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Toughing It Out

You know, I have no idea how to defeat ISIL, nor am I spending any time trying to figure one out. If it comes down to our nation needing my thoughts about this, the terrorists will already have won.

But a lot of the arguments I'm reading remind me of a trait some people have which annoys me. It's "talking tough without doing anything." Back during the '88 Writers Guild strike — actually, during all the many Writers Guild strikes through which I've lived — I kept finding myself in this conversation with some writer who was sure he had the key to victory…

HIM: We have to be tough.

ME: Okay, fine. We'll be tough. What are you suggesting we do?

HIM: I just told you. Be tough. Let them know we won't give in. They're tough. We have to be tougher.

ME: I get that. How would you suggest we express this toughness? What should we do that we aren't doing yet?

HIM: Win. Get in there and fight and battle and be tough. They'll give in, trust me. All we have to do is be tough.

I could never get any of these tough-minded people to suggest an action on our part…or if they did, it was something we were already doing. I guess it made them feel vital and powerful to think they'd actually come up with a solution. There's a saying that "hope is not a plan." Well, neither is an attitude.

Politicians like to talk tough, especially when we seem to be in a war situation. It's easy to talk tough. Hey, my dad can beat up your dad. But it's kind of meaningless without any workable idea how to apply all that alleged toughness. Check out almost any speech lately about how to defeat ISIL, especially those from folks who want to be the next President of the United States. Talking tough may have its place but it's not the same thing as being tough. Or even being smart.

But I Wanna Tell Ya…

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I just ordered Richard Zoglin's new, exhaustive biography of Bob Hope…and you can, too. You can also read Frank Rich's review of the book which suggests that while the Hope estate cooperated in its writing in order to burnish Bob's legacy, they may not be happy with the resultant portrait.

I am surprised that they apparently sanctioned mention of Rapid Robert's womanizing, which was one of those things everyone in Hollywood knew about and no one dared mention. One time on Larry King Live, Bill Maher mentioned it as an example of how the press loves to dump on certain people and protect others. Mr. King hurriedly changed the subject. He couldn't deny what Maher said about Hope but he couldn't not deny it, either.

Rich's review says Zoglin credits Hope as the first prominent comedian to acknowledge he had a writing staff. I'd be curious to hear more about that because I've always heard that was Jack Benny. In fact, I seem to recall reading somewhere that when Benny started crediting his writers, Hope was among those who asked him to stop because, just like the public didn't really want to know that Douglas Fairbanks had a stuntman, they didn't want to know their favorite comedians didn't think of all that funny stuff themselves. But who knows? Maybe Hope was first.

I've written here about my few brief encounters with Mr. Hope. I certainly never saw anything that went against the image of him as a joke hustler who didn't think too deeply about anything except pleasing the next audience. Once upon a time, that was all a comedian had to be. It's not his fault that he lived into an era where that was not enough.

Mourning Becomes Elective

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Some people are offended that William Shatner, who had previously committed to a charity event in Florida, could not attend Leonard Nimoy's funeral today in Los Angeles. I'm offended that are are news stories today headlined, "William Shatner defends decision not to attend Leonard Nimoy's funeral" and that the New York Daily News dubbed him "Captain Jerk" in a large cover story. That's the kind of decision no one should ever have to defend in public…or even private.

We've heard lots of tales of Mr. Shatner that might earn him the title of Captain Jerk. As far as I know, we never heard any from Leonard Nimoy. I guess it says something about what Star Trek meant to some people that they're disturbed that the funeral of one of its stars isn't going to go the way they imagine it should. Could they possibly grasp that this is not about them?

And what do you want to bet that if Shatner was there, he'd be criticized because he didn't say precisely the right things or he got too much attention?

Today's Video Link

Here's another video of this guy singing with himself. I could sing this well if I had that many different-colored t-shirts…

Fly the Smokefree Skies

What airlines were like before smoking was banned. I remember a few very uncomfy, nausea-filled flights not because of turbulence but because the person sitting next to me considered it their God-given, enshrined-in-the-U.S.-Constitution right to light up and blow it my way.

