ON A BENDER
Close friends know about my "benders."
For a while, I'll O.D. on "The Beverly Hillbillies," or westerns, or "The Flintstones," or "The Andy Griffith Show," or Johnny Cash, or a specific album, or a specific movie. I'll watch/listen to them endlessly.
I call 'em "benders," as in, "I've been on an 'Exile on Main Street' bender lately."
My current benders are "The Creation of the Humanoids," the sci-fi stinker I wrote about in my last Web column, and songs by -- believe it or not -- Bonnie Raitt and John Denver.
I've watched "Humanoids" five times now. Every time I watch it, I glean new nuggets of information (which are imbedded deeply within the film's INSUFFERABLE DIALOGUE). Such as: Cragus, the leader of the Order of Flesh and Blood, has an embarrassing problem -- his SISTER is LIVING OPENLY with a ROBOT! That's right -- THEY'RE AN ITEM! (Cragus and his sister are both infertile because as children, they would sneak out at night and play in the atomic ruins, which glowed blue.) Then -- spoiler alert -- Cragus finds out that HE'S a robot! And so is his NEW GIRLFRIEND! But with "a few simple operations," the robot couple can HAVE BABIES!
I'm almost afraid of what I might pick up on the sixth viewing.
On the music front, I've been listening to Bonnie Raitt and John Denver for the first time in my life because, well, I was getting rid of some of Kathy's CDs ... but I couldn't bear to part with them without giving them a spin ... and they made me think of ... well, you know.
Songs in my Bonnie Raitt bender: "That Song About the Midway," "Rainy Day Man" and "Angel From Montgomery" from "Streetlights," and "Love Has No Pride" from "Give it Up." Songs in my John Denver bender: "My Sweet Lady," "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Sunshine on My Shoulder" and "Friends With You."
I'm SO lame.
A digression: When John Denver was asked to testify during the Parents Music Resource Center hearings in the '80s, which led to warning stickers on CDs, he was meant to represent "good" lyrics (as opposed to those of Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider, another who testified). Did Tipper Gore ever LISTEN to John Denver's lyrics? I'm telling you -- there are more pot references than a Cheech and Chong movie!
"CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS"
A bizarre low-budget sci-fi film titled "The Creation of the Humanoids" (1962) just debuted on DVD from Dark Sky Films.
The film can be insufferably talky and occasionally laughable, but not altogether unwatchable. It has some solid sci-fi concepts that lead me to believe the screenwriter, Jay Simms, either read or wrote a lot of stories in the science-fiction digests that were so prevalent at the time. (Simms also wrote, or had a hand in writing, "The Killer Shrews," "The Giant Gila Monster," "Panic in the Year Zero" and episodes of the Boris Karloff-hosted TV anthology "Thriller," according to imdb.)
The setting is Earth following a devastating atomic war. Survivors develop humanoid robots (with bald heads, blue skin and sparkling red eyes) to assist in the reconstruction. It is illegal to improve a robot above an R70 -- an R100 robot would be a perfect human being -- but the robots continue to evolve. Some humans are afraid the "clickers" (slang for robots) are developing a quasi-religion. (The robots call their recharging depot a "temple," and no humans are allowed on the premesis). Concerned humans form an aggressive vigilante organization, the Order of Flesh and Blood. However, a brilliant scientist -- who later becomes a brilliant scientist's essence in a robot body -- begins churning out R96 robots, which are just four points below human. And that's the CLIFFS NOTES version!
Most of these albeit intelligent sci-fi concepts are communicated via the aforementioned INSUFFERABLE dialogue. Talking scenes go on and on and on and on. This will cause lot of people to run screaming from "The Creation of the Humanoids," but fans of cheezy sci-fi will consider it a gem.
Two credits in the film must be made known. Buffs will remember Dudley Manlove, who plays a "clicker," as Eros, the pudgy, imperious alien in "Plan 9 From Outer Space" whose infamous "stupid, stupid, stupid!" speech is a touchstone of the sub-genre. Manlove may be jowlier than in his "Plan 9" days, and painted blue to boot, but there's no mistaking that '50s TV pitchman voice.
It must also be noted that the robot makeups were by Jack Pierce, the artist who created the looks for the Frankenstein monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and many other monsters in the Universal Studios horror classics of the '30s and '40s. In other words, HE THE MAN. "The Creation of the Humanoids" was Pierce's second-to-last film, and as such is required viewing for all Universal geeks, no matter how painful the experience. It is cinematic irony itself that the career of such a major player in the Universal classics intersected with that of a "Plan 9" cast member. Sleep with dogs, wake up with fleas.
