Sunday, September 28, 2014

THE KANSAS CITY JOLSON STORY...Part I: Jolson, Palmer & Jolson

By Steve Crum

The Jolson Story (Columbia Pictures, 1946) includes dialogue which speaks of Al Jolson’s desire to perform to a live, nationwide audience. A particularly telling scene in the musical biography occurs when Jolie’s Winter Garden Theater extravaganza, Robinson Crusoe Jr., is completing a two year run, and “still sockaroo.” Jolson alone (implied in the movie--with no evident input from the brothers Shubert) decides to take his Broadway hit on tour across America. Producer Tom Baron (Bill Goodwin) is exasperated at Jolson’s plan, as he speaks to Jolson’s manager, Steve Martin (William Demarest):

Baron: "Take a big Broadway show like this on tour? Drag it all over the country--into tank towns? Al’s out of his mind! It’s never been done!"

Martin soon explains Jolson’s motive: "It’s a brand new audience, he says...millions of ‘em, people who never saw a Broadway show and never heard him sing....”  

Moments later, cut to a locomotive barreling down the track, and then to Mama Yoelson (Tamara Shayne) turning pages of her theatrical scrapbook of newspaper stories from around the country heralding her son Asa’s national tour. (The Kansas City Times is included.) Throughout this sequence, Jolson’s robust voice gives out with his traveling music: Toot Toot Tootsie (Goo’ Bye).
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Sure The Jolson Story, like most movie biographies, mixes fact with fiction, so it is doubtful whether Jolson alone made the decision to tour. Nonetheless, Al Jolson did perform his Broadway shows in virtually every major city in the United States. He was certainly used to touring, something he had done since 1898, in the days of his brief stint with the Walter L. Main Circus. He continued touring when he performed with the Victoria Burlesquers, on through vaudeville, Dockstader’s Minstrels, and finally with his legendary Broadway musicals. 
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Much has been said, rightfully so, about Al Jolson’s home theater, The Winter Garden in New York City. Kansas City (Missouri) was but one of dozens of cities Jolson played to during tours that stretched over 25 years. It was a true labor of Jolie love to spend hours that turned into weeks at the Kansas City, Missouri Main Library, pouring over yellowed Kansas City Star and Kansas City Times newspapers stored on microfilm. (Incidentally, at that time there were two newspapers published by the same firm; The Times was the morning edition, and The Star, the evening edition.) Thanks to Herb Goldman’s magnificent biography, Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life, I was able to pinpoint exact dates of Jolson’s shows in KC. It made my search much easier.

What surprises I found! There were, of course, the straight news stories of whatever Jolson show was either coming or currently playing. Then there were the reviews, the revealing and opinionated reviews. In some cases, it was like witnessing an actual Jolson performance. Jolson is often quoted while on stage, and bits of physical business are described. Jolson is also quoted off stage in personal interviews. I found cartoon caricatures of Jolson, photos of Jolson, ads of Jolson. Local record stores promoted Jolson 78’s in ads specifically capitalizing on his being in town. Jolie overload took place, so I had to stop and take some deep breath breaks throughout my exploration. Truly Socko!

Please throw a pity party for me since my eyes suffered as I retyped each and every story to make it easier to read. I had to use a magnifying glass to pour over each word. The microfilm copies had been erratically photocopied with some paragraphs missing sentence portions in creases, as well as blurred or smeared lettering. I had to second guess some of the words since they were virtually missing. In a few cases, I was forced to leave out a section due to incoherent lettering.  

The eye strain was worth it since the end result is a historical document of Al Jolson’s performances in Middle America during the early part of the Twentieth Century. I hope you are as thrilled and excited about this find as I was and still am.  

Even though Jolson never built his house in Kansas City, as Mama Yoelson suggested in The Jolson Story, he definitely built and upheld his reputation in KC as “The World’s Greatest Entertainer.” He loved Kansas City audiences, and KC loved Al Jolson.
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KC JOLSON SHOWS + A HEADLINE

1905--JOLSON, PALMER, AND JOLSON

1908--LEW DOCKSTADER MINSTRELS

1910--SINGLE VAUDEVILLE ACT

1912--THE WHIRL OF SOCIETY

1914--THE HONEYMOON EXPRESS

1915--DANCING AROUND

1917--ROBINSON CRUSOE JR.

