Thursday, July 28, 2016

The doctor will see you now…


With enough butterflies in my stomach to attract a lepidopterist, I arrived at my appointment Thursday morning to see my newly-acquired family physician…and was not entirely optimistic.  (It’s just a personal philosophy I’ve adopted over the years—if pressed, I was probably influenced by Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst from Mel Brooks’ The Twelve Chairs.)  As I had feared, the retake on the bloodwork didn’t add anything new to the equation; the doc explained to me that in the five stages of kidney functions, I was in the middle at Stage 3—my kidneys are sluggish and not expelling wastes the way they should.  (Stage 5 is dialysis.  We don’t want that.)

The reason for the lethargic kidneys is that I am diabetic.  But here’s the rub: because my kidneys aren’t doing well on their performance evaluations, I can’t take something like the Metformin pill because that’ll do an even worse number on your kidneys.  So I will have to take insulin, and for someone who isn’t exactly leaping into large piles of money like Scrooge McDuck this will take somewhat of a financial toll.  Ask me how I know this.  Well, my father takes insulin (he, too, is diabetic) and even though he’s on Medicare a substantial amount of wherewithal is required to keep him supplied with that medication.  (There was a time when my sister Kat was in charge of a camp that catered to diabetic kids and whatever insulin was left over—since they were required to chuck it out anyway—she’d bring home for Dad.  But those days have come and gone.)

I’ll also have to make major changes to my diet, which won’t be too much of a struggle, but just as I was adjusting to this news I take a stroll down to our mailbox and I find an invoice for all that lab work.  Modesty prevents me from revealing the amount owed in the bill…but I have often joked in the past, it was big enough to be a William.  I was able to get in touch with the lab’s customer service department and negotiate a payment plan…but that doesn’t even take in what I’ll owe for the “retakes.”  Then there’s the appointment with the endocrinologist to figure out how I’m going to tackle this medical setback.  (When it rains…it pours.)

So activity on the blog will be sparse for the rest of the week—I’ve got a pair of assignments to finish up, and I can’t take on any TDOY activity until I empty out that inbox.  I do want to profusely thank everyone in both Yesteryearland and Classic Movie Bloggerland for the swell well wishes you sent my way when I first broke the news on my medical complaints.  We’ll get together here back on the blog real soon.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Keeping my hand in

In the comments section of the most recent Thrilling Days of Yesteryear blog post, I gave Jacqueline of Another Old Movie Blog fame a heads-up that there would be more prize swag to be given away this week.  I fully intended to make good on this promise…and then I got THE PHONE CALL this past Friday from the doctor’s office.  They got the results back from my blood work, and…well, long story short—I’ll be going back in tomorrow to have more of my blood suctioned because my kidney levels didn’t look too promising.  It may be that I wasn’t properly hydrated when they took my precious bodily fluids…so they want to do retakes to make sure.  Then I have another appointment for Thursday, because they want a chinwag about why some of the other tests were hinky.  To say I’m a little stressed out by all of this would be an understatement because as a rule…doctors scare the piss out of me sometimes.  I’m pretty sure this stretches back to my childhood, when going to the pediatrician usually meant I’d be taking a shot in the arm of some sort.  (Oddly enough, drawing blood or getting an injection doesn’t bother me much anymore…but I still get a sinking pit feeling every time I’m seated in a waiting room.)

I’m sure everything will come out in the wash…so in the meantime, let’s keep our fingers crossed for longtime TDOY compadre Bill “Kids! Off! Lawn! Now!” Crider.  He’s been diagnosed with, in his words, “a very aggressive form of carcinoma” and the prognosis is not particularly rosy—next stop: the M.D. Anderson Center.  He’s been one of the most fervent champions of my behavior in this scrap of the blogosphere, and it’s just not right that something this evil should happen to the definition of a very swell guy.  If you’re friends with him on Facebook, let him know you’re in his corner…if not, stop by and leave him a comment at Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A day late…but winning all the same!


My initial plan in concluding Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s Suspense at Work giveaway yesterday was to inform the lucky winners early in the a.m…and then write up that information later in the day.  The first part of this went swimmingly; the winners of our contest were OTR historian Craig W. (a big fan of “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills”) and longtime TDOY reader/supporter Roger S.  A copy of the Radio Spirits Suspense at Work collection (valued at $39.98) will be sent to both of these good people, and I only wish I had been able to do the same for everyone who entered (it’s an excellent set; one which I had a lot of fun writing).

The delay in making the announcement centered around the fact that I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for that same day.  Back in May, I started to develop some blurriness with my vision…and because it had been some time since I had my eyes checked, I made arrangements with a local America’s Best for an appointment.  I thought perhaps I just needed a new prescription, but instead I was informed by the optometrist that my hinky vision problems might be a sign of diabetes…and he suggested I make an appointment with my “family physician” tor a physical checkup and some bloodwork.  I do not have a “family physician”; so my Mom made an appointment with her and my Dad’s doctor…and yesterday was the earliest I could see him.

