Friday, May 28, 2010

“Something tells me this is going to be one of those ‘I don’t have a post’ posts…”

…and you would be right. Here’s the thing. The time that I usually spend catching a classic movie or two has been occupied instead by reruns of a sitcom showcasing the smartest and wittiest ensemble in television history. That’s right, my box set of NewsRadio: The Complete Series arrived last week and the other day I decided to put a show or two on because I was really in need of a good, healthy chuckle. Unfortunately, when I dabble in this sort of entertainment I don’t have the will power to stop at just an episode or two…I end up going through as many as I can like cocktail peanuts.

What’s worse is: the NewsRadio DVDs feature extensive commentary from many of the cast members, writers and producers—so once I watch the episode I re-watch it to eavesdrop on some insightfully funny conversations. In one of the commentaries—specifically, the one that accommodates the episode “Big Day”—cast member Stephen Root (who played the eccentric billionaire who owned WNYX, Jimmy James) remarks that he had two catchphrases on the show: “I gotta go” and “We’re waaay over budget.” This prompts his former co-star Dave Foley to return: “My catchphrases would be ‘But, Mr. James—these people work hard for you’ and ‘What is it, Matthew…?’”

For those of you not familiar with “Big Day,” it’s one of my all-time favorite NewsRadio episodes. The plot has station owner James deciding that new station manager Dave Nelson (Foley) will be in charge of handing out the employee bonus this year; he stipulates that each employee will receive an extra $400—with the exception of one employee who will net a bonus of $3000 (which he calls “the big bonus”) and one who will get nada (“the shaft”). Matthew Brock (Andy Dick), the station’s resident spaz, just knows he’ll be getting “the shaft” again this year—as do fellow employees Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman) and Joe Garelli (Joe Rogan), who engage in this dialogue exchange:

BILL: Joe, who's the black undercover dick who's a sex machine with all the chicks?

JOE: Why, I believe that would be Shaft, Bill…

BILL: Mmm-hmm. And who's the cat who won't cop out when there is danger all about?

JOE: Once again Bill, you are referring to Shaft…

BILL: Damn right…

JOE: You know, they say that Shaft is one bad mutha...

MATTHEW (interrupting Joe): Just shut up, you guys…

JIMMY (entering the room): What're you guys doing?

BILL: We’re just talking about Shaft…

JIMMY (as he walks past): I can dig it…

That bit still cracks me up, fifteen years after the fact. Another amusing facet of the commentaries is that everyone involved is obsessed with talking about everyone’s wardrobe, which is attributed to the fact that NewsRadio won its one and only Emmy for Outstanding Costuming For a Series. (The series was never acknowledged with nominations for either directing, writing…not even Outstanding Comedy Series—though the late Phil Hartman did get one nom in 1998 for supporting actor in a comedy show. Tell me that’s not a tragedy.)

In other TV-on-DVD news, has several of the official press releases up for classic sitcoms like Mister Ed and The Phil Silvers Show…not to mention a confirmation for the June 29th street date for the fourth season of The Real McCoys. There’s also one for Dragnet 1968—I mentioned previously that this set will contain the 1966 TV-movie pilot but there’s also a featurette—Jack Webb: The Man Behind Badge 714—that sounds like must-see TV; among the participants mentioned are OTR vets Peggy Webber and Herb Ellis, both of whom appeared on the radio and TV versions of the seminal cop show.

This article announcing the reopening of the Universal N.Y. Street backlot (which was torched in the studio’s fire in June 2008) has a blurb about über director Steven Spielberg that reads: “Another memory from that morning which resonated with Spielberg was the sight of firefighters hauling out film cans from the Universal vault, preserving negatives of classic films as well as, quipped Spielberg, ‘several titles that should have burned.’” (Oh, this is too easy… Always [1989]… Hook [1991]… Minority Report [2002]…I’ll stop now before I get into serious trouble. Note: Mr. Shreve, as a dedicated cineaste, is not suggesting that any movies be set on fire regardless of how bad they are—so please refrain from questioning his parentage in the comments section.)

Here’s a pair of classic film festivals that sound particularly enticing if you’re in the vicinity of Tucson, Arizona—in July the Fox Tucson theatre will host Mystery and Murder at the Fox! with movies that include Double Indemnity (1944), Gilda (1946) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957). August spotlights Classic Couples with fare like The Awful Truth (1937), Holiday (1938) and Road to Rio (1947). Ticket info can be found here.

Mark Evanier at newsfromme reports that we lost another comic strip artist in March—Don Sherwood, creator of the Steve Canyon-like Dan Flagg (1963-67). Flagg may not have been a staple of too many “funny papers” but I have to admit that Sherwood’s history as an artist makes for an interesting read. R.I.P, Mr. Sherwood—you will be missed.

