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Monday, December 31, 2012

Dog Day Afternoon With Charles Durning

Here we are at the end of 2012, and what a year it’s been.  On a personal note, the year began quite nicely, got a little bit depressing around the spring months, was great during the summer, lost a really dear friend in the fall, and as of December 31, I kind of have a mediocre opinion of 2012.  Not the best year, but far from being the worst.

I know people are looking at 2012 as being a rather bipolar year, and to be completely honest, I agree with you.  Some of the terrible moments of 2012 included several shootings in public places, a hurricane bearing down on several major U.S. cities, and countless talk about the American economy plummeting over the edge of the fiscal cliff.  But, there were also a lot of good things that happened in 2012 as well.  We saw the celebrations associated with the 2012 London Olympics.  We witnessed Felix Baumgartner break the sound barrier unassisted by machinery...and we survived yet another apocalypse!

So, really, 2012 has been kind of a mixed bag of sorts.

2012 has also been a rather good year for this blog.  When the year began, the blog had, on average, five thousand page views a month.  As the year ends, that number has doubled!  And, really, it’s all thanks to all of you for showing interest in this project.  I’m excited about 2013, and celebrating the second anniversary of this blog in May!  I hope all of you will stick around for the ride!

Now, as we close off the year that Barack Obama got re-elected, the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, the Costa Concordia sank off the coast of Italy almost a hundred years to the date of the Titanic disaster, and Kate Middleton and Prince William announced her pregnancy to the world, we welcome a brand new year with brand new promise.

For today’s blog entry...the last one of 2012, we’re going to be looking at a movie that garnered a lot of critical acclaim, and is widely considered to be one of the best movies of the 1970s.

And, there’s a particular reason why I have decided to choose this particular film.  It’s because one of the stars of the film was the late Charles Durning.

As I mentioned in Friday’s entry, Charles Durning passed away last Monday...the same day that television/film star Jack Klugman died.  On Friday’s entry, I promised that I would do a feature on Durning as well, so I thought, why not today?

Charles Durning was born in Highland Falls, New York on February 28, 1923, the fourth of ten children!  Sadly, of the ten children born to James and Louise Durning, their five boys (including Charles) lived to adulthood.  The five girls all passed away in their infancy due to smallpox.

Durning ended up getting his first taste of what it was like to be an actor in a rather unorthodox place...he was working as an usher in a burlesque house when he was asked to fill in for a comedian who had a little too much to drink.  So, Durning filled in on the spot, and when he received much laughter from the audience for his impromptu act, Durning knew that this was what he wanted to do for a living.

It did take some time before Durning ended up getting his wish.  After all, he did sign up for military duty right around the same time that World War II was in full swing.  Did you know that Durning was one of the participants in the event known as D-Day in Normandy on June 6, 1944?  It was such an historical event that we learned about in our history classes.  Who knew that a future Hollywood star ended up playing a huge role in that battle? 

Durning ended up being wounded by an S-Mine just nine days after D-Day, but recovered quickly and was back on the battlefield that December...only to be wounded again.  He was eventually discharged on January 30, 1946 with the honourable rank of Private First Class.

For his services to the United States Armed Forces, Durning earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the World War II Victory Medal, as well as receiving the National Order of the Legion of Honor in April 2008.

Charles Durning, I salute you!

Anyway, it was after his discharge from the army that prompted Durning to go into a career in acting.  He started off small, participating in various stage productions around the New York City area, but by 1973, Durning had landed his first major role in the 1973 motion picture “The Sting”.  He played the part of Lt. Snyder, a corrupt police officer who hustles con artists and criminals.  The role proved that Durning had the acting chops to take on a supporting role in the movies, but one could argue that while this role helped Durning get into the movie scene, it would be his next role that would keep him there.

And, that movie was the 1975 film, “Dog Day Afternoon”...the final topic for 2012.

That movie was released on September 21, 1975, and in addition to Durning, also starred Al Pacino, Chris Sarandon, John Cazale, and James Broderick.  The movie was made on a budget of almost two million dollars.  By the end of the screen run, it had made a profit of $48 million! 

Oh, and one more added note on its popularity?  It holds a 97% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  I’ve been on Rotten Tomatoes before, and for a film to score a 97, you know that it must be fantastic!

It seemed to garner a lot of buzz in the awards circuit as well.  Did you know that “Dog Day Afternoon” was nominated for a grand total of seven Golden Globes (winning zero), and six Academy Awards (winning the one for Writing – Original Screenplay)?

Charles Durning himself won an NBR Award for his participation in the film!

