Monday, May 31, 2010

It's Clint Eastwood's Birthday

I don't know which Clint Eastwood movie springs to mind when his name is mentioned.

Is it "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," the 1966 conclusion to his "Dollars" trilogy? Or is it "Dirty Harry," the 1971 flick that really catapulted Eastwood into superstardom? Or perhaps it is "Unforgiven," the 1992 film that finally earned Eastwood some Oscar recognition for his directorial work?

Which movie line do you think of when you hear Clint Eastwood's name?

Do you think of Clint as Dirty Harry, asking "the punk" if he feels lucky?

Or ...

maybe it was the time he said, "Make my day" in 1983's "Sudden Impact," which was noteworthy mostly for giving 1980s' pop culture — and a president — an identifying catch phrase.

Perhaps you think of one of Eastwood's lesser film projects when you think of his astonishing career. And, when I say "lesser," I don't mean to diminish his work in any way. His is a resume that includes "A Fistful of Dollars," "For a Few Dollars More," "Hang 'Em High," "Play Misty for Me," "Escape From Alcatraz," "In the Line of Fire," and Million Dollar Baby," among others.

Well, today is Eastwood's 80th birthday.

And Turner Classic Movies is showing a 24–hour salute to his films in honor of the occasion.

In TCM's defense, the "Dollars" trilogy was shown this morning, and "Hang 'Em High" was shown this afternoon.

So some deserving films have been on today's schedule.

But couldn't they have come up with something better for prime time?

"Kelly's Heroes" is showing at 7 p.m. (Central). It isn't a bad flick, and maybe it suffered from what could be called overexposure — with "M*A*S*H" and "Catch–22" being released the same year. But I was never overwhelmed with it. It had its moments, but I always felt that it just missed its target.

"Dirty Harry" will be showing at 11:15 p.m. (Central), which is good news for the folks in the western time zones, but I've been thinking that prime time would have been a good time to see movies like "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby," his directorial triumphs.

Well, happy birthday, Clint.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Art Linkletter Dies

Art Linkletter died today at the age of 97.

I don't know of any other way I can say that except to observe, as the living often do, that no one lives forever. Somehow, though, I must have figured that Art Linkletter would be the one who would defy the odds.

Well, I felt that way about George Burns, too.

One of my earliest memories of visiting my grandmother's house just after my grandfather died was being allowed to watch daytime TV while my mother and my grandmother went over the final details of the funeral service.

That sticks out in my memory, I suppose, because Mom never let me watch daytime TV at home, even when I was sick and stayed home from school. She would make cinnamon toast, which was my favorite treat whenever I was sick, and she might let me watch the Little Rock PBS station, which didn't have much on in those days. If its programming was deemed suitable for my age group, Mom might permit me to watch it. But she wouldn't let me watch anything that was on a major network.

In the non–PBS world, daytime TV in those days meant soap operas in the afternoons, maybe some game shows like Password or Jeopardy! in the mornings, but it also meant Art Linkletter's House Party. Perhaps the shows I saw were syndicated reruns. I don't know. I was just a kid, and I liked to watch the Linkletter show because one of the best segments on his show was his interviews with kids.

He called it "Kids Say the Darndest Things," and he knew a good thing when he saw one. Linkletter compiled a collection of quotes from his interviews that sold millions of copies.

Well, I always think of my grandmother when I think of Art Linkletter — and not simply because of my memories of the time my grandfather died.

My grandmother really liked Art Linkletter. Once, as I recall, she gave me a copy of his book, and, on other occasions, she told me, with obvious admiration in her voice, the story of the tragedy of his life — when his 20–year–old daughter leaped to her death from her sixth–floor kitchen window.

Linkletter claimed his daughter was having either an LSD experience or an LSD flashback (even though toxicologists doubted that the drug played any role in her death). That tragic loss transformed him into an anti–drug zealot, not unlike the way Carroll O'Connor's son's suicide led him to become active in the movement to permit people who had been injured in some way by the actions of drug dealers to hold them civilly liable.

Anyway, my grandmother, like millions of others, believed Linkletter's version of events. And I loved my grandmother so I did not question the story. But I always wondered how Linkletter could have known. Was he there? Probably not, I reasoned. And if he wasn't in his daughter's apartment when she jumped, how could he know what happened?

