Saturday, April 30, 2016

Assignment: Robert

Raymond (Ray Romano): I stood up for you ...

Robert (Brad Garrett): You stood up for me?

Raymond: What? Yeah.

Robert: Oh, come on, Raymond, if people are trashing me, you're right up front with the baton.

If you have been single past the time when people think you should be single, you're bound to be familiar with the theme of the episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that first aired on this night in 2001.

"Let's Fix Robert" was the title, and I suppose you can guess many of the elements of the plot. The general theme was that Robert (Brad Garrett) was unable to find a steady girlfriend — even though two of Robert's recent girlfriends were featured in the opening segment and figured prominently in the plot in general, his American sweetheart Amy (Monica Horan) and his Italian sweetheart Stefania (Alexandra "Alex" Meneses).

They met each other at the neighborhood pizza joint and began comparing notes on Robert. The notes were unfavorable, of course. Robert wasn't there to hear them, but his brother Ray (Ray Romano) was there — and the girls, having deduced that Ray's pizza was going to be consumed in part by Robert, tried to wreck his pizza before he could get out the door with it.

Word that Amy and Stefania had met got back to the Barone matriarch, Marie (the recently deceased Doris Roberts), who concluded it was the perfect opportunity to find out what Robert's relationship problem was.

Robert might never have known about it if he hadn't stumbled onto a gathering of the three one day when he entered his mother's kitchen and asked her to make him something to eat. She proceeded to hand him one of those lunch–sized bags of potato chips and give him the bum's rush, but she relented and took him in to the living room — where he found Amy and Stefania sitting side by side on the couch.

The purpose of the gathering, she told her son, was to discuss his issues. She had decided to let him sit in on the conversation because it would save her from having to go over all the points with him later.

That was bad enough — Robert said it was "horrifying beyond belief" to find his ex–girlfriends on the living room couch in his parents' home — but then his police partner Judy (Sherri Shepherd) showed up, and Robert objected. "She has nothing to do with me not giving you grandchildren," he protested.

"She spends 60 hours a week with you," Marie told Robert. "She has a lot to bring to the table."

They all had things to bring to the table. Each had her own complaint. Amy didn't like the way he ate her dessert when they went out to dinner. Stefania objected to his "frowny, frowny face ... it is annoying."

Judy appeared to be an ally at first, reminding the others that Robert had a demanding job as a police officer and needed his down time. But then she launched her own gripe about his love of onions. "He puts them on everything. There are other people," she told him.

"All areas you can be working on, dear," Marie told Robert.

Amy said she would be willing to put up with all Robert's other shortcomings if not for the biggest one — "his total fear of commitment." Stefania agreed. Judy was silent — probably because, as Robert's police partner, she required (and almost certainly received) a different kind of commitment from him.

For his part, Robert clearly felt ambushed — and, I would say, rightfully so. Anyway, he sought refuge at Ray and Debra's house, but Debra (Patricia Heaton) couldn't remain silent when Robert began moaning about spending his life alone.

Debra accused him of being alone because that is how he wanted it. He was looking for the perfect woman, she said, and he would never find her because no such thing exists.

Then she was floored when Robert told Debra that she was perfect.

That led to a delightful exchange between the three of them over whether Debra was perfect, and Robert finally convinced them he meant to say that Debra was perfect for Raymond. "I'm just hoping to be that lucky," he said.

To which Debra gave the classic response that people like Robert always get from people like Debra — "You will be."

Of course, those who watched Everybody Loves Raymond know that Robert and Amy eventually got married, but on this night in 2001 that outcome was still far from clear to the show's viewers. It may well have been an inspiration that was yet to come for the show's writers.

It was the outcome that Marie wanted, but on this night even she could not have known how everything would turn out. She was taking no chances. As the episode ended, she was working on what had apparently been a complaint that came up after Robert left — his ear hair.

Waging the War Against Nicotine

Daphne (Jane Leeves): Well, I smoked for years, and I never became addicted. To this day I can buy a pack, have a cig or two, toss them in a drawer and not crave another for months.

Bebe (Harriet Sansom Harris): There's a word for people who can do that. What is it? Oh, yes. Bitch.

As a former smoker, I am always interested in TV episodes that deal with the unique challenge of kicking the habit.

That's what they called it when I was growing up — a habit. But anyone who has ever tried to give up smoking — much less succeeded — will tell you that it is not a habit.

A habit is something like doodling, drumming your fingers or biting your nails. I had a girlfriend once who would absent–mindedly twist her hair around her fingers. Those are habits. Tobacco use is an addiction, and the surgeon general once compared it to heroin addiction. (I have never tried heroin — and if it is as difficult to beat as nicotine, I'm glad I didn't.)

But that is really a different subject. The topic of the episode of Frasier that aired 20 years ago tonight was the challenge of giving up smoking, not a debate over whether it is a habit or an addiction.

Frankly that is a matter of semantics when one is trying to give up smoking, and, in that context, habit or addiction really isn't important. What is important is that the person who is trying to give up smoking needs love and support — even if (or perhaps that should be especially if) that person isn't particularly lovable to begin with.

Well, I guess that serves as an appropriate introduction to the episode of Frasier that was first shown on this night in 1996 — "Where There's Smoke There's Fired."

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) learned that his radio station had been purchased by a diminutive Texas millionaire who went by the name of Big Willy. Big Willy owned a $600 million media empire and had the potential to put Frasier's radio program into national syndication. Consequently, Frasier was eager to schmooze his new boss, and Roz (Peri Gilpin) was eager to help, but Frasier soon realized that he would be "sucking up to Yosemite Sam."

Big Willy was in a relationship with Frasier's agent, Bebe (Harriet Sansom Harris), and wanted to marry her, but she was a smoker and Big Willy didn't want her to smoke. So he enlisted Frasier to help her kick the habit — and insisted that it be done while he was away for the weekend. There was a strong implication that Frasier's job was on the line.

If you have ever tried to quit smoking, you know that it simply can't be achieved in a weekend. It is a long, difficult process. But Frasier felt a certain amount of pressure to at least try to make Bebe smoke free.

There is an element of cunning in the initial attempts of a tobacco addict to have his/her cake and eat it, too, and the writers of Frasier captured it beautifully in this episode. Surely, at least one of the writers must have been a smoker at some time to have known the smoker's psyche so well.

Niles (David Hyde Pierce) certainly knew. He came to Frasier's apartment as Frasier and Bebe were wrapping up a therapy session. When Niles and Frasier were alone, Niles warned Frasier not to let Bebe out of his sight.

So did their father, Martin (John Mahoney). When he found out that Bebe would be staying the weekend because she was giving up smoking, Martin observed, "Great. That means she'lll be extra lovable."

You know, there is a cliche about lovers lighting up after an intense sexual session, but Bebe is the only person I have ever heard make the act of smoking sound sexual by itself.

Apparently it sounded that way to the rest of the family as well. Bebe trapped Daphne (Jane Leeves) sneaking a smoke on the balcony in the wee hours of the morning. Not long after, Martin, who was a former smoker, was caught smoking in the bathroom.

It all led to a wrestling match over a package of cigarettes — interrupted by a phone call from Big Willy, who apparently suggested to Frasier that he thought Frasier could be a star of syndication.

