Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Note of Appreciation to William Goldman While He's Still Alive

A movie made in 1969 and a recent round of emails and Facebook comments are responsible for this posting. It's rather traditional to wait until someone dies before saying all those good things you meant to say before, but then you find out you're too late.

That's why I'm writing about William Goldman now. Not his bio or a tribute, but just what he has meant to me with his ideas and stories and characters, both on the printed page and on the screen (movie, not TV or iPad). 

I watched "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" recently, screenplay by Goldman, and posted a short comment on FB about a particular scene (the card game near the beginning). One of my favorite all-time scenes, a model of perfection.

Card Player #2:  Well, looks like you just about cleaned everybody out, fella. You haven't lost a hand since you got to deal. What's the secret of your success?
 Sundance Kid:  Prayer.

Jeb Schary, who has movies in his veins, commented about Goldman's writing, may just be his favorite writer.
Bill Wine commented with 3 words: "Is it safe?" An unforgettable phrase, frequently repeated in Goldman's movie and novel, "Marathon Man."
Chris Snyder came up with, "Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?"

Over the past few days, I've thought about how many books by Goldman I've enjoyed and how many of his movies have kept me glued to the screen, all with characters and stories that remain alive in my mind long after the book is closed and the film has ended. 

Here, in no particular order, are my favorites. 
It starts off with the first book I read by him, in 1973. (egads, that was 40 years ago!). "The Princess Bride" is still one of my all-time favorite novels. It's ingeniously structured and a delight to read... and re-read. Others are "Marathon Man," (I gave a copy to my dentist to read the part about drilling the tooth). Other novels are "Tinsel," Magic," and "The Color of Light." 

My non-fiction favorites (Hollywood and Theater observations, with sharp-edged humor and criticism) are "Adventures in the Screen Trade," ""Which Lie Did I Tell?", and "The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway." The last one was written in 1969 and examines why some shows are hits and some flop. Of course Broadway has gone through upheavals since then. Still, it reflects Goldman's love of theater.


As a screenwriter, Goldman is responsible for some of my lasting favorites: "The Princess Bride," the aforementioned "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Marathon Man," "Misery," "All the President's Men," "A Bridge Too Far," "No Way to Treat a Lady," and "Harper." I urge you see them all, twice. The first time to enjoy the movie. The second time to listen to the words, the silences, the storyline, the relationships between characters


If you'd like to see and hear Goldman talk about screenwriting, about his books and movies, and what he thinks about Hollywood, I urge you to check out this 90 minute video from The Writers Guild. It's all fascinating, especially the last half hour, when he talks about things more personal for him. It took place in 2010. Actually, it's all relaxed and personal and totally void of ego. 
William Goldman talks about writing

To close out this note of appreciation, here is what Goldman said about his own writing in 2000. 

"Someone pointed out to me that the most sympathetic characters in my books always died miserably. I didn't consciously know I was doing that. I didn't. I mean, I didn't wake up each morning and think, today I think I'll make a really terrific guy so I can kill him. It just worked out that way. I haven't written a novel in over a decade... and someone very wise suggested that I might have stopped writing novels because my rage was gone. It's possible. All this doesn't mean a helluva lot, except probably there is a reason I was the guy who gave Babe over to Szell in the "Is it safe?" scene and that I was the guy who put Westley into The Machine. I think I have a way with pain. When I come to that kind of sequence I have a certain confidence that I can make it play. Because I come from such a dark corner."
Goldman has also said of his work: "I [don’t] like my writing. I wrote a movie called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and I wrote a novel called The Princess Bride and those are the only two things I’ve ever written, not that I’m proud of, but that I can look at without humiliation."


I'm still hoping for one more novel or screenplay from him. In the meantime, Thanks, Mr. Goldman. You've enriched my life with your words.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Most Popular Sport


 It seems the three big subjects of interest in our country today are politics, sports, and weather. Since I no longer understand politics, and have no intention of spending another minute wondering what tomorrow’s forecast is, let me talk about sports. It’s a huge subject.

