Our friend Stan Sakai is a brilliant cartoonist and one of the four nicest people involved in the production of the Groo the Wanderer comics. He and his wonderful wife Sharon have had a rough time of things lately and could use help with Sharon's medical expenses. She has been seriously ill and while on the road to recovery, she still needs around-the-clock medical care. They have insurance but insurance only goes so far, and Sharon's medical needs extend beyond what insurance will cover.
To help the Sakais, Stan's many friends have rallied in support with donations of cash and artwork. There are two major fund-raising efforts. One is a book that Dark Horse is publishing — a collection of cartoons by an incredible array of cartoonists. The drawings are so amazing, you'll probably never get around to reading the foreword by me in it. Watch for this book. Buy it. And yes, it's a contribution to the Sakais' well-being but it's also a terrific book which you should purchase just because it's a terrific book.
The other effort is something you can get in on right now…and again, it's to your benefit as much as it is to the Sakais'. A "Who's Who" of great artists has donated drawings — some pre-existing, some done for the occasion — for a big online art auction that's being run by the Comic Art Professional Society, aka CAPS. The first batch of many wonderful pieces can be bid upon right this minute over on this page. The proceeds go to two good people who need aid…and you can get a terrific, to-be-treasured art piece out of it. I'd call that a Win/Win…so go win/win and get one. Or two. Or more.
Paul Krugman rips the latest of many Paul Ryan plans, all of which pretty much come down to "slash spending on the poor and taxes on the rich." If this is such a good idea, you'd think Ryan and his colleagues would just admit that's their answer to everything, rather than try to dress it up as something we should do because it'll be good for the poor. I get the feeling that if you were involved in a serious accident and you asked Paul Ryan if he knew how to stop the bleeding, he'd say the only way is to slash spending on the poor and taxes on the rich.
Yesterday here, I linked to a recording of Jack Benny speaking at U.C.L.A. in 1973. Later in the day, I received this message from my buddy, Steve Stoliar…
I was in that U.C.L.A. auditorium in 1973 when Jack Benny spoke. I had no idea anyone had recorded it. What a blast from my past! After he'd been speaking for quite a long time, the moderator said, "Well, I know Mr. Benny has to leave…" to which Benny replied, "I don't have to leave. I can stay, if you like," which was met with thunderous applause. Afterward, he even stayed to sign autographs. I hadn't thought to bring anything, so I pulled a dollar bill out of my wallet and he signed it. Only later did I realize how a propos it was, given his penny-pinching persona. Given his exuberance, no one would've guessed he'd be dead a year later.
I would imagine Mr. Benny was quite happy that so many young people had turned out for him and wanted to stay as long as he did.
A question I would have loved to have asked him is this. George Burns told me, and I've heard it from others, that Benny was the first major radio comedian to give meaningful credits to his writers. He said that before Jack did it, the only way a writer got credit was if the show was a mixture of different kinds of material such that a writing credit didn't necessarily mean that that person had written what the comedian said. Most comedians, he said, wanted to perpetuate the notion that they — not their writers — were funny.
If you had a variety show, a writing credit might mean that the writer stitched the show together or wrote introductions, but that the monologues and sketches still emanated from the brain of the comedian. But when you had a mostly-comedy show like Benny did, a writer credit suggested that the star wasn't making all that funny stuff up.
When Benny started doing this, Burns said, other comedians went to him and told him to stop. They knew that if Benny gave his writers credit, they'd eventually have to do likewise — and they didn't want to do likewise. The argument they advanced was that the public doesn't want to know that writers write what the comedian says just as they don't want to know that movie heroes use stuntmen. In other words, it's better for the audience if the writers don't get credited.
Benny didn't buy this. He went ahead and credited his writers and, of course, no one had a more successful career as a radio comedian or was more beloved. I'd be fascinated to know what went through Mr. Benny's mind when he made his decision. It was a good one and according to Burns, it pissed off a number of his friends. (George says he was not among the pissed-off…)
I don't know who this lady is but she does a great job of double-talk in a variety of languages, including English. This is what each language sounds like to someone who doesn't understand it. Wish we could have arranged for her to have a conversation with Sid Caesar…
I feel the need to write something about a drama that I think/hope has now played itself out. The World Science-Fiction Convention, which this year will be known as Loncon 3 and held in London, invited the British TV personality and presenter Jonathan Ross to host its Hugo Award Ceremony. Jonathan, a devout fan of such matters and an experienced host, accepted the volunteer (note: unpaid) job.
And you should know here that Jonathan's a friend of mine and I think he's terrific at what he does. Matter of fact, I have a TV project now under discussion with one of the cable networks and I've been trying to attach Jonathan to it as host, even though it would mean flying him in for tapings. (I don't think the project's going to happen, by the way, but the network was so impressed with videos they saw of Jonathan in action that they bought the American TV rights to air one of the shows he's done in Great Britain.)
