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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 31, 1931

Welcome to the final day of July 2012!

Seven months of 2012 gone already! I can't believe this year is going by so fast! Before you know it, we'll be opening up Christmas presents.

(Well, provided that the world doesn't end that is. Which it won't. Mark my words.)

So, because it's Tuesday, we're going to take a look at some of the happenings all around the world for July 31st.

I think that we'll start off our look back on July 31 by talking about the famous people who happen to have a birthday today. Blowing out the candles on their cakes today are Don Murray, Geoffrey Lewis, Susan Flannery, Lobo, Geraldine Chapman, Gary Lewis, Lane Davies, Barry Van Dyke, Chris Ahrens, Alan Autry, Derek Smith, Michael Biehn, Dirk Blocker, Bill Berry (R.E.M.), Wally Kurth, Stanley Jordan, Wesley Snipes, Jim Corr (The Corrs), J.K. Rowling, Dean Cain, Mark Cuban, Ben Chaplin, Amanda Stepto, Gabe Kapler, Mike Lincoln, Ruben Patterson, Will Champion (Coldplay), Nick Sorenson, J.J. Furmaniak, B.J. Novak, Eric Lively, and Rico Rodriguez II.

Now let's take a look at some of the events that took place on this day in history. On the 31st of July, the following happened...

781 – The oldest recorded eruption of Mt. Fuji

1009 – Pope Sergius IV becomes the 142nd pope, succeeding Pope John XVIII

1492 – The Jews are expelled from Spain after the Alhambra Decree takes effect

1498 – Christopher Columbus becomes the third explorer to discover the island nation of Trinidad

1588 – The Spanish Armada is spotted off the coast of England

1715 – Spanish treasure fleet of ten ships departs Havana, Cuba for Spain, only to have nine of them sink due to a Florida storm, treasure is salvaged from wrecks centuries later

1790 – The first American patent is granted to Samuel Hopkins, who invented a new potash process

1856 – Christchurch, New Zealand is chartered as a city

1913 – The Balkan States sign an armistace at Bucharest

1930 – The radio mystery program, “The Shadow” airs for the first time

1938 – Archaeologists discover gold and silver plates from King Darius the Great in Persepolis

1940 – A doodlebug train in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio collides with a multi-car freight train heading in the opposite direction, 43 are pronounced dead

1941 – Adolf Hitler gives instructions to Nazi official Hermann Goring to come up with a plan devised as a “desired final solution of the Jewish question”.

1945 – Pierre Laval, former leader of Vichy, France, surrenders to Allied soldiers in Austria

1948 – New York International Airport (later renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport) is officially dedicated

1954 – The first ascent of K2 occurs, led by Ardito Desio

1964 – Ranger 7 sends back first close-up photographs of the moon, with a resolution over 1,000 times clearer than anything seen from earth-bound telescopes

1972 – The British Army re-takes urban no-go areas of Northern Ireland, leading to several car bombs detonating in the area, killing nine.

1987 – A class F4 tornado strikes down in Edmonton, Alberta, killing 27, and causing $330 million in damage

1992 - On a day in which two deadly air crashes take place in China and Nepal, the country of Georgia joins the United Nations

2007 – Operation Banner in Northern Ireland comes to an end

That's quite a lot of history for July 31st. Some of it was wonderful, some of it was tragic, and in reference to 1941, some of it was scary.

So, what date will we spotlight this week?

Well, we're going back 81 years in time to July 31, 1931.

Eighty-one years ago, in New York City, there was a lot of buzz surrounding a brand new form of media. Prior to 1931, many people got their news and entertainment through newspapers and the radio.

July 31, 1931 marked the first day of operation for the station W2XAB using a new mechanical television system that people tested, and almost perfected by the late 1920s. The first broadcast of the station featured then New York City mayor Jimmy Walker, singer Kate Smith, and composer George Gershwin.

Unbeknownst to everybody at the time, this particular station was a pioneer in the world of television. W2XAB became the very first television station to broadcast a 7-day a week broadcasting schedule, airing programming 28 hours per week. Back in those days, this was a lot, especially considering that it would be another two decades before households would end up having television sets in their homes.

The station also made history a year and a half after the station's debut on November 8, 1932 when it became the station to broadcast the first television coverage of a presidential election.

But just when things were going great, W2XAB ended up hitting a snag during the winter of 1933. In February of that year, the station was forced off the air due to the fact that monochrome television transmission standards were in flux, and the decision was then made to change the mode of operation from mechanical to electronic.

It would be another seven years before W2XAB returned, on September 3, 1940. That date was also a historic one, as the station aired its first colour broadcast in the United States.

