Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Devil Made Him Do It

"Well, I suppose Lust and Gluttony really have to be rather near the bathroom."

Stanley (Dudley Moore)

Every generation has its sex symbol, and Raquel Welch was the sex symbol for mine — at least when I was a boy.

Her appeal had long been eclipsed by others when I got older — but she was 27 and still in her peak years when she appeared in a British Faustian comedy, "Bedazzled," that premiered on this day in 1967.

Well, she played a character named Lust. That should tell you everything you really need to know.

(Side note here: "Bedazzled" combined elements that could be seen in past and future projects. It reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode that first aired seven years earlier and a movie that was in theaters more than 30 years later.)

But she wasn't the object of Dudley Moore's affections when the movie began. Moore's character, a short–order cook, was smitten with a waitress (Eleanor Bron) with whom he worked. And he earnestly prayed for the courage to approach her.

Observing all this was the Devil (Peter Cook), who struck a deal with Moore for his soul. In exchange, Moore received seven wishes.

There were some inside jokes that mostly Britons would get. For example, after acquiring Moore's soul, Cook asked him what his first wish would be. Did he want to be prime minister? Then Cook corrected himself: "No, I've made that deal already."

Actually, Moore's wishes all involved winning the waitress, but the Devil kept manipulating things to make the wishes fail.

Well, the waitress might not have been terribly responsive, but Lust certainly was, visiting Moore in his bedroom and shucking her dress, revealing red bra and panties she wore underneath. Raquel often wore revealing clothes and underclothes — but I don't think she ever revealed much beyond that — in her movies.

If she had been the sex symbol for a later generation, she might have. But not at that time.

That tricky Devil really had it in for Moore, though. He made him squander his wishes, then cheated him out of the last one by claiming that the first "wish" had been one Moore made at the Devil's urging — to prove he really was the Devil.

That left Moore having to spend the rest of his existence in the form of his last wish — in Moore's case, that was as a nun.

And at a farewell party for Moore, Raquel was a go–go dancer.

Actually, it was a rather small part for Raquel. Not many lines. Not much screen time. I guess she was mostly eye candy.

As the story required personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins, someone had to play Lust. And who better than the sex symbol of the day? But I really thought that Lust would figure more prominently in this kind of story.

Anyway, Moore had the last laugh, reacquiring his soul and returning to his old life as a short–order cook with the same crush on the waitress — but determined to get no more help from the Devil.

"Bedazzled" was underrated by the critics of the day, but it had a wry sense of humor that seems to gain admirers with the passage of time.

A Run-In With Runaways

Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) would probably tell you that a lawman is never really off duty — even in a bump in the road like Mayberry.

I'm pretty sure that would be his conclusion concerning the episode of the Andy Griffith Show that first aired on this night in 1962 — "Convicts at Large."

Barney and Floyd (Howard McNear) had been fishing and started to return to Mayberry — only to discover that they were out of gas. So they set off on foot to see if they could find some.

They stumbled onto a cabin in the woods that was owned by a friend of theirs who was known to be out of town — but they saw smoke rising from the chimney so they knew someone was there. They thought it was their friend; they didn't realize that the occupants of the cabin were three escaped convicts — three women.

When they went to the door, the convicts welcomed them — and then took them hostage.

The leader of the convicts was Big Maude, played by character actress Reta Shaw, who was recognized for her work on the big and small screens. She made appearances in many of the popular TV programs of her day — and returned to the Andy Griffith Show the following year in an appearance as Barney Fife's voice teacher.

In that episode Shaw played Barney's advocate. In this one she played his adversary. And when Floyd and one of the convicts went into town to pick up provisions, Big Maude warned him not to try any "funny business," or Barney would pay the price.

Well, none of the convicts called him Barney. They all called him Al because he reminded them of an old acquaintance. Before the show was over, it seemed they actually believed that Barney was Al.

