Here is a photo by Richard Avedon of a 16-year-old basketball player in 1963:
The player’s name at that time was Lew Alcindor.
Here I am, being an Old, but bear with me.
I grew up watching “classic TV” reruns. They ran ALL THE TIME in the afternoons, owing largely I suspect to the lack of content available at the time. Obviously MASH was the king, but a longtime ever-present option was Hogan’s Heroes.
Even late GenX folks may not remember, but this weird little sitcom — it ran from 1965 to 1971, and was waning in syndication by the time I went to college — about a German POW camp was kind of delightfully subversive, and the cast included some pretty wonderful actors. The most famous after the show was probably English actor Richard Dawson, who went on to game show fame with Match Game and Family Feud, but the bench was much deeper.
John Banner played the loveable, oafish, somewhat dim Sergeant Schulz (“I know nothing! NOTHING!”). Banner was born Johann Banner to Jewish parents in Austria-Hungary, in an area that is now part of Ukraine. He fled Europe in 1938, when Hitler annexed Austria, and eventually enlisted in the the Army Air Corps. Banner died young (by modern standards) at 63, back in 1971.
The camp was run by the imperious but only marginally competent Colonel Klink, played by German-born actor Wener Klemperer. He and his family emigrated to the US in 1933, where his father was the conductor of the LA Philharmonic. He acted in the thirties, but joined the Army when the war began. When Hogan’s Heroes came along, he accepted the role only if the Colonel was to be played as a fool incapable of succeeding; the writers obliged. He lived to be 80.
What moved me to write this today [which was, at the time, 17 November 2022] was the news that Robert Clary, the French actor who played the diminutive Corporal LeBeau and the last surviving principal cast member, passed away at the ripe old age of 96 yesterday.
What I had not appreciated was that Clary — born Robert Max Widerman — was a Holocaust survivor. Born in Paris in 1926, he was the youngest of 14 children. He was already singing professionally by the age of 12 — but then, of course, the war came to France.
In 1942, at 16, he and his family were abducted by the Nazis, and he was sent to the camp at Buchenwald. His parents and 10 of his siblings were sent instead to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Clary survived, he believed, because he could entertain his SS captors. He was liberated in 1945, and was able to resume his entertainment career successfully enough that he made his way to Hollywood and TV immortality in Hogan’s Heroes.
The other day I was reminded, for some random reason, of a great scene from the 2007 film Charlie Wilson’s War wherein we get a really lovely confrontation between Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s character (and real life CIA officer) Gust Avrakotos and CIA administrator Henry Cravely (whom I’m not sure was real or not) played by John Slattery:
The piece of this that sticks in my memory is the moment, at the end of his rant that starts about a minute in, where Gust finishes his rant with “…and I am never, ever sick at sea.” Weird flex, right? But cool in the moment.
But in seeing this scene again, I remembered that I’d heard it before, from Alec Baldwin back in 1993, in the underrated neo-noir Malice. Here’s the scene; it’s worth going with the whole clip to get context (and a late performance by George C. Scott), but Baldwin’s bit starts at about 3:00. Here, he’s a high-powered and egotistical surgeon accused of malpractice due to arrogance:
There it is again: “I am never, ever sick at sea.”
That’s a weird line — I mean, it’s great, but it’s odd once and super odd TWICE in very similar contexts, which is enough to tickle my brain into a bit of research. Two things immediately came to light:
First, that the line is a reference to Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1878 H.M.S. Pinafore; and
Second, that the screenwriter on both films was one Aaron Sorkin.
Sorkin is a documented G&S nerd — so much so that he wove references thereto into the fabric of his best known work, the award-winning TV show The West Wing. In season two, he even literally ENDS an episode with the main cast singing along to a song from (yep) Pinafore.
Viola Davis made history last night by becoming just the 18th person to achieve “EGOT” status: she’s won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.
What’s interesting about the list is how few of these folks are household names — probably because composers and musicians have an inside track here:
Richard Rodgers, of Rodgers & Hammerstein fame, was first.
