Thursday, March 30, 2017

Power to the Little People

"All right, my little friends, comes now the new age, the age of — the age of Peter Craig. Let us begin to build the statue again. Let us commence to begin."

Peter Craig (Joe Maross)

Whether one believes in God or not, I suppose we have all wondered at some time in our lives, however fleetingly, what we might have done differently if we had been the Creator. Such musing is rooted in a desire for power. Ultimate power.

Perhaps we don't go quite that far in our musing. Perhaps we fantasize about being the one giving the orders instead of the one taking the orders. While it may be more muted in that scenario, it's still about power, though, isn't it?

Peter Craig (Joe Maross) didn't like being bossed around and not–so–secretly wished to be the boss. In the episode of Twilight Zone that premiered on this night in 1962, "The Little People," he was the No. 2 man in a two–astronaut crew in a spaceship exploring the heavens. As the No. 2 guy, clearly, he took his orders from the No. 1 guy, played by Claude Akins.

And he didn't like it.

When the episode began, the astronauts were stranded on some planet that viewers were told was millions of miles from Earth. They were in what appeared to be a canyon with no vegetation in sight. But the planet had oxygen, and it was quite warm with two suns blazing during the day.

The ship needed some repairs, and Akins set about the task. Craig, meanwhile, went on hikes that kept him away all day.

Akins became suspicious when he never saw Craig drinking from his canteen.

When pressed about it, Craig confessed. He had found a source of water, a little stream; as Akins pursued the matter, he learned that Craig had discovered a race of tiny people. They had built a tiny city on the banks of that "stream," which was a river to them.

Craig said he had been communicating with the little people. He didn't know their language, and they didn't know his, but they had managed to communicate through a form of language that appeared to be primarily mathematical.

The little people had been quite accommodating — mostly out of fear. Whenever angered Craig stomped on something in the little people's world, causing considerable carnage while devoting no more effort to it than one would give to stepping on an ant hill.

The little people were terrified, and they did everything they could to appease this "giant." They built a huge (in their estimation) statue of Craig overnight. He was becoming a god — their god through whose benevolence their destinies were determined.

And he didn't want to leave this planet where he was revered as a god — even though Akins had repaired the spaceship and was preparing to leave.

Craig told Akins to go — but, as far as he was concerned, Craig had no intention of leaving. Probably an ordinary–sized man on Earth, Craig was so big he could blot out the sun for the little people. He could cast them into eternal darkness with only his shadow.

The power was entirely his.

Until two space travelers arrived. They were as big compared to Craig as Craig had been to the little people. One reached down to pick up a ranting Craig and crushed him to death. Then the travelers left.

The little people, liberated by Craig's death, immediately tore down the statue they had built to Craig.

The ending always makes me think of something Florence Eldridge said to Fredric March in "Inherit the Wind" when he told her that a victory in that court case would be "a monument to God that would last a thousand years."
"Every man has to build his own monument. You can't do it for them. If you do, it becomes your monument. Not theirs. And they'll topple it the minute they find a flaw in it."

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Soundtrack of the '60s

I have several Bob Dylan albums on CD today, but when I was a teenager the first vinyl Dylan recording I ever owned was his first greatest hits collection, which hit the music stores 50 years ago today.

It had been in stores for many years by the time I added it to my collection, but I knew I would like it before I ever played it. I was familiar with every song on it.

Lots of folks must have felt the same way. Dylan has released more than three dozen albums in his remarkable career. The greatest hits collection that arrived in music stores on this day in 1967 is his top–selling album.

Perhaps it set a standard in my impressionable mind for all greatest hits albums to come — a standard that no other greatest hits album could hope to match, although I will admit that one or two have come close.

Even today I will look at that CD and think to myself that it is the perfect collection of Dylan's early music. (Two other volumes of his greatest hits have been released, but even three volumes — and one was a double album — weren't comprehensive accounts of Dylan's career.)

I mentioned that once to my friend Brady, who is probably Dylan's greatest admirer among my friends, and he seemed kind of amused by that. Maybe he could think of a song or two that he felt should have been included — he didn't say — but I can't. I still think it is a perfect collection of Dylan's best from the '60s — and I say that knowing that "John Wesley Harding" and "Nasvhille Skyline" had not yet been released.

Apparently, I am not the only person who feels that way about this album. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of wrote that "[a]t just 10 songs, it's a little brief" — if you're familiar with recordings from the '60s, you know that was probably unavoidable since most songs tended to be two, three, at most four minutes long most of the time. Yes, it is a little brief by modern standards — just under 40 minutes.

"[B]ut that's actually not a bad thing," Erlewine wrote, "since this provides a nice sampler for the curious and casual listener."

Indeed it does. If I was going to introduce someone to Dylan, the "Greatest Hits" album would be the first album I would recommend. I would tell my friend that he/she should listen to individual Dylan albums, not just a greatest hits package, but the greatest hits album would be a good starting point.

Chances are that, like me, that person already would be familiar with every song on the album. It wasn't just a document of the early years of Dylan's career — although it certainly was that. It was a time capsule, a collection of the most socially relevant songs of probably the most socially explosive time in our history (which was still unfolding when the album first arrived in music stores). Songs like "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are A–Changin'," "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Just Like a Woman" punctuate the album. They form the soundtrack of their time.

The soundtrack of the '60s.

Oh, sure, you could throw in some other songs by other artists to get a true soundtrack for the '60s — but you can find a lot of it on this one album. The selections are like next–generation versions of "This Land Is Your Land."

My favorites from the album are probably "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

That reminds me of a story.

From time to time in my life, I have taught journalism to students in four–year and two–year colleges. A few years ago, I was in the classroom a few minutes before the start of a class, and some of my students were there as well. One of them asked me what my favorite rap song was. I kid you not.

I told him that the closest thing to rap in my collection was Dylan singing "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

A girl in the class piped up. "That's the original rap song!"

I was impressed that she knew the song, considering that it was recorded about 30 years before she was born.

"You get an A!" I told her. Then I looked at the other students. "See how easy it is?" I asked.

In fact, that girl did receive an A in that class. But it wasn't because of what she said that day. She was a good student and deserved the grade she got.

But what she said sure didn't hurt.

Up, Up and Away

On this night in 1967 the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a great space race. Their international competition to see who could get to the moon first was constantly in the news, and both countries were inclined to jealously guard their information about everything anyway, not just space exploration, although that was high on the list.

Well, that is what I have heard. My memories of the space race are not as clear as they would be if I had been older so I was unaware of any cloak–and–dagger stuff that might have been going on. It really wouldn't surprise me, though, given the atmosphere of fear and suspicion in those Cold War days. Even at my tender age, I was aware of that much. The race was with the Russians, and it had implications that went far beyond space and the moon. The Russians couldn't be permitted to know any of our secrets, even if those secrets meant nothing to national security in the long run.

I guess I always assumed that the Russian people were subjected to the same kind of propaganda that the Americans were. Considering the nature of the Soviet government, it was probably likely.

So it wasn't hard for audiences to accept the national security angle to the episode of Gilligan's Island that first aired 50 years ago tonight, "It's a Bird, It's a Plane." They were conditioned to it.