MY NIECE, THE "SOPRANOS" STAR
My niece is a "Sopranos" cast member!
Well, calling her my niece is a bit of a stretch. This precious little girl is the daughter of my wife's cousin. So while she's not technically my niece, that's how Kathy and I always thought of her.
Calling her a "Sopranos" cast member is also a stretch, but it's so much fun to let your imagination make that leap. My niece played the flower girl in Allegra Sacrimoni's wedding in the recently premiered Season 6/Episode 5 of "The Sopranos."
An "extra" part, yes, but one not without significance. (Was her character the daughter or granddaughter of a wiseguy? Was her character's appointment as flower girl personally approved by Johnny Sac? After all, we see the New York mob boss pouring over the seating plan for the reception. Again -- the imagination runs wild.)
In our family, we'd heard about the episode quite a while back. It was an eight-day shoot ... there was outdoor shooting in stifling heat (which was reflected in the episode) ... my niece posed for photos with James Gandolfini and Edie Falco ... the director, Steve Buscemi, got a kick out of her ... and I heard that Gandolfini sprung for ice cream on an especially hot day.
When I finally watched the wedding sequence, which had just about every major "Sopranos" cast member except for Lorraine Bracco and Dominic Chianese (both for obvious reasons), I couldn't spot my niece. I figured her contribution must have ended up on the cutting-room floor.
After a few quick phone chats with my sisters-in-law, I found out that I merely missed her. She's in the scene where Allegra and her new hubby are introduced as Mr. and Mrs. for the first time (when the couple is seen in silhouette, back-lit behind a curtain). To the right of the couple are the bridesmaids. Closest to the camera is a blond angel, my niece. She even does a cool little thing where she turns her head.
I showed the scene to a girl at the office who dabbles in extra work, and herself appeared in Season 6/Episode 2 of "The Sopranos" as a smartly dressed conventioneer. "That's a good clip," was her assessment.
Aunt Kathy, wherever you are, I hope you saw our niece on "The Sopranos."
CATHOLIC SCHOOL STORY #1
Mischief trends abounded in the 1960s at Holy Rosary School in Ashland, NJ, in the Diocese of Camden.
Some memorable trends: shooting rubber bands; shooting spitballs; using your lunchbox lid to create annoying flickers of light; making the "BOI-I-I-ING" sound on your desk with a wooden ruler; wiping the bottom of your shoe on a classmate's navy blue trousers (which left a nasty, hard-to-erase dust mark); and making strange noises just soft enough to avoid detection by a nun, but just loud enough to make a classmate laugh while, say, giving an oral report.
In seventh grade or so, the spitball trend suddenly became pervasive. Every boy in our class had a straw and an arsenal of spitballs (that is, tiny balls of paper rolled with saliva to be shot through a straw) at the ready.
The minute Sister turned her back, the spitballs were flying! One time, a classmate named Danny was writing on the blackboard, and someone shot spitballs RIGHT ON THE BLACKBOARD WHERE HE WAS WRITING! Sister didn't notice. We were all dying, trying not to laugh. Danny made things worse by OPENLY FLICKING AWAY THE SPITBALLS instead of pretending they weren't there! Miraculously, Sister didn't notice THAT either.
But the fun couldn't last forever.
Finally, one day, Sister DID notice. So she rounded up the usual suspects and instructed us to go out into the hallway to kneel under the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue and wait for her. A minute later, she materialized holding a newspaper. She gave us each a sheet of newspaper and told us our punishment: Make 100 newspaper spitballs in 10 neat piles of 10 spitballs each. Sister said she would return to count them.
As we were making our spitball piles, we had an inspiration: Sister wouldn't count ALL 100 spitballs of each kid. That would take too long. She would probably just count the piles to make sure we had 10 each. So we were making piles of 9, piles of 8, all the while laughing at how clever we were.
Sister returned and did something we hadn't thought of: She began to count RANDOM PILES of spitballs. Within seconds she found a 9-spitball pile. Our new punishment was for ALL OF US to make 100 spitballs each . . . AGAIN.
Another movie from my VHS-liquidating buddy is "Diabolique," the Hitchcockian black-and-white French thriller of 1955 directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and starring Simone Signoret. I've certainly read about this movie all my life, and I saw some of it on PBS a few years back, but I'd never viewed it from start to finish until now.
