Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I don’t have a post—but I do have this…

Back in August, my Facebook pal Matthew Coniam e-mailed me with an interesting query: he was commissioned to write an article for a British comedy magazine about the popularity of the BBC sitcom warhorse Last of the Summer Wine, and he was curious to get a Yank’s (that would be me) take on why the program was so popular here in the U.S. I was tickled pink to be asked to contribute—though someone should have warned Matthew that once I get started on the subject of Britcoms, the only sure-fire way to get me to stop talking involves a fire hose.

I submitted some of my musings to Mr. C, and he promised me he’d send me a copy of the publication upon completion. Matthew is a man of his word; I received Issue #9 in the TDOY mail box last week and spent an enjoyable weekend not only reading his article but many of the others as well. That’s a photo of the issue to your left, and if you’re curious to purchase a copy the details is at the magazine’s website here. (I believe the tariff for TDOY fans here in the States would be £4.00, or approximately $6.52 American at the current rate of exchange.) If I still had my scanner I would scan the article but I have a feeling that I’d be requiring the need of a “barrister” and/or “solicitor” (this English stuff just clings to me, doesn’t it?) not long after.

What surprised me about the article were two things; the first being that Matthew admitted he wasn’t much of a Summer Wine fan. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that—but the gist of his piece was that Summer Wine was more popular on this side of the pond than its country of origin. There’s nothing wrong with that, either—but it does give one reason to ponder. I read somewhere that Keeping Up Appearances (both it and Summer Wine sprung from the creative genius of writer Roy Clarke) was a hit in the UK but it was even a bigger success in the States. The ubiquitous Are You Being Served? is another example; in fact, I’ve always found it amusing that the series was available on Region 1 DVD before they got around to releasing it on Region 2.

The second surprise was that Matthew’s writing accomplished something truly astonishing: it made me sound semi-articulate. (I don’t always express myself well verbally, and many of my close, personal friends have often labeled my insights…well, “babbling” is perhaps the best way to put it.)

Speaking of articles, Vince Keenan posted a comment yesterday to the Arnold Laven post and included a link to an incredible interview that appeared in The Noir City Sentinel shortly before Laven’s passing. If you click on it, a .PDF file will pop up and you should really give it the once-over, because it’s a damn good read. I particularly enjoyed this tidbit, in which Laven talks about working as a script supervisor on the 1951 noir He Ran All the Way with TDOY idol John Garfield and Shelley Winters:

Sentinel: Shelley Winters acquired a reputation for being difficult to work with at times, particularly with directors and producers. Was that the case in He Ran All the Way?

AL: She wasn’t easy. It seemed to make the column in Variety or the Hollywood Reporter every day, what was happening on the set of He Ran All the Way.

Sentinel: Was all of that publicity due to Shelley, or Garfield, or both?

AL: The chemistry between Garfield and Shelley was antipathetic; they argued constantly. Sometimes yelling and screaming. They were all people with a high level of emotion and I’m including John Berry too. As I recall, though, 90 percent of the conflict was between Shelley and Garfield. One night I was working late and sitting on the sound stage, about a half-hour after everyone else had gone home. John Garfield’s dressing room started to rock and shake. The door finally opens and out walks Shelley, with a smile. So of course I am looking the opposite way, no eye contact. It was kind of an epochal moment in the history of that movie! Of course, Garfield was such a warm and charming guy.

Sentinel: Garfield had that unique star quality and was well thought of by his peers and colleagues.

AL: Very much so. I wanted to get a script job on I Love Lucy and mentioned it to Garfield. Do you know, he called a top guy at Desilu—not Lucy, but their production head under Desi—and got me an appointment, which was extremely nice. I really felt that John Garfield was a warm, authentic, likeable guy.

If you’re curious about how to get this sensational publication by becoming a member, check out the website of the Film Noir Foundation here.

Truth be told, I had planned a more substantial post today but I didn’t get finished with it in time so I apologize for what may seem to some as “filler.” To close this out—I don’t know if anyone still reads the Ripley’s Believe it Or Not! comic strip but yesterday they offered up this little tidbit:

Naturally, I was curious about the answer—and it was sort of amusing that they stuck a little “cliffhanger” on it, serial-style. So here’s today’s strip, courtesy of Comics.com:

Kowabunga, kids! Pretty darn amazing, isn’t it? Except for one…tiny…detail…

Al Gore doesn’t have an Oscar sitting on his mantelpiece. (Trust me on this one. Unless he’s rented out space to someone who does have an Oscar.)

The 2006 documentary that stars the former Vice-President, An Inconvenient Truth, nabbed two Oscars at the 2006 Academy Awards ceremony held on February 25, 2007: one for Best Documentary Feature and the other for Best Song (“I Need to Wake Up”). The Best Song award went to the person who wrote/composed the tune…in this case, Melissa Etheridge (who also sang the number in the film). The Best Documentary Feature award was handed to Davis Guggenheim, the doc’s director and executive producer. But Gore wound up with bupkis, because all he did was appear in the movie and Power-point to charts and graphs.

I know it sounds like I’m making a big deal of this, but this is the same kind of road apples that went on during Gore’s torpedoed-by-the-media Presidential campaign in 2000, when the “liberally-biased” MSM accused him of being a “serial exaggerator.” You know, when he was accused of claiming of having “invented the Internet” (a claim he didn’t make), how he was the inspiration for the lead character in the book Love Story (which author Erich Segal acknowledged he was), etc. Somebody at Ripley’s could have easily done their homework on this by doing a little “research” but got a little bit lazy. (I’m not pointing fingers, by the way, I’ve been guilty of insufficient fact-checking too many to count.) So this would be an example of "Not."

As for GBS—well, he did win the 1938 Oscar for Pygmalion (which he shared with Ian Dalrymple, Cecil Lewis and W.P. Lipscomb)—or “My Fair Lady without the music” as they referred to it in a memorable episode of Newhart. Mr. Shaw was considerably underwhelmed by his win, remarking: “It's an insult for them to offer me any honour, as if they had never heard of me before—and it's very likely they never have. They might as well send some honour to George for being King of England.” (I guess there’s no pleasing some people.)

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Anonymous said...

Nice post & nice blog. I love both.

Matthew Coniam said...

Sorry - it took me longer to get to this post than it did for the mag to get to you!
Glad you liked it! Your observations were spot-on and a number of folks have told me that they now see Summer Wine in a far more appreciative light, as indeed do I.
Humdrumsitcom (for some reason renamed thus for that issue: it was/should be humdrumsitcomdotcom) is a regular page on British sitcoms that I write for Kettering. I think editor Peter has put some of it online if you're interested...

At the risk of souring the mood, I believe the absurd Al did say he invented the Internet (the only grounds for claiming otherwise is that he didn't actually use the word 'invent'), and that Segal stopped many paces short of acknowledging him as inspiration for Love Story. But most of his serial exaggerations are surely to be found in An Inconvenient Truth itself...