Saturday, January 31, 2009

Say "Uncle"

Avuncular Adventures in Pop Culture...

Uncle Albert - Paul McCartney's Uncle (yes he was a real person) and one of the two titles character's in Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, McCartney's #1 1971 hit. We're so sorry...

Uncle Ben - Elderly, African-American who's been the "face" of Uncle Ben Rice for over 60 years. Originally portrayed as a servant, in 2007 the Mars Company announced that Ben was Chairman of the Board (he got a promotion but he's still wearing that little bow tie). There is no proof to the rumors that he is the father of Aunt Jemima's love child.

Uncle Ben Parker - Peter Parker's uncle and adoptive father. His murder at the hands of the burglar who Peter had earlier let escape, convinces Peter to adopt the identify of Spider-Man. "With great power comes great responsibility".

Uncle Bill - Well-to-do bachelor (played by Brian Keith) who suddenly finds himself guardian to three children in the 1960's TV sitcom Family Affair. "French, get me another martini and tell Sissy to wear the pink baby doll tonight." "Yes, Mr. Davis". (I know I'm a seriously disturbed individual...what's your point?)

Uncle Buck - Title Character of the 1989 John Hughes film played by the late, great John Candy. Buck made the transition to television in 1990 in a short-lived series starring Kevin Meaney.

Uncle Charlie - Apron-wearing housekeeper/uncle (played by veteran character actor William Demarest) on My Three Sons. To his dying day, Charlie denied the rumours that he was little more than Fred MacMurray's bitch.

Uncle Fester - Bald-headed, fur coat-wearing member of the Addams Family. Depending on the source, he's either Morticia's uncle or Gomez' brother. Either way he's just your typical, fun loving homicidal maniac, and we love him.

Uncle Floyd - New Jersey based children's television show host. With the help of his sidekick, a puppet named Oogie, and real-life cast members "Looney" Skip Rooney, Netto, Mugsy and Scott Gordon, Floyd Vivino has plied his unique brand of lunacy to kids and adults since 1974.

Uncle Henry - Kansas farmer and uncle to orphaned Dorothy Gale of Wizard of Oz fame. Michael Fun Fact - one of my first theatrical roles was as Uncle Henry in Hampton Street Elementary School's sixth grade production of The Wizard of Oz. I had four lines "Howdy Miss Gulch" "You mean she bit you?" "Oh, She bit her dog, eh?" and "Of course we believe you Dorothy". Needless to say, I stole the show...

Uncle Kracker - stage name of American rock, rap and country musician Matthew Shafer.

Uncle Martin - stranded Martian (potrayed by Ray Walston) in the 1960's sit-com My Favorite Martian. He wasn't really Bill Bixby's uncle, but the times weren't as progressive as they are now and the world looked askance at a young man sharing an apartment with another man 20 years his senior. "Are those antenae, or are you just happy to see me Uncle Martin?"

Uncle Rastus - Better known as "the Cream of Wheat Chef ". His image is based on a photograph of Frank L. White, an immigrant from Barbados who was working as a master chef in Chicago when he was paid $5.oo to pose in a chef's hat and jacket. His face has been featured on the box for over 100 years.

Uncle Remus - Beloved, elderly, African-American storyteller and fictional narrator of a collection of African-American folk tales compiled by Joel Chandler Harris in the late 19th Century. Disney's version, the legendary Song of the South, is a combination of live-action and animation. The Walt Disney Company has long surpressed the film here in the United States for fear that it is racially insensitive. James Baskett, the actor who portrayed Uncle Remus in the film received a special Acadamy Award or his performance in 1948. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah!

Uncle Sam - he wants you.

Uncle Scrooge - Donald Duck's wealthy, miserly, Scottish uncle and so-called "Richest Duck in the World". Unfortunately, Scrooge invested heavily in mortgage-backed securities and is now the "Second Richest Duck in the World" behind that annoying little fucker from Aflac.

