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Baby, If You've Ever Wondered…

In addition to old Harry O episodes on DVD, I've lately been catching vintage episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati on one of the eight hundred trillion cable channels I get. I keep forgetting what a fine, fine show that was.

I was a fan of this program even before it went on the air. Back when I was writing some show or other for Sid and Marty Krofft, we were working on the KTLA lot in Hollywood. Another writer, Lorne Frohman, and I would sometimes sit on a porch there and talk out ideas. One day, we began to notice…

No, let me rephrase that: One day, we couldn't help but notice a stunning blonde lady walking around in what they then called "hot pants." She was obviously an actress and obviously one who wanted to be noticed. Somewhere in some shoebox somewhere, Lorne probably has the negatives of photos we took of each of us with her.

She was Loni Anderson and she told us about this show she was doing on the lot…a new CBS situation comedy set in a radio station. I took special interest in that because my former partner Dennis and I had tried to sell a sitcom idea we had that was set in a radio station. Absolutely no one wanted it. They all said, "No one will watch a TV show set in a radio station." Dennis and I wound up recycling parts of our idea into an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter — the one in which George Carlin played a disc jockey and ABC had some interest in doing it as a Kotter spin-off if (a) Carlin would commit to a series and (b) Larry Hilton-Jacobs of the Kotter cast would commit to a new show. Neither gent would do it so that ended those discussions.

I never thought for a second that anyone behind WKRP had stolen our idea — and I'm sure we weren't the first or even the hundredth writers to come up with something in such a setting. No, when I heard about WKRP, I instantly wanted it to succeed just because of all the folks who'd told us, "No one will watch a TV show set in a radio station."

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Loni invited us to come watch a taping or even just rehearsals so one day, we played hooky from our show and took in a dress rehearsal of theirs. It was the one in which Howard Hesseman's character did a live remote from a stereo store and there was a robbery during the broadcast. Whether the public would think the series was funny or not, I had no idea…but I sure did. (If we'd gone over two weeks later, we could have seen the infamous "Turkeys Away" episode. It's amazing that a show would do its most popular episode as Show 7, I think before they were even on the air.)

When WKRP in Cincinnati finally did get on CBS's airwaves, it was a modest success and wound up being on for four seasons…though neither CBS nor the production company ever really treated it as a hit. The network kept moving its time slot and not giving it a lot of promotion. It was an MTM show but when I later did some work for MTM and mentioned how much I liked it, the attitude I got back was, "Oh, yeah. That's one of ours." In the executive office, there were big posters of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda and The Bob Newhart Show and some others that lasted one or two seasons (or less than one)…but no love at all for WKRP, which was then in its third or fourth year on the air.

Well, at least some of us appreciated it and I still do, though I've decided to stop watching reruns until I get the new, soon-to-be-released DVD set. As you may know, there has been a problem with its after(network)life. The show often used actual, famous rock recordings on its soundtrack and frequently made reference to specific songs. There were some large expenses involved in retaining that music in off-network reruns and home video releases. To save dough, much of it was cut and replaced with "sound-alike" or alternate recordings. That also meant some major editing and even redubbing of dialogue in some episodes.

The good people at Shout Factory have announced that their forthcoming set will include "most" of the original music. Here's an article telling what stays and what goes. I'm guessing this is as "complete" a release of WKRP as we're ever going to get, at least via the non-bootleg trade. So I've advance-ordered it. If you're interested, here's the link. I find a lot of the shows from that era do not withstand the passage of time well. This one does.

Recommended Reading

Andrew Sullivan makes an important point. When any sort of domestic program is proposed — something that might help Americans live better and longer lives — so-called "Fiscal Conservatives" instantly scream, "We can't afford it!" But when it comes to going into another war, the total cost of which is unknown but surely high, money is no object.

Today's Video Link

Here are these guys again harmonizing their way through Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time." It's the same arrangement he used but I really like the way they do it…

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  • Every time I watch a Tweety & Sylvester cartoon, I wonder, "Oh, why must succotash suffer so?"

Pipe Dream

Tucker Carlson, who used to go from TV job to TV job like a bee who can't find pollen, recently made some rather silly comments about Popeye, Thor and Wonder Woman. Most people on Fox News strike me as folks who sit around thinking of things to get needlessly outraged about because, well, that's their job. I can't believe Mr. Carlson really thinks it means anything if the Sailor Man is sans pipe but if you're on Fox, you have to attack Liberals about something so…

Nothing is scarier to a modern liberal than tobacco. If Popeye were driving around giving the morning after pill to fourth graders that would be totally fine. But smoking a pipe, a symbol of freedom and masculinity in America itself, the reason this country exists, tobacco, that's like, "Oh, that's outrageous. That's a major sin."