Somehow Frasier managed to wean Bebe of the cigarettes — as a former smoker, I really found that achievement in a single weekend impossible to accept.

Bebe's smoke–free status held up for three weeks — until the day she and Big Willy were supposed to walk down the aisle. But Big Willy had a fatal heart attack as they were walking down the aisle. Bebe tried to animate Big Willy as if he were a ventriloquist's dummy, and they proceeded down the aisle, but the pretense ended when they got to the front of the church.

All their hopes for fame, fortune and syndications were, well, up in smoke.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Silence Is Not Always Golden

"But the ugly affair has proved two things, hasn't it, Archie? That that boy down there is stronger than you gave him credit for, and you are considerably weaker."

George Alfred (Jonathan Harris)

In "The Silence," the episode of the Twilight Zone that first aired on this night in 1961, members of a private men's club were witnesses to the proposal of an unusual wager. A longtime member (Franchot Tone) was annoyed by the unceasing talkativeness of a young nouveau riche member (Liam Sullivan) who was regarded by many as a poseur, primarily because he would speak of fabulous deals that had been proposed to him, then he would make a pitch for a loan from his listeners.

Tone's wager was $500,000 that the young blowhard could not remain silent for one year. If he accepted the wager, he would have to consent to live in the club and be available for any member to observe at any time. He would be furnished with anything he wanted, but he could not speak a single word. He could make his wants and needs known through writing on a tablet of paper.

Tone's character believed the young man could not possibly remain silent for a year. He might remain silent for a few weeks, perhaps a month or two, and then fold under the pressure. In the meantime, Tone's character would have enjoyed a period of "exquisite silence."

He also, apparently, did not expect the young man to accept the bet — but he did. He left the club to make his preparations, vowing to return the following night to begin his year of incarceration. Before he left, Tone's friend and legal adviser (played by Jonathan Harris, who was perhaps best known as Dr. Smith on TV's Lost in Space in the 1960s) told the young man that Tone was serious about the wager. That was when the audience learned the young man's wife had expensive tastes ("She shops at Tiffany's the way other women shop at a supermarket," the young man said) that had left him in need of money.

That was what motivated him.

The wager began as planned the following evening.

And the audience soon became aware that the young man had lasted far longer than Tone's character ever dreamed he would. At first, that was a source of bemusement — but as the months passed, Tone became more concerned that he would lose the bet so he took to spending time around the glass booth where the young man was living, uttering rumors and gossip about the young man's wife's alleged infidelities while he was out of the picture.

As they got closer to the time when the year would be over, Tone became more desperate, making offers of a few thousand dollars if the young man would give up the bet. But he insisted that the bet would stand.

So the bet stood, and on the appointed day, the young man emerged from his glass cocoon to the applause of the other club members.

And Tone was forced to admit that he had lost most of his money years before. He could not pay the $500,000. He would have had to go begging in the streets, he said, just to raise a few thousand dollars to pay off the young man for giving up the bet. But he had not given up the bet. Tone said he would resign his membership.

Turned out the young man, knowing he could never keep his end of the wager, had arranged to have his vocal chords severed before beginning his incarceration a year earlier.

Neither one had been entirely honest, and they both paid for their dishonesty.

An interesting side point about the making of this episode.

Tone filmed part of the episode before suffering an injury to the left side of his face. Even now, more than half a century later, the circumstances surrounding the injury are hazy. Sullivan said it happened when Tone fell over a terrace while trying to pick a flower for a female companion. Rod Serling contended that Tone was injured by a romantic rival.

A different actor could have been hired, but that would have required re–shooting scenes that had already been shot. Instead, Tone was filmed in profile after the injury, which kept him from having direct eye contact with Sullivan in the scenes where he tried to persuade Sullivan to call off the bet and at the end when Sullivan demanded to be paid off.

Entirely unintentionally, that made Tone's character more complex.

I wasn't aware of that the first time I saw the episode. But, once I did become aware of it, I decided that I liked it. It was a nice touch.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Flight That Lives in Infamy

"The war on terror begins with 40 ordinary people."


Anyone old enough to remember the tragic day of Sept. 11, 2001 — and that must mean anyone who is at least 23 or 24 now — will never forget anything about it.

For many people, it was the first time they had given much thought to terrorism, its practitioners and its purpose. Prior to 2001, most folks gave terrorism superficial attention at times and at best — after the jumbo jet was blown from the sky over Lockerbie or the first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center was made or the successful attempt to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City occurred.

But terrorism really came to America in 2001 when the al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airplanes and flew them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

The fourth airplane, United 93, slammed into a field in Southwestern Pennsylvania, killing all on board but failing to reach its apparent target, the Capitol or the White House. The exact target is not known.

There are many things about that flight that are not known. Oh, sure, there are some things that are known. We know about the telephone calls that passengers made to loved ones. We know about Todd Beamer's conversation with an airphone supervisor on the ground. We know about recordings that were made on the plane that day, including the events just before the plane crashed when some of the passengers tried to storm the cockpit.

But many of the details that we believe we know are myths that sprang up almost immediately — like the notion that the plane was filled with modern–day patriots who heroically and unselfishly sacrificed themselves in the first battle in the war on terrorism.

That brings me to the part that I liked the most about "United 93," a movie about that flight that had its first–ever showing (at New York's Tribeca Film Festival) on this day in 2006. It opened across the nation two days later.

What did I like best about it? I liked the fact that the movie showed the plane's passengers and crew as the humans they were. Based on what we have heard from recordings, there clearly were those on board who refused to go down without a fight. But there must also have been those who huddled in the back of the plane.

It is tempting, from our perspective, to criticize those who may have remained in the back, clinging to the hope that the flight would not end the way it did. They were only minutes from their deaths, we might say to ourselves. What did they have to lose?

We have the advantage of knowing how it all turned out, but no one on board the plane that day knew what was going to happen. It seems entirely plausible to me that, given the way children have been raised in America for generations, some of the passengers did as they were told in the futile belief that they could save themselves by cooperating.

I always knew that the events of Sept. 11 would be dramatized in at least one feature film, but "United 93" — which was the first full–length big–screen dramatization about that day — came along even earlier than I expected. It had been fewer than five years since the hijackings, after all.

A deliberate decision was made not to use well–known actors and actresses in the film — so as not to detract from the story. Probably the only person viewers might have recognized — and they really would have had to search their memories to place her — was Rebecca Schull, whose greatest claim to fame probably was as the ticket agent on the TV sitcom Wings. (I don't think she had any lines in the movie and relatively few on–screen moments.)

You might have seen one or two others, but they almost certainly played small parts in those movies or TV shows, and you would probably never remember in what you had seen them. It was best not to dwell on such things too much, anyway — at least while you were watching "United 93" — even though we all know the story.

As I say, there are many myths that continue to swirl around that flight. One is that the passengers were heroic to the end — and, human nature being what it is, I find it hard to believe that some of the passengers didn't become hysterical or burst into tears. No one on that flight spoke of the big picture or a war on terrorism that had not begun — at least as far as Americans were concerned.

The passengers were, as the tagline said, "40 ordinary people," and that is precisely what "United 93" sought to convey through its casting. Unlike the hijackers, they boarded that plane with no political agendas, and they died not knowing if anyone outside their families and circles of friends would know who they had been.

