The Hollywood Park racetrack — which is not and never was anywhere near Hollywood — will be closing forever shortly before Christmas. They'll tear it down and build condos and retail stores and other things on which people can lose money. It was a pretty old, shabby place in Inglewood that I gather will not be too missed. Horse Racing ain't what it used to be and Santa Anita Racetrack, which is still up and running 'em, is only about 30 miles away.
Hollywood Park was opened in 1938 by a bevy of stars and movie studio execs. Jack L. Warner was the first chairman and then Mervyn LeRoy took over and presided for the next 45 years. Al Jolson and Raoul Walsh were on the original board of directors and shareholders included Joan Blondell, Ronald Colman, Walt Disney, Bing Crosby, Sam Goldwyn, Darryl Zanuck, George Jessel, Ralph Bellamy, Hal Wallis, Anatole Litvak, Hunt Stromberg, Wallace Beery and Irene Dunne. I don't think a lot of movie people have frequented the place since most of those folks passed away.
One who frequented the track for a long time was Joe Frisco, a now forgotten stuttering comedian who was cast in a lot of movies because he was funny in front of the camera and even funnier off-camera. Denizens of Show Business loved having Frisco around for the anecdotes that resulted. He was always broke and always complaining in a hilarious (albeit, stammered) manner. One time at Hollywood Park, Bing Crosby was holding court with friends in a private box and Frisco wandered by and borrowed $100 which Bing figured he'd never see again.
A few races later, someone told Bing that Frisco had bet on a big longshot that had come in and had made a fortune. Mostly for amusement, Crosby told his pals, "I'm going to see if I can get my hundred back." He went into the clubhouse and found Frisco, who could never hold onto money long, buying drinks for everyone. He tapped his debtor on the shoulder and said, "Hey, what about the hundred, pal?" Nonchalantly, Mr. Frisco pulled out a C-note, waved it in Crosby's direction and said, "N-n-n-not so f-f-fast, B-B-Bing. F-first, give us a ch-ch-ch-chorus of 'W-W-W-White Christmas!'"
I have been to Hollywood Park, most recently when I was twelve. My Uncle Nathan never married and seemed more interested in horse racing than in women. And isn't that a premise for an entire Alan King monologue? Depending on the season, you'd find my uncle on the weekends at either Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, or down south at Del Mar.
One Saturday, he took me with him to Hollywood Park. On our way in, we passed through a mob of vendors selling mimeographed tip sheets. My uncle purchased certain ones he believed to be of help and also bought a copy of that day's special Hollywood Park edition of a local newspaper that existed then, the Herald-Examiner. Inside, it was the regular Herald-Examiner for that date but wrapped around it was a special four-page section containing horse tips and articles for that day's races.
Once inside, we hunkered down in two seats with no one near us and he studied all this paperwork, made notes, did math, etc. I think we'd missed the first two races but he placed a $20 wager — not a small amount of money then or for a guy with his income — on a certain horse running in the third. He told me to pick a horse, any horse, and he'd place a two-dollar bet on it for me.
Well, what did I know from horse racing? The only horse in the whole world I really liked was Quick Draw McGraw and he wasn't running. But I scanned all the papers Uncle Nathan had accrued and decided arbitrarily to go with the tips of one particular columnist in the Herald-Examiner. But I didn't tell Uncle Nathan that's what I was doing. I made like I'd invented some sort of system and that I'd studied all the stats before making my selection.
He placed the bet on my behalf…and you can guess how it went. My horse won. His horse lost.
The next race went exactly the same way. I pretended, like some handicapper savant, I had a formula for picking a horse…but really all I was doing was following the advice of this one guy in the Herald-Examiner. My uncle bet two bucks on that horse for me and another twenty bucks on the horse he'd figured would win. And of course, I won and he lost.
The fifth race went the same way and so did the sixth. My uncle, the expert horse player, was losing. The kid who'd never been to a racetrack before was winning…but really, the guy in the Herald-Examiner was winning. Still, despite the fact that I was making nothing but money, I couldn't conceal from Uncle Nathan that I found the whole experience utterly boring. The races themselves were kind of interesting but the periods between them each seemed to go on for hours. There was nothing to do but study for the next race, place bets and eat hot dogs. I had enough hot dogs that day to last me well into the Nixon Administration. If I'd cut myself, I would have bled French's Mustard.