I’m still waiting on the results from the bloodwork, but the vision problem was kind of concerning for my doc…so he was able to pull some strings and get me in to see in a retina specialist that same day.  (This, by the way, is the reason why our healthcare system will never have to go door-to-door begging for change—physicians make money sending patients to other physicians.)  The specialist was most reassuring in that I did not have any detached retinas (if you have that, you’re pretty much boned as far as vision is concerned) but he suspects my problem may be Fuchs’ dystrophy—“the disease usually affects both eyes and causes a gradual decline in vision due to corneal edema (swelling) and clouding.”  (Yes, I’ve been reading Stacia’s Big Scary Medical Book again.)  I have an appointment to see another optometrist in two weeks (this guy will also do a cataract evaluation, since I am apparently developing some of those as well).

By the time I got home yesterday, it was close to 4pm…and because I had to have my pupils dilated so the doc could get a better look at the problem I was pretty much a member of the “can’t see for sh*t” fraternity for the rest of the day.  My eyes are a lot better this morning (I’m able to type on the tablet provided I take my glasses off first), and I was able to whip this up for the blog.  So profuse apologies to all of you who were waiting on tenterhooks to find out who won in the giveaway. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Where no Marine has gone before…


One of the devastating side effects of the satellite austerity program that’s been put in place here at Rancho Yesteryear is that I lost access to getTV, the digital OTA (off the air) network that started out as home for movies (mostly from the Sony library) but has since made more and more room for television reruns from series old and new.  I wrote about getTV’s revamped schedule here, and even though they run these little gems alongside beaucoups and beaucoups of commercials for catheters and reverse mortgages, they’re conscientious enough to allow for the extra ad time (for example, a half-hour program like The Tall Man is run in a forty-minute time slot). They also appear to be rotating the inventory a bit; new (old) additions include Ensign O’Toole and Tombstone Territory.

A month or two before mi padre rung down the curtain on getTV, they added a Saturday morning “crime” block that spotlighted rarely-seen classics like Johnny Staccato and The Felony Squad.  (Missing out on getting a better set of Felony Squad episodes—the prints they’ve airing are first-rate—is really the unkindest cut of all.)  The channel has also thrown The Lieutenant into the mix, after previewing the show on Wednesday nights in April.  (I’m not entirely certain how Lieutenant qualifies as a “crime” series…but then again, I don’t work in TV programming.)  Star Trek fans are well versed in the trivia that after toiling for many years as a small screen scribe on shows like Highway Patrol and Have Gun – Will Travel, ST auteur Gene Roddenberry saw the first series he created (that would be Lieutenant, not Trek) earn a berth on NBC’s schedule for the 1963-64 season.

I can't decide on what amuses me more: Gary Lockwood's goofy sitcom grin to the camera during the show's opening credits, or the unconventional theme music, in which a military band transforms itself into a jazz combo the moment no one is looking.
USMC Second Lieutenant William T(iberius) Rice (Gary Lockwood) is a recent graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, and has been stationed at Camp Pendleton.  Rice is the CO and training instructor of a rifle platoon…but the only war currently being conducted is the Cold War, so most of the battle action on The Lieutenant is in the form of war games.  Instead, the series focused on personal conflicts with the Corps: maintaining discipline within the platoon, establishing positive P.R. with civilians, and romantic difficulties involving Rice and other soldiers (I should stress that none of this involves DADT).  (My fellow classic television connoisseur Rick Brooks has joked that this last issue shows up a bit too much in the show’s plots; we opined that perhaps a better title for the series would be The Marriage Counselor.)

The most interesting aspect of The Lieutenant to me was that its main character often struggled with the difficulties involving proper military procedure; as a green, idealistic officer, he’s untested and frequently plagued with doubt as to whether or not he’s making the right decision.  Captain Raymond Rambridge (Robert Vaughn), Rice’s company commander, functions as his mentor in many of the episodes (Vaughn’s character isn’t in every installment)—as an officer who obtained his bars “through the ranks,” Rambridge is able to use his considerable knowledge to set Rice straight.  I’m not trying to take anything away from the future The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but Bob’s gig on this series seems to have been an effortless one (he averages 2-3 scenes per show)—even though he was pulling down the same money as the star.  That having been said, I kind of wish they had leaned on him a little more because he’s damn good as Rambridge.  One of my favorite sequences between Vaughn and Lockwood in The Lieutenant is in “Alert!”; the two men are preparing the platoon for an exercise and Rambridge, in an unguarded moment, calls Rice by his first name.  Lockwood’s Rice smiles at that, suggesting that despite Rambridge’s tendency to ride him there is a solid bond of respect between the two of them.