"It is not too soon for 'United 93' because it is not a film that knows any time has passed since 9/11," wrote Roger Ebert. "The entire story, every detail, is told in the present tense. We know what they know when they know it, and nothing else. Nothing about Al Qaeda, nothing about Osama bin Laden, nothing about Afghanistan or Iraq, only events as they unfold. This is a masterful and heartbreaking film, and it does honor to the memory of the victims."

I agree with that.

And I think the decision to go with largely unknown actors was the right one. With a few exceptions, the victims on Sept. 11 were unknown, too. That is what made their deaths so compelling. They could have been any one of us. The victims had been people who casually boarded airplanes to fly across the country, either for work or for pleasure, and people who casually went to work as usual. Just a normal day. Normal people.

It wasn't many years before those terrorist attacks that I was flying fairly frequently as part of my job. I wrote for a trade magazine and often had to cover trade shows in other parts of the country. On Sept. 11, I definitely had a sense of there but for the grace of God go I.

(I had a similar sensation several years earlier — after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. I was teaching at the University of Oklahoma in those days, and I often did research at the Oklahoma City library, which wasn't far from the federal building. In fact, I walked past the federal building on am untold number of occasions.)

Of course, knowing what we know now about the terrorists' plan, the odds would have been strongly against my being on a hijacked plane. The hijackers were looking for planes that were carrying enough fuel for a cross–country flight, and the flights originated on the East Coast so the hijacker pilots wouldn't have far to fly to reach their targets in New York and Washington.

My base of operations was here in Dallas. I flew to both coasts in the course of my work, but I always started in Dallas, in the middle of the country. Such a flight would not be a candidate for participation in such a plot. Still, I didn't know that on Sept. 11.

(As for the bombing in Oklahoma City, I wouldn't have been a likely victim of that one, either. The bombing occurred about 30 minutes before I was supposed to teach a class. I wouldn't have been in Oklahoma City that morning. But I had been there on other mornings.)

U.S. intelligence personnel may have known more details on the night of Sept. 11 than most folks in the general public did, but the movie managed to capture the sense of bewilderment that I and most of the people around me experienced that morning. I have no doubt it reflected the atmosphere in most places across the United States. Perhaps also in some corners of the intelligence community.

Most of the people with whom I worked fit Ebert's description of what movie viewers knew in the context of "United 93." There was no TV in my office at that time, and we got updates from friends and relatives who called the office to report what was happening.

No one in our office understood what was happening — or why it was happening. Few of them, frankly, knew anything about Osama bin Laden, and no one knew anything about al Qaeda — until George W. Bush mentioned it in his speech to a joint session of Congress more than a week later.

In that way, and in every other, "United 93" was true to the moment in time that it sought to recapture. And that is what I look for in movies about historical events. I'm willing to give a movie some wiggle room in its portrayal of an event or series of events — if it needs it and if it doesn't contradict the facts.

Some events need no embellishment. Sept. 11 was such an event. And I saw nothing that seemed to be an attempt to embellish the dramatization of that day.

We know there was some kind of revolt on Flight 93. Beyond that, so much — what was said, what was done and by whom — is largely speculation.

The speculation in "United 93" was reasonable. The passengers didn't mount a counterattack with patriotic music swelling in the background. "The passengers are a terrified planeload of strangers," Ebert observed. Some of the passengers wept, some prayed, some joined in the revolt.

Put any three dozen or so people together in such a situation and you will have that kind of mix. Some people succumb to fear. Others overcome it. You never know how you will react to a situation until you find yourself in it. And, looking back on it, it is inevitable, I suppose, that some things will seem hackneyed and cliched the more they have been retold — and re–spun.

"There has been much discussion of the movie's trailer," Ebert wrote, "and no wonder. It pieces together moments from 'United 93' to make it seem more conventional, more like a thriller. Dialogue that seems absolutely realistic in context sounds, in the trailer, like sound bites and punch lines. To watch the trailer is to sense the movie that [director Paul] Greengrass did not make. To watch 'United 93' is to be confronted with the grim chaotic reality of that September day in 2001."

Yes, it was a grim day. Yes, it was chaotic — on the ground, I know, and I'm sure it was even more chaotic in the air.

It is a story that should never be forgotten — and "United 93" did its best to make sure it isn't.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The 400th Anniversary of the Bard's Death

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I write about many entertainment–related topics. I have written about William Shakespeare — directly or indirectly — four times. This is the fifth.

I last wrote about Shakespeare around the 450th anniversary of his birth. I say "around" because the exact date of his birth is not known.

The date of his death is another matter. That was 400 years ago yesterday, and it prompted observances the world over.

One of the grandest celebrations was at Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford–upon–Avon, where more than 10,000 people attended a parade marking the occasion.

If you think that it is inappropriate to have a parade at Shakespeare's birthplace on the anniversary of his death, you are obviously unaware of something I have mentioned in this blog before. Shakespeare's actual birth date is unknown. It is only known that he was born in April 1564, but many people have speculated that he was born on April 23. If that is true, then the bard died on his birthday.

When I wrote about the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, the emphasis of my post was the many ways Shakespeare has influenced modern English. That continues to fascinate people in all kinds of ways. For example, on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, The Sun focused on the top insults from his plays.

You never know when a good 16th–century putdown is going to be called for.

If you happen to be in the Boston area, a more enlightening experience may be found at the Boston Public Library's exhibit of rare first and early editions and forgeries.

Chicago, it seems, would be the best place to satisfy a hunger for the bard. A yearlong festival in that city will feature "Shakespeare–themed menus from Chicago chefs,"

The best way to honor Shakespeare, it seems to me, would be to watch a Shakespearean play. A live performance would have been best, and Barack Obama marked the occasion suitably by visiting the famed Globe Theatre and observing Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy where it was almost certainly first performed before an audience.

Something About Mary the Paralegal

Ted (Josh Radnor): Did you and Barney ever ...

Mary (Erinn Bartlett): There's not enough money in the world.

Ted: Oh, thank God!

The situation that was portrayed in the episode of How I Met Your Mother that aired 10 years ago tonight, "Mary the Paralegal," did not ring true for me. It simply did not describe a situation like any in which I have found myself. But that doesn't mean I didn't find it amusing.

I guess that is what sitcoms are about — the comedy of the situation is derived from exaggerated circumstances. After all, the funniest jokes involve one thing that is way out of proportion to everything else.

As I observed recently, a previous episode of How I Met Your Mother dealt with Ted (Josh Radnor) and his decision to break up with his long–distance girlfriend, Victoria, a decision that was accelerated by the opportunity to sleep with Robin (Cobie Smulders). It all backfired on him as he alienated both girls.

Victoria was in the other hemisphere so Ted knew he wouldn't interact with her on a regular — or even semi–regular — basis. Robin was different. She was still in New York — and still had the same circle of friends Ted had.

And, on this occasion, Robin had been nominated for a local broadcasting award. Actually, she had been nominated a few months earlier, and she had asked her friends to come to the awards banquet in a show of support, and they had agreed. Ted told her he would be bringing a date — at that time, presumably, Victoria, but they broke up, you see. So Ted wondered if he should bring a date.