A few months later, on June 24, 1941, a little less than ten years since the station first went to air, W2XAB received a commercial construction permit and program authorization as WCBW. A week later, on July 1, WCBW went on the air at 2:30pm. It began airing one hour after rival WNBT began airing, making WCBW the second authorized fully commercial television station in the United States. WCBW's first broadcast happened to be the first local news broadcast ever aired on an American commercial station. Initially, the program schedules jumped all over the place the first few months of wouldn't be until late October that regular daily operations would begin. The initial assigned frequency of the station was 60-66 MHz, taking position on the Channel 2 dial. After the Second World War ended in 1945, the FCC re-allocated television and FM bands, and WCBW moved to a new frequency beginning in 1946.

By the end of 1946, the station changed its name once again after the FCC began allowing television stations that were owned by radio stations in the same city to use the same call letters as the radio station with the suffix-TV.

Beginning on November 1, 1946, the station became known as WCBS-TV.

Yes, that's correct. On July 31, 1931, the flagship CBS television station first went on the air. How's that for an interesting piece of trivia?

Over the 81-year history of the television station, WCBS-TV had had many historical firsts. It was the first television station to broadcast the first baseball game on colour television between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Braves (Boston beat Brooklyn 8-1). It was one of the final stations to end analog transmissions in 2009. 

And during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC, WCBS was one of only two New York based television stations to stay on the air (the other one was VH1). Although its main transmitter had been located in the North Tower of the World Trade Center since 1975 (which also served as the location of almost all New York City television stations at that time), it also had a back-up transmitter at the Empire State Building, which kept the station on the air. Ironically enough, the back-up transmitter was used once before in February 1993, when a bomb detonated at the World Trade Center.

The television station also boasted a huge list of celebrities that had some affiliation with WCBS-TV over the years. Among some of the most notable alumni of WCBS are; Julie Chen, Diane Dimond, Ira Joe Fisher, Leeza Gibbons, Frank Gifford, Jim Jensen, Lynda Lopez (Jennifer Lopez's sister), Bill O'Reilly, Dave Price, John Roberts, Joel Siegel, John Stossel, John Tesh, Jane Velez-Mitchell, Meredith Vieira, Bree Walker, Robb Weller, and Brian Williams.

Of course, the station hasn't been without its share of controversy. In 1994, anchor Jim Jensen found himself demoted to hosting a morning public-affairs show that aired on Sundays only. At that time, Jensen was the longest serving anchor in New York City, and his treatment was highly criticized by New Yorkers.

Another controversy also surrounded Jensen after his co-anchor Bree Walker revealed on air that she had a condition known as ectrodactyly (which causes the fingers and toes to fuse together), and shortly after her report, Jensen actually asked her if she believed that her parents would have aborted her if they knew she would be born that way. The question shocked Walker, and although she maintained her composure, she quit the station not too long after that. And there was also the “1996 massacre”, which saw seven key people fired from WCBS-TV in October 1996 with no advance warning whatsoever. It was seen as a move to shake up the news operation in order to boost ratings, but the seven people who were let go (John Johnson, Michele Marsh, Tony Guida, Reggie Harris, Magee Hickey, Roseanne Colletti, and Bernie Smilovitz) must have been shocked, and likely a little angry over the situation. I know I would be if I were them.

However, despite this controversy, the television station still continues strong. And to think that it all began eighty-one years ago, on July 31, 1931.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dick Tracy

I'm sure that many of you know this about me by now, but I am what you could call a non-traditional comic book geek.

What I mean by non-traditional is that I tend to like comics that other people may dismiss as being fluff. I get a bit of grief from a few of my friends over my obsessive love for all things Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica, but I make no apologies for my love of the Riverdale Crew.

I also make no apologies for reading Casper The Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Little Lotta, Simpsons Comics, Super Mario Comics, or ALF Comics.

(And, yes, there actually was a comic book based on the 1980s television sitcom, ALF.)

That's not to say that I absolutely hate more traditional comic books such as Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Silver Surfer, Captain America, or any other comic that features a superhero of some sort. I admire the fact that those characters have managed to have a following for eight decades or more. But, when it comes to reading comic books, I'd just rather stick to my Archies.

Besides, I may be in the rare minority here, but I actually enjoy superhero comic books more when they are adapted onto the big screen. I enjoy a lot of the movies that are based on superhero comic books. I enjoyed 1989's “Batman”, as well as many of the sequels that followed it (well, with the exception of the lame Batman & Robin movie...George Clooney may be a fantastic actor, but in my opinion, I didn't think he fit the Batman role). The late Christopher Reeve was brilliant as Superman. And, Andrew Garfield has certainly been making a name for himself recently by being the latest actor to don the red and blue tights to become Spider-Man.

Today's blog entry is all about a feature film starring a comic strip character. It was one of 1990's top summer blockbusters, despite the fact that reviews for the movie were mixed. The film managed to make over $160 million in theatres, and ended up winning three Academy Awards, which included Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Original Song.

The song that won the “Best Original Song” award for this film was the Stephen Sondheim composition “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)”. It was sang by Madonna, and was placed on her 1990 album, “I'm Breathless”, which also included this number one smash by the singer.

