Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If You Could Read My Mind ...

Gilligan's Island didn't delve into Deep Thoughts territory very often — its stock in trade was more of a slapstick variety — but it was capable of deep thoughts, and it proved it — in a manner of speaking — 50 years ago tonight with the episode "Seer Gilligan."

Gilligan (Bob Denver) found some sunflower seeds growing in the jungle, except they turned out not to be sunflower seeds at all. When he ate them, he became temporarily capable of reading other people's minds.

No one knew that at first. All anyone knew was that Gilligan inexplicably had telepathic powers. The Professor (Russell Johnson) grudgingly admitted that Gilligan could read minds when he repeated an atomic weight and a mathematical formula of which the Professor was thinking. The Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) had been there when Gilligan discovered he could read minds and was, therefore, already convinced, but, in spite of having conceded that Gilligan could read minds, the Professor doggedly insisted that mind reading was a scientific impossibility. The Skipper and the Professor continued to debate the issue.

Mr. Howell (Jim Backus) concluded that Gilligan's strange new power was the result of his diet so he resolved to duplicate everything Gilligan consumed, and he followed Gilligan around and ate the same things Gilligan did — but all he got for his trouble was a stomachache especially after Gilligan told him that his nose told him Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) was cooking his favorite — coconut, papaya and tuna fish pie.

"Come on, Mr. Howell," Gilligan said. "It's best when it's hot!"

But Mr. Howell, who had consumed clams, oysters, lobsters, turtle eggs in the shell and warm coconut milk in a — pardon the pun — fruitless pursuit of Gilligan's telepathic secret, had had enough, and he returned to his hut, complaining, "I feel like a beached whale."

Ginger (Tina Louise) had once played a psychiatrist in a movie so she volunteered to psychoanalyze Gilligan — perhaps she stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before that infamous three–hour cruise?

In fact, the truth about Gilligan's newfound power was only revealed after Ginger ate some of the seeds and discovered she could read Gilligan's mind. They hurried to tell the others.

They found the Skipper and the Professor still arguing over whether mind reading was possible, and Ginger and Gilligan reported their discovery. The Professor remained skeptical, but Ginger was able to tell them that both the Skipper and the Professor had been thinking of the numbers 36, 22 and 36 — Ginger's measurements.

The Skipper tried to convince her that he had been calculating the island's longitude and latitude. The Professor said he had been thinking of the atomic weight of a chemical compound, but Gilligan and Ginger were adamant. The numbers were Ginger's measurements.

Thus, it was established that Gilligan really could read minds — with the help of those seeds. And everyone wanted some of those seeds. At one point Mrs. Howell (Natalie Schafer) remarked that Gilligan had promised to show the bush to everyone the next morning — but the castaways were greedy and didn't want to have to share that knowledge.

The Skipper wanted to get Gilligan alone so he could try to get the whereabouts of the bush from which the seeds came, and he tried to take advantage of a barely conscious Gilligan in his hammock. Mr. Howell told Mrs. Howell that he didn't trust Gilligan and paid a nocturnal visit to Gilligan's hut; he also attempted to take advantage of Gilligan's drowsiness by swearing him to a partnership in the seed deal, a partnership he was sure not to remember.

Upon leaving Gilligan's hut, Mr. Howell encountered Ginger, who was on her way to do the same thing with Gilligan as the Skipper and Mr. Howell had, and they both faked sleep walking until out of sight of each other.

And Ginger tried to con Gilligan out of the seeds, too, but she failed just as the Skipper and Mr. Howell had — for, lo, the next morning, when the rest of the castaways arose, Gilligan was nowhere to be found. And the castaways began disparaging him.

Then Gilligan showed up with bags of seeds for everyone.

And they all grabbed their bags and retreated to their individual huts.

In the Howells' hut, they tried to put the seeds to the test with each thinking something and asking the other to read his/her mind.

That led to a fight between the Howells because Mr. Howell was thinking of ways to steal seeds from his wife.

And Mrs. Howell said she didn't mind if he stole seeds from the others — but not from his wife. "Why did I ever marry you?" she asked somewhat rhetorically.

The Skipper and Gilligan had been in a thought fight as well — a "think fight," as Gilligan called it — and so had the girls.

Mary Ann and Ginger glared at each other and thought thoughts they wouldn't dare to utter out loud. As Mary Ann remarked at one point, "I'm glad you can read my mind. I'm too much of a lady to say those things."

But you could tell which one was having decidedly unladylike thoughts about the other because the offended party would scream.

And they were both guilty — because they both screamed.

Gilligan sought out the Professor to talk about the seeds. The Professor observed that, considering how long they had been on the island, those were the first real fights they had had.

Their seemingly convivial conversation eroded rather rapidly, though. Gilligan said he had hoped that they would get along better if they could read each other's minds.

The Professor agreed and said he had hoped the seeds might have benefited the cause of world peace after they were rescued. Gilligan, though, was unimpressed, and his thoughts made that all too clear to the Professor, who was insulted and stormed off.

Later, Gilligan watched as all the other castaways were gathered around their table, arguing, and he disappeared into the jungle.

The other castaways were running out of seeds, and the men went into the jungle to find the bush Gilligan had discovered. What they found was Gilligan setting fire to the bush. He explained to them, "We never fought and argued before we could read minds. And now that we can't read minds, maybe we could be friends again?"

Instead of condemning him, as he expected, Gilligan found that his friends praised him for his action, even the Skipper, who asked Gilligan, "You know what I think?"

"No, I don't," replied Gilligan.

"Well it's a shame," the Skipper said, "because, really, it was something nice."

"Thanks, Skipper," Gilligan replied.

And, thus, the episode of Gilligan's Island that dove deeply into Deep Thoughts veered back into slapstick territory at the end.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Mini Romantic Movie

"The best part of any first kiss is the leadup to it. The moment right before the lips touch. It's like a big drumroll. So how about tonight we just stick with the drumroll?"

Victoria (Ashley Williams)

OK, I'll grant you that the first part of the two–part episode of How I Met Your Mother that debuted two weeks ago in 2006 wasn't great. But I did think the second part, "Drumroll, Please," which premiered on this day in 2006, was kind of special.

It was certainly different.

As I mentioned on the anniversary of that first part, Ted (Josh Radnor) was going to a wedding and planned to take Robin (Cobie Smulders), but she was called in to anchor the news at the last minute. Ted was disappointed because he felt that the wedding was intended to be the occasion when he and Robin finally embarked on a relationship; instead, he wound up sitting with Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and watching other couples dance.

And then it happened — he saw a girl across the room (played by Ashley Williams) and struck up a conversation with her. They hit it off, but the girl explained that she never hooked up at weddings. However, she did have a proposal — so to speak. She suggested that she and Ted spend the evening together — but they wouldn't kiss, they wouldn't sleep together, they wouldn't even share their real names. They would choose aliases.

And when the evening was over, they would part company and never see each other again.

Ted was OK with that — until Barney came running up to him with one of the bridesmaids on his arm and kept repeating Ted's name, then ran off with the bridesmaid. Thus, the cat was out of the bag. "I'm Ted," he confessed.

"Victoria," she replied.

So Ted and Victoria went off on a playful evening that included Ted playing ragtime on the piano while Victoria tap danced.

Then she confessed that she didn't really know how to tap dance. It was a darn good imitation.

That was the way the evening progressed, and the next day, when Ted was telling Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) about his evening, he kept saying it was "amazing." Marshall and Lily had been at the wedding, too, and they kept ranting about the cake.