Oh, and it also won the honour of having the eighty-sixth most memorable film quote in the AFI special “100 Years...100 Movie Quotes”.  Have a look (but keep in mind that the scene is rated PG for strong language).


(  Got a wee bit caught up in the moment.)

Now let’s talk a little bit about the plot (and by little bit, I do mean little bit, as I don’t want to give away spoilers to movies here in this blog).  Did you know that as bizarre of a plot that “Dog Day Afternoon” seems to have, the plot was based off of a real-life event?

Going back in time a bit to the summer of 1972, the film was based on a bank robbery that took place on August 22 of that year.  Masterminded by John Wojtowicz and his partners Sal Naturille and Robert Westenberg held up a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank in Brooklyn, New York.

(You might have guessed from the above clip of Al Pacino standing in front of a bank cursing and shouting like a madman armed with a gun that robbery may very well have been the motive.)

What makes the story interesting is the motivation behind the standoff at the bank. 

I suppose that it’s okay to talk about it without spoiling the plot too much, because according to Wojtowicz, the film is only 30% accurate. 

Wojtowicz needed the money to pay for a surgery for his romantic partner, Ernest Aron.  That surgery was to be a gender reassignment surgery so that Ernest Aron could become Elizabeth Debbie Eden.  As if the surgery itself wasn’t controversial enough given the time period, but in addition, the surgery was worth a lot of money to perform...more than Wojtowicz had.

Hence the planning of the Chase Manhattan bank heist, which set the stage for the main plot of “Dog Day Afternoon”, which only ended up getting made after Wojtowicz sold the rights to the story for $7,500, plus 1% of all the film’s profits, ensuring that he could have the money needed to give Aron his gender reassignment surgery.

Obviously, most of the names were changed in “Dog Day Afternoon”, but here’s how the movie story went.  Sonny (Pacino, who was supposed to represent Wojtowicz), his friend Sal (John Cazale), and a second accomplice approach the fictional “First Brooklyn Savings Bank” to put the robbery plan into motion, but almost immediately the plan hits a snag when the accomplice flees the scene before the robbery takes place after being spooked by a police car (the same thing happened with Westenberg, who fled the scene as well in the real-life version).

Once inside the bank, things go from bad to worse, and the movie makes it appear as though Sonny is the most inept criminal in the world.  It’s bad enough that the very day they plan their robbery was after the cash pick-up was already done for the day.  When Sonny attempts to steal traveler’s cheques and attempts to burn the bank’s registers to prevent the cheques from being traced, the smoke that billows out of the building causes the standoff to take place, drawing attention from the entire neighbourhood!

Initially, Sgt. Eugene Moretti (Durning) tries to diffuse the situation before anyone gets hurt or killed, and succeeds in getting Sonny to release a hostage, but it quickly gets out of control when Sonny starts his “Attica” protest chant, and the crowd that has gathered to watch the scene starts cheering for Sonny!

As the movie progresses, we end up learning more about Sonny’s motivation behind the crime, and we also learn that he may have been committing a criminal act, but inside he does have a heart, as he arranges to feed the hostages inside the bank during the standoff (which according to real-life accounts of the incident lasted fourteen hours).

And, yes.  That’s all that I’m going to say about the movie because I think it’s one that you have to see for yourself.  But, here’s a little bit of an epilogue for you all as to what happened to the real life players of the story.

Wojtowicz ended up being convicted of the charges brought against him, and was sentenced to a 20-year prison sentence.  He was eventually released after serving only six years, and lived a relatively quiet life until his death from cancer in early 2006.

Ernest Aron ended up having his gender reassignment surgery shortly after the release of “Dog Day Afternoon”, and as Elizabeth Debbie Eden, spent her remaining days in New York State.  She passed away from AIDS related complications in September 1987.

As for Sal...the eighteen year old who served as Wojtowicz’s accomplice in the plan...well, the decision that he made to join him meant that he had to pay the harshest sentence of all.  But, as I said before, I won’t spoil everything.

TRIVIA:  In the movie, Sal was meant to be in his late teens.  The actor who played him was almost 40!

But, you know, the reason why I chose this movie was partly due to the talent and the wonderful story that was told in the film...and it was also to honour the memory of Charles Durning, who really made an impact with his supporting role in this film.

Of course, other film roles followed after “Dog Day Afternoon” for Durning, and also appeared in “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom”, “Captains and the Kings”, “The Choirboys”, “North Dallas Forty”, “Attica” (appropriately enough!), “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas”, “Tootsie”, “The Man With One Red Shoe”, “Dick Tracy”, and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”.  He also had several guest appearances on “Everybody Loves Raymond”, and had a regular role on “Evening Shade”. 