During the excursion into town, Floyd bumped into Andy (Andy Griffith), and Andy gathered from what he heard and observed that there was some kind of party going on up at the cabin. But after Floyd and one of the cons drove off, the bus pulled up and Andy's friend stepped off. He was back from his trip.

And when Andy approached him and asked him a few questions, he insisted he hadn't rented his cabin to anyone while he was away and that no one should be living there. Andy had heard a radio bulletin about the escaped cons and concluded something was amiss at the cabin so he and the friend drove up there.

Back at the cabin, the convicts played some records and wanted to dance.

They also did some cooking, but they needed some water so one went out — and was taken into custody by Andy and his colleague.

When the first one didn't return, a second one was sent to see what the problem could be. She, too, was taken into custody.

That left Big Maude. And Barney maneuvered her into position to be handcuffed be agreeing to dance with her.

Just about everyone was involved in capturing the escapees — except Floyd, who was mostly an observer.

But, in the end, he got all the credit in the local newspaper.

This was kind of a bittersweet episode. It was the final one before McNear suffered a stroke that rendered one side of his body virtually paralyzed.

McNear was absent from the series for awhile, then came back but was always seen in a seated position.

His character is probably one of the best loved from the series, but he never walked on screen again after this episode.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Half a Lottery Ticket Is Better Than None

In the episode of All in the Family that first aired on this night in 1972, "Edith's Winning Ticket," it seemed like an ordinary weekend in the Bunker household.

Mike (Rob Reiner) and Gloria (Sally Struthers) were on their way to an art museum; as long as they were going out, Edith (Jean Stapleton) asked them to mail a letter and Archie (Carroll O'Connor) wanted them to exchange some new shoes that didn't fit right.

This was one part of the story that struck me as odd. Archie must have tried on the shoes before buying them. Shouldn't he have known they didn't fit well? However contrived, though, it served a purpose for the story. To make the exchange they would need the receipt so Edith started going through her purse.

She eventually found the receipt — as well as some old lottery tickets that had been long forgotten. Archie chastised her for spending money on lottery tickets.

Meanwhile, Gloria had been reading the print on the tickets and discovered they were good for a year after purchase; then Gloria called the store where the tickets had been purchased to inquire about the winning numbers for that day. Turned out one of the tickets was a winner — of $500.

Archie was elated — until Edith told him the ticket didn't belong to them.

And she proceeded — in her unique way — to explain that 10 months earlier she had bought the tickets at the request of Louise Jefferson (Isabel Sanford). Both Edith and Louise had forgotten about the tickets.

Archie focused on how to keep from losing anything — until he realized that Mrs. Jefferson had never paid for the lottery tickets. As long as no money had changed hands, Archie reasoned, the tickets belonged to the Bunkers — regardless of Edith's reason for buying them.

But Edith was just as insistent that the tickets belonged to Mrs. Jefferson. When Louise came over, accompanied by her brother–in–law, Edith took Louise aside and gave her the ticket.

Louise wanted to split the prize money, but Edith wouldn't hear of it. She wouldn't have bought the tickets if Louise hadn't asked her to do so, Edith said, so Louise could reimburse her for the tickets, but the prize was hers.

Back in the Bunkers' living room, Archie and Louise's brother–in–law were arguing about the ticket.

While Archie's back was turned, Louise flashed the lottery ticket for her brother–in–law to see, and they both left the Bunkers' household. Archie, still thinking the ticket was in Edith's possession, grabbed his coat and told Edith they needed to get to the lottery office to cash in the ticket before it closed.

Before Edith could say anything, the doorbell rang. Archie opened the door to find Louise's brother–in–law standing there. He told Archie that he was willing to split the prize with him. Archie refused. The brother–in–law broke into a big grin and bolted.

Archie was amused — until he learned that the Jeffersons now had the ticket.

He should have remembered the old proverb that half a loaf is better than none.