   Just consider all the options you have throughout the year in St. Louis. The big three, of course, are The Cards, The Rams, The Blues. But those are the pro's, probably not your line of work and certainly not mine. We’re spectators. So let's consider all those other sports that you can participate in. Chances are at least one of them is on your weekly "to do" schedule. Golf, tennis, handball, racquet ball, bike riding (as in Trek), bike riding (as in Harley), Bocce ball (if you live on The Hill), darts, rugby, swimming, soccer.... well, you get the idea.

   However there is one sport I didn't mention, and it possibly boasts more participants than any other in America. It's softball. Believe it or not, over forty million (that’s 40,000,000) men, women and children play softball, in one form or another. It really is the All-American sport. There are thousands of leagues, tens of thousands of teams, in every state in the Union. You can play no matter your age, from grade school into your 80's or as long as you can stand and hold a bat. Seriously. 




   I play senior slow pitch softball in Kirkwood. We play three mornings a week. Also there are leagues 3 nights a week. And that's just for us old guys. Several of them are in their 80's, a few fought in Korea, lots of them have brand new knees or hips... and they still run around the bases. Slowly.

    If you drive through Forest Park, or past school yards or walk in one of the many parks in this area, chances are you've seen a softball game in progress. Boys, girls, men, women, middle aged, seniors. There are softball tournaments across the country for just about every age group, for both men and women. 
   This is interesting. The International Senior Softball Association (ISSA) has just announced it will be holding the 2014 ISSA Midwest Championships this year at Independence, MO on July 25-27. This marks the first time in the twenty years they’ve been sponsoring tournaments that it will be held west of the Mississippi. Here’s a link the ISSA website. http://www.seniorsoftball.org/home.html

   Softball is such a big sport these days that ESPN carries college games, the tournaments, men and women's games.

You won't believe how fast these lady pitchers fire the ball at the plate. An article in Sports Illustrated earlier this year described an experiment the magazine ran. They had professional baseball players try to hit a woman fast-pitch pitcher. Results: the guys seldom hit the ball. One of those pro's was Albert Pujols.
He said there was no way to anticipate where the pitch was going, no "tell" signs, no reaction time to adjust his swing. He couldn't touch 'em.


   One thing to remember about playing softball: there are plenty of games where you don’t have to be good. You just want to have a good time, get together with interesting people, get a kick out of the sound of your bat connecting with the ball and the slap of the ball in your glove, the high five or bumped fists when you get a hit. Or maybe even win. Even if you don’t play, you can watch. Maybe get inspired to find that old glove somewhere in the basement.

(This article originally appeared in County Living Magazine, Summer, 2014.
The magazine contains valuable information on products, services and destinations. Check it out. County Living Magazine)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Goodbye John/Hello Noah, Hip Robins on the Way, and Other Brief Musings

Here, in no particular order, are a few things that have come to my attention recently.

1. Name that baby correctly. For 14 consecutive years, Jacob was the most popular name picked for baby boys. Noah is now at the top of the list. Next is Liam. I don't know anybody named Noah or Liam but I may someday. Those two are followed by Jacob, Mason and William. At least they haven't killed Bill yet, but he's sinking quickly. You'll never guess what the most popular name for baby girls is. Sophia. Followed by Emma, Olivia, Isabella and Ava. Those sounds like old ladies' names, probably because they make me think of movie stars from the 1940's. 

The Social Security Admin. also ranked the names that are the fastest-rising in popularity. No way you can guess these. Boys: Jayceon. Girls: Daleyza. I'll never know anyone with those names. Seems as though the media creates the trend: reality shows, talent shows, dj's, rappers and other celebrities. 

So, to all you Joe's, John's and Jim's out there, face it. Your day has come and gone.

2. Missouri: On the Move
The Show-Me's in Jeff City have once again gained the national spotlight. First, we aren't going to allow the Tesla to be sold here. Reason: No dealers. It's wrong, they say. "When you buy a car, it must be from a dealer. We've always done it this way." A key proponent of this backward-thinking legislation is State Senator Mike Kehoe, who was once a car dealer. But Tesla is taking it to court. Knowing how Missouri works, the judge will probably be a Ford dealer.