ARTIST: Madonna
SONG: Vogue
ALBUM: I'm Breathless
DATE RELEASED: March 20, 1990

Now, here's a little bit of trivia for you all. Although “Vogue” was clearly the biggest hit from “I'm Breathless”, the song itself never appeared within this film (It was actually recorded in December 1989 and was originally a B-side for Madonna's single “Keep It Together”). And, while we're on the subject of “I'm Breathless”, although it could technically be called a Madonna album, it doubled as the one of the official soundtrack albums of the film that we're going to discuss in this blog today (the name of the album stemming from the character Madonna portrayed in the film).

That film, of course, is the 1990 film “Dick Tracy”, which starred Warren Beatty, Madonna, Charlie Korsmo, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Mandy Patinkin, Dick Van Dyke, and Paul Sorvino, amongst others. With that much star power, it's easy to see why people flocked to see it.

As I mentioned before, Dick Tracy originated as a comic strip. On October 4, 1931, the comic strip made its debut in the Detroit Mirror. The character was a private detective who always wore a bright yellow trenchcoat and hat.

Dick Tracy was created by Chester Gould (1900-1985), at a time in which violence was a common sight in 1930s era Chicago. To Gould's credit, he managed to keep up with the latest innovations involving crime fighting techniques, because he wanted to make the comic strip appear as realistic as he possibly could make least in the earliest days of the comic.

The comic strip occasionally hosted “whodunnit” plotlines, but for the most part, the strips usually involved Dick Tracy chasing a perpetrator through the city streets. In between the criminal's desperation to escape and Tracy's unrelenting persistence in catching the bad guys, mysteries would be solved, and cases would be closed.

Perhaps some of the most interesting aspects of the Dick Tracy serial included the villains that popped up to wreak havoc. The villains were purposely drawn to appear warped and deformed to contrast with Dick Tracy's view of the world through black and white coloured glasses. Some of these villains included Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice, Mumbles, Flattop, 88 Keys, Numbers, Lips Manlis, Spuds Spaldoni, Pruneface, and Influence.

As it so happens, these villians all appeared in the movie adaptation of 1990, and judging by how these actors appeared on screen, it's easy to see how the movie won the “Best Makeup” Academy Award. Just take a look at Flattop (Forsythe), Pruneface (R.G. Armstrong), and Lips Manlis (Sorvino) below.

TRIVIA: In the 1945 adaptation for Dick Tracy, Mike Mazurki played the role of Dick Tracy villain “Splitface”. He makes a cameo appearance in the 1990 film.

I should also mention that the 1990 version of “Dick Tracy” wouldn't have been made possible without Warren Beatty. Not only did he play the iconic role, but he also served as producer and director! How's that for a man of many talents?

As it so happened, Beatty had wanted to do a feature film adaptation of “Dick Tracy” since 1975! Back then, the film rights were held by Michael Laughlin, who gave them up to Tribune Media Services after an unsuccessful attempt to pitch a film idea involving Dick Tracy to Hollywood. The rights to Dick Tracy were then purchased by Floyd Mutrux and Art Linson in 1977, and three years later, United Artists became interested in developing the film.

But in the ten years between then and when the film's June 15, 1990 release date, a lot of things happened that delayed the project. Chester Gould initially wanted financial and artistic control, killing the initial deal that United Artists had made, but his death in 1985 meant that the film rights were once again up for grabs. The film went through a couple of directors, including John Landis (who left the project) and Richard Benjamin before Beatty assumed the role. Warren Beatty wasn't the only one considered for the role of Dick Tracy. Other actors who could have played the title role included Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford, and Mel Gibson. As well, the production was shifted to several studios, including Paramount and Walt Disney.

Disney eventually greenlighted the Dick Tracy movie in 1988 with the condition that the film's budget wouldn't exceed $25 million. Well...with the money spent by Disney to promote the film, the production costs ended up being four times that amount! Thankfully, the film showed a profit!

As far as the plot of the movie goes, there's really not a whole lot to say about it. It starts off in the streets of Chicago where a street kid (Korsmo) is the unfortunate witness of a mob massacre at a rigged card game, and runs away to avoid being harmed himself. He literally runs into Dick Tracy (who catches him partaking in some petty crimes), and introduces himself as 'The Kid'. With the help of Tracy's girlfriend, Tess Truehart (Glenne Headly), Tracy adopts 'The Kid'.

At the same time, Big Boy (Pacino), the mobster behind the massacre at the beginning of the film, claims his next victim. After Lips Manlis signs over the deed to his club, “Club Ritz” to Big Boy, Big Boy not only dispatches him, but steals his girlfriend away, sultry club singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna). One thing that one should know about Big Boy is that he has been at the center of some rather serious crimes, including vandalism, robbery, and murder. But for whatever reason, he always seems to escape incarceration, as there has never been any witnesses to testify against him.

As a result, Dick Tracy has made it his mission to find Big Boy, and put him on ice for good. But as one will see as they watch the film, the road to justice will not be an easy one. With Dick Tracy resorting to interrogating criminals in order to pin something on Big Boy, you know that it will never end well. Sure enough, Dick Tracy ends up in one dangerous situation after another! It's a good thing that he and “The Kid” ended up getting along so well.

