Saturday, October 27, 2012

“Tell ‘em Groucho sent you…”

On this date back in 1947, the radio program that would prove the perfect platform for the acerbic wit of comedian Julius “Groucho” Marx premiered over ABC for Elgin-American watches: You Bet Your Life.  It would be heard over the American Broadcasting Company for two seasons before CBS chairman William S. Paley lured Groucho and his show to his network in his well-documented “talent raids”…only to lose the cigar-smoking quipster to NBC the following year, just about the same time You Bet Your Life made its television debut.  For the next eleven seasons, both on TV and radio, You Bet Your Life was one of the National Broadcasting Company’s most popular programs as Groucho and his sidekick George Fenneman gave away cash to average Joes and Janes…with an occasional celebrity visit from the likes of Ray Bradbury, Phyllis Diller, “Colonel” Harland Sanders, Daws Butler, Johnny Weissmuller and Groucho’s brother Adolph…better known as “Harpo.”

I whipped up a little something about the program over at the Radio Spirits blog, but on a personal note I was already a Marx Brothers fan by the time our local public television station started showcasing repeats of the TV series…but You Bet Your Life cemented my devotion to Groucho Marx, who despite his faults and frailties was one of the funniest men to ever walk this planet.  There are a myriad of public domain DVD collections of the TV show on the market today, but true fans of the show won’t want to be without the two Shout! Factory collections released in 2003 and 2004, The Lost Episodes and The Best Episodes.  Both sets have fistfuls of fun extras and bonus materials in addition to eighteen episodes apiece (a total of thirty-six classic TV telecasts).

Also celebrating an anniversary today—a natal anniversary, that is, is my good friend Scott C., the major domo of the Internet’s premier place for political snark, World O’Crap...not to mention author, scholar, bon vivant and MST3K disciple.  Mr. C was most generous in his praise of your humble narrator in September when the tenth anniversary of my 39th birthday came around (seriously…he was so effusive I checked my pulse to see if I was still kicking and that I wasn’t attending my own wake) and I only wish I could reciprocate in a similarly praiseworthy manner.  You see, I learned not too long ago that the blog known as World O’Crap, once maintained by the redoubtable S.Z. (who must take credit for inspiring this scrap of the blogosphere whether she chooses to or not), was actually forcibly taken from her by characters right out of a Dickens novel, as witnessed in this comedy sketch I whipped up at the last minute:

BARRYMORE (reading from papers): And so, it has been decreed that the corporation known as Wo’C Enterprises will henceforth be turned over to Evil Paraquats, Ltd…to be run through the receivership…
SCOTT: That’s me…
BARRYMORE: …of Mr. C, who will put an end to this frivolity and mocking of right-wing conventions once and for all.
S.Z.:  But, sir…what is to become of me…and the good, kind, charitable, sarcastic deeds of World O’Crap?
BARRYMORE (banging down a gavel he just happens to have with him): Privatization!
S.Z.: This is isn’t the end of this—do you hear me?  I’m off to rescue kitties and puppies and to make sure they have a good home…but I will be avenged!
SCOTT: First item on the agenda…paving paradise and putting up a parking lot…

Okay, I’m just having a bit of fun here…while it did happen in the fashion I’ve illustrated, Scott later that night got a visit from Henry Travers…who convinced him what a miserable essobee he’d been his whole life, and when Travers was done Scott found rose petals in his pocket.  (Or something to that effect.   I’m really not much of a details guy.)  Scott saw the error of his ways, and today continues the tradition of poking merciless fun at truly deserving right wing whacka-dos because…well, there’s no getting around it, people.  Some of those individuals are certifiably insane.

All seriousness aside: I want to wish Mr. C the happiest of birthdays—I’m proud to call him my friend, both in the blogosphere and on Facebook, where he threatens my keyboard with iced tea expectoration due to such hilarious features as “Spam as a Second Language,” and makes me realize that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be with some amazing photographs from the past that he frequently posts and I shamelessly steal.  In honor of his birthday, I have chosen an appropriate picture (depicting the World o’Crap regulars)…and in the spirit of Wo’C commenter Bill S., here are some other folks from the hallowed halls of yesteryear who share that anniversary:

James Cook (1728-1779) – Scottish captain and explorer who discovered the Sandwich Islands…but did not, I repeat, did not invent the sandwich.

Isaac Merrit Singer (1811-1875) – Inventor of the first practical home sewing machine

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) – Twenty-sixth president of the United States and Rough Rider

Emily Post (1872-1960) – Etiquette expert

Sebastian Cristillo (1879-1947) – Father of Lou Costello (the character of “Sebastian,” Costello’s nephew [“I’m only three-and-a-half years old!”] on the radio program, was named after him)

Fred de Cordova (1910-2001) – Film and television producer/director best known for his work on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson but also the individual who helmed Bedtime for Bonzo

Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993) – Veteran TV director who worked on such shows as Checkmate, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Wagon Train and The Smith Family

Jack Carson (1910-1963) – Stage, screen, radio and television comic actor who appeared alongside singer-actor Dennis Morgan in many films…and was born in Manitoba, Canada (not Milwaukee)