Friday, December 08, 2017

In Pursuit of Justice

Even when he was dying from lung cancer, Paul Newman always looked younger than he really was.

Most of us would consider that a blessing in a culture that worships youth and beauty, but it can be a real hindrance for an actor. True, appearing to be forever young has helped some get roles that might otherwise have gone to others, but it seems to me that, at some point, a performer wants to play roles that more closely match his/her age, with the knowledge and experience that come with it.

I mean, it seems that it would be darn near impossible to be in your 40s and try to plausibly play a twentysomething. Too much happens in the interim.

"I always thought drinkin' men lost their looks," Elizabeth Taylor said to Newman in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Newman was 33 when he played the part of Brick, who was probably about that age in that story but obsessed with his glory days as a high school athlete. He still looked the part (to Maggie the Cat's chagrin) — and his character even tried to do some of the things he once did only to learn that time always has its way. So does gravity. Even if it doesn't yet show in one's face.

But that's an easier assignment than being, say, in your 60s and playing a character 15 or 20 years younger. So perhaps Newman's youthful appearance worked against him at times.

When Newman made "The Verdict," which premiered on this day in 1982, he wasn't quite 60 years old. I don't know how old his character was supposed to be, but he was a lawyer and a drunk, which is not a good combination, least of all for assessing one's age. Based on things that were mentioned in the movie — when he finished law school, when he became a partner, etc. — Newman's character was probably five or six years younger than the actor.

Not really a stretch, especially for someone who was graying but whose hair hadn't turned totally white. Newman faced greater challenges in his career.

Newman's character's story was a cautionary tale. All the failures in his life — his career, his marriage, everything — could be traced to his struggle with the bottle. But he was still in there pitching. He was mostly an ambulance chaser but a successful one. He seldom lost his cases, and a good friend and ex–teacher (Jack Warden) threw some work his way so he could keep a roof over his head and food on the table.

"The Verdict" was about one such case, a medical malpractice case that appeared to be open and shut. It was a "moneymaker," Newman's friend told him — an enticing word for a down–on–his–luck lawyer. A young woman who was about to deliver a baby was given the wrong anesthetic and was rendered comatose after choking on her own vomit. The Catholic–run hospital was willing to settle out of court, but after a visit to the hospital where the woman was being treated, Newman was determined to take the case to trial.

It was no longer about winning. It was about justice, and it was about redemption.

And the movie wasn't just about professional redemption. Charlotte Rampling was his opportunity for romantic redemption.

I advise the student newspaper at a local community college. Recently I was having a conversation with one of the other advisers about our favorite Paul Newman movies. We compiled a predictable list until I mentioned "The Verdict," and he replied, "Yes, I forgot about that one."

We spoke of the acting — and it received plenty of recognition at the Oscars. Newman was nominated for Best Actor, and James Mason as the lead defense attorney was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

The movie was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Sidney Lumet) and Best Screenplay Based on Material From Another Medium. But it didn't win any of those Oscars. It was the year of "Gandhi," and "Gandhi" claimed three of the Oscars for which "The Verdict" was nominated.

A little trivia for you now:

Warden and Edward Binns, who played a bishop, were reunited in a Lumet–directed movie. Twenty–five years earlier, they played jurors in Lumet's "12 Angry Men."

Also, the next time you see "The Verdict," watch for a young Bruce Willis. He was a courtroom observer in this, one of his first movie appearances. Look for him during Newman's closing argument.

(Side note: Whenever I watch "The Verdict," I think about my senior play in high school, Ayn Rand's "The Night of January 16th." I played the judge in that production, and everyone had to stand when I entered or left the room. I thought that was cool.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

When Less Was More

"I like the dark. It's friendly."

Irena (Simone Simon)

The Christmas season hardly seems like the time for a horror movie to be showing on America's silver screens, but that was the case 75 years ago.

I suppose for most people living today, when someone mentions the movie "Cat People," thoughts immediately turn to the 1982 movie starring Nastassja Kinski.