1920 & 1921--SINBAD

1923 & 1924--BOMBO

1927--BIG BOY

1932--THE WONDER BAR

1950--”THE MAMMY SINGER” DIES
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JOLSON, PALMER & JOLSON

Published Oct. 29, 1905, this small display ad is the earliest reference to Al Jolson performing in Kansas City I could find. Jolson, Palmer and Jolson toured the vaudeville circuit from Oct. 31, 1904- Nov. 11, 1905. Their last five dates of the tour, Nov. 20-30, were without Al’s brother Harry, who had quit the act. That left Al alone, supporting Joe Palmer. The ad ran the day before Jolson, Palmer, and Jolson played KC (Oct. 30-Nov. 4) at the Orpheum Theater. After their next stop in New Orleans, the act would be renamed Palmer and Jolson. 

Fifth on the vaudeville bill, sandwiched between Susie Fisher, The Phenomenal Baritone (?) and a horizontal bar act, Jolson, Palmer & Jolson are billed as “A Little of Everything.” Unfortunately, no other information about their act was published locally. 

[Next, Part II: Jolson and Dockstader's Minstrels hit KC]

Friday, September 26, 2014

Denzel morphs into killing machine in unintentionally funny ‘The Equalizer’

By Steve Crum
Denzel Washington in a superhero flick—the last of this summer yet? Holy Unexpected, Bats-in-the-Belfry Man! While Mr. Washington and director Antoine Fuqua successfully teamed 13 years ago for Training Day (Denzel won the Best Actor Oscar), the result of this reunion in The Equalizer is unintentionally laughable. Please realize it is not intentionally a superhero movie either. In it, Denzel is mild mannered Robert McCall, a well liked building supplies employee who has a dark side to the extreme. 
We don’t know much about his past, but he is now a quiet, unassuming bachelor who lives alone and enjoys reading. The classics he peruses range from H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man to Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. He strongly (and strangely) identifies with the books, which adds to the bizarreness of his psyche. 
“You gotta be who you are,” McCall advises Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young, beleaguered hooker he befriends. Practicing his preaching, McCall is indeed a man who takes on insurmountable odds (The Old Man and the Sea) while “invisibly” lurking from the shadows. This sophomoric symbolism comes to us via the film’s screenwriter, Richard Wenk. 
When McCall exits those shadows, he does so bringing wrath via hellacious slaughter on his enemies. It is during his terroristic phases that we get the hint McCall has obviously been trained as an assassin. He is also a very meticulous guy who sets his stopwatch before the rampage begins, evidently trying to beat his old record. 
Cut to a closeup of his eye twitching and mouth pursing, as he surveys the surroundings from his viewpoint like a still camera clicking away at warp speed. Immediately he morphs into “The Equalizer,” even though he is never called such. He wears no costume, just street clothes. His weapons include his Ninja-like maneuvers, and whatever objects are on the shelf or coffee table nearby. He even turns adversaries’ guns and knives back on them. The guy is a marvel. Call him Captain Marvel, in fact. But no, that name has been taken. 
McCall’s eye-twitching metamorphosis is triggered by emotional response, in defense of himself or a friend. Honestly, it is reminiscent of Bruce Banner becoming enraged and turning into The Hulk. Maybe the movie going public will be caught up in all the histrionics. I found it hilariously hokey. At 131 minutes, it at least 45 minutes too long. Okay, 131 minutes too long. 
Vastly unlike its namesake 1985-89 TV series, starring Edward Woodward, this Equalizer is state-of-the-art violent. Like the TV show, however, our hero (in the original, a detective) takes on needy souls in physical danger. 
There are several violent confrontations, each accompanied by an ear piercing rap soundtrack by Eminem and associates. Without giving away too much, let me say I have never seen power tools, right off the store rack, used so effectively against Russian mafia thugs. 
It is enough to start one’s eye twitching. 
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GRADE on an A-F scale: D-

Friday, September 19, 2014

Funny, bittersweet ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ features talented cast