Wow, what a film. CREEPED ME OUT. Unfortunately, the print I've inherited is dubbed in English. (We true movie buffs prefer the original dialogue, which is half the performance, and we're more than happy to read subtitles.)
I'll only refer vaguely to the plot, in order to avoid "spoilers." (In fact, there's a tag at the end asking viewers not to be "diabolical" and blab the film's ending to other potential viewers.)
"Diabolique" is a story of murder and betrayal set at a boy's boarding school, where Signoret is a chain-smoking teacher with a sturdy chassis and an "up 'do" who gives the impression that she prefers female company. Paul Meurisse is the sadistic, self-centered principal of the school. Vera Clouzot (beautiful real-life wife of the film's director) is the principal's wife, who owns the school and keeps it afloat financially, but is buckling under the strain of her husband's cruelty and philandering. There are some wonderful supporting performances, especially that of Charles Vanel as a retired detective who hangs around the morgue in his dotage, but springs back to life once he gets on the scent of a juicy case, which this is.
The first half-hour of the film is grim and unsettling -- an intimate, fly-on-the-wall view of a murder being plotted and executed. "Diabolique" then veers into themes of paranoia and (potentially) the supernatural, losing a bit of steam until Vanel materializes with his trenchcoat and notebook to reign the film in.
"Diabolique" is not a horror film per se, but one scene in particular ranks up there with the great shocks of the genre (such as Lon Chaney's unmasking in 1925's "Phantom of the Opera" and Tony Perkins' climactic wig-out in 1960's "Psycho.") I won't tell you which scene that is. I'M not diabolical.
JUST A CUTE STORY
More very sad news. An old friend died over the weekend. He and I graduated from the College Formerly Known as Glassboro State in 1980 with degrees in journalism, which puts us both at 47. Our professional careers intersected also.
There were a lot of laughs and a lot of stories. I'll share one that is not profound, sheds little light on this decent human being, and has no big payoff. It's just a cute story that my friend figures in.
In the summer of '79, between my junior and senior years, I was working in Cherry Hill and staying with my folks while my year-round college apartment in Glassboro was sitting idle. My little cousin Joey, who was maybe 11, was visiting from Pennsylvania. He, my sister Barbara and I decided to crash at my pad just for the heck of it -- no grownup to tell us what to do. I made a joke that Glassboro was "my town," and I was going to show Joey and Barbara a good time. (Of course, a "good time" with your sister and your 11-year-old cousin is McDonalds and a movie.)
My late friend was the manager of the CollegeTown Cinema, a two-screen theater that showed second-run movies for a ONE DOLLAR ADMISSION. That's right, a lousy buck! Even in the '70s, that was a crazy bargain. Some of the movies I recall seeing there: "Audrey Rose," "Smokey and the Bandit," "Interiors," "Starting Over," "The Goodbye Girl," "Thunder and Lightning."
Anyway, the night that Joey, Barbara and I showed up at the CollegeTown Cinema, the movie we decided to see was "Love at First Bite," the underwhelming "Dracula" spoof starring George Hamilton and Susan Saint James. My friend, resplendent in his blue manager's jacket, took one look at us in line to buy tickets and said, "Mark, I respect you too much to allow you to pay good money to see this (expletive) movie." He then unhooked the velvet rope and waved the three of us in.
My little cousin Joey looked at me and said, "This really IS your town."
ERASING A PERSON
In the weeks and months after you lose a spouse, you go through a period in which, to put it bluntly, you must work very hard to erase that person from your life.
You must stand in line at Motor Vehicle to surrender your Loved One's plates and have his or her driver's license terminated.
You must sit in a crowded room at the Social Security office, carrying all manners of documents, to collect your Loved One's "death benefit" (there's two words that go together oddly).
You must call up every service you use -- heat, water, electricity, phone, checking, car insurance, etc. -- punch in the correct numbers to navigate your way to an operator, and sometimes wait for a long while to tell the (invariably sympathetic) operator the circumstances, and that your Loved One's name must be removed from future invoices, etc. Occasionally, these calls don't "take" the first time around, and you are reiterating your position months later.
It takes a great deal of effort. Sometimes, you can't escape the feeling that you are somehow betraying your Loved One. It's all a part of grieving, you will be told.
Perhaps you will bring your Loved One's wardrobe to an organization such as the Salvation Army. This is a win-win-win situation. You're being given a quick, easy solution to a part of this sad process. The money your Loved One's clothes may bring in will go to a fine charity. And the person who purchased those clothes, who may not be in a high-salary bracket, gets a bargain.
