Sunday, August 30, 2009


By Steve Crum

Is it deja vu when you see Enchanted, 2007’s very delightful Disney musical spoof of classic fairy tales? It should be, since several familiar children’s stories are lovingly and cleverly blended into one script, and gently spoofed. Enchanted’s primary tale, however, is Cinderella, which the Disney studio itself produced as a successful animated film in 1950. Enchanted marks the 60th time the Cinderella story has been produced for motion pictures.

CINDERELLA, as a matter of fact, has been remade the most times of any story in film history. Beginning in 1898 with Great Britain’s silent Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother, there have been Cinderella ballets, cartoons, operas, parodies, and *gasp* porno versions produced worldwide. An oddity, and a particular favorite of mine, is Cinderfella (1960), in which Jerry Lewis plays the title character with Ed Wynn as his Fairy Godfather.

There were 21 silent Cinderella films, most notably Mary Pickford’s starring role in 1914’s Cinderella. Other quiet era titles were 1913’s Cinderella’s Slipper; a Dinky Doodle cartoon, Cinderella (1925); and the live action Cinderella and the Boob (1913). Note: The latter title was not an early porn flick.

Catch these sound era titles: First Love (1939) with Deanna Durbin; Cinderella’s Fella (1940) with Juanita Quigley; a Krazy Kat cartoon, Cinderella (1930); The Slipper and the Rose (1976); Sepia Cinderella (1947), a black version featuring Billy Daniels; and 1940’s Bright Path, a Communist take produced in the USSR. [Perhaps the glass slipper becomes property of the state?]

Will this Prince Charming, foot fitting madness ever end?!
Sing along with Cinderella here:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

July and August cannot be too hot: Teddy, JFK & Vaughn Meader

By Steve Crum

 Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s passing this week was a sad affair, but even at his family and friends-filled wake there was joy and laughter in celebration of his vibrant and focused life that was so accomplished. Teddy’s death marks the end of the idealistic era known as Camelot, a name associated with his late brother, President John F. Kennedy. The president and his wife were enamored of the Broadway musical Camelot, the press picked it up, and the Kennedy years at the White House were forever linked with Camelot’s King Arthur and his dream of a better world.

Those of us 50 and older remember another link with JFK and his family, Vaughn Meader. Meader was the alternate JFK, the one whose deft impression of him on The First Family comedy record album sold 7.5 million copies during the first year of its release--until Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. That day, all records were pulled from the shelves due to extreme sensitivity over the JFK tragedy. During the same year, a sequel album, The First Family Vol. 2, was released and sold millions as well. It was also removed from stores the same day. Vaughn Meader’s phenomenal career as the premiere Pres. Kennedy imitator ended Nov. 22 too. Meader died in virtual obscurity on Oct. 29, 2004.

Meader will never be forgotten by at least 7.5 million of us who listened, listened, listened to his albums, memorizing the numerous funny lines, and reciting them in mock New England/JFK dialect. We heard them everywhere those days--on radio, TV, and in department stores selling The First Family albums. As a high school kid, I did my impression of Meader-JFK every time I spoke to friends and relatives on the phone, and I was least they told me so. It was a pervasive thing, and the kidding of our president was done with love and respect. There were some great lines, delivered with Kennedy accent: “The rubber shwan (meaning swan) is mine,” “Move ahead with great vigah (vigor)”, and “I would like to thank Richard Nixon for making this whole thing possible!” In 1963, President Kennedy introduced a Democratic Committee meeting with: “Vaughn Meader was busy tonight, so I came myself.”

Ted Kennedy, while only mentioned on the albums, was nonetheless part of the worldwide Meader madness prevailing. When asked at a press conference if he either enjoyed or was annoyed by The First Family album, JFK joked, “I listened to Mr. Meader’s record and, frankly, I thought it sounded more like Teddy than it did me.”
An NPR tribute to The First Family and Vaughn Meader, including excerpts from the album, is linked here:
Notice comic-impressionist Rich Little’s misquoting of JFK’s line about Teddy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time to rename the channels!