I’ve read a few reviews of this series (the show was released in two half-season sets by the Warner Archive in August 2012), and a lot of them aren’t particularly kind to star Gary Lockwood.  I’ll admit the guy is no acting powerhouse, but as Rice he’s endearing—I think the fact that he was only twenty-six at the time he did the series works to his advantage because it emphasizes his inexperience and youthful idealism.  A protégé of stage/film director Joshua Logan (who came up with the former John Gary Yurosek’s new professional name), Lockwood had impressive turns in films like Splendor in the Grass (1961) and Wild in the Country (also 1961); in addition, he was a cast member on the short-lived ABC-TV series Follow the Sun (1961-62).  (Roddenberry must have been a fan, since he cast Gary as star in the second pilot installment for Star Trek, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”)

Other recurring actors on Lieutenant include Don Penny as Rice’s loyal pal Lt. Stanley Harris; Carmen Phillips as Lily, proprietress of the local watering hole; and John Milford as Sgt. Ben Kagey.  I’ve seen stalwarts like Richard Anderson, Henry Beckman, Larry Thor, Harold Gould, and Christopher Connelly (pre-Peyton Place) turn up in many installments and Steve Franken appears in a couple as well (still channeling his inner Chatsworth by referring to Lockwood as “Rice baby” and “Bill baby”).  The show also brought out some big guns in terms of high-wattage celebrity guest stars: Rip Torn, Robert Duvall, Paul Burke, Eddie Albert, Charles McGraw, and Dennis Hopper—just to start the tip of the iceberg.

Star Trek regulars on The Lieutenant, clockwise from left: Leonard Nimoy ("In the Highest Tradition"), Majel Barrett (also in "Tradition"), Nichelle Nichols ("To Set it Right"), Walter Koenig ("Mother Enemy")
I have to confess that I approached The Lieutenant with a little trepidation.  It’s not that I dislike military-themed shows—I’ve watched a few in my lengthy couch potato career, like Combat! and 12 O’Clock High.  But if I tell you that my favorite series about “the service” is The Phil Silvers Show, that might give you an indication of what my personal preferences are like.  However, a few folks on Facebook (chiefly Martin Grams, Jr.) gave the program glowing recommendations so I was curious to have a go.

Some of my favorites include “The Proud and the Angry”—the episode featuring Rip Torn.  Torn plays a D.I. who’s been accused of brutality by a soldier in the platoon, prompting Rice to go undercover as a private to investigate.  “The Two Star Giant” spotlights a nice performance by TDOY fave Neville Brand as a formidable general who takes Rice on as his temporary aide.  “In the Highest Tradition” has Rice serving as a technical advisor on a motion picture that will be a biographical sketch on an ex-WW2 lieutenant (Andrew Duggan) whose heroics will come into question (this one also features future Star Trek players Leonard Nimoy as a demanding producer and Majel Barrett as his sarcastic assistant), and “Lament for a Dead Goldbrick” spotlights a dandy acting turn from Robert Duvall (with hair, even) as a reporter with a penetrating interest in an investigation involving the death of a soldier who accidentally drowned during a training exercise.

I’m also impressed with “To Set It Right”—the most controversial episode of The Lieutenant, so much so that it never aired in the series’ original run (though it eventually turned up in its syndicated reruns).  It focuses on the conflict between a black soldier (Don Marshall) and a white soldier (Dennis Hopper), who are “reunited” in the platoon (Hopper gave Marshall quite a bit of grief when the two men attended the same high school).  Nichelle Nichols plays Marshall’s fiancée, and Woody Strode is the D.I. who calmly explains to Marshall that he is simply not prepared to take any sh*t from any soldier, black or white.  The racial issues in this one caused NBC to approach it with all of the enthusiasm of picking up someone’s used Kleenex, and to add insult to injury the network never compensated MGM Television for the episode—MGM wound up swallowing the costs.  (Purportedly, this episode convinced creator Roddenberry that such topics would be better tackled in allegory form—like in outer space, for example.)

Last night, I finished up watching the remaining Lieutenant episodes I had been able to capture with the DVR: “Mother Enemy” is a real Cold War curio, focusing on a sergeant (Walter “Chekhov” Koenig) whose promotion to OCS is jeopardized by his mother (Neva Patterson), an avowed Communist.  While I admire how The Lieutenant didn’t always take the easy out when it came to its stories the denouement on this one was a bit unsatisfying; Koenig’s character is turned down for promotion but both Rice and Rambridge swear it’s not a “guilt by association” thing.  (I’m convinced it was…but then again, I was never in the military so my opinion might not count for much.)  The series wraps up its run with “To Kill a Man,” in which Rice is on a top secret mission to an Asian country when his helicopter is shot down and he’s forced to find safe shelter with an aide (James Shigeta).