Uncle Tom - title character of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe's influential anti-slavery novel credited with fueling abolitionist fervor in the 1850's. Uncle Tom is also a perjoritive term used to describe a subserviant African-American. In the original novel, Tom is definitely no Uncle Tom; however, later stage versions altered the character's strong personality giving rise to the term.

U.N.C.L.E. - acronym for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, the international intelligence agency featured in the 1960's TV spy shows, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

Uncle Vanya - title character of Chekhov's tragicomedy. This was one of Captain Kirk's favorite plays. Mr. Spock preferred The Seagull.

Uncle Walt - nickname for Walt Disney. Don't believe the rumours that his body was frozen after death (however, baseball legend Ted Williams is in some sort of cryogenic freeze - at least his head is; I'm not sure what they did with the rest of him).

Uncle Wiggly - Elderly rabbit featured in a series of children's books by American author Howard Roger Garis.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Know Your Chekhovs

Anton Chekhov

19th Century Russian playwright, author and physician.

Pavel Chekhov

23rd Century Starfleet Ensign

This has been a a public service message brought to you by this blog.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Damn You, Bobby Vee!

The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, Part 2

Ever since yesterday's blog about the music video for Bobby Vee's 1963 hit The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, I've had the song stuck in my head (and no Bic, it has nothing to do with the guy in the speedo). Kim calls this a music worm; the annoying condition wherein you hear a song and then can't stop thinking about it or singing it. This bouncy little tune has been playing in the juke box in my brain for the past 24 hours and I've had plenty of opportunity to actually think about the lyrics. It occurs to me that beneath the quaint early 1960's lyrics is a not-so-innocent subtext that needs to be explored (and I'm just the guy to do it). If you haven't read yesterday's blog, I suggest you do so before reading further.

They say that you're a runaround lover
Though you say it isn't so
But if you put me down for another
I'll know, believe me, I'll know
My friends say you're a slut, you say you're not.
Either way, I'll find out the truth, biatch.

'cause the night has a thousand eyes
And a thousand eyes can't help but see if you are true to me
So remember when you tell those little white lies
That the night has a thousand eyes
Basically I don't trust you so watch out or you may end up on an episode of Cheaters.

We interrupt this blog to bring you a Mr. Mike Fun Fact:
The Night Has A Thousand Eyes is a poem written by British poet Francis William Bourdillon in the late 19th Century:

The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying of the sun.

The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one;
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.

And now back to our blog:

You say that you're at home when you phone me
And how much you really care
Though you keep telling me that you're lonely
I'll know if someone is there
Maybe it's the connection, but it sounds like you're breathing heavy; is everything OK, honey? Oh God, don't tell me you're bumping uglies with another guy while we're talking on the phone!

One of these days you're gonna be sorry
'cause your game I'm gonna play
I'm going to sleep with your best friend

And you'll find out without really tryin'
Each time that my kisses stray
Hell, I'm going to sleep with all your friends

'cause the night has a thousand eyes
And a thousand eyes will see me too
And no matter what I do
I could never disguise all my little white lies
'cause the night has a thousand eyes
I'll make sure you know I'm sleeping with all your friends (and really, there's no point in trying to hide it because you'll find out eventually).

So remember when you tell those little white lies
That the night has a thousand eyes
Look, you're a slut, I'm a male whore, there's no use denying it; we belong together.

Bobby Vee Fun Fact: In February 1959, a band comprised of 15 year-old Bobby and some fellow Fargo North Dakota high school students filled in for Buddy Holly at the Moorhead, Minnesota stop of the Winter Dance Party Rock and Roll Tour. Buddy, of course, wasn't there because he (along with Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson) had just died in a plane crash. Despite the circumstances, the performance was a success and launched Bobby's career.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Speedos, Hondas, and Girls in Bikinis

The Night Has A Thousand Eyes

Today we're featuring yet another early 1960's music video. This one is courtesy of American pop singer Bobby Vee. The song itself is a snappy little tune that reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1963. The video is so kitschy and campy it falls in the category of "so bad it's good".