(Keep that in mind. It's important.)

After Ted had told them about his evening, he said he was fine with not ever seeing Victoria again. Then, after what has long been called a pregnant pause in the theater, he told them that he had to see Victoria again. But he knew nothing about her except her first name.

Lily had the idea to call the bride from the wedding and ask her for info on Victoria. But Claudia (the bride) was on her honeymoon. Lily advised Ted to wait a couple of weeks, then call Claudia and ask her for info. But Ted was impatient and called Claudia that day. Claudia told Ted that she knew the guest list backwards and forwards — and there had been no Victoria at her wedding.

And the mystery surrounding Victoria grew murkier.

Lily's theory was that Victoria had used another alias. Marshall thought she might be a ghost.

After exploring about every option he had, Ted decided it was fate that he should not be permitted to see Victoria again. And he and the gang resumed their lives as they had been before Victoria and the wedding interrupted.

But fate, as it turned out, had other ideas.

Robin came by to see Lily and tell her about her experience as a substitute anchor. She had done so well, she told Lily, that she was now the official weekend substitute anchor. The one regret she had was standing up Ted. Lily told her not to be concerned, and then she told Robin all about Ted and Victoria.

A stunned Robin told Lily, "I know who she is."

Apparently, after her work as the anchor ended, she had gone to the wedding, hoping to tell Ted all about it — and she stumbled on them alone and seemingly on the verge of a kiss. In fact, it had been Victoria's suggestion that they not kiss — but, instead, come close so as to preserve the drumroll buildup that accompanies a first kiss.

Robin, of course, did not know that. She left almost immediately — and without being seen by either Ted or Victoria — and went to the ladies' room, where she sat in one of the stalls and cried.

Victoria came in to the ladies' room, heard Robin crying and offered her shoulder, but Robin declined.

She did, however, ask Victoria if she was a friend of the bride or the groom. Neither, Victoria replied. "I made the cake."

With that knowledge, Ted was off to find Victoria's bakery, which they did.

But when they got there, Ted began to think about it. The evening had been perfect, and it was a memory that would always be good, would never change no matter what. He was about to leave it as it was, but then he went in. First, he looked through the bakery window — and saw Victoria spreading icing on a cupcake. He went in, ringing the bell on the door as he did, and Victoria turned and saw him. She ran to him — the way lovers always do in all those romantic movies you see on television — and said, "Thank God," before they finally kissed.

OK, it was an episode that probably would have been better if shown around Valentine's Day, which certainly could have been done. In fact, if it had aired three weeks later, it would have been the night before Valentine's Day.

So I guess that would be my main — if not only — complaint about the episode. And when you think about it, if the most you can criticize about a TV episode is the timing of the broadcast, that speaks pretty well of the quality of the episode. I do have a few other remarks to make, but I'll leave it you to decide whether they qualify as complaints. I think they are more along the line of observations, neither good nor bad.

Now, romantic movies really are women's domain. And I mentioned romantic movies earlier because this episode was like a mini romantic movie, a romantic movie packed into a half–hour sitcom episode (well, two half–hour episodes, counting that first one, which really was essential for everything in the second episode to make sense).

Thus, it really wasn't surprising that so much of the story was told from women's perspectives. Ted's character was compliant enough that he could easily fit the part he was required to play. This story was about women and love and dreams and fantasies and the weird kind of sexual logic that always seems to guide relationships in their formative days.

It also seemed to me that there was a kind of assumption made that all men are like Barney — sexual predators. That is a false assumption that arises from that sexual logic I mentioned.

I thought the story was well written, and it may have been the best of the series' first season. But the male characters were, for the most part, reduced to props that reinforced negative stereotypes.

(I am reminded of a period in my life when I worked in an office where we were divided up into small teams. My team was nearly all female. In fact, I think I was the only male in the group. And all day, every day, I heard them telling each other about their experiences with men. Needless to say, I never had anything to contribute to the conversation.)

I'm not saying the story would have been better if the males had been allowed to be three–dimensional as the females were, only that it was clear to me that the story was written from a female's perspective. I knew that even before I knew that a woman wrote the script, and another woman directed the episode.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Four Shotgun Blasts, Six Dead

"The crime was a psychological accident, virtually an impersonal act; the victims might as well have been killed by lightning. Except for one thing: they had experienced prolonged terror, they had suffered. And Dewey could not forget their sufferings. Nonetheless, he found it possible to look at the man beside him without anger — with, rather, a measure of sympathy — for Perry Smith's life had been no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage or another."

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood (1966)

I suppose the fact that I grew up in a small town has something to do with it, but I always related to how Truman Capote described the town of Holcomb, Kansas, in his book about the murders of the members of the Clutter family in 1959.

My hometown has always been considerably larger than Holcomb, and my hometown is still a small town today, even though it is much larger than it was when I was growing up there. The folks in Holcomb probably would regard my hometown as a city, but it will have to get much bigger than it is today before it can justify being called a city. Until that day comes — and it may never come — my hometown is a small town, and what was true of Holcomb in 1959 is true of any place that qualifies as a small town.

I guess that explains why I have always found the descriptions of the town to be the most compelling parts of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," which was published in book form 50 years ago this month after running in a serialized form in The New Yorker.

After all, Capote's observations of small–town America — and how such a small town reacts to an event as horrific as the murders of four family members in their own home in the dead of night — are rooted in his experience. He was born in New Orleans, but he spent his formative years in tiny Monroeville, Ala., where he became friends with Harper Lee, the eventual author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Capote's assistant in his research for "In Cold Blood."

There was a time in my life when a senseless murder reverberated through my hometown. Having lived through that, I think I can imagine what it was like in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959.

"In Cold Blood" was truly a tragic tale, not just about the four lives that were taken in the middle of a November Kansas night but also about the two men who took them and the price they ultimately paid for it.

It was a powerful book, the book that defined Capote's life and career. My current copy of the book — and I have owned several over the years — is always on my desk because there are often times when I want to refer to it in one way or another or there are times when I simply want to confirm something that I know from having read the book so many times. Sometimes I just want to re–read certain passages.

(My current copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird" is always on my desk, too.)

I don't remember when I first read "In Cold Blood." College, probably. I read a lot of true crime books at that time — but I did read "Helter Skelter" when I was in high school so it is possible, but not probable, that I read "In Cold Blood" in high school.

Whenever I did read it for the first time, that is probably when I got my first copy of the book — because I have no memory of being assigned to read it in any sort of English class I ever took. Therefore, I must have chosen to read it, and I have seldom borrowed books from libraries. I usually buy them — paperbacks preferred, although they are no bargain these days.
"The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there.' ... The land is flat, the views are awesomely extensive: horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them."

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood (1966)

So while I can't be sure when I first read it, I'm quite sure that, when I did, I did so on my own — independently of anything I did for school.

At this point, though, that really isn't important, is it?

I thought Capote summed things up very succinctly when he wrote of the events that transpired on that night in 1959: "Four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives."

That's what matters.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Performance-Enhancing Swig

"At my age, I gotta take my wins any way I can get 'em."

Granny (Irene Ryan)

One of the running gags in the Beverly Hillbillies was Granny's (Irene Ryan) longing for the people and things she left back in the hills. Even as a member of a wealthy family, she never could find her niche in Beverly Hills, probably because Beverly Hills was lodged firmly in the 20th century and Granny was still living in the 19th century.