Well, of course that thing about the pill is not so. But there are two things Carlson either doesn't get or doesn't want to get because he needs to come up with something like this. One is that the pipeless Popeye appears in a recently-released demo scene by animator Genndy Tartakovsky…a test for a proposed feature. The whole thing is a bit over a minute long and they're probably still discussing whether or not Popeye will have his pipe at some point in the movie.

Heck, they're probably still discussing whether there's even going to be a movie. I hope so because I sure liked what I saw. (By the way, a couple folks wrote to ask if I could identify the actors who did the voices of Popeye and Olive Oyl. I can. That's Tom Kenny and Grey DeLisle — who now sometimes goes by her married name of Grey Griffin. Regular attendees of my Cartoon Voice Panels at Comic-Con International know both of 'em.)

Our pal Jerry Beck liked it, too. If you'd like to see the clip, it's over on this page where he explains why he liked it.

The other thing Mr. Carlson doesn't get about it is that this is not a political decision. It's a marketing concern. Most of the time when someone decides to launder animation — tone down sex or violence — it's because they want to make sure they can sell reruns of the product to the widest audience for the longest time.

About ten years ago, I was approached about writing a Popeye animated project. It never happened but we had a meeting or two and it was made pretty clear to me that merchandising and marketing were driving this particular venture; that any decision about Popeye having a pipe or Popeye punching out Bluto would be decided on that basis. They were going to make some assessment based on an estimate of how many parents wouldn't buy a toy if the character had a pipe…or how many countries or networks wouldn't buy and air the show.

A principle Tucker Carlson has voiced as long as I've followed him on TV is that companies should be free from regulation and outside pressures that might minimize their profit margins. And now here he is, arguing that the people who are marketing Popeye need to give Popeye his pipe. Someone needs to ask Carlson, "Even if they think they'll make less money if they do?" Because if they don't give Popeye a pipe, that'll be the reason.

It's pretty much the same thing with Thor becoming a woman. It's obviously not an attempt to "feminize" the God of Thunder. It's just a gimmick to attract attention and sell some Female Thor product before they revert to the male version. (The in-house term for this sometimes is "extend the franchise." It's like when they did the Muppet Babies. People are already buying Kermit and Fozzie merchandise. Here's a chance to bring out a whole new line of Kermit and Fozzie merchandise.)

Wonder Woman's change of attire is the same thing. Something thinks those outfits are more commercial in the present-day marketplace. That's all that's involved here. No politics. No hidden agenda. Just someone's idea of how to exploit a property.

Recommended Reading

Rebecca Leber thinks Conservatives may begin to believe in Climate Change when they start considering the rising costs associating with not doing anything about it.

Today's Video Link

Hey, you! You there! You could use a little Yiddish lesson…

Foto Finds

I'm getting a lot of messages from folks trying to identify actors in that Life layout of Addams Family auditioners. I'll gather up the guesses and post them in a day or so…so keep 'em coming.

In the meantime, if you like to browse photo features from Life, you might want to see Charles Schulz at home or Batman on the set.

Tales of My Father #14

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I know people who love to drive…and I'm not talking about NASCAR and road racers and such. I mean: People who just love to get behind the wheel of their everyday car and go someplace…or even not go someplace. They'll go for a ride for the sheer pleasure of going for a ride. Somewhere here, I'm sure I've written about a gent who worked with me at Hanna-Barbera in the seventies who had a three-hour daily commute…and that was just one way. He was fine if not delighted with spending six hours — a quarter of his day and an even higher percentage of his "awake" hours — driving on the freeway.

I do not like to drive. To me, it's no pleasure. It's a chore. Often, it's a necessary chore and often too, the result of that drive makes it well worth the chore. But just driving is to me about as joyous as wheeling the trash cans out to the curb on Wednesdays and wheeling them back in on Thursdays. You do it because you have to do it in order to make some aspects of your life work the way you want them to work.

My father loved to drive…but mainly, he loved to drive friends and family around. He had no desire to be a taxi driver or a chauffeur but he loved to drive me to school or drive my mother to the market or drive my Aunt Dot to the airport. He sometimes got annoyed if a friend or loved one wouldn't let him do that, especially if they spent money on a cab. He'd say with a note of hurt in his voice, "Why didn't you let me drive you?"