Second Missouri Move: We may rank low in education and health care, but we rank way up there when it comes to early departures. Missouri is third in the nation in executions. Only Texas (of course) and Florida killed more killers. Assuming they were all guilty. But the state is on a hot streak: May will be the 8th consecutive month we've slipped the needles in and opened the valves. It's a humane form of death, if you can possibly put those two thoughts together.

3. That Lady and the Beer Guys
A former executive at Anheuser-Busch has taken on "the boys." She claims she was a victim of sexual discrimination.
Maybe she was. I don't really know. Could be. All I know is she made $320,000 a year. That's $6,000 a week. In 2004 she made $1,500,000. She alleges in her law suit that, because she is a woman, she missed out on over nine million dollars of income. Like I say, maybe she did. The beer game is pretty much a guys' game. But isn't that what they said about the car business until GM changed the game?

Here's what I know for sure. If someone wants to give me $6,000 a week, they can dress me in a pinafore or miniskirt, call me any kind of name they want, refer to me in meetings as "the old fart," and even pat me on the butt while I'm making coffee for "the boys," and I'll be happy. No lawyers involved.

4. Swinging Robins "In Vitro"
A robin built her nest on top of one of our deck speakers.
We listen to jazz out there a lot. She seems to dig it. I wonder about her chicks. Will they be cool? Will they dig the bass solos? Will they identify with Bird, aka Charlie Parker? I think they will. I heard mama robin whistling "Round Midnight" yesterday, key of E flat. 

5. My Ties
I have 26 ties. I wear only 3 or 4 of them.
The only time I wear a tie is to a memorial service (3 last month),  a dinner with important people (0 in the past ten years), or opening night on Broadway (once in the past twenty years). So why don't I throw or give away the twenty that collect dust? Because some day I may get that call, something important, and the tie I want will be gone. Better cluttered than sorry.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Music and Life at 33 1/3


From across the street, it looks like an ordinary store on a busy little street in suburban St. Louis. I could read the sign. Euclid. The name was familiar, but I hadn't been here before. This required a closer look. I crossed.







Euclid Records. Might as well. I had time to kill before an appointment. I grew up with records. 78’s. 45’s. And especially LP’s. 


I walked in. Big place. Lots of bins, shelves. Signs that said Rock and Soul and Rap and Latin. Didn't seem very promising, at least not for me. 







I noticed a landing on the right, stairs leading up, sign beckoning to me, insisting I go on up. Birdland. Jazz Corner of the World. I had spent many a night there, decades ago, time in New York hunting down jazz players and clubs. Especially the Sacred Temple of them all: Birdland. I looked at my watch. Okay, so I might be a little late for that meeting. Up I went.                                  







My first thought on looking out at the second floor was “Field of Dreams”  - an endless field of vinyl.Build it and they will come. And I was there. Not on this Thursday. Not on this day in March of 2014. But on a day when I still lived at home, dad at the shoe store, mom shopping or at the beauty parlor, my brother playing baseball. And I had my record collection. Dozens of LP’s at first, then hundreds, finally three thousand.






The great names lived here in Euclid, side by side from Armstrong through Zavinul. Albums I had once owned, wished I still had, except not enough space.

Names like Gerry Mulligan, Benny Goodman, Mose Allison, Jazz at the Phil, Oscar, Brubeck, Duke, Monk, Stan, Miles, MJQ. My field of dreams with all the legends waiting there to be picked up, their jackets read, the black vinyl slipped out, carefully laid on the turntable, needle lowered, then sit back, dig the sounds, and read the liner notes. Until they were memorized. The recording dates, the musicians at each and every position, the tunes and composers and length of the cut, bits of history or back story, photos in black and white.


I wanted to meet the person in charge of these treasures. Probably the same guy that bought my 3000 albums a dozen years ago. A door near the top of the steps said “Office.” I knocked. “C’mon in,” he said. I did. Just as I hoped: his office was a mini-museum. 

Joe Schwab, the owner, looked up from his computer while I told him I had an idea about writing something for my blog. We talked, about jazz and the record business and Euclid Records. The wall behind him was covered with jazz photos, many of them, he told me, taken at Peacock Alley, the fabled jazz club in midtown St. Louis during the 50’s, before The City tore down all the historic old buildings for some civic progress concept.