While The Lieutenant was never a blockbuster performer in the Nielsens, it was holding its own against its formidable competition in CBS’ Jackie Gleason and His American Screen Magazine.  Poor ratings didn’t do in The Lieutenant; it was the prospect of having to address the rapidly expanding war in Vietnam that made the show persona au gratin at NBC.  (I guess television networks prefer their Marines to be comic ones, if the success of Gomer Pyle, USMC the following season is any indication.)

The nice thing about my experiences watching The Lieutenant is that I still have less than half of the show’s run to gander since I only saw a total of sixteen episodes (there are twenty-nine in all).  I might have to get my hands on the Warner Archive releases…but if you receive getTV in your viewing area, you can check it out on Saturday mornings at 10:45 EDT.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

“Oh, Mr. Graaaaannnt…”


In the fall of 1977, television viewers were clued in as to what became of former WJM-TV news director Lou Grant (Edward Asner), a memorable character from the Emmy Award-winning sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Sacked from his Minneapolis gig due to the station’s low ratings, Lou made his way to the City of Angels, where, thanks to his old pal Charlie Hume (Mason Adams), he was hired to be city editor of the Los Angeles Tribune—a paper published by the patrician Margaret Pynchon (Nancy Marchand).  After a brief period of adjustment, boob tube fans were relieved to learn that Grant was going to make it after all.  (Yeah, I couldn’t resist.) 

Lou Grant was a critically-acclaimed dramatic series that aired on CBS-TV from 1977 to 1982, winning not only thirteen Emmy Awards (with Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series trophies going to star Asner in 1978 and 1980) but such prestigious recognition as a Peabody and two Humanitas Awards.  It’s been acknowledged by television scholars far wiser than I that Lou Grant remains the only fictional character to have leading roles on both a popular comedy and dramatic series.  Created by Mary Tyler Moore co-creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns (with an assist from Gene Reynolds), Lou Grant earned a reputation for courageously tackling controversial social issues weekly—essentially functioning as a modern-day The Defenders.

I always had a special affinity for Lou Grant.  The series ran during the time I was in high school, and at one time I had ambitions of going into journalism as a career—I was the feature editor for our school paper in my junior year, and co-editor in my senior.  It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I lacked the necessary inquisitiveness to be a proper journalist…but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the profession.  I love good journalism (and movies and TV shows on the subject), and those people inside my immediate social media circle are aware that I have a bottomless reservoir of disdain for how it’s practiced today (with much broadcast media obsessed more with ratings and stroking the establishment than fulfilling its duty to inform the public).

The news that Shout! Factory was releasing Lou Grant’s inaugural season to DVD in May of this year was most welcomed in the House of Yesteryear; my memories of the show are foggy ones (despite my devotion to it during its original airing), and the last time I tackled reruns was when they aired on GoodLife TV (or as I used to refer to it, “the channel where old TV shows go to die”).  That was when Comcast carried it in Savannah, and we left The State of Chatham back in 2008.  (A cable station that’s used as many aliases as the former GoodLife—it’s gone by The Nostalgia Channel, American Life, and its latest, Youtoo America—makes me concerned that someone is on the run from creditors.)  The buzz for Grant’s first season on disc must have been tres positive, because Shout! announced that Season Two would be around the corner in August even before Season One hit the stores.

So after judiciously shopping around for a good price for Lou Grant: The Complete Season (I’ve also got Season Two on pre-order), the set arrived and I spent a weekend soaking in nostalgia (not Palmolive).  How does the show hold up?  Well, my fondness for the series is going to color my appraisal with a generous application of the bias crayon…but I still believe it to be one of TV’s finest dramatic shows.  (Really…whenever you see that putty tat at the end of the closing credits, you may rest assured you chose wisely.)  Granted (sorry about that), it took the program a while to find a solid footing; I discovered that in revisiting those episodes some of them activated my wince reflex.

The best example is an entry entitled “Housewarming,” which features an amazing performance by Rhoda’s Julie Kavner as a battered wife.  Her heartbreaking tale is paired with a Plot B, in which a Tribune reporter (played by Edward Winter, a.k.a. “Colonel Flagg” on M*A*S*H) is also guilty of spousal abuse, and at one point during the action makes creepy sexual advances to fellow Trib employee Billie Newman (Linda Kelsey).  Billie is able to convince Kavner’s character to kick her hub to the curb (a courageous decision, since the woman has kids to take care of and not much experience in the work arena) but Winter’s character’s fate is that he is assigned a story on spousal abuse.  It really does leave a bad taste in your mouth, though I can certainly see the side of the argument that the issue was kind of in its infancy, coming-to-light wise.

