Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 celebrity obits: a personal connection

By Steve Crum

Like an old song will provoke memories of the first time one heard it, a celebrity’s death triggers recollections. Among the many showbiz folks who died in 2014 are a baker’s dozen I cannot think about without also thinking of friends or family. 

Permit me to share why these deceased celebs have personally connected with me…outside of appreciating their individual talents. 

•Shirley Temple Black [85, Feb. 10]…One Sunday a month, for many years, my parents, sister, and I would drive about an hour to get to our cousins’ farm located in Birmingham, Missouri. I never watched “Shirley Temple’s Storybook,” which ran from 1958-61, except when we visited our cousins. But my cousins did, and we were guests. 

So my sister and I watched too. 

•Sid Caesar [91, Feb. 12]…
I have dim recollection of watching Caesar’s early TV work, but his wonderful acting in 1963’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” always makes me smile as I also think of my Dad. He had divorced Mom a few months before, so he, my sister, and I were pretty dazed and depressed. Adding to that was the recent assassination of President Kennedy. Not long before Christmas that year, Dad treated us to the movie, in Cinerama, at the Empire Theatre in Kansas City, Mo. Dad laughed at Caesar and his cohorts…big time, nearly falling off his chair. His explosive outbursts made my sister and me crack up even more. I’ll never forget it. We three really needed those laughs. 

•David Brenner [78, March 15]…It was Brenner my second wife, Peggy, wanted to see perform when we vacationed in Las Vegas. He was actually her second choice after Siegfried and Roy. But they were sold out. Peggy made a good choice in David Brenner. He was very funny. 

•Mitch Leigh [86, March 16]…
I think of the “Man of La Mancha” composer and associate him with Dr. Richard  Rohan, my World Literature professor at Emporia State. When the touring musical was about to play in downtown Emporia, Kansas, Rohan was its greatest promoter, wearing a large “I’ve Seen ‘Man of La Mancha’” button to class every day for weeks. I saw the great production free while ushering it via my Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity.

•Mickey Rooney [93, April 6]…Here is another great who starred in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Like Sid Caesar in the same film, Rooney contributed to making my Dad extremely happy. I also have to mention a hilarious bit Rooney did in the late 1950’s on “The Ed Sullivan Show” with Joey Foreman. Rooney played a man on the street who is pranked on a “Candid Camera”-like TV show. Mickey is absolutely hilarious. 

•Lee Marshall [64, April 26]…It seems like a thousand times I heard Tony the Tiger, along with his animated image, pitch Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes on Saturday morning TV during the 1950’s and ‘60s. Marshall voiced Tony with that deep, resonant voice. He was “Grrrrreaaaat!”

•Ann B. Davis [88, June 1]…Davis won an Emmy for portraying Bob Collins’ office secretary Schultzy, on “The Bob Cummings Show,” 1955-59. THIS is the show I associate with her, not “The Brady Bunch.” Bob Collins was a glamour aka cheesecake photographer, and my father loved the show enough to take up photography as a hobby.

•Eli Wallach [98, June 24]…Back in 1966, movie sneak previews were mysterious in that the film’s title was never announced ahead of the showing. That’s how I saw “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” at K.C.’s Plaza Theater one evening. Eli Wallach, as The Ugly, remains unforgettable.

•James Garner [July 19]…The impact of “Maverick” on the TV audience was so great that when my family visited our cousin’s house in Raytown, Mo. in late 1957, all activity and talking ceased when the show started. We gathered around the TV to enjoy Bret’s latest escapade. James Garner had everything to do with that attraction. 

•Don Pardo [96, August 18]…As often occurs, when one divorces, one loses friendship with favorite in-laws. My ex-wife’s aunt and uncle, Karen and John, were very near our ages. We were best friends, in fact, seeing each other virtually every weekend for the years their niece and I were married. It was a tradition among us to watch “Saturday Night Live” together, which we had done since the show began in 1975. Don Pardo’s distinctive voice introduced each program. 