By Steve Crum

Having 150+ cable channels means there are networks specific in their programming. It is a beautiful thing to have a specific Golf Channel, and ESPN Channels with 24 hour sports of all types. Cable (and satellite) can be sports geek heaven. I am not a sports nut (occasionally I flip on golf, especially if it is my nap time), but I do have my favorite non-sports channels programmed into my clicker. Six of my favs are now ex-favs. They have joined the mass of my TV un-favs. 

It is all because of bait and switch. That is the old advertising fraud of advertising something that is really something else, like going to the store to buy an advertised brand name lawnmower, but you end up buying an off-brand for the same price since the store purposely failed to stock what was advertised. It is plain old deception, and a Federal Trade Commission no-no. Not so on TV.

Yes, money is the bottom line in TV, like practically everywhere else in life. The Weather Channel was fine just as it was conceived years ago, but NBC bought it, and now features Today Show weatherman Al Roker in his own joke and feature filled morning show. It is not a radical departure from weather stories and hurricane highlights, but it seems glitzier. The personable Roker as glitz is debatable, however.

As for my six past favorite channels previously mentioned, the boil down is simple: IT IS TIME TO RENAME THEM. In each case, the programming trend began in subtle ways. A show or two was added to the lineup as an obvious ratings grabber. Then another was added, and another until the concept of the channel had been altered beyond recognition. Some channels seem to be in the early stages of this reinvention (see The Smithsonian Channel).

The Biography Channel is another matter. The days of back to back, and brilliantly produced, biographies of celebrities from entertainment, literature, commerce, politics, religion, military, and sports are long vanished. Remember those great biographies hosted and narrated by Peter Graves and Jack Perkins since 1987? Most of them have not been shown for years, when they originated on A&E. When they are shown, in a two hour block once or twice a day, the focus is usually on rock stars and mobsters. Mobsters seems to be the trend on Biography and other channels. Is there really viewer interest in thugs and prisons? Apparently so, sad to say. It is sickening to say too.

Examples follow. Perusing broadcast schedules last week, this is what I found as morning and prime time offerings on a half dozen speciality networks. Beginning with the Biography Channel...

THE BIOGRAPHY CHANNEL: City Confidential (about murders in specific American cities)...Mobsters (Bugsy Siegel, Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, etc.)....Breaking Vegas (gambling stories)...Meth’s Deadly High...bios of rock stars who overdosed (at least these are from the Biography vault)...Notorious (hoodlums, murderers)...Ripley’s Believe It or Not (a biography of Mr. Ripley himself would be nice)...Psychic Investigators...Haunted History...Ghostly Encounters. Even a Casper the Friendly Ghost biography would be welcome.

THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL: What used to be a channel devoted to explorations and high adventure is now driven, literally, by its #1 rated program, a fun game show that takes place in a New York City taxi, Cash Cab, shown in two hour blocks. What is being discovered? Is that explorer Chris Columbus in that hack? Does one discover the answer in a mobile shout out? The real Discovery: Money talks.

THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL: Don’t expect 24/7 Jacques Cousteau and gorgeous National Geographic photography. Instead, lean back and enjoy Blow Down (a Vegas casino flick]...Ultimate Casino (more Vegas to explore)...Exploding Las Vegas (imploding old casinos)...Machines of War...Lost Missiles....Sinking Hitler’s Supership....The Real Bonnie and Clyde...Flying Carrier Aircraft. Sounds like rejects from The History Channel. Undoubtedly, younger viewers would be more attracted to Capone than Cousteau.

THE HALLMARK MOVIE CHANNEL: Hallmark has over 50 years of award winning Hallmark Hall of Fame dramas on their shelves. Granted, many from the early days are in black and white, and feature stars of old in equally dated stories. When I first heard that there would be a Hallmark Channel, I had hopes to enjoy the best television has offered since its inception. There should be enough in the library to fill months of viewing. However, the truth is Hallmark is snubbing its own history for the sake of ratings. It’s the money thing again. For the most part, younger families abhor anything not color, and prefer still living actors. With Disney, they make exceptions. That is why last week’s schedule featured evening after evening of Walt Disney family movies like Napoleon and Samantha,The Absent Minded Professor, and The Three Lives of Thomasina. A Hall of Fame kinescope of Helen Hayes as Queen Christina would be wonderful, but who in the target audience would watch it? I ask this grimly.

