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Today's Video Link

Misconceptions from the movies…

Recommended Reading

Fred Kaplan thinks things are not going well in our nation's battle against ISIS. That's not comforting to hear.

Cos

I don't know if I should believe the allegations of rape by Bill Cosby and this posting is not about whether they're true or not. It's about how if even two of those surfaced about most other stars, that other star's career would be kaput, over, bye-bye. But multiple, similar claims against Cosby have been around for years and not only has no one arrested him, I don't think any talk show ever didn't invite him on or mention them.

The Queen Latifah Show apparently just canceled an upcoming Cosby appearance…though I believe the official story is that he asked to postpone. That and some reported cash settlements with accusers seem to be the only damage Mr. Cosby has sustained.

Like you, I love Bill Cosby the Performer and perhaps a little of that love is protecting him. Mostly, I would imagine it's that we've never heard talk of an actual arrest or prosecution. If we hear about the allegations at all — and many people have not — a little part of our brain thinks, "I don't want to believe that about Bill Cosby…so I won't until the cops come for him. If they don't, maybe it's not what they say."

We can all understand why some victims in such a situation would be reticent to push for prosecution. The Cos is a beloved and powerful person. He could easily afford lawyers and detectives who would go through an accuser's past with a microscope. If he were ever to go on trial, a media circus is more than likely with TMZ and other outlets milking it for every drop. It might be very hard to put such a horrendous incident behind you if you became notorious as The Woman Who Accused Bill Cosby.

We don't always treat rape victims well in this society. In the O.J. Simpson case, the prosecutors and investigators had their reputations assaulted, too. Maybe some of them are a little leery of engaging the kind of legal team William Henry "Bill" Cosby could afford.

As you can probably tell, this whole thing bothers me a lot, starting with the fact that if he is guilty, there's a good chance he can get away with it in terms of the law. But I'm also amazed that he's gotten away with it as much as he has in the court of public opinion. Thirteen accusations? My God.

Late-Breaking Freberg News

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The Stan Freberg Tribute is on for this Sunday evening, commencing at 7 PM sharp at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. If you don't have your tickets…well, don't say I didn't warn you. We're sold out.

A lot of folks have written to ask me if they'll be able to get Stan's autograph that evening. We've arranged for Mr. and Mrs. Freberg to be available after the event and they're bringing some books and photos to sell, plus Stan will sign records, posters or any Frebergian memorabilia you care to bring along for the customary price of $25 a signature. There will be a table in the lobby following the big on-stage gala.

Several folks have told me that they're planning to go to the Musso & Frank Grill across the street and have dinner before the show. This will be a good trick since the Musso & Frank Grill is closed on Sunday. May I recommend Miceli's, a fine Italian eatery on Las Palmas near Hollywood Boulevard? And may I recommend that if you've never been to Musso & Frank, you go there some time when it's open? One of my favorite places to dine.

Today's Video Link

I wonder what Cole Porter's reaction would have been if, when he wrote "Anything Goes" in 1934, you'd told him that some day, two guys who I think live on different continents would collaborate via something called "The Internet" to make a video in which each of them took two parts in singing four-part harmony on his song, then recorded imagery with computer graphics and distributed it to the entire world via something called "YouTube." I have a feeling Mr. Porter would have thought there was something way more shocking than a glimpse of stocking…

Twice-Told Tale

It can be dangerous to go see a play written by a friend. Heck, it's scary enough seeing one in which a friend is performing…but at least then if it's an excruciating evening, you can say something like, "You deserve to be in something better." When you know the author…well, what do you say with your mouth when your face is frozen from witnessing the opening number of Springtime for Hitler? You're stuck with ambiguous, faux compliments like…

  • "This is an evening I'll remember for a long time!"
  • "Only you could have come up with something like this!"
  • "That was memorable! Truly memorable!"
  • "I've never seen anything like it before!" (Or if the horror is how much of the play was stolen from real good ones, "It reminded me of so many of the classics!"
  • "This was much, much better than so many things that aren't nearly as good as this!"