At my local Salvation Army, I saw all of the volunteers' eyes widen when I walked in with bag after bag after bag of the well-maintained wardrobe of a stylish young woman. One looked at me questioningly. "Death in the family," I told her. A few minutes later, as I was leaving, I noticed that one of the gals put on a cute matching blue scarf and hat with snowflakes printed on them that my Loved One wore during many a long winter walk. I approached the woman and kissed her hand, saying, "You're doing God's work."
"MENACE II SOCIETY" REVIEWED
Courtesy of a friend who is liquidating his VHS collection (aren't we all?), I just caught "Menace II Society," twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes' 1993 gangsta film set in Watts. I appreciate it when a movie rings true, and this one is very believable -- scarily so. Here we have an exploitation movie in the tradition of the John Ashley "J.D." (juvenile delinquent) movies of the '50s, amped up considerably with '90s violence and vulgarity.
Tyrin Turner as "Kaydee" Caine is the film's center. Caine does some terrible things, but still we sympathize with him even as we somehow know he is doomed. Jada Pinkett, as a "kept" woman with a 5-year-old son, is drop-dead gorgeous, and you can tell she is headed for bigger and better things.
I was impressed with performances by four older actors in the piece: Samuel L. Jackson as Caine's unstable drug-dealer dad, Tat; Arnold Johnson as Caine's hopeful, but ultimately heartbroken, grandfather; Charles S. Dutton as a caring adult in the community; and Bill Duke in the role he does best, as the laconic, I've-Heard-It-All detective who interviews Caine. (Duke plays virtually the same role in 1999's "The Limey," in a scene opposite Terence Stamp. Duke is another secret weapon of the movies.)
Arnold Johnson, who died in 2000, was a familiar face in '70s films and sitcoms. Johnson's imdb filmography puts him in "Shaft," "Good Times," "Sanford and Son" and "The Jeffersons," for example. More than a few of the roles listed belie his ability: Bum, Wino, Drunk, Janitor. But the naturalistic Johnson scored some golden screen time in "Menace II Society" as the gospel-quoting gramps who makes the painful decision to cast Caine out of his home. All good things to those who keep in there swinging.
"ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW"
It's such a rare and beautiful thing to suddenly discover an old movie that becomes an instant favorite.
I'm watching one now, courtesy of my lunch buddy, Larry. It's called "Odds Against Tomorrow." Amazingly, this black-and-white film noir from 1959 avoided detection on my Old Movie Radar, despite the fact that I'm a lifelong buff. Larry thinks this movie is underdiscovered because it's a noir that technically came out AFTER the noir revolution.
First of all, it was directed by Robert Wise. I defy you to name a mainstream Hollywood director with a more diverse resume. Can you believe the same man directed Karloff and Lugosi in "The Body Snatcher" ... Michael Rennie and Klaatu in "Day the Earth Stood Still" ... the Jets and the Sharks in "West Side Story" ... Nazis, nuns and singing children in "The Sound of Music" ... and Kirk and Spock in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" ? Me, neither.
"Odds Against Tomorrow" is a heist movie with racial overtones -- sort of like "The Asphalt Jungle" meets "The Defiant Ones." What a cast: Harry Belafonte as a jazz singer with a gambling problem; Robert Ryan as a racist ex-con with a violent temper; Ed Begley as a pathetic old-timer with a dream; Shelley Winters as Ryan's fretting wife; and Gloria Graham as a needy neighbor. (Before surrendering to Ryan's advances, Graham says resignedly: "Just this once."). A baby-faced Wayne Rogers even shows up to take a brutal punch from Ryan.
Robert Ryan is a secret weapon. He's an under-the-radar guy; you never here people talk about him. But I'll tell ya -- when they showed "Billy Budd" at Cherry Hill High School East in the '70s, EVERYONE was talking about Claggart. Few actors can play mean like Ryan.
But for me, the center of "Odds Against Tomorrow" is old man Begley. Neither Belafonte nor Ryan want any part of the heist, or each other, but they both need the money. Begley -- old, fat and forgotten -- desperately tries to boost morale with upbeat projections. "This will work," he tells the other men.
No, it won't.
CLEAVER VS. LAMPANELLI
My humor always tends toward the unseemly, but it's become even unseemlier (that can't be a word) since viewing three pieces over the weekend.
They are: "The Aristocrats," "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigilo" and a Lisa Lampinelli comedy special.
(Yes, I've even lost respect for MYSELF now that I've watched a Rob Schneider movie all the way through.)
