Thursday, December 31, 2009

R.I.P. in 2009: 70s, 80s, etc.

Among those we lost who came to boomer fame in the 70s and 80s: Farrah Fawcett, Ricardo Montaban, Michael Jackson, director John Hughes (The Breakfast Club--shown here, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, etc.), writer Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H on TV) and Bea Arthur ("Golden Girls.")

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

R.I.P. in 2009: the 60s

Among those we lost in 2009 who came to boomer fame in the 60s: actor James Whitmore ("The Law and Mr. Jones" and the 50s' Them!); singer Gordon Waller of Peter & Gordon; actor Patrick McGoohan (TV's "The Prisoner") singer Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary; singer Koko Taylor; TV news icon Walter Cronkite; dancer Merce Cunningham; actor Wendy Richard (Gumshoe and "The EastEnders") impressario Allen Klein (with the Beatles); Ed McMahon (with Johnny Carson.) Not pictured: Robert MacNamara, Senator Edward Kennedy and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who all first became prominent during the JFK administration. (That shot of Cronkite shows him announcing the death of JFK.) Also not pictured: Henry Gibson ("Laugh-In")

R.I.P. in 2009: the 50s

Among those we lost in 2009 who came to boomer fame in the 50s: TV's Soupy Sales, Betsy Blair in her most famous performance in the Paddy Chayefsky Best Picture of 1955, Marty; Richard Todd, Disney's Robin Hood; TV's Gale Storm ("My Little Margie"); actor Gene Barry (War of the Worlds, TV's Bat Masterson); director Budd Shulberg and actor Karl Malden, from the classic On the Waterfront; guitar innovator Les Paul (that's one of his guitars); early 50s TV comic actor Arnold Stang.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Frosty in the 50s

Frosty the Snowman became a Christmas icon in the 1950s, so my early boomer generation was the first to have him in our childhoods. The song was first recorded by Gene Autry in 1950, and was done many times afterwards by just about everyone--I recall the Burl Ives version and the 1957 Perry Como, which got on the hit record charts. Frosty and his song have also appeared in several TV versions, but this one--permanently archived at station WJAC in Johnstown, PA--is the one my generation probably saw. (Although only a little of it looks familiar, I know I must have seen it, because WJAC broadcast it a lot, and that was one of the few TV stations we always got.)
I was reminded of all this when my partner Margaret played Frosty for a Christmas pageant at the local Friends Meeting. She kept going over her few lines, which are easier to sing than to say, and hearing them, I remembered how sort of spooky this song was. The story, after all, is about a snowman who magically comes to life, leads children in having fun in the snow, but has to hurry before he melts away. It was an early grappling with the idea and the emotions of death. It all came back again during Margaret's performance--it was a rag-tag event, but her last line, "Don't you cry--I'll be back again some day"--was so plaintive, that it took me back to that intimation of the mystery of not only people dying, but of absense and return. But most powerful tales told to children are like that, despite all the frosting we pile on to try to smother them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sesame Street!

Forty years ago today--on November 10, 1969--the first episode of Sesame Street was broadcast. Late boomers were the first generation to grow up with this show, and it is not only an American classic, but still helping new generations learn to read and to get along.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Soupy Sales RIP

Saturday lunch was never the same without White Fang, Black Tooth and Soupy Sales, who died last week at age 83.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Electric Memories

There's a new Electric Company now, but the original is worth remembering and seeing again on DVD. See post below.

Hey, You Guys!

Boomers who were kids in the early 70s probably remember The Electric Company best, and may even have learned to read watching it. Despite the fact that I was already out of college by then, I loved this show! And a couple of Best of the Electric Company DVDs I recently rented reminded me why.

What The Electric Company was doing--as original cast member Rita Moreno explains on one of these disks--was essentially vaudeville sketch comedy. This was about the last period in TV that the vaudeville tradition--essential to TV comedy from the start--was still alive. Even Moreno's signature "Hey, you guys!" cry came from Abbott and Costello, one of the great vaudeville-style comedy teams. Vaudeville also meant particular styles of song and dance, and there are several examples of that on these disks, too.

Some of the last great sketch shows were on the air then, so those skills were still alive. That vaudeville style is what made this show funny, along with more 60s-style parodies, like Rita Moreno doing a send-up of Tina Turner. So funny that I remember I did a review of comedy albums in the early 70s for the Boston Phoenix, and the one I rated as the funniest was...The Electric Company.