Anyway, whoever on the Loncon committee invited Jonathan apparently failed to clear it with the entire committee. At least one or two members of said committee didn't think that was a good idea. When it was announced, a lot of convention attendees objected, fearing apparently that Jonathan would do to them what Ricky Gervais had done to the Golden Globes…or something. There was a feces-storm on Twitter with a lot of needless invective and outrage and…well, Jonathan quickly had enough of being definitely insulted by people who feared he might insult them, and he withdrew. His wife Jane — herself, a past Hugo winner — found it necessary to delete her Twitter account. Neil Gaiman summarizes the entire situation quite well here in calm, non-inflammatory terms.
Yeah, Jonathan has an abrasive sense of humor and apparently this worried some. Personally, I've also known him to have mature, sensitive taste as to the proper moments to unleash that sense o' humor and also to direct it to the proper subjects. There's a reason he's been as successful as he's been in broadcasting and I think the convention has lost a great host.
Once upon a time, I attended science-fiction conventions. I gave them up back in the late seventies, I believe, because of this kind of thing. There were a lot of good people running the cons and lot of good folks attending them but there always seemed to be a couple of controversies not unlike this one around, and just enough hysterical, angry people to generate them and keep them alive. Maybe it's not as bad as it seems but at a function that is supposed to be about camaraderie and shared passions, even a little seems like way too much.
The gossip site TMZ — which is never wrong about anything unless you count most things — is saying that NBC is telling stars that if they appear on any CBS or ABC show — and not just in late night — they will not be welcome on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon…
Sources connected to CBS, NBC and ABC tell TMZ … the Peacock network believes Jimmy Fallon's ratings success gives them extreme bargaining power. They put the word out to celebs, agents and publicists … if they want to be on Fallon they can't appear on ANY other network … and not just shows that go head-to-head with Jimmy, but morning shows as well.
The story names not one star who has been so threatened and gets no more specific on sources than to say someone at Good Morning America claims they've had trouble booking celebs because of this supposed threat. I am skeptical the charge is valid. I mean, there is a natural power that the leading show has to get guests. If you were the publicist for a new movie that was about to open, wouldn't you rather the star of it was in New York sitting down with Fallon than in Hollywood sitting down with Kimmel? Fallon has twice as many viewers and therefore, twice as many potential ticket buyers.
What you'd really like, of course, is for your star to do both but most talk shows — and especially whoever's in the lead at the moment — are uncomfy with the notion of booking guests who were on a competitor's show three days ago. Or on Good Morning America earlier that same day.
There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that back in the late sixties or early seventies, Jerry Lewis pulled off a superfecta. That's a trifecta for four or more things. At the time, there were four major talk shows coming out of New York: Johnny Carson's, Merv Griffin's, Dick Cavett's and David Frost's. They taped at different times so Mr. Lewis, who had something to plug, allegedly managed to get on all four on the same night.
When the shows realized what had happened, they all instituted better watchdogging — some called it The Jerry Lewis Rule — to guard against guests doing things like that. In most cases, there has been no rigid rule of X days between other appearances. They'll take Denzel Washington even if he was on with the competition four days ago, whereas they might not put up with it for a lesser star.
Anyway, it's real easy for the show that loses out on a guest they want to charge Unfair Labor Practices…and the agents don't help. Imagine you represent Sam Superstar and you want him, of course, on the #1 show but you don't want to damage your relationship with the #3 show. When the #3 show calls, you say — because you're an agent and agents are supposed to do this kind of thing — "God, I wish I could book him on your show. You treat him so well and he has so much fun there. But the studio's on my butt to get him on the #1 show and you know how those bastards are over there. They're so afraid of you guys that they're putting pressure on us to not do your show. I swear, as soon as I can, I'll get him for you."
I'm not saying actual intimdiation never happens. Clearly, it does. But I think a lot of such accusations are simple: The star and/or his handlers want him on the show with the most viewers. And that's why he's on it, not because of any threats. I'd be more apt to believe the charge in this case if we heard some solid examples.
Sorry to hear of the passing of Geoff Edwards, a stalwart voice of Los Angeles radio for many years…and a very nice man. Most of you who knew of him probably knew him as a game show host but that was just a small part of what he did. He died yesterday at the age of 83 due to complications from pneumonia.
This obit will tell you a lot about Geoff, including the story of how he quit his radio show on KFI here in L.A. when a fellow broadcaster at the station conducted the equivalent of a book-burning, destroying the records of singer Cat Stevens. Before that, Edwards was on KMPC where he did what he did so well. He played records and said very funny things between them, and just made you feel comfy when you were listening.