Helen Hayes, actress
Rita Moreno, actress. My favorite thing about her EGOT status is that she clinched with an Emmy for the Muppet Show.
John Gielgud, actor (though he won a Tony in 1961 for direction after already achieving his EGOT).
Audrey Hepburn, actress (though her Emmy was from a program where she appeared as herself)
Marvin Hamlisch, composer
Jonathan Tunick, composer
Mel Brooks, comedic actor, writer, and director.
Mike Nichols, mostly a director, but his Grammy was for comedic performance
Whoopi Goldberg, comedian and actress, also won a Tony as a producer
Scott Rudin is the first person to achieve this as a producer only. He is also, it should be noted, an enormous asshole.
Robert Lopez, songwriter. Lopez was also the fastest to get there (10 years), and the youngest (39).
Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer and titan of musical theater
Tim Rice, lyricist
John Legend, singer, songwriter, and producer. He hit the EGOT in the same moment as Rice and Webber, as they were all honored for a live TV production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2018.
Alan Menken, composer
Jennifer Hudson, actress and producer, and youngest female winner
Viola Davis, actress
Note that the list doesn’t count you if one of your awards is non-competitive (e.g., lifetime achievement or other special sort of award). These folks have the four awards, but one of them’s non-competitive:
In all these cases EXCEPT Jones, the “special” award was the clincher; for Q, he clinched with a competitive Tony in 2016 after his Humanitarian Oscar in 1994. Obviously, he’s got some Grammys — 28 of them.
(There’s also the notion of the PEGOT, which adds the Pulitzer to the mix; only Rodgers and Hamlisch have this honor, but it’d be foolish to bet against Lin-Manuel Miranda getting there given that he lacks only the Oscar at this point.)
It is also, I am informed, a perfect distillation of a certain part of Boston.
This interview is from 1999, he nails the profound impact of the Internet on global communication and media.
This is just beautiful: it’s the proposed credits of a 70s-style crime show starring playwright Samuel Beckett.
Netflix has released a board game based on their runaway hit The Queen’s Gambit, which is, of course, already about a board game.
From the Wiki description:
The Visitors constitutes the performance of a song written by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, Kjartansson’s ex-wife. The piece is displayed across nine different screens, each featuring musicians or artists either by themselves or in groups in different rooms of the house at Rokeby Farm, or on the grounds outside, performing simultaneously but separately. One screen features Kjartansson by himself. Others featured in the piece include friends of Kjartansson, both from the artist’s native Reykjavík and elsewhere, as well as residents of Rokeby Farm, where the piece was filmed.
Eventually, the musicians move from their isolated spaces — libraries, bedrooms, a bathtub — and congregate in a downstairs room before filing out onto the grounds, across a beautiful meadow, dancing and drinking and continuing to sing.
It’s about an hour long, and is utterly, amazingly beautiful.
The WaPo has a great interactive oral history of the piece that is 100% absolutely worth your time. (h/t to Erin!)
The GQ piece on Jason Sudeikis is really worth your time.
The title quote is here:
But he acknowledged it had been a hard year. Not necessarily a bad one, but a hard one. “I think it was really neat,” he said. “I think if you have the opportunity to hit a rock bottom, however you define that, you can become 412 bones or you can land like an Avenger. I personally have chosen to land like an Avenger.”
Season 2 of Ted Lasso is just around the corner. I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better half hour show EVER. Find time.
I think this Bulova ad makes that pretty clear.
Because some of you are CHILDREN, in order of appearance, we have:
And, of course, Muhammad Ali — also too iconic to need a link — who passed in 2016. He’d have turned 79 in January, though.
I’m not entirely sure what we did to deserve George Clooney, but, well, we got him anyway.
This long GQ profile/interview is pretty great, and includes the long-sought official confirmation that the “Clooney once gave his best friends a million bucks each, in cash” story is 100% true.