Uncle Nathan decided we'd leave after the seventh race and by then, he couldn't resist discarding decades of horse-betting experience and putting it all on one of his nephew's (so far) infallible hunches. His own methods told him to pick Horse "A." I, consulting my source, picked Horse "B." He put nothing on "A" and a big bet — I think it was a hundred dollars — on Horse "B." The odds were such that if "B" won, Uncle Nathan would leave well ahead for the day.
And of course, you can guess how this one went. "A" finished first. "B" should be crossing the finish line right about now.
I felt bad for him and on the way out, I told him how I'd picked all those winners. He was a good sport about it. He'd lost about $250 total — that was probably close to a week's pay for him then — and I'd made about $40…or as I figured things in those days, 333 comic books off the rack or 960 at the second-hand bookstore. He did say to me, "Maybe I ought to pay more attention to that guy in the Herald-Examiner." After the following week's sojourn to Hollywood Park, he told me he'd consulted that pony-picker and had more than won back all he'd lost on our outing.
Maybe that's true. Who knows? It sounds like the kind of thing you'd say to your nephew to make him feel good…and Uncle Nathan would do anything to make me feel good. He had trouble showing affection so he did it via gifts. My father (his brother) and my mother told me how proud he was of my career but he never really said a word of it to me.
When he died in 1994, he was residing in a small apartment about eight blocks from my house. He lived alone, as he lived his entire adulthood, and one of the few friends he had, who also lived in the building, found him dead on his bathroom floor. He was 82.
It fell to me to be in charge of Uncle Nathan's funeral and his affairs and belongings…and my mother and I, together, cleaned out that apartment. We found a whole shelf full of comic books I'd written — I'm not sure where he got them — and tattered news clippings that mentioned my name, mostly in connection with TV work. We found a letter he'd written to an acquaintance in another state that had been returned to him because the acquaintance had just passed away. It was all about how his nephews Mark and David were doing so well as professional writers. My Cousin David was the son of another of Nathan's brothers and there were copies of his books next to my comics.
We also found a ton of horse racing forms and tip sheets and little toys that would randomly pick a "sure winner" for you. It all prompted me to tell my mother the story of that day at Hollywood Park. Uncle Nathan had asked me to keep the story of our wagering "our little secret" and at the time, I did. My mother laughed when she heard it then said, "Now I understand why he asked us every week for years after that, 'Do you think Mark would like to go to the races with me again?'" Maybe he liked being around me but maybe some of it was that I'd picked four winners out of five that day.
Here, in keeping with the holiday spirit, is a Christmas-themed TV show featuring the one dramatic role Harpo Marx ever played before cameras. It's the December 22, 1960 episode of The DuPont Show with June Allyson, an anthology series that featured a wide array of stories and specials. Harpo, who many folks thought was actually a deaf mute, plays a deaf mute. Reportedly, the child in the opening scene — the first one to notice the dead man — is Harpo's son, Bill.
I can't recall if I mentioned it before or not but there's a great DVD set coming out shortly of all the odd appearances that the Marx Brothers made on television. There were not only more than you thought, they came up with some that I, an alleged expert on the brothers, didn't know about. In fact, they have so many that it may turn out to be two boxed sets if the first sells as per expectations. Last I heard, this was not on the one that will be announced any week now…
Broadway shows do eight performances a week, right? Well, usually…but Christmas week is different. Here's the schedule for next week. A few shows are doing less than eight. Billy Crystal — who, let's remember, does a one-man show and can't exactly put on an understudy — is doing eight. But most shows are doing ten, a few like Kinky Boots and Wicked are doing eleven…and Spider-Man is doing twelve. In fact, they're doing ten in five days!
Now, I believe that show has a bunch of different actors playing the characters who have big stunt scenes…but it's got to be a pretty strenuous week for those who can't be swapped out. And it's worse that that. That schedule I linked to only goes from Monday, December 23 through Sunday, December 29. They have one show tonight, one show tomorrow night, one show on Friday, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. Then we get to that week of twelve shows and it doesn't stop there.
Here's the schedule for the following week. Now, it's not totally accurate for Spider-Man because it lists two performances on January 5 and the show is closing on January 4. But in the other six days of that week, they have nine performances. So in the remaining eighteen days before the show ends, there will be twenty-eight performances and zero days off!