But that was actually a remake of a movie of the same name that premiered on this day in 1942. There were some differences between the two, especially in their directors' and producers' visions of what a horror movie should be — and what it could be, given the times when they were made.

Producer Val Lewton was hired by RKO Pictures to make horror films on less than $150,000 — and they were to be adapted to titles Lewton was given by the studio. Even though things cost less in 1942, $150,000 was still a pretty modest outlay to make a movie, and being given a title with no story was a challenge, to say the least, but Lewton did his job well. He recycled RKO's leftover sets, and director Jacques Tourneur completed filming in less than four weeks, coming in about seven grand under budget.

The movie made $4 million in its first two years, rejuvenating RKO financially.

When the movie began, a Serbian woman (Simone Simon) made sketches of a panther at New York's Central Park Zoo. She caught the eye of a young man who approached her and struck up a conversation.

The two ended up marrying, but Irena believed that she carried a Serbian curse and would become one of the fabled cat people of her homeland if they were intimate.

Thus followed an at times over–the–top story, although there was no denying that animals did react oddly to Irena. She couldn't walk into a pet store without frightening the birds there and provoking the dogs into barking fits.

Her fear of releasing the beast she believed to be within her kept her at arm's length from her boyfriend/husband and drove him into the arms of a co–worker. Audiences in 1942 had to imagine what went on with those two since the Hays Code was still in effect.

But viewers could assume what had happened between the two — as Irena surely did, and it provoked a powerful response from her. Suffice to say the beast had been released.

Frankly, the 1982 version was inferior to the original and pretty heavy on special effects and nudity, not so much graphic violence although there was some of that. It wasn't as heavy on dialogue as the '42 version, either.

By modern standards, I suppose the '42 version would be considered more suspense than horror. That was something Alfred Hitchcock knew well and employed in his movies. Hitchcock knew that sometimes it is better to show nothing than something. If he had shown more of the details of Norman Bates' mother during the infamous shower scene in "Psycho," it wouldn't have had the lasting impact it had.

You will still encounter people who believe Hitchcock directed horror movies, but his style was suspense, as I have mentioned here before. So, too, it would appear was it the style of Tourneur and Lewton.

At least in this movie.

In fact, it is clear to anyone who has watched Hitchcock's movies and the movies of Val Lewton that Hitchcock borrowed at least two scenes from Lewton productions. One was the pet shop scene in "Cat People," which was lifted almost shot for shot in "The Birds" two decades later. And the shower scene in "Psycho" bore a striking resemblance to a scene in "The Seventh Victim," which premiered in 1943.

For that matter Stephen King's books tend to be more suspense than horror, but he made his concessions to modern audiences in some of his books — and, consequently, in the movies that were based on them.

As I said sometimes it's better to show nothing than something. Viewers never saw the cat and never saw Irena's transformation into a cat. But, like the shark in "Jaws," the audience was always aware of the threat nearby.

"Cat People" of 1942 blended classic horror with pure suspense. Sadly, it is underrated and mostly forgotten today, but it is a reminder of Hollywood at its best — when it didn't hesitate to let the viewers be afraid of what lurked in their own minds.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Remake of 'Orient Express' Good Not Great

My father and I went to see the new film adaptation of "Murder on the Orient Express" the other day.

It was appropriate that we did. My parents were avid readers of Agatha Christie's books, just as I am today, and I remember watching the 1974 movie adaptation of the story with them. I loved the cast; it was truly a star–studded show — Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, the list went on and on. A real blockbuster.

But there was some impressive talent in the remake, too — Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe.

I asked Dad if he liked it, and he said he did. But he noted the same differences between the movies — as well as similarities — that I did — some noteworthy, some not so much.

We were both glad that Branagh, who directed the movie and played Christie's Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, didn't do an exact remake of the first movie — even though the first movie stayed pretty close to the original book while the 2017 version freely admitted in its credits that it was "based" on Christie's book.