Fortunately, I needed not a one of those last night when Carolyn and I went to see A or B, a new comedy having its world premiere at the Falcon Theater out in Burbank. My pal Ken Levine had the decency to write a real good and clever script that held our attention and kept us laughing throughout.

You probably read Ken's fine blog and know his work. If so, you can skip the following paragraphs about who he is, which I stole from an online bio. (If you do read them, pretend they mentioned that Ken's TV work has been done in partnership with another clever gent, this one named David Isaacs)…

Levine's career has spanned over 30 years. He worked as the head writer of M*A*S*H, producer of Cheers, creative consultant of Frasier and Wings, wrote episodes for The Simpsons, The Jeffersons and Becker amongst others. Levine also co-created three of his own series including Almost Perfect starring Nancy Travis. A or B? is Levine's second stage play. His first, Upfronts and Personal received several stage readings in Los Angeles and New York with cast members including Jason Alexander, and Ed Asner.

Within the last 20 years Levine did radio/TV play-by-play for the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, and San Diego Padres, contributed to ESPN and Fox Sports, as well as hosted Dodger Talk for eight years on the Los Angeles Dodgers Radio Network, of which he was twice named Best Sports Talk Host by the Southern California Sportscasters Association. Levine carries an Emmy, two Writers Guild Awards, and Peabody and Humanitas recognition.

So the guy's done something. I suspect you'd know that if you saw A or B? with no clue as to the prior experience of the author. It's really well-crafted and every line is either funny, insightful or — most often — both.

It's about a man and a woman (I told you he was clever) and about the many ways in which their relationship might develop. Initially, she meets him for a job interview but, as so often happens, there's a rumbling of romantic attraction from the get-go. What could result if she doesn't get the position but does wind up sleeping with him? What could happen if she does get hired and the love connection submerges, only to surface later?

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A or B explores many possibilities. Each time the actors play a scene in which "A" happens, it's followed by one in which "B" happens instead. I'll admit to briefly losing score a few times but I never lost my interest in those two people and how their lives evolved.

Ken had a great assist in making that happen. The direction by Andrew Barnicle is sharp and smooth. And the two people are portrayed by two first-rate actors who get every bit of humor and meaning out of every line. The guy is Jason Dechert, who somehow manages to be handsome, smart, naïve, strong, vulnerable, serious and funny, all at the same time. The gal is Jules Willcox, whose energy and personality just sparkle from the first line of the play. She, like Dechert, goes through a rainbow of emotions, often doing a 180° reverse from moment to moment, but still maintaining a human, consistent characterization.

These are not easy roles that Ken has written and he got really, really lucky to find two people who could handle sudden changes that might have given lesser actors a bad case of whiplash. That was another thing that held onto my interest and wouldn't let go from the start until the final curtain. That…and the fact that they're both so adorable that you really feel you're watching a couple and not actors portraying a couple.

Well actually, there was no final curtain because the Falcon doesn't have a curtain…but you know what I mean. If you haven't been there, it's a little jewel box of a theater that I suppose exists because Garry Marshall has just too much money and didn't know what to do with it all. (Ken engages in a shameless bit of product placement: Ms. Willcox's character keeps talking about the movie Pretty Woman, directed by the Falcon's owner. There are also, as on Ken's blog, references to Natalie Wood and to the destructive micro-management practiced by TV networks these days.)

The Falcon is out in Burbank, across the street from the Bob's Big Boy. The play runs through November 16 and there are tickets left but not many. If you know Ken, don't worry. It's safe to go. You'll be able to tell him you had a great time and you won't have to lie.

Today's Video Link

Here's a real nice rendition of a song I like even though I totally disagree with the advice it gives. But then I don't suppose whole generations would fall in love with a tune that said you should forget about wishing on a star and instead come up with a good, realistic goal for your life and then go out and try to make it happen…

From the E-Mailbag…

The other day here, I told this story about how Henry Kloss, one of the giants in home electronics, personally intervened to help me solve a problem I was having with the Federated Group, the retailers who'd sold me one of his products.