One of his final roles was in the television series “Rescue Me”, which starred Denis Leary, and it was in that role that he earned his eighth Primetime Emmy Award nomination.

So, in addition to being a decorated war hero, he was also an accomplished actor who earned every single accolade he received.  No wonder he was so well loved.

He’ll definitely be missed.

Charles Durning

And, that wraps up 2012! 

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve.  Don’t drink too much, and don’t be afraid to rely on designated drivers or calling a cab home.  Remember, the best kind of parties are ones in which you arrive alive.  So, play it safe tonight, okay?

I will see you in the New Year!  J

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Simply Red With A Splash Of Star Power

I’ve decided to make this entire blog entry red for a reason.

No, the reason is not because red is my favourite colour (though I do admit that I like it), and no, it’s not because I wish that it was Christmas all over again because let’s face it...some of us are thrilled that it only comes around once a year.

It’s because the group that I am featuring in today’s topic is...well...Simply Red!

And for today’s blog entry, I’m doing another one of my album spotlights!  Sometimes the songs on a particular album are so good that I can’t help but spotlight the whole album.  And, in the case of Simply Red, I came to this decision after getting one of their songs stuck inside my head about a month ago.  I was watching television on a Sunday afternoon, and the song was playing in the background of a scene.  And, the song was stuck in my head about a week after I heard it. 

I had actually thought about doing the spotlight on the song the following Sunday...but it was right around the time that I was doing the “Pop Culture Addict’s Advent Calendar” posts, so I knew that I would have to wait until after the holidays were over before I could feature it.

But then I got to listening to the whole album that the song was featured on, and I thought that the songs were all really fantastic.  So, why not feature all of them?

Here’s the album cover for today’s featured album spotlight.

The album is called “Stars”, and it was released on September 30, 1991.  It was Simply Red’s fourth studio album, and ultimately, it was one of their most successful albums.

But before we talk about the album “Stars”, why don’t we talk a little bit about Simply Red, and their musical journey up to and including the recording and release of “Stars”.

It all began in 1976 in, of all places, a Sex Pistols concert in Manchester, England.  Mick Hucknall, then a sixteen-year-old art student, was at the concert along with several other musicians, and after the concert, Hucknall formed a band named “The Frantic Elevators”.  The band stayed together for nearly eight years before disbanding in 1984, just after they released a single together that despite its critical acclaim didn’t garner much attention.

That would soon change with Hucknall’s next project.

In 1985, Hucknall met his new manager, Elliot Rashman, and together they spent the first part of 1985 assembling local musicians to form a new band, and Rashman shopped the new band around record companies, hoping that one would sign them. 

Here’s some interesting trivia for you.  Initially when the band was forming, it was Hucknall’s idea to just call the band, “Red”.  The name stemmed from a childhood nickname that Hucknall had as a result of him having bright red hair.  The manager of a local club that had booked the band was a bit confused about the name, and didn’t believe that a band would name themselves after a colour.  But at Mick’s insistence, he told the manager that the band’s name was “Red, simply red”.  Somehow, when the manager was printing posters for the upcoming venue, he misunderstood Mick, and instead of just “Red”, the band name became “Simply Red”.  Luckily, Hucknall and the rest of the band liked it, and the name stuck!

The band’s original line-up in 1985, by the way, was as follows...

CHRIS JOYCE – Percussion
TIM KELLETT – Brass/Background Vocals
FRITZ MCINTYRE – Keyboard/Vocals

It did take a few months for Simply Red to catch on.  The band’s first two singles didn’t exactly chart very well in the United Kingdom, and were virtually ignored in North America.  But then came the spring of 1986, which was the year that the band released their third single...which also happened to be the last single that Hucknall had released with his previous band two years earlier. 

The song was “Holding Back The Years”, and it proved to be a huge hit on the charts.  The song peaked at #3 in the Netherlands, #2 in the United Kingdom, and peaked at #1 in the United States the week of July 12, 1986!  It was also the song that helped cement Simply Red’s status on the charts.

Two more albums soon followed, and by 1991, Simply Red was easily considered one of Britain’s best bands.  But, here’s something incredibly shocking.  When Simply Red first started out, their early singles seemed to do better overseas than they had been doing in their native country.  “Holding Back The Years” was the first of two #1 hits for Simply Red in the United States (the other one was a cover version of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes single “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” in 1989), but in the United Kingdom, the band couldn’t get a number one single no matter how hard they tried.