One of her fondest desires in Beverly Hills, Calif., was to have a horse and buggy like she had in the hills. She could see herself riding around in it, perhaps encountering Mrs. Drysdale in a horse and buggy, and they could have races — just like the ones she had with her old nemesis in the hills, Elverna Bradshaw, the local busybody who beat Granny in buggy races for 30 years.

Anyway, Mr. Drysdale (Raymond Bailey) had purchased a $30,000 trotter — for those who are unfamiliar with equine lingo, a trotter is a horse bred for harness racing — for Granny's birthday, and Jed had purchased a buggy, not realizing that a trotter only pulls a certain kind of rig (a sulky — that is a stripped–down rig, nothing more than two wheels and a seat for the driver) for races — and does so at a trot.

Granny couldn't wait to get the buggy set up, and she took it out for a spin, forcing the trotter to break out of its trot. After a run around the neighborhood, she went by Drysdale's house and offered to take him to work. He declined so Granny yelled out for Mrs. Drysdale. Did she want a ride into town? Drysdale decided he did want a ride after all so he climbed into the buggy, and they were off — at a gallop.

Upon arrival at the bank, the terrified Drysdale was gripping the buggy so tightly his knuckles were turning white. His hands had to be pried off.

Granny decided that the only way she could get Mrs. Drysdale set up with a horse and buggy would be to give them to her herself so she went about picking a rig and a horse that she could be sure would not beat her the way Elverna Bradshaw had. She picked an old plow horse that she named Lightning. He'd been known as "Old Gluepot" at the stable.

Drysdale and Miss Jane (Nancy Kulp) pulled up in front of the mansion while Granny was talking to Lightning. Drysdale thought Granny's workouts had aged the trotter.

"Oh, no!" Drysdale exclaimed. "Look what they've done to Ladybelle!"

"Chief, that can't be Ladybelle," Miss Jane protested.

"You weren't on that buggy ride," Drysdale replied. "It aged me 20 years, and I didn't run."

When Drysdale went inside to see Jed (Buddy Ebsen), he was told about Granny's long–held desire to win a buggy race. Jed asked Mr. Drysdale if, as a personal favor, he would ask his wife to race Granny. He said no one would have any peace until this desire was satisfied. Drysdale said he would do that for Jed.

So Drysdale and his wife (Harriet MacGibbon) did some — pardon the pun — horse trading and came to an agreement. Mrs. Drysdale agreed to race Granny if her husband would see to it that the family left Beverly Hills. Drysdale's counter offer was that he would get the Clampetts to move if Mrs. Drysdale beat Granny in the race. He told his wife that she would be racing with a horse named Lightning.

Mrs. Drysdale agreed to her husband's terms, but, when the appointed time of the race came, Granny was nowhere to be found. Jed, Elly (Donna Douglas) and Jethro (Max Baer Jr.) found Granny hiding in a pantry closet — Jed had gotten wind of the setup and made sure Mrs. Drysdale got Ladybelle and Granny got Lightning. Granny was convinced that meant she couldn't win.

But Granny had one last trick up her sleeve. Using a straw, she gave Lightning a swig or two from a jug of her homemade moonshine, and he was off. Ladybelle had no chance against a horse hopped up on Granny's homemade hooch.

Granny won the race, and Mr. Drysdale was elated. The Clampetts didn't have to move. Their money could stay in his bank.

I'm not sure what the moral of this story would be. It certainly wouldn't be cheaters never win.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Folk-Rock Poetry of Simon and Garfunkel

"April come she will
When streams are ripe
And swelled with rain
May she will stay
Resting in my arms again

"June she'll change her tune
In restless walks
She'll prowl the night
July she will fly
And give no warning
To her flight

"August die she must
The autumn winds blow
Chilly and cold
September I remember
A love once new
Has now grown old"

Paul Simon

As I have said many times — and, no doubt, will say many more times — I think of my mother when I hear a Simon and Garfunkel song. Any Simon and Garfunkel song, really, but definitely some more than others.

I first heard Simon and Garfunkel music through her. First she bought those old 45s, you know? In hindsight, they looked like big, black CDs — except CD technology wasn't around then, and the 45s only had one song on each side (that's right, CD generation, you could listen to both sides of the disc — but only for a few minutes). I guess she bought them because albums really came along later in her life. When she was a teenager and listened to records with her girlfriends, Mom listened to 45s. That is really all there was then.

So I'm sure much of that was habit.

There may also have been some economics involved. Mom was raised to be frugal — a byproduct of the Depression. Buying a whole album was wasteful if you didn't know whether you liked all the songs on the album. Don't get me wrong here. Mom had faith in most things unseen — or unheard — just not recordings.

However, she reached a point in her life when she embraced the album concept without reservation, and her record collection was an honest reflection of her life and times.

Simon and Garfunkel only made five studio albums together. I think Mom probably owned most of them at one time or another, but I don't think she owned the first one. Maybe I just don't remember.

But I definitely remember her having the album that was released on this day in 1966 — "Sounds of Silence." Mom had a fondness for poetry. Now, all of Paul Simon's albums, whether they were made with Art Garfunkel or as a solo act, were poetic, but few albums by any artist can match the poetry of "Sounds of Silence."

By the way, it is interesting — well, I think it is — that the album title was a plural ("Sounds of Silence") but the song title was a singular ("The Sound of Silence") even though it was written as a plural on the original album cover.

I guess the implication was that each song on the album was an individual sound of silence. Collectively, they formed the sounds of silence.

The title song, by the way, is a song that always makes me think of Mom. She had a single of that song first, then she bought the whole album. She wore them both out.

If I close my eyes when I listen to that song, I can see — and hear — Mom singing along with the record. I always thought Mom had a beautiful voice, and it just sounded right singing "The Sound of Silence."

Simon and Garfunkel was on the cusp of what came to be known as folk rock, a merging of the folk and rock styles, and that was a style Mom really liked. I can hear a song today being performed by someone I never heard of before, and if it is in the folk rock style, I think of Mom.

But the "Sounds of Silence" album really isn't the album that I most connect to memories of Mom. That would be the duo's next album — "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme," which was released in October 1966.

I think of Mom when I hear either album, really, but more the latter and less the former.

Probably my favorite song on the album, "April Come She Will," doesn't make me think of Mom at all. Instead, I think of cold nights during my college days. I listened to it a lot then, just as I did Simon and Garfunkel's rendition at their reunion concert in Central Park, which you can see at the top of this post.

I also think of Mom when I hear the song "I Am a Rock." She had that single, too. It wasn't the B side of "The Sound of Silence." "I Am a Rock" was a single on its own.

And it was a good one, too. Listen for yourself. In addition to being good, it marked a shift in Simon and Garfunkel's sound.

Barely a year had passed since Simon and Garfunkel's debut album, but the sounds from the albums were light years apart. The first album had delicate harmonies supported by acoustic instrumentation. "Sounds of Silence" reflected an edge brought by the emergence of folk rock with the electric guitars and amplification of that genre.

In fact, I have long thought many of the lesser known tracks on "Sounds of Silence" wouldn't have worked on that first album. A good example is "Anji," a kind of bluesy instrumental by Paul Simon. And the thing I always remember about "Richard Cory" is that I had an English teacher who tried, as most probably have and a few at least still do, to galvanize students with the Edward Arlington Robinson poem upon which it was based. She even played the Simon and Garfunkel song from "Sounds of Silence" in class because she thought the song captured the spirit of the poem.

What do you think?

"Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored and imperially slim.

"And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked.

"And he was rich — yes, richer than a king —
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

"So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head."