You can imagine my amazement to receive the following message this morning from a fine journalist and my longtime friend, Joe Brancatelli. I've known Joe since well before the events in my story…

So welcome to the Twilight Zone…or Zero Degrees of Separation…

In 1982 I wrote a profile of Henry Kloss (who was a friend from my electronics-reporting career) for Newsweek. On one of the days I went up to Cambridge to interview him, he didn't pick me up at airport, but sent one of his employees. When I got to the office, he apologized and told me the story about this enraging call he'd just finished with Federated, which was his key California retailer. He explained he had to personally intervene to help one of his customers. I thought it was fascinating and wanted to get the name of the customer and do a follow-up. But, as usual with Henry, he was a bit scattered and he'd already forgotten the name and couldn't find his notes on the mess of his desk.

After reading your blog post, I realize you had to be that customer. And I remember this because I am still pissed 30 years later that I never got the story into the profile. (Well, that and the fact that they mangled my ending…)

If you follow this blog, you've no doubt noticed my life abounds in odd coincidences. Here's another one for you. Maybe I should just be amazed at all the coincidences in my life that don't happen…

Jes' Fine

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You can order this now and you will receive it in a matter of days. The third volume of Walt Kelly's POGO: The Complete Daily & Sunday Strips is a reality. Copies have arrived from the printer and are shipping from Amazon and elsewhere.

I think Pogo is the best newspaper strip ever done and I am proud to be involved as Consulting Editor (basically, I consult with the editor) in the first-ever full, complete, chronological reprinting of that strip. What's more, I think Volume Three is where we get to the strips wherein Pogo got to be all that it could be…which is, like I said, the best strip ever. These are the strips in which we meet the infamous Simple J. Malarkey, a character who was basically Senator Joseph McCarthy rolled into one. When most of the press and the wheels of government were intimidated by McCarthy, a cartoonist was reducing him to a devastating animal caricature.

This is just plain brilliant stuff and don't just take my word for it. Ask anyone. And after you ask them, order a copy…and don't worry. After you fall in love with it, the first two volumes will still be in print and available. For a while.

Here's an Article…

Here's an article on the economics of running a delicatessen…in this case, Katz's in New York. Katz's is a great deli and if I lived within walking distance, I'd walk there a lot. But the cab or subway rides to and from wherever I am when I'm in New York make me think, "Gee, it's not that much better than the Carnegie…"

It's a Mushroom Soup Tuesday!

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Yes, it's a Mushroom Soup Tuesday — a day of light blogging on this site — as Mark runs about and tends to matters relating to this Sunday night's big Tribute to Stan Freberg. You'd be amazed how much there is to do for an event like this…and I'm only one of three producers.

Hey, Neil Patrick Harris is going to star in a new variety show for NBC. I thought I'd killed off that genre. This'll be interesting because if that guy can't pull it off, no one can.

Here's a rumor from the word of late night teevee: There'll be a gap of several months between the last Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson and the first one with James Corden. What will fill the breach? Guest hosts. Who will they be? Nobody knows yet.

Recently, I made one of the larger errors in my life. I habitually get my prescriptions from my friendly, neighborhood 24 hour CVS Pharmacy and I tried instead getting one, just as a test, from an online mail order service. I am now out of that medication because they haven't delivered it. For a solid month now, I've been calling every few days to argue with someone there. Here's how it goes…