Even the parts of the films that were essentially the same were presented differently. In general I could live with that, but the heart of the story was the kidnapping and murder inspired by the real–life abduction and murder of Charles Lindbergh's young son, and that seemed to get the short end of the stick in the remake. At least compared with the '74 adaptation.

We agreed that the 2017 adaptation was superior to the 1974 version in its technologically aided production. It's a good thing the acting in the '74 adaptation was so impressive because the '74 movie could never stand up to the new one on technical merits.

The cinematography in both movies was superb. How could it not be with all those picturesque scenes — in the snow?

But the big problem for the latest incarnation of this classic Agatha Christie tale is exactly that — the story itself. Or, rather, the adaptation of '74. Most folks have already heard about the original — and they know about the unusual twist ending.

So it is somewhat anticlimactic when the solution is revealed at the end of the movie.

Besides that, though, the acting was just so good and the '74 movie itself was just so memorable that the new adaptation simply couldn't compete.

I'm sure that those viewers who had no previous exposure to the earlier adaptation found the latest one to be a much more impressive movie than I did.

Not that I am saying that this adaptation was bad. I'm not saying anything like that.

I just think the '74 adaptation was better ... but I preferred the mustache on Branagh's Poirot.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Remembering Marty Feldman

"My looks are my comic equipment, and they are the right packaging for my job."

Marty Feldman

As hard as it is for me to believe, it was 35 years ago today that Marty Feldman died of a heart attack in Mexico City.

He was 48 years old.

I was deeply saddened when he died. It was no secret that Feldman had health issues — he suffered from thyroid disease and developed Graves' ophthalmopathy, causing his eyes to bulge, among other things — but Mel Brooks, who directed two movies in which Feldman appeared ("Young Frankenstein" and "Silent Movie"), apparently had a pretty good idea why Feldman died so young.

"He smoked sometimes half a carton of cigarettes daily," Brooks said, "drank copious amounts of black coffee and ate a diet rich in eggs and dairy products."

Feldman was a unique comedic talent, and, yes, he was right when he said his looks were his equipment. His bug–eyed look was a huge part of his appeal. It is impossible to overestimate the value of his looks to his vocation.

Somehow I think he still would have been funny with more normal eyes.

But without those bug eyes would it have been as funny when Gene Wilder said, "Damn your eyes!" in "Young Frankenstein," and Feldman replied, "Too late"?

I seriously doubt it.

I know that, if he had lived, Feldman would be in his 80s now and almost certainly retired. But we sure could have used his sense of humor in as many of the last 35 years as the fates would allow.

Of Lights and Bushels

"You'll have bad times, but it'll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren't paying attention to."

Sean (Robin Williams)

If you judge solely on the basis of Academy Award nominations and/or wins, "Good Will Hunting," which premiered on this day in 1997, was Robin Williams' best movie.

It may well have been.

When Williams died, I visited Facebook and all my friends were sharing the titles of their favorite Robin Williams movies. And they were all great choices, too. Everyone has a different fave, and it is a tribute to Williams' remarkable talent that so many of his movies made such lasting impressions on people. That is quite a legacy.

I would have picked different movies (I couldn't narrow it down to only one), but I could live with "Good Will Hunting," which was mentioned frequently that night. I only wish I had seen it sooner. It was a powerful performance, and it brought Williams his only Oscar.

That was the year that "Titanic" seemed to sweep the Oscars, collecting 11 awards (14 nominations in all) — but "Good Will Hunting" made its mark, receiving nine nominations and winning two awards. Williams was honored for his acting, and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (who also appeared in the movie) were rewarded for their screenplay. (Damon was also nominated for Best Actor but lost to Jack Nicholson in "As Good as it Gets.")

I suspect there were lots of folks in the last decade or so who could empathize with Will Hunting (Damon). In the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, millions of people probably found themselves working at jobs that didn't match their intellectual predispositions. In those days you found many people with college degrees who were flipping burgers and waiting tables. Still do in some places, I suppose.