When the episode began, an experimental jet pack had fallen overboard from a naval ship and drifted to the island, where Gilligan (Bob Denver) discovered it in the lagoon.

Gilligan recognized the resemblance to a pack worn by fictional space traveler Buck Rogers. The Professor (Russell Johnson) recognized the potential the pack had to be their long–sought rescue.

The mere fact that the jet pack was missing was enough for the frantic folks back on the mainland to launch a massive search of the area. This had happened before during the series' three–year run. Amazingly no one ever came across Gilligan's little island during one of those searches when — presumably — no stone (metaphorically speaking) would be left unturned.

Initially the idea on the island was that someone would strap on the jet pack and fly to Hawaii, but the Professor wanted to evaluate the matter first. While he was doing that, both the Howells (Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer) and the girls (Dawn Wells, Tina Louise) tried to trick Gilligan into strapping on the jet pack and taking off.

The efforts were thwarted, though. The Professor had come up with a plan that wasn't as dangerous as having one of the castaways fly over the ocean to Hawaii. They would construct a dummy to precise height and weight specifications, strap on the jet pack and aim it at the right trajectory to fly to Hawaii with a note attached to it alerting the authorities to their location.

But Gilligan accidentally wound up riding the dummy through the jungle and burning up most of the fuel. There was enough left for maybe a 15–minute flight.

And then the castaways were given a reason to use it for that purpose.

The search ships would be in their area the next day — according to the radio (which, remarkably, always started reporting on precisely whatever the castaways wanted to hear about the minute they switched on the radio). It was decided that someone would take that 15–minute flight to draw the ships' attention.

What remained was to choose who would take the flight. They needed to undergo a test to see who was least likely to become dizzy and light–headed.

So all four men climbed into a cylindrical contraption that could be made to spin when someone rode a stationary bicycle to generate power. When they emerged, Gilligan was the only one who wasn't dizzy or light–headed so he was chosen to fly when the search party was in the area.

The Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) had an explanation for that. Gilligan, he said, was "dizzy and light–headed all the time — he's just used to it."

So Gilligan piloted the jet pack — with the radio hanging around his neck so he could hear news reports. And he did hear one — the sighting of a UFO from one of the search ships. Not realizing that the report was actually the sighting of Gilligan, he ducked into a cloud — and created an unexpected shower. The Navy called off the search.

Once again, Gilligan had thwarted a rescue.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Andy and Barney's Excellent Adventure

Andy (Andy Griffith): Now, Barn, outside of that meetin' we got with the commissioner, we're really off duty, you know.

Barney (Don Knotts): Off duty? When is a lawman really off duty?

If you didn't grow up in a small town, what I am about to write may not make much sense to you.

But I grew up in a small town in central Arkansas, about a 30–minute drive from Little Rock. It wasn't as small as the Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show, but it was much smaller than it is today. We knew that we could get most of the things we needed in my hometown, but for some things we had to drive to the big city.

That was the mindset of Barney (Don Knotts) in the episode that premiered on this night in 1962, "Andy and Barney in the Big City." Andy (Andy Griffith) and Barney went to the state capitol to ask for funds for new equipment.

They weren't exactly encouraged by what the commissioner had to tell them. He said the chances of getting their request approved were slim, given that not much happened in Mayberry.

Barney, who told Andy earlier that he believed the city was where he really belonged, decided that they needed to make a felony arrest that would bring them some attention, and he made the following observation that rings so true from my own childhood experiences: "People come here to the city to shop for things they can't get back home."

But what he had to say next definitely was not a part of my childhood.

"We do the same thing. No felonies in Mayberry? We pick one up here."

Barney had his eye on a fellow who was paying particular attention to a guest at the hotel who was carrying a considerable stash of jewels. He didn't realize the fellow was the hotel detective, and he was providing protection for the guest.

A real criminal came into the hotel, and Barney struck up a friendship with him. Barney got the idea that the criminal was actually the owner of the local newspaper and sensed an opportunity to grab the kind of headlines the Mayberry sheriff's office needed to get that new equipment.

The friendship quickly became a partnership.

As usual, Barney — in his blustery sort of way — got it all wrong and nearly allowed the thief to get away with the jewels, but Andy, in his usual way, bailed Barney out.

But there was one thing Andy couldn't change — the fact that Barney, thinking the hotel detective was the thief, had locked the detective in a closet.

One of the delightful scenes in this episode was one of Knotts' own creations. I refer to the scene in the French restaurant when Barney pointed to items on the menu to keep the waiter from thinking Barney was a rube. Andy thought that was too much of a gamble and said he would tell the waiter what he wanted.

"Don't do that," Barney said. "He'll think you're a plain hick."

"There's worse things than being a plain hick," Andy replied, "like being a hongry one."

Andy wound up with a steak, baked potato and green beans. Barney ended up with a plate of snails and brains.

Many years later, Knotts re–created the scene in an episode of Three's Company.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Where Nobody Knows Your Name

"Either I am crazy or somebody's going to an awful lot of trouble to blot me out."

David (Richard Long)

I enjoy Twilight Zone episodes for many reasons, much the way I like the works of Stephen King.

I enjoy good entertainment, and one of the ways I like to be entertained is to see or read something that sends a little chill down my spine. Folks from my parents' generation called it the heebie jeebies, which is still probably the best way to describe it.

It's probably what made the "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" movies so popular — although I have always preferred thrillers that had more going for them than merely shower slasher attacks that shamelessly borrowed the famous shower scene from "Psycho."

Twilight Zone specialized in heebie jeebies. It didn't always achieve heebie jeebie status — neither does King, for that matter — but it came close on many occasions if it didn't hit the bull's eye.

The episode that first aired on this night in 1962, "Person or Persons Unknown," was one of the episodes that hit the bull's eye.

Richard Long, a familiar TV actor from those days (in addition to his many appearances on other programs, he appeared in another Twilight Zone episode two years later), played a character who woke up one morning after a night of heavy partying to discover that no one — not his wife, his mother, his friends, his colleagues at work — knew who he was.

The opening narration observed that he had "just lost his most valuable possession" — his identity. There was no evidence of his existence anywhere.

For sure that will send a chill down your spine.

And as that fact dawned on him, things began to get worse. He was taken into custody and eventually taken to an asylum.

I suppose it is the kind of thing that most people think will never happen to them, and I'll grant you that it seems pretty far–fetched. But it's been my experience that most people never think really terrible things will happen to them, that they only happen to other people — until something terrible does happen to them or someone they know.

And make no mistake about it — losing your identity is a terrible thing.

Most people in 1962 were probably like Long's character, giving little thought to their identities, simply assuming that when they woke up in the morning everything would be just as it had been when they went to sleep the night before. They might have further assumed that a person like Long was suffering from amnesia, but the only problem with that was that he knew who he was. It was the other people who didn't know who he was.

A person's identity has become a much bigger topic of conversation than it was 55 years ago. Identity theft is a thriving business in the criminal world, and people are becoming increasingly proactive about protecting their identities.

Identity theft may have been a legal issue in 1962 as well, but without things like the personal computer and the internet, it is hard to imagine how it could have been pulled off. Of course, that is 21st–century thinking being applied to the mid–20th century.