There are just so many wonderfully bizarre images in this video, I don't know where to start:

Guys in speedos and short-shorts riding Hondas.

The girl in the leopard one piece doing leg lifts while sitting on the motor bike.

The blatantly fake beach set (look closely and you can see the night sky is really a painted wall).

The disembodied, flailing legs.

The wild dance moves.

The girl draped in vines dancing on the rock.

The fact that the guy's blue speedo is skimpier than any of the beach babes' bikinis.

The girls shimmying and shaking while simultaneously bent over the Honda.

The occasional close-ups of the girls shaking their breasts (I mean dancing).

You know, that guy in the blue speedo really bugs me - especially the way he dances. On the other hand, I really dig the chick in the plaid bikini.

At around the 2:00 mark did you see Speedo Boy doing a handstand so he could check out Zebra-Stripe Bikini Girl's crotch?

Is it just me or is the video's opening and closing scenes (with the three bathing suit wearing guys riding their Hondas in formation) vaguely reminiscent of soft-core gay porn? Not that I've ever seen soft-core gay porn, but it's how I imagine it to be. Not that I spend much time imagining gay porn - uh never mind, let's drop the whole gay porn thing, shall we?

Apparently girls really dig Hondas. Maybe if I drove a Honda Super Cub when I was a teenager I would have had more luck with perky beach babes. I wonder if Kim would let me get one now?

Who says the early 60's were so innocent?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Down Doobie Doo Down Down, Comma Comma...

Although I'm no expert in the history of modern music, I'd bet a pair of blue suede shoes that you could draw a direct line from 1960's Pop Idol Neil Sedaka to 21st Century Rapper Eminem. I base this on the belief that the present is inexorably influenced by what came before it. Look - they're both songwriter/performers who sing songs about their girlfriends. Isn't that proof enough?

Anyway, for those of you who do not know, Neil Sedaka (who celebrates his 70th birthday on March 13th) is a Brooklyn-born pop singer, songwriter and pianist who had a string of top 10 hits in the late 50's and early 60's. As with many American pop stars of the era, he was a casualty of the British Invasion. In addition to the songs he wrote for himself, he penned hits for Connie Francis, The Monkees, The 5th Dimension, Frankie Valli, The Carpenters and Elvis. He had a resurgence in the mid-70's with two #1 hits (Laughter in the Rain and Bad Blood) and he wrote the Captain and Tennille's # 1 hit Love Will Keep Us Together. He continues to write, record and perform and he appeared as a celebrity judge during American Idol's second season.

Why am I writing about Neil Sedaka? Well, I happened to have come across a wonderfully kitschy video of his 1960 hit Calendar Girl and I couldn't resist sharing it. The timing seems to be slightly out of synch, but you can still enjoy the video in all it's technicolor wonder. At 2:20 is it just me or is Neil looking up the skirt of the girl dancing on his piano?

Neil's got some pretty cool dance moves, doesn't he?

More Sedaka goodness - his 1962 # 1 hit Breaking Up Is Hard To Do (in 1976 he recorded a slower-tempo version that reached #8 making him the second artist to reach the Billboard Top 10 twice with different versions of the same song).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day, 1961

Here's a brief clip from JFK's 1961 Inaugural Address highlighting one of the most quoted lines in history.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bob May, R.I.P.

Yet another death in the world of Pop Culture. Bob May, the actor best known for his portrayal of the Robot on Lost in Space, died yesterday at the age of 69. May had a long career as a stunt man and actor in movies and television, but "Danger Will Robinson!" will always be his most famous line.

Here's a short, clip from the 1990's featuring May and his Lost in Space co-star Billy Mumy that includes some on the set home movies of May getting into his Robot suit.