There was also a bit of controversy surrounding the strength of the band, as many people believed (including Mick Hucknall himself) that the band was more or less a solo effort by Hucknall, rather than as a group effort.  And, by 1991, Simply Red had gone through two guitarists, and lost Joyce and Bowers (who were replaced by Hector Pereira, Shaun Ward, and Gota Yashiki. 

But if there was some controversy over how well the band worked together, you never would have known it when the band released their fourth album, “Stars”. 

(Well, okay, almost all the promotional music videos made for the album solely focus on Hucknall...but despite that, you never would have known it!)

Sadly, the curse of not having a number one hit in their own country continued to plague the band with this album...their highest ranking single failed make it past the #8 position on the charts.  But the album’s success in sales more than made up for it.  Did you know that the “Stars” album was the best-selling album in the United Kingdom for both 1991 AND 1992?  And, did you know that the album went twelve times platinum, tying for sixth place on the list of the top-selling albums of all-time in the United Kingdom?  That is such an amazing feat!

And, part of that success came from the beautiful, passionate songs that were released from “Stars”.  So, let’s have a listen, beginning with the album’s first single release.

SOMETHING GOT ME STARTED – September 21, 1991

Okay, so this first single release was a bit of a departure for the band.  You know how the band had #1 singles in the USA?  Well, both of those songs were soulful ballads.  This one sounded more like a club hit that you’d groove to on a dance floor with flashing lights and disco balls.  Yet, this arrangement seemed to work very well with the band’s new direction and sound.  There were also several versions released of this single...a 7-inch, a 12-inch, and a CD version!  While the song wasn’t quite as successful in the mainstream charts as other Simply Red releases, it was a massive hit in the club scene in late 1991.  It just went to show that sometimes a band may be associated with one style of music, but that didn’t necessarily mean that they weren’t capable of doing other styles.  In this case, dance music seemed to work very well for the band.  And, who knew Mick Hucknall had some swagger like Mick Jagger?

(Okay, I just made up that corny last bit...I apologize.  J )

“Something Got Me Started” also has a rather unique claim to fame, as it is the only single by Simply Red to be released twice.  In January 2006, an acoustic version was released as part of the band’s album “Simplified”.  Though it didn’t chart as high as the original version, it’s still a neat fact to share.

STARS – November 30, 1991

This song is probably the most successful of the songs from “Stars”.  The title track peaked at #8 on both the UK charts as well as the American Adult Contemporary charts.

(It’s also the song that I ended up getting stuck in my head a month ago, and it is the song that prompted me to do a blog entry on Simply Red in the first place.)

But, what a song it was!  I had forgotten how good it was.  In fact, I think “Stars” may very well be my favourite Simply Red song (though “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” comes very close too).  The music video is very simplistic, yet ethereal, as we see Mick walking through a desert littered with fallen stars as he thinks about the love he lost.  And, that’s basically the concept behind “Stars”’s a song about still having unresolved feelings for someone in a relationship that ended with a broken heart.  Who can’t identify with that scenario?  I particularly love the wonderful lyrics that were written for the single.  “Too many hearts are broken/A lover’s promise never came with a maybe/So many words are left unspoken/The silent voices are driving me crazy.”

Now that’s profound.  Then again, I always did have a love for clever, thought-provoking lyrics.  And with Hucknall writing this, and the other songs on the album, there are plenty of these deep thoughts and feelings to experience.  In fact, the next single takes us into a little into Hucknall’s own personal life at the time.

(Oh, yeah...that red spot on his tooth?  That’s actually a ruby that Hucknall had permanently placed into his tooth right around the time Simply Red made it big.  He has since changed it into a diamond.)

FOR YOUR BABIES – January 25, 1992

Okay, okay...I know what you’re thinking...this video is a couple of Halloween costumes away from being a promotional video for Anne Geddes.  It was also the original concept for Amy Grant’s video for “Baby Baby”, which if Amy had gotten her way would have included a bunch of kids crawling over top of Amy wearing a mermaid costume!

Okay, that’s a scary image.  Let’s move on, shall we?

The thing is...this video works.  After all, when you have a single entitled “For Your Babies”, you kind of have to include some children, right?  Scary thing is, all these kids are likely in their mid-to-late 20’s right now!  Yikes!

Anyway, the song’s all about how life changes once you become a parent.  Any of my friends who have children will likely listen to these lyrics, and instantly go “awwwwwww”.  But there’s also a hidden truth behind this song.  It was written by Hucknall at a time in which all of his friends were settling down and having children of their own, and it seemed to him like he was the only one of his peers who didn’t have that.