Anyway, Dave Gurney devoutly believed that he could find evidence of his true identity. He believed someone was trying to blot out his existence, and he believed that he could find the one detail that would support his claim. He thought he had found the proof of his identity — a photo of him with his wife from a roll of film he had taken in to be developed. He went to pick up the picture, and the photo he got did, indeed, show him with his wife, the one who now claimed she did not know him.

But when he showed the photo to the psychiatrist who had been treating him and the police who were looking for him, it only showed him. His wife was no longer in the picture.

He slumped to the ground in despair, and in the next second he was seen back in his bedroom. It appeared that the whole thing had been a dream. This time his wife recognized him — but he didn't recognize her.

The nightmare continued. It just took a different turn.

Incidentally, Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling apparently liked this theme so much that he revisited it in an hour–long format the following year.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Special Night

"I just wanted you to know that sometimes I get concerned about being a career woman. I get to thinking my job is too important to me, and I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with and not my family. And last night, I thought, 'What is a family, anyway?' They're just people who make you feel less alone and really loved. And that's what you've done for me. Thank you for being my family."

Mary Tyler Moore

I think I will always regret the fact that Mary Tyler Moore did not live a few more months.

I had nothing to do with her death, of course. I have no more power over life and death than any other human being, and I completely understand that we all will die someday so I do not lament the fact that she is dead. She was 80 years old, after all.

But I do wish she could have lived until today — the 40th anniversary of the final episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which is still one of the best television programs of all time. It just doesn't seem right that she missed this milestone.

The episode was called, appropriately, "The Last Show." That isn't quite as flippant as it sounds. Yes, it was the last episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show — but it was about the last news broadcast at fictional TV station WJM with the familiar crew of Mary, Murray (Gavin MacLeod), Ted (Ted Knight), Sue Ann (Betty White) and Mr. Grant (Ed Asner).

Well, one person would remain at WJM.

The story line was that there was a new station manager (Vincent Gardenia) who wanted to make some dramatic changes. He came to speak to Lou (Ed Asner) to get some input on where to make cuts in the newsroom, and Lou suggested that he should watch the evening news and judge for himself.

Ted (Ted Knight) was certain that this would be the end for him so he began doing everything he could to ingratiate himself to the new boss.

And, apparently, it worked, because the station manager decided to let everyone go — except Ted. For long–time viewers of the show, I guess that was really the only way it could have gone. It made it seem more final — if such a thing is possible.

I guess the last half of the episode was mostly a sentimental journey for the cast and the show's fans. Mary was depressed by the turn of events, and Mr. Grant, in an attempt to raise her spirits, arranged for her old friends Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) to return to Minneapolis for a visit.

Back in the newsroom the inevitable time for goodbyes arrived following the final newscast. That led to a group hug and an oft–imitated exit with the cast marching out of the newsroom singing "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" and Mary peeking back in the newsroom one last time.

The story itself wasn't especially memorable — even though it did reunite Mary with two of the series' early regulars who left the show before Sue Ann and Georgette (Georgia Engel) joined it; thus the final episode was the only time all of the primary characters in the series — the ones I have already mentioned along with news writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod) — appeared in the same episode together.

And when all eight came out and took a curtain call after the episode ended, that was a first as well.

Actually, I don't believe the show's cast ever did a curtain call before — so that was a one–time–only event.

And I am quite sure they never appeared on the same stage at the same time either before or after the night the episode was taped.

It was a special night all the way around.

Don't Overlook This Gem

"I wonder if it would not be, well, just a trifle starry–eyed of me to contemplate a partnership where I could count on no sense of moral obligation whatsoever."

Sidney (Michael Caine)

There were a lot of movies in the theaters in 1982. Some were good, some were not, but nearly all of them, it seems, spent more time in the spotlight than "Deathtrap," which premiered on this day 35 years ago.

And that really is a shame because "Deathtrap" may have been the most creative movie out there — and I say that knowing that 1982 brought us "Poltergeist," "E.T.," and "Tootsie," among others.

It was an overlooked gem at the time, and it is still overlooked today.

"Deathtrap" also took a backseat to "Porky's," a putrid sex comedy that was nevertheless the fifth–highest grossing movie of the year. "Porky's" premiered the same day as "Deathtrap."

I must confess that I didn't see "Deathtrap" when it was in theaters, and that is something I have often regretted. I saw it much later on cable.

As I have mentioned here before, I am a fan of the work of Alfred Hitchcock. I got that from my parents, who were fans of Agatha Christie's books as well. If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you almost certainly have noticed that I have written about both Hitchcock's movies and Christie's books here — and I expect to do so again.

My parents loved mysteries, and they appreciated stories that had all kinds of twists and turns, requiring the viewer or the reader to mentally shift gears from time to time. "Deathtrap" had plenty of twists and turns, certainly enough to satisfy fans of Hitchcock and Christie, with a gut–punch ending that, I must confess, I kind of anticipated — but only because of a movie I once watched with my parents (I'll get back to that).

Nearly the entire movie took place in the remote country estate belonging to Michael Caine's character, a once–successful playwright who was enduring a streak of flops, and his wife, played by Dyan Cannon, who suffered from a heart condition. They were doing well financially — a wall in the house that was decorated with weapons from Caine's numerous successful plays testified to that — but Caine's ego longed for another hit.

Caine had received a manuscript by a student (Christopher Reeve) from one of his writing workshops. The student wanted Caine's input. In private, Caine believed the manuscript was flawless, and he decided that he wanted to produce it as his own. He invited the student to come to his home, where they would discuss the play — and Caine would murder the student.

Cannon argued against the plan, but Caine rebuffed every argument — and after the student arrived, Caine did attack him, convincing Cannon to help him remove the body.

She also said nothing when they received an unexpected visitor, a psychic who was staying with some neighbors. The psychic walked around the house, observing that she sensed pain and death in the very places where those things had been happening to Reeve's character and warning Caine that he would be attacked by a man wearing boots.

After the psychic left, Caine and Cannon prepared for bed, and Cannon appeared to be coming to grips with what Caine had done — when Reeve stormed in with a log in his hand and appeared to bludgeon Caine to death. Then he turned his attention to Cannon and chased her around the house — until her weak heart gave out and she collapsed.

Caine appeared in the scene, unharmed although he had a few words of criticism for Reeve's performance with the stage prop log. The murders of Caine and Reeve had been staged to produce this very result as the audience learned when Reeve and Caine shared a kiss.

(I have read that, when "Deathtrap" was showing in theaters and Caine and Reeve were about to kiss, a woman stood up in one theater and exclaimed, "No, Superman, don't do it!" I don't know if that is true or not, but it is a great story, isn't it?)

Reeve moved in with Caine after Cannon's funeral, and they began working on manuscripts at an antique partners' desk. Caine continued to suffer from writer's block, but Reeve pounded out page after page — and mysteriously left his manuscript locked in a drawer whenever he was away.

Caine finally managed to get his hands on Reeve's manuscript and was shocked to learn that Reeve was using the circumstances of Cannon's death for a play titled "Deathtrap" (which, ostensibly, had been the title of the manuscript Reeve originally sent to Caine). Caine confronted Reeve, who insisted the story had great potential and he would continue writing it. He offered to share credit with Caine, who was coming to believe that Reeve was a sociopath, and he agreed to cooperate while secretly planning a resolution to the problem.