You can speculate, I suppose, about what may have happened that day. Linkletter and his wife (who had been married nearly 75 years when Linkletter died today) may have received a call from their daughter — or he (or they) may have called her. The conversation may have been vague or it may have been specific. If it only involved Linkletter and his daughter, no one now living knows the truth.

Considering how beloved Linkletter was, thanks to a career that dated back to radio days, it was probably no surprise that there were many in the public who, like my grandmother, were all too willing to accept the "flashback" story — even though evidence to support it was noticeably lacking.

Whatever the truth was, there is no doubt that Linkletter and his wife, Lois, survived many tragedies together. They had four other children, two of whom are now deceased. One was killed in a car accident, the other (their oldest) died of lymphoma a few years ago.

There was much to admire about Linkletter. He was abandoned by his birth parents when he was only a few weeks old, then he rose to become the radio/TV personality, author and businessman that he was. He amassed quite a bit of wealth, then became a philanthropist.

Hopefully, his widow and their two surviving daughters will carry on his good works.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Not to be Overlooked ...

There was a lot of anxiety in America at this time 30 years ago.

The eruption of Mount St. Helens was still in the news. So was the battle between President Carter and Ted Kennedy for the Democratic nomination. And the hype was steadily building for the June 1 debut of Cable News Network.

Speaking of hype, I don't know if there had ever been as much hype as there was for the sequel to "Star Wars," but "The Empire Strikes Back" actually lived up to the hype — and may have exceeded it — when it was released to the theaters on May 21, 1980.

And then things really began to heat up — literally.

At some point in June, a devastating heat wave settled in over North America and stayed until September. I spent part of that summer in Dallas, where temperatures way over 100 became the daily norm.

Movie theaters provided a cool oasis, as they always do in the summer, but "The Empire Strikes Back" wouldn't give you that delicious chill down your spine that a real suspense/horror flick would.

And that is where "The Shining" — which made its theatrical debut 30 years ago yesterday — comes in.

Now, at this point in the ongoing cultural conversation, it probably goes without saying that a lot of things have changed in 30 years.

These days, some movies are barely in theaters a few days before they're yanked and redistributed to make more money via video tape and DVD sales and rentals. But in 1980, much of the emphasis still was on theaters. DVD technology was many years in the future; heck, home VCRs were still rare so there was no rush to cash in on video sales.

Sure, there were premium movie channels from which some money could be made, but cable television was not as widespread in 1980 as it became only a few years later.

So, in 1980, I guess most of a movie's revenue came from the box office. And, in that category, "The Empire Strikes Back" certainly dwarfed everything else.

(That was probably to be expected. It received that family friendly PG rating, and, weeks before "Empire" hit the big screens, toy stores all over America were selling little Luke, Leia, Darth Vader and Han Solo action figures. I don't remember if Yoda was included in the line before the movie came out, since his character hadn't been introduced in the story yet. But, let me tell you, after "Empire" made its debut, that puppet was a real stud.)

Anyway, the point I was leading up to is this: Both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Shining" were released to theaters in late May — and you could still see them in theaters a couple of months later. And, as I recall, it was sometime in late June that my mother and I went to see "The Shining."

At the time, I was living with my parents and my brother in Fayetteville, Ark., in a house on a hill with a spectacular view of the valley below. The city's elevation (1,400 feet) isn't nearly what it is in Denver (5,280), but it's high enough. And, speaking as one who grew up in the lowlands of Arkansas, I can assure you the elevation of Fayetteville worked in its favor during the summer months.


Hundred–degree days were rare in Fayetteville that summer, but what you have to understand is that typical summer days in Fayetteville are in the mid– to upper 80s — warm but not unpleasantly so. Once in awhile, it might get up around 90 — but the nights ordinarily were mild enough that you could sleep with your windows open.

That summer, though, the daily highs were frequently 10 degrees warmer — and temperatures in that range in the thin atmosphere of Fayetteville were as tough to handle as the 110° days that became routine in Dallas (elevation 430) and my hometown in central Arkansas (elevation 312).