  1. I call and am told I don't have the correct prior authorizations from my doctor. I tell the service rep I do. He or she tells me I don't. I give him or her the dates and information on the prior authorizations and the names of others in their department who previously confirmed to me that I did and that the pills would be shipped. They politely tell me, in those cheery ways that low level employees on the phone develop, that I am lying and/or stupid.
  2. I demand to speak to a supervisor.
  3. I speak to a supervisor. This person either (a) looks into the matter and admits I'm right or (b) tells me I'm wrong, whereupon I ask to speak to the supervisor's supervisor. At some point though, I do get to someone in power there who admits that I'm right, who cannot explain why the computer ever told anyone I was not, and who promises the medicine will be shipped out within 24 hours with their profuse apologies.
  4. Then it doesn't come. No one mails, e-mails or phones me to tell me this. I just notice that it doesn't come. Apparently, some person or computer in the Shipping Department double-checks and says, "Hey, he's not supposed to get this" and cancels the shipment. But no one tells me. I do not know why their system works like that.
  5. So once I realize it's not arriving, I go back to Step #1 and it all starts again.

I have now been to Step #1 seven (7) times. Yesterday, I got my promise from someone who seemed so smart and responsible that I think I may actually get it this time. But I've been wrong before…six (6) times. In the meantime, the CVS Pharmacy is open 24 hours and I usually only have to go over there twice and argue to get this prescription filled. It is not for Blood Pressure medication…but it should be.

I'm off to do Freberg-related stuff. Back later.

Today's Video Link

I'm no longer posting my once-annual diatribe about the unspeakable, inedible horror of Candy Corn. Since I gave up all candy a few years ago, I find myself unable to summon up any outrage about it. No, I won't eat it but I won't eat anything like that. (If you absolutely must read what I wrote, here's a link to a previous posting of the essay.)

In fact, I feel so indifferent about Candy Corn now, I don't mind posting a short video to show you how it's made. Trick or treat…

Another Marcia Strassman Remembrance

I feel a bit bad that I couldn't write as nice a piece about Marcia Strassman as she probably deserved. I therefore direct you to what my friend Laraine Newman had to say about her over on Facebook. Laraine knew her at a happier time.

What I Did Yesterday

Less than a year ago, our friend Jeanine Kasun suffered a completely unexpected brain aneurysm. She was alone in her mountain home at the time and if she hadn't been on the phone with her friend (in the romantic sense) Stu Shostak at the time, I would have had one more obit to write that month. Fortunately, she was talking to him when it happened. He was at their home in Chatsworth and he quickly called for help and emergency services were dispatched.

Jeanine was in a coma for many weeks. When she woke up, she couldn't talk, she couldn't walk, she couldn't make any part of her body do what she wanted it to do. She had no memory and no ability to retain information. Eventually — thanks to good doctoring, therapy, surgery and sheer determination, some of that started to come back. All of that was made possible by the heroic and selfless efforts of Stu Shostak. If you ever had a medical emergency like that, you couldn't do better than have someone like Stu as your advocate and protector.

I helped him out a few times but it was 99% Stu arguing with doctors, double and triple-checking hospital arrangements, dealing with the insurance companies, being at her bedside and watching her back.

(One moment that stands out: Jeanine was well enough to receive and remember visitors one of the days when Ed Asner — yes, Mister Grant — stopped in to see her. While he was there, a rather inconsiderate doctor speculated out loud that Jeanine might not ever get any better…and he said this in front of her so she could hear it. I'm not sure if Stu or Ed spoke first but one of them said loudly to the other, "Okay, you hold him while I belt him.")

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That thoughtless doctor was wrong, by the way. Jeanine got a lot better and continues to do so. She's doing so well now that yesterday, she was able — with a little assist — to walk down the aisle and marry Stu. Ostensibly, this is so it'll be easier for one to care for the other in event of another medical emergency. But I think it also has something to do with being in love.

It was a ceremony that no one present will ever forget. Stu, who used to do warmups for TV tapings, started things off with one of his old warmups. Jeanine entered on the arm of Stu's father. The ceremony was performed by Lauren Dow, who is the wife of Leave It to Beaver star Tony Dow. Tony was Stu's Best Man.