The psychic paid another visit a few days later asking for candles in preparation for an anticipated thunderstorm. When she met Reeve, she told Caine that Reeve was the man in boots she had warned him about.

The last part of the movie is best experienced, but suffice to say that just as you think one of the characters is about to go to his reward, the ground shifts beneath your feet, and suddenly the other character has the upper hand.

Their struggle left both men dead — and the psychic was the beneficiary, apparently becoming the successful writer of "Deathtrap," the latest hit on Broadway.

As I say, I anticipated the finish. It reminded me of "The Ladykillers," a movie that was in theaters about 25 years earlier. I watched it with Mom and Dad — ironically, only about a year or two before "Deathtrap" was in theaters.

In "The Ladykillers" a gang of thieves used an old woman as the centerpiece of a robbery plan. In the end, they all killed each other, and the little old lady, who discovered the plan after the robbery had already been carried out, was the only one who benefited from it.

If you see this movie on your TV schedule — or the DVD in the discount bin — don't let the opportunity get away from you.

Swearing a Broath

Barney (Neil Patrick Harris): You broke the broath.

Ted (Josh Radnor): How dare you? A broath is the most sacred bond between — OK, yeah, I did.

An oath is a solemn thing, whether you are promising to discharge your duties in office or tell the truth in court. Under lesser circumstances, I suppose, oaths are known by different names. On "How I Met Your Mother," they were dubbed "broaths" in the episode "The Broath" that first aired on this night in 2012.

As the episode began Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) swore Ted (Josh Radnor) to secrecy about a girl Barney had been dating. Barney, of course, was the one who came up with the term broath — a combination of "bro" and "oath." He talked Ted into putting on a brobe for the occasion.

Barney wanted the girl, named Quinn (Becki Newton), to meet his friends, but he was afraid they would judge her too harshly when they learned she was a stripper and that she had swindled Barney of a lot of money. Ted knew all this, and Barney wanted him to keep quiet, but he told the gang anyway.

In a get–acquainted dinner, Quinn mistreated Barney, and Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Ted began competing to sublet Quinn's apartment after she moved in with Barney. Lily (Alyson Hannigan) found evidence that Barney had plane tickets to Hawaii and reservations at a four–star hotel there. The gang was convinced that Quinn was after Barney's money and decided to stage an intervention — or, in How I Met Your Mother lingo, a "Quinntervention."

Quinn broke up with Barney in an awkward confrontation in front of the gang, who were overcome by guilt (even though Robin and Ted were still lusting for Quinn's apartment) and went to Barney's apartment to see if there was some way they could make it up to him.

Barney then swore them all to a broath that they would never interfere in his life again. To seal the deal Barney coerced the girls into sharing a kiss. Barney and Marshall (Jason Segel) kissed, too, although Barney never instructed them to do so. All he said was, "And now the gentlemen ..."

Anyway, then Quinn appeared, and it turned out everything — the theatrics at the get–acquainted dinner, provoking the competition between Ted and Robin for Quinn's apartment, the awkward fight at the "Quinntervention" — had been an elaborate plan by Barney and Quinn to prevent the gang from judging her.

It proved they were right for each other, and Barney's friends gave their heartfelt congratulations.

I thought it was an enjoyable kind of episode — the kind that always makes me think of a scene from Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" in which he and Diane Keaton were standing in a line to get movie tickets, and a patron behind them — a professor at Columbia — was talking about Marshall McLuhan. Allen walked over to a display in the lobby and pulled the real Marshall McLuhan out from behind it. McLuhan proceeded to dress down the patron, after which Allen looked at the camera and said, "Boy, if life were only like this."

Movin' on Up

In the episode of How I Met Your Mother that premiered on this night in 2007, "Moving Day," Ted (Josh Radnor) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) were planning to move in together, which meant that Ted's old room in the apartment belonging to Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) would be vacant.

Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) wanted to rent the room because it was just above the bar whereas his apartment was a 23–minute drive away. Too many of his pickups had gone awry in that 23–minute drive. Girls had fallen asleep on him, made up with their boyfriends and been arrested for indecent exposure. With a room in Lily and Marshall's apartment, Barney's odds of scoring would be greatly improved.

But Lily and Marshall weren't keen on that idea, especially since it meant Barney would leave the girl for Lily and Marshall to wake up and kick out the next morning. So they nixed the idea. Besides, it turned out that they liked the idea of having the apartment to themselves.

Then Barney did an about–face and was opposed to the idea of Ted moving out. But Ted insisted that he was going to move in with Robin, anyway.

So Barney absconded with the moving van that was filled with Ted's stuff — except for a sword and a box of pot lids.

At first Lily and Marshall were happy about having the apartment to themselves. With Ted gone, they could do things they had thought about but never dared do while there was another person around. For instance, Lily wanted to sit around the apartment naked.

But they soon realized that it gets cold when you're sitting around in the altogether.

Marshall liked the idea of having sex wherever — and as loudly as — he wanted. But they soon agreed that just because they could be loud did not mean they had to be loud.

Meanwhile at Robin's place ...

Ted was trying to settle in, but it was difficult without his things. And, as he spoke about what he had hoped to be doing, some conflicts between Ted and Robin and what they wanted to do with the apartment began to emerge. Then he got a phone call from Barney who gave him Mission: Impossiblelike instructions for getting his things back, starting with putting on a suit that Barney had left on the door to Robin's apartment and meeting him at the bar.

Barney wanted one last night on the town with Ted — a "bro–ing away" party, in Barney's words — and Ted seemed to enjoy it for awhile, but he got worried that Robin would be upset that he spent the evening with Barney instead of with her.

Robin, however, was occupied with other things — like having one last cigarette and canceling her gun magazine subscription before Ted moved in.

And Lily and Marshall had concluded that they really did like having Ted around — and his useful possessions, like towels and the microwave.

Those possessions were still in the moving van that Barney had snatched — only now they were organized into a kind of a modified living space, suitable for bringing his "dates" — which is something he was in the process of doing when the van started to move. Ted had figured everything out.

Back at Robin's apartment, Ted told her the whole story about how he had found his possessions — and then they decided they weren't ready to move in together after all. But they did give the modified living space a whirl.

After that Ted went back to Lily and Marshall's place, where they greeted him with open arms — literally.

"God, this feels so right," Marshall said.

"Never leave us again," Lily told Ted.

Ted tried to protest that Robin was downstairs and there were lots of boxes to move. But Lily just said, "Sssshhh."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Bewildering Disappearance

The episode of the Twilight Zone that first aired on this night in 1962, "Little Girl Lost," tapped into that fear that every parent must experience when a child is missing — and, while I have never been a parent, I can imagine both that every parent must have had this experience at one time or another and that it must be a moment of indescribable terror and panic.

For, it seems to me, there are few things on this planet that are more vulnerable than a small child. It is a parent's responsibility to protect that child. The inability to do so must be the source of a sense of helplessness that I can't imagine.

The majority of the time, I suppose, the child is only missing temporarily — in a crowded place for a few minutes, maybe an hour, but long enough for a parent to imagine all kinds of things and none of them good.