By Steve Crum
Although this is a comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family gathering in homage to the departed patriarch, the likable and very smart This Is Where I Leave You is not another screaming, cursing, hair-pulling, non-comedic August: Osage County. Thank goodness. Granted there is some yelling, f-bombing and punching, but in the final count, This is a comedy overall. Jane Fonda’s participation as the matriarch might hint at an On Golden Pond spin. Again, This is Where I Leave You is not that either, despite revealing moments of tenderness and family love.
Then what is This? What we have is a talent graced adult comedy with the premise of a funeral reuniting everyone back to the family home. Previous comedies have used a funeral as the plot crux. Both the 2007 and 2010 versions of Death at a Funeral come to mind. In This case, the Altman Family happens to be Jewish, so widow Hillary Altman, played by a buxom-enhanced Jane Fonda, demands that her far less than orthodox Jewish children honor their father’s final request by observing Shiva. Mama Hillary insists, “I want all my kids under one roof again!”
The tradition involves periods of meditative reflection while living together for seven days. That means no work and no play. Reluctantly the clan agrees, but end up using cell phones to connect with work. They also sneak out of the house to drink and socialize downtown and elsewhere. All the sneaking in and out constitute much of the laughs…and some drama, by the way. In addition to the four grown siblings, their significant others are part of the mix. 
Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) takes Jonathan Tropper’s crisp screenplay (based on his book) and finely paces the principals through a maze of funny sequences while balancing the dramatics surrounding new and old relationships. Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) has just broken up with his wife over her infidelity; Tina Fey’s Wendy is a long married mom whose husband is increasingly distant; and Adam Driver’s Phillip, the youngest of the bunch, has brought his latest girlfriend  along. They have their problems too. Then there is Paul (Corey Stoll), married to the depressed Alice (Kathryn Hahn). Both are obsessed with getting pregnant since so far—for years—that has not happened. 
Put them all together and they spell Mom…and it turns out she has her own family secret. By the way, Hillary is a psychologist who has written a best selling guide to raising children. As the movie progresses, that irony increases. 
This Is Where I Leave You is a funny, bittersweet dramedy that connects, in large part due to a superb cast. This is Tina Fey’s best work to date, particularly because it taps into her dramatic talents. Jason Bateman is really the center of the story, and anchors it well. Driver is a gifted young actor who continues to impress. Stoll and Hahn are fine too. 
Worthy of praise are Ben Schwartz as “Boner,” the family’s young and frequently immature rabbi, Timothy Olyphant as a brain damaged neighbor, and Rose Byrne as Phillip’s high school girlfriend. 
Incidentally, several laughs are attained through Fonda’s boobs, which were artfully enlarged for the movie. Those crazy special effects guys.
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GRADE on an A-F scale: A-

Friday, September 12, 2014

William Wyler’s ‘The Big Country’: Why it endures

By Steve Crum
From start to finish, director William Wyler languishes on expansive vistas through widescreen lens. The Big Country is about just that—a big country, and its proud, angry, dangerous, childish denizens. These are cowboys living by their own shared creed, a Western “Code” perpetuated and probably created by Hollywood filmmakers and the dime novels preceding them. 
Land is the dominant theme, played out by barons who want each other’s property, at least the water rights in between. More than that, both want their counterpart killed. Burly Burl Ives earned an Oscar as Rufus Hannassey, a similar patriarch persona he portrayed the same 1958 year as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Ives’ Rufus chews scenery and steals scenes. The always watchable Charles Bickford is his stern adversary, Maj. Henry Terrill. 
The film’s climax is a long built-up rifle/shotgun fight between the two that cuts away before the conclusion. Then, from a high positioned camera, it appears both have died with Hannassey lying on top of Terrill, sprawled on canyon rocks. The decades-old feud finally ends with whimperless bangs. 
By then, there has been a lengthy slug out over machismo between the characters played by Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston. A pre-Rifleman Chuck Connors, as Rufus’ thug son, has been killed—by his Pa, no less. Peck’s James McKay has broken a horse that no one could break. Loyalties have been tested, abandoned, and replaced.

A dominant, driving force that both enhances and propels the action is Jerome Moross’ terrific, Oscar-nominated score that could stand alone as a memorable concert piece. In fact, its main theme been a staple of concert hall orchestras for decades. 
The Big Country is all about power and avenging, skillfully told in Wyler’s frequent long distance and medium shots that are always landscape wide, imbued in granite-hued Technicolor.  
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THE BIG COUNTRY, released in 1958, 165 minutes. Directed by William Wyler; Cinematography by Franz F. Planer. Principal cast: Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford, Chuck Connors, Carroll Baker.
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Burl Ives is awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsQ7ELCBrcE 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Crum's Handy Guide to celebrity interview no-no’s