He was, as I hope I've made clear, a very nice man who enjoying doing things for those he loved or even liked. This was one of the few things he could do for most of them. I'd like to think that some of that primal kindness has rubbed off on me. Clearly though, the Love of Driving was not hereditary.

My mother hated to drive. It made her extremely nervous. Other things did too but with other things, she could calm her fluttering nerves by smoking. When she drove, she was too afraid to not have both hands on the wheel and her total attention on anyone or anything she might hit within a radius of about twenty car-lengths.

She did not drive when the two of them lived back in Hartford. The train system and the occasional cab got her where she wanted to go and my father didn't drive much back there, either. But Los Angeles is, let's face it, Los Angeles and when he moved out here in 1951 and she followed him out to get married, he began driving everywhere. He even drove them to Las Vegas to get married. When she said, "Maybe I should get a driver's license," he always said, "No, you don't need one. I'll take you anywhere you need to go." And he did. She was happy to have it like that.

Finally one day when I was somewhere around ten years of age, there was an item in the newspaper about a child who'd died from an injury because his non-driving mother hadn't been able to get her son to a hospital in time. At that moment, my parents decided my mother should learn how to drive and have a car. There were, after all, times when he was off at work. So driving lessons and a car were all arranged but it put her under so much stress, I wondered if maybe I shouldn't have an emergency where she had to rush me to a hospital. Just so it would all seem worth it.

Her dislike of driving was not like my dislike of driving. I didn't get mine from her. Hers was out of sheer dread of hitting someone or something. She sometimes went weeks without getting in the car…and when she did, it was to go to a market two miles away on a Sunday morning, driving 25 MPH in the right hand lane. You would have loved everything about my mother except driving behind her.

For the reasons stated, my father encouraged her to get her license. For other reasons, he discouraged me. As I crept up on the age where a boy starts thinking about that, he'd say things to me like, "Oh, you don't need to drive. I'll take you anywhere you want to go." He meant that.

Between the ages of about 10 and 14, I was actively building my comic book collection by going to used book shops around Los Angeles. There were a lot of them then and most (not all) had a section devoted to old comics. The standard price was a nickel per comic, six for a quarter. An annual (double-sized issue) was treated as two comics.

Many a Saturday, my father would say to me, "Would you like to visit some bookstores today?" The answer was always yes.

I'd studied the Yellow Pages and made a list of all the ones that seemed close enough to visit. They pretty much broke down into two groups: Those to the east of us and those to the west of us. When my father volunteered an outing, I'd choose three or four stores in one direction. A few were conveniently clustered together. Down near MacArthur Park — then as now, a rather sketchy part of L.A. — there were three situated so my father could park once for all three.

He rarely went in with me. He'd find a parking spot and sit there, reading a newspaper while I went from shop to shop, looking for issues I didn't have. I carried lists but rarely referred to them. With lightning precision, I could ruffle through piles of old comics, spotting those I needed. Of course, at stores that sold six for a quarter, I always made my selections in multiples of six.

That mathematical requirement had the effect of broadening my reading horizons. I had my little mental list of comics I purchased and ones I did not. I'd select every as-yet-unowned issue from my list on the premises and find that I had 59 comics. To get full value for my money, I had to buy sixty…so that's when I'd try some comic I hadn't collected before. If I liked it — and I almost always did — I'd start searching for old issues of it on the next bookstore expedition.

I was in Bart's Books out on Santa Monica Boulevard one day when I needed to select two more comics so I'd have some neat multiple of six to purchase. At that moment, I was not a collector of war comics but I picked out two and took them home. The next visit to Bart's, I left with more than a hundred war comics.

I built quite a collection thanks to my father's generosity with his time. He was delighted when I'd stagger back to the car with an armload of comics. "Find some good ones?" he'd grin. I always told him I had, whether I had or not.

He wasn't thinking that they were a good investment; that some day, those comics would go for a lot of money. He also wasn't thinking that reading all those comics would lead to a career for his little boy. He was just thinking he was making me happy…and he was.

Around the time I hit fifteen, a lot of those bookstores began closing — the start of a long economic trend that has made that kind of business almost extinct. The stores that were around began charging more than cover price for their old comics — sometimes, a lot more. I had new friends who were into collecting and sometimes, we'd take the bus up to Hollywood Boulevard and the shops up there. So my father and I stopped making our Saturday morning runs.