Then there's the mysterious Breathless Mahoney, who immediately takes a shining to our yellow cloaked detective. Despite the fact that Tracy and Trueheart are an item, this doesn't stop Breathless from staking her claim. Of course, Dick Tracy only sees Breathless as a potential witness in his quest to get rid of Big Boy, but when things get complicated, who ends up getting hurt?

And who, or what, is the mysterious figure known as “The Blank”?

I guarantee you that if you watch this film, all the answers will be revealed.

And that's about all that I have to say about the film “Dick Tracy”. But one final note. At the time of the film's casting process, Madonna and Warren Beatty were in a very public romantic relationship. Now, to Madonna's credit, when she got the part of Breathless Mahoney, she insisted on working for scale, as she didn't want to make it seem as though she got the part because of her romance with Beatty.

But knowing that Warren Beatty and Madonna were involved romantically while Dick Tracy was being filmed, it certainly makes the song “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” seem much more...poignant.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Where I Come From, Rain is a Good Thing

I’ll readily admit that when I was a kid, I loved summer vacation.  Summer vacation meant that you had two and a half months of doing whatever you wanted to do, whenever you wanted.  When I was growing up, I can remember all of the thousands of things that I could only do during the summer holidays.  Here are just a list of just a few of the things that I did when I was a kid between the months of June and September.

I would head down to the outdoor sidewalk sales downtown and browse all of the booths and merchandise set up in the middle of the street.  I remember being a child thinking how cool it was that we could actually walk on the road and not have to worry about being run over by a car!  Mind you, I very rarely bought anything at these sidewalk sales, but usually the used book store would have used cassette tapes and Archie Digests that I would spend my tooth fairy money and allowance on.

There would also be instances in which a carnival or fair would come to town, and I would practically beg my parents to loan me ten dollars so I could ride on some of the rides (yes, kids, back in the late 1980s, fair rides were really that inexpensive).  Whenever I went to the fair, if I could ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl, The Scrambler, the bumper cars, and the merry-go-round, and still have enough money for a cotton candy or a cherry flavoured Sno-Cone, I considered that successful budgeting!

And, of course, there were all of the summer festivals and concerts, and outdoor events that took place only in the summer.  Whether it was watching our favourite bands and singers performing outdoors, or watching hot-air-balloons launching up into the sky, or enjoying the company of other people over cold drinks at a sidewalk cafe, there never was a shortage of activities to do in the summer.

Well, provided that it didn’t RAIN, that is.

On days in which it rained during the summer, it was never much fun...especially when I was a child.  Rain meant that we had to stay indoors instead of going out.  Rain meant that sidewalk sales had to be cancelled, because the rain would destroy all of the goods available for sale.  Rain meant that I couldn’t go to the fair because my mother believed that I would catch pneumonia if I rode on the Tilt-A-Whirl in the pouring rain.

(A theory that I ended up disproving when I was twelve, by the way.)

I’ll be honest.  Whenever it rained on my summer vacation, I was upset.  It was bad enough that on my birthday it almost always rained, but to have the rain fall on my summer vacation?  That was just too much!  I would have been more than thrilled if it never rained during the summer holidays ever again.

Well, flash forward to the year 2012, and it appears that I am now getting my childhood wish granted.  This past summer (at least where I am currently living in Ontario, Canada), we have had only three days where it has rained.  And on each of these three days, the showers never last any longer than three hours.

What I didn’t think about as a child were the consequences that came from having no rain fall during the summer holidays.  Now that I am 31, and am experiencing the longest drought that I have seen in my lifetime, I can clearly see how my childhood wish was very misguided.

All over my province, farmers and crop growers are losing their shirts the longer the drought lasts.  The crops that they have planted have not been doing well at all, due to the lack of rain.  Even walking down the street in my town and seeing the once green grass now a sickly shade of yellowish-brown, I can see just how devastating this drought has been.  I can’t even imagine how stressed out the farmers are in this area.  I really feel for them.

Of course, this drought is also causing a lot of frustration in the grocery store where I currently do my day job.  As a result of fruit and vegetable fields in this area shriveling up in the relentless heat of the sun, the prices in our produce department have been steadily rising.  If this drought gets any worse, it’d eventually be that buying a couple of apples may end up costing as much as a gallon of gasoline! 

I now see that wishing for a summer without rain was not the smartest idea.  Now I wish that we could have nothing but rain for a complete week in hopes that somehow, the summer growing season can be salvaged, and that we never have to worry about running out of raspberries, peaches, and corn on the cob.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that rain can be wonderful.  And, hey, what a coincidence that our Sunday Jukebox song has the same message.