By Steve Crum
Having not interviewed many celebrities, but more than the average Kansas wheat farmer, I nonetheless have experienced being prepped by a showbiz interviewee’s publicist regarding what NOT to bring up in conversation. On one occasion, the star himself reminded me to steer away from a line of questioning. (More on the Peter Falk story later.)
During my interview with Jerry Lewis, I asked a question that should have been nixed before-hand, but I was unaware. (More on the Lewis faux pax later.) 
Press conferences are arranged for actors and actresses as they travel city to city while promoting a movie, stage appearance, or TV show. When entertainment writers travel to, say, Los Angeles or New York City to interview cast members in mass, it is called a press junket. I have never attended one. My experience has mostly been with celebrity interviews in Kansas City and the Kansas cities of Emporia and Iola. Sometimes they were one-on-one interviews, but more often I have been part of a roundtable of perhaps six interviewers. In the case of Jerry Lewis, there were probably 30 of us gathered, and Lewis stood before us at a podium. 
Therefore and to with, heed my quick guide to “What Not to Say, Ask or Suggest During Either Celebrity Interviews or Chance Meetings.”
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•ED ASNER Advice: DO NOT BRING UP POLITICS, unless you want some caustic, opinionated, liberal  remarks. As it turned out, I should have tapped into Asner’s political side since the hour I spent with him was unplanned, and we both were grasping for conversation. [See my Ed Asner story elsewhere on this site.]
•ROBERT CORNTHWAITE Advice: DO NOT COMPLIMENT HIS LOOKS. A star of the highly regarded 1951 sci-fi movie, The Thing (From Another World)—Cornthwaite played the lead scientist driven to madness. The aged actor was less than polite when I complimented him at the Area 51 movie event in Independence, Mo., during the summer of 2001. After shaking his hand, I told him, “You look no older than when you made The Thing.” His reply: “Bullshit.” What I really meant to say was that he portrayed a gray-haired old fart in The Thing, and he looked the same. So much for bullshit. 
•DAKOTA FANNING Advice: DO NOT JOKE DURING AN INTERVIEW. During an interview with then 11 year-old Dakota, in town to promote the horse racing movie, Dreamer, I tried to get her to laugh. She was so focused and serious for her age, and she reminded me of my own daughter. Here we sat at a table in a suite at a Plaza hotel. She said she just traveled from Chicago, and was on a multi-city tour to promote her film. I asked if she had a chance to see Kansas City yet, and she said, “No.” So I pointed to a nearby window overlooking the Country Club Plaza and said, “Well, take a look. There it is.” She did not crack a smile. Now that I think of it, I don't blame her.
•SKITCH HENDERSON Advice: DO NOT ASK HIM ABOUT HIS GOOD TIMES ON "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON." After several years as band leader on Carson’s show, Skitch had left, and was obviously bitter about his exit when I interviewed him in Emporia, Kansas. Evidently it was his choice, because he cracked that “The Tonight Show has been a sinking ship for some time, and it’s about to drown.” That was in in 1967. Johnny continued for many years thereafter, maintaining high ratings.
•JERRY LEWIS Advice: NEVER EVEN HINT AT ASKING ABOUT HIS INFAMOUS, NEVER-TO-BE RELEASED MOVIE, "THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED." Of the room full of interviewers asking Lewis questions when he was in town starring in Damn Yankees, I was the one who asked him about the movie no one was supposed to mention. A collective gasp was heard when I did pop the question, and Lewis gulped, smiled, and proceeded to politely answer my question. Later I found out from several reporters that no one ever refers to this movie in Jerry Lewis’ presence. It is an extremely sore spot. [Read more details in a separate Jerry Lewis story on this site.]