Here’s an interesting comparison here.  At the time this video was released, Hucknall was thirty-one and yet to have a child.  And, this blogger also happens to be thirty-one and childless.  So, yes...I can most definitely relate to how Hucknall was feeling because I’m currently living it!

But, in Hucknall’s case, patience was worth the wait.  After a period of self-admitted failure to commit (you might want to read all about all the partners he had during the early days of Simply may just shock you), Hucknall finally settled down and  became the father of a little girl named Romy True in June 2007, when he was 47 years of age.

THRILL ME – May 2, 1992

I unfortunately don’t have a whole lot to say about this particular single other than the fact that it was the lowest charting single of the album, and that this was the only song that Hucknall did not write solely by himself (he collaborated with Fritz McIntyre).  But, that’s fine.  Sometimes you don’t need to say a lot about a song.  Just listen to it instead.  It’s quite good, despite the low chart position.

YOUR MIRROR – July 25, 1992

The final track of “Stars” to chart, this song is probably part social commentary, part self-esteem building...depending on how you want to look at it.  On one hand, the song talks about standing up for oneself against as society that seems incredibly corrupt and screwed up due to the leadership of a cold figure (keep in mind that this song was written around the time that Margaret Thatcher - who some British people may call a polarizing figure - was leaving office).  But if one were to look at the song through the perspective of rose-coloured goggles sprinkled with Valentine’s Day dust, you could also stretch the claim that the song could talk about standing up for yourself after leaving a terrible relationship and staring in the mirror, realizing that life does go on, the birds do continue singing their songs, and that you are beautiful.

Okay, I may be stretching with that last one, but I’m a bit young to remember Thatcherism, so I came up with an alternate theory. 

So, that’s our look back on “Stars”, widely considered to be Simply Red’s greatest success story.  In the years that followed, Simply Red ended up scoring at least one #1 song in Britain (with 1995’s “Fairground”), and the band remained together until their breakup in 2010.  As of 2012, Mick Hucknall continues to record music, and his latest album “American Soul” was just released two months ago and is available to purchase on iTunes, and record stores.

But, I don’t think Mick Hucknall can ever truly break away from the Simply Red label...not that he minds in the slightest, of course.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy New Year, Charlie Brown

As the last few days of 2012 evaporate away into history, I thought that for today’s entry, I would choose a topic that fits with the theme of bringing out the old and welcoming in the new.

But I would like to ask you all a question.  Don’t’s linked to today’s subject.

Have you ever had a crush on somebody that you kept a secret for fear of being rejected?  Go on, be honest.  I know I plan on being that way.

And the truth is...yes.  I have had quite a few secret crushes.

Now, when I say crushes, I don’t mean celebrity crushes.  I mean crushes on people who you might have gone to school with, or crushes on people that you have worked with. 

I still remember my first crush as if it was yesterday.  I’ll just refer to them by their first name and last name initial, to preserve their anonymity, although it’s been 25 years, so I doubt they would even know who I am anyway.

Her name was Laura S, and we first met each other in, I believe, kindergarten?  Maybe grade one?  Anyway, she and I were very close during first grade.  She and I talked every day at recess and I think that I even invited her to my seventh birthday party at McDonald’s.  I really did like her, and looking back on it, she was probably the one person who kept me sane during first grade, especially since we both had the teacher from hell.  But by the time second grade began, Laura moved away to a different school district, and we were separated for good.  And meanwhile, here I was completely upset that I hadn’t told her that I liked her.  Of course, it wouldn’t have worked out anyway.  For one, we were both seven, which was the age in which boys and girls believed that we could get cooties from even touching each other, and for two, I don’t think that I was at an age that could tell the difference between friendship and real love.

Though, Laura certainly wasn’t my last crush.  I had several growing up.  In elementary school, I took a date to my grade eight graduation that I really did like and could have started up a romance with...but she moved away and I never saw her again.  Then in grade 9, I sat beside a girl in one of my classes who was a total knockout.  Unfortunately, she also had the same personality as Leona Helmsley, which was a complete turn-off.

(For those who may look confused, just Google the name “Leona Helmsley”.  You’ll soon figure it out.)

In college, I developed feelings for two different people.  In one case, the feelings only amounted to friendship, but in the other case, we just sort of drifted apart.  You know, it’s been a dozen years since we last saw each other, and I still regret the fact that things were left unresolved.  Though whenever I tried to look them up (out of curiosity, of course), I was unable to find her contact info.  Oh well...I always said that if people are meant to be in your life, they’ll find a way back somehow.  Maybe there’s hope yet.