•Richard Attenborough [90, August 24]…A perk of being a film critic is the free screenings of movies not yet released. For many years, I took my daughter with me if the movie would so warrant. “Jurassic Park” was such a film. Shelley was 12 in 1993 when we saw it. Afterwards, on the way back to the car, the impact of the movie was still with her. “Dad,” she said, “I feel like I’ve been with real dinosaurs!” Richard Attenborough’s role as the park keeper no doubt added to the illusion.

•Robin Williams [63, August 11]…The first time I really appreciated Williams’ stunning gift of humor was when I saw his HBO “Off the Wall” special that my best friend, David Laudick, had recorded on Beta tape in 1978. I was visiting David in Scott City, Kansas when I watched Robin’s creativity stretch from stage to audience to him literally climbing up to the balcony of the theater. This was funny, improvisational, and electric. David has since unexpectedly died, and now Robin. 

•Ben Bradlee [93, October 21]…Nothing impacted my teaching high school journalism like the publishing of both the book and movie of “All The President’s Men.” When the film was released in 1976, interest in journalism, particularly investigative journalism, increased enrollment in college and university journalism programs nationwide. It certainly impacted my j-classes at J. C. Harmon High School. Ben Bradlee’s real-life role as editor of The Washington Post  was a vital element. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Unique ‘Birdman’ grabs four KC Film Critics Circle awards

By Steve Crum

Birdman, the richly bizarre film about Hollywood fame, stereotype, self doubt and a Broadway production, took quadruple honors at the 48th Annual Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards held Dec. 14. The 25 KC area film critics, including yours truly, voted Birdman’s Michael Keaton as Best Actor, and Ed Norton as Best Supporting Actor. It also won for Original Screenplay. 

Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike was awarded Best Actress. Patricia Arquette’s work in Boyhood garnered a Best Supporting Actress, while Boyhood’s director, Richard Linklater, won the Robert Altman Award for Achievement in Directing. (Just an FYI: Altman was from Kansas City.) 

The complete list of winners:

Best Picture…BIRDMAN

Robert Altman Ward for Achievement in Directing…RICHARD LINKLATER/Boyhood

Best Actor…MICHAEL KEATON/Birdman

Best Actress…ROSAMUND PIKE/Gone Girl

Best Supporting Actor…EDWARD NORTON/Birdman

Best Supporting Actress…PATRICIA ARQUETTE/Boyhood

Best Original Screenplay…BIRDMAN

Best Adapted Screenplay…OBVIOUS CHILD

Best Animated Feature…THE LEGO MOVIE

Best Documentary Feature…CITIZENFOUR

Best Foreign Language Film…IDA (Poland)

Vince Koehler Award for Best Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror Film…THE BABADOOK

The KCFCC is the second oldest film critic group in the United States (after the New York Film Critics Circle), and was founded by the late Dr. James Loutzenhiser. The annual awards ceremony is named in his honor. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Whizzo, Ol’ Dad, and Me