•BILLY GRAY Advice: DO NOT EXPECT WARM AND TENDER STORIES ABOUT HIS YEARS ON TV’S "FATHER KNOWS BEST." I talked to Bill Gray when he guested at the Area 51 Sci-Fi event in Independence, Missouri in 2001. His most famous acting portrayal as a child was in 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was shown at the festival. I later regretted having him sign a photo of him with his Father Knows Best co-stars, which he graciously signed. 
I have since discovered Gray looks back on his Father Knows Best TV stardom (as teen son Bud) with disdain: "I wish there was some way I could tell the kids not to believe it. The dialogue, the situations, the characters…they were all totally false. The show did everyone a disservice.”
•ELEANOR KEATON Advice: LITERALLY COME DOWN TO HER LEVEL TO CHAT WITH HER. I consider it an honor to have talked to Buster Keaton’s widow, Eleanor, a couple of times. Once was at a private home in Iola, Kansas, around 11 p.m., in September, 1995. There were a dozen or so of us gathered, and Eleanor was sitting in an overstuffed chair. To make it comfortable for both of us to converse, I got down on both my knees, pressing the left side of her chair, which elicited a smile and raised eyebrows to her nearby lady friends who were also seated. “Are you proposing?” she asked. We then talked about Buster, eye to eye. [In this case, my advice is what to do rather than not do. It could easily have become a no-no.] 
•DE DE PIERCE Advice: FIND OUT AHEAD OF TIME THAT YOUR CELEBRITY IS SIGHT IMPAIRED. In 1967, while attending Kansas State Teachers College (now Emporia State University), I interviewed the husband and wife team of Billie and De De Pierce, two elderly New Orleans musicians touring with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Introducing myself backstage before their concert, I held out my hand to shake De De’s. His wife quietly said to him, “He wants to shake your hand.” De De was totally blind, and I was unaware. 
•BERNADETTE PETERS Advice: DO NOT EVEN UNINTENTIONALLY MISLEAD BERNADETTE. During the hour I spent in Bernadette Peter’s dressing room following her concert in KC in 1995, I complimented her on the wonderful performance of “When You Wish Upon a Star” she sang at the AFI Salute to Steven Spielberg broadcast a few days earlier. Her eyes lit up, and she excitedly said, “Oh, you were there?!” “Er, no,” I said, “I watched it on TV.” Bernadette’s expression changed from ecstatic to pleasant as she then said, “Oh,” turning away to talk to someone else. 
•BILLY TAYLOR Advice: DO NOT TRY TO OUTTHINK THE BAND LEADER. While in the U. S. Army (and in uniform) in late January, 1971, I was in New York City sitting in the audience of The David Frost Show. Billy Taylor, the pianist/band leader, did the warm-up with the audience, and called on me. “Where are you from?” he asked. My reply: “You mean…now?” It got a big laugh from Taylor and the audience. Since I was in transit from Fort Dix, New Jersey to Germany, I wasn’t sure whether he wanted my itinerary or my home town.  
•JASON PATRIC Advice: DO NOT MENTION JACKIE GLEASON. When actor Jason Patric was in town promoting his new film, Narc, in 2002, his publicist sternly told me and other critics to not bring up anything about his grandfather, the late “Great One,” Jackie Gleason. It stemmed from Gleason deserting Patric’s grandmother and her kids (one was his mother, Linda Mae) many decades ago. He and his family never forgave Gleason. 