Because of the lateness of the hour — the awards ceremony was in two hours — Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) suggested going with an "escort," which Ted interpreted to mean prostitute, and he rejected the idea. Nevertheless, Barney showed up with a beautiful blonde named Mary. He identified her as a paralegal from his building — and introduced her to Ted in his classic "H-a-a-ave you met Ted?" fashion. Ted continued to reject the idea — until Robin came in with her date, a local TV news guy named Sandy Rivers.

That was when Ted decided to bring Mary as his date after all — in spite of his misgivings about prostitution.

The awards banquet was about what you would expect from a Local Area Media Award, as it was called — or "LAMA," pronounced lame–uh by Lily (Alyson Hannigan).

The emcee was a fellow known only as Vampire Lou, the host of the Saturday afternoon kung fu movie.

As Vampire Lou went through the awards, Ted and Mary flirted with each other and got to know each other better. Ted concluded that he really liked her, in spite of what he believed that she did for a living. Lo and behold, Barney had arranged for a room in the hotel for the two of them, and once again Ted found himself faced a moral dilemma.

Ted was weighing whether to take Mary to the room and spend the night with her when Robin's category came up. This wasn't like Ted Baxter in the Mary Tyler Moore Show, who always had a broadcasting awards acceptance speech ready but lost nearly every time. Robin won for her story on Pickles the Singing Dog, and her acceptance speech was basically a confession that winning was a surprise to her. She thanked her friends for being there — deliberately naming everyone but Ted, who decided at that point that he would take Mary to the hotel room after all.

After they left, Barney announced that, "in keeping with tonight's award show motif," he was recruiting Vampire Lou to read the contents of an envelope that Barney produced containing the evening's surprise twist ending.

Mary, Vampire Lou announced, was not a prostitute.

Mary really was a paralegal from Barney's building. And Ted, Barney told the group, had no idea she wasn't a hooker. They all stared at him. "If you don't laugh," Barney said, "it just seems mean."

In the end, Ted couldn't go through with it. As they stood in the hall in front of the room, Ted told Mary he couldn't sleep with her because she was a hooker. She protested that she was a paralegal. They went back and forth that way until Ted finally realized she was telling the truth. By that time, however, she had decided she wanted nothing more to do with him.

As Ted was telling Barney and Marshall (Jason Segel) about his experience with Mary, Barney giggled uncontrollably, then tried to defend what he had done. Believing that Ted was in a slump, he told them had arranged for the date because it would restore Ted's confidence.

But the twist ending turned out to be that Ted went ahead and took the room for the night — the expensive one that Barney had put on his credit card for Ted and Mary. "Never checked out," he told Barney.

"You know what's super fun?" he asked Barney. "Pouring Dom Perignon down a bathtub drain." Then he announced that he had a massage appointment and left.

Marshall looked at the stunned Barney and delivered the punch line. "Come on. If you don't laugh, it just seems mean."

Friday, April 22, 2016

Maybe She Should Have Just Said No

It was the late Nancy Reagan, of course, who first used the phrase "Just Say No" in a public service announcement context. That context was to discourage people from using illegal drugs — but, really, it could be seen, in hindsight, as good advice whenever people did things that would have been better left undone.

It wouldn't necessarily have to be illegal behavior, just something that turned out badly.

As the episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Never Again," began on this night in 1956, a woman who had repeatedly pledged to stop drinking — and repeatedly broken that pledge — found herself in a strange bed with a bandage wrapped around one of her hands.

She concluded that she must be in the hospital — but she had no idea how or why she had been brought there. For that matter, she had no memory of what had happened the night before, only that she had been at a party and there had been lots of drinking — but not, she was sure, by her.

Whether you've been in her shoes — or in the shoes of those around her — that is probably a familiar scenario. It might not involve a hospital in your experience, but the rest of it ought to ring true if you are an alcoholic or are close to one.

And yet, the woman was certain that she hadn't been drinking the night before.

But, if she hadn't been drinking ...

Why was she in the hospital?

And why was her hand bandaged?

Gradually, she began to remember. She had run out of the party and found a taxi outside. She got into the taxi and went home.

Her boyfriend arrived shortly after she did, and they had a long talk. The woman decided she wanted to go back to the party. Her boyfriend worked with many of the people who were at the party, and she wanted to keep their tongues from wagging.

But when they got to the party, the woman found herself in a conversation with a young man who kept encouraging her to drink. He said he was the brother of the hostess, and she was the "life of the party," in his words.

She was clinging to the woman's boyfriend, and the young man, unaware of the woman's identity, spoke about how his sister was mad about the fellow, but he was going to marry "someone out of the business."

She was "a drunk," his sister had told him, and she was biding her time until the relationship fell apart.

As she listened, the woman lost her resolve to not drink — and she went on a binge with this young man, barhopping around town.

But her boyfriend tracked her down, accompanied by the hostess. Then he tried to take the woman home, but she fell and broke the glass she had been holding, cutting her wrist. That explained the bandage.

About this time, a nurse came into her room, and the woman said she was all right and wanted to go home. She mentioned the word hospital, and the nurse told her it wasn't a hospital. It was the city jail. She had been brought there because she had killed a man the night before.

She looked at the window and, for the first time, noticed the bars on them. That confirmed where she was.

Who had she killed? the woman wanted to know — and, at the same time, it seemed she didn't want to know. Perhaps she already did.

In typical Hitchcock fashion, she was told that it was her boyfriend who had been killed. His throat had been cut with a brandy glass.

I know. It sounds a bit predictable now, doesn't it? But in the context of the times in which it was made ...

From that point, my guess is that she probably had no trouble keeping her promise.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

If You Snooze, You Lose

"It is one thing, gentlemen, to stop a train on its way from Fort Knox to Los Angeles and steal its cargo. It's another thing to remain free to spend it."

Farwell (Oscar Beregi)

When I was a boy, my mother would read to me from a collection of Washington Irving's short stories. One of the stories was "Rip Van Winkle," and it was probably my favorite story in that book. I couldn't tell you why.

I didn't care much for "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." It probably scared me. I mean, I was only about 5 or 6 at the time. But I remember liking "Rip Van Winkle" so much that my parents bought a record for me of someone (probably someone who was well known at the time, but I'll be damned if I can remember who it was) narrating the story with sound effects and music. (They probably gave me that record so I wouldn't pester them to read the story to me.)

I didn't know it then, but by the time I heard that story for the first time, an episode of the Twilight Zone that was inspired by that story had already been written and aired at least once, probably several times in what passed for syndication in those days.

In the episode of the Twilight Zone that first aired on this night in 1961, "The Rip Van Winkle Caper," a group of criminals carried out what they thought would be the perfect crime.

They robbed a train carrying a cargo of $1 million worth of gold from Fort Knox to Los Angeles.

The leader of the gang was a scientist who had hatched a plan in which all four would be put in states of suspended animation in a desert cave and would "sleep" for a century. At the end of that time, they would wake up, divide the gold and be free to spend it, secure in the knowledge that all the people who had searched unsuccessfully for them were long gone.

(That was a pretty safe assumption. While it is true that today, 55 years after this episode first aired, medical science has extended lives with many discoveries, life expectancy for most people still falls at least 20 years short of the century mark — that is merely an average, of course. Some will die long before they reach the life expectancy age for their generation. Some will exceed it by a few years, but few will make it to their 100th birthdays.

