was announced that Mad would be coming off the newsstands after an amazing 67 year run!  What a shame this is!  I remember picking it up and laughing out loud at so many things!  As a kid, I always laughed at the humor and satirical content and often brought it to school and laughed with friends during lunch.

I will admit that it has been some time since I bought a copy of Mad, but I can recall some of the things I looked forward to each month:

Movie and TV Parodies

M*A*S*H became M*U*S*H, Different Strokes was Different Jokes, The Sound of Music was The Sound of Money, and the Godfather was The OddFather.

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So many great satires and parodies were presented in Mad.  I always loved reading them and found the comedic spins on character names creative and funny.

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As silly as these comics were, I always wondered which Spy would wind up beating the other one! I don’t recall rooting for one Spy in particular.

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Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions

Al Jaffee, was responsible for two of my favorite Mad Magazine features.  The first was Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.  Who doesn’t respond with a sarcastic answer when someone asks you a ridiculous question!!??  I always loved this feature, and Al wrote many books based on this feature.

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The Mad Fold-In

Al Jaffee also was responsible for this feature.  There was usually some crazy drawing on the back cover.  There was some scenario or question posed and you folded the back cover in and the answer and another drawing appeared from the original.  It’s hard to explain, but this picture may help…

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Incidentally, as of this writing, Al Jaffee is still alive and celebrated his 98th birthday in March!

Don Martin

Another great contributor to Mad Magazine was artist Don Martin.  He was with the magazine from 1956-1988 and had some very funny characters.  At one point in his career, he was promoted as “Mad’s Maddest Artist!” His stuff always had really generic titles like “One Fine Day at the Bank” or “One Tuesday Afternoon After School.”  What I loved about him was that his cartoons always had some of the weirdest sound effects!  What I mean by that is he’d spell out the sound effects that were going on and those always cracked me up!!! Here are a couple of his onomatopoeias:

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SHTOINK (seen above) was actually his vanity license plate on his car.  When I think of Don, I always think of my best friend, Jeff.  I’m not sure why, but we still make silly noises and make up words when we chat on the phone and when we’re together.  I am sure we spent many hours laughing at the “sounds” created by Don Martin for Mad Magazine! Sadly, he died of cancer in 2000.

Alfred E. Neuman

He was the iconic face of Mad Magazine who signature phrase was “What, me worry?”

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Alfred’s face could be found on the cover of Mad, and when I’d walked over the rack, I’d look for his face to find the magazine!

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The character itself has interesting origins and you can read about them on wiki here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_E._Neuman

Alfred also made a record!  Depending on the source, it’s either from 1963 or 1966 (some sources say it could be as early as 1959), and it was called “It’s a Gas!”  With a name like that, you are correct if you thought it included “sounds a body with gas makes”.  Drew and Mike played this often when they were doing mornings on WRIF.  Enjoy it at the link below:

Farewell, Mad

Mad is really one of the last satirical magazines around.  Crazy Magazine stopped publishing in 1983 after a brief decade of issues.

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Cracked magazine (which I often bought with Mad) ceased publication in 2007.

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In a few weeks, the bimonthly publication will only feature vintage MAD content and be sold at comic book stores. The magazines will still be mailed to subscribers, and DC will continue to publish MAD books and special collections. Starting with issue 11 (Mad reset its numbering in 2018 after moving offices) in October, “new” issues of Mad will only feature new cover art, while the rest of the magazine will comprise articles pulled from previous issues. I am sad to see it go, and based on the things I am seeing on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and other social media sites, I am not alone.

In 2015, “Weird Al” Yankovic served as Mad Magazine’s first “Guest Editor.”  Naturally, I bought that issue.  Upon hearing the news of the magazine’s demise, Al tweeted: “I am profoundly sad to hear that after 67 years, MAD Magazine is ceasing publication. I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid — it’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird. Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.”

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67 years in publication!  67 years of satire.  67 years of laughs!  Thanks, Mad!

In honor of Mad, I plan on using Sploydoing, Floourtz, Gluwwtch, Flaark and other onomatopoeias in my daily vocabulary for years to come!

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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!

 

 

“Made in 1938”

 

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Introduction

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

https://popculturereverie.wordpress.com/

or

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/

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

Rich Little (Born November 26, 1938)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolfman Jack (Born January 21, 1938)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher Lloyd (Born October 22, 1938)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Closing

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