A few other episodes I’m not too crazy about are “Hoax” (Lou and Joe Rossi [Robert Walden] are conned by an old friend of Lou’s [Eugene Roche] into a wild goose chase involving a missing millionaire), “Henhouse” (Lou shows his sexist side when he feuds with the woman [Claudette Nevins] who oversees the paper’s “Lifestyle” section), and “Scoop” (Lou is reluctant to pursue a promising lead dug up by Billie after being burned twice by dicey stories covered by Joe).  “Scoop” allows Rossi to continue working at the Tribune despite his two f**k-ups…and yet, later on, a college student working as a stringer/intern in “Physical” is given the heave-ho after pulling an inappropriate prank in a news article.  Joe really must have been a great reporter to have Lou looking out for him (well, in the same episode we learn he’s in the running for a Pulitzer for his reporting); my mother used to derisively refer to me as “Rossi” while I attended high school because I was a bit obnoxious and full of myself like my namesake.

Rossi does figure in the some of the best episodes of Lou Grant’s premiere season.  “Psych-Out” (the episode features the story for which Joe gets his Pulitzer nom) finds Rossi going undercover as a patient in an asylum to investigate questionable practices after Lou chews him out for “phoning in” his stories.  This one nicely balances out the grimness with a little dark humor; towards the end, when Lou and some of the other members of the Trib staff track down Joe’s whereabouts he’s higher than a kite on medication…and a query is made as to whether they can take some of it to go.

I’m also a big fan of “Poison,” in which a friend of Joe’s (Guy Boyd) has information that a nuclear power plant in a small town is playing fast and loose with regulations and jeopardizing the safety of not only its workers but the townspeople as well.  Joe’s pal is killed in a hit-and-run accident, and there’s an amazing moment when Rossi—portrayed as a bit of an asshole despite his journalistic talents—breaks down in grief on the phone while conversing with Lou.  (Having grown up in a one-industry town, I also identified with the locals in “Poison” who are reticent to talk to Joe, not wanting to rock the boat.)

Many of my favorite first season episodes feature nice guest star turns.  I really like “Judge,” which features Barnard Hughes as the titular character—a magistrate who appears to have outlived his usefulness on the bench (the issue is whether his erratic behavior jeopardizes his rulings).  He jails Lou on contempt charges, and the reaction of his co-workers once he’s sprung is uproariously funny.  I also enjoyed “Sports”; TDOY fave John Randolph is a veteran sports columnist who spikes a young reporter’s (David Ackroyd) exposé on an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations by a local college coach (Keene Curtis).  “Spies” is a seriocomic tale of the discovery that there’s a CIA operative working on the Tribune undercover (a practice not uncommon on real newspapers at that time)—only no one knows who it is.  I liked this one because character actor Michael Strong (whom I have seen in many things, but his performance as a hood who rules a tiny burg in The Fugitive episode “A Clean and Quiet Town” always stands out in my mind) plays the spook who tips Lou off as to what’s going on in the newsroom.

In addition to great writing, Lou Grant boasted of one of TV’s finest ensemble casts.  I knew of Mason Adams’ old-time radio history (he was the titular hero of Pepper Young’s Family, and “Atom Man” on The Adventures of Superman…but you can hear him in many other vintage broadcasts as well [Suspense, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, etc.]) and as the pitchman for Smucker’s (every time I see him or listen to his voice I get a craving for a PB&J) but he was pitch-perfect as the Tribune’s managing editor.  Adams’ Hume is a solid family man, and gets nice showcases in “Airliner” (Charlie’s daughter [Laurette Spang] is flying back from Paris when her plane experiences trouble) and “Sect” (his son [David Hunt Stafford] becomes a Hare Krishna).

My ClassicFlix compadre Rick Brooks asked me to make special mention of his favorite character, assistant city editor Art Donovan (Jack Bannon).  I remember reading a TV Guide article once on Bannon, where it was revealed that he was the son of Bea Benaderet and Jim Bannon, both OTR veterans.  (I was very impressed by this.)  Donovan always reminded me of a guy I went to high school with who was quick with a wisecrack (he didn’t dress as stylishly as Art, probably because we were still in high school).  The beauty of the Donovan character is that although he was primarily there for comic relief, he had a human side (shown to nice effect in “Airliner,” when he worries about the woman he’s currently dating…though not her grotesque son, played by a no-longer cute Robbie “Cousin Oliver” Rist) that was nicely developed in later episodes.  (I’m glad the Billie-Art romance was nipped in the bud early on, though—that kind of weirded me out.)

There are so many wonderful moments in the episodes on this set, particularly those involving the starchy Margaret Pynchon: I like the small talk she makes with staff photographer Dennis “Animal” Price (Daryl Anderson) at Lou’s get-together in “Housewarming” (Animal is clearly “herbed” up, and loving everyone who crosses his path), and the nice bit when she gives Lou an emotional hug after he undergoes thyroid surgery in the season closer, “Physical.”  At the center of it all is Ed Asner, who masterfully made the Grant character a living, breathing individual; the inaugural episode, “Cophouse,” allowed him to transition from the sitcommy version of Lou to the more realistic Grant of this long-running series (truly one of the best pilot episodes in TV history).