A short conversation with Joe, then I walked back, meandered down the aisles, picked up an occasional album, its weight and shape so familiar to my hands. Old friends waiting to be heard once again. They say you can't go home again. Sure, you can. At Euclid Records. At least for me. And other record stores that know the value of jazz lp's. 

Yes, there are time machines. They travel at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. They can take you back fifty years and more, as clean as a whistle, as clear as a dear friend’s face. As pure as a tenor sax solo.

Monday, March 24, 2014

It's What They Say, Not What They Do

Ever hear of Victoza? Sounds like a Mafia hit man, right? "Get Vic Toza on it."
It's actually a pharmaceutical, for Type II diabetes. I learned about it
last Sunday while watching Face the Nation on CBS, which I had recorded.

This 60-second commercial came on and seemed pleasant enough. It showed healthy-looking men and women, most in their 50's or 60's, leading active, productive lives.

The music lulled me into a state of acceptance - a gentle guitar melody, some soft background instrumentation. Kind of like a lullaby.

But the announcer was saying things that had nothing to do with the pictures. "What gives?" I thought. So I ran the spot back to the beginning, listened to his calm, soothing voice talk about some really ugly stuff. I ran it back, and this time I wrote down what he said.

This is the copy. Most certainly written by lawyers. As you read this, keep in mind the lovely music flowing underneath video of a woman buying flowers in a market, a man getting into his pickup truck and driving off, another woman going about her house... all of these people smiling. Not a worry in mind.

Obviously they weren't listening to what this guy was saying. Here it is:

"Victoza lowers blood sugar, and should be taken once a day.
An injectable prescription prescription medicine.
It is not recommended as the first medication for Type Two diabetes. It has not been studied with mealtime insulin. (This over a shot of a guy eating)
Symptoms of a serious allergic reaction may include 
- Swelling of face, lips or throat
- Very rapid heartbeat
- Problems breathing or swallowing
- Lump or swelling in your neck (video: a woman picks up a plant with a lovely flower in it, and smiles)
- Inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis, which may be fatal. 
- Severe pain that will not go away in your abdomen or from your abdomen to   your back with or   without vomiting.
- May cause low blood sugar.
- May cause nausea, diarrhea, headache.
- Can lead to dehydration, which may cause kidney problems."

And finally, the clincher:

"Covered by most health plans."

Now I know all medications have side effects to consider. I expect to see them in the paper sheet with the tiny printing that comes with prescriptions. But this one, presented in such a matter of fact manner, seems like a time bomb waiting to go off in your system. And if, by chance, you incur any of the aforementioned side effects, they will certainly say, "Well, we warned you." 

If I ever develope Type II diabetes, I'm going to get 3 milk shakes at Steak 'n Shake during Happy Hour, hit my sugar high, and jump off the Golden Gate Bridge... if I can make it as far as San Francisco. If not, the new Musial Bridge will have to do.

I wish you sweet dreams.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Old Ad Guy is Still There

Ed is a guy I used to work with at the ad agency. He kept popping up in my mind the past couple of weeks. No reason, as far as I know. Although it could have been some metaphysical thing. Usually when this happens, especially in recent years. I find I'm too late. The person has been "gone" for awhile.

I called one of his sons and told him I had been thinking about his dad. Hesitantly I asked, "Is he still.... alive? And the other question, "How is he doing?" I knew he was in an assisted living facility, aka a nursing home. I held my breath. "Dad's doing fine," came the reply. A nice surprise, to say the least. He told me Ed was holding his own, had some problems, but for the most part was still part of this world, at least most of the time. He encouraged me to stop by to see him. "I'll do that," I said. "And thanks for the good news."

Yesterday I got a letter from the other son, a beautifully written description of his dad and the situation he currently finds himself in. I quote: 

     "Thank you for your past and present concern for his welfare. He always knows us when we go by to see him - although he usually doesn't remember what he had for lunch. I suppose that this is proof that he has always had his priorities straight - his family and friends are of the most importance to him.... He is always in good appetite and we usually take him a milk-shake when we go by. Sometimes we get him a scotch and soda or a beer."