It's not enough that some cast members have had to worry about dropping from great heights. Now, they all have to worry about dropping, period. I hope they're being paid well for the extra hours.
Reportedly, tickets are selling well…although the page for the TKTS booth does list discounted tickets available at the moment. A glance at the Ticketmaster site suggests both performances on Christmas Day and New Years' Day are sold out and it says "few remaining" for one of the two performances on January 4, which is the date the show closes. Actors always wonder what they're going to do when their show closes. I think we know what these actors are going to do: Sleep 'til Groundhog Day.
(P.S. Before this version of the show goes away forever, you might want to download this PDF, which is the Study Guide.)
And in case you're interested, as of this moment there are 19,500 separate posts on this blog. At least 400 of them have nothing to do with Jack Kirby, Health Care Reform, Five Guys hamburgers, Laurel and Hardy, Creamy Tomato Soup, late night TV, my family, animals in my backyard, famous people who've died or the evils of cole slaw and/or candy corn. Stay tuned for the next 19,500. And thank you for following this site. It would be no fun to do this if no one read it.
I just read this online…
Harold Camping, the California preacher who used his evangelical radio ministry and thousands of billboards to broadcast the end of the world and then gave up public prophecy when his date-specific doomsdays did not come to pass, has died at age 92.
Camping's most widely spread prediction was that the Rapture would happen on May 21, 2011. His independent Christian media empire spent millions of dollars — some of it from donations made by followers who quit their jobs and sold all their possessions — to spread the word on more than 5,000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the Judgment Day message.
When the Judgment Day he foresaw did not materialize, the preacher revised his prophecy, saying he had been off by five months. The preacher, who suffered a stroke three weeks after the May prediction failed, said the light dawned on him that instead of the biblical Rapture in which the faithful would be swept up to the heavens, the date had instead been a "spiritual" Judgment Day, which placed the entire world under Christ's judgment.
But after the cataclysmic event did not occur in October either, Camping acknowledged his apocalyptic prophecy had been wrong and posted a letter on his ministry's site telling his followers he had no evidence the world would end anytime soon, and wasn't interested in considering future dates.
"We realize that many people are hoping they will know the date of Christ's return," Camping wrote in March 2012. "We humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing."
You know, I'm sure Mr. Camping did a lot of good for people during his life. I'm sure he also lived very well off donations. And I'm sure that selling people on this end-of-the-world nonsense did more damage than an awful lot of the evils he preached against.
I'm well aware of the values of most religious teachings but when you're trying to convince people that you have a direct pipeline to God, you're not much different from Sylvia Browne, telling people that she can put them in touch with dead relatives…and all it will cost is your common sense and most of your money. Atheism is on the rise in this country and I don't think it's because of people like Harold Camping. The people who followed him will always follow someone like that.
But religious folks who have a little healthy skepticism left look at a man like Camping…and then they look at their own religious leaders. A friend of mine named Cindy left her church because the officials there took a kind of "no comment" approach to Camping's tales of the impending Rapture. They didn't want to criticize him…and to Cindy, it looked a lot like a matter of professional courtesy. She didn't see enough difference between them and him to have any faith in that church.
J. Bates wrote, "You mentioned seeing Jerry Lewis in Damn Yankees his first night. I remember you writing about this before but I can't find it on your blog."
Yeah, I think I did tell this story before on this site but I can't find where. What happened was that a friend of mine who was in another Broadway show at the time phoned me and said, "Hey, we just heard that Jerry Lewis is going into the production of Damn Yankees that's playing down the street." And she gave me the date of his first performance.
This was several months before that date but good tickets were on sale for that night…so on a whim and with no plans at all to be in New York then, I called up and bought two great seats. Later that day, I mentioned it to my friend Paul Dini and he said, "I want the other one!" I said, "It's yours," and then we did nothing for a month or two towards getting our butts back east to sit in those seats at the appropriate moment.
Then one day, I got a call from a fellow who was running a comic convention in New York. He wanted Sergio Aragonés and Yours Truly as guests and he was willing to pay airfare and lodging…and guess what! The dates coincided with Jer's debut in Damn Yankees. I accepted on behalf of Sergio and myself and then said to the con promoter, "Hey, how would you like Paul Dini as a guest? I might be able to talk him into it."