BTW - I learned of Bob May's death through an email from my wife. She also reminded me that she is now up two to one in our morbid, but not as uncommon as one might think, game of "Spot the Dead Celebrity".

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Oh the weather outside is frightful..."

But today's birthday girl, actress Josie Davis, is so delightful...

As I write these words it's -7 degrees F outside! What the f@#k happened to Global Warming? Anyway, it's too cold to be creative so I thought I'd share some pics of little Sarah from Charles in Charge all grown up.....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ricardo Montalban, R.I.P.

As I was driving home from work last night, She Who Must Be Obeyed called to inform me of the passing of Ricardo Montalban (being the competitive people we are, my wife and I try to be the first to notify the other whenever a famous person dies). Today there are tributes all over the blogosphere. By all accounts he was as classy in real life as he appeared in his numerous film and television appearances.

There's nothing new I can add, but I'll admit I hadn't realized the extent of his television presence. In addition to a film career that spanned seven decades, Montalban was active on the small screen for more than half a century. Beginning with a role on General Electric Theater in 1956, the list of shows he appeared on are a catalogue of classic television and include Wagon Train, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Star Trek, Ironside, Gunsmoke, Here's Lucy, Columbo, Fantasy Island, Dynasty and Murder, She Wrote. His final appearance was the voice of a genetically enhanced cow in a 2008 episode of Family Guy.

As spokesman for the Chrysler Cordoba, Montalban starred in a much-parodied 1975 commercial that is remembered more than 30 years later. Click on the video below to experience the "soft Corinthian leather" once more.

His most famous role was that of the mysterious Mr. Roarke on the Fantasy Island. Here's a clip of the first four minutes of a third season episode. Skip ahead to the 3:45 mark to hear him intone his famous greeting "Welcome to Fantasy Island".

My final tribute to Ricardo is the trailer for 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Watch as he and Bill Shatner take turns chewing up the scenery:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Number Six, R.I.P.

I just learned of the death of Patrick McGoohan. Not only did he co-create and star in one of my all-time favorite TV shows, The Prisoner, he had the further distinction of starring in a show with one of the snappiest theme songs of the 1960's - Secret Agent (aka Danger Man). Don't believe me? Check out the clip below to see Johnny Rivers performing his 1966 hit:

Some Patrick McGoohan Fun Facts:

He was born in Astoria, Queens, NY to Irish Immigrant parents. Soon after his birth they moved back to the Ireland and eventually England.

Following his success as secret agent John Drake in Danger Man, he was offered the role of James Bond in Dr. No. He turned it down, Sean Connery was eventually chosen and the rest is history.

He was also offered the role of Simon Templar in the television version of The Saint. He turned that down as well and the role went to another Bond, Roger Moore).

He starred as the title character in the 1963 Walt Disney miniseries, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh.

He is one of the stars of 1968's Ice Station Zebra, purportedly Howard Hughes' favorite movie.

Not only did he star as Number Six in The Prisoner, he produced the series and wrote and directed several episodes.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Happy Birthday, Booksteve

If you haven't been there, check out Booksteve's Library (even if you have been there, go back again). It's a virtual compendium of pop culture goodness. Steve is a bigger pack rat than yours truly (and that's saying something) and he's been kind enough to share his stuff with us for the past few years. While you're there, wish him a Happy Five-O!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Batman, Bradys, Simpsons and Sopranos; 2009 Anniversaries

Looking forward to looking backward...

One of my least admirable characteristics is my lack of patience (go ahead and ask my wife, I'm sure she'll agree). Proof is today's blog. Here are some of the Pop Cultural Anniversaries I'm looking forward to over the next 12 months.

January - 10th Anniversary of The Sopranos. Has it really been a decade? I can remember watching the first episode as if it were yesterday (OK- maybe the day before yesterday, but you get the point). Who'd have thought that Mafia families were as dysfunctional as the rest of us?