(Some will. I have heard it said that we have more people aged 100 and older than ever before, and I have no doubt that is true. But that still represents a small portion of the population, and I am confident that nearly all of the people living today will be deceased a century from now.

(All of those who are alive today and will still be living on April 21, 2116 are children now, too, not adults. The oldest recorded age of any human was 122. That is considered "maximum life span," and I know of only one person in human history who achieved it — so, in terms of longevity, it is safe to say that anyone who will still be living a century from now is under 21 today — probably well under 21. In 1961, I'm sure the odds were that anyone living at that time who would still be living in 2061 probably hadn't reached his/her teen years, much less his/her 20s.)

It sure seemed like a foolproof plan.

And if the story happened to be true, those criminals would still have 45 years of suspended animation left for them on this date.

Of course, it wasn't true. But it was the kind of thing that Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling liked to use as the launching point for a story. This story wasn't exactly about time travel, but it was related to the concept. It was about overcoming the natural limitations of time.

When they were roused from their Rip Van Winkle–like slumber, the members of the gang went outside the cave and saw no indication of any changes. It all looked like it looked when they went to sleep, and they didn't think the plan had worked. They thought they had been asleep for an hour or two — until they discovered that one of their colleagues was dead and had decomposed to the point where nothing was left but his skeleton. A rock from the ceiling of the cave apparently had come loose and fallen on the glass enclosure in which he lay, breaking the glass and allowing the gas that kept him alive to escape.

They were sorry to lose their colleague, but his death proved that they had been sleeping in that cave for a long time.

(I have often wondered if that scene inspired the scene early in the original "Planet of the Apes" in which a crew member died in a similar fashion.)

The story then became a tale of greed, much as "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" did.) One of the criminals ran the other one over with the getaway truck — which seemed to operate pretty well for a vehicle that hadn't been started for a century, until the criminal tried to apply the brakes and they didn't work.

He dove out of the truck just before it went over a cliff — so he and the scientist had to walk to the nearest town — which, when they had "gone to sleep," had been about 28 miles away. They had no way of knowing if the town had grown and expanded closer to where they were in a century's time — or if a new town had sprung up between the cave and the old town. Not knowing what to expect, they started walking with a canteen of water apiece and knapsacks filled with as many bars of gold as they could carry. The rest would have to wait until they could come back for them.

His purpose in killing his colleague, of course, was to have more of the gold for himself. Instead of dividing it up four ways, the gold could now be divided between just two with the other two out of the picture.

And if he did away with the scientist, all the gold would be his.

He was a calculating type, all right, and when the scientist forgot his canteen after a rest stop, the criminal started charging him for swallows of water from his canteen — one bar of gold for one swallow.

That was the going rate initially. The next day the rate went up to two bars per swallow.

"I keep underestimating you," the scientist repeatedly said to the rather enterprising criminal. "You're quite an entrepreneur."

The scientist turned out to be full of surprises himself. At one point the criminal turned his attention away from the scientist — and the scientist struck him in the head with a bar of gold, then repeatedly pounded him as he lay unconscious on the desert floor.

All the gold — and what was left in the canteen — belonged to him — but it couldn't make his feet carry him to civilization any faster, and he collapsed — to be found shortly by someone was riding around in one of those Jetsons–like flying cars.

The scientist handed the man a bar of gold and told him he could keep it if he would take the scientist to town and give him some water. The scientist died a few seconds later, though, so the man decided to return to town and tell the authorities where they could find the body. He had a brief conversation with his female companion and told her about the gold. He said the old man had spoken about it "as if it were really worth something."

Turned out that while the gang had been slumbering in the cave, mankind had discovered how to manufacture gold, and that rendered their loot worthless.

Talk about a hard day's night.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Laugh and the World Laughs With You

In the episode of Bewitched that aired 45 years ago tonight, "Laugh, Clown, Laugh," Darrin (Dick Sargent) was under the gun, as it were, to appease a client of his advertising agency who, it was believed, was on the verge of taking his account somewhere else.

As so often happened, his mother–in–law, Endora (Agnes Moorehead), showed up while he was working at home, and she was offended by what she regarded as his brusque behavior. She felt he had no sense of humor — so later at his office she popped (unseen, as the witches in Bewitched were wont to be) in and cast a spell on him that made him tell jokes at inappropriate times.

With a truly humorless client — and his wife — coming in, it is safe to say it was neither the time nor the place for jokes — even good ones but especially not bad ones. And Darrin's jokes were bad.

Some reinforced the old saying that many a truth is said in jest. For example, on the subject of mothers–in–law, Darrin said, "My mother–in–law has one terrible habit. ... Breathing."

Paging Rodney Dangerfield.

The client, as I say, was a humorless sort. He already thought Darrin wasn't serious enough to handle his account. That impression hardened when Darrin came into a meeting with the client and his boss (David White) telling bad jokes.

His boss sent him home on the pretense that he wasn't feeling well. He then tried to pitch Darrin's ideas to the client himself, but Darrin left with the sketches for his advertising ideas.

While he was at home, Darrin and Endora interacted again, and Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) implored Endora to take the spell off Darrin. Reluctantly, she did so, but after Darrin was summoned back to the office and he was out of Samantha's sight, Endora put a new spell on him: He would no longer tell jokes, but now he would laugh whenever he heard something sad or terrible. In fact, according to Endora's spell, the worse it was, the more he would laugh.

So Darrin decided not to return to the office. After all, the client ran an insurance company, and it was introducing a new line of policies to protect people from the scourge of pollution.

It was a recipe for disaster, but, of course, the mere mention of the word disaster was enough to have Darrin in stitches.

His boss, meanwhile, had decided to bring the client and his wife to Darrin. The client had decided to take an early flight home, apparently having decided (but not confirmed) that he would be changing advertising agencies — and Darrin's boss volunteered to take them to the airport.

Since Darrin's house was kind of on the way to the airport, they would swing by to meet with him. It would give him one last opportunity to save the account.

"I thought you said he was sick," the client said.

"He is," Darrin's boss said, "but he's not unconscious."

So they went to Darrin's house — and Darrin and Samantha, with some fast thinking, persuaded the client to use a humorous approach to advertisements for a serious product.

Endora was foiled again.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Gilligan and the Beanstalk

Mary Ann (Dawn Wells): When in doubt, use the farmer's formula: One part sunshine, two parts water and three parts prayer.

Professor (Russell Johnson): [reading from book] "The scientific approach to the rapid growth of citrus fruits is assured with the proper amounts of vitamin D, aqua naturalis and fertilizer containing sodium chloride, nitrate of potassium and calcium. If this doesn't achieve results, try one part sunshine, two parts water and three parts prayer."

As I have observed here before, to watch Gilligan's Island, it was often necessary to suspend one's disbelief considerably. Reality programming may have enjoyed a boom in the early 21st century, but in the middle of the 20th century, fantasy ruled the airwaves. After all, Gilligan's Island was on in a decade that had sitcoms featuring things like talking horses, witches, genies and transplanted hillbillies.

Occasionally such programs would do episodes that tackled — or attempted to tackle — a serious topic, as Gilligan's Island did 50 years ago tonight with "V for Vitamins," but sitcoms that took on serious topics often seemed compelled to double down on the fantasy part to compensate.