It isn’t very often that I leaf through the country music section of the record listings to spotlight for the Sunday Jukebox.  The last time I featured a country artist was on September 11, 2011 when I used an Alan Jackson song to discuss the 10th annual remembrance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  In this case though, there really was only one song that seemed to fit the theme of the blog.  Let’s have a listen.

ARTIST:  Luke Bryan
SONG:  Rain is a Good Thing
ALBUM:  Doin' My Thing
DATE RELEASED:  January 25, 2010

Yes, Luke Bryan was right.  Rain is a good thing.  And, I sort of wish that we could get some more rain now.

But I’ve talked about the drought long enough.  Why don’t we change the subject and talk about the artist who sings this particular song?

This is Luke Bryan, but Luke Bryan is merely his stage name.  He was born Thomas Luther Bryan on July 17, 1976 in Leesburg, Georgia.  On or around his fourteenth birthday, he was given the gift of a guitar from his parents, and this prompted Luke to take on jobs playing in local clubs with local bands throughout his teenage years.

Bryan graduated from Lee County High School in 1994, and he had dreams of moving to Nashville, Tennessee immediately after graduating to pursue a career in recording country music.  But those plans were shattered after the death of his brother, Chris.  Chris died the very day that Luke was planning on leaving home.  So, Luke stayed in Georgia, and attended Georgia State University, pledging for the Sigma Chi fraternity, and taking on a job working with his father, despite the fact that everyone encouraged him not to give up on his dream of moving to Nashville.

Eventually, Luke realized that his loved ones only wanted what was best for him.  And what was best for him was moving to Nashville.  So, seven years after his first attempt, Luke Bryan moved to Nashville on September 1, 2001.  Two months later, Luke ended up landing a a songwriter.

As it turned out, this was a great thing for Luke, as his talents in writing songs proved to be the ultimate networking experience in Nashville.  Because of this job, Luke managed to meet and work with some of Nashville’s biggest stars including Travis Tritt and Billy Currington.

It wouldn’t be until 2006 that Luke Bryan would end up being discovered by a representative for Capitol Records while he was performing at a club.  The rep was impressed by Luke’s talent, and signed him to a recording contract on the spot.

Luke Bryan’s song writing skills seemed to help him out a lot when he was working on his debut album, 2007’s “I’ll Stay Me”.  Of the eleven songs that appeared on the album, he wrote or co-wrote ten of them.  Some of the singles that charted on that album were “All My Friends Say”, “We Rode in Trucks”, and “Country Man”.  All three were hits on the country charts, but failed to reach the top.

It seemed as though Luke’s second album, “Doin’ My Thing” was doomed to the same fate.  The album’s first single, “Do I” (which was co-written by the members of Lady Antebellum) was a strong release, but only managed to peak at #2 in the summer of 2009. 

But then “Rain is a Good Thing” was released, and it became Luke’s first #1 hit.

The song’s lyrics are quite simplistic in nature.  Basically, it depicts the story about how rain causes corn crops to grow, and with the harvesting of the corn comes the manufacturing of whiskey, which, according to Luke Bryan makes the gals get a little bit frisky.

Which is always a good thing.

In some ways, the idea behind the song came from a saying that he and co-writer Dallas Davidson used to say whenever both of them were bummed about the rain.  The saying was “Rain makes corn, and corn makes whiskey”, and whenever both of them said the saying, it made them feel better, and more accepting of inclement weather.

Who knew that little saying would end up giving Luke the first of many country music chart-toppers?  That’s a good thing, wouldn’t you say?

Rain is a very good thing.  I just wish that the summer of 2012 had a lot more of it.  But, it’s only the end of July.  There’s still a slim chance that we might just see some raindrops falling from the sky in August.

At least, I certainly hope so, anyway.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Going for Gold at the 1977 Laff-A-Lympics

How many of you out there plan on watching the 2012 Summer Olympics?

The Olympics are probably one of the most watched sporting events in the entire world.  As many as one billion people worldwide are expected to tune in to watch at least one of the Olympic events being showcased.  Thousands of athletes representing 200 different countries compete in a variety of events, all with the goal of winning a bronze, silver, or gold medal.  This year, the Olympic ceremonies are being held in London, the third time that the city has hosted the Summer Olympics (the other two years were 1908 and 1948) since the modern Olympic Games were first held in Athens, Greece in 1896.

All eyes will be focused on London, as the nations participating in the games will be cheering on their athletes in the quest for gold.  I know that I will be wishing all of my fellow Canadians the best of luck in the Olympic Games, and hope that they bring home the gold.

Traditionally speaking, Canada hasn’t done so hot in regards to gold medals least in the Summer Olympics.  The highest amount of gold medals won by a Canadian team was ten, back in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California.  Coincidentally, the 1984 Games also had the highest amount of medals won in total by a Canadian team with 44.  As far as other gold medal counts go for Canada, we ended up winning seven gold medals in Barcelona 1992 and four in both St. Louis 1904 and Amsterdam 1928.  