Once en route to somewhere or maybe somewhere else, I was seated in the No Smoking section — this was back when they were trying to have it both ways — and a lady next to me lit up a butt. When both I and the flight attendant told her she couldn't do that, she responded with what seemed to her like crystal-clear logic: "I requested a seat in the Smoking section but since they couldn't give me one, I get to smoke here." She seemed like a nice lady but she was quite adamant that she had to smoke and that no one had the right to stop her.

There was much arguing but the flight attendant (they were called stewardesses back then) settled it without violence by arranging for the lady to swap seats with someone who was in the Smoking section and not taking advantage of it.

Happily, those days are behind us. Now, if we could just get them to ban (1) people with booming voices who like to talk politics, (2) travelers who haven't showered since they left home weeks ago and (3) non-sleeping children under the age of 13. I also think people with bladder problems should not be allowed to sit in window seats when I've got the aisle.

Soup's On!

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It's March and we all know what that means: The Souplantation restaurant chain — also known as Sweet Tomatoes in some areas — is offering my favorite of all their soups, their Classic Creamy Tomato Soup. Guess where I'll be eating many times before the month is out. Check here to find out if one of these places is anywhere near you.

My raving about this soup has caused many people to think I am a connoisseur of all tomato soups. This is not the case. I just like this one. As a matter of fact, I am probably less a fan of other tomato soups because I like this one so much. Since I began posting about it, friends have dragged me to restaurants that serve (they say) a great tomato soup and I am forced to try a bowl. It's never as good. So I will dine repeatedly this month on Souplantation's Classic Creamy Tomato Soup and then not eat tomato soup again until next March. Unless they offer it again for a week in Fall, which they sometimes do.

Master Mind

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That odd looking gent is my pal, Max Maven. Max is perhaps the foremost "mystery entertainer" in the business today, meaning that he gets on stage and does uncanny things, up to and including the apparent reading of the minds of audience members. Carolyn and I went to see him perform his one-man show a few hours ago and boy, was that one man amazing.

I am impressed with this gent for several reasons. One, of course, is that his feats are impressive and he's not just up there linking rings and producing doves. Another is that he doesn't just send the audience home wondering, "How did he do that?" He gives them plenty of other interesting things to think about as he interweaves his feats with tales of great philosophers and scientists and other learned individuals. Yet another is that he's very funny as he interacts with the audience members who are drafted into "volunteering" and still another is that while he makes us laugh at the "volunteers'" usual awkwardness at following his instructions, he never demeans or embarrasses them.

I once worked with a great magician named Don Alan, who told me that one of the secrets of his art was not just to find the three of clubs but to know exactly when to reveal the three of clubs. Do it too soon and you trivialize your own feat. Take too long and you bore your audience, which is the main thing you're not supposed to do up there. One of the things I found fascinating about Max this evening was watching him artfully take his time without wasting ours. It isn't just being able to do the impossible. It's knowing how to deliver it.

He often tours and appears on television — alas for us, in other countries more so than the United States lately. If I find any online schedule of where he'll be, I'll link to it here because you really oughta see this guy. Here's a very, very brief example of what he does

Coming This Wednesday!

Here's an advance Head's Up! on this coming week's Stu's Show. Next Wednesday, my buddy Stu Shostak will send out the 400th episode of his weekly media-centered podcast. I was the guest on this first one on December 7, 2006 and I'll be a guest (not "the" guest) on #400 this Wednesday.

His other guest will be the master cartoonist, Sergio Aragonés, the creator of Groo the Wanderer, a staple of MAD magazine since 1963 and the most honored draw-er of silly pictures in the world today. We will be on live for at least two hours — maybe longer — commencing at 4 PM Pacific Time. If you can figure out what time that is where you live, you're probably too smart to be part of our target audience.

We'll be discussing Sergio's career in cartooning and also as an actor. We'll talk about Groo and other ridiculous things we'd done together and apart. I'll get him to tell stories, like about how he killed Marty Feldman and the time he met Richard Nixon. We may even dissolve a 45-year friendship on live radio just for the amusement of you people.

To listen in, go to the Stu's Show website at the proper time on Wednesday or some back here for further instructions. Over there, you can find out how to submit a question in advance and if we have time, Stu may open the phone lines so you can call in and participate in the broadcast. Hope you'll be there for it.