For that reason more than any other, I suppose, I really enjoyed going to movies that summer. It's the last summer I can remember when I could enjoy one of the simple summer pleasures of my childhood — feeling the perspiration disappear in an icy cold theater on a hot summer day.

And, sometimes, if the movie was especially suspenseful, the sweat would be replaced by goose bumps.

"The Shining" was especially suspenseful.

I don't remember why I hadn't yet seen "The Shining." It seems like I had seen most of the hits that came out earlier that summer — "Airplane!" "Urban Cowboy," "The Blues Brothers" — along with some of the lesser known flicks. Maybe "The Shining" hadn't been showing long in Fayetteville.

We may have gone at Mom's suggestion. She was in her Stephen King phase, and, as I recall, she had just finished reading the book on which the film was based.

I had been reading some of Stephen King's books by that time, too, but I had not yet read "The Shining." Still, Mom insisted on pointing out to me where the book and the movie differed.

Granted, there were variations. There always were when Stanley Kubrick adapted a story to the big screen. He always did things his way.

And so much of a Stephen King plot seems to be cerebral. Until the fairly recent maturation of film animation and computer–generated graphics, there were always variations in film adaptations of King's stories. I was aware of the difficulties posed by attempts to make movies of King's tales long before "The Shining" hit the big screen.

In keeping with the hype surrounding "The Empire Strikes Back," "The Shining" had hype of its own. No action figures or lunch boxes or anything else — but cover articles on the major news magazines, which were still thriving in 1980 in that pre–CNN, pre–internet time.

Anyway, whatever the reason, I hadn't yet seen it so, on a late June evening in 1980, I sat next to my mother, and we watched "The Shining" in a cold (and crowded) movie theater in Fayetteville, Ark.

Mom had a distinctive habit. Whenever she went to a suspenseful movie, she would latch her hands like claws around the upper arm of anyone who was sitting next to her during the most suspenseful parts — and she would release her grip only when the suspense subsided.

But, in typical Stephen King fashion, the suspense just got more and more intense — and, by the time we left the theater, I had bruises on my arm.

I guess I should have known better than to see that movie with Mom. I had seen "Alien" with her the summer before!

Mom was really taken by the film account of the possessed Overlook Hotel and decided to give that name to our home in Fayetteville that summer. When old friends visited around the Fourth of July, Mom took them on a tour of the "Overlook," which concluded at the room in which they would be sleeping.

As an inside joke, Mom taped a piece of paper on the door labeling it "Room 237" (if you don't know the significance of that number, you need to see the movie).

Well, May 23, 1980, was a big day for Kubrick and his cast and crew, which notably included Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall — but it also happened to be the 70th birthday of co–star Scatman Crothers.

Consequently, yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Scatman's birth.

I guess he's mostly remembered today for his work in the movies and on TV, but he was, first and foremost, an entertainer who sang and danced through most of his life and only began making movie and TV appearances in his 40s.

He died nearly a quarter of a century ago, but he continues to influence children whenever his voiceovers in cartoons like "Hong Kong Phooey" are shown. He can still be seen in reruns of popular television shows, like Bewitched, Dragnet, Charlie's Angels and Sanford and Son.

And, of course, as Dick Hallorann, the chef at the Overlook Hotel.

Friday, May 21, 2010

When The Empire Struck Back

The summer of 1980 is remembered — without much fondness — for a brutal heat wave that subjected just about everyone to unseasonably severe temperatures.

No place — or person — was spared. I remember being here in Dallas, where it is ordinarily hot seven or eight months every year, and being aware of how many consecutive 100–plus–degree days the city endured (something like seven or eight weeks, as I recall) — and Dallas wasn't barely passing the century mark, either. It got well over 100 much of the time — which wasn't too surprising since it really didn't cool off at night.

The most unsettling memory from that summer that has remained with me is of riding in a car on the streets of Dallas — and actually hearing the asphalt squish beneath the tires.

But I don't think the heat wave was under way on May 21 of that year. Things were heating up, all right, but more in a metaphorical than physical sense — although the physical did play a role. Mount St. Helens had just erupted. President Carter and Ted Kennedy were battling for the Democratic nomination. CNN was about to launch the era of the all–news, all–the–time TV networks.