THE SMITHSONIAN CHANNEL: Surely there is at least one story for every collection stored in the many Smithsonian Institute buildings in Washington D.C. This relatively new speciality channel does feature many stories from their “vaults,” as one of their programs calls them. But off topic programs are popping up already. Consider Sky View: The Tudor Age, Lives That Changed the World (Nelson Mandela biography), Nature Tech, and Street Monkeys. Street Monkeys is a one hour nature series about a family of monkeys, sort of a simian reality show. Then there is Shark Therapy, Sci-Q , and Wanted: Anaconda. Is this the National Geographic or Nature Channel? To be fair, the National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian, so this accounts for the Wild Kingdom coverage.

THE HISTORY CHANNEL: History goes back...well, a long way. If you think that statement is profound, then consider this channel’s typical programming--focusing on the historic period of 1930-present: Gangland (mobsters since Chicago and bootlegging), Pawn (shop) Stars, Superhuman, Mail Call, and Lock N' Load with R. Lee Ermey. These last two shows feature the popular former drill sergeant turned actor as he demonstrates weapons of warfare.

Time now for honesty. The name of a specialty channel should reflect its programming, so here are my revisions. No bait and switch here.
National Geographic becomes...WWII & GAMBLING CHANNEL
Hallmark becomes...THE NEW DISNEY CHANNEL
Smithsonian becomes...THE NEW DISCOVERY CHANNEL
Yawn. Time for my nap. The Golf Channel had better not change its programming.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

'Inglourious Basterds' splatters WWII with Tarantino’s bizzaro take

By Steve Crum

On one hand, there is the vicious, Jew hunting Nazi colonel, and on the other, there is the bloodthirsty American lieutenant leading a group of Nazi-killing Jews. Inglourious Basterds is all about this and, well, all about this. These previous descriptive sentences understate the truth. After all, this is a Quentin Tarantino movie. Much more lies around the edges and within its structure than we expect.

A Tarantino written and directed work, like his Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bills, is a multi-channeled, media-referenced mass. Obviously, Tarantino’s brain cells are forever tapped into every pop song, commercial jingle, TV show, and movie, especially B-movie, he has ever seen or heard. Of course, Tarantino’s referential hooks then tweak our recollections, further enhancing--even distracting from--whatever plot line is occurring. But that teasing distraction is just what he wants to convey. Tarantino lays them in on a near subliminal level, so the result is a maybe not so curious blend of nostalgia and comfort. Invariably, it makes one smile, even while turning away during a grossly violent sequence.

Analyzing a Tarantino film is a happy distraction unto itself. What we get in Inglourious Basterds are the conventions of World War II spoofed, lampooned, and lambasted. It should cap the WWII film genre much the same as Mel Brooks did with horror movies (Young Frankenstein), westerns (Blazing Saddles), and Hitchcock thrillers (High Anxiety). Increase the graphic violence and language level, comparatively, for Inglourious Basterds. Incidentally, the misspelled title, called “an artistic flourish” by Tarantino, is but another off center inclusion. He refuses to explain it, leaving it to audience speculation. OK. So I feel free to say the film does have its share of characters who are glorified bastards as well as bastards not so glorified. This is simple observation, misspellings aside.

The film’s dark comedy is etched in the preamble: “Once upon a time (1941) in Nazi-occupied France....” Set up as if it were a fairy tale, let’s call it a very Grimm fairy tale, the story opens on a French farm in which a father is cutting wood as his daughters do chores in and outside their modest house. A small Nazi convoy drives up his long entrance, headed by SS Col. Hans Landa (brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz). Landa enters alone, and begins a cat and mouse style inquisition, now alone with the French farmer. It is a seemingly friendly chat they have, done with English subtitles. Yet the underlying tension is obvious. Landa suspects there are Jews hiding, probably in the very house in which the two sit as Landa sips fresh milk.