I’m counting the days, hours, minutes, and seconds before Season Two arrives in the mailbox outside Rancho Yesteryear.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The state of the blog (with fabulous prizes!)


It seems like every time I return to the blog after an extended absence I always find myself profusely apologizing for that absence.  So I won’t ignore tradition, and I’ll get the act of contrition out of the way: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

The disappearance of posts for over two months can be attributed to a number of factors…but chiefly among them is that I have been sidelined with a lack of motivation.  A few years back, I made a casual observation that with the onslaught of the social media phenomenon, the art of blogging was in danger of being threatened; platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow individuals to accomplish pretty much the same as a blog post without having to expend a great deal of energy.  (And for someone like me—who has raised inactivity and laziness to an art form—it’s a siren song that’s mighty hard to resist.)

I don’t want to sell myself short, however: I’ve kept in the game with both blogging for Radio Spirits and my “Where’s That Been?” column at ClassicFlix…so don’t pour salt on this slug just yet.  But both of these (plus the lucrative liner note projects for RS) do keep me occupied—here’s an example: I had wanted to contribute to the Classic Film and TV Café’s “National Classic Movie Day” blogathon in May…but that event coincided with my wrapping up some liner notes for a Green Hornet set (which you should check out—it contains a number of uncirculated episodes), and when I completed that I was just too wiped to work on anything else.  (So a “mea culpa” to friend Rick for bailing on that.)

As such, until I can get back into the swing of blogging again, this post will be a “catch-up” on the comings and goings here at Rancho Yesteryear.  As the cliché goes—there’s good news and bad news.  The jubilant bulletin is that my sister Kat and her family have relocated to North Carolina (after spending the past three years in the Pacific Northwest); stemming from the fact that her partner has obtained gainful employment in the Piedmont.  To say that my mother did cartwheels (and with her recent back surgery, this was a revelation) at these developments would be an understatement, since she has missed her grandson so.

To a dee-luxe apartment in the sky.

Speaking of my nephew, he has just returned from a two-week engagement at summer camp…where it appears that every photo of him taken during that experience found him participating in some sort of water activity.  (I joked to his moms that they might want to check between his fingers and toes for webbing.)  He talked non-stop for two hours on the drive home to the new Double K Ranch, then crashed hard in the last hour.  Davis has also apparently developed a taste for Cheerwine, the bubbly cherry soda concoction that has been a regional favorite since 1917 (though it can also be purchased in other sections of the U.S. of A.)

Sister Kat hasn’t made the complete transition to NC yet; she will finish up her camp director duties for the summer and then…quien sabe?  Seriously—Mom asked her what her plans were and Kat replied: “I don’t know…but at least my hair will be perfect.”  (This is a reference to the fact that during her sojourn in the PNW, she searched high and low for a decent haircut; she missed the stylist in Athens who maintained her perfect coif, and now will have the opportunity to continue her patronage since the salon is a little closer to her new address.)

Sadly, into every life a little rain must fall.  (This is the “bad news” portion of the post, so if you want to skip the next seven paragraphs to get to the swag giveaway I won’t think any less of you.)  Los Parentes Yesteryear and I just recently celebrated our first year anniversary of moving to Pixley Winterville, and the latest bill from DISH confirmed what we had been dreading for some time: they are raising the rate on our service.  (Gigantically, as character veteran Don Barclay might say.)  Since the ‘rents and I are all subsisting on what is often referred to as “fixed incomes,” there just wasn’t going to be any way of reconciling such an increase in the family budget.  (I have railed about this in the past, as you may well be aware, but it bears repeating: both the cable TV and satellite companies are staffed with human-weasel hybrids.)

I only wish mi padre had let me conduct the negotiations with DISH, which occurred this past Saturday; I had previously done some first-rate horse trading with AT&T U-Verse when they wanted to spike our TV bill (though for reasons that I to this day can’t figure out they kept our monthly service the same once we agreed to put in an extra phone line…that we never, ever used).  But unfortunately, once my father gets on the phone, he’s transformed into one of those unpleasant old men constantly yelling at kids to stay off his lawn.  (No offense, Bill.)  He wound up cutting our TV package to the bare bone, and the two most important casualties were getTV and The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™.

I’m not going to lie to you.  I was a little pouty at this news.  (Okay, more like a lot pouty.)  I realize that “living high on the hog,” TV wise, is not a viable option for the Yesteryear Trio, but as I explained to Mom once I had finished a few stiff belts: we don’t have too many entertainment options here in B.F.E.  The only other service available to us (we’re too far out for cable, and U-verse doesn’t service our area either) is DirecTV, and they’re an even bigger band of pirates.  At the time I signed us up, I took special pains to explain to her that DISH was probably going to gouge us once the year was out.  She told me—“What else can we do?  We have to have an Internet connection, and we have to have cable.”  (A lot can happen in a year, I guess.)