While all this was going on, the sequel to the surprise hit of 1977, "Star Wars," made its debut at the theaters 30 years ago today. It received a tremendous buildup at a time when such heavy–duty promotion was not unheard of but still relatively rare.

And, in all honesty, I wondered how any movie could live up to such hype. I'm sure there were others who wondered the same thing.

But I have often thought that "The Empire Strikes Back" was an effective rebuttal to those who insist that movie sequels are always disappointments. I knew that wasn't true — because I had seen the first two "Godfather" movies, and I always felt that the sequel was better than the original. (I can't say, though, that I thought much of the third movies that served as the finales for either the "Godfather" or "Star Wars" trilogies.)

And, in the years since, I have seen the "Spider–Man" movies, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and other movies that have proven they weren't simply cheap attempts to cash in on the originals.

"The Empire Strikes Back" may have set the bar unbelievably high for me when it comes to standards for sequels. It really lived up to the publicity — perhaps because everyone understood that this wasn't the end of the story. A third movie was already in the works.

Viewers didn't seem to mind the many loose strings that were left dangling at the end of a movie that never pretended to contain the resolution to all the story lines and managed to ratchet up interest in a third film that was still three years away.

When Darth Vader told Luke he was really his father, the audience understood it was true — and that the conflict would be resolved in the third movie. The audience never seemed to notice that, only minutes before earnestly appealing to Luke to join him, Darth Vader seemed pretty intent upon killing him and even succeeded in slicing off Luke's right hand — not very fatherly things to do and not exactly the kind of tactic most people use to win other people's allegiance.

The audience forgave that sort of thing and accepted the cliffhanger of an ending — it even accepted the dark and at times depressing story — presumably because the public loved the swashbuckling, futuristic characters in a conflict between good and evil that was as big as, well, the universe.

It was the highest–grossing film of 1980. In fact, it has earned more than $530 million, which, when adjusted for inflation, makes it #12 all time.

Not bad for a film that was made with an $18 million budget.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Taking Aim at History

"There is an endless supply of White Men, but there has always been a limited number of Human Beings."

Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George)

Forty years ago, a film hit the theaters that was, in many ways, a departure from movies to which American audiences were accustomed.

In "Little Big Man," a 139–minute comedy/drama, 121–year–old Jack Crabb (played by Dustin Hoffman) tells his life's story, in which he was raised as an Indian and resisted numerous attempts to re–assimilate into the white world — and, in so doing, tells the story of the American West.

But it's not a literal history, although it does speak of actual events, like Custer's Last Stand and the killing of Wild Bill Hickok. It is a revisionist history that is not as racist in its handling of native Americans as were the actual soldiers of the 19th century. But it is typical, in many ways, of films of that period, which often expressed in subtle, symbolic ways opposition to American military policy, particularly in Vietnam.

Vietnam, of course, was never mentioned in "Little Big Man," but the film's racial portrayals represented a stark reversal from the past — and, in so doing, made statements about America's foreign policy and its treatment of non–Caucasians. The Indians, for example, were given a much more favorable treatment than was common in previous films — while the soldiers (and other whites) were treated as antiheroes.

The film told a tale that contradicted the concept of Manifest Destiny, the doctrine that permitted Americans to justify expansion into the West. Director Arthur Penn said that the depiction of the slaughter of native Americans was intended to evoke comparisons to the Holocaust.

That is not to say, however, that "Little Big Man" fails to teach viewers any little–known facts from North American history. The accuracy of the depictions of Custer's Last Stand and Wild Bill Hickok's killing may be disputable, but the movie, in its own way, introduces modern audiences to the "contrary," which was the name given to those Indians who chose behavior that was intentionally opposite the behavior of others in their tribes.

A contrary, for example, might choose to speak in a way that expressed the opposite of what he meant, or he might ride his horse backwards. One of the characters in "Little Big Man" lived as a contrary for awhile.

In many ways, the movie was like "Dances With Wolves," the Academy Award–winning film that came along a generation later — although, in my opinion, "Little Big Man" was a much better film.

And you can see it this Thursday on Turner Classic Movies at 8:30 p.m. (Central).

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Simple Song of Freedom

On this day 74 years ago, Bobby Darin was born.