But there are parents whose children go missing — and are never heard from again.

Somewhere in between were the parents in that episode of the Twilight Zone. Their young daughter was missing — but they could hear her whimpering and her plaintive cries for "Daddy!"

It began as cries in the night that every parent has heard when a child awakens from a bad dream or wants a drink of water. The parents were roused from their sleep by her cries, and the father went into her room, fully expecting to see her in bed — as any parent surely would.

But Tina wasn't in her bed. Her father presumed that she had fallen out of bed, but she couldn't be seen. Then he figured she had rolled under the bed, but she wasn't there, either.

The only thing the father could think to do was to call a friend who was a physicist (played by Charles Aidman, who appeared in another Twilight Zone episode as well as episodes of many other TV series). He agreed to come over right away.

The family had a pet dog who had been in the back yard barking hysterically. The father went to let him in; the dog ran under the little girl's bed and disappeared. Like the girl, only the sounds of the dog barking could be heard.

After the friend arrived, the men moved the bed so they could have an unobstructed view of the floor and the wall. The friend explored the area and discovered some kind of opening in the wall.

And then he used a piece of chalk to mark on the wall the points where the opening appeared to be.

The father reached his hand through the opening in hopes that his daughter would come to it, but then he seemed to fall in. His friend told him to stay where he was and call for the girl and the dog. They came to him, and the friend pulled them out.

Turned out they were pulled out just as the opening was closing.

You know, it's a lot handier having a physicist for a friend than I thought — especially one who will come to your house in the middle of the night.

Literary scholar Camille Paglia has called the story the "first great script" of the original Twilight Zone series. And I agree it was good, but I don't know if I would go that far.

I must admit, though, that I was surprised that the episode was not remade when Twilight Zone had its second incarnation in the mid–1980s. Several original episodes were remade with varying degrees of success, and I thought "Little Girl Lost" would be a natural.

But it was not remade.

Still it would be hard to improve on the performances of the parents. Their reactions rang so true. I could see myself, faced with an incomprehensible riddle and a missing daughter, reacting as they did — confused, frustrated, anxious.

Yes, I agree with Paglia that it was well written. But the series' first great script? Hmmm.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Truly Offbeat Love Story

I have never read Charles Shaw's novel on which John Huston's "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison," which premiered on this day in 1957, was based.

But if the movie was true to the book, I think I would like to read it sometime.

I guess it would be called an "offbeat love story." But I've never really liked that phrase because it suggests that it is an atypical love story. But what, pray tell, is a typical love story? Aren't all love stories unique? A love story may share certain characteristics with other love stories, but it seems to me that every love story is unique because the people involved in them are unique, and their circumstances are unique to them.

When the movie began, the audience saw an inflatable life raft floating somewhere in the south Pacific in 1944. Stretched out in the raft was Robert Mitchum. The audience later learned that he was a Marine aboard a submarine who had managed to escape after being fired on by the Japanese.

Mitchum didn't speak for the first eight or nine minutes of the movie. In fact, there was no dialogue at all for the first eight or nine minutes. It was during that time that Mitchum's life raft floated near an apparently uninhabited island, and he made his way to it. As Mitchum explored the island, he saw structures in which others had lived at one time, but there was no one to be seen.

And the audience could more or less imagine the questions that were going through his mind. Who had lived there? Was anyone still around? Were they friendly or hostile?

Then he came upon a building that was clearly a church, but there was no human activity around it and no sound coming from it — until a nun (Deborah Kerr) emerged with a broom.

Kerr told Mitchum she had only been on the island a few days. She came with a priest to evacuate another priest, but they discovered that the Japanese beat them to it. The natives who brought them to the island were scared and left abruptly. The priest, who was elderly, died a short time after, and the nun had been left alone on the island. At least until Mitchum arrived.

For awhile the two were alone on the island — until some Japanese landed with the intention of setting up a meteorological camp — a place to monitor weather conditions and provide up–to–the–minute data for Japanese forces. Mr. Allison and the nun retreated to a cave and kept out of sight. For food Mr. Allison would go out spearfishing after dark when he figured the Japanese weren't watching, but they couldn't risk a fire so they had to eat whatever he caught raw. The nun found it hard to digest so Mr. Allison crept to the camp and stole some canned goods.

While he was doing that he could see flashes on the horizon and concluded there was some kind of naval battle between American and Japanese forces. The Japanese who were on the island soon left, which led to all sorts of speculation on Mr. Allison's part about who had won the battle, whether anyone would be coming to their island and what that would mean for them. Partly out of frustration and partly out of jubilation, I suppose, Allison got drunk on some sake that had been left behind.

That was when he confessed to the nun his true feelings for her. He told her he loved her and he thought it was pointless for her to remain dedicated to her vows — she had not yet taken her final vows — since they were stranded on the island with little hope of being saved.

The nun ran out into the night and a tropical rain, becoming ill in the process. After Mr. Allison sobered up he found her shivering and carried her back to the camp. Meanwhile the Japanese had returned, and Mr. Allison took the nun back to the cave.

Mr. Allison tried to care for her, but she needed blankets, and the only blankets to be found were in the Japanese camp. He went back there to get some and was discovered, forcing him to kill a Japanese soldier. Consequently the Japanese realized they were not alone and started setting fires in the jungle to force the pair out into the open.

They remained in the cave, though, and expected a grenade to be thrown in with them — until they heard an explosion that Mitchum realized was not a grenade. It was a bomb. The Americans were attacking the island ahead of their landing.

Mitchum also knew that, when they returned to the island, the Japanese brought four big artillery guns that were well concealed — and he knew where they were. When the Americans tried to land, Mitchum mused, the Japanese would come out of their bunkers and open fire with those guns. It would be a messy landing.

Then he had the inspiration to disable the weapons before the landing began, and that is what he did. He was injured in doing so, but he still managed to disable them, and the Americans easily overpowered the Japanese.

As the movie ended, the nun told Mitchum, in what the audience presumed would be the last time they would see each other, that they would always be close companions, and the Americans were puzzled by how the Japanese weapons had been disabled.

Mr. Allison never said a word. It was a time when movies and movie audiences still believed that virtue was its own reward.

"Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" received two Oscar nominations. Kerr was nominated for Best Actress but lost to Joanne Woodward in "The Three Faces of Eve." And Huston was nominated with John Lee Mahin for Best Adapted Screenplay but lost to Michael Wilson, Carl Foreman and Pierre Boulle for "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Who Cares What Others May Think?

Mary (Mary Tyler Moore): I didn't think I was asking for that much, but I haven't met anyone who even comes close. Someone who doesn't care how I look because he's more concerned with who I am. Somebody strong and intelligent who respects me, who I can respect, who has gentleness in him. I guess there just aren't any men like that.

Georgette (Georgia Engel): Sure there are. You know one.

Mary: Well, if I do, I sure wish you'd point him out.

Georgette: Lou Grant.

Mary: Come on!

Georgette: He has every quality you said you wanted, and I'll throw in one of my own — he's cute as a button!

With any other sitcom, I would say that the subject matter of the episode that premiered 40 years ago tonight was the introduction of a new plot twist, which is a common strategy to spice up a once–popular series that is rapidly declining in the ratings.