He said that would be great so I called Paul and told him, "Okay, I've arranged for us to get to New York to see Jerry and someone else is paying for the plane tickets and the hotel." Paul liked that a lot. Sergio also liked the arrangements and he wound up getting his own ticket to see Damn Yankees that same evening.
And if that all sounds like it's too convenient, consider this: Without me suggesting it, the convention promoter put all three of us up at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. Damn Yankees was playing at the Marquis Theater, which is located inside the friggin' Marriott Marquis! We didn't even have to go out in the snow to get to the play.
Sometimes, life is just so neat and tidy.
Anyway, we all went to see Jerry and here's what I wrote that evening…
It's 11:30 here in New York and I just had the kind of evening that theater-goers crave…that all-too-occasional high that pays us back for all the evenings we trudged to some play or musical and came out humming the cost of the tickets. I just saw the first public "preview" performance of Jerry Lewis as The Devil in the revived revival of Damn Yankees and the most cogent review I can give it is to say that a houseful of people at the Marquis Theater sat (and occasionally stood) and loved every moment that transpired on that stage.
I can see where a few folks might not: If the Lewis repertoire bores you and/or you have no respect for all the history that brought him to the stage of the Marquis tonight, you might not be as enchanted as the Jerry Lewis fans collected there tonight. At the umpteenth curtain call, one woman sang out from the balcony, "We love you, Jerry," thereby acting as spokesperson for All Present.
In the weeks to come, he will doubtlessly face houses that aren't as chock full of his fans as was tonight's. I doubt though that they will be disappointed: This was an excellent show before him and most of that remains intact. Director/Updater Jack O'Brian modernized everything about the fifties' Broadway classic (book by George Abbott and Douglas Wallop, songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross), almost all of it for the better.
Further modifications have been made to accommodate Mr. Lewis, mostly adding a few more touches of physical comedy…but there are also a few dialogue references. When Applegate (aka Satan) disguises himself as a Fire Marshall and tells Meg Boyd that she is not allowed to take in boarders, he momentarily turns into the Lewis of old saying, "What do you think you're doing, LAY-DEEEE?"
The first scene of Act Two involves a charity benefit and Applegate now announces that he hates people who do shows for charity. Lewis's solo — "Those Were the Good Old Days" — interpolates a snatch of Jerry's old cane routine. And throughout, Old Scratch lapses into not-unfamiliar Jerry Lewis takes and body language. A purist might argue that Jerry is tagging the Fourth Wall too many times…but then a purist shouldn't be walking in under a marquee that says, "Jerry Lewis — DAMN YANKEES."
Personally, I think someone deserves the Tony for financial brilliance: With Jerry having ascended to Legend status, It was a perfect time for him to make his Broadway debut. This show is broad enough to accommodate his style…and the role of Applegate is just large enough to befit a star without him having to carry the show. Charlotte d'Amboise is sparkling/sexy as Lola, Jarrod Emick is forceful and funny as Joe Hardy…and everyone else in the cast is uniformly excellent. They're supposed to start a multi-city tour later this year. I imagine it'll last as long as Lewis wants it to last. This is a perfect show to educate folks who don't understand how wonderful a live musical comedy can be.
Jerry got an ovation on his entrance — a welcome to Broadway — that probably surprised even him in its power and duration. From that moment on, he could do no wrong. If you go see this show, neither can you.
I actually went back some time later and saw it again…and was a bit less tolerant of Jerry turning it into The Jerry Lewis Show. But I still think it was a great move on the part of the producers. They advertised Jerry Lewis. They packed the crowds in. They gave them Jerry Lewis. And since the Devil isn't in most of Damn Yankees, most of Damn Yankees remained relatively intact.
By the way: The night after Paul and I saw the show, we went out to dinner with a friend of mine, George Caragonne. George was a comic book writer who was then working for Penthouse. A few months later, George was fired from his position for alleged financial improprieties and he went up to the 45th floor of the Marriott Marquis, which has an internal atrium so from every floor, you can look down at the lobby below. When he got to the top, he put on a Walkman, started playing a tape of music from James Bond films..and jumped.