In "V for Vitamins," the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) experienced a sudden weakness, an inability to do things he once did with ease. The Professor (Russell Johnson) concluded, after examining the Skipper, that it was due to the absence of vitamin C in his diet — a deficiency, he further concluded, that would kill each of the castaways in turn, according to their size. The Skipper, being the largest, would go first. Mary Ann (Dawn Wells), being the smallest, would be last.

Now, it is a fact that vitamin deficiencies can be serious matters, even deadly, and this might have been a great opportunity for Gilligan's Island to educate the public. Instead it veered off into fantasy.

Now, that, too, can be effective as an educational device, depending upon how it is applied. In this case, I think it was mostly applied for laughs — and, for a sitcom, there isn't anything wrong with that. But it rather starkly illustrates the difference in the objectives of sitcoms of the '60s and sitcoms of the '70s.

Sitcoms of the '70s often took on serious topics — but they used them differently. I guess that went with the territory. The talking horses, hillbillies, genies and witches were gone; they had been replaced by people you were more likely to encounter in your day–to–day life, like Archie Bunker and George Jefferson, and the issues they dealt with were issues you were more likely to deal with in your day–to–day life as well. The TV writers of the '70s didn't want to be frivolous, but they believed that the best way to handle divisive subjects was to find common ground through humor.

After learning that the Skipper had a vitamin C deficiency, Gilligan (Bob Denver) somehow found an orange in the jungle — and apparently didn't know that oranges are sources of vitamin C. Nor, apparently, did he know that pineapples — one of which could be seen on the table when Gilligan told Ginger (Tina Louise) and Mary Ann about the vitamin C deficiency they all had — were also sources of vitamin C.

And I am not a farmer by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to me that, if there is an orange or a pineapple growing somewhere, there are bound to be others nearby. It has not been my experience that one of anything — except, sometimes, humans — grows anywhere on this planet. Even a single orange seed would yield a tree that produced more than one orange.

But Gilligan claimed there were no other oranges in the jungle — and the subject of the pineapple just never came up.

Gilligan did try to be generous with the orange, offering to divide it into seven equal parts so each person could have some. But then arguments broke out about who need more and such. In the end, of course, the Professor had to point out that a single slice of an orange wouldn't be enough to help any of them. They needed more vitamin C on a regular basis. Mr. Howell (Jim Backus) tried to get people to sell him their slices.

As all this was going on, the orange shriveled in the hot sun.

The castaways decided that the thing to do was plant the seeds, and the Professor found, in one of his books (that's another thing — why would the Professor bring along so many books on what had been intended to be a three–hour cruise?), guidelines for accelerating the growth of citrus fruits.

So the castaways went about planting the seeds.

One of the things that had to be done was to keep the seeds warm on the chilly island nights. So the men were taking turns standing watch over the torches, making sure they stayed lit.

But when Gilligan took his turn, he dozed off, and the torches went out.

Meanwhile, Gilligan fell into one of those TV dream sequences in which he dreamed he was Jack of "Jack and the Beanstalk" fame — only instead of sending him to get beans, his mother (played by Mrs. Howell, Natalie Schafer), sent him to get oranges.

On his way to the market, Gilligan encountered a con man (Mr. Howell) who talked him into giving him the jewels his mother had given him to exchange for oranges. The con man sold Gilligan what he said were "magic" seeds that would produce an orange grove. His mother was upset and threw the seeds out the window — and they magically produced a beanstalk rising to the sky.

Gilligan climbed the beanstalk and found a castle among the clouds. It was occupied by a giant (the Skipper) who had a housekeeper (Mary Ann) who was Gilligan's instant ally. The giant also had a goose that laid golden oranges, and Gilligan resolved to take it back with him. That, he was sure, would please his mother.

But there were delays in getting away from the castle. Gilligan and the housekeeper heard cries for help and freed two old people (Ginger and the Professor) who were being held captive. In typical Ginger style, the old woman insisted on rewarding her rescuer with a kiss; when she kissed him, she was transformed into a young, beautiful princess. She explained that she was a princess who had been put under a spell that could only be broken by a kiss from a young man.

The old man said that he was really a prince, and he needed a kiss to turn him back into a prince. Gilligan refused, but the princess observed that Mary Ann's kiss was what he needed.

If anything, Mary Ann was more reluctant than Gilligan, but she went ahead with it. The old man did not turn into a prince, and Mary Ann said so in disgust: "You're not a prince!"

"No, I'm not," the old man replied. "Well, don't believe everything you hear, girlie!"

(Once I saw Russell Johnson talking in an interview about that episode. He said he took the cackle and jig from Walter Huston in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," my favorite Humphrey Bogart movie. Well, if you're gonna steal — excuse me, borrow — you might as well steal/borrow from the best.

(In fact, I saw interviews with most of the actors who were regulars on Gilligan's Island, and most, if not all, said their favorite episodes were the ones in which they got to play special characters within the context of their usual characters. "V for Vitamins" gave just about everyone an opportunity to spread their wings a little — except, I thought, for Schafer, whose contributions to episodes were typically modest, anyway.)

Gilligan tried to get back to the beanstalk, but he was cornered by the giant in an amusing sequence in which Denver's own son, Patrick, played his father, allowing Hale to play the giant.

It was about this point when the Skipper and the Professor woke up Gilligan, whose first concern was the torches.

The Skipper and the Professor weren't worried about that. They had discovered lemons and grapefruit growing in the jungle, solving their vitamin C problem.

Which leads me to another issue.

The castaways' island was so small it did not appear on any maps. Based on the images of the island that viewers saw, there were no volcanoes or mountains or anything like that — although there were episodes that referred to a mountain or a volcano on the island. The TV show had been on the air nearly two full seasons when this episode had aired.

In all that time on such a tiny island, doesn't it seem strange that not a one of the seven castaways had ever discovered lemons or grapefruits growing there?

Consequently the subject of vitamin C and its essential role in human health never needed to come up.

Still it was an entertaining story.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Listen to Your Mother!

"In one night I managed to hurt two people I cared about — and none of it would have happened if I had listened to my mom."

Ted (Josh Radnor)

When one is young, one is apt to think that one's elders are being killjoys when they try to pass along the cautionary wisdom they have gained the hard way.

Don't bother to deny it. We've all been there — well, there are exceptions, but they are so rare as to be statistically inconsequential.

On this night 10 years ago, How I Met Your Mother dramatically illustrated the truth of the adage "Nothing good happens after 2 a.m." or whatever the equivalent was that your parents/grandparents/teachers/whoever told you. Some folks will say midnight or 10 p.m., whatever they have selected as the curfew.

The episode was called, appropriately enough, "Nothing Good Happens After 2 A.M."

Now, as I observed a few weeks ago, Ted (Josh Radnor) had begun a relationship with a girl named Victoria he met at a wedding. She was a baker who had made the wedding cake. Not long into their relationship, she accepted a cooking fellowship in Germany. Ted tried to carry on a long–distance relationship but found it unsatisfying, as people inevitably do.

Victoria wrote Ted a letter telling him she would call at a certain time on a certain day, and Ted was convinced she was going to break up with him.

Which bring us to the episode that aired 10 years ago tonight.