Still, he was always available and eager to drive me anywhere I wanted to go and dismissive of my thoughts of getting my own car and license. If he'd had his way, I would never have learned to drive and he would have shlepped me around, well into my forties. Among other problems, that would have cooled off my dating considerably.

Around age 19, I finally learned to drive. My father was due to get a new (used) car then so instead of trading in his Buick Skylark, he gave it to me when he purchased something else. I liked the freedom I got from driving — the ability to go where I wanted when I wanted, but that was about it. Just getting in the car and driving didn't do anything for me. I always had to want to go somewhere.

About that time, a duty fell upon me. I had to stop someone else from driving.

My mother's stepfather — the man I called Grandpa — lived with my grandmother in Hartford. The two of them came out to visit every few years and every time they came out, he did the same thing. He'd go out in our back yard and work. Grandpa loved yard work and he'd always find something to do out there, ripping out an old hedge or planting a new one or something. He would have been heartbroken if we'd told him, "No, Grandpa. The yard's fine. Nothing for you to do out there." So we let him putter.

One day when he was out trimming trees or something, I was summoned into our living room. My father was there and my mother and my grandmother. They sat me down and my mother said, "Mark, there's something that needs to be done and we've been discussing it and we think you're the one to handle it." At that moment, if you'd given me a hundred guesses what they were talking about, I wouldn't have gotten it.

My mother continued, "Grandpa's eyes are not good. He's had a few minor accidents behind the wheel lately and his motor skills aren't right for that anymore. We've decided he must stop driving." My father and grandmother nodded grimly. It was for his own good…and also, I suppose, for the good of anyone he might run over.

"We've decided it will hurt less coming from you," my mother said. "We'd like you to be the one who tells him."

I looked over at Grandma and now saw that she was crying. Then I looked over at my father and realized he was crying, too and my mother was starting. I thought, "Gee, everyone's crying" and then realized that I was no exception.

Grandpa, I guess I should mention, was 81 years old.

We decided to get it over with so I thought for a few minutes about how to phrase things. Then I took some lemonade out for him, sat him down in one of two patio chairs we had back there and said it as simply and directly as I could. As I recall, the opening was: "The people here who love you, myself included, have made a decision. This is only because we love you. It is only for your own good." And then I told him. I made it clear we were not asking him to consider it and it was not open for discussion. We were saying he was going to stop. No arguments.

He was a sweet old man and the possibility of killing or injuring himself was of less importance to him than the possibility of killing or injuring someone else. And to the extent that killing or injuring himself was important, the worst part of that would be to turn his beloved into a widow or at least a full-time caregiver.

Once he grasped what I was telling him, he fell silent for a few long minutes. He cried a bit. He thought it over. Finally, in a quivering voice, he said, "Well, I knew I was going to have to stop someday. If you all say it's now, I guess it's now."

Then he hugged me and we changed the subject. He never drove again and it was never mentioned again but for once. That evening as we all headed for my father's car so he could drive us to a restaurant for dinner, Grandpa didn't immediately hop in the back seat as he usually did. He got in behind the wheel and announced, "I'll drive!"

He got a big laugh, then he moved into a passenger seat for the rest of his life. I'd like to think it was longer than it would have been if we hadn't done what we'd done.

I thought of that incident often. I thought of it a lot as my own father neared that age and what I thought was, "It's not going to be that easy with him." It wasn't just that not being able to drive would make him feel old. It was worse than that. It would make him feel useless.

I thought about it a lot when he turned eighty. He was still quite capable of driving an automobile but, I wondered, for how long? As it turned out, it was about five months. He had a heart attack. It was his third and it was the kind his cardiologist described as, "Maybe not life-ending but life-changing." He would not be back to normal functioning soon, if ever. A week or so later, he had the life-ending kind.

When someone close to you dies, you look for that silver lining, however thin and fragile it may be…some way to "spin" the death in a way that's more comforting to you. I had no trouble doing that 22 years later when my mother died because she really wanted to go. She was verging on blindness and a life which did not contain one single thing that brought her any joy; just a constant, overpowering guilt that she had become a horrendous burden on her only son.

With my father, it was different…kind of. As I explained in another of these pieces, he dreaded being someone who required 24/7 care like a neighbor of ours who went literally senile. The constant care that man required — dressing him, feeding him, changing his diapers — destroyed his wife's savings and, eventually, her health. When my father was told he'd have to go home in a wheelchair, he immediately began fearing he'd wind up like that neighbor. I know because he told me that…many times.