My Facebook pal Kingo Gondo suggested sometime back that I look into the option of getting an outside antenna so that I could receive those substations DISH refuses to carry (MeTV, Antenna TV, etc.).  I looked into this seconds after I found out about Dad’s DISH dealings.  Helpfully, the website at which I was pricing the antenna directed me to another website that would let me know what stations we would receive.  They ask you: “Will this antenna be installed 30 feet above ground level?”

Since I wanted to avoid those hassles (I had planned on getting an indoor one) I didn’t check that box…and when I pressed the “send” button, I learned that we would only be able to receive one channel.  Okay, says I, I’ll try it again—maybe I can con someone into installing the antenna outside.  “Send.”  The answer remained…one channel.  That station is WGTA, our Heroes & Icons affiliate…which we get on DISH already.

I probably would have taken this news a little better—oh, who am I kidding; I’m a TCM junkie, and I remember the days when we didn’t have it…they were dark ones indeed—were it not for the fact that most of the crap my father watches (local news, History Channel, MSDNC) remained intact in the whittled-down package.  What a coinky-dink!  (The ‘rents did lose their beloved Braves games…though an occasional contest will show up on ESPN and “Big Fox” every now and then.  To say that my mother was pissed doesn’t even begin to cover it, though.  Earlier today, my father switched over to TVLand—as is his habit—to watch Gunsmoke reruns and then remembered we said hasta la vista to that channel as well.)

Because I had a little time this weekend to reflect on these developments, I came away with the take that while I’m not jumping for joy at how all this turned out (particularly since I was helping out a few cable/satellite-deprived folks by grabbing and burning to disc programs/movies that had attracted their interest) perhaps there is a silver lining on all this.  After all, it’s not like I’m starved for entertainment around here.  I already socked away a lot of Tee Cee Em/getTV programming on the DVR (I think the gauge was at 49 percent), so there’s that to get through…and I have what scientists have measured as a metric “buttload” of material in the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives.  I’m not humblebragging, you understand—it’s just that a lot of these DVDs have yet to be liberated from their shrink wrap; that’s how terrible my habit is.  I’ve been meaning to get the blog up and running again, so this might provide a much needed kick-in-the-pants.

So to celebrate the return of the blog (okay—everybody back to the post!) how about I give out some Radio Spirits freebies?  Back in August of last year, I was tapped to do the liner notes for Suspense at Work—a 10-CD collection of broadcasts from “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills.”  The shows in this set all have a common theme: they’re set against a background of the workplace, where ambitious individuals resort to murderous mayhem to get ahead in the company…or the mundane monotony of punching a time clock is interrupted by robberies, embezzlement, etc.  You can always count on Suspense for first-rate radio drama, and some of the stars gracing these broadcasts include Bonita Granville, Edmund O’Brien, Ann Blyth, Van Heflin, Ronald Colman, and Richard Widmark.  (I’m partial to “To None a Deadly Drug,” a nail-biter from October 25, 1955 that features OTR veterans like Harry Bartell, Jack kruschen, Barbara Eiler, and Eve McVeagh.)

It’s been 2-3 months since I did a giveaway here at TDOY…so the usual “thirty-day rule” won’t apply here.  What will apply is that if you’d like an opportunity to win one of these sets (I have two to hand out) just drop me an e-mail with “Suspense at Work” in the subject header (that way I know your intentions are honorable, suh, and you’re not some bit of spam from the wrong side of the tracks) at igsjrotr(at)gmail(dot)com.  The deadline for this contest will be 11:59pm EDT next Monday, July 18; I will select two winners via the all-powerful numbers generator at Random.org and inform them of their good fortune so that they can provide me with snail-mail details (so that I might send their swag on its way).  Remember, faithful readers—Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is the phrase that pays!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Broken Arrow? This is why we can’t have nice things!”


This morning, whilst I dubbed onto a blank disc a copy of Passport to Suez (1943) for my pal Andrew “Grover” Leal, I decided to supplement Suez’s short running time (72 minutes) with a pair of episodes from the 1956-58 TV Western Broken Arrow, which we recently acquired when DISH Network added station WGTA to its lineup.  I mentioned in Saturday’s post that this was a most welcomed surprise in the House of Yesteryear, because a similar channel (in the same spot as WGTA is now on DISH, channel 32) that offered up the occasional tasty classic TV run had been yanked about the time we signed on as DISH subscribers (in July of 2015).  What I did not know—or rather, would have known had I did a little more research—was that this was the same channel.  Hereby hangs a tale.