The best part:
“You know, it’s funny,” Clooney says. “I remember talking to one really rich asshole who I ran into in a hotel in Vegas—certainly a lot richer than I am. And I remember the story about the cash had come out, and he was like, ‘Why would you do that?’ ”
Clooney smiles. “And I was like, ‘Why wouldn’t you do that, you schmuck?’ ”
“Only” 158 people have ever been in the cast at SNL. 16% of those have had their ENTIRE CAREER happen while he’s been on the show.
All in, Kenan has shared the bill with 52 cast members — those 25, plus anyone who was already on the cast when he was hired (Armisen, Dratch, Fallon, Fey, Forte, Hammond, Meyers, Parnell, Richards, Rudolph, and Sanz) plus all those still ON the cast (16 people at the end of last season, plus himself).
IOW, he’s been cast with just over 33% of all cast members of SNL ever.
My love for the comedy troupe The State is well documented, but somehow I never saw this piece in Details back in 1996 about their ill-fated and almost-never-seen network debut, a Halloween special on CBS on a random Friday night that year.
Nothing went well, obviously, or the group would’ve gotten bigger instead of staying a cult favorite. Lots of the alums went on to bigger success — several in Reno 911!, Wet Hot American Summer, and obviously Joe Lo Truglio in Brooklyn Nine-Nine — but this mostly marked the end of The State as a going concern, which is sad.
Anyway, this article — written by a comedy writer who worked with them for the special — is a great time capsule, and it includes a laugh-out-loud treat for modern readers. Hint: watch out for the name of a particular day player, then essentially unknown with a single credit, now hugely famous & festooned with awards.
Rebecca Solnit has long been one of the most important voices writing in the 21st century. The first two paragraphs of her piece on the Weinstein verdict give you an inkling why I say that.
There was a man who was in charge of stories. He decided that some stories would be born, expensive, glamorous stories that cost more than a hundred minimum-wage earners might make in a hundred years, filmy stories with the skill of more hundreds expended so that they would slip in like dreams to the minds of millions and make money, and he made money and the money gave him more power over more stories.
There were other stories he decided must die. Those were the stories women might tell about what he had done to them, and he determined that no one must hear them, or if they heard them they must not believe them or if they believed them it must not matter.
It is by no means surprising, in retrospect, that the advent of cheap and easy DNA testing services and online databases had lead to a situation that Jeffrey Young over at HuffPo calls The Death of the Family Secret.
It’s a fascinating read. Make time.
Bill O’Reilly, almost getting it:
Yeah, Bill, it’s a LOT like that.
In case the graphic gets lost:
Slavery reparations is a far-left favorite because it does a number of things. It reinforces the radical belief that the United States was founded by racist white men who installed a system whereby white guys would run everything and blacks, women and others would be exploited.
It also suggests that personal responsibility does not count when the legacy of slavery dropped a curtain of oppression on the black race and there is no recovering from that. The radical left says our society remains unjust to this day, forget personal responsibility.
(Widely linked; screenshot from BoingBoing.)
William Langewiesche has written no end of wonderful pieces about flight. This makes sense; his father Wolfgang wrote the definitive text on the subject back in 1944, so young William grew up with flight, and indeed worked as a pilot himself for years before taking up writing.
Eventually working with both Vanity Fair and The Atlantic, Langewiesche has won two National Magazine Awards, and been nominated for many others — and not always about flight. He’s written about the Sahara, the unbuilding of the World Trade Center, and nuclear proliferation in the third world, international shipping, and the Chilean mining disaster.
But it’s in flight that he seems to be the most compelling to me. Over the years he’s covered the so-called Miracle on the Hudson, the Columbia disaster, the now-nearly-forgotten collision of planes over the Amazon in 2006, and, most compellingly, about the 1999 crash of EgyptAir 990
This month, in the Atlantic, he has a new piece, on the loss of flight MH370; it appears that we now have as close to a rock solid explanation as we’re likely to get, given Malaysian corruption and the realities of ocean searches. Sadly, this situation has a lot in common with EgyptAir 990.