A Tarantino touch is a movie cliche as diversion; he has the colonel request the two speak in English since his French is not so sharp. The need for subtitles, which by the way are numerous throughout the film, is no longer necessary. This time-traveled my memory to the numerous WWII era films in which all Nazi soldiers spoke in King’s English as the British actors playing them. Again, a Tarantino tweak.

Landa immediately becomes the film’s center, even as we are introduced to the Pitt’s Nazi hating Lt. Aldo Raine. Again we get a Tarantino inside joke as he-man actor of the 1950’s Aldo Ray (Battle Cry, The Green Berets, and other war movies) is referenced. Raine’s Southern accent is not Aldo, however. It sounds, heavens to betsy, like George W. Bush, even down to his nicknaming everyone. Well, Bush is one of our wartime presidents, if that is any justification. But does Tarantino need justification? Nah.

Pitt’s characterization is outrageous and quite wonderful. No doubt he and Waltz will be Oscar nominated. Raine, a proud descendant of mountain man Jim Bridger, carries a Bowie knife for scalping, butchering and branding his captives, and his attitude is good ol’ boy, spit in your face contempt for the master race. His mission leads to Hitler himself, as well as all the top Nazi command, in an operation (called "Operation Kino") involving the premiere of a Nazi propaganda movie and a Jewish theater owner. Within the plot we meet Raine’s Dirty Dozen-like squad, made up of Jews with vendettas, including Eli Roth’s Sgt. Donny Donowitz aka “The Bear Jew.” He is introduced coming out of a cave banging his baseball bat (for Nazi brain bashing) against the walls, as the music of composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) sounds. It is showdown time.

Tarantino structures the episodic film in labeled chapters, as he has done in previous works. Chapter 3, for example is “A German Night in Paris.” Another chapter is “The Master Race at Play.” Mel Brooks had a similar line in his anti-Nazi laced The Producers: “A Gay Romp with Adolph and Eva....” Tripping along within the tanks, machine guns and dynamite are cameos by Samuel L. Jackson (a narrator), Mike Myers (British Gen. Ed Fenech), and Rod Taylor (!) as Sir Winston Churchill. Also listen for Tarantino’s unbilled voice as an American soldier in the Nazi movie-within-this-movie, titled Nation’s Pride.

Balancing the comedy and drama is deftly handled by a great supporting cast that includes Melanie Laurent’s Jewish projectionist Shosanna Drefus, and Diane Kruger as actress-spy Bridget von Hammersmark. The fast pace of the film trips along with increased absurdities. No way is Inglourious Basterds meant to be a History Channel version of WWII. However, the more knowledgeable you are about WWII history and 20th Century pop culture, the more you will appreciate this Tarantino absurdity.

What a wildly violent and memorable absurdity it is.
On an A to F Grade Scale: A-

Saturday, August 15, 2009

STARSTRUCK/Merman brings the house UP

By Steve Crum

ETHEL MERMAN [1908-84], The Grande Dame of the Broadway Stage, belted out at Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre during the hot and humid summer of 1968. She was in town for a week long run of her Broadway hit musical, Call Me Madam. My senior year at Emporia State was coming soon, and I was working once again as a resident camp counselor at Camp Lake of the Woods in Swope Park. I took the evening off to see the great Merm in person at KC’s legendary outdoor theater, also located in Swope Park. It was less than a mile from my camp.

Merman played Sally Adams in Call Me Madam, a role for which she earned a 1951 Tony. Although the Irving Berlin scored play was very dated by 1968 with numerous Harry Truman jokes [he was prez in '51] and post-WWII atmosphere, it was and remains a Merman classic. She even starred in a feature film version.