Robin (Cobie Smulders) called Ted at 2 a.m. and asked if he wanted to come over.

"Go home, Ted," everyone advised him — well, not everyone. Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) advised him to go home, but Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) did not. And Lily inadvertently lit a fire under Ted when she spilled the beans about Robin being attracted to him.

Of course, Ted went to Robin's. He still hadn't heard from Victoria, although his subconscious kept seeing her everywhere — in the taxi, on the steps in front of Robin's apartment. And when Robin asked him how the conversation with his girlfriend had gone, he lied. He told her they had broken up, which hadn't happened yet, but he was sure it would. He showed Robin his new phone. It was exactly like hers.

That gave him a chance to tell a metaphor–loaded story about how he liked that old phone, but the new phone just felt right.

Then he got a phone call from the gang and went into the hallway to take it. They implored him to go home; he implied that he would, but he didn't.

He started to do the right thing and leave — but he found himself in an embrace with Robin. The next thing the audience knew, they were making out on the couch and agreed to move things to the bedroom, but, before they did, Ted made a dash for the bathroom and grabbed a phone. The wrong phone.

He found that out after having a conversation with subconscious Victoria in the bathroom. Turned out Robin was having a conversation with the real Victoria out in the living room. The phone rang, and thinking it was hers, Robin answered.

She told Ted that Victoria had called and that he ought to call her back. Then Robin went to the bedroom. Alone.

A pretty vivid example of how nothing good happens after 2 a.m.

Except ...

The first time I saw this episode I remembered the night Jimmy Carter was elected president. He rolled up a big lead in the popular vote with huge margins in most of the Southern states, but the race was still a cliffhanger in the Electoral College late into the evening.

Finally, around 3 a.m., the networks called Mississippi for Carter, putting him over the top.

So, I would say, from Jimmy Carter's perspective, something good did happen after 2 a.m. At least once.

Although given the way his presidency turned out — maybe it wasn't so good in the long run.

Anyway, what was the moral of the story, my millennial readers?

Simply put, it is this: Your elders aren't trying to deprive you of anything when they tell you not to do something. See, they had to learn it the hard way. They love you, and they want to help you avoid something that most of us simply have to learn for ourselves. The hard way.

And I suppose most of us just have to learn this the hard way: When it is 2 in the morning, you are better off just going home and going to bed. Alone.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

A Change of Scenery -- and Personalities -- for the Castaways

Mary Ann (Dawn Wells): [kisses Dr. Balinkoff] That's for seeing our fire.

Ginger (Tina Louise): [also kisses him] That's for coming to our rescue.

Mary Ann: [kisses him again] That's for taking us off the island.

[Ginger gives him a long passionate kiss on the lips]

Dr. Boris Balinkoff (Vito Scotti): What was that for?

Ginger: That's for being a man!

If you grew up in the 1960s and watched Gilligan's Island — or even if you didn't grow up in the '60s but still caught Gilligan's Island in reruns — you must remember Vito Scotti.

Scotti was an Italian character actor who was known as the man of a thousand faces because of his skill at playing so many different types of characters in the movies and on TV. He made four appearances on Gilligan's Island, the first two as a Japanese soldier who didn't know that World War II had ended 20 years earlier, the other two as a mad scientist, Dr. Boris Balinkoff.

The first time he appeared as Dr. Balinkoff was 50 years ago tonight. Dr. Balinkoff came to the island with an offer to take the castaways back to civilization by way of his island in an episode titled "The Friendly Physician." He told them he was going to rescue them. He did not tell them that he planned to use them in an experiment.

His pretense was that he had seen the castaways' signal fire, and no one bothered to ask him any in–depth questions — even when he took only Gilligan (Bob Denver) and the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) back to his island — initially. As I recall, the doctor's henchman, Igor (Mike Mazurki), was going to come back for the rest of the castaways. The doctor's boat wasn't big enough for nine people.

As there often were in episodes of Gilligan's Island, this episode was riddled with issues. You really had to suspend disbelief to enjoy just about any of the episodes. If you asked too many questions, well, you would ruin it!

Perhaps the biggest problem for people who weren't born when Gilligan's Island was on the air and want to see reruns of episodes is the fact that many scenes in the episodes have been cut to free time for more commercials. About the only way you can see the original episodes in their entirety is to watch the episodes on DVD.

What the castaways didn't know was that Dr. Balinkoff intended to use them as subjects in mind transformation experiments.

When everyone was on the doctor's island — the only time, by the way, that the castaways got off their island during the show's three–year run — they were taken, two at a time, to the doctor's laboratory, where they were put into separate glass booths, the doctor pulled a lever, there were a lot of flashing lights and buzzing sounds, and the two would emerge from their booths with the other person's mind and personality.

Gilligan and Mr. Howell (Jim Backus) were switched. The Skipper and Mrs. Howell (Natalie Schafer) were switched. And Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) and the Professor (Russell Johnson) were switched.

Ginger (Tina Louise) was switched with Igor. That was the doctor's big mistake. Igor was a strongman, and now he had a mind that was allied with the castaways, not the doctor. In the dungeon where they were all being held, the Professor/Mary Ann encouraged Ginger/Igor to break the chains that kept them where they were.

She protested that she wasn't strong enough to break anything more than a fingernail. "You are now," the Professor/Mary Ann told Ginger/Igor.

And Ginger/Igor did, indeed, break the chains and freed her friends.

Igor, in Ginger's body, was no use at all to the doctor.

That is a good example of plot inconsistency. Before the audience saw Ginger speaking with Igor's voice, the doctor was trying to speak to Igor and persuade him to manhandle the castaways. But Igor, having Ginger's mind, refused.

At that point, Ginger's body came to the doorway.

"Igor, what has happened to you?" the doctor asked.

"I'm in here," Ginger said in Igor's voice, pounding her fist on her chest. "Feels good!"

Now, if the doctor didn't know that Ginger and Igor had been switched, who threw the lever in the laboratory? Everyone else was chained up in the dungeon.

Well, that was when the castaways revolted. They all went to the laboratory, where everyone was restored to his or her original self. Then the castaways put Dr. Balinkoff and Igor into one booth and a cat and dog into the other booth and locked them in, then left the laboratory. Gilligan was the last to leave, and he threw the lever before leaving, switching Dr. Balinkoff and Igor with the dog and cat.

The castaways intended to take the boat back to civilization. As they were leaving, Dr. Balinkoff and Igor came running out — this time with the minds of the dog and cat.

They were followed by the dog and cat speaking in the voices of Dr. Balinkoff and Igor.

That was another inconsistency. Who opened the booths and freed the four?

Oh, and as for the boat. The castaways went back to their island to pick up a few supplies, then they were planning to leave — but before they could leave, the boat sank in their lagoon.

And the castaways were stranded on the island again.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Concert Ticket I Never Bought

"Look at the past 25 years — we went downhill, and if people don't realize it, they don't have their fucking eyes on. In 1960, when I came out of prison as an ex–convict, I had more freedom under parolee supervision than there's available to an average citizen in America right now. I mean, there was nobody going to throw you down on the side of the road spread–eagled and look up your butt for a fucking marijuana cigarette. God almighty, what have we done to each other?"

Merle Haggard

I was driving home from work this afternoon when I heard on the radio that Merle Haggard had died.