Talk about the right priorities. The letter continues with what I believe is one of the most insightful and uplifting commentaries I've read about aging. 

     "Although he can't carry on a conversation like he used to - he can't recall a lot of the knowledge we all spend a lifetime collecting - he's still Dad. Only more so. After all, it's not knowledge and memory that makes us what we are - those are only tools and clothes for the spirit that makes use of them. Now that he has lost so many of them, it's easy to see and enjoy the core that's always been there and remains. Everyone at Laclede Groves loves him. He is serene."

Ed was a talented art director. He was a gentleman to work with. He was a joy to be around. It's people like Ed who made my time in advertising enjoyable to live through and a pleasure to remember. I will visit Ed this week. Since I'm not sure whether he prefers chocolate or vanilla milk shakes, I'll have to bring him a scotch and soda. Make that a double, bartender. See you soon, Ed.






Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thanks, Harold

 You know by now that we lost a distinctive comic voice last week. By "we" I mean anyone who likes to laugh. By "lost" I mean he died. Much too soon.

Harold Ramis, as all the obits mentioned, was responsible in one way or another - actor, writer, director - for some of the world's funniest and most original movies. "Ghostbusters." "Animal House." "Caddyshack." And my favorite, "Groundhog Day." I have that on my DVR, and will keep it there as long as digitally possible. Plus I have the DVD backup.

What I want to talk about is not how much I liked his movies. It's before those. I didn't realize it at the time but Harold Ramis was one of the writers, early in his career, of what is probably my all-time favorite TV show. It was called "SCTV." Those letters stood for a fictitious TV station with a gang of incredible characters and hilarious situations. "SCTV" also stood for Second City TV, and it originated in Toronto, Canada. Yes, Canadians can be very funny.

The cast of that show, which varied a little over the years, included some incredibly talented people who to this day, many years later, still make me smile when I think of them. Some are still active in films, TV, and theater. Some we have "lost."

Andrea Martin. John Candy. Joe Flaherty. Dave Thomas. Eugene Levy. Rick Moranis.  Catherine O'Hara. And Harold Ramis.
                                                           





(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Martin Short, who joined the show a little later, with equally unforgettable characters and a brilliant career ahead of him.) 

I watched the show religiously (with utmost devotion) on our state-of-the-art Magnavox, a heavy piece of furniture more cabinet than screen. I sat on a plaid couch in the den with my young daughter Holly. She was as enthusiastic about the show as I was. Maybe more. Who knows? Maybe that's why Holly ended up a Groundling in L.A. and today runs a successful improv theater and school in NYC. (It's called Improvolution. You can check her out at Holly's Improv. Company)

To this day we still get a kick out of remembering the array of characters created by these men and women who honed their chops with Second City in Toronto and Chicago. The names may not mean much to you, but I've got to list a few just to brighten my day:

Johnny LaRue. Guy Cabellero. Dr. Tongue. Edith Prickley. Earl Camembert. Lola Heatherton. Gerry Todd. Perini Scleroso. Mel Slirrup. Sammy Maudlin. Count Floyd. Billy Sol Hurok. Sid Dithers. Tex and Edna Boyle. Libby Wolfson. Mayor Tommy Shanks. Dr. Sheryl Kinsey. Bob and Doug McKenzie. And there were more.

Okay. I feel better now. Thanks.

Back to Harold Ramis. This was sketch comedy, a difficult and all too rare form of humor that, when it works, is unparalleled in its effect and creativity. And it worked on SCTV.

Harold was a big part of this success. No, he didn't appear on camera as often as the others, but his ideas, his writing, his skill at turning a wild idea into an effective sketch, contributed much to the success of the show. Harold Ramis understood comedy.

If only for that, I will forever be indebted to him. He brightened my life.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put one of the SCTV DVD's into my Blue-ray and get ready to hear those magic words:
                              "SCTV is on the air!"

Three links worth checking out:

NY Times Obit

Harold in action on SCTV

SCTV on DVD's (now quite rare)