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Movies

Following Up…

I have many messages this morning arguing whether that's Zeppo playing Groucho in the Animal Crackers clip. This may well be one of those "we'll never know for sure" things and no one writing me seems to have anything more to go on except whether they think it sounds like Groucho or not. My view is, like I said, I think it's Zeppo but it wouldn't shock me if it was Groucho.

Buzz Dixon makes an interesting point to me in an e-mail. The transition on American Bandstand from kids dancing like they did when not on TV to kids performing for the camera may not have had that much to do with music videos. The kids on Bandstand probably picked that up from watching the teens who danced on Soul Train.

Dick Clark had what I guess was a mixed reaction to that syndicated series. You know how people will say something as a joke but you get the feeling the joke reflects something they really feel but don't want to admit? Dick would joke that Don Cornelius (host/creator of Soul Train) "stole everything from me including my initials." Dick didn't think he really owned the idea of a teen dance party show but he thought they were all sold by somebody saying, "Hey, let's imitate Dick Clark's show." I don't think what he was really sore at the imitators for, as he saw it, ripping him off. I think he was sore at himself for not thinking to market a black version of Bandstand before Soul Train came along.

One of the projects I did with Dick was a short-lived series for ABC that was kinda like Laugh-In but without the success. It was called The Half-Hour Comedy Hour, not to be confused with a couple of other shows with similar names…or the same one. Dick was the producer but he kept turning up in sketches, including one where Arsenio Hall played Don Cornelius. In it, Dick came on at the end and hit "Don" with a pie…and I recall him enjoying that a lot. An awful lot.

Stooge Stuff

I said recently in a Tweet, "Betcha the budget for movie with fake Stooges is 10 times the budget for all the movies ever made with the real guys." Film historian Randy Skretvedt responded by noting…

The budget for a Stooges two-reeler in 1934 was around $18,000, and it got smaller and smaller as the years went by. (The Stooges' salaries, by the way, stayed the same–they never got a raise!) Even if we keep the budget at $18,000 per film, for 190 shorts that would be $3,420,000. I'm sure the new Farrelly travesty cost many times that amount.

Press reports say the budget on the new film was $40,000,000 so I guess it's so. And to be fair, that's not uncommon and not just because of inflation. I was on the set the last day of shooting of that recent Land of the Lost movie — the one with Will Ferrell, the one you didn't see and I didn't, either. Marty Krofft, its Exec Producer and one of the guys behind the original 1974-1976 TV series on which it was based was telling folks that that last day of filming cost more than the budget of the entire original 43 episodes.

I haven't, by the way, seen the new Stooges movie…and as is my tendency, I'm pretty much staying away from reviews. I do note though that a lot of my friends have been and apparently there are two completely different versions of this movie being exhibited. One is riotously funny and the other is one of the worst movies ever made. Sure hope I get the good one when I go.

Hey, the picture above reminds me. I'm supposed to be a bit of a Stooges authority but I don't know this. What's with the "e" in Curly? Everywhere I've ever seen his name written, it's been Curly but on the title cards, it was Curley. Did he change it or was that a longtime typo or what? I can imagine he started off being Curley and at some point, so many people and press reports were spelling it Curly that he gave up and went with Curly…or maybe he, Jerome Howard, always spelled it Curly and everyone else changed it. Not that this is of great importance but I'm wondering it anyone has any info on this. Maybe he sold the letter to Wile Coyote or something.

A Blood-Curlying Confession

Since everyone's talking these days about the Three Stooges, I think it's time I owned up to something. In over 45 years of blogging here, I have posted no more scandalous, controversial opinion than the one I'm about to confess to you: I like Shemp. Matter of fact, I think I like Shemp more than I like Curly.