When he had that last heart attack — the one that ended his life — I told myself the timing was right. He certainly did not want to go home in a wheelchair. He certainly did not want caregivers to be brought in and a ramp built on the front porch of his house and the money he could otherwise leave to my mother to be spent on keeping him alive. He especially didn't want that if there was little or no chance he'd ever recover to the point where he could walk and go out and get in his car and drive somewhere and do something useful.

So I was really glad we never got to that moment when I had to sit down with him and say to him what I had to say to Grandpa. Because that would have had the same effect on him as that last heart attack. And I would have felt in a way like I'd caused it.

Breaking Soup News!

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The folks at Souplantation, who usually notify me when they're bringing my favorite soup back to their lineup, didn't tell me that Classic Creamy Tomato Soup is available for one week. That's the good news. The bad news is that the week started last Thursday, which means I missed two whole days of Classic Creamy Tomato Soup eating. I shall have to consume extra bowls between now and close of business on Wednesday to make up for it.

They didn't tell me and the page on their website that listed the September menu didn't have it until its sudden reappearance the other day. But Corey Klemow did…so thanks, Corey. To see if it's available near you, check this page which shows the locations and menus of all the Souplantations around the country. Some Souplantations go by the name of Sweet Tomatoes and I don't know why they don't just rename the whole company The Classic Creamy Tomato Soup (Occasionally) Store.

Festering Question

Here's something odd. Life magazine has put online a batch of never-before-published photos from its archives of various actors screen-testing for roles on the 1964 sitcom, The Addams Family. John Astin was already cast as Gomez at the time at least some of these pictures were taken so you see him posing alongside folks who hoped to land the parts of Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch and so on.

Can you identify any of them? The only one I recognize is in Photo #7. That's Maurice Gosfield, better known as Pvt. Duane Doberman from The Phil Silvers Show, aka Sgt. Bilko, here trying out to play Uncle Fester, the role eventually filled by Jackie Coogan.

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Mr. Gosfield did not have much of an acting career apart from Bilko. He was discovered for the role of Doberman in an open call, meaning that just about anyone could audition. Those very rarely yield jobs and few as notable as this one did. Doberman was so popular that he even got his own comic book for a time. Before that job, Gosfield claimed thousands of acting credits but Phil Silvers told people that they were mostly illusionary. The Man Who Would Be Doberman was actually in three short-lived Broadway plays and a few bit parts on TV shows and in one Ma and Pa Kettle movie.

After Bilko went off, Gosfield did one more series — Top Cat, as Benny the Ball — and a tiny part in the Doris Day-James Garner movie, The Thrill of It All. Top Cat was on for ABC for one season, going out of production before Christmas of 1961. It is sometimes reported that there would have been more episodes but Hanna-Barbera decided not to make any more because of Gosfield's passing.

That's highly unlikely. Gosfield died in October of 1964 — one month after The Addams Family debuted on television, one might note. I can't think of a single network TV cartoon show that went out of production, then back in again three years later…or a single one that ended because the producers felt they couldn't recast the voice of a supporting character. Nevertheless, Maurice Gosfield was one of a kind.

Today's Video Link

Stephen Sondheim has been nominated for seven Tony Awards for six shows. (He won his first back in 1970 when they gave one Tony for the music and a separate one for the lyrics. Commencing the following year, those were combined into one.)

Mr. Sondheim won six of the seven for which he was nominated. His one loss was 1984 when the score for Sunday in the Park With George was bested by the one for La Cage Aux Folles. But then later, Sondheim won a Special Tony for his overall body of work, bringing his total to seven. Here are clips from the Tony Awards ceremonies for each nomination and win. You will notice a certain deliberate similarity to his acceptance speeches…

Go Read It!

Jill LePore on the history of Wonder Woman — the history no one talks about much. I find all this more interesting than any issue of Wonder Woman I ever read. Which is not a high bar to clear.

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  • 23.9% of Americans want their state to secede from the union. Can we get them all to move to Florida and cut it free?

Occupy Baghdad

62% of Republicans say they favor sending ground troops into Iraq. Okay, so my question is this: How many of those favor it because they think it makes strategic sense, how many favor it because at this time Obama doesn't, and how many just plain like the idea of Americans with high-powered weaponry running around foreign nations? Oh, and I'd be curious to know how many of them think that the last time we put U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq, we got what we wanted out of it and it was worth all the lives and limbs and loot.