The audience was…well, I may have been one of about nine people present who can't be seen regularly on TV Land or MeTV. In addition to Tony, I saw Marvin Kaplan, Jane Withers, Wink Martindale, Murray (The Unknown Comic) Langston, Ed Asner, Rose Marie, Dick Van Dyke and his wife Arlene, Larry Matthews, Jackie Joseph, June Foray, Teresa Ganzel, Billy Van Zandt, Lydia Cornell, Margaret O'Brien, Jimmy Garrett, Larry Anderson, Francine York, Bart Braverman, TV writer Bob Schiller, TV writer Ken Levine, Hank Garrett, Sherry Jackson, Randy West, Shelly Goldstein, Jimmy Weldon and I'm leaving a lot of people out.

Ed 'n' Dick

Ed 'n' Dick

For the reception, Carolyn and I were seated at a table with the Van Dykes, Rose Marie and her daughter, Ed Asner and his daughter, Larry Matthews and his spouse, Rick Scheckman (my soon-to-be-unemployed buddy who works for David Letterman) and Shelly Goldstein. Ed did not punch anyone. Dick did not get to eat two consecutive bites of brunch without pausing, graciously, to pose for photos with guests. Rose Marie, who is still one of the funniest people on this planet, gave a hilarious toast/roast of the newlyweds.

I don't have much more to add except to say that a great time was had by all. Rose closed by saying, "I give this marriage two years." I hope she's right. And then I hope Stu and Jeanine get married again and have another party just as good as this one.

Marcia Strassman, R.I.P.

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Marcia Strassman, who played Julie Kotter on the TV series, Welcome Back, Kotter, has died at the age of 66. Before that series, she had a recurring role on M*A*S*H and before that, a couple of popular records as a vocalist. Later on, she had some pretty good roles on TV shows and movies, including Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I thought she was a really good actress with a great on-screen presence.

Okay, this next part is tricky…

Since I was a writer on Kotter, I have a number of e-mails from folks who are expecting a personal remembrance of this fine lady. I'm afraid I don't have much of one. During the time I was there, Marcia was extremely unhappy with her role as the wife on the series, feeling — understandably, if you saw some episodes — that she had nothing to do on it but sit around for a few minutes per week and laugh at Gabe Kaplan's jokes. As a result, during my entire stint on that show, she wasn't around much and never spoke to me except to complain about her lines or lack, thereof.

Oddly enough, I agreed with her. My then-partner Dennis Palumbo and I had almost no power on that show so we couldn't do anything about it but we both agreed with her. It's a not uncommon thing that happens on a TV series. As a show develops, the characters grow and the audience makes its preferences known. The producers realize that the "gold" is in focusing on Fonzie and not Ralph Malph or on Hawkeye and not Trapper John or just on the star's job instead of his home life.  Concurrently on ABC, Barney Miller's wife was becoming a missing person on Barney Miller.

Actors have been known to leave hit shows — McLean Stevenson will do as an example — because they feel they're being wasted and that better roles await them elsewhere. Marcia, at one point, made it known that she wanted out of Kotter. Dennis and I were involved in discussions about what should be done about this. I recall one semi-serious meeting with the producers about having Mrs. Kotter die. That seemed too heavy for that series so instead, the decision was made (Evanier and Palumbo did not get a vote) to have Julie Kotter get pregnant. That way, someone figured, there'd be stories involving her.

I don't recall Marcia being too happy with that, either. She had some offers of juicier acting parts (we heard) and would have preferred to be killed off so she could go do one of them. She knew that even with a Kotter baby on the way — Julie eventually had twins — the series would still be 95% about John Travolta's character and the other Sweathogs…and at the time I left the show, it still was.

So I can't really tell you much about Marcia Strassman because I never really talked to her except when she was mad at the writing staff. If I'd had the chance, I would have told her that I thought she was a terrific actress who deserved better than you get when you're on a series and other actors get hot. I was glad to see that later on, she got to show the world she could do more than feign giggles at old jokes.