Wrassling

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Jon Stewart has some sort of feud going with WWE wrestler Seth Rollins and Stewart has accepted an invite/challenge to appear on something called WWE Monday Night Raw, which on the cable channels I get is broadcast on a lot of days per week, including sometimes Mondays. I just read several articles about this grudge match and can't quite figure out if Stewart is appearing on the episode that airs this Monday or if he's taping something on Monday for it or if he's taping something that will appear on some Monday. Can someone clarify this for me? I might want to actually watch a wrestling match for the first time in many years.

Some time ago, I co-produced a prime-time CBS special with a bunch of wrestlers — "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Captain Lou Albano and Hulk Hogan. One of our Exec Producers was Vince McMahon, president of what was then called the World Wrestling Federation and is now the WWE. Before and after it, I followed wrestling for a while but I have this problem with sports…and yes, I know many people do not consider what the WWE offers as a sport.

I can't follow sports, only people. I was only interested in the Dodgers when they were Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Don Drysdale, Frank Howard, John Roseboro, Walter Alston and others of that era. When too many strangers began appearing on the field, I lost interest in that whole world. I was the same way when I found new wrestlers turning up in the ring.

Before I got to that point, I learned a very valuable lesson about that business. Early in my brief association with Vince McMahon, I found myself sitting with him in the ABC commissary, talking and getting acquainted. I've told this story here before but it's been a while…

At the time, Mr. T was still something of a TV superstar but was occasionally popping up in the ring, teaming up with Hulk Hogan to thrash bad guys who were still bad guys. If only to make conversation, I asked McMahon how he was able to persuade Mr. T, who then seemed to have a real acting career of sorts, to get into the wrestling biz.

Vince looked at me like I'd just asked him the stupidest question in the history of Mankind (an accomplishment of which I am more than capable) and said the following very calmly, the way you'd talk to a child with a severe learning disability. He said, "In the history of Professional Wrestling, no one has ever done anything for any reason except money."

I've told that story to people who know the wrestling profession better than I do. They've all said, "You know now the only thing you need to know about that business."

Go Read It!

The JNS, which I believe stands for Jewish News Service, has posted this article about Jack Kirby and his roots.

Today's Video Link

Stephen Sondheim wrote a new short song for Meryl Streep to sing in the movie of Into the Woods. It was filmed, then the decision was made to omit it…so you'll see it on the DVD. Or here…

Tonight Temps

Hey, remember that Tonight Show clip I posted featuring the band and Clark Terry? Matthew Harris, a follower of this blog, knows Dick Lieb, who was in the Tonight Show band back then. He wrote to Mr. Lieb and got back this response…

This clip is interesting in that it’s from 1965 (this includes the years I was there) and while it does feature Clark Terry, I do not recognize the band! It is not the regular Tonight Show band and I’m curious as to what band it was?

I talked to Clark and his wife several weeks before he died and he called me back on New Year's Eve, which blew me away. I was very touched and honored that he would do this for me.

I think it's obvious. The Tonight Show was visiting Hollywood for a couple of weeks and NBC didn't want to spring to bring out the regular band. So they had someone — maybe Dave Grusin — assemble a group of L.A.-based musicians. Clark Terry came out to augment them or maybe he happened to be in Los Angeles for other reasons so they had him sit in.

By the way! It may be of some interest to note that for years when Johnny was based in New York but coming out here to do shows sometimes, the shows from Burbank were always aired on a one-day delay. His shows in N.Y. were broadcast the same day they were taped but those done out here were not. There was probably some now-outmoded tech reason for this having to do with transmitting the show back to New York so it could be telecast from there to the entire country.

That changed Tuesday, February 9, 1971. Carson had his show out here when a 6.6 earthquake hit at 6 AM. Johnny was awakened at the Sheraton Universal Hotel and moments later, he got a call from one of his writers, Pat McCormick, saying, "The God is Dead rally has been canceled!"

When it became apparent that the show could go on that night, Johnny insisted that NBC find some way to broadcast that evening's show the same evening so he could do a properly topical monologue. He opened with Pat's joke. The rest of the stay consisted of "same day" telecasts and the show they'd taped the previous evening was played a week later. Thereafter, any shows done from L.A. were aired the evening they were done.