Embarrassingly enough, one of the most disappointing performances by a Canadian team in the Summer Olympics was in the very year Canada hosted the games.  The 1976 Montreal games were a disaster for Canada.  Not only was the Canadian team shut out of winning a gold medal (we ended up winning eleven medals total though), but the debt was so massive that it took three decades to pay it off!  Thankfully in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, we had our best gold medal performance ever for the Olympic Games with 14 won!

Go Canada!

You know, all this talk about the Olympic Games makes me think about a Saturday morning cartoon show that I vaguely remember watching as a kid.  It was a show that also had an Olympic themed setting.  Although the series aired in between the 1976 and 1980 Summer Olympics, the show did show everyone the hilarity that could occur if some of our favourite cartoon characters competed in some of the events that some of our celebrated athletes won medals for.

Today, we’re going to look back on the short-lived Hanna-Barbera cartoon “Laff-A-Lympics”.

“Laff-A-Lympics” only managed to run for two seasons during ABC’s Saturday Morning cartoon block.  It debuted on September 10, 1977, and ran for 24 episodes, which were rerun on the station until July 31, 1979.  The television show was loosely based on events that were featured in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, but also ended up having elements from “Battle of the Network Stars” thrown in for good measure.

The premise of the show was simple.  A total of 45 characters from various Hanna-Barbera cartoons were divided up into three different teams.  Each episode featured these three teams competing against each other in various events.  Now, unlike the real Olympic Games, in which cheating is strongly discouraged, in Laff-A-Lympics, it’s quite normal to have strange things happen on an Olympic course. 

The Laff-A-Lympics were hosted by Snagglepuss and Mildew Wolf, and because the show aired on ABC, both characters were outfitted with bright yellow sportsjackets (which all ABC sportscasters wore back in the late 1970s).  The show also had guest characters serving as judges and commentators which included Jabberjaw, Peter Potamus, Fred Flintstone, and Barney Rubble.

I suppose that you want to know what the three teams are in Laff-A-Lympics, don’t you?  Well, here they are, written entirely in their team colours.


SCOOBY-DOO - Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Dum, Shaggy Rogers

DYNOMUTT, DOG WONDER – Dynomutt, Blue Falcon

CAPTAIN CAVEMAN – Captain Caveman, Brenda Chance, Taffy Dare, Dee Dee Skyes

SPEED BUGGY – Speed Buggy, Tinker


HONG KONG PHOOEY – Hong Kong Phooey


YOGI BEAR – Yogi Bear, Boo-Boo Bear, Cindy Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Pixie, Dixie, Mr. Jinks, Hokey Wolf, Yakky Doodle

QUICK DRAW McGRAW – Quick Draw McGraw, Snooper, Blabber, Augie Doggie, Doggie Daddy




Mumbly, Dread Baron, Dinky Dalton, Dirty Dalton, Dastardly Dalton, Mr. Creepley, Mrs. Creepley, Junior Creepley, Orful Octopus, The Great Fondoo, Magic Rabbit, Daisy Mayhem, Sooey

TRIVIA:  Originally, the Scooby-Doobies were supposed to have different characters.  It was originally planned to have Jeannie from “Jeannie” on the team, as well as Melody, Alexander, Alexandra, and Sebastian the Cat from Josie and the Pussycats.  But due to trademark rights held by Columbia Pictures Television and Archie Comics, the characters weren’t able to be used.  Jeannie was replaced with Hong Kong Phooey, and the Pussycats characters were replaced with the cast from Captain Caveman.  However, since Babu was an original Hanna-Barbera creation, he was allowed to be a part of the show.

EVEN MORE TRIVIA:  With the exception of the Daltons from Quick Draw McGraw, and Mumbly from “Grape Ape”, the people on the Really Rottens were original creations.

Here’s the fun part though.  Although the Scooby-Doobies and Yogi Yahooies were two separate teams, they ended up working together very well.  They were all friends, and when one member of the team got into a sticky situation, the other team would help him/her to safety.  The Really Rottens on the other hand really lived up to their name.  They would often play dirty tricks on the other two teams all in the name of getting an advantage in the games.  They only cared about one thing.  Winning.

And just how did teams win?  Well, after each event, they were given a set of points.  In almost all cases, the first place team would score 25 points, second place team would score 15 points, and the last place team would get 10.  In the last event, the point totals would be doubled, or teams would get added bonus points.  At the end of the episode, the team with the most points, ended up with the gold medal. 

But what the Really Rottens didn’t realize was that points could also be deducted from totals if any of the people on the team were found guilty of sabotaging events, they could lose points.  And those lost points could mean the difference between winning and losing!

In fact, over the 24 episodes of the series, I can tell you that one team won the gold medal fourteen times.  Another team only won it twice.  And the final team won the gold medal seven times.

But, wait...that’s only a total of 23 medals.  What about the missing medal? 

I could tell you.  But wouldn’t it be more fun to watch it yourself?  I couldn’t find the episode online, but if you watch the episode “Siam and the Moon”, the answer behind the missing medal is found there.