Opening night at the Starlight, however, there was a technical difficulty. Merman’s first number, sung stage center, face to the audience, was The Hostess With the Mostes’ on the Ball [“I was born on a thousand acres/Of Oklahoma land...”]. Merman’s microphone was dead. But that did not stop her. She obviously did not require a mic, as her booming voice projected out, up and around, penetrating the eardrum of every audience member in sight. Sitting three rows from the stage, I could really hear every Merman murmur, despite the sound glitch.

Then, around the lyric line, “And in Washington I’m known by one and all/As the hostess with the mostes’ on the ball,” the theater sound system kicked in, and Merman’s belting opened up another 10 notches. The audience, including yours truly, collectively jumped six inches in our seats. Merman never stopped, never hesitated. And the audience applauded her even more for it.

I figured this would be the only chance ever to see Merman in person, and it was. What a sensational performer, and memorable evening.
For a clip of Ethel Merman singing with Donald O'Connor from the film Call Me Madam, follow this link:

Friday, August 14, 2009

'District 9' has terrific action, thought provoking script

By Steve Crum

While a couple of its sequences echo Transformers and Independence Day, District 9 is much, much more. Here is a sci-fi film with bold nuance, triggering multiple blasts at social mores, politics, genetics, mass media, conspiracy, trust, and oppression. District 9’s savvy script, co-written by its director Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, encompasses a load of thought provoking issues, yet never seems bogged down or labored. The story moves briskly from frame one, and maintains interest consistently. District 9 is a fascinating and exciting movie, the most original of its genre since 1998’s Dark City.
Blomkamp’s strong visual effects, including the creatures, weaponry and realistic violence, were influenced by his background as animator for TV’s Dark Angel and Smallville. Co-directing the short Crossing the Line with fantasy film legend Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) undoubtedly helped too. Their collaboration continues; Jackson produced District 9.

The title refers to the ghetto area in which 1.8 million alien refugees, and we are talking outer space types, reside. Incarcerated is the apt term. The story goes that nearly three decades ago, the creatures were found starving inside a huge space vehicle (think the Independence Day mother ship). Evidently the refugees were the last survivors of their unnamed planet. The ship had been hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa for a long time before it was decided to forcefully cut into the hull for entry. Since the tall, wiry, squid-faced beings preferred garbage over gourmet human food, they were nicknamed “prauns,” denoting their bottom feeding ways. In long shot action sequences and close-up, the CGI generated creatures are stunningly realistic. Incidentally, the prauns crave canned cat food, which turns out to be an interesting plot element.

Now, 20 years later, the prauns still live in their designated District 9, but their numbers have grown. Governments worldwide are tired of dealing with them, and decide to hire a private company, Multi-National United (MNU), to gather up the prauns, and move them to another larger, more comfortable facility. Or so they are told. Mercenary types with tanks, helicopters, missiles and machine guns move in with authorized media coverage. The main TV newsman is South African personality Wikus Van De Menwe (Sharlto Copley), who treats the live, on-air event as a lark. But that is what he is paid to do, to put a spin on the negatives of the occasion. And there are many negatives. Prauns, which speak in their tongue only (with English subtitles), are given to violence. So are the MNU forces. Death and destruction occur, but Wikus laughs it off.

His flippant, condescending manner is tested when he accidentally exposes himself to an alien virus, followed by vomiting and extreme skin reactions. When his body begins to change, Wikus is on the run from the pursuing MNU, who want to literally cut him up for experimentation. It all has to do with extraterrestrial DNA and praun weapons. (Their weapons can only be activated by prauns.) A sub-plot involves Nigerian con men who reside within the praun community, and who trade the creatures cat food for their weapons. They are also pursuing poor Wikus, but for reasons--and religion--cannibalistic. See it to believe it.

Meanwhile, in hiding, Wikus befriends a praun scientist and his son whose literally underground plan is to return to their home planet. Homage to E.T. indeed. Then there is a grand finale that includes a Transformer-reminiscent sequence.