Now, I have to qualify that. I generally like the shorts with Curly more than the shorts with Shemp. If I ever took the time to list my ten favorite Stooge shorts, most if not all would contain Curly…but that's judging the films, not the Third Stooges in them. The history of the Three Stooges shorts is pretty much an ongoing question of "How cheap can we make them for this year?" The Stooges starred in 190 short comedies for Columbia between 1934 and 1959. During those years, the popularity of two-reel short comedies declined to the point where most studios eventually abandoned the form completely. Laurel and Hardy, for example, stopped making shorts in 1935, getting out just as the Stooges got in.

As more and more studios gave up on two-reelers, the Columbia shorts department filled whatever marketplace remained, not just with the Stooges but with a lot of comedians whose careers were on the downside like Buster Keaton, Charley Chase, Andy Clyde and Harry Langdon. Eventually though, it was just Moe, Larry and the current Third Stooge. Their budgets got lower and lower with fewer (eventually, no) exteriors, less elaborate visual gags, smaller casts and — most of all — increasing reuse of old scripts and old footage. Some of the last Stooge shorts were actually shot in one day, filming a few minutes of new stuff to edit into an old film so they could pass it off as a new one.

When I first discovered the Stooges, it was on a local Los Angeles channel — KTTV, Channel 11. A man named Don Lamond, who happened to be Larry's son-in-law, hosted an afternoon show that fluctuated in length. Sometimes, it was an hour and they'd run three shorts in an hour. Sometimes, it was a half-hour and they'd cram in two, which required serious editing since most of those shorts were originally 16 minutes long.  By the time they hacked out room for the commercials and for Mr. Lamond, the 30-minute Three Stooges show was running two ten-minute episodes.  The films seemed to be selected at random and once in a while, I'd find myself watching a film that contained a long sequence that I'd just seen in the film before it. Once, back to back, they ran Corny Casanovas (with Shemp) and Rusty Romeos (with Joe Besser), which are basically the same film. They made it with Shemp in 1952 and then in 1957, they just reshot Shemp's scenes with Joe and issued it as a new film.

So there was this decline in budgets and shooting time and everything and that's one reason I think Shemp doesn't get his due though he was a better comedian than Curly. Matter of fact, I think Joe Besser was a better comedian, too. They both had to work with weaker material than Curly. They both had to work at a faster pace, shooting many more pages per day. But I think they elevated those films by having a wider range of reactions. Curly was fine in short doses but he had about three expressions and six noises and once he'd made all those expressions and noises, he was done for me. Part of the reason for his popularity I think is that he was the Third Stooge who got to appear in the shorts that weren't made for eleven dollars.

Go Read It!

Dick Cavett discusses two books by two friends of mine, both about Groucho.

From the E-Mailbag…

Jamie Stroud writes…

I couldn't agree more with your comments on the new Stooges movie. As a long time fan, my attitude is "it could be fun, but it won't be them." Hollywood has not learned by now and probably never will that you can't replace creativity with gimmicks. Exhibits A through D: The Little Rascals, Flintstones, Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Honeymooners and the list goes on. The people that put these shows and films together originally, whether it was voice work, animation, writing, acting, or sound, were talented and gifted artists. You can't destroy the Mona Lisa with a hundred copies. You just wind up with a hundred copies.

I plan on taking my daughter who is as crazy for The Stooges as I am (I was so proud the first time she poked me in the eyes. Then I showed her how it's done so I wouldn't go blind). I wouldn't be at all surprised if she asks me to put on a Curly or Shemp DVD when we get back home. What I hope they do in the new movie is have Shemp AND Curly in the same scene. That is something I have always wanted and only Hollywood can do.

Well, as you may know, it did happen once. Curly's last co-starring short was Half-Wits Holiday, which was made in 1947. Shemp took over with the next film…then in Shemp's third one, Hold That Lion, Curly made a cameo appearance — his last time on film and the only time that all three Howard boys appeared together. (And I guess it was the only time Curly was ever on film without his distinctive haircut. When he got sick, he let it grow in.)