But those people were forced to do so by circumstances. Will Hunting was not. Not really. He was, by all accounts, a brilliant individual, and yet he worked as a janitor at MIT — apparently by choice. Why was that?

Well, that was at the heart of the problem — and the movie. The answer wasn't easy to find.

Will Hunting seemed to provide an answer when he spoke admiringly of people who were engaged in manual labor. In his mind, that was real work and worthy of respect and admiration. Mathematics, on the other hand, was not real work. Not to him. Real work required effort.

Will made finding answers look easy. At the beginning of the movie a math professor (Stellan Skarsgard) challenged his students to solve a complex mathematical problem that took multiple chalkboards to present. The professor told the students that few people had been able to solve the problem over the years.

The answer was found written on a board in the hall outside the lecture room the next morning. None of the professor's students would admit to having written it; turned out that Will had written it.

Among other things, there is frustration in being able to see true genius in others and pursuing it yourself but falling short. To be fair, the professor had experienced a certain amount of success in his field, but like Salieri in "Amadeus," he was bewildered when he saw someone who was truly gifted and for whom the application of that gift was effortless but who was almost casual in his treatment of it.

There were many people who tried to help Will find his way — the professor, one of Will's childhood buddies (Ben Affleck), a girl he met (Minnie Driver).

And then there was a therapist (Williams), who had been the professor's college roommate and stood in awe of the professor's intellect. The professor reached out to the therapist when Will ran afoul of the law as a condition for Will's release.

As Williams and Damon explored Will's psyche, it became a journey of discovery for both characters.

Damon's character was driven in part by an affinity for his old friends and neighborhood and in part by emotional injuries suffered earlier in his life. Childhood was clearly a mixed bag for Will.

Williams' character had his own wounds, and he helped Will get on the road to recovery by sharing them. Damon and Affleck put the words in Williams' mouth, but they were good words, and he delivered them with such feeling that the audience believed them to be true. In some ways, I think they were.

"Good Will Hunting" also received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Gus Van Sant), Best Actor (Damon), Best Supporting Actress (Driver), Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Original Song and Best Film Editing.

Had it not been for the language in the movie and the release of "Titanic" a few weeks later, I am convinced that "Good Will Hunting" would have been the big Oscar winner in the spring of 1998. A blockbuster like "Titanic" can come along and overwhelm everything else at any time.

As for the language, well, it wasn't pleasant, but it is an undeniable fact of life that people use those words in everyday conversation — a lot more than they did just a few decades ago. It is realistic for characters to use that kind of language in movies — but it probably was not as commonplace in 1997 as it is today.

Thus, while "Good Will Hunting" was not the big Oscar winner a couple of decades ago, it might well be if it was being released today — even with "Titanic" in the mix.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Taking a Magical Mystery Tour

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" hit the music stores six months earlier, and it was still making headlines on this day in 1967 when "Magical Mystery Tour" was released.

But so were other songs the Beatles had written and recorded but had not yet released on an album — like "All You Need Is Love" and "Baby You're a Rich Man," which were released as the two sides of a single six weeks after the "Sgt. Pepper" album.

The Beatles were constantly experimenting with sounds and recording techniques. They rose to prominence with no real long–term expectations and therefore felt free to go wherever their interests took them. I saw an interview with Ringo Starr from around the time the Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and he said he hoped the group would be successful enough that he could use his earnings to invest in a beauty shop in London. Neither he nor the other Beatles would have believed it if they had been told their recordings would still be influencing popular music half a century later.

Anyway, following the completion of "Sgt. Pepper," Paul McCartney had a brainstorm. He wanted to create an extemporaneous film about the Beatles and their music. "Ordinary" people (including the Beatles) would travel on a bus and have magical adventures.