In my never-ending quest to boost some badly-needed esteem here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, I thought that you might be interested to learn that even when I receive junk e-mail about movies or magazines that I’ll more than likely never get around to seeing—I’m always greeted with the utmost respect. One such electronic missive addressed me as “Kindest Ivan G Shreve Jr. of Edward Copeland on Film,” then proceeded to tell me about…well, it’s not really important. I was just impressed with the level in which they did the sucking-up. But wait, there’s more—I had the honor of being “friended” on Facebook by none other than…drum roll please…June Lockhart! You read that right—I am now chummy with Lassie’s mother! (We’ll probably go clubbing later on.)

Okay, here’s the reading list for this weekend—and there just may be a test on this come Monday:

One of my favorite weblogs is The Unsung Joe, which spotlights many of the beloved character actors and actresses often discussed here at TDOY. The latest essay is about a girl who answered to “Julia Graham,” and whose Hollywood aspirations yielded only a few miniscule parts in films…and ended up in tragic circumstances. I found her tale particularly fascinating in that she was a native of West Virginia—from Sisterville (“a prosperous oil town on the banks of the Ohio”), which is located about fifteen miles southeast from New Martinsville.

Jacqueline at Another Old Movie Blog has a fascinating post about the recently restored silent film classic The Grub Stake (1923; aka The Golden Yukon) starring the amazing Neil Shipman (who also wrote and produced the film). I love reading about movies that have been rescued from the ravages of time and though I haven’t seen this one I’ll be certain to keep an eye peeled should it someday be showcased on TCM’s Silent Sunday Nights.

The blog for Matinee at the Bijou has a good read entitled “Celluloid Superman,” originally penned by the incomparable John McElwee of Greenbriar Picture Shows fame. The essay talks about the various cinematic appearances of the Man of Steel, notably the cartoons cranked out by the Fleischer/Paramount/Famous Studios between 1941 and 1943 and the Columbia serials in 1948 and 1950 (you may recall I tackled the first of these back in the halcyon days of Salon Blogs—the first chapter is here).

TDOY commenter jnpickens (who was nice enough to recommend the 1931 Alfred Hitchcock curio Rich and Strange to me) blogs at Comet Over Hollywood (I like that name) and has a very funny post about Katherine Hepburn. Now, I cannot stress this enough: if you are a major Kate fan—do not go over there to read it; you’ll just be asking for trouble. As for me…well, I’ve built up a bigger tolerance but she had me on the floor when she wrote “…it’s hard for me to choke down a Katharine Hepburn movie. I’d rather watch Mickey Rooney over her, and that says a lot.” (I’m sure I’ve stated previously that child stars give me a rash, but Rooney—we’re talking a major case of prickly heat.) Now I'm curious as to whether she went out and purchased any of the stamps.

Rick29, the administrator for The Classic Movie Blog Association, waxes nostalgic about the best of the “Beach Party” movies, Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), at the Classic Film and TV Café. Naturally, I realize that these movies are an acquired taste—but how can you not like a movie that features Marta “Lost in Space” Kristen as a mermaid, Don Rickles insulting everybody (even Annette!), Paul Lynde at the peak of his snideness…and Timothy Carey as “South Dakota Slim”? (“I got ideas... and they're all vile, Bubie…”)

Moira of Skeins of Thought hits a pair of homers with an essay at TCM’s Movie Morlocks on Hondo (1953—so well-written it hurts…even though I’m not a fan of the film) and Movie Fan Fare with the 1947 Douglas Sirk potboiler Lured, featuring Lucille Ball, Self-Styled Siren god George Sanders and TDOY idol Boris Karloff.

In 1960, comedian Woody Woodbury was riding high on the Billboard Album charts with LPs like Woody Woodbury Looks at Love and Life as part of an avalanche of comic talents like Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Bob Newhart and “Brother” Dave Gardner charting big with a golden age of stand-up recordings. Kliph Nesteroff wrote an essay on this seemingly forgotten comedian for WFMU’s Beware of the Blog back in December 2006…and had a chat with him two years earlier which has been transcribed at his Classic Television Showbiz blog. It’s a great discussion of some of his fellow laugh practitioners, and as always Kliph asks the right questions.