That's difficult for me to believe, I guess, because, as it is with anyone who dies at a young age, it is hard to imagine that person as elderly. But Darin was sickly as a child, and his heart was damaged by rheumatic fever to such an extent that a doctor once told his mother he would be lucky to live to the age of 16. Apparently, he overheard that diagnosis, and it was his belief that his life would be short — as indeed it was — that drove him to succeed.

He actually lived more than twice as long as that doctor predicted, but the public never knew how delicate his health really was so it came as a considerable shock to most when he died after heart surgery in December 1973 at the age of 37.

And now he has been dead nearly as long as he was alive.

Darin was a man of many talents. He played many instruments and composed many of the songs he recorded. He also did some acting.

For many, I guess, he had the public image of one who enjoyed a commercially successful, if somewhat frivolous, life, with popular songs to his credit like "Splish Splash," "Beyond the Sea" and "Mack the Knife" and an acting career that often partnered him with Sandra Dee, to whom he was married through most of the 1960s and with whom he had a son.

But in his later years, his music began to reflect more of a social consciousness. He had demonstrated his ability to sing big band songs, rock 'n' roll tunes and pop music, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he showed his flair for folk ballads.

He was also politically active, working in Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign. He was even present when Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in June 1968 and reportedly was devastated by that event. Clearly, it marked a profound shift in his existence. He sold his home, most of his possessions and spent nearly a year in a trailer near Big Sur.

When he returned to the public eye, he started a new record production company that, in his words, would actively "seek out statement–makers," through which he released some his later works.

For someone who was here so briefly, he left a large mark.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Everything Old Is New Again

I've been having some odd thoughts as I have watched the city of Nashville experience a devastating flood.
  • My father was a college professor in Arkansas when my brother and I were growing up. And, for about four months in 1973, the whole family lived in Nashville while my father was on his sabbatical.

    Obviously, that was many years ago. I don't think I've been in Nashville since that time. But I did live there for awhile. Many things have changed — but not the names of streets and waterways and buildings that were standing then and still stand today. Hearing the names brings back memories I haven't thought about in a long time.

    For example, one of the buildings that was standing when my family lived in Nashville was Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry.

    For more than 30 years, Ryman was the Mecca of country music. The Grand Ole Opry show made Ryman, which began its existence as a tabernacle, its permanent home in the 1940s, and just about everyone who ever amounted to anything in country music performed there at some time during the next three decades.

    But, as it turned out, the Opry relocated to a larger facility that was part of Opryland the year after my family left Nashville. And, for nearly 20 years, Ryman stood empty and unused, until Emmylou Harris came to do some shows in 1992 and made an album of the songs she sang there. Apparently, that revived local interest in the place (which is known as "the Mother Church of Country Music"), and it was restored for use as a performance venue and a museum.

    Now, the Grand Ole Opry House and other local landmarks have been submerged in floodwater. As a result, the Grand Ole Opry is returning to Ryman for weekend shows, apparently indefinitely

  • It seems ironic, to me, that this should happen at this time. It was 15 years ago today that my mother died in a flash flood here in Dallas. And this flood seems to have caught Nashville as much by surprise as the one that struck Dallas in 1995.

    I always had the feeling that Mom really enjoyed the time we spent in Nashville. And, while I would never say that she — or I — had much interest in the Opry, I guess we developed a kind of a local interest in it and the people who performed there.

    I will always remember that she seemed genuinely sorry that David Akeman ("Stringbean" in the attached video clip) and his wife were ambushed and murdered on their rural Tennessee property about a month before we moved back to Arkansas. Perhaps that is why I make a mental connection between Mom and Nashville.

  • Well, things sort of seem to have come full circle now.

    I never got to see an Opry show when I lived in Nashville, but I hope those who see one at Ryman while Opryland is being restored appreciate the rare opportunity they are being given to experience the Opry the way so many experienced it back in the day.
And I hope that Nashville — and the Gulf of Mexico — recover faster than most people think they will.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Best of the Barones

If TVLand is part of your satellite or cable package, you may have watched the TVLand Awards on Sunday night — or you may have seen a rerun of the program this week.