The project yielded a 52–minute movie that was aired on the BBC the day after Christmas and was so savaged by the critics that it has been seldom seen since.

It also produced six new Beatles songs — not enough by themselves to make an entire album. Capitol Records rounded out the album by including five previously non–album singles.

As always, the music was good. In fact, for many observers, it was the music that salvaged the entire project. The film had no script and no real direction.

Still in the context of what had come before — and what was yet to come — "Magical Mystery Tour" was exactly what it seemed to be, a hodge–podge of songs consisting of a brief soundtrack and a group of songs that had been released as singles within the previous year.

As I say, though, the music was good. George Harrison was bursting with creativity that would reach full flower a few years later when he released his triple–album solo effort "All Things Must Pass." In 1967, though, he was still a member of the Beatles and getting a handful of spots on albums that were largely dominated by Lennon–McCartney compositions.

Nevertheless, Harrison contributed "Blue Jay Way" and shared credit with John Lennon, McCartney and Starr on the instrumental "Flying."

Yes, the music was good, but the album and film were disjointed. It wasn't surprising that both got mixed reviews.

It richly deserves its place in the Beatles discography. But it doesn't flow seamlessly in the Beatles' musical timeline.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Back in the Saddle Again

Coach (Nicholas Colasanto): Damnedest thing. I've been shivering all the way over here.

Diane (Shelley Long): Well, Coach, you don't have a coat on. It's 30 degrees outside.

Coach: Oh, thank God. I thought I had malaria.

I often think what a shame it was that Nicholas Colasanto died only a few seasons into the lengthy run of Cheers!

As a result, many of the people who watched the show never knew Coach — just as many people who watched M*A*S*H never knew Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson).

Stevenson left M*A*S*H voluntarily but later said he regretted that decision.

Both departures were abrupt. Through nearly all of his last episode, Stevenson was believed to be going home (leaving open the possibility of future guest appearances) — until his airplane was reported shot down over the Sea of Japan in the episode's final minutes. Coach just died without any explanation being given.

And both departures brought replacements — Col. Potter on M*A*S*H and Woody on Cheers! — who are remembered and loved while their predecessors have mostly faded from memory.

The episode of Cheers! that first aired on this night in 1982, "Coach Returns to Action," provides an indication of what was lost.

For the benefit of those readers who missed the character entirely: Coach was a former baseball coach, and he had been Sam's coach before the series' timeline began. When the series premiered, Coach was retired from coaching, now a bartender for Sam (Ted Danson). He was rather slow and plodding but with the proverbial heart of gold.

As the episode opened, Coach was even more out to lunch than usual. An attractive young woman named Nina (Murphy Cross) had moved into his apartment building, and he had helped her with her furniture. In the process he had become smitten with her.

The thing that bugged Coach was the difference in their ages. It was never specified for the audience, but there was a quarter century between the ages of the actor and actress, and the audience could see there was an age gap when Nina visited the bar.

Diane (Shelley Long) encouraged him to ask her out. She also ran interference for Coach, trying to dissuade notorious ladies' man Sam from approaching her. Sam approached her anyway and kept getting shot down.

Meanwhile, Coach made a sincere attempt to invite Nina out to dinner, but she insisted she still had a lot of unpacking to do.

That was when Coach used a ruse to turn things around. I'd rather not spoil it for those who haven't seen it. Catch it on the DVD of Season 1 or on Netflix. You'll thank me for it.

This episode also had one of my favorite Cheers! dialogues that had nothing to do with the story but everything to do with the characters' personalities.

Diane wondered aloud why people drink cold beer in winter. Norm (George Wendt) turned to know–it–all Cliff (John Ratzenberger) and asked for an explanation.

"How do you know he has one?" Diane asked Norm.

"Five bucks says he does," Norm replied. "Ten bucks says it's a doozy."

They both looked at Cliff, who said, "When the British ruled the Punjab ..."

"Ten bucks all the way!" Norm said triumphantly.