Reportedly, the cameo was a spontaneous addition to the short. Curly was visiting the set and someone thought it would cheer him up — or maybe give him some hope he could still return to performing — to put him in. When he left the act, his family apparently presumed it was forever but officially, Shemp was to be a temporary replacement until Curly was well enough to return. That never happened and Shemp wound up appearing in 79 more shorts and one feature over the next ten years. But Curly still hoped to resume working at the time he appeared in Hold That Lion and since he's quite recognizable even with longer hair, it had to have baffled some audiences back then. They'd just seen Curly disappear from the films and probably assumed that guy had died or something. Now, here he was back in a bit part…huh?

Two years later, Curly filmed another cameo — for the Stooge short, Malice in the Palace — but it was not used. The above still is said to show him playing a mad chef but I don't guarantee that's him. The whole photo seems a little odd to me…like what's the deal with Shemp's proportions? Someone in Columbia's publicity department liked to take heads from one photo and paste them over heads in other photos so maybe that's what happened here. There are even stills where they took a shot of Moe, Larry and Curly and pasted Shemp's head over Curly's. Anyway, you can decide about this one. Curly apparently did shoot an unused scene for that film, which could have led to something particularly ghoulish…

After Shemp died in '55, the Stooges still had four shorts to deliver on their then-current contract. By then, most of their films were composed of old footage with some new scenes added and the last four films had been budgeted accordingly. It wasn't feasible to recruit a new Third Stooge for what could have been just four more films and they didn't have the money to film four more films without employing old footage. So they made four more films with Shemp using old scenes with him and with a gent named Joe Palma standing in for the new scenes, mainly with his back to camera. That was creepy enough but one of the films "remade" this way was Malice in the Palace. If Curly had been in it, they would have had two deceased Stooges in a new film.

Anyway, the Hold That Lion scene was reused in the later short, Booty and the Beast, which came out in 1953, a little more than a year after Jerome "Curly" Howard had died. Here it is…

Game Theory

I watched the HBO movie Game Change last night. Oh. My. God.

I guess there are two ways to approach an effort like this — as a movie and as an alleged reflection of reality. As a movie, I found it quite well-made and entertaining. I usually don't find myself absorbed into performances where someone imitates a known person. When an actor plays Elvis, I sit there noting all the ways and moments when he doesn't look like Elvis, doesn't sound like Elvis, doesn't move like Elvis, etc. That's kind of how it was for me in this with Ed Harris playing John McCain but largely remaining Ed Harris.

But Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin? Bought every second of it. And of course I had no problem with Woody Harrelson and all the other folks playing "handlers" who had to deal with their frustrations and horror of what their Frankenstein Monster was becoming and how she was sinking the ticket. The moment Sarah Paulson (playing campaign advisor Nicole Wallace) admits she couldn't vote for the lady she tried to get elected is one of the most powerful statements I've seen about American politics.

So good job as a movie. And praise for screenwriter Danny Strong and director Jay Roach.

As a record of what really happened? I dunno. Ms. Wallace said in an interview, "Game Change is not a movie about Sarah Palin. And it's definitely not about staffers like me. It's a film about the vast, murky gray area in which the majority of politics takes place." No, I think it's about Palin and about staffers like her…about what Palin really was, as opposed to the image that her coaches tried and only sometimes succeeded in establishing for her. Many of those staffers, Wallace included, are now saying the film is a striking mirror of reality and I can understand why someone would say that. It's another way of proclaiming, "Hey, don't blame us for losing that election. Look at what we had to work with!" And of course, we can all understand why Ms. Palin and those who support her would insist it's lies, fiction, a false narrative, etc.

A project like this kind of demands that the viewer have some opinion as to how accurate it is. Here's mine and you have to remember that I think Semi-Governor Palin was unqualified, not because of her limited experience but just because of who she was and how ill-informed she has always been. I further believe that her mission in life is not the dangerous political agenda she spouts but the personal glory and financial gain of Sarah Palin, and that she's found that firing up her base is a great way to further that agenda. So she fires them up with nonsense, distortions, outright fibs and playing the victim card every time someone disagrees with her or she doesn't get what she wants. And she avoids any situation where a journalist might ask her a question with an intent other than to let her deliver a prepared answer.