It is becoming more difficult for any science fiction film to be entirely free from including creatures and technology reminiscent of those found in previous sci-fi films. If anything, District 9’s inclusions refine and improve. The whole of the film is fresh and original. Plaudits should include the no name cast, particularly Copley. His days of anonymity are now past. For that matter, send another great script to director Blomkamp. Or have him write it himself.

If sensitive, intelligent, and cat food craving creatures whose heads look like transplants from the Star Wars cantina scene is by itself not enough to pique your interest to see District 9, then wherefore art thou?

On an A to F Grade Scale: A

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


SPELLBOUND [1945], the terrific Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, has a unique sequence that is jolting and memorable. But you have to look fast. Toward the movie’s end, Leo. G. Carroll’s Dr. Murchison character commits suicide via pistol. In close-up, his gun turns directly to the camera and fires. The flash appears in vivid, Technicolor red in a mere two frames, about a second long.

The kicker is the rest of the movie was filmed in black and white.

Spellbound holds the Guiness book record as having the shortest color sequence of any commercial feature in film history. Bloody good.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Savoring delicious 'Julie & Julia' means no lean cuisine

By Steve Crum

Channeling Julia Child had to be a challenge for Meryl Streep, and I do not mean just getting that distinctive voice down. Streep not only nails the voice, but the body language as well. Most importantly, and amazingly, she embodies the great chef’s spirit. In the vastly enjoyable Julie & Julia, Streep is Julia Child. And Amy Adams’ portrayal of Julie Powell, upon whose book the center of the film is based, is pretty superb as well. Prediction: Both will be nominated as Best Actress, with Streep winning...again.

I could not help but channel Julia Child myself, having watched her TV cooking shows over the years, and seen her spoofed by comedians like Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live--which is actually shown in Julie & Julia. Surely anyone who ever heard Child has one of her lines (i.e. “Save the liver!”) to imitate in that deep, quavering, New England voice. I still have Child’s unforgettable narration of Tubby the Tuba on a Boston Pops album. Think Child, and punch, “Tubbbbby.”

Director Nora Ephron’s brilliantly realized screenplay blends two best selling books: Child’s My Life in France, written with Paul Prud’homme, and Powell’s Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes. Julia & Julia exceeds Efron’s best directorial work, You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle included. She is, as Child might exude, on a Croissant roll.

The film opens in 1949 Paris. The Childs, Paul (an Oscar caliber turn by Stanley Tucci) and Julia, are moving into their new abode, a comfortable and attractive downtown apartment which Julia immediately praises as being “Versailles.” Cut to 2002, and Julie Powell’s small Queens, N.Y. apartment. Small is key here, since she and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) immediately have issues about space in regard to kitchen area.

Soon into flipping from Julia to Julie and back, it is apparent both women face self crises. Both have willingly moved to support their respective husband’s careers. Now that the guys are content and living near their new jobs, the gals feel empty, and pursue their own career paths. For Julia, it means enrolling in cooking school; Julie starts a new receptionist job downtown, and to blog on her computer. Julia has a great line early on when her husband Paul is trying to help her decide on something to do to occupy her time. “What do you really like to do?” he asks. Julia’s answer: “Eat!” Cooking seems to be her destiny.

It is also Julie’s. Utilizing her favorite cookbook, Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julie decides to make it the basis of her new blog. In one blog entry per day, for an entire year, she will give an account of creating each and every recipe in Child’s book. That means she will have to cook, bake or grill at least one of the 524 dishes every day. Then she, her husband, and friends will get to eat each meal. That also means Julie has to meet her self imposed deadline of chronicling each day. Generally, she and her husband do OK with the new regimen, but it eventually wears on their relationship. It impacts Julie’s full time job as a phone receptionist as well. There are only so many hours in one day.

Meanwhile, several decades earlier, Julia progresses in her French cooking classes at the celebrated Le Cordon Bleu school in Paris. Despite a language challenge and being the only female student enrolled, her positive drive and intelligence elevate her to the top of the class. Her love for food is shared by her husband, who also loves and, frankly, lusts for Julia throughout the film. And vice versa. Somehow Julia’s catchphrase, “Bon, appetit!” fits here.