Edward Arlington Robinson

I guess my English teacher would be pleased that I am quoting Robinson in one of my posts.

That would reassure her that it was not in vain.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

ZZ Top's First Album

I think ZZ Top must have taken a lot of people by surprise when the band released its first album on this day in 1971 — called, appropriately, "ZZ Top's First Album."

I don't know what the sales were like, but I don't really remember ZZ Top making much of a splash until the third album, "Tres Hombres," a couple of years later.

Consequently, I guess it was pretty ballsy (pardon my French) to call it the band's first album — which implies that there will be at least one more. Vulgar though it may be, the word ballsy is appropriate for the tone ZZ Top established in that debut album — if the implication is bold and not a more negative synonym.

That first album was raw, uneven at times, but the band served notice that it was a bluesy, Southern rock band with a sound all its own.

The only single that was released from that album was "(Somebody Else Been) Shaking Your Tree," but it was a cornerstone for the ZZ Top sound. It just never made it onto the Billboard charts.

As I say, the album was uneven. It certainly had its moments, though — moments when certain tracks just worked, you know?

And on those tracks that did work — and "(Somebody Else Been) Shaking Your Tree" was one of them — the future was revealed.

Part of that future was a song that became a staple in the band's concerts — "Backdoor Love Affair." I saw ZZ Top perform in Dallas — as a warmup band. No, it wasn't before ZZ Top became famous. In fact, it was long after that. ZZ Top was the warmup band for the Rolling Stones — and even the best of bands take second billing to the Stones.

Both acts were great, and I distinctly remember hearing ZZ Top play "Backdoor Love Affair."

Wow, I thought to myself. It's like the live side of "Fandango!" Well, except for the fact that the studio version was played a bit slower.

Another song that gave listeners a peek at what was to come with ZZ Top was "Brown Sugar" — and I am definitely not speaking of a cover of the Rolling Stones' song. This was an entirely different song with an entirely different kind of attitude.

And another song that I thought worked was called "Goin' Down to Mexico."

It had the sensation of ZZ Top — a sensation that hasn't really changed that much even as the band went through a rather extended synthesizer phase, during which ZZ Top introduced elements of new wave and punk rock to its sound.

I'm sure most ZZ Top fans were relieved — as I was — when the band returned to its guitar–driven roots in the early '90s.

But on this day in 1971, the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career was just getting started.

Frasier's BFF

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): I had friends back in Boston. It's only since I've returned to Seattle that I've been falling back on Niles.

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): [insulted] 'Falling back on Niles?'

Frasier: Oh, Niles, you know what I mean. Settling for what's comfortable and familiar. My God, you and I can go out together and I know what you're thinking before you even say it.

Niles: Well, then I'm sorry you had to hear that, Frasier.

I always thought a couple of the more interesting themes in the Frasier show dealt with relationships and Frasier's tendency to go against convention on just about anything. If there was an easy way to do something, you could be sure that Frasier wouldn't do it that way.

The third season of the series (1995–1996) seemed especially good at exploring those themes, as far as I was concerned. Next month I will be writing about an episode from that season in which Frasier encouraged everyone to "take a leap" in the Leap Year, with hilariously disastrous consequences for everyone, and an episode in which Daphne and Niles went to a dance together — and there were other episodes that explored relationships of all kinds and Frasier's rather unique way of looking at and dealing with things.

In many ways I am tempted to say that the third season of Frasier was its best. It seldom blended those two themes quite as well as it did in "The Friend" on this night in 1996.

Frasier was given two tickets to the race track, but he found himself with no one to join him. He realized that, in two years back in Seattle, he hadn't made any new friends.

He decided that would make a good topic for his radio show — but he felt differently when he started getting phone calls and faxes from Seattle's Dark Side.

Roz (Peri Gilpin) had predicted that would happen, and she grinned from ear to ear as the nuts came out of the woodwork. "I just love it when I'm right," she gloated. "It makes the day so good."

But then Frasier saw a fax from someone who looked and — on paper, at least — sounded normal. His name was Bob (played by Griffin Dunne), and he and Frasier agreed to meet at the cafe.

The conversation started off well, then Bob revealed himself to be obsessed with barbecue — and he was in a wheelchair that made a distinctive squeaking sound whenever it was in motion.

Frasier soon began trying to avoid Bob, ducking into other rooms or under furniture whenever he heard that distinctive squeak. But avoiding Bob, as it turned out, wasn't going to be all that easy. Bob had applied to move in to the vacancy in Frasier's building.

From his hiding place in the control booth, Frasier heard Bob tell the news to Roz. It brought him to tears.


Frasier finally worked up enough nerve to tell Bob that the friendship just wasn't working out. Driven to the edge by dozens of telephone calls and discussions on topics in which Frasier had no interest, he confessed to Bob, "You're suffocating me!"

Bob was shaken and said he wished Frasier had said something sooner. Frasier said he wanted to, but he had been afraid Bob would think it was because of the wheelchair.

"I wish it did have to do with the chair," Bob replied. Frasier asked him to clarify.

"Well, if the chair were your problem, that would make you a jerk," Bob said. "This way I'm the jerk."

Frasier thought he saw a way out in which Bob wouldn't get hurt. So he confessed (falsely) that the chair was the problem, thinking that it would be a clean break for both of them. But it backfired on him.

Bob replied loudly that he couldn't believe Frasier didn't want to be his friend because of the wheelchair — loudly enough for everyone in the cafe to hear.

And several voiced their opinions of Frasier and his alleged bigotry.

Bob wound up leaving with some other customers from the cafe who invited him to join them for dinner. "Do you like barbecue?" he asked.

"Sure," one of them said. "Who doesn't?"

So what lesson — if any — is there to be taken from this episode? I have never really been sure that there is one.

Except maybe that, in spite of his glorified self–image, Frasier probably isn't the best role model to follow.

Ah, Wilderness!

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): What did you do?

Frederick (Trevor Einhorn): We played frisbee. It sucked with all those trees.

The generation gap existed long before anyone slapped a label on it, but seldom has its portrayal been as entertaining as it was 15 years ago tonight.

The episode of Frasier that first aired on this night in 2001 — "Cranes Unplugged" — was about the generation gap between Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and his son, Freddy (Trevor Einhorn), a typical 13–year–old boy who was visiting from Boston.

In anticipation of Freddy's visit, Frasier had made all sorts of grand plans. He and Freddy had had a tradition in which they picked out a book to read, read it and then discussed it. Frasier had chosen "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau, and he was very excited about it, but Freddy showed no interest. Frasier was sorely disappointed.

So Frasier told Freddy that he, Freddy and Martin (John Mahoney) were going to go camping in the woods — three generations of Cranes bonding in the wilderness. It is safe to say neither Freddy nor Martin was enthusiastic about the idea, especially after Frasier proclaimed, "We leave at daybreak!"

Their cabin was rustic, which was what Frasier wanted. He was bound and determined to read "Walden" in the woods, and he had bought journals for Freddy and Martin to write down their thoughts. He had the whole thing planned out.

But things didn't go as planned — things seldom do seem to go as planned when you're dealing with teenagers, and Freddy was, as I say, an average teenager. He was more interested in the other teenagers he had met at the campground — especially one of the opposite sex — than spending time with his father and grandfather.

Meanwhile, back at Frasier's apartment, Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves) — who were, by now, a couple — had made it their mission to find a man for Roz (Peri Gilpin).