If you did see it, you should already know that the surviving cast members from Everybody Loves Raymond were among those who were honored. Sadly, the Barone family patriarch, played by Peter Boyle, and Debra's father, who was played by Robert Culp, are deceased, but their contributions to the show were remembered with fondness by star Ray Romano.

Anyway, I felt inspired this week to compile my top 10 moments from that show. I can't say it was my favorite show when it was on the air, but it was a show I enjoyed watching, and I enjoy it even more now:

This one isn't particularly funny to me, but it certainly rings true.

If you watched the show with any regularity, you were familiar with Robert's difficulties with women. His first wife was — shall we say? — less than committed to him, and he was forever encountering barriers to happiness with the women he dated — until Amy (Monica Horan) came along. But we'll get to her later.

Anyway, in "She's the One," which aired during the seventh season, Robert thought he had found the one — until Ray saw her eat a fly and tried to warn Robert. As usual, Robert thought Ray was trying to ruin a good thing for him, and he waved it off. Then he went to Angela's apartment and saw her "roommates."

At that point, he made a beeline for Ray's place, where he had to listen to the litany that should be familiar to anyone who was still single after a certain age.

I admired Robert's response. It was kind of a "wish I had thought to say that" moment for me.

This is a two–part highlight. This part is funny by itself, but it puts the next part into context.

They're both from "Lucky Suit," a sixth–season episode in which Robert interviews for a job with the FBI.

Robert was overjoyed to get the interview, and his mother tried to help him by pressing his lucky suit. But she singed it, and Robert had to wear a different suit.

He was not happy about that, to say the least. Nor was he happy about having to wear a substitute for his lucky suit to the interview.

Then, when the interview was done, Robert came back to Raymond's house, where he found his mother in the living room with Ray and Debra.

Their confrontation was a classic.

When Robert says things were going well until the interviewing agent received the fax from Marie — and Marie, who is oblivious to the nature of Robert's predicament, explains that she hadn't been sure the fax went through because it was the first time she had ever used a fax machine — I always crack up.

Both Brad Garrett (Robert) and Doris Roberts (Marie) won Emmy Awards for their performances. Deservedly so. Robert's glare when he entered Raymond's home was worth a thousand words.

Whenever a show has children, times come when they take the spotlight.

(I make exception, of course, for shows that are focused on children, and the adults are merely supporting players.)

And the kids were frequently in the spotlight on Everybody Loves Raymond.

They were at the center of "Left Back," an episode about an all–too–real problem with which some parents of twins must cope.

One of the twins had developed faster than the other, and the pre–K teacher recommended that the slower one be held back a year. Ray and Debra had to decide whether to hold the other one back as well.

It's a good episode, although it probably has more relevance for parents than it does for me. But I always enjoy the final scene, when the twins do their comedy routine for a talent show.

Ya gotta admit, they're cute.

Early in the final season, in an episode titled "Boys' Therapy," the Barone women talked Ray and Frank into going to Robert's therapy sessions with him. But they went to a race track instead and had to invent a cover story to satisfy their wives.

Considering the show was in its ninth and final season, it was an amazingly creative and thoroughly thought–provoking episode that explored some of the issues between generations and fathers and sons in a typically Everybody Loves Raymond style.

It was honest, and it was funny. Well, sometimes it leaned more to the honest side and less to the funny side.

Like in the attached clip, you can sense a real shift in the mood during the conversation between Frank and his sons. Maybe that was appropriate.

Take it from me, those father–son relationships can be complex.

Maybe Everybody Loves Raymond was a little too honest at times.

Perhaps the best example was "Bad Moon Rising" from the fourth season.

Debra (Patricia Heaton) was a tad irritable during her time of the month. Ray tried to get a remedy in the form of a pill that he thought could help with all of her symptoms.

I've never been married, but this seems to resonate with my friends who are married — both male and female. And, as observes, Heaton said much the same thing about this episode on the DVD release.

Heaton apparently said she really liked the episode and showed it to some married friends because she thought they would be as amused as she was, but they watched it in silence and seemingly were stunned by how on the nose the comedy was.

I guess one of the things I find endearing about the show is the family bond that is always there.

Sure, the Barones were a dysfunctional family. But, somehow, you always knew they would be there for each other.