Sometimes, life is just so messy and horrible.
Richard Wiseman makes interesting videos for a project he calls "Quirkology." But in this one, he introduces something some friends of his made. Give it a look…
- For all you kids watching at home, Megyn Kelly just is white and she is what she is.
DC Comics has announced that they have acquired the original art to that Superman story that Al Plastino drew about President Kennedy's physical fitness program. They will be donating it to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA.
As you probably remember, when the story was first published in 1964, it was announced that the art would be donated to an appropriate venue and that was not done. It wound up in the hands of some private collector and was resold at least once before turning up in a recent auction. When Mr. Plastino passed away recently, he was fighting to stop the sale. The folks at DC have done the right and proper thing to bring this matter to a close and to honor a promise made to one of their most prolific contributors.
I almost hate to bring this up but that story had a writer and that writer's work is also being donated and presumably put on display. The writer was apparently Bill Finger, who's regarded by many as a co-creator of Batman and other iconic characters associated with Batman. The current management of DC cannot put a credit for Finger on Batman comics or movies due to a contract made long ago with the other co-creator. It would be nice if Mr. Finger wasn't forgotten on this achievement, as well.
- Santa isn't white and Santa isn't black. Santa is whatever a small child wants to believe he is. Shame on all who try to own him.
I mentioned the musical Mame here the other day. Here from a BBC concert of Broadway music is that killer title song as performed by a superb orchestra and chorus under the baton of John Wilson, who was obviously the winner of a Stephen Colbert look-alike contest. The performer near the end who looks a lot like Seth MacFarlane is Seth MacFarlane.
One point of amusement. Everyone in the chorus is reading from pages with the lyrics on them except for one guy who has a brief solo. And of course, the one guy who doesn't have the lyrics in front of him gets the words wrong…
Just looked at the weather forecast for the Los Angeles area. There's a slight chance of a little rain on Thursday morning and then a person at the National Weather Service wrote…
A quick look at the ten day models show no rain through the 26th but no wise man ever truly believes the day 8-10 forecast.
That's true. Which makes you wonder why they even put out a ten-day forecast and don't just make it seven.
If you're checking here for obits and anecdotes about Peter O'Toole, Joan Fontaine, Tom Laughlin or any of the show biz celebs who died in the last few days, sorry. Didn't know any of them. Have little to say about any of them…though it's tempting to write about some of Mr. Laughlin's tirades against film critics and also the studio that released his best-known film, Billy Jack. The film was a modest success but Laughlin managed to wrest control of it away from Warner Brothers and he got it re-released with ads that touted it as "One of the most popular motion pictures of all time." It wasn't when he started saying it but his blitzkrieg pretty much made it true. He took some of the money he made from it and bought full-page ads in newspapers to lambaste film reviewers from not recognizing its and his greatness. It seemed in keeping with the movie's schizophrenia. It's been a long time since I saw it but I recall Billy Jack preaching pacifism while karate-chopping people.
My knees seem to be getting better, thank you. Every once in a while, one or the other decides to ache like crazy for twenty minutes, then it reverts to just feeling a bit odd. I can't find any reason why the pains start or stop. I just hope the overall improvement of the left one continues and doesn't stop when the cortisone shot wear off in a week or so.
Last night, I was sitting here at my computer about 3 AM finishing a had-to-be-in-before-I-slept assignment and I suddenly heard an awful car crash outside. In fact, it sounded like several crashes. I couldn't see anything out the window but I grabbed up my iPhone, my house keys and a big flashlight and ran outside…in time to see two cars way, way down the block that had obviously been involved. They both revved up and drove off. A motorist pulled over and said in an amazed voice, "Did you see that?" I told him, "No, but I heard it. What happened?" He said, "Those two guys were driving around, crashing into each other. It was like a game of some sort!"
The driver said he'd phoned 911 and reported it, then asked me if I'd seen which way they went. I said, "Yeah, north!" He said, "Well then, I'm going south!" And he drove off that way and I went in and went back to my script. I'd love to know what that was all about but doubt I ever will.
While Fox News is lecturing people that it's anti-Christian for one person somewhere in America to not be allowed to put up a nativity scene on government property, Andrew Sullivan thinks that channel is getting somewhat anti-Christian itself. That's what happens when they take on the Pope…