Leif Erickson (1911-1986) – Film and television actor best known for his starring role on TV’s The High Chapparral (he was also on radio’s My Friend Irma as “Richard Rhinelander III”)

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) - Dead Welsh poet

Oliver Tambo (1917-1993) – Co-founder of the African National Congress

Teresa Wright (1918-2005) – Stage, film and television actress seen in such vehicles as The Little Foxes, Pride of the Yankees and Shadow of a Doubt

Nanette Fabray (1920-     ) – Stage, film and television actress known for The Band Wagon and TV’s One Day at a Time who turns ninety-two today

Ned Wertimer (1923-     ) – Stage, film and television character great best remembered as Ralph the doorman on TV’s The Jeffersons (he’s eighty-nine)

Ruby Dee (1924-    ) – Stage, film and television actress seen in such vehicles as A Raisin in the Sun, Gone are the Days and Do the Right Thing (eighty-eight)

Warren Christopher (1925-2011) – Carter administration official and Bela Lugosi impersonator

H.R. Haldeman (1926-1993) – Nixon administration chief of staff and felon

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) – Depressed novelist who wrote The Bell Jar

Floyd Cramer (1933-1997) – Composer/pianist of Last Date, the song responsible for bringing my Ozzie and Harriet-like parents together

Lara Parker (1937-    ) – Film and television actress who appeared in a great many things but I always associate her with the Gothic television soap Dark Shadows

Dallas Frazier (1939-     ) – Country/pop music songwriter (Alley Oop, Beneath Still Waters) who will serve a stretch in Purgatory for writing the Oak Ridge Boys’ earwig Elvira

John Cleese (1939-     ) – British comedic genius (Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Fawlty Towers) who offers irrefutable proof that funny people are born on October 27

John Gotti (1940-2002) – Mafia don

Bobby Fuller (1942-1966) – He fought the law but the law won

Lee Greenwood (1942-     ) – Country singer whose jingoistic God Bless the U.S.A. has made him a popular Republican “family values” icon, who are all-too-willing to overlook that he’s been divorced four times and once worked as a blackjack dealer

Carrie Snodgress (1945-2004) – Stage, film and television actress who starred in 1970s movie Diary of a Mad Housewife

Kenneth Turan (1946-     ) – Los Angeles Times film critic

Ivan Reitman (1946-     ) – Motion picture director whose earlier film career was distinguished by comedies like Meatballs, Stripes and Ghostbusters

Fran Leibowitz (1950-     ) – Curmudgeonly actress and humorist who writes a lot about New York City

Jayne Kennedy-Overton (1951-     ) – Her occupation is listed as “actress” but since The Love Boat is no longer in production what the hell does she do now?

Ted Wass (1952-     ) – Television actor best known for his roles on Soap and Blossom and later graduated to directing

Roberto Benigni (1952-     ) – Italian director-actor whose excited response to his Oscar win in 1999 for Life is Beautiful (In a Concentration Camp) brought out the tranquilizer guns

Veronica Hart (1956-     ) – Porn star who is not supporting Mitt Romney

Simon Le Bon (1958-    ) – Conceited lead singer of the English music group Duran Duran

Shelly Juttner (1960-     ) – Former moppet actress (Freaky Friday) and close personal friend of Scott’s

Marla Maples (1963-     ) – Former Donald Trump bimbo and the pride of Dalton, GA (well, that and the Georgia Carpet Outlet)

Matt Drudge (1966-     ) – Un dickhead formidable (I haven’t used that in ages.)

Happy birthday, Scott!  (“Keep your nose in the wind and your tail to yourself,” as Commander USA used to say.)


Scott said...

Wait -- Drudge? Seriously? How is it that I completely suppress that little fact every birthday? Oh well, at least he's easy to shop for -- a Hallmark card, a carton of eggs, and you're out the door!

Not Isaac Bashevis Singer? Missed it by that much...!

And I would just point out, since we are each a Child of the Self-Correcting Blogosphere, no less than the trees, that Dylan Thomas is a dead Welsh poet. Not that I care, but the Welsh certainly do (Captain Fluellen's leek-wearing chauvinism in Henry V is only slightly exaggerated for comic effect, so apparently they've been dicks about it since Shakespeare's time).

Has anyone ever seen Martin Landau from Ed Wood and Warren Christopher in the same room? Because I might have -- or possibly I was just watching the mirror routine from Duck Soup.

Finally, bravo for your docu-dramatization. I was so deeply moved I had to file a change of address card, although I was hoping to be played by someone a little more manly than myself, like Nat Pendleton, or Donald Meek.

Thanks very much for the beautiful tribute, the Bowery Boys (or is it East Side Kids?) photo, the always welcome Jayne Kennedy joke, and for being a terrific friend, and an ever reliable source of wit 'n' wisdom.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

And I would just point out, since we are each a Child of the Self-Correcting Blogosphere, no less than the trees, that Dylan Thomas is a dead Welsh poet.

I have no idea why I get that wrong every time, unless I'm suffering from the same malady that you do in blocking out Matt Drudge (though to be honest, yours is far more beneficial). I have corrected this, and promise to make sure I don't screw it up ever again (the last person who called me out on it said I was a...well, I can't pronounce it because it's in Welsh--I just know there were a lot of w's and y's in it).