On that note, I’ll end this note by wishing all athletes competing in London the very best of luck, and may all of your Olympic dreams come true.

And if they don’t, there’s always Rio de Janeiro in 2016!

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Jeffersons - Finally Gettin' A Piece Of The Pie

There are some days in which I really miss being a child.

Back when I was five or six years old, there were only twelve channels on television to choose from. Yes, I know by then cable television was around, but my family wasn't able to afford it until the early 1990s. Prior to that, I know exactly what the channels were that we had to watch at that time. And what's scarier is that I can tell you what channel corresponded with each station. And, that I still REMEMBER them twenty years later!

Back in 198-whatever, the channels we had to watch were the following.

02 – TVOntario (Toronto)
03 – Global Television (Toronto)
04 – CBC Television (Ottawa)
05 – CBS Television (Detroit)
06 – NBC Television (Detroit)
07 – CBS Television (Watertown)
08 – PBS Television (Watertown)
09 – CBC Television French Language (Montreal)
10 – Cable 10 (Brockville)
11 – CKWS-TV (Kingston)
12 – ABC Television (Detroit)
13 – CTV Television (Ottawa)

(Yes, you're reading this correctly...we did have two CBS affiliates.)

Actually, with cable television, the line-up didn't really change that much. Channel 5 became CFMT-TV, which is now called OMNI1. Channel 6 moved to Channel 15, and Channel 12 moved to Channel 19.

Why am I bringing this up though? It's partially related to today's blog post.

Of all the channels that we had on basic cable, I'd have to say that I watched Channel 6 (WDIV-TV) the most. That would be NBC for all of you keeping score at home. I know that these days, NBC seems to be struggling with keeping an audience, but back in those days, it really was Must See TV. Most of the cartoons that I watched as a young boy on Saturday mornings happened to be on NBC, and back in the 1980s, NBC had wonderful sitcoms such as The Hogan Family, The Cosby Show, ALF, The Facts Of Life, and The Golden Girls.

My favourite time to watch our NBC affiliate though was immediately after school let out for the day. You see, back in the 1980s before daytime talk shows and the Today Show expanded into the afternoon, the daytime block was filled with soap operas as well as affiliate time. And, after Another World, there would be an hour of programming dedicated to classic sitcoms from years gone by. From 3-4pm, I'd watch these classic shows and love them. The first show was “Gimme A Break!”, which aired from 3-3:30.

And from 3:30-4, this show aired.

Today, we're going to take a look back on the classic sitcom “The Jeffersons”. Although I watched the program on an NBC affiliate, the program originated on CBS. It ran from January 18, 1975 until June 25, 1985. The fact that the show ran for eleven seasons was a milestone in itself (especially since the program it spun off from, “All in the Family” ran two seasons shorter). But an even bigger milestone? It remains the longest running sitcom featuring a predominately African-American cast ever, more than 25 years after airing its final episode. And, just as the theme song says, the entire premise of the series involves a couple moving on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky, and the trials and tribulations surrounding life in a high-rise.

Obviously, there's a reason why I chose to spotlight “The Jeffersons” in today's blog entry. Three days ago, on July 24, we lost Sherman Hemsley. The actor, who portrayed George Jefferson passed away of natural causes at the age of 74.

Hemsley enjoyed a long career in the field of entertainment in a career that spanned a little over four decades. His first acting job was on the stage. In 1970, he starred at the character Gitlow in the Broadway play “Purlie”. Shortly after that, he moved from Philadelphia to New York to study with Lloyd Richards at the Negro Ensemble Company. He later joined Vinnette Carroll's Urban Arts Company where he acted in such productions as “Old Judge Mose is Dead”, “Croesus”, and “The Witch”. Hemsley seemed to really embrace the theatre as that was all that he exclusively did between 1970 and 1972.

And then Norman Lear came into Hemsley's life, and offered him a job. Lear was in the process of casting for his new television series “All in the Family”, and he believed that Hemsley was perfect for the role of George Jefferson, the neighbour of Archie and Edith Bunker. Hemsley was torn. He loved doing theatre and didn't want to give it up, but at the same time the television role intrigued him. Lear told him that he would hold the role open for him, and in 1973, Hemsley joined the cast of “All in the Family”, and two years later, was spun off into “The Jeffersons”.

Of course, George Jefferson would always be Sherman Hemsley's most famous role, but it wasn't the only sitcom role he would take on. From 1986-1991, he assumed the role of Deacon Frye on the NBC sitcom, “Amen”, and from 1991-1994, he took on voice acting as he provided the voice for B.P. Richfield on the television show “Dinosaurs!”. He also brought out his George Jefferson persona in various places along with his co-star Isabel Sanford (who played his wife Louise “Weezie” Jefferson). They starred in an episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, they both appeared on “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”, and they even appeared together in a Denny's commercial!