Oh, and we won’t discuss all of the workplace crushes that I have had at my workplace of eight years.  Let’s just say that I have a really nasty habit of falling for people who are already involved in relationships with other people, and leave it at that.

The point is that sometimes crushes remain unsaid for fear of rejection, and sometimes when the opportunity does come to reveal your absolute love and devotion to the person you have only admired from afar, you chicken out.

Welcome to my romantic life, everybody. J

Now, keep in mind that I’m only 31, and there’s still loads of time for me to fall in love...and I would like to tell myself that I am secure enough to finally reveal my feelings to someone else when I feel something for them.  But, sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown, being completely frozen in place, struggling for words to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl that he has had a crush on for what seemed like five decades.

And, that happens to be one of the main plots in this special made by the Peanuts gang, which appropriately enough debuted on January 1, 1986.

That special is “Happy New Year, Charlie Brown”.

Now, this special features some interesting casting choices, as some of the young actors who played the roles of the Peanuts gang already had, or would be given roles in 1980s-era television series.  Chad Allen (who voiced Charlie Brown), was a regular in the NBC series “Our House”, and Jeremy Miller (who voiced Linus Van Pelt) was a regular on the series “Growing Pains” for seven years.

This special is also unique as it happens to be only one of two Peanuts specials to feature the Little Red-Haired Girl (a.k.a. the girl that Charlie Brown has had a crush on forever).

The television special kicked off on the day before the Christmas break was scheduled to take place.  And, naturally everyone at Charlie Brown’s school is eager to have a few days off of school.

However, like so many teachers that I have had over the years, Charlie Brown’s teacher assigns the class a project to do over the two-week Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, and do a book report on it, due on the first day of school after the holiday break.

Ah, but don’t you worry.  This scenario is merely the B-plot of the special.  Of course, it is quite entertaining to see Charlie Brown attempt to take short cuts in order to complete his project, which include...

-         Trying to find the book on tape (which isn’t a bad idea)

-         Trying to find the book in the form of a comic (which IS a bad idea)

-         Trying to find the book in the form of a film strip (which wasn’t as bad an idea as the comic book)

-         Trying to find the book in the form of a video game (okay, seriously, Charlie Brown?  A video game of War and Peace?  I know your father’s a barber, but he’s not supposed to trim the sides of your BRAIN, dude.)

Though considering that this special was animated in 1985 B.G. (Before Google), you had to admire Charlie Brown’s resourcefulness.

And, it didn’t help matters much that Charlie Brown kept getting distracted by other commitments...mainly being invited to Peppermint Patty’s New Years Eve bash at her place.

Since all of the mutual friends of Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty are going to be in attendance of the party, Charlie Brown has it in his head to invite the object of his affection to the party so he can finally tell her how he feels about her.  But, as we all well know, things NEVER go well for Charlie Brown.  Not only does he have a mishap with the mail slot of the Little Red-Haired Girl’s door when delivering her invitation, but despite all of the grief he went through to get the invitation to her, she didn’t even send him an RSVP.

Good grief, Charlie Brown!!!

And, at the actual party itself, Charlie Brown ends up playing a rousing game of musical chairs with everyone else at the party.  Surprisingly enough, Charlie Brown does incredibly well, outlasting several of the party guests.  In the end, it all comes down to Charlie Brown vs. Peppermint Patty in the Ultimate Musical Chairs Deathmatch...and the end result.

Again, dare I say it...GOOD GRIEF, CHARLIE BROWN!!!

Poor Charlie Brown.  Nothing ever goes right for him.  It’s New Years Eve, he’s postponed doing his book report in order to go to a party in which he clearly isn’t enjoying himself, and on top of all that, the one girl he loves more than anything is a no show.  What else is there to do but sit out on Peppermint Patty’s porch and attempt to read the book that he has to do homework on?

Unfortunately, as the clock ticks closer to midnight, either Charlie Brown is suffering from sleep-deprivation, or “War and Peace” is incredibly boring to Charlie Brown, as he zonks out just moments before the ball drop in Times Square.

And to further rub salt in the wound, when Charlie Brown wakes up, he finds that he ended up missing more than just the beginning of a new year...he missed his one opportunity to impress the one person that he really wanted to notice him.  As a result, he was kicking himself over that missed opportunity, and wound up with a final grade of a D- on his book report as a result of procrastinating on the project.

Though it wasn’t a complete loss, as one of the Peanuts characters gives Charlie Brown a consolation kiss...though I’ll leave the identity of this character a secret.  I don’t want to give the whole thing away.