Now, no one would ever mistake me for a country music fan, but there are some country singers I like. Most of them are dead now, I guess. Hank Williams Sr. has been gone a long time. Waylon Jennings hasn't been gone quite as long. Neither has Johnny Cash.

I like Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, too, and I always took comfort in the fact that they were still around — and still recording together. Last summer they released their sixth — and, as it turned out, final — album together. I got it a couple of days after it was released, and I couldn't tell you how many times I listened to it in my car.

I had a couple of opportunities to see him play last year, but I passed them up. It goes without saying, I suppose, that I regret that now. Tickets were too expensive, I tell myself now as I did then. They were expensive, but if I had seen him play, I would have a memory that would last the rest of my life.

And you can't really put a price on that.

Oh, Merle died today. Complications from pneumonia. It was his 79th birthday.

I've seen Willie Nelson in concert — twice. The first time was the summer after high school graduation. I took a couple of girls I graduated with to see him perform with Emmylou Harris. Then, when I was in college, a friend of mine and I went to see Willie Nelson with Ray Price.

Those were great shows, and they are great memories for me. I never think about what those tickets cost — much less than concert tickets today, I am sure, but probably still a bit pricey for the time. I remember the experiences, just as I would be remembering that night when I saw Willie and Merle together.

Except I didn't see them together. I was too cheap.

I'm being too hard on myself, I guess. Like a lot of people, I was hit hard by the Great Recession. Money has been hard to come by for me, and I seldom spend it on something I see as frivolous.

Last year I felt that a concert ticket would be a frivolous expense for me.

I don't feel that way tonight.

Rest in peace, Merle. I think I'll listen to "Are the Good Times Really Over?"

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

A Century of Gregory Peck

"You have to dream, you have to have a vision, and you have to set a goal for yourself that might even scare you a little because sometimes that seems far beyond your reach. Then I think you have to develop a kind of resistance to rejection and to the disappointments that are sure to come your way."

Gregory Peck (1916–2003)

I've heard it said that, when Gregory Peck won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in "To Kill a Mockingbird," he was rewarded for playing himself. If that is true, it certainly was appropriate. After all, who better to play Gregory Peck ... than Gregory Peck?

Of course, he wasn't playing himself. He was playing a part that had been created in Harper Lee's masterpiece.

I don't know if Lee had Gregory Peck in mind for Atticus Finch when she wrote the book, but I don't think she did. I have always heard that she patterned the character of Atticus after her father — and I have also heard that her first choice for the part had been Rock Hudson.

Nothing against Rock Hudson, but I simply can't imagine him or anyone else improving on Peck's performance.

And it was a role that was perfect for him, one of those rare times when a great character is portrayed by the perfect actor or actress. Peck himself described the experience of portraying Atticus as "like putting on an old suit of clothes — just comfortable."

Today would have been Gregory Peck's 100th birthday. Turner Classic Movies is marking the occasion with a primetime salute, in which some of his greatest performances can be seen. Oh, who am I kidding? Gregory Peck was great in everything he did. Sometimes his performances were better than the material. No such problem in "To Kill a Mockingbird," though.

And you can see for yourself tonight at 9 p.m. (Central) when TCM airs "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"I put everything I had into it — all my feelings and everything I'd learned in 46 years of living, about family life and fathers and children. And my feelings about racial justice and inequality and opportunity."

Gregory Peck on his role as Atticus Finch

Monday, April 04, 2016

Keeping Up With Miss Jones

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that, when one part of your life starts going OK, another falls spectacularly to pieces."

Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger)

For some reason the late '90s and the early 2000s were prime years for TV shows and movies about the trials and tribulations of young single women.

Well, perhaps it wasn't quite as extreme as all that, but it is true that, from Calista Flockhart in Ally McBeal to Renee Zellweger in "Bridget Jones's Diary," young single women were hot properties during those years.

Speaking of "Bridget Jones's Diary," which premiered in the United Kingdom (where the story was set) on this day in 2001, film critic Roger Ebert apparently read the book upon which the movie was based. "Glory be, they didn't muck it up," he wrote in his review.

I never read the book, but based on what I saw in the movie, it must have been a fun read.

"As in the book, Bridget arrives at her 32nd birthday determined to take control of her life," wrote Ebert, "which until now has consisted of smoking too much, drinking too much, eating too much and not finding the right man, or indeed much of any man."

That sounds like a recipe for a pretty endearing character — a clearly flawed character but, nevertheless, charmingly so. And, to be honest, Zellweger was perfect for the part. She has such a captivating personality.

And, based on Ebert's description of the Bridget Jones of the book — "a heroine both lovable and human" — I don't have to read it to presume that Zellweger was ideal for the role. I'd like to read it, though. As I said earlier, it sounds like a fun read. Maybe I will read it this summer.

"Zellweger's Bridget is a reminder of the first time we became really aware of her in a movie," wrote Ebert, "in 'Jerry Maguire,' where she was so cute and vulnerable we wanted to tickle and console her at the same time."

Ebert went on to observe that "[a] story like this can't work unless we feel unconditional affection for the heroine, and casting Zellweger achieves that." I agree.

One of my favorite moments in the movie was when Bridget said she felt like a "screen goddess in manner of Grace Kelly" — just before her Kellyesque scarf blew off as she was riding in a convertible — "though perhaps ever so slightly less elegant under pressure."

The rest of the casting seemed pretty solid as well. Hugh Grant is not my favorite actor, but he was the right choice to play Bridget's pompous boss Daniel, who embodied all of the personality quirks that Bridget made a point of stressing in her diary that she wanted to avoid in future relationships.

Bridget worked at a book publishing company, by the way.

I had more of a lukewarm response to Colin Firth, who played an interesting role. He and Bridget had been children together — and he and Daniel had been friends until they had a falling out.

As is so often the case, the heroine of the story fell for the rogue.

But the audience always suspected — as I guess the readers before them did — that Firth's character was really the one for her.

The audience found that out for certain when Bridget discovered that Daniel had been cheating on her. This revelation, by the way, came before the midway point of the movie.

I have to admit that, as a journalist, I was drawn in by the part of the story where Bridget became a TV correspondent. My career has been in print, and print journalists usually look down on TV journalists as not being very, well, journalistic. The prevailing attitude is that TV journalists are more entertainers than journalists — and Bridget certainly seemed that way when she did things like slide down the fire station pole in one of her early broadcast pieces.

But later, when she was dispatched to get an in–depth interview with a British aid worker and the Kurdish freedom fighter, I could relate to her emotions. The aid worker had married the freedom fighter and had been trying for five years to keep him from being returned to his home country where he faced all but certain execution. The decision was to be handed down, and Bridget was sent to cover it.

I could relate to her sense of significance in the world as she went to cover the event. I remember feeling that way when I was assigned to a big story. "Am suddenly hard–headed journalist," she wrote in her diary, "ruthlessly committed to promoting justice and liberty. Nothing can distract me from my dedication to the pursuit of truth."

When she learned that the defendants she had hoped to interview had been spirited away, she feared losing her job, but it turned out that Firth's character had been the defense attorney, and he had instructed the defendants not to give any interviews.

He also arranged to give Bridget an exclusive interview.

And Bridget realized that he loved her just as she was.

That's what we all want, isn't it?