So you could say I have a low opinion of the lady. And despite that, as I watched Game Change, I kind of felt sorry for her.

I know I shouldn't. As she goes around this country telling people that Barack Obama is a Socialist who's destroying America, I don't even think she doesn't deserve a lot of the insults hurled at her. People in glass houses, after all. But still, the depiction of her bothered me. I'd really like to think it's exaggerated; that no one that clueless could have gotten that close to such a high office.

Then again, during the campaign the real John McCain struck me as pretty confused and disingenuous (much more so than the way he's played by Harris in the film) and he got even closer to the presidency. The film felt to me like its makers, aware they'd be slammed for the way they depicted Palin, decided they might look fairer if they made McCain look heroic and wise. During that election, one of the reasons Senator McCain did not win was that he did not look heroic or wise. Here's a clip of one of many moments when he did not…

The John McCain we see there is everything Game Change makes Sarah Palin out to be. He's attacking an alleged aspect of the Obama health care proposal…but he obviously didn't read it or listen to anyone who did. Perhaps someone heard a talking point on Fox News and didn't bother to check the actual plan to see how Obama might answer McCain. The first thing I learned in debate class was that you never ask your opponent a question unless you have a good idea how he'll respond. What the hell happened here?

Game Change makes Palin out to be foolish and arrogant at times for refusing to study for public appearances. Why are they faulting her when McCain's out there making mistakes like this, throwing an accusation at Obama that Obama could so easily hit out of the park? And of course, Obama was sharp enough to mention that he'd explained this at a previous debate, thereby making the point that McCain wasn't paying attention or his memory was going…or something.

I don't accept the implied premise of Game Change that the Palin half of the McCain-Palin combo sank the ticket by coming across addled; not when the guy on top was making people wonder if he was just plain too old or confused to be Chief Exec. In the movie, Ed Harris comes across as strong and principled and in total grasp of the situation…and he has that leading man quality that makes you feel like he's ready to go be an astronaut. Can you recall McCain ever coming off like that during the campaign? Watch that debate clip again. Palin didn't do well in her one-on-one with Biden but McCain did more damage in his debates, if only because his mattered more.

So I feel bad for her that she's getting blamed for the loss. Even if she really is/was the uninformed narcissist that the HBO movie makes her out to be, she doesn't deserve all or even most of the blame for McCain losing. I'd say George W. Bush and Dick Cheney probably deserve more…and McCain certainly does. Bush and Cheney did what they did to this country — and McCain's the one who didn't really try to tell America that if they elected him, there'd be any kind of real Game Change.

The Last of Hackenbush

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The last few years of his life, Groucho Marx was "involved" with a woman named Erin Fleming. I chose the word "involved" because it's still a difficult relationship to describe. A TV producer named Jerry Davis sent her over because his friend Groucho needed someone to run errands and help manage his home and life. I knew Jerry. He helped Dennis Palumbo and me get some of our first writing jobs and he once told me that referring Fleming to Marx was "the worst thing I ever did in my life." But even he acknowledged that it was not as cut and dried as that. She took over Groucho's life to the point where there was talk of her either marrying him or being adopted by him as a daughter. There are tales of her abusing him verbally and even physically, and after his death she lost a half-million dollar lawsuit that asserted she'd looted the Marx bank accounts. On the other hand, he did say on several occasions that he loved her and couldn't imagine his life without her…and even her detractors acknowledge some ways in which she kept him as "alive" as a man his age could be.