At the same time, the show--especially the first year-- was very late 60ish, with all the effects, color, designs, music, fast cuts and even the words. The very talented cast was pointedly multi-racial and the feel was very urban, since minority kids were a big target audience. The cast included Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman (who can forget his Easy Reader song, or his appearances as Dracula?) and a very young Irene Cara as well as Moreno. Another regular was lovely, perky Judy Graubart, a Second City comedy alum. Lots of energy, fun and eye candy, too.

There's a new version on PBS now, but this is the one I love to watch. That it's basically about words is just more magic for me. At the same time, like the best comedy made for kids (from Bugs Bunny through Bullwinkle, etc.) the show never talks down, and there are some pretty funny levels that kids may or may not get but delighted the cast and writers, and perhaps the parents watching with kids, or boomers all these years later...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gumshoe on DVD

Finally on DVD, this gem from 1971. I remember Gumshoe as a 60s style romp with Albert Finney playing another working class hero, alongside his favorite mate as the working class heroine, Billie Whitlaw (most famous as a stage actress in Beckett). (That's not her in the photo, though--that's a nice set piece towards the end with the young Wendy Richard, who has also had a good long career.) But there's some other historical interest here now, in this tale of the Liverpool bingo parlor comic who puts an ad in the paper on a whim to hire himself out as a Bogart-style private eye. It turns out to be the first (or maybe second) feature directed by Stephen Frears, whose had quite a career since (My Beautiful Launderette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, High Fidelity, etc..) I also noticed from the start of watching this again--for the first time since it disappeared from theatres-- that the music was unusually stylish. Turns out the composer was Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Surprised I liked it, actually.) The cinematography--and the print--have held up remarkably well. Sometimes going back to favorite films from the 60s isn't as striking an experience now, but this one holds up--it's a smart delight. It's funny, both in its homage to those Bogart as Philip Marlowe movies, and as a contemporary comedy, but it's got some complexities as well as wit. Check it out.
Update: A sad addendum. The Guardian reports that Wendy Richard, pictured above, just died, after a bout with cancer. She became best known for the British TV series The EastEnders, where she starred for 22 years. Her career was capped by an MBE from the Queen. She was 65.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

R.I.P. 2008: The Final Frontier

Besides Arthur C. Clarke, one of Gene Roddenberry's inspirations in creating Star Trek, the Final Frontier lost other significant people in 2008. Majel Barrett Roddenberry (pictured here in three of her Star Trek roles; she appears on camera or as the voice of the Enterprise computer in every Star Trek series and feature, including the one yet to be released) was a major figure in creating Star Trek and especially keeping it alive. She was kind and generous to fans, and they loved her. Robert Justman (lower left) was Gene R's right hand man in creating the original Star Trek and the Next Generation. Joseph Pevney (center left) was an original series director, and composer Alexander Courage (top right) wrote the famous original series theme. Forrest J. Ackerman (top left) was famous in the sf subculture as a collector, a publisher and a fan over many years. Robert Jastrow (bottom center) was an astronomer and futurist with a cosmic perspective in time and space. Click collage to greatly enlarge. P.S. Neglected to include Ricardo Maltaban, who played Khan in the original series and Star Trek II.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

R.I.P. 2008 (1)

Some of the 50s/60s Boomer heroes and elders we lost in 2008: the incomparable Paul Newman, country singer Eddy Arnold, actress Beverly Garland (the babe in seemingly every monster movie), artist Robert Rauchenberg, chess whiz Bobby Fischer, the unique Bo Diddley, and one of the voices of the boomer generation, George Carlin. click collage to enlarge.

R.I.P. 2008 (2)

More folks we lost in 2008 who boomers will remember: singer-songwriter John Stewart (Kingston Trio, etc.), Isaac Hayes, 60s designer Yves Sant Laurent, Arthur C. Clarke (who gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey), Suzanne Pleschette (a 60s starlet before her TV fame), folk singer Odetta, Charlton Heston, who did some pretty good work as well as his iconic kitch film roles. Click collage to enlarge.

R.I.P 2008 (3)

50s/60s people we lost include: dancer Cyd Charise (seen with Gene Kelley and alone); Harold Pinter, one of the 20th century's great playwrights who dominated the 60s; Mitch Mitchell, drummer for Jimi Hendrix; Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, with the Beatles; Dick Martin (r) on Laugh-In; writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, singer Eartha Kitt. Click collage to greatly enlarge.