Really, the whole working relationship between Sherman and Isabel was one of the best in the business. They really did share some amazing chemistry together. But did you know there was a 21-year age difference between Isabel and Sherman? Isabel was born in 1917, Sherman was born in 1938! I honestly had no idea that there was that wide a gap between Sanford and Hemsley. When I first found out, I was blown away...partly because in my eyes, George Jefferson looked older than Weezie!

And, if you thought that piece of trivia was shocking, I have more information and trivia about the show itself. Consider it your behind the scenes scoop of “The Jeffersons”.

1 – If you take a look at the photograph that happens to be sitting next to the telephone in the Jefferson's apartment, it changes every episode.

2 – If you've ever wondered where the building that is featured in the opening credits of the intro is found, it is located at 185 E. 85th Street in Manhattan.

3 – The name of the apartment building that the Jeffersons live in is Colby East, and the Jeffersons live on the 12th floor.

4 – Zara Cully played the role of Mother Jefferson until the 1977-78 season. When she passed away on February 28, 1978, the character of Mother Jefferson was killed off as well.

5 – Ja'net Dubois sang the theme song “Movin' On Up”. If that name sounds familiar, it may be because at the time she sang the theme song for “The Jeffersons”, she herself was one of the cast members of another sitcom, “Good Times”.

6 – Mike Evans played the role of Lionel Jefferson, the son of George and Weezie. In real life, he was only eleven years younger than Sherman Hemsley!

7 – Mike Evans played the role of Lionel Jefferson off and on during the series eleven year run. He left the program to work as a writer and producer for “Good Times”. Upon the show's finale in 1979, he returned to “The Jeffersons”. Sadly, Mike Evans passed away in 2006 from throat cancer at the age of 57.

8 – In the eleven seasons that “The Jeffersons” were on the air, they occupied a grand total of fifteen different time slots!

9 – “The Jeffersons” ended up spending quite a bit of time in the Top 10 list of the Neilsen ratings. It was in the Top 10 during its first season, and stayed in the Top 10 between 1979 and 1982.

10 – When the news was announced that George and Weezie would get a spinoff from “All in the Family”, Isabel Sanford was opposed. She was very happy on the set of “All in the Family” and didn't want to leave. But when informed that the possibility of her being recast was open if she refused, Sanford agreed to join “The Jeffersons”.

11 – The show was known for some rather controversial moments. In the earliest seasons, the characters often said the “N” word. There were episodes on such subjects as racism, suicide, and gun control. And the characters of Tom and Helen Willis (Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker) were television's first black/white interracial couple.

12 – Speaking of Tom and Helen Willis, would you believe that there were CBS executives who lobbied to edit out an onscreen kiss between the two? Fred Silverman managed to leave the kiss intact in the show, but boy, have times changed since the late 1970s!

13 – There were 253 episodes filmed of “The Jeffersons”. Sherman Hemsley was the only actor to appear in all 253 episodes.

14 – The character of Florence (Marla Gibbs) was originally intended to be a recurring character, but based on fan reaction, the character became so popular, Gibbs was offered a contract role soon after.

15 – Marla Gibbs was herself given a spinoff series from “The Jeffersons”, entitled “Checking In”. She left the series in a similar fashion to that of Charlotte Rae (who left Diff'rent Strokes to join the cast of “The Facts of Life”) in that if the show failed, she could come back to the series. Unlike Charlotte Rae's situation, “Checking In” checked out, and Gibbs returned to “The Jeffersons” shortly afterwards.

16 – Roxie Roker had a striking similarity to the character she played. Turns out Roxie's real-life husband was Caucasian, and when she was asked if she would have a problem with it, all she had to do was show producers a picture of her husband. That answered their questions right then and there!

17 – The role of Lionel Jefferson was played by two different actors. When Mike Evans left the series after the first season, an actor named Damon Evans (no relation) was brought in for seasons 2-4.

18 – The show boasted some serious guest star power. Appearing in small episodic roles in the series were Gary Coleman, Sammy Davis Jr, Louis Gossett Jr, Reggie Jackson, Gladys Knight, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Jaleel White, and Billy Dee Williams.

19 – With Hemsley's death in July 2012, the only surviving cast members of the series are Marla Gibbs, Damon Evans, Berlinda Tolbert (Jenny Willis-Jefferson), and Jay Hammer (Alan Willis). Isobel Sanford passed away in July 2004, Mike Evans in December 2006, Zara Cully in February 1978, Franklin Cover in February 2006, Roxie Roker in December 1995, and Paul Benedict in December 2008.

20 – The show never did receive a proper series finale. In fact, when the show was finally cancelled in June 1985, the cast was not informed until after the episode “Red Robin” aired (which ended up being the last episode). Sherman Hemsley recalled that he didn't know the show had not been picked up for the 1985/86 season until he read it in the newspaper! That's pretty bad on CBS' part, wouldn't you say?

However, despite the way the show ended, it did provide lots of laughs to people of all backgrounds and skin colours, and it made Sherman Hemsley a bright star in the world of entertainment.

A star that will forever shine on after his death.

Sherman Hemsley