news from me

Monthly Archives: March 2011

Recommended Reading

I don't know how much stock to put in it but surveys by the Public Religion Research Institute say that a notable majority of Catholics do not have a big problem with the concept of two adults of the same gender having sexual relations or even entering into marriage or civil unions. If true, this is a very good sign.

Great Photos of Buster Keaton

Number twenty-nine in a series…


Nick Clooney's popular syndicated TV talk show in the seventies wasn't out of New York like I said. It was on WKRC in Cincinnati, not to be confused with WKRP in Cincinnati. Sorry, folks.

Today's Video Link

Here's a goody for those of you interested in game shows — five minutes from The Money Maze, which ran on ABC from December 23, 1974 to June 27, 1975. It was hosted by Nick Clooney (father of George, brother of Rosemary) who at the time also had a somewhat successful local talk show in New York Cincinnati. The premise of Money Maze (sometimes spelled as one word, sometimes two) was pretty simple. Married couples would answer questions to see which couple would get to tackle the maze. There were "prize towers" in the maze. One member of the couple would watch from an outside vantage point and direct the other to run through the maze and get to a certain tower. If the runner navigated to the tower and hit a button within a certain amount of time (often as little as 15 seconds), they won the prize.

The show was produced for at least part of its run by a man who was later a good friend of mine, a splendid writer-producer-human named Don Segall. Don is no longer with us but he did a lot of odd TV shows and also a lot of odder comic books. Those of you familiar with Steve Ditko's character The Creeper may recognize Don as the fellow who provided the dialogue for the character's debut appearance, and Don also wrote a lot for Dell and Charlton, plus he did TV shows like Ball Four and The Four Seasons. He and Alan Alda were close friends and when Alda wrote and starred in the movie Sweet Liberty, he wrote a character into the film based on Don…and even let Don audition to play himself. Don — wouldn't you know it? — didn't get the part. Bob Hoskins did…and then Hoskins moved in with Don for a week or so to study him and get him "down."

Anyway, Don and I once discussed The Money Maze…which by the way was produced by Dick Cavett's production company. I assume that was because at some point when Cavett negotiated a contract with ABC, he demanded and got a side deal for his company to do something without him for another time slot.

Don claimed that The Money Maze got decent ratings…not blockbuster but good enough that it could have been renewed. What prevented that was that the set was so costly to maintain. They would tape five a day for several days in a row, then dismantle the whole thing so the studio could be used for other shows. Setting it back up for another series of tapings took several days…and the maze had to be constantly reconfigured with new paths after each taping which added to the expense. There were, Don said, only a few studios available in New York that were large enough to accommodate the set and they were always in demand by other projects willing to pay a lot more to be there.

A few years earlier, CBS had a game show called Video Village that also had an elaborate set and therefore much the same problem. That show had decent enough ratings that when the cost of doing it in a New York studio became prohibitive, they moved it to Los Angeles. Money Maze wasn't quite popular enough for that…so off it went…or at least, that's what Don told me. Here's five minutes of what was either the pilot or among the first episodes…

The video that used to be in this position seems to no longer
be available at the location where I once found it.

Recommended Reading

Ezra Klein reminds us that wars cost money. Lots of money.

Go Read It!

Dick Cavett has a nice story about Elizabeth Taylor. Even better, his article links to a piece by his late spouse Carrie Nye which she wrote about appearing in a TV-Movie with Ms. Taylor and her then-hubby, Mr. Burton. If you only have time to read one, read hers.

Dogpatch Data Dump


As I mentioned in the Dick Shawn piece a few days ago, I'm a big fan of the Broadway show (and movie thereof), Li'l Abner. Many moons ago, I interviewed everyone within arm's reach who'd worked on either and wrote a couple of articles that ran in the Kitchen Sink volumes that reprinted Al Capp's classic newspaper strip. There was one piece about the Broadway show and one about the movie.

Recently, I came across one of my files of research material and spotted one thing that I thought oughta be up on the web somewhere. It's the full cast list [PDF] for the motion picture, including all the little bit parts and such…though it doesn't include voiceover actors, unnamed bodybuilders, many of the dancers or Jerry Lewis. It does however have a lot of names that aren't in the IMDB listing. I have long since given up trying to add or correct anything in that worthwhile enterprise and I'm hoping that putting this up on the Internet is the next best thing; that the information thereupon will find its way to the IMDB by osmosis or symbiosis or some kind of osis.

You'll notice the cast list includes a couple of folks who later became pretty big stars, including Valerie Harper, Beth Howland and Donna Douglas. Let me know if you see anyone else of interest on there.

A Commercial with Sergio Aragones In It…

Recommended Reading

For last year, General Electric claimed a before-tax profit of $14.2 billion dollars. They also claimed an after-tax profit of $14.2 billion. They paid zero taxes. In fact, I think some of that profit was money the government gave them.

David Kocieniewski explains how come they don't have to pay taxes…but you and I and my cleaning lady do. It annoys the hell out of me that a large section of the public looks at that and thinks, "Good for them," then says we need to cut hot lunch programs for school kids in order to deal with the deficit.