•FRANKIE THOMAS Advice: DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE MEETING FRANKIE. I ended up spending lunch in downtown Kansas City, Kansas with Mr. Thomas in 1997. He was part of an area comic book festival being held at Jack Reardon Center. I stopped by to meet my childhood hero (Tom Corbett, Space Cadet), who also co-starred in all those Warner Brothers Nancy Drew movies. Since it was around noon when I approached his table, and no one else was around, he asked if I wanted to have some coffee with him in the break room. Small talk ensued, and he talked about his admiration for John Litel, who played Nancy Drew’s father in the series. He also told of Bonita Granville’s having to tape down her breasts to look younger as Nancy Drew. I would have had much more to ask about Thomas’ career had I researched it before meeting him. (This was an impromptu interview, in other words.) 
•GLENN YARBROUGH Advice: DO NOT PHYSICALLY ABUSE YARBROUGH’S PIANIST. Meeting the “Baby, the Rain Must Fall” singer and former member of The Limelighters folk trio happened at the Civic Auditorium in Emporia, Kansas, in 1967. He had just finished his two hour concert, and I wrangled my way up on stage to meet the man himself. In the process of shaking his hand, I backed up and squarely stepped upon his pianist’s left foot. As I repeatedly apologized, Yarbrough kept laughing at the incident. His pianist painfully smiled. 
•LARRY KERT Advice: AVOID TELLING HIM YOU ARE MEMBER OF THE INTERNATIONAL AL JOLSON SOCIETY. Outside his dressing room at KC’s Starlight Theatre in the summer of 1980, Larry Kert had just finished performing his Al Jolson Tonight! show when I complimented him. He shared a Jolson scrapbook I had brought along, chatted for about 15 minutes, and autographed a program. However, he was initially put off by my presence when I told him I was a member of the International Al Jolson Society. He said, “I’m surprised you are complimenting me. I’ve heard nothing but complaints and criticisms from other Jolson Society members while I’ve been on tour with this show.” Indeed Kert was definitely not a Jolson soundalike, but he had the drive and enthusiasm of Jolson, and connected with the audience as he sang Jolie’s songs. I told him as much, and he appreciated the positives. 
•PAT PAULSEN Advice: DO NOT EXPECT A REAL AUTOGRAPH. The late Pat Paulsen was a very funny comic with a distinctive style of delivery and humor. A running joke was his comedic presidential campaigning, which he did every four years for a decade or so. In 1990, I interviewed him in his dressing room at the Civic Auditorium in Emporia, Kansas. It was essentially a comedy concert, since he would not answer one question seriously. Then, when it was time to get his autograph (yes, interviewers are fans too), he stamped my blank paper with the inscription, “Stamped By Pat Paulsen.” I reminded him of this hilarious incident years later when I happened upon him at his winery in Napa Valley, California.
•PETER FALK Advice: DO NOT STRAY FROM THE PURPOSE OF THE INTERVIEW. The Sept. 1, 2005 45-minute roundtable interview with Falk was all about his starring role in The Thing About My Folks, which was soon to open nationwide. KC was part of a cross-country promotion for the movie in which he played Paul Reiser’s father. We were supposed to have a separate half hour with each actor, but Reiser could not make it. 
So Falk’s time was extended. The half dozen of us were seemingly blessed with getting to pick Falk’s brain for an unexpectedly lengthy time. There were questions ranging from Columbo to John Cassavetes to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World to his numerous movie and TV parts. Falk would start to answer, say, one about his work with John Cassavetes. Then he would catch himself, and say, “Naw, naw…let’s stay with the reason I’m here. Let’s only talk about The Thing About My Folks.” After a couple of mundane publicity questions and answers, one of us would stroll back into Don’t Ask territory. “Mr. Falk, your years on Columbo were….” And Falk would interject, “Er…that’s all covered in my upcoming book, Just One More Thing. Now let’s get back to The Thing About My Folks, which is one terrific motion picture, maybe my best performance.” 