I guess if there’s one lesson that we can learn from Charlie Brown, it is this.  We can’t expect anything to happen if we don’t grab the bull from the horns and make our own luck happen.  And, I can relate to Charlie Brown a lot because we have both been in situations where we have been afraid to tell other people how we really feel, for fear of rejection.

Now, I am not one to make resolutions for the new year, but for 2013, I would like to try and get the courage within myself to express my feelings towards people I may have feelings for.  I’m sick of sitting on the sidelines and watching everyone else be happy when I could be just like them.

Now that I have it written out, I guess I have to follow through, right?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Farewell, Jack Klugman

For today's look back through the history of television, I would like to pay tribute to a television legend who passed away earlier this week.

On Christmas Eve, the world said goodbye to veteran actor, Jack Klugman. He happened to pass away on the same day that character actor, Charles Durning died.

(NOTE: I'm planning a tribute for Durning for my December 31 entry, so keep that date in mind.)

Klugman passed away at the age of 90 in Woodland Hills, California. He is survived by his second wife, Peggy Crosby, his two sons Adam and David (from his first marriage to Match Game panelist Brett Somers), and two grandchildren.

Klugman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 27, 1922, the son of a house painter and a hat maker, both of whom were Russian immigrants. In 1948, he graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now going by the name of Carnegie Mellon University), and served during World War II. After his service in the war wrapped up, he relocated to New York City to try his hand at acting.

TRIVIA: Klugman once roomed with the late Charles Bronson while he was living in New York trying to secure auditions and acting gigs.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Klugman scored dozens of jobs within various stage productions. He starred in the Broadway productions of “The Golden Boy”, and “Gypsy: A Musical Fable”, took on a role in the soap opera “The Greatest Gift”, and starred in his first high-profile role as Juror #5 in the 1957 film “12 Angry Men”.

TRIVIA: Of the twelve actors who played the jurors in “12 Angry Men”, Klugman was the last surviving one.

As the 1960s began, Klugman began to take on various television roles. He tied the record for most individual appearances on “The Twilight Zone” with roles in four separate episodes (only Burgess Meredith had as many). He also made cameo appearances and guest starred in “Ben Casey”, “The F.B.I.”, “The Name of the Game”, and “Insight” before landing the first of two roles that would make his name a household one.

When the Broadway production of “The Odd Couple” was playing, Klugman ended up replacing the departing Walter Matthau, who had acted alongside Jack Lemmon (himself a replacement for Art Carney) in 1965. Klugman played the role of Oscar Madison, a slobbish sportswriter who couldn't have a more different personality from his roommate, the obsessively neat Felix Unger.

The play was hugely successful on Broadway, and in 1970, ABC decided to adapt the play into a television series. By 1970, both Matthau and Lemmon were involved in other projects to sign onto the series, so replacements had to be hired instead. Tony Randall was cast as Felix Unger (though Dean Martin and Art Carney were also briefly considered). As for Oscar, actors Mickey Rooney and Martin Balsam were up for consideration, and Randall had lobbied for Rooney to get the part. However, co-creator of the television series Garry Marshall had wanted to cast Jack Klugman for the role, and lobbied quite a bit to get people to listen to his recommendations.

Once casting was firmly in place, and the writers had come up with enough scripts for half a season, the series debuted on ABC on September 24, 1970.

The series run for “The Odd Couple” was not exactly a breeze. Did you know that the Nielsen ratings were so low during every season of “The Odd Couple” that each season, it was almost pulled off the schedule for good? The only saving grace was that when the show went on its summer hiatus, the reruns often scored higher ratings than it did any other time of the year, and those numbers kept the show on the air until July 4, 1975!

I should also note that despite the mediocre ratings and the threat of cancellation that plagued the show's five-year run, both lead roles ended up being nominated for Emmy Awards. Klugman ended up winning the Emmy Award in 1971 and 1973, with Randall taking home the trophy in 1975. Klugman also won a Golden Globe in 1974, and the show itself was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1971, 1972, and 1974.

I suppose one could say that “The Odd Couple” was sort of like the little prime time show that could!

Though “The Odd Couple” wrapped up its run on America's 199th birthday, Klugman didn't stay unemployed for very long. By the time Americans were ringing in the bicentennial, Klugman had signed on to star in another series, this time for NBC.

The series was “Quincy M.E.”, which started airing in October 1976. The series itself was inspired by the Marshall Houts book “Where Death Delights”, and the character that Klugman played (Dr. R. Quincy) was modelled after Los Angeles based medical examiner/coroner Thomas Noguchi, then known as the “Coroner of the Stars”.