February - 50th Anniversary of "The Day the Music Died" - the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson). I previously wrote about it here.

March - 50th Anniversary of Some Like It Hot. Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon star in Billy Wilder's cross-dressing comedy. It has one of the greatest closing lines in the history of movies (go ahead and check, I'll wait).

April - 25th Anniversary of the death of the great Marvin Gaye.

May - Everyone's favorite anthropomorphic undersea life-form, SpongeBob SquarePants, turns ten.

June - The Caped Crusader, Batman, turns 70. You may have heard of him...

July - 4oth Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing (or is it?).

August -

4oth Anniversary of Woodstock - three days of peace, love and music, four decades of acid trips.

70th Anniversary of the equally trippy Wizard of Oz.

September - 40th Anniversary of The Brady Bunch. In one of those bizarre moments of mnemonic clarity - I can distinctly remember the first time I watched this show with my Mom way back in 1969. I was a wee lad of 8. The crush on Marcia would come later.

October -

5oth Anniversary of the Twilight Zone. Having spent much of the New Year's holiday watching SciFi Channel's TZ Marathon, I newly in awe of Rod Serling's masterpiece.

40th Anniversary of the Miracle Mets. Yankee fan though I am, I give props where they're due.

November - I'll think of something...

December - 20th Anniversary of The Simpsons. Originally a series of animated shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, two decades and 24 Emmy Awards later it's the longest-running American sitcom, longest-running American animated show and tied with Gunsmoke as the longest- running American prime time television program. Not bad for a dysfunctional yellow family.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

May You Always

Harry Harrison was a popular disc jockey in the New York Metropolitan area for almost fifty years. He began his career in Chicago and moved to New York in the late 1950's where he became the mid-morning man at WMCA-AM. He moved to WABC-AM in 1968 and WCBS-FM in 1970, where he remained until the station switched formats in 2003. While at WMCA he recorded May You Always - a holiday greeting to his listeners. It soon became a much-requested holiday tradtion and was a fixture in New York radio for decades. Yes, it's overly sentimental and shmaltzy, but those are not necessarily bad things and it seems like a nice way to start off 2009.

First, Harry's original recording courtesy of YouTube:

Here are the words to the version Harry played while at WCBS-FM. You'll notice a few changes (Sweepstakes became Lottery and the verse about lighting the wrong end of a cigarette was removed completely).

May You Always

As the holiday bells ring out the old year, and sweethearts kiss,
And cold hands touch and warm each other against the year ahead
May I wish you not the biggest and best of life,
But the small pleasures that make living worthwhile.

Sometime during the new year, to keep your heart in practice,
May you do someone a secret good deed and not get caught at it
May you find a little island of time to read that book and write that letter
And to visit that lonely friend on the other side of town

May your next do-it-yourself project not look like you did it yourself
May the poor relatives you helped support remember you when they win the lottery
May your best card tricks win admiring gasps and your worst puns, admiring groans
May all those who told you so, refrain from saying “I told you so.”

May all the predictions you’ve made for your firstborn’s future come true
May just half of those optimistic predictions that your high school annual made for you come true
In a time of sink or swim, may you find that you can walk to shore before you call the lifeguard
May you keep at least one ideal you can pass along to your kids.

For a change, some rainy day, when you're a few minutes late
May your train or bus be waiting for you
May you accidentally overhear someone saying something nice about you
If you run into an old school chum
May you both remember each other’s names for introductions
If you order your steak medium rare, may it be so
And if you’re on a diet
May someone tell you “You’ve lost a little weight,” without knowing you’re on a diet.

May that long and lonely night be brightened by the telephone call that you’ve been waiting for
When you reach into the coin slot, may you find the coin that you lost on your last wrong number
When you trip and fall, may there be no one watching to laugh at you or feel sorry for you

And sometime soon may you be waved to by a celebrity
Wagged at by a puppy
Run to by a happy child
And counted on by someone you love
More than this, no one can wish you.