I was disappointed in "The Aristocrats" as a movie. After all of the hype, I was expecting too much from this documentary in which comedians dissect an unspeakably vulgar joke they've been telling each other for decades as a way of letting off steam. First of all, "The Aristocrats" was shot on video. My unshakable maxim is this: Film Equals Movie, Video Equals TV Special. Also, "The Aristocrats" is, by definition, a one-note piece. It keeps going in a big circle, with comedian after comedian saying virtually the same thing. BUT -- it was an edifying peek into the secret world inhabited by comedians. AND -- all of that vulgarity really has a cumulative effect. I believe "The Aristocrats" is a line in the sand; if you can't make it through this frequently disgusting film, your moral compass may not be in sync with that of the real world.
The other two pieces -- Schneider's film and Lampanelli's special -- likewise push the taste envelope to new limits. Noel Coward it ain't, but Schneider's film made me laugh a lot. Lampanelli calls herself the "Queen of Mean," but I see her as a uniter, not a divider. She walks an EXTREMELY fine line by trashing everyone in the audience right to their faces, but keeping them laughing the whole time.
My favorite TV show is "Leave it to Beaver," in which the most horrible names people call each other are "rat," "fink" and "creep." Those days are long gone, but I can still appreciate both Beaver Cleaver and Lisa Lampanelli. The world will be an even scarier place once the Cleavers can no longer cut it in the laughs department.
IT'S FOR YOU, RABBI
I was telling you yesterday about the "branding conflict" over my band's name, The Burners. We ARE The Burners, but we can't CALL ourselves The Burners. I've come up with some new names, but the rule is, both my brother Voger and I must be 100 percent behind the final choice. Neither of us can compromise. Here are my ideas so far: Thieves & Liars; The Fallen; The Freaks; Mad Jack; Wicked Ways; Lost Souls; Black Dragons; Dust 'n' Comfort; White Horse Pike; Kipling Road; Whiskey River; School Daze; Rock Combo; The Original Burners.
This is the fun, easy part -- the fantasizing that goes on at the beginning of the project.
The best part of our recent kickoff practice was, as always, just hanging out with the guys after we've unplugged. Fro handed me his cell phone when he got his brother Ben's voice mail -- his brother who is now a rabbi in Florida, and who I was on football and track with in high school. We all left him a truly horrible, vile, disgusting message. Fro later said, "His only regret will be that he can't save it."
Ah, good times.
At the next practice, we'll have 12 new (to us) songs to work on. We're going to play three one-hour sets of music -- 36 songs in all. That's pretty brutal. I'm the eldest band member -- I'm "Elder," remember? It's going to take a lot of work. But this is just what I need. I need to hang out with my friends in my time of profound sadness.
All of us, in good times and bad, need something like this every once in a while. It's a tribal thing. When we finally step onstage, it'll be Four Morons Against the World. (Hey, maybe THAT will be our new band name!) We'll do our best to play a great show. But this humble venture is a journey, not a destination. Yes, it's a goal-oriented enterprise, but to tell you the truth, I'm not looking much further than the next practice. That's when I'll see my idiot friends' beaming faces as they get out of their cars toting their guitar cases, their coolers, their grease-dripping bags of chicken wings. That's when we'll say, Remember the time we went to see Blue Oyster Cult at the Spectrum? Or when Fro threw that corned beef sandwich at those construction workers? Or when that crazy dude tried to back his truck up a super-steep hill over a guard rail onto super-trafficky Berlin Road? Or when we got snowed in at Fro's? Or when we guzzled the fruit drink out of the fridge of that day school whose cellar we rented? Or the hundreds of incidents that can't be shared in polite company, even when recounted in impenetrable code?
Me and these clowns have FORGOTTEN doing more things together than today's young punks will ever DO. Thank God.
ATTACK OF THE SPLAWN
The great thing about good friends is how you can pick up where you left off. It could be 10 years since you last saw each other, but for true friends, time doesn't mean a thing. In the case of my band, it had been four years since we last played together. So our kickoff practice over the weekend was the first time I'd seen the guys since I lost my beloved Kathy.
When I put out the call to reform the band, they all jumped on it. But I wanted to be certain they weren't inconveniencing themselves just because I needed to play again in my time of profound sadness. (My parents raised a martyr.) After all, everybody has families and careers and responsibilities. Or, as they're sometimes called, "lives." Karch and Fro assured me this was a perfect time for them. In fact, they said they had been waiting for this call for years, bless 'em. Karch especially went ape. He bought a new amplifier called -- get this -- a Splawn. (Never mind the alternate definition for "Splawn" that we came up with.) Karch also bought a new guitar with a whammy bar, his stock-in-trade as a guitarist. But he can only push DOWN on the bar, not pull UP. Not to worry; judging from our kickoff practice, Karch is already its master.