The piece is long, but it’s very good, and well worth your time.
So Facebook has apparently been asking people for their email passwords, which is just amazingly wrongheaded and evil. I’m sure plenty of folks gave them up, too. But here’s the thing:
There is never a good reason to give your password to anyone. Note I didn’t say “email password;” I mean literally ANY password. Maybe we get a little flexible about this where spouses come into play, or that shared Hulu account, but for things like email: NOPE.
It’s ABSOLUTELY a red flag if anyone online ever asks you for a password to some other site, as Facebook does here. There’s no reason for Facebook to need this information. There’s no reason for you to give it to them. Seriously. NO GOOD CAN COME FROM THIS.
So, Tom Hiddleston did a funny little vitamin commercial for the Chinese market, and it’s notable for lots of reasons if you’re interested in that sort of thing. For one thing, it was released on Hiddleston’s own Weibo channel, so it’s not just advertising native to social media, it’s advertising tailor-made for a Chinese social media platform — and is meant to be consumed on phones (hence the vertical video).
Anyway, it’s apparently hugely successful in China, but lots of it seems super weird to Western consumers — not the least of it being the weird “immersive” style, and obviously the food choice.
This would all be fuel for discussion on its own, but then Phil Wang made something amazing with it, and that’s why I’m posting it here. Enjoy.
Make time for this, seriously. It’s brilliant and amazing.
This is one insanely depressing story. Perhaps the money quote is paragraph from late in the story:
I want to go home, but feel reluctant to leave. One of the most famous actors in the world is now smoking dope with a writer and his lawyer while his cook makes dinner and his bodyguards watch television. There is no one around him who isn’t getting paid.
14 years ago, promoting Anchorman, Will Ferrell visited Conan back when Conan was on Late Night, and really kind of before DVRs took over. Few watched or recorded; it was weird and chaotic and almost devoid of rules.
So they did this. It’s long. Stay with it. Make time, but if you absolutely cannot wait, skip ahead to 9:40, and realize that this joke only comes after Ferrell has been playing it straight on the couch for nearly ten minutes.
Good lord, absolutely MAKE TIME TO WATCH THIS, because it’s awesome.
The story — about an SR-71 crew being the fasted guys on the comms channel one afternoon — has been widely shared before, but this is the first time I’ve heard it “performed” by the author. It’s pretty great. Enjoy.
It is difficult to adequately explain what a treasure The Gong Show was in its heyday. It was weird and subversive and downright bizarre in a media landscape that, in some markets, had Hee Haw on every other damn channel at 6:30 in the evening. Witness bits like the debut of Oingo Boingo, or the whole IDEA of Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, or inspired stunts like this — a show in which every contestant sang “Feelings.”
Over at the Times, there’s a great feature of photographs of the studies and workspaces of recently departed prominent folks. Check it out.
Today in oddly melancholy Sesame Street nostalgia…
(Offer not valid for millenials, I suspect.)
I defy you to read this and come away with any other conclusion.
You know, sometimes, censoring completely acceptable words in vintage PBS shows can lead to absurd and possibly childhood-ruining hilarity.
Go on. Click it. You know you want to. I’m Counting on you.
These things were EVERYWHERE for a time, especially in very Bible-belty parts of the world. Chick’s peculiar and fundamentalist version of Christianity left no room for any other sort, so his tracts denounced the usual ills (alcohol, sex) as well as things like D&D, Freemasonry, versions of the Bible other than the King James, evolution, Harry Potter, etc. He even devoted at least 20 of his tracts to the evils of Roman Catholicism (because, obviously, they’re responsible for communism, Nazism, the aforementioned Freemasonry, and Islam).
Via this thread at MeFi, I found this live-action re-enactment of the Party Girl tract, starring French Stewart and Judy Greer. There’s an issue with the audio sync, but it’s still fanTAStic. Also, in 2014 a group made a short based on the wildly popular anti-D&D Dark Dungeons tract, and I really, really would love to see it, too.