The Joey Bishop Show, which aired opposite Carson for two years, was off the air by then. When it was on, it was done from L.A. and aired on a one-day delay. That may or may not have hastened its demise since Joey didn't do a lot of topical material…but it always seemed to be that having his competitor a day behind in referring to current events gave Johnny a big advantage. I think that also hurt David Letterman's shows when he decided to give himself and his staff a three-day weekend by taping Friday's show ahead.

Leonard Nimoy, R.I.P.

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I awoke this morn to e-mails from folks who are expecting me to have a really great Leonard Nimoy anecdote. Wish I did. I worked for three years for Alan Landsburg Productions, the folks who brought you the series, In Search Of, which Mr. Nimoy narrated. I didn't work on that program but I often ran into him at the office or at parties and he always said hello and seemed to be a nice and very real gentleman.

Performers in his position — you'll understand what position I mean in a moment — often seem to quietly appreciate it if you don't treat them like they've only done one thing in their careers. So in maybe two dozen times we exchanged words, I never mentioned Star Trek to Mr. Nimoy. I've never been a particular fan of that franchise anyway so that was easy. It seemed to please him that I knew he'd done other things and that he was an actor first and Mr. Spock, second.

In his honor, I have put up a photo of him not as Spock and I've wracked my cranium for a story that might convey the simple civility that impressed me about the man. This, I'm afraid, is the best I can do…

The lot at the Landsburg office was a mess of valet parking with runners (lowly-paid interns, actually) stuck out there all day to park and unpark too many cars in too small a space. That meant they often had to jam them in, stack-style, and when I wanted to leave, they'd had to move someone else's Mazda so they could then move someone else's Buick so they could then move someone else's BMW so they could then move someone else's VW so they could then move someone else's Mustang so they could fetch my Mercury Zephyr. It required some chess-like planning several moves at a time so I started calling it "Rubik's Lot."

I remember one scorcher afternoon standing out there for maybe a half-hour with ten other folks who wanted to leave as a particularly inept car-parker tried to free all our cars, one by one. Each move he made to try and remove cars from in front of our Business Affairs head's Mercedes seemed to be positioning more cars ahead of whatever Leonard was driving that day. He and I stood there, watching it all in despair, noting that when The Kid finally did get around to trying to bringing Nimoy's auto out, it was going to require the relocation of every other car in the lot. I was saying things to him like, "I think you have time to go in and narrate all of next season's episodes if you like."

Finally, my car became unblockaded — if that's even a word — and I offered to give Leonard a lift because "Your car will be an antique by the time you can drive it off this lot." Just then, someone apparently told The Kid who that slender man waiting patiently for his car for at least twenty minutes (so far) was. Mr. Nimoy had not thrown his clout or stardom about. He had just stood there in very hot sun, not expecting to be treated like anyone special even though, as he told me, he was going to be late for an appointment.

The Kid rushed up to him and said, "Wow, Mr. Spock, I'm sorry this is taking so long. I didn't know it was you but I do now so I'll get your car next and we'll beam you right out of here!" He gave Nimoy the little Vulcan salute. Nimoy, forcing a smile that should have earned him an Emmy then and there for acting, politely returned it and The Kid happily scurried off to begin the long process of liberating the Nimoymobile.

I got into my car and Leonard motioned for me to roll down the passenger window so he could say something to me. I did and he told me, making sure The Kid couldn't hear, "I hope he does not live long and prosper."

Not much of an anecdote, I know, but it's all I've got. I really didn't know the man but if that's what he was always like, I wish I had.

Today's Video Link

We love Bernadette Peters, no matter what she sings. Often, it's "Broadway Baby" from the show, Follies. Here's a mashup of some of the many times she's sung that tune…

50 Ways To Leave Your Liar

Okay, one more thing. Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart did a pretty scathing piece about Fox News. In connection with it, his crew assembled a Vine video which offers 50 of what they call Fox Lies in about six seconds. Why they did this as a Vine video, which is hard to pause in some browsers, is beyond me. But Politifact has broken it down, assertion by assertion. They agree that at least 49 of the 50 statements Stewart's staff listed were Mostly False, False or Pants On Fire.