Niles had been playing squash with a handsome young surgeon friend of his, and Daphne thought he would be ideal for Roz. So Niles and Daphne tried to set up a date for Roz and the surgeon to join them at Frasier's apartment. And the doctor and Roz did come over.

But it fell through. The doctor and Roz seemed to hit it off, but he called in and was told there was an emergency and he was needed so he left, telling Niles to apologize to Roz (who was picking out a jacket to wear from Daphne's closet) for him.

Niles, though, didn't do a very good job of explaining to Roz what had happened, and she thought the emergency had been her.

Niles tried to make up for it by bringing another young man into the circle and passing him off as another doctor — but Daphne recognized him as the "moron from the corner deli." She ordered Niles to send him away, which Niles did while Roz was in the kitchen telling Daphne how well they were hitting it off.

When she learned that he had gone, too, she was convinced she had driven off two doctors in one night.

I'm not sure what the lesson was in that substory — except, perhaps, not to meddle in other people's affairs.

Back at the campground, Freddy came in after an evening with the other kids, including a cute young girl who, he told his father, he had kissed. It was the first kiss for both of them.

Freddy had plans to see her the next day. She was a cheerleader, he told his father. Frasier reminisced about a young cheerleader from his youth.

So Freddy and Frasier had their bonding moment, after all. "Don't tell Mom," Freddy told his father.

"Don't worry, son," Frasier replied. "It's just between you and me."

Now, as a fan of Frasier and the show that gave birth to the character, Cheers!, I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of inconsistencies here.

First, Frasier told Roz early in the episode that Freddy was 13 years old — but Freddy's character was born on Cheers! in November 1989, which would have made him actually 11 years and a couple of months old when the camping trip episode aired in 2001. What's more, Freddy was said to be 13 a couple of years after "Cranes Unplugged" in an episode in which Freddy had his bar mitzvah. That's a pretty neat trick, staying the same age for two or three years. In TV, though, I suppose anything is possible.

Second, in an episode in the first season, Freddy was said to have severe allergies that forced him to wear all sorts of protective clothing at a chess camp in the mountains. I guess he had outgrown those allergies when he went on the camping trip with his father and grandfather because there was no mention of them. That, too, is possible, I suppose. My brother had an allergy to dairy products when he was little, but he outgrew that so I guess it would be possible for Freddy to outgrow the kinds of allergies that the Crane children always seemed to have.

No important lesson to take from this episode, I guess — except that there really isn't anything new under the sun, is there?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Journey 'Back There'

"Let's say that you go back in time. It's October 1929, the day before the stock market crashed. Now, you know that, on the following morning, securities are going to tumble into an abyss. Now, using this prior knowledge, there's a hundred things you could do to protect yourself."

Millard (Raymond Bailey)

I am something of an amateur historian, and one thing I have noticed about historians is that they have a secret — or maybe it is not so secret — wish to go back to a particular time and place.

I guess that is a byproduct of that particular preoccupation. If one ponders a certain event enough, it is only natural that one should start to think about actions that could have been taken that would have changed the course of said event — or perhaps prevent future events.

I have written about one of the truly intriguing what–ifs of history — the day near the end of World War I when a British soldier allegedly had a young Adolf Hitler in the sights of his weapon and didn't pull the trigger. What if he had? Would millions of lives have been spared?

Knowing what you know, would you go back in time to that battlefield and tell that soldier what Hitler would do if he lived past that day in 1918?

Put in a 21st–century context — Given what we know now, who among us wouldn't want to go back to Sept. 10, 2001, to warn the people of New York and Washington that terrorists planned to strike the next day?

Back in the days of the Commodore 64 computer, I owned an all–text game that could simulate presidential elections in the second half of the 20th century. The player(s) acted as campaign managers(s) as well as candidate(s). Through this game, it was possible to replay an actual campaign (i.e., the 1960 cliffhanger between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon) and see if you could change its outcome, or you could change one or all of the nominees in an election and see if a different party or candidate would win, or you could change the economic and international situations to see if that would have an impact on things.

Or it could be a combination of the above. The possibilities were virtually unlimited.

For someone with the desire not just to study history but to go back in time and change its course, it was an addictive game. I learned, after playing it several times, that it was difficult to change outcomes of elections, especially landslides but even cliffhangers. I suppose the game was predisposed to favor certain parties in certain years — and that is consistent with actual voting patterns, anyway. Since the end of World War II, the same party has won three consecutive elections only once.

So it was also a pretty good lesson in predestination. Most things — perhaps all things — are intended to turn out in a certain way. No attempts to intervene will succeed. Well, on second thought, I suppose anything is possible.

But even without computers, I'm sure historians have been fantasizing for centuries about traveling through time. What–if questions obsess them — as well as creative writers. There have been more movies and TV episodes about a person going back in time (or into the future, although that has been far less common) than I can count. Usually, the lesson of the story has been that if something is meant to be, it will happen, and no one can change it. Not even a visitor from the future.

(Five years ago, I wrote about such an episode from the mid–1980s incarnation of the Twilight Zone. That blog post led to a kind of modern–day pen pal relationship — strictly via Facebook — with the author of the story. Apparently he did an internet search to see if anyone had written about the 25th anniversary of the first showing of that episode and determined that I was the only one who had. Anyway, he sent me an email and, well, the rest is history.)

These movies and TV episodes can take many forms. They don't always deal with historical figures and events in which those figures were prominent participants — sometimes they deal with the times and their technologies — but the episode of the Twilight Zone that first aired on this night in 1961 did.

"Back There" was about the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and it was about time travel.

It didn't have an actor portraying Lincoln — but it did showcase a few actors who became pretty well known on TV series within a few years. The most prominent actor was Russell Johnson, who found fame as the Professor on Gilligan's Island.

In a then–present day Washington, D.C., gentlemen's club, Johnson (playing a professor, of course) got into a spirited discussion with Raymond Bailey (who became better known as banker Milburn Drysdale in The Beverly Hillbillies) about the nature of time travel. Bailey took the position that, if time travel were possible, there would be nothing to prevent the time traveler from altering history's course. Johnson argued that historic dates were fixed dates that could not be changed.

The debate went on for a few minutes, then Johnson excused himself, saying he was tired and found the subject too theoretical for his taste. As he was leaving, he bumped into an attendant named William and started to feel faint. He felt confused and disoriented upon stepping outside, where he found horse–drawn carriages where before there had been cars and gaslights where there had been electric lights. His clothes were changed, too. Instead of his 20th–century suit, he was wearing 19th–century garb.

He decided to go to the place where his home had been, but it was now a boardinghouse. He went in and spoke to the landlady when a young couple, an Army officer and his lady friend, came down the stairs on their way out to the theater. Johnson spoke with them and connected the dots — it was April 1865, the day Lincoln would be shot in Ford's Theater.

There were still a few hours before anything would happen so Johnson's character ran to the theater and began raising a fuss. He struck everyone as being some kind of wild–eyed lunatic, and the police were summoned.

Back at the police station, the arresting officer brought Johnson before a police sergeant, played by actor Paul Hartman (who had an extensive career as a character actor but probably is best remembered as Emmett, proprietor of the Fix–It Shop on The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D.), who listened to Johnson's story then ordered him taken to a cell to "sleep it off."

About that time, a man calling himself Wellington came in to the station and offered to take custody of Johnson. It was granted, and back at Wellington's room, he gave Johnson a drugged drink. When Johnson passed out, he left to go to the theater — not to prevent the assassination but to be sure it succeeded. Wellington was John Wilkes Booth.