The two ladies’ side careers take major turns. Julia Child will eventually write the humongous Mastering the Art... cookbook (734 pages), co-authored by Louisett Bertholle (Helen Carey), and become world famous for it. The frustrating years of publishers rejecting the book are depicted as well. (There is a choice sequence of a meeting with the author of what was then and remains the number one cookbook in the U.S., The Joy of Cooking.) Once Child’s book is published, and heralded as the “seminal culinary work” of all time, Child will find world fame as star of her own TV show(s) as The French Chef. Her personality, as well as her recipes, sells.

In a somewhat parallel vein, Julie’s blogs have garnered enough faithful readers that The New York Times features her. This leads to a best selling book, Nora Ephron, and this film.

“All I can think about every day is food,” says Child. “Shopping for food is as interesting as buying a new dress.” Certainly Julie & Julia is about food and the delights of eating. But it is also about love between spouses, and between two authors. Although Julia never met Julie, Julie loved Julia, in a respectful, culinary way.

Ephron’s love for them both is obvious.
On an A to F Grade Scale: A

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Don't forget Red, George, ZaSu, Gunther, Dayton, Crazy & Pinky

By Steve Crum

Not so fast, NBC and the Nielsen survey. Last night’s TV’S 50 FUNNIEST PHRASES left out some prime, and prime time, classics. Sure there were memorable phrases uttered by the likes of Bea Arthur’s Maude [“God’ll get you for that one”], Henry Winkler’s Fonzie [“Sit on it!”] and Redd Foxx’s Fred Sanford [“I’m comin’, Elizabeth!”]. And sure, last night’s program was just Part 1, with the second half airing next week.

I should wait another week, but I can’t. Judging from last night’s list, few of the programs represented go as far back in TV history as THE JACK BENNY SHOW [1950-65]. While it is great Benny is among the chosen with his “Now cut that out!,” his inclusion is a bit of a fudge. Years before his TV stardom, his radio program was among the top 10. Catchphrases like “Well!” and “Now cut that out!” were spoken way back then.

My memory bank, which needs bail-out, includes a deposit box jammed with comic catchphrases. [No withdrawal jokes, please.] A couple of them might be included in the Top 50; I doubt the rest will. Here are my choices. Can you match them up with the photos above?
THE RED BUTTONS SHOW [1952-55]: Red created a national sensation when he repeatedly uttered the immortal, “Strange things are happening.” Another Buttons catchphrase was “Ho-Ho!” [He’d say this as he cupped one ear, and hopped around the stage.] The two sayings were so popular that Buttons’ best selling single record included Strange Things Are Happening on one side, and The Ho-Ho Song on the other.

THE GEORGE GOBEL SHOW [1954-60]: “Lonesome George” Gobel made tales about his “mean ol’ wife Alice” even funnier when he punctuated them with phrases like “Well, I’ll be a dirty bird” and “We don’t hardly get those no more.” The dirty bird line is still spoken by many of the 50+ bracket today.
For a clip of his 1954 show, follow this link:

THE PINKY LEE SHOW aka THOSE TWO [1950-57]: There were two great, but silly, lines: “Yoo-Hoo, it’s me, my name is Pinky Lee” [his theme song] and “Game time, Pinky, game time!” The latter was yelled at him by one of his cast members as he squeezed and slapped Pinky’s cheeks. This was hilarious to me, an eight year-old.

THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW [1956-61]: Allen’s stock company of talented comedians is legendary. Among them, great catchphrases were born:
DON KNOTTS, always portraying a nervous guy, had his line. Each week, Allen would invariably ask him, “Are you nervous?”, to which Knotts would quickly reply, “Noop!” 
DAYTON ALLEN, later famous as the voice of Deputy Dawg, would answer a Steve Allen question with an upraised index finger and the surreal, “Why not?!” By the way, he and Steve were not related. •Enjoy this bit which does not include his catchphrase, but it is typical Dayton Allen:
TOM POSTON'S schtick was to answer Steve Allen’s Man on the Street interview the same way week after week, year after year. The audience loved it, anticipated it. The simple bit was Steve asking Poston’s character his name. Then Poston would not know the answer, looking bewildered. Call it an anti-phrase, but it is catchy.
LOUIS NYE, before his stint on The Beverly Hillbillies as Banker Drysdale's spoiled son, played Gordon Hathaway on the Allen program. Gordon's wispy and hip delivery was punctuated by "Hi-Ho, Steverino!"