WGTA (“Greenville to Atlanta”) was originally WNEG, a Toccoa, GA station that had been in operation since 1984, primarily serving four Georgian counties that comprise the Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville market.  (Athens, Gainesville and Braselton comprise the station’s secondary market.)  In 2008, the station was sold to the University of Georgia, who had planned to use WNEG as a training facility for UGA’s journalism and broadcasting majors, and the station became WUGA in May of 2011.  But the UGA experiment came to an end when the station was sold to Marquee Broadcasting in March 2015, and it adopted its WGTA call letters in July (just as we were subscribing to DISH).  If you’re like me, and you do a lot of channel hopping just to see if there are any non-home shopping channels on DISH, you would have come across a disclaimer on channel 32 stating that the channel was no longer available but that you (the viewer) should keep an eye out for replacement programming.

So DISH graciously gave us Heroes & Icons on WGTA’s 32.1; the 32.2 portion of WGTA features programming from Decades! and 32.3 is a Movies! affiliate.  I was genuinely surprised that the ‘rents have clutched WGTA to their bosom—they amused themselves Saturday mornings with reruns of the 1966-68 Tarzan series (my father wanted to know why the ape man spoke perfect English and I had to explain to him that it was Johnny Weissmuller who attended The Tonto School of Speech…not Ron Ely) and Dad put on a pair of Wanted: Dead or Alive episodes this morning while he engaged in his morning paper ritual.  As for myself, I took a stroll down Memory Lane last night with back-to-back reruns of Hill Street Blues.

But leave us return to the matter of Broken Arrow.  The TV series premiered six years after the release of the 1950 movie version (adapted from Elliott Arnold’s novel Blood Brother) that starred James Stewart and Jeff Chandler, with a May 1, 1956 pilot that originally aired on CBS’ The 20th Century-Fox Hour.  In that pilot, actor John Lupton played Stewart’s role of Tom Jeffords and future Fantasy Island mogul Ricardo Montalban as Cochise.  By the time Broken Arrow was greenlighted as a regular series in the fall of 1956, Michael Ansara took over as Cochise—he made for a very convincing Native American chief despite his Syrian-Egyptian origins.

Ansara wasn’t particularly jazzed about his gig on Broken Arrow.  “Cochise could do one of two things—stand with his arms folded, looking noble; or stand with arms at his sides, looking noble,” he explained to a TV Guide interviewer in 1960.  But I have to be honest; Mike is the main reason the show works, in addition to the fact that it was one of the few small screen oaters at that time to portray Native Americans in a positive light.  The first installment I watched was “Indian Agent” (10/09/56), in which Jeffords falls for and marries Sonseeahray, the maiden who later draws her rations (Debra Paget played her in the 1950 movie—here it’s Sue England in the role) as a result of a fight between Cochise’s men and a bunch of “the-only-good-Injun-is-a-dead-Injun” yahoos.  It’s a well-done episode that features Tom Fadden (a series regular as “Mitt Duffield”), Robert Warwick, James Griffith, Michael Pate, Kenneth MacDonald, and Anthony George.  Ansara sure gets his nobility workout here, as he tries to counsel the hot-headed Jeffords not to fly off the handle in the face of revenge.

The tables are turned in “The Captive” (10/23/56); here Jeffords advises Cochise to keep calm and carry on when an Apache brave (Ray Stricklyn) is kidnapped from the tribe.  The boy is a white man raised by Apaches; his grandmother (Kathryn Card) tries to persuade him to return to his birthright…and when he refuses, a skeevy lawyer (who else but Trevor Bardette) arranges for the young man to be snatched, inviting the ire of the Apaches.  Lane Bradford is in this one (appropriately as a henchman), and I chuckled to see Dick Wessel tending bar.

Broken Arrow ran only two seasons on ABC (a total of 72 episodes—seventy-three if you include the pilot) but bounced around on its daytime and evening schedules in reruns until 1960.  I can see why this one hasn’t been given the nod for a DVD release: the prints are not particularly sparkly (I think Facebook chum Hal Erickson pointed this out to me before I watched the show) and of course, they’ve whittled down the running time in order to squeeze in an extra commercial or two (I clocked both episodes at 23 minutes).  But I’ll certainly continue to DVR the shows because I think the series is entertaining; springing from a time when it was possible to do dramatic stories in the short span of a half-hour.

(Anti) Social media update: You may have noticed (then again, maybe not) that I recently deactivated my Twitter account—a proposition that I had been considering for some time…yet refrained from doing so for a number of reasons.  Long story short, I pulled the plug on Twitter this weekend…but I want to reassure people that it’s not for anything you did; I’ve just become frustrated with the whole 140-character “social media” experience.  I’m still on Facebook (I have argued all along that while the FB content can sometimes get poisonous, it’s still preferable to Twitter any day of the week) so I’m able to share pictures of my niece and nephew with their “Nana” and “Pop” from time to time.  Go in peace, my children.