My own view is based on a lot of reading and on two brief glimpses of them in person and in action. It's that she was a failed actress who seized on proximity to Groucho as means of access to a part of Hollywood to which she'd otherwise never have been admitted. She devoted much of her life for several years to him and obviously thought she was therefore entitled to every reward she could reap from their association. Was she good for him? That one's hard to answer. She did good and bad things for and to him but life is often a question of alternatives. I would have a hard time arguing that Groucho would have been better off if he'd never met her; not unless there was evidence that a saner, benevolent person would have come along who would have done the good things for him without the bad.

(I stuck in "saner" because there's no doubt she was seriously deficient in that area…and I don't mean she was ha-ha wacky. I mean she was mentally ill…and getting iller.)

My "take" on it all is largely from afar. Last night, I went up to the Hollywood Heritage Museum and heard a talk by my buddy Steve Stoliar, whose vantage point was from anear. Steve was hired by Erin to handle Groucho's fan mail and other archival duties. He was in that house, right there at Ground Zero for several years and his opinion from Erin doesn't differ a whole lot from mine. This is because I got a lot of mine from his fine book on his years with Groucho. He certainly agrees with the "crazy" part, having been subjected to many a screaming fit from Erin and to involvement in some of the attempts to "save" Groucho from her. Steve was 18-20 in those years and there wasn't much he or anyone could do but Groucho was fortunate to have him on the premises.

Last night, Steve talked about the experience and about Erin and he showed some rare video of which he apparently has the only copies. We saw some of Groucho's appearance at an event at U.C.L.A. in the early seventies. Steve spearheaded a drive to get the Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers released again after legal complications had made it unavailable. Groucho and Erin went up to U.C.L.A., where Steve's campaign was based, and there's this amazing footage of Marx surrounded by and answering questions from college students, Steve included. There was also video Steve and a friend shot in the Marx home, including Groucho singing. What attendees saw last night may have been Groucho's last performance of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" in front of any camera.

And there were other historical treasures, including a Ted Koppel interview of Fleming the night of the day she lost that lawsuit. If anyone ever doubted she was out of her mind, this video settles it. She babbles on with disconnected answers, all the time having a stare on her face that…well, this is not a nice way to put it but it's accurate. You know that glazed stare some female politicians get when on TV? If Nancy Pelosi's rates a 6 on the crazed scale and Michele Bachmann is a 9, Erin Fleming's on this tape is about a 23.

The hall last evening was packed with Marx Brothers fans and historians. If you want to know about Groucho — and especially about that end of his life — Steve's the guy. He's also pretty funny, which is not always the case with folks who write or talk about great comedians.

Now, before you write to ask: Steve has one more talk scheduled — April 5 over at U.S.C. — and I suggest that film societies, universities and other venues that book such speakers start inviting this guy. He can be reached via his website (where you can also order his book and get it autographed) and that may be your best bet to hear him and maybe see some of this video footage he has. Some of it is very personal and needs to be seen in the context of his presentation so he has no plans to make it available anywhere. It is not and never will be on YouTube.

I'm swamped with work before I flee to WonderCon but I'm glad I made time last night to hear Steve talk. I hope you someday have the opportunity.

Da Oscars

Just read two reviews of the Oscars by different friends of mine. Ken Levine is always funny when he doesn't like something. Leonard Maltin is always wise even when I don't agree with him. (Leonard, you and I need to have a talk about this aberrant notion you picked up somewhere that Joan Rivers is funny…) Read Ken here, including his comment thread. Then read Ken here, also including his comment thread. Then read Leonard here and don't skip over his comment thread. That's if you're at all interested in this topic and I could well understand how you might not be. You might even be a better person for thinking all this is beneath you. I wish I could.