CHARLEY WEAVER aka CLIFF ARQUETTE was best known as guest comedian on THE JACK PAAR SHOW, THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW, and THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES. Besides reading his fictional letter from his mother, which he preceded with “I got a letter from Mama!," his most famous saying was always directed to his audience: “These are my people!”

THE JIMMY DURANTE SHOW [1954-57] introduced perhaps [see Red Skelton below] the most touching catchphrase from any comedy show. At the close of each program, the curtains opened to a bare, unlit stage as Durante would put on his coat [his hat was always on]. Large light circles from six spotlights led from stage center to the distance, and Durante would walk to each, turn, and tip his hat to the audience. Before taking the weekly finale, he would say sincerely, slightly tilting his head up, “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” It was later learned he was referring to his late, first wife. •Here is that memorable closing:

THE RED SKELTON SHOW [1951-71] certainly had its throat catching phrase which Skelton said at the close of each show: “Goodbye for now, and may God bless.”

JACKIE GLEASON’S AMERICAN SCENE MAGAZINE [1962-66] featured catchphrases Gleason had introduced in his early TV days of the 1950s, “How sweet it is!” and “And away we go!” among them. A regular comic on his show, CRAZY GUGGENHEIM, portrayed by FRANK FONTAINE, brought down the house each week during the Joe the Bartender sketch. Each time Joe (Gleason) would call Crazy from the back room, Crazy would enter with that goofy face, hat pulled down tight, and say, “Hiya Joe, Hiya Mr. Dunahee-hee-hee!” His delivery, which included a half-witted laugh, was everything.

THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS [1959-63] introduced MAYNARD G. KREBS, the beatnik played by BOB DENVER, and his expected response to anyone offering his a job: “Work!” He said it with shocked expression. •Follow this link to some Maynard and Dobie:

MR. ED [1961-65] gave us the only memorable catchphrase uttered by a horse, the Mr. Ed of the title: “Wilbur!” Wilbur was his owner, played by Alan Young. Ed’s voice was ALLAN "ROCKY" LANE'S, a top B-western cowboy star.

THE GALE STORM SHOW [1956-60] had its own famous catchphrase...sort of. This is a bit of a fudge like the Jack Benny inclusion. Co-star ZASU PITTS, who played Gale Storm’s sidekick Nugey Nugent, would utter, “Well, forevermore,” during most episodes, when faced with a dilemma. Pitts actually used this phrase as far back as the early 1930s when she co-starred with Thelma Todd in Hal Roach 2-reel comedies. •For a very rare clip of ZaSu, selling Corn Flakes with Superman no less, follow this link:

CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? [1961-63] seems like a spin-off from THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW. Nat Hiken created both series, and when Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko show ended, he brought many cast members to the streets of New York, playing funny cops. Even though their names were different and they were dressed for new occupations, some of the catchphrases stayed. JOE E. ROSS’ Officer Gunther Toody, for example, would say, “Oooo, Oooo,” whenever he was excited. His Sgt. Ritzik did the same thing on the Silvers program. It was a catchphrase that stuck with Ross until his death. But Toody did say an originally-written-for-Car-54-Where-Are-You? line at least once per episode, directed at his partner, Officer Francis Muldoon [Fred Gwynne]: “Francis! Francis!” Imagine this with “Ooo, Ooo!” bookending it.
Tune in to next week’s second half of the TV’S 50 FUNNIEST PHRASES [Wed., Aug. 12, 7-8 p.m. Central Time] to see if any or all my choices make the cut.