Our good friend and part-time derelict Jennifer Baldwin has another one of her Classic Movie Obsession essays up at Libertas Magazine online—this week she dissects the 1941 war classic Sergeant York starring She Blogged by Night bête noire Gary Cooper. On her own stomping grounds—Dereliction Row—she has a nice piece about cult classic Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)…and while I don’t consider myself a fan of the movie (though I think my sister Kat and Jennifer would bond immediately—it’s one of Kat’s favorites) I enjoyed reading about the midnight movies in the background of her essay. And if I didn’t have a prior engagement that weekend—not to mention a severe deficit in the cash department—I’d make the trek and join her for a screening of The Warriors (1979). (“Warriors…come out to play-i-ay…”)

In closing, I want to thank—in the most profuse manner that I can summon—my good chum Stacia for the wonderful gift she sent me that arrived at the doorstep of Rancho Yesteryear this afternoon. (Surprised the hell out of me—I thought my father had returned, having forgotten something.) It was a most generous gesture, and as soon as I can get this NewsRadio monkey off my back I plan to hie to the nearest DVD player and watch it with plenty of snacks by my side. Thanks, Stacia—you are an absolute treasure.

(Oh, one more thing—I changed the blog banner in a salute to the Memorial Day film festival currently in progress on Turner Classic Movies. I chose Paths of Glory [1957] because it’s a film that shows its audience the utter futility and foolishness of war…it is by no means meant to denigrate those who have fallen and must be remembered, but rather to hope that one day there will come a time when the only wars we’ll experience will be those documented in those films from the thrilling days of yesteryear.)

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Pam said...

I'm impressed. June Lockhart! One of the four living cast members of Meet Me in St. Louis.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I'm impressed. June Lockhart!

You betchum, Red Ryder! It's about time we got a little respectability around this jernt.

One of the four living cast members of Meet Me in St. Louis.

Well, to a musicals maven--sure. But as a kid, she was Judy, Penny and Will Robinson's mom on Lost in Space and that hot medico on Petticoat Junction.

Actually, the "Lassie's mother" reference is a gag between my Mom and I. We were watching some program from the 1970s--either a TV-movie or she was guest-starring on some show--and June was playing a woman who was both bedridden and bending the ol' elbow. "Look," Mom cracks, "it's Lassie's mother, boozing it up." To this day I don't know why I found that so funny but it still puts a smile on my face (it was probably her delivery).

B said...

I think Stephen Root has turned out to be one of the best character actors around today.

Stacia said...

I didn't watch "NewsRadio" much, but there are 2 moments in the show I remember. The exact moment you mention is the one I always remember when I think about the show -- Stephen Root was terrific at the casual one-liner as he walked past. The other one was with Hartman and Root walking through a glassless window into Foley's office and their "Morning, Sam", "Morning, Ralph" exchange. HAHAHAHA awesome.

Oh wait, there is a 3rd moment during a Titanic-themed episode and Foley's delivery of the "those mythical icebergs" line.

Stephen Root is a fabulous actor. Terrific in "O Brother Where Art Thou", and he has a great guest role on an old "Night Court" episode where he delivers yet another great quote: "If we all lived forever, where would we park?"

I am very very jealous of your June Lockhart friending, by the way!

And now, I'm off to try to read some of those links. I can't wait to get to the Hepburn one.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I think Stephen Root has turned out to be one of the best character actors around today.

Oh, I concur 100%. Root was my favorite on NewsRadio and I also enjoyed him on King of the Hill.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Stephen Root is a fabulous actor. Terrific in "O Brother Where Art Thou", and he has a great guest role on an old "Night Court" episode where he delivers yet another great quote: "If we all lived forever, where would we park?"

There's one NewsRadio episode--and I'm just too lazy to look it up, even though I just watched it the other day--where Root's character talks about "stepping into the WABAC machine" (a Peabody's Improbable History reference) and I'll swear a day doesn't go by when I'm not using that same line (he later says "Don't mess with the man with the WABAC machine, Dave...").

I just loved Root's dry delivery. There was another movie reference line--again, the episode it's in escapes me--where he cracks: "Welcome to Gattaca, son..." But then again, my vocab has always been sprinkled with NewsRadioisms, most of them swiped from Phil Hartman's character ("Kudos" and "Anyhoo" being the obvious examples).

Would you believe I've never seen the Titantic episode of NewsRadio? So this is going to be a real treat when I get there.

Brent McKee said...

Okay, I'll give you June Lockhart who had a hilarious turn as the mother of Big Ed Deline (James Caan) on "Las Vegas" a few years ago - as well as all that other stuff you mentioned of course. She was apparently 15 when she gave birth if real world ages mean anything.

Brent McKee said...

I forgot to say (rule #1 - don't post when you're cooking Beef Wellington) that I have Don Adams's son-in-law as one of my Facebook Friends. That would Be Jim Beaver. Very prolific poster too.

Stacia said...

Ivan, I think you'll like the Titanic episode. I just stumbled across it the night it first aired, missed the first 2 minutes or so, but really liked the rest. Dave Foley was in rare form.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks so much for the link, Ivan.