What would I do if I were producing the show? I'm actually happy to say that's never going to happen. It's one of those jobs that can't be done without having your work likened the next day to The Titanic (the disaster, not the movie) but here are some thoughts…

They need to rethink the role of the host. I don't think he or she matters that much insofar as audience tune-in, though the host is usually the first person blamed/credited if the ratings are down or up. That's like blaming Vin Scully if a Dodgers game is boring. People tune into the Academy Awards in relation to how much they care about who wins that year's Academy Awards. Some years, the host-pickers seem to think, "We need to get younger viewers to tune in. Who's hot with younger viewers?" So you get James Franco. Some years, they ask, "Who's a hot stand-up comic who'll get the show off to a great start?" That's probably the better question of the two but it gets you Chris Rock and instead of the Oscars, you've got The Chris Rock Show for the first half-hour and then he disappears for long stretches. And if they don't know what question to ask, you get Billy Crystal doing the same act he did last time. And the time before and the time before…

What I'd do is pick a host who can do a short monologue and not make the first half-hour of the show all about himself or herself, then have the host pop up more throughout the telecast to keep things moving. Steve Martin was pretty good. I'll bet Albert Brooks or George Clooney could do it. Brooks would have been a lot funnier this time than Bob Hope always was when he complained about not being nominated. And it feels to me like it oughta be someone who's done enough films to be considered a Movie Star and who isn't up there to promote his or her next time as Movie Star. Billy Crystal seemed to think he had to keep reminding us he was and will be again.

Then I'd do away with the idea of a theme. Each year, someone sits down and comes up with some movie-related cliché that absolutely no one believes. Let's celebrate the joy of movie houses! (News flash: None of the people in the live audience go to them!) Let's celebrate how international the movies are! Let's celebrate the great, memorable lines of the movies! There were a couple of years there where the Emmys were stuck in the rut of TV as a family experience: Every show is a family and then families all get together and watch those shows as a family experience! Themes lead to real forced, boring presenter speeches where some performer has to come out and read copy by some writer who had to find some way to tie Costume Design into that year's arbitrary theme.

The Oscars need a couple of presenters who the audience will be thrilled to see up there. Forget demographics. Imagine if to give out Best Director, they had Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks go out there. Imagine if for Best Screenplay, Roger Ebert and his wife came out and Roger's computer voice announced the winner. A few years ago, I polled readers of this site about who would excite them and a lot of folks suggested teams — like having the three most notable James Bonds all come out together or a tag-team of Jerry Lewis and Adam Sandler.

Change the "In Memoriam" segment to "In Celebration" and pick a jazzy, "up" tune that says, "Isn't it great we had these people around and that their work will live forever?" And if the nominated songs aren't good enough to perform on the Oscar show, they weren't good enough to be nominated.

And lastly: Get rid of presenters telling nominees how great they were in the film for which they've been nominated. It's enough that the evening is about multi-millionaires celebrating other multi-millionaires. Those asses have been sufficiently smooched by the nominations and the walk down the red carpet. I think a lot of home viewers find the Oscars distasteful for the same reason I find it distasteful when some CEO making ten million a year explains that his lifestyle demands a higher salary. Show business has always had this unfortunate tendency to act like it's the highest calling in life and if you some day figured out how to cure world hunger…well, that's nice but it's too bad you wasted your life and didn't grow up to be Jeff Bridges. At a time when a large part of America is outta-work and hoping the local Target store resumes hiring, folks would like to get away from their troubles and watch a little glamour for an evening. But there's a point when the exaltation of Hollywood reaches the stage of contempt for the "little people" and the Oscars have always danced on that dividing line. They need to dial it back a notch if they want the world to dial up their show.

Of course, if you did all of the above, you'd have the Best Oscar Telecast Ever and all the same people would still say it was the worst. Because the Academy Awards is the institution that so many love to hate. And they hate it because it's basically a promotional vehicle for movies and the people who make them…and it'll never be as magical as we want it to be.

Watching the Oscars

Every year, the Internet seems to erupt with the sentiment that we've just seen the worst Academy Awards ceremony ever. I'm never sure what folks are expecting.