We sounded good but sluggish. We didn't walk into the practice with a plan; we just got together cold and played some stuff we've been playing for 30 years. (This band formed in 1976, so these will literally be our 30th-anniversary gigs.) There is a ton of work ahead. A big part of the job will be keeping Fro and Karch in the dark about two things: the set list and the band's name. (I'm not telling them about my Blog, so this is just between you and me, Dear Reader.) You see, my brother Voger, who runs the show, agreed to let me execute some long-held ideas for a set list, with the caveat that he has veto power over any song. Man, if we left the set list up to those OTHER two morons, we'd be doing -- no lie -- "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu" and Huey Lewis and the News.
The other issue: For the moment, our band's name is up in the air. What happened was, when we formed in 1976, we named ourselves after a Black Sabbath song: The Back Street Kids. It had stupid lyrics like, "Nobody I know will ever take my rock 'n' roll away from me." When we reformed to play a couple of shows in 2002, we had to change our name because it had been "wussified" by The Back Street Boys. So we renamed ourselves The Burners. Karch, Fro and I eventually drifted out of the band, which my brother kept afloat with some OTHER morons. All of which has created a branding conflict. Karch, Fro, Voger and I -- the ORIGINAL Burners -- can no longer call ourselves the Burners!
Next: IT'S FOR YOU, RABBI
RETURN OF THE MORONS
Alcoholic 40-somethings of South Jersey with nothing to do on Friday nights, rejoice! My band is officially back together.
I just returned from "jamming" (a.k.a. rehearsing) with my idiot friends from high school. (I'm 47, so high school was a lo-o-ong time ago.) Karch plays lead guitar; Fro is our drummer; Voger (my "little" brother) plays bass; and Elder (that's me) sings and plays guitar.
Karch and Voger tell me that the "pots" (whatever THEY are) on my B.C. Rich Mockingbird need cleaning; that I should change my rusty strings; and that I should learn how to use an electric tuner, for cryin' out loud. (When it comes to the technical aspects of the electric guitar, I'm no rocket scientist.)
We're planning to play a few dark, dingy dives back home in the swamps of South Jersey, some time between Halloween and Thanksgiving. At least three shows. (Whatever we do, we must halt activity between Nov. 18 and Jan. 2, because Fro is a jeweler and he'll be up to his schnozz in diamonds.) Our three-hour show is a mix of classic rock and classic-rock-influenced originals.
We call our drummer Fro because back in high school, he had a huge mane of curly hair. (At least, I THINK that was the reason. There may be some disgusting explanation I'm not remembering.) I'm "Elder" because my brother and I have the same nickname -- "Voger" -- and in order to distinguish between us, they used to call us "Elder Voger" and "Younger Voger." Then they shortened it to "Elder" and "Voger."
In the first place, we were nicknamed "Voger" because a cook at the diner where we both washed dishes back in the '70s was woefully incapable of pronouncing our surname, "Voglesong"; it came out as "Vogerson." Naturally, all of our idiot friends started calling us "Vogerson," and finally just "Voger." Years later, I took Voger as my pen name because, well, I once put something extremely vulgar in my college magazine (once?), and it disgusted my parents so much that I adopted a non de plume so as not to disgrace the family name. (My later readers always wondered why Kathy and I had such similar last names. Y'see, she kept our real surname as her photo credit.)
Time's up! Tune in for more of my band rehearsal report tomorrow!
Next: ATTACK OF THE SPLAWN
FOR COMIC BOOK GEEKS ONLY
Here's a story that only a comic book geek could appreciate. All others read at your own risk.
Back in the early '90s, my neighborhood comic shop was having a 50-percent-off-back-issues sale. This shop had a beat-up copy of the coveted 1960 book "The Brave and the Bold" #28, which presented the first-ever appearance of the superteam known as the Justice League of America (which counts in its membership Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash -- all the big guns). The book wasn't in great condition, but it still had its cover. The 50-percent-off sale brought the price down to a relatively affordable (by "The Brave and the Bold" #28 standards) 80 bucks.
Man, did I go through some excruciating, soul-searching internal debate on whether or not I should buy that book. I'd never spent that kind of money on a single book before. I was afraid I might be crossing a line, addiction-wise. Kathy and I had a lot of bills, like any couple. But life is short, and you should treat yourself once in a while. What to do? I ultimately decided, with a heavy heart, NOT to buy it.