By Steve Crum
My late father, Harold Ronald Crum, always thought of himself as a business entrepreneur. He never called himself such, but his actions over the years clearly spoke to his desire of being self employed, the owner-operator of a business, and his own boss. Success would bring with it money, so he could quit his much hated machinist job. 
I remember his foray into the lawn mower repair business. It cut out within a month. In his later years there was his dream job as a professional photographer, envisioned by him to be like Bob Collins’ cheesecake photographer on the popular TV show, The Bob Cummings Show. After buying a small studio and packing it with expensive photo equipment, his business failed to develop. Per se. 
Mom told me about a couple of his early business schemes, one involving Dad’s creative mind. He “invented” an emergency flare that motorists could keep in the car trunk. There were flares sold already, but his flare was somehow different. After his usual pattern of buying business cards, he invested in the materials of manufacturing the flares, including packaging. I assume some kind of gunpowder was required. 
Not long afterward, before any flares were sold (I guess Dad would call or visit area auto supplies shops), he discovered he had to prove he owned the copyright. He clearly did not have any such legality. In fact, his originality was not so original. Coincidentally, there were already flares like his on the market, and they were copyrighted. Fizzle. Yet another financial setback. It is likely Dad was out of work at the time, which was status quo throughout his life. We lived on the brink of poverty half the time. 
Then along clomped Whizzo, the clown. 
Frank Wiziarde was born in 1916, the son of circus trapeze artists. In 1952, Wiziarde was living in Kansas City, and working for fledgeling station KMBC-TV, which wanted to capitalize on Wiziarde’s circus credentials by having him perform on live daytime television as a clown. A slight play on his name became Whizzo, and a Kansas City legend was born. His morning show, Whizzo's Wonderland, is memorable to those like myself who grew up in KC during the 1950’s. Everything about Whizzo was hilarious, from his original outfit with the huge feet to his constant physical and verbal improvising. His trademark yell “Whizzo-whee!” and “Whizzo Dog” (his puppet pet) were part of our vocabulary. Whizzo was so influential there were Whizzo toy banks sold, Whizzo-endorsed products, and a Whizzo amusement park. 
His show was enjoyed by adults as well as children. If there was a parade anywhere in Greater Kansas City, Whizzo was a featured attraction. For over 30 years, Whizzo was seen regularly on TV, first in Kansas City, and then in Topeka, Kansas. He was a trouper up until his death in 1987.
During the summer of 1949, when I was a kiddo of 2, the pre-Whizzo Wiziarde hosted a local Kansas City half hour radio show broadcast live daily on WHB at 11 a.m. from a restaurant in the prestigious Country Club Plaza. The appropriately named Luncheon on the Plaza included women guests, and was geared to the predominately female radio audience. In those days, women guests were aka “housewives.” The show’s gimmick was that interviewed women were supposed to wear hats, and Wiziarde and company would choose the best. The woman with the chosen hat would win a prize. 
Does that premise crack you up as much as it does me? A visual gimmick…on radio? It’s reminiscent of Stan Freberg’s hilarious bit featuring acrobats on radio. 
Dad probably heard about the show from Mom, whose description obviously impressed him. And inspired him. At that time, Dad was working and Mom was indeed a housewife. What interested him most was the fact that the dozen or so women who appeared on the show would always identify themselves by giving their name and address. AND ADDRESS. In those days, women would invariably introduce themselves with their husband’s name, i.e. Mrs. John Jones. So there you have it. All one needed to contact the woman was to look up her husband’s name in the phone book, and verify the given address. Simple. 
Using the sparse money we had, perhaps borrowing it, Dad then invested in cutting edge technology, a reel-to-reel tape recorder. In 1949, this was state of the art. He also purchased many blank tapes. Oh yes, he also purchased a device to cut his own 78 rpm records, which he attached to his tape recorder. Dozens of blank discs were needed. A business was born. 
Mom would record Luncheon on the Plaza, and Dad would later listen to it, writing down women’s names and phone numbers. He would then call each one, flatter her about the appearance on the show, and offer to sell her a recording of said appearance. Let’s say he’d ask $5. (I’m not sure.) Then he would mail the record to her. Easy money, and non taxable. 
Two factors soon halted Dad’s business enterprise. 
First, he got a call from the telephone company warning him to stop using a public phone for business purposes. Someone had complained, and contacted the phone company. (At that time we had a party line, which made things worse.) 
Secondly, Luncheon on the Plaza had an ultra short radio run. It premiered in July, 1949, and ended in August, 1949. Wiziarde had much better luck in literally clowning around. Within three years, he realized his showbiz niche as Whizzo. 
By the way, my late Mom actually appeared on Luncheon on the Plaza, no doubt wearing the required hat. I think she was interviewed by Wiziarde, but I will never know. I do know I have three recordings of show excerpts via Dad’s leftover, homemade 78’s. They are now 65 years old, nearly inaudible, and scratchy. However, I have digitized them for posterity.

They also include women divulging their names and addresses. ID theft, anyone?