And with any other sitcom, I would probably be right.

But I am speaking of the episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show that premiered on this night in 1977 — exactly one week before the series took its final bow. And it was still popular. The decision to leave 'em while they still wanted more was made by the cast and creators, not by the network.

If you could have polled the show's fans 40 years ago, I'm certain that just about all of them would have voted to keep the show on the air. But if it had remained on the air, it is doubtful that the episode that first aired on this night in 1977 never would have aired at all. It would have marked a significant shift in the direction of the show; it was probably best to leave it

In the episode "Lou Dates Mary," a date that ended badly prompted Mary (Mary Tyler Moore) to reflect on a lifetime of dating (2,000 dates by her calculation) and conclude that maybe there wasn't a "Mr. Right" in the cards for her.

She was telling this to Georgette (Georgia Engel) who suggested that Mary should date Lou Grant (Ed Asner). Initially, Mary scoffed at the suggestion, but it gradually dawned on her that Georgette might be right so she went into Lou's office and, even though her upbringing made it difficult for her to ask a man out, she did so, anyway.

When she did, Lou's response was probably what mine would be if a much younger female colleague came to me and told me she wanted to date me. He laughed. It was preposterous.

But Mary was serious, and, after some deliberation, Lou accepted. They agreed to have dinner at Mary's place that night.

As the appointed hour drew near, though, Lou was vacillating. He and Murray (Gavin MacLeod) had drinks after the evening news was finished. They were going to talk, but Murray had no idea what they were going to talk about.

(Now, as a journalist, I have to point out something here. Perhaps I am nitpicking and, granted, my experience in journalism has been on the print side so take this with as many grains of salt as you require. We lived by deadlines. I presume that people in broadcasting live by deadlines as well, but their deadlines involve broadcast schedules.

(In every city in which I lived, the local TV stations had early and late newscasts. They were always live. The late newscast was never a tape of the broadcast from four hours earlier. Too much can — and does — happen in that span of time, and someone, usually several someones, must be there in case the weather turns bad or a jury reaches a verdict in a high–profile trial — or, as was the case here in Dallas last summer, some police officers get shot during a protest. Presumably the folks at WJM had a late newscast, too, but they were always socializing after their newscast — presumably the one at 6 p.m. — was over. If there was a later newscast, it must have been manned by other people.

(I've worked for newspapers that had multiple deadlines, but social lives were put on hold until after the final deadlines. I have long wondered how many people were moved to become journalists after watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show, believing it would be a regular 9–to–5 job that paid well enough for them to dine at fancy restaurants and have drinks in ritzy clubs in their off hours. Boy, were they in for a rude awakening!)

Anyway, Lou confided in Murray, who was stunned at first but ended up reassuring Lou that it wasn't such a ridiculous idea, and Lou proceeded to Mary's apartment.

Lou didn't want to show up empty–handed so he brought flowers. But he couldn't remember Mary's favorite flower so he brought three bouquets — along with a bottle of wine, some chocolates and a can of mixed nuts.

Ladies, when was the last time a gentleman caller brought you three bouquets, a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates and a can of mixed nuts?

Even though Mary and Lou had known each other for seven years, this was a new situation, and there was the usual awkwardness of a first date.

"It's funny," Mary observed at one point, "the two of us who have known each other as long as we have suddenly ill at ease, in suspense ..."

"In suspense about what?" Lou asked.

"You know," Mary replied, "about what's going to happen. Both of us wondering whether you're gonna, you know, kiss me." Then she turned away from him in that kind of shy schoolgirl way young girls have of covering how much more worldly they are than they appear.

The evening was suspenseful for both of them. Mary ruled out shop talk, then they found it hard to make the kind of small talk one is apt to make on a first date. Finally, they decided they had to kiss before they could feel comfortable enough to decide where this relationship would lead.

And they both started to giggle in the middle of their kiss.

"That was really silly kissing you," Lou said with a grin.

"That turned out to be just so dumb!" Mary replied.

They both concluded that it wasn't going to work.

So they said "Good night" — to the date, that is — then sat down to finish their dinner — and talk shop.

It probably is true that the best romantic relationships start as friendships. But after a certain amount of time, as Lou and Mary learned on this night in 1977, good friends should probably just remain good friends.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Angel of Death

Norman (James Earl Jones): Are you here visiting somebody?

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): Oh, no. I'm just here with a friend of mine, Roz. She's here doing some community service.

Norman: Ah, the Angel of Death. Nice girl.

It isn't easy to pick a single favorite episode from the Frasier series.

That is the way it is with any really good TV series, isn't it? If you can only think of one truly good episode during a series' run, my guess is that would be the exception, not the rule.

But, almost by definition, a truly good series must have generated several episodes that could qualify as the series' best. In such a case, usually the series' average episodes are better than most.

Frasier was such a series, and I can name several episodes that I would consider worthy of being the series' best. But ultimately I think I would always pick the episode that aired on this night in 1997 — "Roz's Krantz and Gouldenstein Are Dead" — as the cream of the crop.

When the episode began, Roz (Peri Gilpin) was performing some community service picking up trash along the road. She had been stopped for speeding and her options for punishment were to pay a fine or perform community service. She chose the latter but didn't like gathering trash along the road.

It just wasn't right for her so Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) recommended that she perform her community service at a retirement home. Roz was reluctant — like many people she had a fear of aging — but she did it, anyway.

What happened next didn't help.

Roz had the misfortune of being with a couple of the residents when they died. She was playing checkers with one and reading to another. As a result, the other residents started calling her "the Angel of Death." When they encountered Roz in hallways, they would turn around and go the other way.

Roz didn't want to go back, but Frasier insisted, and he went with her to provide moral support.

Roz went into a room where an elderly woman named Moira (Lois Smith) was sitting up in her bed. She told Roz to come in.

"How do you feel?" Roz asked.

"Fine," Moira replied. "Now hand me those cigarettes."

Roz did so but couldn't resist saying, "These things do come with a warning."

"So do you, darlin'," Moira replied. "I let you in."

The two went on to have a heart–to–heart conversation about growing old.
"Nobody likes to get older, but it doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself."

Moira (Lois Smith)

Meanwhile, Frasier met a blind resident played by James Earl Jones, who knew Roz by reputation. They had a nice conversation, too, about how Frasier's advice to a caller had helped him. It was at a time when Jones' character had lost his wife and had been experiencing some problems. The caller had been having similar trouble adjusting to life after his wife died, and Frasier suggested that the caller keep pictures of his wife all over the house to help him through the transition.

Pictures, obviously, would be of no use to a blind man, but Jones explained that, when he and his wife were dating, she had made a life mask of herself for art class. He asked his daughter to look for it and she found it. He told Frasier that every night before he went to sleep he ran his fingers over the mask and was reminded of the old days.

"You really helped me," he told Frasier and showed him the mask.

Then while Jones was in the bathroom to take some medication, Frasier ran his fingers over the mask and lost his grip. The mask fell to the floor, and the nose was broken off. Unfortunately the last few minutes of the show were about Frasier trying to mend the mask without Jones finding out what had happened.