The day after the sale, I attended a comic-book-and-trading-card show at a nearby mall. I ran into an acquaintance who was there with his teenage son and his teenage son's friend. I mentioned that I came "this close" to buying "The Brave and the Bold" #28 for a lousy 80 bucks. The teenage son's friend said, "I DID buy it. I've got it right here." He pulled that same copy of "The Brave and the Bold" #28 out of his bag! There it was -- a book that every '60s comic book collector considers a Holy Grail!
I said: "Oh, man, I'm so STUPID! Why didn't I buy this book?"
The little punk said: "You want it? It's yours for 200 bucks."
NO, IT'S GRANNY'S FRIEND!
Since posting last night, I kept thinking I'd better take another look at who I THOUGHT was Hope Summers in Abbott and Costello's "In Society." After all, imdb is seldom wrong. I watched it again and realized it was NOT Hope. But I knew that face. I KNEW THAT FACE. I'm not being dramatic ... I really did toss and turn all night thinking about it. Eventually, it hit me. I didn't know the actress's name, but I knew one of her characters' names. She played a recurring character named Elverna Bradshaw on "The Beverly Hillbillies." Y'see, back in the hills, Granny (Irene Ryan) and Elverna had a competition which one would marry off their young'un first. (I think Elverna won, because Donna Douglas's Elly May never snagged a husband in nine seasons.) So early this morning, I hopped on imdb and typed in the character name Elverna Bradshaw. Sure enough, the actress's name was revealed: Elvia Allman. And, yes, Elvia Allman IS in the cast of "In Society." Check out this wonderful actress's filmography -- she LIVED on '60s television.
At least I got the category right: Older Comedic Actresses Who Played Busybody Friends of Other Older Comedic Actresses on Hayseed Sitcoms of the '60s.
Speaking of which -- last night I caught the "Andy Griffith" episode in which Gypsies put a weather "curse" on the town of Mayberry because Andy wouldn't let them peddle their trinkets. Both Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) and Clara (Hope Summers) were customers. The head Gypsy was played by Vito Scotti, who was television's "go to" guy if any sort of ethnic character was called for. Vito even played Japanese (on "Gilligan's Island")! Well, it was the '60s. Will Hollywood EVER live down Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi in "Breakfast at Tiffany's?" If you can't place Vito's face, I have an instant trigger for you: He was Nazorine the baker in "The Godfather" -- the man who baked the elaborate wedding cake for Connie Corleone's wedding and asked Don Vito to arrange his future son-in-law's visa.
This I know without having to verify it. THIS I KNOW.
HEY, THAT'S AUNT BEE'S FRIEND!
Recently speaking with Vickie Abbott-Wheeler, daughter of Bud Abbott, put me in the mood for some Abbott and Costello.
Last night I popped in their 1944 comedy "In Society." Lou Costello was doing the "Susquehana Hat Company" bit, which is a lot like the old "Niagra Falls" bit: (1) Lou needs to deliver straw hats to the Susquehana Hat Company; (2) He asks passersby for directions; (3) They go ballistic at the mere mention of the company; (4) They beat up Lou and punch out the hats.
It was a small thrill to spot what I feel certain was a young Hope Summers as one of the hat-punchers. Hope is best known as Clara, gossipy best friend of Frances Bavier's Aunt Bee on "The Andy Griffith Show." Hope also played an icy devil-cult member (alongside fellow movie vet Patsy Kelly) in "Rosemary's Baby," which gets my vote for Scariest Movie Ever Made. "In Society" isn't on Hope's imdb filmography, but I'd bet anything that was her.
For movie buffs, spotting and naming supporting and bit players is a game that never grows old.
"In Society" also had Thurston Hall as a millionaire whose butler (unwisely) hires plumbers Bud and Lou. Thurston specialized in big, blustery, older gentlemen. For me, the definitive Thurston Hall performance was as back-slapping Senator Babcock in "Sherlock Holmes in Washington." The senator wore a white suit, announced his title to anyone within earshot at the top of his lungs and treated strangers like potential voters.
"In Society" also had future Merv Griffin sidekick -- and future fast-food icon -- Arthur Treacher as (what else?) a butler, and a singing trio called The Three Sisters, who seemed like bargain-basement Andrews Sisters.
Like I said, we movie buffs are always scanning the crowd scenes for old friends.