One thing that's not in there: Edwards, like most guys in radio, hopped about from town to town and job to job for much of his early career. In one of those positions, he was a newsman in the Dallas Police Garage in November of '63 when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald and a witness to the shooting. You can see him interviewed by other reporters in much of the news footage shot that day.
His career as a game show host began in the early seventies on local TV and then national. There was a lady named Lin Bolen in charge of Daytime Programming at NBC. In what was a controversial decision in some circles, she decided that too many of their game shows were hosted by "old men" and that housewives would rather look at younger, handsome hosts. So she scouted the country and for the new game shows she introduced, she did not hire the likes of Dennis James, Bill Cullen, Jack Narz or others who were then in that talent pool. She found "young studs" (that was the term used) and brought us Chuck Woolery, Alex Trebek…and Geoff Edwards.
Edwards hosted a pretty good new show called Jackpot! and because it was taped in New York, he had to fly back there every other week and tape two weeks of programs. The show didn't last but the experience gave him some pretty funny stories of air travel and bad taxi drivers which he told on his L.A. radio show.
Later, he hosted (and sadly, became best known for) The New Treasure Hunt, a Chuck Barris show that reveled in torturing female contestants before it told them if they'd won a "klunk" (i.e., nothing) or $25,000 or something in-between. Geoff was a much better person than that. He was also a much wittier, interesting man who could have easily — and should have — hosted a talk show or interview program. He was very well-read and able to converse on any topic.
I spoke with him a few times when I was starting out, writing jokes for Gary Owens who was also on KMPC then, and gave Edwards a few as well. I liked him on the radio and I liked him in person, so it doesn't matter much that I didn't like him on The New Treasure Hunt. That wasn't the real guy we just lost.
This is another one of those audio-only lectures from U.C.L.A. It's Jack Benny speaking there in 1973. He has a little trouble at first speaking to such a young audience, especially when he starts with a joke about Kay Kyser the 40's bandleader. But Mr. Benny was a pro and he gets into the right attitude before long.
Mr. Benny went through the last decade or three of his life — even when he had a popular weekly TV series — presuming that younger people didn't know who he was. It even figured into the one brief moment when I met him. That's much of what he talks about here…
Having complained here about talk shows with near-scripted interviews, I offer an exception. Jon Stewart usually asks his guests questions they don't expect…and not in a "gotcha" manner. Sometimes, when he has a serious Conservative on, there's actually a real back-and-forth where two grown people talk like grown-ups and don't demagogue.
I link you here to the extended version of the interview he did last night on his program with former Senator Jim DeMint, who is quite the poster boy for the Tea Party movement, although I don't think that group was mentioned. The shorter version that aired on The Daily Show wasn't much but the two men spoke for more than a half hour and you might find the whole thing worth your time.
Like all of us, I've been wondering what it would be like to take Carol Channing to Disneyland. Well, we need wonder no longer. Our pal James H. Burns sent me this link to an account by someone who did just that. (I was going to title this post, "E-Tickets Are A Girl's Best Friend" but I'd be dating myself…)
It's interesting that a majority of those who oppose Gay Marriage don't know (or I guess in some cases, don't believe) that they are no longer the majority in this country. This is one of those issues that was always destined to go this way. It was never an "if" gays would be allowed to marry but how long it would take. Frankly, if I were a right-winger, I would long since have abandoned this one and invested my resources in a more winnable — and probably more important — matter.
This poll says 59% of Americans support same-sex wedlock. In a month or two, it'll probably be two-to-one. I take back everything I ever said about how this matter was better served by voters voting as opposed to court rulings, and about how long it would take some states to come around. Gay Marriage is winning in Arizona and you now have prominent Republicans in Wyoming championing it there. A friend of mine predicted last year that by the time Barack Obama leaves office, we'd have Gay Marriage in every state. I told him he was wrong; that a few would hold out forever. I'm thinking now that he may have been right.
Today (Wednesday), the guest on Stu's Show is Johnny Whitaker, who many of you probably first knew as the irresistible little boy on the 1966-1971 TV series, Family Affair, which starred Brian Keith. That's Johnny in the above photo, pretending to trim the beard of his co-star, Sebastian Cabot. I could also have put a photo up here of Johnny on the popular kid show, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, or of Johnny in movies like Tom Sawyer or Napoleon and Samantha. And he sure guested on an awful lot of TV shows. The last time he was on with host Stu Shostak, they barely got halfway through his list of credits. Today, they tackle the other half.
Stu's Show can be heard live (almost) every Wednesday at the Stu's Show website and you can listen for free there. Webcasts start at 4 PM Pacific Time, 7 PM Eastern and other times in other climes. They run a minimum of two hours and sometimes go to three or beyond.
Shortly after a show ends, it's available for downloading from the Archives on that site. Downloads are a paltry 99 cents each and you can get four for the price of three.