When Johnson came to, the deed had been done.

A patrolman who was with Johnson when word reached them of the assassination was played by long–time character actor Jimmy Lydon. He had been in the police station when Johnson was brought in and became convinced that something would happen to Lincoln. So he had gone all over the city trying to find someone who would authorize increased security for Lincoln's box, but he had found no takers.

Johnson had been unable to prevent the assassination in spite of his knowledge of the past.

In the blink of an eye, Johnson found himself back in the present time — at the gentlemen's club. Only now, the attendant who bumped into him earlier was one of the participants in the discussion Johnson had left.

Apparently, Johnson's excursion into the past had altered William's family fortunes. That patrolman had gained so much attention for knowing what would happen that he had been rapidly promoted, did some wheeling and dealing in land and became a millionaire. William, his descendant, had benefited via inheritance from his great–grandfather. In the previous timeline, William's great–grandfather apparently didn't go much beyond his job as a patrolman, and that would have been a barrier to future generations.

But the family had money. So Johnson's character did alter history — although not in the way he wanted.

As the closing narration put it, "Mr. Peter Corrigan, lately returned from a place 'back there,' a journey into time with highly questionable results, proving on one hand that the threads of history are woven tightly, and the skein of events cannot be undone, but on the other hand, there are small fragments of tapestry that can be altered. Tonight's thesis to be taken, as you will — in The Twilight Zone."

I suppose the only conclusion to be reached is that, if time travel is possible, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to alter major events, but it is possible to, as the Twilight Zone put it, alter "small fragments of (history's) tapestry."

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Another Milestone for Archie

All in the Family was always blazing new trails in American television. Most of the time, those trails provoked conversations about isms — you know, communism, racism, sexism, that kind of thing.

In the episode that aired on this night in 1976, Archie (Carroll O'Connor) blazed a different kind of trail for network television — full frontal nudity. Not his own. The nudity of his infant grandson in the series. I'll get back to that in a minute.

What happened was that Mike (Rob Reiner) was taking Gloria (Sally Struthers) out for the evening. It was three weeks since the episode in which the baby was born, and it must have been three weeks in the timeline of the series as well because Mike mentioned that it was the first time in three weeks that they had been able to go out.

That part seemed to be rushing things, I thought. Now, I have never been married, and I have never lived with a new mother — at least, not since I was 3 and my brother was born, and I had no comprehension of time in those days — so I don't know how long it usually takes for a new mother to be sufficiently recovered from labor to go out for the evening, but three weeks seems a little premature to me. Perhaps I am wrong about that.

Anyway, the Stivics were going out for the evening, and Mike had retained one of his students to babysit. Archie wasn't wild about that, especially after the babysitter's boyfriend showed up, presumably so they could study together while she watched the baby. Archie thought they were more interested in studying each other than studying for class — and it followed that they would be more interested in studying each other than keeping an eye on the baby.

So Archie ran them off.

That presented a problem for Archie. There was no one to babysit except him — and he was hosting a poker party at his house. Edith, as I recall, was visiting her aunt who was in her 80s and, apparently, in poor health so Edith didn't appear in the episode.

Archie brought his grandson over to his house, and the poker party soon gave way to efforts to figure out why the baby kept crying. Was he hungry? Did he need to be changed? The card players gave a barbershop quartet rendition of "Rock–A–Bye, Baby" to try to put him to sleep.

The answer came quickly enough. The baby made a noise that everyone thought, at first, was a burp. But after a few seconds, the looks on their faces confirmed what Archie soon observed: "That wasn't no burp."

His poker buddies made their exit, leaving Archie to change the baby.

And that is when the full frontal nudity part came in.

It wasn't a lingering shot. It was very brief, actually. But it was a first for network television — and it was controversial in 1975, much more so than it is 40 years later.

As I understand it, summer reruns and subsequent syndicated airings had that scene edited out.

But viewers in Canada can still see the episode unedited.

As far as I was concerned, it was always a nonissue. It was such a fleeting moment, like Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl. It was over before most viewers could comprehend what they had seen.

But, as I say, it was controversial, as sexual topics always are.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Farewell, David Bowie

Like most people (I gather), I was unaware that David Bowie was terminally ill — until I learned this morning that he had died of liver cancer two days after his 69th birthday.

I now know that he was sick for a year and a half. That, apparently, was something that was not generally known.

I have written about David Bowie three times before on this blog. The last two times were within the last year, when I observed the 40th anniversaries of the release of "Fame" and "Golden Years."

My first post was about the 40th anniversary of Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" album. In a few years, I hope to write about the 50th anniversary of "Space Oddity."

I was going to wait to mention this until I wrote about that anniversary of "Space Oddity," but now seems like a more appropriate time.

Anyway, here goes ...

I will always remember the first time I ever heard "Space Oddity." It was several years after the song was released. My family had spent the summer in Austria as part of a program in which the college where my father taught religion was a participant. It was meant primarily for students. They spent the summer at this university in Graz, Austria, took a summer course and got credit for it in college. Some members of the faculty always went along as chaperones, and there were other schools involved in the program as well.

My father took my mother, my brother and me with him to Austria one summer. It was a chartered flight, and the family stayed in the dorm at the university so it was a low–cost way to travel in Europe. My parents were only nominally enrolled in classes. It justified their presence since Dad wasn't the official chaperone. We were just kind of tag–alongs.

Anyway, it was on our flight back to the States at the end of the summer that I first heard "Space Oddity." The plane was approaching New York City, and I had my headphones set to popular music (there were several choices so there was something for every age group and taste). As I looked out the window at the New York skyline glowing in the darkness, "Space Oddity" came on. It was almost as if the music and the imagery I was seeing out my window had been painstakingly choreographed.

Ever since that night, "Space Oddity" probably has been my favorite David Bowie song.

But I am also fond of the two I wrote about last year — and I have always liked the "Diamond Dogs" album. I guess the thing I can say about Bowie is that my preference is for his earlier stuff. He seemed to be especially brilliant when he was still carving out his niche.

I've heard a lot of talk today about how Bowie's last album, "Blackstar," released just a few days ago, was his last gift to the world.

Those three things I have written about were Bowie's gifts to me. We never met, but those songs and that album have a lot of meaning for me, and they always will. And, as Forrest Gump would say, that's all I want to say about that.

I don't know yet if I will listen to Bowie's last album. Perhaps I will listen to it once in tribute to someone who was a remarkable talent — and was remarkably talented at confusing people. He seemed to take delight in doing it. That bothered some people. It never bothered me.

He never looked quite the same as he had the last time I saw him — or would the next time I saw him. He was always pushing boundaries — in his appearance, in his personal life, in his music.

Bowie never did things the way he was expected to do them. I guess his death — at the most unexpected time, except for those who knew he was sick, and many of them have said that they weren't prepared for it when it came — was the ultimate example.

Incidentally, I can understand why many of those who were close to Bowie had that reaction. I've had several friends who died of cancer. Without fail, in each case, I believed my friends would recover right up until the minute they died. And those deaths always hit me like a ton of bricks. I suppose Bowie's friends and family harbored a similar hope, that somehow he would recover. When that person dies, a piece of a survivor dies, too, because — in my experience, anyway — those survivors always hope that the afflicted individual will beat the cancer that is taking his life.

And they're always disappointed when he doesn't.

Likewise, I have known people who died completely unexpectedly, and I have wondered whether it is better to lose someone you care about suddenly or to have time to prepare yourself for the loss. And I have decided that, for those who are left behind, there really is no advantage to either. At least, it is that way with me. Even when I have known that someone I cared about was going to die, I haven't been able to adequately prepare myself for it.