BIG APPLE CON REPORT #2 (OF 2)
Following are more observations from the Big Apple Con held last weekend in Manhattan:
Fan conventions are like very strange parades, and this one was no different.
A gentleman in a wizard costume complete with pointed hat and unconvincing wig and beard who calls himself Blackwolf strolled about, charms jingling from his staff, delivering pronouncements in the diction and grammar of a dime-store Laurence Olivier. I've seen this cat before, in the same getup. (I always figured he was dressed as a specific character from, I dunno, "Lord of the Rings" or some other book about people with pointed ears. My nephew, Ian, told me Blackwolf was wearing a non-specific wizard costume.) Blackwolf admitted he didn't do well at Big Apple Con's costume contest that afternoon. I said it's because that was no costume he was wearing: "C'mon, Blackwolf, you wear that (expletive) every day!"
Then there was Captain Zorikh, who I call "Kung Fu Captain Marvel Dude." This cat dresses like Robin Hood; has appeared in plays showcasing his swordfighting and martial arts skills; and is totally obsessed with the old Fawcett superhero Captain Marvel. (His dream book, "Captain Marvel Culture," wil explain how everything in our popular culture since the debut of Captain Marvel in 1940 somehow sprang forth FROM Captain Marvel.) This guy is, to put it mildly, an original. I hope Captain Zorikh will forgive me, but the film "Napoleon Dynamite" kind of reminded me of him.
Then there were the young ladies in teasing outfits. I saw more mock-Catholic-school-uniform miniskirts; more knee-high, heeled, black boots; more fishnet stockings; more strategically placed tattooes; and, oddly, more devil horns being worn by girls at this one event than at any other. There must've been some sort of -- no pun intended -- convention in town.
BIG APPLE CON REPORT #1 (OF 2)
Following are some observations from the Big Apple Con held this weekend in Manhattan:
I spotted one of my comic-book heroes, Arnold Drake, author of the silly DC comic books "Bob Hope," "Jerry Lewis" and "Stanley and His Monster" and DC's superhero books "Doom Patrol" and "Deadman." Drake is easy to spot: the only octogenarian in the house wearing a dashiki hat. I wanted to get my "Bob Hope" #100 autographed. My opening line was, "Are you the same Arnold Drake who wrote a rock 'n' roll song for 'The Flesh Eaters?' " "Guilty as charged. It was called 'Pete's Beat,' " he said without missing a beat. Drake also scripted, co-produced and created special effects for that B+W sci-fi cult classic. He's a treasure.
I spotted actress Charlene Tilton of "Dallas" fame. Did you see her on the recent "TV Land Awards"? If so, I don't have to tell you that she was lovely and funny and looked for all the world to be having a ball. AND -- if you were to chat with her that evening, let's just say it would be extremely difficult to maintain eye contact. Charlene's Big Apple Con getup was likewise dazzling. She and I just happened to be boarding the down escalator simultaneously. I was dragging along a heavy, unwieldy suitcase-on-wheels. I took one look at her and said, "Charlene, you were great on the 'TV Land Awards,' " and then nearly fell down the escalator steps. "Thank you," she said, "and be careful there." I swear it was the suitcase-on-wheels, not the view, that made me almost break my neck.
It was my sad duty to break the news about Kathy to a few people. She and I had worked that room so many times over the years. I could still see her in every corner, still hear her laugh over the din. Kathy photographed at least 15 people in attendance, including actors Bill Daily ("I Dream of Jeannie"), Peter Mayhew ("Star Wars"), Karen Lynn Gorney ("Saturday Night Fever") and Ken Foree ("Dawn of the Dead"); artists Neal Adams, Gahan Wilson, Basil Gogos, Ken Kelly, Louis Small Jr. and Howard Simpson; writer/editors Drake, Jack C. Harris, Jim Salicrup and Danny Fingeroth; and pinup queen Jasmine Mai. Many wouldn't necessarily remember Kathy, but a few we got to know quite well over the years.
Louis seemed heartbroken; the three of us had known each other for 13 years. Jim said he wrote about Kathy on HIS blog, and actually received messages of condolence from his readers. Karen, who I believe is a spiritual person, got a little teary-eyed and asked me, "Are you dreaming about her?" I told her I'm probably putting up a barrier -- that I don't have "the faith." I WISH I did, but alas, you can't just turn it on like a light switch. "Are you grieving?" she then asked me. "Pardon my French," I said, "but I'm grieving like (an expletive)." Karen said she's certain that Kathy is here with us right now. I asked Karen to please tell Kathy I miss her, if she ever hears from her.