Another Nice Cause


Not long ago here, I mentioned the fine work the UCLA Film and Television Archive has been doing in preserving and refurbishing The Shari Lewis Show. Even more blessed is what they're doing to preserve the legacy of my favorite performers in the world, a certain Mr. Stanley Laurel and his partner, Mr. Oliver Norvell Hardy. The Hal Roach studio, where they teamed and did most of their wonderful work was a fine venue for the flourishing of comic talent…but not so good at film preservation.

I could go into details but you can read about it over at this page, especially the piece by Richard W. Bann, who has done superhuman things to protect those classic films…but it's too big a job for one man. Also read Randy Skretvedt as he writes about something we've covered here in the past — the intriguing foreign versions that Stan and Ollie made of many of their movies, speaking tongues they didn't understand and adding new scenes for the overseas market.

It's amazing in this era of DVDs and "new media" that any library of great films is neglected or allowed to rot. So much that was previously written-off with the casual dismissal of "No one will ever want to see that junk" is now valuable…and there are studios scrambling to find decent copies of material they once neglected. These days, even if there's no current demand for a certain old movie or a certain old TV show, no one dares say there never will be. But studio execs, many of whom regard themselves as well-paid temps, often don't see the value in spending money now to preserve something they might not market for five years. It's kind of like, "Yeah, we should do it…but it'll make this year's balance sheets look less wonderful and that might affect my raise or bonus…and anyway, I won't be here in five years." That kind of thinking.

I've watched Laurel and Hardy's best films dozens of times and even their worst ones a lot. At some point, I became aware that what we can see today is often not the complete or best possible version of a movie. It's an edited, third-generation TV print where someone futzed with the main titles and the music. It would be a shame if the surviving negatives and film elements were allowed to decompose in an era where digital restoration (and therefore, eternal preservation) is possible.

Great Photos of Buster Keaton

Number twenty-eight in a series…

Recommended Reading

If you're interested in the Death Penalty and what it does and does not do for society and for the families of victims, take a look at what Donald A. McCartin has to say about it. From the bench, he sentenced enough men to Death Row to earn the nickname of "Hanging Judge" but he has come to think that the system is cruel to the loved ones of the victim and needlessly expensive.

Phoenix Without Ashes…or Comic-Con

A hotel magnate named Ben Bethel is running for the City Council in Phoenix. I don't know much about Mr. Bethel and his page of proposals to make Phoenix a better place is full of the kind of grand, "Wouldn't that be great?" ideas that most candidates for office have. If and when such candidates are elected, they wind up abandoning most, struggling to get 5% or 10% of their proposals implemented and declaring grand success if they succeed in one or two.

One of his proposals, which you can read in full if you scroll down that page, is to lure the Comic-Con International to Phoenix…as a six-day event that would commence each year on the Tuesday after Memorial Day. Personally, I think this is about as likely as me hosting the con in my garage. I doubt the convention will move out of San Diego, at least in my lifetime…but if it did move, it would probably move to a town that offered more than just more room…

Phoenix can't offer more room. The San Diego Convention Center currently has 615,701 square feet of total exhibit space and when the current expansion plans are completed, it will have expanded by a third. The Phoenix Convention Center is about half that size. (And San Diego has just as many days to offer. If a six-day convention is ever feasible, you could have one in San Diego just as easily as anywhere else. I'd probably wind up hosting 23 panels.)

If you're interested in the expansion plans for the San Diego facility, they've set up this website to explain and tout them. I am still in awe of how much that once-little comic book convention — the one I first attended in a hotel basement in 1970 — has meant to that city and how it has spawned so much industry and employment. Mr. Bethel is correct that hosting the shindig in any city is a major economic boon. He's just wrong that it's ever going to happen in Phoenix, even if the state does rescind its ugly, minority-hassling laws. Thanks to Shane Shellenbarger for the link to Bethel's campaign page.

Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Music


I am, as you know, a big fan of a movie called It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. One of the things that made it so wonderful was, I thought, the music by Ernest Gold. Scoring a comedy is an art quite separate from scoring a drama or an adventure film and some lesser talents have thought, "Oh, the movie's supposed to be funny. That means the music needs to be funny, too." How wrong is that? Mr. Gold, who didn't otherwise do a lot of comedies, scored this one to accent the humor, not compete with it.

You may think you own a record or CD of the film's soundtrack. You don't. What seemed to be the soundtrack wasn't, for the most part, actual music from the film. They'd rearranged and rerecorded for the record…and anyway, it was less than 40 minutes. It's taken until now for someone to put together an actual soundtrack.

A company called La-La Land Records has just done a limited pressing of a real Mad World soundtrack. It's a two-CD set and the second CD has what was on that album. The first CD is 73 minutes of actual music from the film's score. You can read all about it, hear samples and order at this page. Order quickly 'cause they'll be gone soon.

Go Read It!

Leonard Maltin on meeting and interviewing Elizabeth Taylor. If you think he was nervous then, you should have seen the first time he met me.