The rest of the episode was a bit slapstick, to be honest. In general, though, it was a nice commentary on aging.

That's not a bad cue to turn our attention to Smith, who probably isn't familiar to most people but has had an extensive career in movies and television and on the stage.

Among her movie credits are "East of Eden," "Five Easy Pieces" and "Fatal Attraction." There have been many others in more than 60 years — although you might not recognize her in her earlier movies if all you have seen are her later ones, like "Twister," for example, in which she played Helen Hunt's aunt.

Her television credits include, in addition to Frasier, appearances on ER and Route 66 as well as several made–for–TV movies.

Now 86, Smith is still active. She will appear in a documentary on the Gettysburg Address later this year.

Now that is how one should grow old.

Friday, March 10, 2017

On the Loose in San Francisco

Judy (Barbra Streisand): I know I'm different, but from now on I'm going to try and be the same.

Howard (Ryan O'Neal): The same as what?

Judy: The same as people who aren't different.

Peter Bogdanovich's "What's Up, Doc?" which premiered on this day in 1972, was inspired lunacy. It was a screwball comedy in the proud tradition of screwball comedies.

I will always remember the first time I saw it. I saw it on the big screen with my parents and my brother.

When I was growing up, I could always tell when something truly amused my father. If he was only mildly amused — or if he wasn't really amused but wanted to be polite — he would chuckle lightly. But if something really struck him as funny, he would laugh a full–throated, no–holds–barred laugh.

The latter was the way he laughed when we saw "What's Up, Doc?"

Oh, sure, it was pure silliness. But it was the kind of silliness that is seen less and less these days.

At some point along film's evolution, the humor in slapstick grew to rely on bathroom jokes and what used to be called four–letter words; obviously there is some overlap of the two. Not so with "What's Up, Doc?"

Granted, I think most, if not all, of this shift came along after "What's Up, Doc?" was showing in movie theaters, and that might have been why there was so little of either in that movie.

I recall few four–letter words in the dialogue, and the only bathroom humor occurred when Streisand was caught taking a bath in O'Neal's bathroom.

It had a rapid–fire script with one–liners that you could easily miss if you were laughing. That meant that you had to see it a second time — and perhaps a third or fourth time and keep the urge to laugh in check — to get the full benefit of the writing.

I have seen it many times since that first viewing. I never get tired of the snappy dialogue or the acting. The last time I saw it, it seemed to me that the dialogue was still as fresh and funny as it was 45 years ago.

As it always is in truly good screwball comedies, the premise was simple. A musicologist (Ryan O'Neal) and his fiancee (Madeline Kahn) were in San Francisco where O'Neal's character was to receive a grant. This grant was intended to help him study his theory of ancient man's use of rocks in making music.

O'Neal had a plaid overnight bag in which he carried his collection of prehistoric rocks that he used in his studies. The story centered around that bag and three others that looked just like it. One belonged to Barbra Streisand, who played what appeared to be a bit of a drifter. Her bag seemed to contain nothing but underwear. One belonged to a wealthy hotel guest who carried her jewels in it — and, consequently, had attracted the attention of a thief — and the fourth belonged to an apparent whistle blower who had top–secret documents in his bag — and someone was trying to take the papers from him.

All four wound up at the same hotel in San Francisco.

From there, it was probably best for the viewer to simply watch things unfold and not dwell on the details. Things moved too fast to ponder details for too long.

It's that rapid pace that made "What's Up, Doc?" such a pleasure to watch. As critic Roger Ebert observed, "[Y]ou can't direct comedy at a snail's pace. It has to move and crackle."

And Bogdanovich certainly didn't direct at a snail's pace. Ostensibly his intent was to pay homage to Howard Hawks and the screwball comedies of his day. In that regard, he certainly succeeded. But Bogdanovich had studied the form well and had his own ideas so the movie was a delightful blend of familiar screwball devices and new ones.

My favorite scene has always been when O'Neal's hotel room had been destroyed in screwball comedyesque fashion, and he was visited the next morning by the manager of the hotel (the always droll John Hillerman), who introduced himself to O'Neal as "the manager of what's left of the hotel."

He told O'Neal he had a message for him from the staff of the hotel. What is it? O'Neal wanted to know.

"Goodbye," the manager replied.

"That's the entire message?" O'Neal asked.

"Yes," Hillerman replied. "We would appreciate it if you would check out."

"When?" O'Neal asked.


Kahn made her first feature–film appearance in "What's Up, Doc?" and gave audiences a taste of her considerable talent and the many great performances to come. Sadly her life and career were cut short by ovarian cancer in 1999.

Kahn's character was, in Ebert's word, "spinsterish," and she played it very well, considering she was only about 30 at the time. And she really stood out when she was on the screen, but I don't recall her being much of a factor in the climactic sequence of the film.

I guess no screwball comedy would be complete without some kind of chase (typically car, I suppose), and "What's Up, Doc?" had one with all the characters from the various subplots racing in various types of automobiles through the streets of San Francisco and nearly all ending up in San Francisco Bay.

Car chases are fairly traditional movie elements, but again, Bogdanovich put his own spin on things. For awhile, Streisand and O'Neal were on a delivery boy's bicycle that wound up, somehow, inside a Chinese dragon. You need to watch the movie to see how that was accomplished.

Some of the more delightful elements of "What's Up, Doc?" do require some explanation because only a select group of people will get them otherwise.

Most of these elements were musical. "What's Up, Doc?" was not a musical, but it had a lot of musical references — which was appropriate since it was centered on a musicologists' convention.

The most obvious was the use of the Cole Porter song "You're the Top" in the opening and closing sequences. Less obvious to most would be the other Porter songs that could be heard in the hotel lobby.

In the chase scene, remember when I mentioned the Chinese dragon? Well, in that scene, the Chinese marching band played "La Cucaracha" on German glockenspiels.

Screwy, huh?

And then there were Bogdanovich's nods to the movie industry. The best ones came at the end. While looking for Streisand (whose name in the movie was Judy), O'Neal said, "Judy? Judy? Judy?" a nod to a phrase that is often associated with Cary Grant, the star of "Bringing Up Baby," a classic screwball comedy.

Grant never said the line. But Humphrey Bogart did say, "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." In "What's Up, Doc?" Streisand did, too, substituting "he" for "she" but using an acceptable Bogart voice.

And in the best movie homage, Streisand told O'Neal, "Love means never having to say you're sorry." That, of course, was Ali MacGraw's famous line in "Love Story," the movie that made O'Neal a star. In "What's Up, Doc?" his response was, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

Monday, March 06, 2017

Too Much Ginger

Apparently one of the ways the castaways on Gilligan's Island entertained themselves was through free concerts given by Ginger (Tina Louise), the only castaway in show business.

Now I never got the impression that Ginger was a singer. I always thought she was an actress — after all, the show's theme song called her "the movie star" — and whenever she spoke of the movies in which she had appeared, they never sounded like musicals.

But in the episode, "The Second Ginger Grant," that premiered on this night in 1967, Ginger was singing on a makeshift stage accompanied by music played on a turntable that had been made from material on the island (presumably by the professor, who had many talents but still couldn't figure out how to patch the boat so they could return to civilization). Mr. Howell (Jim Backus) operated the turntable, and the other five castaways sat in the audience listening to Ginger.