Like the sixth–season episode "Cookies," in which Ray was trying to help his daughter sell enough Frontier Girls cookies to win the first prize — even though Peggy, the troop leader, had taken the best sales location for herself and her daughter, and she had given Ray and his daughter one of the worst. Undeterred, Ray and his daughter set up their table at the best location, incurring Peggy's wrath.

It was the start of the Ray–Peggy rivalry.

Enter Debra, who often criticized Ray and the rest of the Barone family "freak show," but when the chips were down (perhaps that should be chocolate chips), she left no doubt whose side she was on.

Thanksgiving gets a bad rap.

Well, that's my opinion, anyway. And I feel exceptionally qualified to pass judgment on Thanksgiving. I was born on Thanksgiving.

Anyway, I often hear people complain about having to spend the day with their relatives and having to listen to them spout off while trying to choke down some holiday dish that had earned an extremely negative family review over the years. That was never my problem. I came from a comparatively small family, and we all got along. On top of that, my mother was a great cook, and our Thanksgiving dinners were fantastic.

When I got older, I didn't always get to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I usually managed to spend Christmas with them, but I often had to choose which holiday to take. I spent many years working for daily newspapers, and someone had to put out the paper. Typically, I took Thanksgiving. For most of my co–workers, family lived nearby, but my parents lived more than 300 miles away from me for many years. When I worked on a holiday, it meant I wouldn't be seeing my family at all.

But when I did spend Thanksgiving with my parents and my brother, it was never the family ordeal that many have described. So I couldn't really relate to the issues the Barones always had on Thanksgiving. And, back in the series' third season, a new problem was thrown into the mix: Marie got some medical test results that indicated her cholesterol was at a dangerous level so, like many Americans, she resolved to cook fat–free meals.

On the menu for the Barones that Thanksgiving was a turkey made of tofu.

The episode was called "No Fat."

Anyway, back to Amy.

By the time the last season began, she and Robert had married, following an on–again, off–again courtship. When the series wrapped up, it appeared that Robert had finally found what he had always desired — a happy marriage.

And the season started with a family bombshell in "The Home." Frank and Marie had visited a retirement home 85 minutes away. They liked what they saw, and they decided to move in. They also decided to sell their house to Robert and Amy.

And there was much rejoicing, as you can see.

Then came the punch line — or should that be the punch in the gut line?

Whichever it was, it was a doozy. Debra, of all people, crumbled when the elder Barones moved out. She got nostalgic, even teary–eyed. I honestly wanted to include that scene here, but I couldn't find it.

Well, I'll always remember the best part. Debra talked about having spent more time with Marie and Frank than Ray or Robert or Amy in the previous decade. "I've been with them morning, noon and night," she said, almost as if she were delivering a eulogy.

And Robert said, "That's why you should be dancing around naked in a fountain!"

Speaking of dancing ...

I suppose, if I had ever been married, I might have the same kind of emotional connection that many folks have to episodes in other TV series about weddings. So, for the most part, I can take wedding episodes — or I can leave 'em. I think I've seen most of the best ones that have been produced in my lifetime — when Klinger got married in the finale of M*A*S*H, when Ted and Georgette tied the knot on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and when Rhoda and Joe got hitched on Rhoda.

But I will watch the Everybody Loves Raymond episode in which Robert gets married any time it is on — mostly to watch Robert and Amy do their newlywed dance. I think it's a classic.

But Ray's toast to the bride and groom is a classic, too.

By the way, a little trivia for you here. Robert and Amy's dance apparently was inspired by real life. I've heard that the producer of the show and his wife, who plays Amy in the series, actually did a dance like that at their own wedding.

Anyway, I guess that naturally leads us to a reflection on how Amy and Robert met.

Their wedding took place in the seventh season. They met in the first season, in "Who's Handsome?"

In between, they dated, broke up, reunited and then married.

And I guess that's an appropriate way to wrap up this retrospective. It was Raymond's name in the title, but, in so many ways, the show itself was more about Robert — his struggle to find an identity separate from his brother, to find a loving and supportive partner, to find his place in the world.

That can be a lot more complicated than it appears.

And, by the time the series ended, it seemed that he had found the things he sought.

And this is simply a Barone family bonus for you. Enjoy.