There just is no good time to lose someone. I'm sure that is how Bowie's friends and family — and the millions of his fans the world over — are feeling tonight.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Never Assume

Things aren't always what they seem to be — or don't seem to be. I don't know about you, but I learned that the hard way — and, on this night 40 years ago, so did Mary Tyler Moore. Well, I guess she did. That point was uncertain when the episode ended. But the audience sure did learn it.

In the episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show that premiered on this night in 1976, Mary and Mr. Grant (Ed Asner) were going to a seminar in Washington, D.C., that was devoted to politics and the press.

It was going to be like a homecoming for Mr. Grant. He had covered Washington for the Detroit Free Press in his younger days, and he boasted to Mary about the connections he had made; they were the kind of people, he told her, who would show her the Washington that tourists seldom, if ever, saw.

But first Lou had to deal with Ted (Ted Knight) who reminded Lou that he had promised Ted could go on the next free trip that came up. Ted rationalized the decision out loud, suggesting that Mr. Grant had opted to leave Ted in charge of the newsroom because he needed a steady hand at the wheel. Mr. Grant went along with that, apparently figuring it was the easiest way to get Ted off his back. But it was not smooth sailing. Ted insisted that Mr. Grant tell Murray (Gavin MacLeod) that Ted would be in charge while he was away.

Murray didn't take that news well and refused to wish Mary and Lou a good trip when they departed.

Once they arrived in Washington, Lou put out some feelers and waited for the calls from his connections. Mary wanted to go to a restaurant for dinner, but Lou assured her that there were probably five really good parties in progress in D.C. that evening. He said they should wait at the hotel for some calls to come in.

"I've never been to Washington before," Mary protested. "It's my first night in the capitol. I want to see some of it."

Lou told her she shouldn't worry. She was going to see the whole city. At that moment, the phone rang. Lou was sure it was one of his connections, but it turned out to be for Mary. It was someone she had met earlier who invited her to a party at the French embassy.

But Lou nixed the embassy party. "We're gonna do a lot better than that," he assured Mary. So Mary turned it down.

A minute later, the phone rang again — but, once again, it was for Mary.

"What did you do, write your number on a wall?" Lou asked testily.

Actually, it was a congressman Mary had met earlier at the seminar, and Lou tried to get reservations for the two of them to have dinner at the best place in town. But it turned out that his connection there, the head waiter, had died 10 years earlier.

"I guess he died without mentioning how close we were," Lou told the person on the other end of the line.

The congressman called up and got a reservation there with no trouble, and he and Mary left Lou in his hotel room.

The next day, Mary and Lou compared notes on their evenings. Lou, as it turned out, hadn't talked to anyone after Mary left. He dozed off and thus may have missed calls — if any came in. But he was determined to wait it out again that night. "Sometimes you have to wait around like that if you want a really good time," he told Mary.

He insisted that he wasn't losing his faith in his buddies, but Mary was, and she went out on the town again that night, leaving Lou alone in his hotel room.

When she got back to the hotel later, she went to Lou's room and told him she was sorry he hadn't joined them. They had gone to a party in Georgetown where she met the assistant secretary of Defense.

Lou said he was sorry that Mary hadn't stayed with him that evening. A couple of old friends came by, he said.

Mary was pleased to hear that. She said she was sure he had had a wonderful time seeing old friends again, and Lou said he did.

"John Glenn told the funniest story," Lou said.

"John Glenn the astronaut?" Mary asked. Lou said yes.

"John Glenn is an old friend of yours?" Mary asked.

"No, I never met him before," Lou replied. "He came with Hubert."

"Hubert?" Mary asked.

"Humphrey," Lou replied. "Anyway, it was the funniest story. I thought Eric Sevareid was gonna bust a gut!"

The conversation went on like that. Sevareid wasn't able to stay long, he said, because he was giving Ethel Kennedy a lift. "How did she get home?" Mary asked.

"The Fords gave her a ride," Lou said, referring to then–President and Mrs. Ford. It certainly would have made sense that Lou, as an employee of the Detroit newspaper, would have had dealings with Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford in the years before he became Richard Nixon's vice president and, eventually, his successor. Ford, after all, represented his district in Michigan for a quarter of a century. Nevertheless, Mary made a face.

Lou leaned forward. "Mary," he said, "you don't believe the president was here tonight, do you?"

"Well, of course, I believe the president was here," Mary replied. "Was Lincoln here, too?"

It was at that moment that the phone rang. On the other end of the line was Betty Ford, the first lady. She was looking for the president's pipe. It was his favorite pipe, and he thought it might have fallen from his pocket. Mary looked and found it under a sofa cushion. She held it out and said, in a mocking tone, "What do you know? The president's pipe."

Mrs. Ford asked Lou if she could speak to Mary so he handed her the phone.

"Hello, Mary?" and the screen showed the first lady speaking on the phone, presumably from the White House. "This is Betty Ford."

"Hello, Betty," the still disbelieving Mary replied. "This is Mary ... Queen of Scots."

A couple of interesting trivia points:

First, I have heard that the people behind the Mary Tyler Moore Show wanted President Ford to make the cameo appearance. But it was the start of an election year, and President Ford was seeking the Republican nomination. It was decided that an appearance on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which ranked #19 at the end of the 1975–76 season, might be considered an advertisement for — if not an endorsement of — his re–election. So Mrs. Ford was selected instead.

Second, Mary Tyler Moore wrote in her autobiography that Betty Ford was drunk when she filmed her scene. I don't know if that was true. I have seen that episode a number of times, and I can't tell if she is drunk in it — but I do know that a few years later she went through recovery and established the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., for the treatment of chemical dependency.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Besides Meaning a Lot, Little Things Sometimes Lead to Big Things

"Being in a couple is hard. And committing, making sacrifices; it's hard. But if it's the right person, then it's easy. Looking at that girl and knowing she's all you really want out of life, that should be the easiest thing in the world. And if it's not like that, then she's not the one. I'm sorry."

Marshall (Jason Segel)

I'm not really sure why I liked the episode of How I Met Your Mother that premiered on this night in 2006, other than the fact that it introduced Ashley Williams to the cast — albeit temporarily.

Ted (Josh Radnor) neither met the Mother of the series title at the wedding nor was it the wedding of a major character in the series. Ted had been invited to the wedding of a friend, Claudia (Virginia Williams); on his RSVP card, he was asked whether he would be bringing a guest or attending alone. He said that he always checked that he was bringing a guest, even though he couldn't know months in advance whether he would be in a relationship, because he was an optimist.

But, apparently, he did not check that he was bringing a guest to Claudia's wedding. Thinking that he had, he invited Robin (Cobie Smulders), who bought a special red dress for the occasion.

When he ran into Claudia, though, he was told that he had not checked that he would be bringing a guest. There was no food for an additional guest. There was no place for an additional guest.

Claudia was beside herself. I suppose anyone who has spent months planning a wedding understands.

Ted had his own problems. He had to find a way to tell this to Robin — but he just couldn't bring himself to do it.

So he went around Claudia's back and asked her fiance if he could bring a date. "Sure," said the fiance, leading to a huge fight between the happy couple, and the wedding was called off.

Well, after a few drinks, the couple patched things up. The wedding was on again.

Claudia eventually relented and permitted Ted to bring Robin; thus, he had been spared having to tell her she couldn't come and went to pick her up.