It's an awards show. 70% of it is giving awards and most of that is stuff like Best Cinematographer which is never going to be entertaining no matter how it's staged or scripted. I'm not saying those folks don't deserve their place in the spotlight because they do. In fact, there's a sense in which those are most important awards since they're the life-changers. Meryl Streep's third Oscar is not going to enhance her clout or the respect she receives. It may not even make her any more "in demand." But that unknown guy up there thanking everyone for some tech award…you may well be looking at the best moment of his life and the one that alters things for the better.

Some years, because of what's out there and what's nominated and what wins, the awards aren't all that exciting and there's nothing the telecast's producers can do to change things. When you look back at the truly memorable moments of these shows, most of them are things that were beyond the producers' control — someone crying, someone saying something outrageous, someone doing one-handed push-ups. Not stuff that can be controlled.

As for the entertainment-type elements, I thought the Christopher Guest piece was funny but not much else was. What the whole show needed was something unpredictable. I love Billy Crystal but I think I love him less as an Oscar host than in any other role he fills…and less and less each time he does it. The man had lost his capacity in that job to surprise. Did anyone not know we were going to get the opening montage with him in all the current movies? The opening medley of song parodies? The plug for his next movie disguised as a joke about plugging his next movie? Him doing Sammy Davis? And all those little remarks that flow from the premise that the most important thing about the event was that he was back hosting it again? This year, it felt like an impersonator doing Billy Crystal.

He was a great host in the past. If he does it again — and I bet he will, though maybe not for a few more years — he needs to offer us something we haven't seen before and we care about. Because depending on how the nominators nominate and how the voters vote, it can be a pretty hard show to drag across the finish line.

Jerry Alert!

Every time I express any sort of admiration for Jerry Lewis, even if it's only to salute his sheer longevity, I find myself in a debate with someone. Sometimes, it has to do with whether the things he says and does in real life diminish the merits of his movies. And sometimes, it's whether there are any merits in his movies.

I prefer almost all the films he made with the Italian fellow over those he made alone…but I like a lot of what he did alone and even the weakest efforts usually have their moments. What's interesting to me is that I find myself having these debates with folks who either haven't seen any of Jerry's movies lately or haven't seen many of Jerry's movies at all.

If you get the Encore Family channel, be advised that in the next few days, they're running The Ladies' Man, The Nutty Professor, The Errand Boy, The Bellboy and The Geisha Boy. The last of these was directed by Frank Tashlin but the rest were helmed by Jer and they're about as good as his work got when he was in charge. I might have swapped out The Errand Boy and swapped in The Family Jewels but otherwise, it's a pretty good list. If you watch and don't like 'em, there's no point in seeking out any of Jerry's other self-directed flicks.

Lily of the Valley

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The Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters is an organization of folks who have years of experience in the broadcasting profession — TV or radio. I'm a member and three times a year, I get invited to a luncheon in honor of someone who's distinguished themselves in those industries. Yesterday, it was Lily Tomlin so I had to go. As usual, it was held at the Sportsmen's Lodge out in Studio City.

There was a good dais, including her Laugh-In compatriots, Gary Owens, Joanne Worley and George Schlatter. Also up there were Sally Kellerman, Bruce Vilanch, Kat Kramer and many other folks. Ms. Kramer wowed the room with a song about Lily with special (and very funny) lyrics by Shelly Goldstein, who hasn't been mentioned on this blog for a day or so. All spoke or sang glowingly of their friend Lily, which was not surprising. I don't think I've ever heard anyone not like Lily Tomlin at least within the entertainment business. She has this amazing capacity to find compelling characters…to create them, crawl inside them and be very amusing. And for someone so talented, she has a stunning amount of modesty. I've liked her from the first time I saw her on Laugh-In. Just about everybody did.

As usual for these luncheons, half the fun was running into friends in the audience. At the next table, I spotted the lady who was our Production Assistant on a show I did for Sid and Marty Krofft in 1978 and we had a nice reunion. On the way out, I ran into the gent who directed some of the shows I wrote in the early eighties. The place was also full of cartoon voice actors — Neil Ross, Bill Farmer, Jim MacGeorge and even June Foray. I had a very good time.