Quincy M.E.” was a show that had a rather interesting beginning. Rather than debuting along with the rest of the fall premieres, it was originally broadcast as 90-minute telefilms, which were part of NBC's Sunday Mystery Movie rotation. “Quincy M.E.” was featured alongside other well-known mystery series including “Columbo”, “McMillan (& Wife)”, and “McCloud”. The “Quincy M.E.” telefilms were positively received by the public, and became so successful that the series was later spun-off into its own regular series midway through the 1976-1977 season.

Dr. Quincy could best be described as strong-willed, and not afraid to stand up to anyone who dared cross him (mostly this applied to his direct supervisor, Dr. Asten, and police lieutenant Frank Monahan). He is aided by his faithful lab assistant, Sam Fujiyama, and is friends with Danny Tovo, a marina restaurant near where his sailboat/residence is docked.

Now, “Quincy M.E.” was a show that was incredibly formulaic, as each episode of the program usually featured at least one, but sometimes all of the following criteria...

  • Someone ends up dead in each episode, seemingly from natural causes.
  • Quincy does an investigation and comes to the conclusion that the person died as a result of murder.
  • Quincy decides to launch an investigation into what caused the death of the person, much to his supervisor's dismay. Occasionally, he will refuse to sign off the cause of death in order to get the proof needed to confirm his hypotheses.
  • Quincy will get into an argument with someone higher up than him, which almost certainly puts up a temporary roadblock in the case.
  • Frequently causes Sam to cancel his social activities in order to perform a series of time-consuming tests that will solve the case.
  • Once the case is solved, the final scenes of the episode take place at Danny's restaurant.

Although the show structure quickly became quite predictable, the series earned a lot of praise for tackling hot-button topics such as anorexia, Tourette's syndrome, the proliferation of handguns (which has become a hot-button issue again in 2012), and problems caused by punk rock (which hasn't been a hot-button issue in quite some time).

Believe it or not, Klugman himself was brought forth to testify before the United States Congress in 1982 to talk about things he had learned about the subject of orphan drugs as a direct result of its use it an episode of the series!

Quincy M.E.” also has a little bit of trivia associated with it as well. For instance, did you know that the same actress ended up playing both of Quincy's wives? It's true. Actress Anita Gillette played the role of Quincy's deceased first wife, Helen, in a 1979 flashback episode, and by the end of the series in September 1983, she had signed on to play the role of Dr. Emily Hanover...Quincy's second wife!

The series ran for 148 episodes in total, but Klugman only appeared in 147 of those episodes. He took a hiatus during the episode “Has Anybody Here Seen Quincy” because he disapproved of the script (in which a body brought to the morgue was actually living). Although Klugman was not physically present in the episode, his voice was heard on two separate occasions during the program. He however was the only regular cast member to appear in the series finale, “The Cutting Edge”, which was planned as a spin-off series (which never happened).

And in 2008, Klugman sued NBC over allegations that the network had concealed profits made from the show that were owed to him.

All right, so the Quincy experience didn't exactly end well for Klugman...but it is also widely believed that “Quincy M.E.” set the standard for the wave of similar themed shows that exploded in the late 1990s, including “Crossing Jordan”, “CSI”, “NCIS”, and “Diagnosis Murder”.

Klugman tried once more to have a successful series after “Quincy M.E.” wrapped up, starring in the 1986 comedy series “You Again?”, which co-starred future “Full House” star John Stamos. However, the show suffered from low ratings, and its last episode aired on January 7, 1987. Two years later, Klugman faced a difficult health struggle when the throat cancer that he was first diagnosed with in 1974 reappeared. Klugman underwent immediate surgery to try and get rid of the cancer, which included having one of his vocal cords removed. As a result, Klugman was left with permanent damage to his voice, and was sidelined for four years after his surgery.

He made his comeback in 1993, starring alongside Tony Randall once more in the reunion movie “The Odd Couple: Together Again”. He also appeared in the Broadway revival of “Three Men on a Horse”. Beginning in 1997, Klugman revived his role as Dr. Quincy on “Diagnosis: Murder”, which starred Dick Van Dyke, Barry Van Dyke, Scott Baio, Charlie Schlatter, and Victoria Rowell, and also starred in the Broadway revival of “The Sunshine Boys”.

Klugman's last appearance would be in the 2010 horror film “Camera Obscura”.

So, there you have it. The life and times of Jack Klugman. A life well lived.

Rest in peace, Mr. Klugman...and say hello to Tony Randall for all of us, all right?

Jack Klugman