But before they left the apartment, the phone rang. It was Robin's station. She was needed to anchor the news.

She looked at Ted. He told her to do it, then spent the wedding reception sitting next to Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and extolling the virtues of the single life. Still, Ted couldn't help watching Marshall and Lily (Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan) dancing together and admiring the ease with which they related.

He lamented having hoped that the wedding might have marked a turning point for him. On the surface, he put on a good act about liking the single life, but deep down Ted craved marriage and children.

That was when he looked across the room and spotted a girl (Ashley Williams — no relation, as far as I know, to Virginia Williams, the actress who played Claudia).

The audience would learn more about her in the next episode — and a few episodes to come.

Achieving a Personal Crisis

"Thank you for honoring my life. Just wish I knew what to do with the rest of it."

Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer)

When one mentions a lifetime achievement award, one thinks of a recipient who is old, possibly even recently deceased. One doesn't think of someone like Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), a young (well, middle–aged) professional with many productive years ahead of him.

But, like a stroke or a heart attack, a lifetime achievement award doesn't always come to someone in his 70s or 80s. And so it was with Frasier on the show that bore his name 15 years ago tonight in an episode called "Frasier's Edge."

Frasier was the recipient of Seattle Broadcasters' Lifetime Achievement Award, which was a prestigious award but burdened by that negative image. When Frasier was telling his father (John Mahoney) about it, he observed that the lifetime achievement award was customarily given to much older people.

He was doing all right until he received a congratulatory basket of flowers from his college mentor, Dr. Tewksbury (Rene Auberjonois), who was taking his sabbatical at the University of Washington, with a card that said "You must be very proud." That triggered a crisis for Frasier. Why speculation instead of declaration — like "I'm proud of you," for example?

So characteristically obsessive Frasier went to see his mentor before the banquet where he was to receive his award and demanded an answer. He was disappointed.

Turned out the professor had asked his secretary to write the card. There was no hidden meaning. Frasier had been overanalyzing, which the audience knew he was prone to do.

But Frasier was experiencing even more of a crisis than he or Dr. Tewksbury had imagined. The card was only the tip of the iceberg. Frasier decided it was a classic example of a midlife crisis. Dr. Tewksbury correctly interpreted the situation: Frasier was experiencing deep emotional conflicts, which Dr. Tewksbury tried to resolve by having Frasier treat himself as if he were a caller on his show.

After making several attempts with standard psychiatric exercises, all of which Dr. Tewksbury criticized, Frasier confessed to the caller (himself) — "I'm sorry. I can't help you."

A sub–story in that episode involved Daphne (Jane Leeves), who was gaining weight thanks to her own emotional issues. In reality, the actress was pregnant so the story line was being written to suggest that she was experiencing an eating disorder. Only Niles (David Hyde Pierce) seemed not to notice that she had gained so much weight.

Anyway, at the awards dinner, everyone was waiting for Frasier to arrive and give his speech. Everyone was on edge — except Daphne, who was happily eating the individual quiches at the table. Frasier's father got up to speak, to kill some time — and to reinforce something he had been trying to do all evening: Give Niles' ego a boost. Martin had admitted earlier that he had been concerned about how Niles would take his brother's award, and he embarked on a campaign of reassurance and positive reinforcement.

Niles kept telling him that wasn't necessary, but Martin insisted on doing things like give Niles a mug that had "World's Greatest Psychiatrist" written on it.

Before long, Leeves would temporarily leave the show to have her baby, then would return. In the series' time line, her character would recognize that she was having problems and would seek treatment — and would come back 60 pounds lighter, according to the story line.

Finally Frasier showed up. His session with Dr. Tewksbury had failed to resolve his personal crisis, but he walked to the dais and accepted the award. The audience finished applauding and waited to hear what he had to say. It wasn't a long wait.

"Thank you for honoring my life," Frasier said. "Just wish I knew what to do with the rest of it."

And with that he picked up his award, turned and walked off, leaving a bewildered audience behind.

I thought that raised a good point.

Harry Truman once said it was hell trying to find work when you've been president of the United States. By the same token, it must be hell trying to find something to do with your life when you've been given a lifetime achievement award.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

With its penchant for dream and fantasy sequences, it shouldn't have surprised anyone when Gilligan's Island had a mock trial, of sorts, which was the basis for the episode that premiered 50 years ago tonight, "Not Guilty," but the story writers really had to do some stretching worthy of Rose Mary Woods to connect all the dots.

While fishing, Gilligan (Bob Denver) and the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) landed a crate filled with coconuts. Now, I know the fishing line that's used for deep–sea fishing is much stronger than the somewhat flimsy lines I used to use when I went fishing in the lakes and ponds of Arkansas and Texas, but I never could understand how even the much–stronger line could bring in a crate filled with coconuts.

What a worthless trophy that was, too. For what could the castaways possibly have less use than a crate filled with coconuts? All the trees on the island seemed to have coconuts growing from them. They had shortages of everything else on the island — but not coconuts. They were overstocked on coconuts.

But the crate also contained newspapers that had been used to wrap the coconuts. (Why wrap them? I have always wondered. Coconuts won't break.) That gave the castaways some fresh reading material — but one article threatened to disrupt their little friendly, trusting community. It speculated that someone aboard the Minnow had been responsible for the murder of an unsavory fellow back in Hawaii — and everyone on board seemed to have a good motive for wanting him dead.

Everyone, that is, except for Gilligan and the Skipper, who never met the man — but they were still mentioned as plausible suspects in the article. Go figure.

At first, only Gilligan and the Skipper had seen the article, and they launched an investigation to see if they could solve the mystery — and, in the context of their investigation, they encountered some pretty suspicious behavior. They came across Ginger (Tina Louise) and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) boiling plants to make a poison to kill rats that had been seen near the castaways' food locker, and they found the Professor (Russell Johnson) in his hut working on a guillotine that he said would be used to chop coconuts — and only coconuts — but Gilligan and the Skipper had their doubts.

All the castaways eventually became aware of the article's existence, and they decided that the only way to solve the crime was to re–enact it so they made a replica of the victim's shop and each castaway came in to confront the victim (played by Gilligan).

The Howells (Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer) were concerned about the victim's handling of a business that apparently belonged to the Howells; it had been losing money, and the Howells had confronted him about it before the famed "three–hour cruise." The victim had jilted Ginger, stolen an article the Professor had written for an academic journal and claimed it as his own and ruined Mary Ann's father financially; all three had confronted him. But no one revealed himself or herself to be guilty. That meant they would have to re–enact the crime all over again.

Gilligan didn't want to do that and slammed the door of the shop replica, causing a speargun on the other side of the room to fall and fire in Gilligan's direction, missing him by an inch or two. As it was a speargun that had been the murder weapon, the castaways believed they had solved the crime.

Which, of course, they had. Radio reports confirmed it.

But that was just random luck. The castaways had no floor plans to use in re–creating the store and no knowledge of where each product would be displayed or how.

See? The underpinnings of the story were tenuous at best. It was a nice idea for a story, but making it hold up was like playing a game of Twister — although I have to admit that Gilligan's reference to Perry Mason prior to suggesting that they re–enact the crime was a nice touch.

Perry Mason was, like Gilligan's Island, a CBS program. It had been on the air for eight years and had enjoyed a four–year run of being ranked in the Top 20, rising to #5 one year, but it was sputtering in the 1965–66 season.

Getting a shout–out from Gilligan's Island didn't help, either. That 1965–66 season turned out to be Perry Mason's last.