Chuck McCann Alert!

And speaking of projectionists…

This is for those of you in or around Los Angeles and I apologize about the short notice. Tomorrow night, the Egyptian Theater is running a two-movie Chuck McCann Film Festival. They're unspooling Play It As It Lays and The Projectionist…and in-between, they'll be unspooling Chuck. He'll be there to talk about his roles in both those films. I don't know if I can make it because I semi-committed to something else before I heard about it. It sounds like a great evening.

One warning: The Egyptian is a great place to watch movies and a dreadful place to watch people being interviewed. The rows down front are especially bad as that section has a negative rake to it, meaning that the seats in front of you are higher. You can see the screen but not anyone under and in front of it. Which is probably where Chuck will be. But you'll enjoy the movies and you'll enjoy Chuck because everyone always does. You may just enjoy him more if you sit where you can see him. More details on the event can be found here.

Lens Crafters

Increasingly, movie theaters show movies without having someone around who goes by the job description of Projectionist. This article covers some of the history of this trend.

I love the notion of films being presented by someone who loves movies and brings a certain air of artistry to his craft but I fear the art went out of that job long ago in most venues. Automated projection may well be preferable to some of the inept, amateurish work I've endured the last few decades in movie theaters. It may be a new trend to not have a projectionist on the premises but it ain't a new trend not to have a skilled one running the movie.

I'd cite some examples of this but I'm sure you have plenty of your own. If the automated system can start the movie on time, have it in focus, have the volume set properly, etc., I don't quite see what we as moviegoers are losing but for a certain romantic notion that evaporated long ago in most theaters. It's a gain just that digital projection guarantees you won't have awkward breaks between reels and the occasional reversal of their running order.

Well, I will tell one horror story. Once upon a time, the Fairfax Theater up at Beverly and Fairfax, right across from CBS, was a true film palace. The Boris Karloff Frankenstein had its sneak preview in that building. I once took a date there to see one of the Rocky movies — the one where Burgess Meredith died; whichever one that was. Nineteen, I think. Anyway, the film started and the volume was so low, we couldn't hear it.

I guess everyone in the audience thought, "They'll notice and fix it." But if anyone noticed, no one had it fixed. Five minutes in, we were still watching a largely-silent movie. I went out to complain and the only person to complain to was a popcorn-seller who said, "You'll have to talk to the projectionist." I asked how I could get to the projection booth. She said, "I don't know. That's not my department." Obviously, this woman was vying for Employee of the Month.

I somehow found it on my own and knocked. No one answered and it couldn't have been because the soundtrack was drowning out my knocking. I knocked some more. After maybe five more minutes, the projectionist came rushing back from the men's room to handle a reel change. As he did it, I told him about the volume. "I'll get to it," he said. We argued a bit about how much this could wait but he said, "I can only do one thing at a time." It turned out, he couldn't even handle one. As I left the booth, he was saying, "See what you made me do? I just mounted the wrong reel."

I went downstairs, got my date and we left. Soon after, they carved the large Fairfax into three small mini-theaters and dropped prices to a buck. The one time I went there when it was in that configuration, we had the opposite problem: Too much soundtrack. You could hear the movie in Theater 1 in Theater 2. Billy Elliott was underscored with explosions and car chase sounds from whatever Schwarzenegger was in that week. No wonder the place went out of business…even though I enjoyed parts of Billy Elliott more because of that.

The Delicate Delinquent

Hey, remember that evening with Jerry Lewis last week that I told you about here? Well, Jerry's interviewer Leonard Maltin tells us what it was like from his vantage point. Leonard is being diplomatic when he suggests that Jerry tends to wander off topics.

Go Read It!

Drew McWeeny went to the movies and wasn't wild about the person sitting next to him.