I guess Ginger didn't perform too frequently. The castaways had been on that island for nearly three years, and they seemed to be enjoying her show, which would probably be unlikely if they had heard her perform on one–tenth of the nights they had spent on the island. It is hard to imagine Ginger's repertoire having been expanded any during her period of forced isolation so each concert was bound to sound like the ones that had preceded it.

Nevertheless, as I say, the castaways seemed to enjoy the performance and applauded enthusiastically when it ended. Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) was jumping up and down and applauding. She stumbled over a rock and fell backwards, striking her head. When she regained consciousness, she believed she was Ginger.

Until the Professor (Russell Johnson) figured out how to resolve the problem, it was decided that they had to humor her. Ginger had to assume Mary Ann's identity with a brunette wig and the country girl clothes Mary Ann tended to wear (both she and Ginger brought far more clothes with them than one would expect on an ostensibly three–hour cruise). Meanwhile Mary Ann continued to live out her fantasy of being Ginger.

Ginger took over Mary Ann's duties on the island, including the cooking. Mary Ann apparently was a good cook, but Ginger warned her fellow castaways that "I may look like Mary Ann and walk like Mary Ann, but I still cook like Ginger Grant. Sorry about that."

Being a few inches shorter than the real Ginger, Mary Ann soon noticed that all her clothes were too long — she concluded it must be because of the tropical weather — so she set about altering them — much to Ginger's dismay.

(A little observation here. It was never mentioned how Ginger managed to fit into Mary Ann's clothes.)

Mary Ann was up all night cutting Ginger's dresses so the real Ginger felt free to hang up the laundry without wearing her wig. But Mary Ann surprised her by not sleeping as late as expected.

When Mary Ann saw the real Ginger and her red hair, she passed out. The castaways could not shake her from her trance, which the Professor said was a traumatic shock brought on by seeing the girl she thought she was. He had read of similar cases being treated through hypnosis. He was reluctant to try it, but he realized he had no other option.

He tried to use hypnosis to make Mary Ann believe she was Mary Ann, not Ginger. But it backfired in a big way. When Mary Ann was brought out of her hypnosis, she still believed she was Ginger. And Gilligan (Bob Denver), who had been observing through an open window, did believe he was Mary Ann.

That set off a delicious segment of mistaken identity.

When Gilligan had been restored to his normal self, the Professor came up with what he believed would be the solution to their problem. They should ask Mary Ann to put on a show for them. Mary Ann wanted to be Ginger, but Mary Ann had no talent. Being unable to perform would create a huge conflict in her mind, the Professor said, allowing "the real world of Mary Ann to push out the dream world of Ginger."

So that was their strategy.

And it worked. She tripped on the stage, fell, struck her head and was Mary Ann again when she regained consciousness.

That is a plot device that has been used many times in various forms over the years. It is basically the idea that if one sustains an injury that has a profound influence on him/her, sustaining the same kind of injury a second time will kind of jar everything back to the way it was. It's a plot device that Gilligan's Island used more than once.

I think it gives people a false idea of what is — and is not — possible. That is a dangerous mindset when you're dealing with the human body. That approach is always going to work in the make–believe world of TV. Not so much in the real world.

But, anyway ...

I have heard it said that "The Second Ginger Grant" is one of Wells' favorite episodes. And why shouldn't it be? It gave Wells a chance to spread her wings a little more than usual. She even did her own singing — which she did not do in the episode in which she, Ginger and Mrs. Howell (Natalie Schafer) formed an all–female band to intimidate a visiting band into returning to the States earlier than planned — and taking the castaways with them.

But that is another episode.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Night the Lights Went Out in Minneapolis

Mary Tyler Moore was notorious in her 1970s sitcom for throwing epically lousy parties. It was a running joke, the kind that all the successful sitcoms have — you know, like Debra Barone's awful cooking or Michael Stivic's insatiable appetite. Or Fibber McGee's closet.

The mere mention of one of Mary's parties would cause eyes to roll and excuses to be made. Each party was worse than the one before, and it wasn't really a matter of being spectacularly bad. The parties generally weren't too bad — until one thing went wrong in a spectacular, only–at–one–of–Mary's–parties way.

That was what happened in the episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show that aired 40 years ago tonight, "Mary's Big Party."

Mary almost always believed that her next party was going to be a game changer for her, and this time was no exception. She was convinced that this party would be the one to change her reputation. After this she was certain that people would want to attend her parties, not avoid them.

A guest at the party was going to be a congresswoman with whom Mary was acquainted. But the congresswoman would not be the main attraction. The congresswoman had a special guest coming into town to M.C. a charity event — Johnny Carson — and she asked Mary to have a small dinner for him so they could be spared the crush of admirers they were sure to encounter at a restaurant.

Mary wouldn't reveal the name of the special guest so everyone in the newsroom came to the party to find out who it was — even though most clearly expected another one of Mary's disastrous parties. When Mary told Mr. Grant (Ed Asner) that this would be a terrific party, he replied, "It better be. I gave up tickets to midget wrestling."

Finally Mary could contain herself no longer, and she spilled the beans. When she did, Mr. Grant conceded that it might be a "fair" party after all.

Mary was feeling triumphant and insisted it was going to be a great party — when the lights started to flicker, and then the apartment was plunged into darkness. The only lights that could be seen were a few lights from a distant building visible through the glass doors leading to Mary's balcony. Apparently the power was out over most of the city.

Mary had a flashlight, but the batteries were dead. And she had candles — somewhere. They were left with no alternative but to talk in the dark. Mary fretted that this would be her worst party ever.

"That's impossible," Mr. Grant said. "You'd really have to go a long way to top some of the bad parties you've had."

And that set up a series of flashbacks to the bad parties in Mary's past.

For Mr. Grant, Mary's worst party had been one that she had thrown with her friend Rhoda (Valerie Harper), and Mary set him up with a blind date who "turned out to be a little old lady."

Sue Ann (Betty White) remembered when the congresswoman attended another one of Mary's parties, and Sue Ann prepared a special veal dish for the occasion — but with just enough for each guest to have a single portion. Then Rhoda showed up with a date (Henry Winkler). He had been one of Rhoda's co–workers, but he had just been fired, and Rhoda couldn't let him be alone when he was feeling so vulnerable.

Feeding him would be a problem with only six portions of the veal and six people already at the party. Rhoda told Mary that her friend could have half of her portion. Problem solved — temporarily.

Then, when Mary was serving the veal, Mr. Grant took three portions — and Mary had to talk him into putting two portions back. Reluctantly he did so, explaining to the other guests that "I'm not as hungry as I thought I was."

Eventually Mary's special guests did show up. They had been stuck in the elevator when the power went out. They were only liberated after Johnny climbed through the trap door at the top.

Bear in mind that the stage was still cloaked in darkness. In that setting, Carson delivered one of the best deadpan lines I have ever heard: "Nice place you've got here."

Carson was never seen. I have heard that it was because he was under contract to NBC and could not be seen on the other two networks (the Mary Tyler Moore Show was on CBS). I don't know if that was true, but I do know it was a very entertaining episode, aired just two weeks before the series' grand finale.