Back and forth we went, trying to get to the interesting stuff. But Falk was savvy, and politely balked at answering anything outside of his current flick. It became a game of trickery, but we were up against Detective Columbo. He could not lose. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Meeting Ed Asner ~or~ Two Uneasy Souls Share An Embarrassing Hour Together

By Steve Crum
Ed Asner, Dee Wallace, and I have at least one thing in common: we graduated from Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas. Dee (then Deanna Bowers—long before she was the Mom in E.T.) was part of the 1966 Bulldog grads. I graduated a year earlier. Asner’s senior year ended a tad earlier, in 1947. That was also the year of my birth. 
Dee and I both worked on Big Red’s school newspaper, The Pantograph. In fact, she was my cub reporter when I was on the Senior Staff. However, I confess I never knew her well then. Definitely I knew OF her, since she was a cheerleader, star of stage productions, and an overall popular young lady. I have since interviewed her a couple of times for the local newspaper.
Ed Asner is another matter. The seven-time Emmy winning actor, forever linked with Lou Grant and Mary Tyler Moore, is a guy I had never met…until a warm day in 2002. He was the guest at a special tribute for him held in Wyandotte’s stately theatre. 
Asner was honored as both a favorite son and prestigious Wyandotte graduate. His allegiance to his alma mater is well known. After all, for years a framed photo of himself as a Wyandotte football player was displayed in at least half of all Mary Tyler Moore Show episodes. Look at any given scene taking place in Lou’s office. His football pic is clearly seen on the wall behind Lou’s desk. 
Before Asner’s tribute, I had sent e-mails to all my fellow film critics and entertainment writers to remind them of the Asner event. At that time, I was writing my weekly film column at the Kansas City Kansan, so my participation in the Asner event was solely as an audience member. Since I was not officially a newspaper staff member, I assumed The Kansan had assigned a reporter and photographer to cover the affair. 
As Asner sat with local dignitaries on the front row in the audience, student dancers and singers performed for him on stage. Speakers praised him, and a brief video was shown, covering Asner’s illustrious career. Asner was touched, and was nearly in tears when he thanked everyone from the stage in concluding remarks. 
After observing handshakes, pats on Asner’s back, and falderal, I joined the audience in departing the premises. A good pal of mine, the now late Vince Koehler, greeted me and asked if I was sticking around for punch and cookies in the adjoining Little Theatre. “Ed Asner will be there,” Vince said, “and I want to get some photos of him with the press.” I agreed to tag along, planning to stay for a few minutes. 
Walking into the large, high-walled room, we noticed Ed Asner standing near the punch bowl. He was alone, not even a handler or agent with him. Not one reporter or photographer from any radio, TV or newspaper outlet in Greater Kansas City was present. Not one local civic leader or politician was there. The school principal had skipped out as well. 
I was jaw-dropping stunned at the scene. What an insult to Ed Asner. What an embarrassment. I felt shame for everyone who should have been there. Most of all, I felt sorry for Ed.
Here I had planned on observing from afar, and now I could not help but walk up to the man and chat with him as a makeshift greeter. Whenever I interview any celebrity, I always do my homework and have questions ready to ask. Otherwise, my mind blanks out. Unprepared was I, understandably so. 
It was then friend Vince said, “I’ll stand back here and take some pictures of the two of you.” My response was “But…but…but….” and Vince snapped away. I was air-headedly hoping that just introducing myself to Asner would take at least 20 minutes, and then I could leave. 
As I stood there with a very patient and seemingly unfettered Ed Asner, I wondered who had brought Asner here, and why isn’t he/she with him now? It appeared that Ed was driven to the event, dropped off, and the driver was told to return at a given time which factored in both the auditorium time and the “reception” following. There were no cell phones in those days, so a quick call was not possible. 
Ed Asner and I shook hands. I told him I had graduated in 1965, and that I was a long time fan of his. Groping for something original to say, I asked if he knew about the history of Wyandotte’s theatre, particularly the carved images across the top of the proscenium. He seemed interested, so I took him back to the theatre to see the images of men near the ceiling. Even though I knew only sketchy details, I spoke with conviction about the stick figures clasping each other's hands that symbolized the four workers who had died during the theatre’s construction that began in 1935. 
Nothing like a grim remembrance to get a conversation going. It’s my way of impressing multiple Emmy winners. Ed seemed to appreciate my mini-guided tour. We headed back to the punch and cookies.
Still no one had entered the room, so I decided to reference his brother, Ben, a guy I had known for years since he owned a popular area record store, Capers Corner. “Yes,” commented Ed, “Ben is a character.” I told Ed about the time in 1967 when I shopped at Ben’s store. Ed, then known as Edward, was co-starring in Blake Edwards’ Gunn, a movie version of the popular TV show, Peter Gunn. Ben had a large Gunn poster hanging near the store’s entrance, and he stopped me as I entered to point out the poster. (He was probably stopping each person entering.) Ben proclaimed, “That’s my brother’s movie!” Sure enough, Ben had boldly circled Ed’s name and labeled it “MY BROTHER.” Ed smiled at my telling. 
That took all of 50 seconds, and there we stood. Ed was as bad about small talk as I was. I sensed he was growing a bit frustrated about the situation as the minutes ticked on. As we stood facing each other, he would repeatedly poke me in my stomach like I was the Pillsbury Dough Boy. I stood about 6’ to Asner’s 5’ 7”, making index finger contact with my tummy a given. My fat gut only encouraged him. 
Finally, after nearly 60 minutes of small talk and testing the resilience of my stomach, Asner’s driver appeared, and accompanied his boss outside, down the steps (Asner tripped, but Vince caught him), and into the awaiting car.
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Lo and behold, I recently discovered Ed Asner and I share another Wyandotte memory. We both worked as feature page editors for the school newspaper, The Pantograph. In a 2002 interview I stumbled upon two days ago, Asner said, “I was feature page editor of the Wyandotte High School Pantograph—the only editor who was an editor and played football at the same time.” Another commonality we share: Asner’s journalism teacher was Mr. William Corporan. Seventeen years later, Corporan was my principal at Wyandotte. 
I only knew of Asner’s being a football jock. Had I known about his Pantograph experience, and his working with Corporan, our punch bowl conversation could easily have filled an hour. And maybe Asner would have focused more on drinking punch, and less on giving my stomach a playful punch.