Serena Williams is Fed Up With Your Sexist Questions (at Glamour, of all places).
The Department of Canine Security has raised the firework advisory level from “Gray” to “Gray” following credible evidence of human-made explosive devices used to celebrate something called “America.” There is a severe risk of deafening explosions, which have previously resulted in frightened puppies and fingerless masters. Wiener dogs should practice special caution, as the most commonly served food at “America” parties is Dachshund-shaped sandwiches.
So what exactly is this “America”? Masters seem to complain about it all year long and then, for some inexplicable reason, they celebrate it for a day by drinking countless cans of smelly, magical dizzy juice. Dogs have reported their masters guzzling this foul-tasting potion on other occasions such as “Christmas,” “Cinco de Mayo” and “I got fired today.”
The Department of Canine Security urges dogs to remain on high alert and employ the tactic of See Something, Say Something. Remember to bark upon spotting anything suspicious; e.g. firecrackers, sparklers, Roman candles, cats, squirrels, mail carriers, shadows, reflections, other dogs on TV, etc.
This fascinating story details how, in the early 90s, Subaru (a) realized that their cars were surprisingly popular among a certain demographic and then (b) began explicitly marketing to that demographic, but without other groups really noticing.
What worked were winks and nudges. One ad campaign showed Subaru cars that had license plates that said “Xena LVR” (a reference to Xena: Warrior Princess, a TV show whose female protagonists seemed to be lovers) or “P-TOWN” (a moniker for Provincetown, Massachusetts, a popular LGBT vacation spot). Many ads had taglines with double meanings. “Get Out. And Stay Out” could refer to exploring the outdoors in a Subaru—or coming out as gay. “It’s Not a Choice. It’s the Way We’re Built” could refer to all Subarus coming with all-wheel-drive—or LGBT identity.
Check out the graphics — some of the stuff you’d noticed today (the rainbow flag sticker, e.g.), but plenty of it is very, very subtle. It’s like the evangelical dog-whistling that Bush and Cruz (& etc) have used, except not awful and evil.
Also, this bit makes me smile:
In response to the ads, Subaru received letters from a grassroots group that accused the carmaker of promoting homosexuality. Everyone who penned a letter said they’d never buy a Subaru again.
But the marketing team quickly discovered that none of the people threatening a boycott had ever bought a Subaru. Some of them had even misspelled “Subaru.”
This feature at Vulture is really great. Absolutely make time.
If nothing else, it may refresh your appreciation for a number of these giants, especially Jonathan Winters, whose improvised, rapid-fire routine with a stick on the Jack Paar show (in 1964!) makes clear what a defining influence he was on Robin Williams.
Seriously, don’t miss this.
Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee visits an interesting, amateur comedian in DC, and it’s awesome.
Until recently, the narrative of stories like [Trump’s fantasy of dancing muslims in New Jersey on 9/11] has been predictable. If a candidate said something nuts, or seemingly not true, an army of humorless journalists quickly dug up all the facts, and the candidate ultimately was either vindicated, apologized, or suffered terrible agonies.
Al Gore for instance never really recovered from saying, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” True, he never said he invented the Internet, as is popularly believed, but what he did say was clumsy enough that the line followed him around like an STD for the rest of his (largely unsuccessful) political life.
That dynamic has broken down this election season. Politicians are quickly learning that they can say just about anything and get away with it. Along with vindication, apology and suffering, there now exists a fourth way forward for the politician spewing whoppers: Blame the backlash on media bias and walk away a hero.
Trump, meanwhile, has been through more of these beefs than one can count, even twice blabbing obvious whoppers in live televised debates. Once he claimed the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to help China, moving Rand Paul to point out that China isn’t in the TPP. Another time he denied that he once called Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator.” The line was on Trump’s website as he spoke.
In all of these cases, the candidates doubled or tripled down when pestered by reporters and fact-checkers and insisted they’d been victimized by biased media. A great example of how candidates have handled this stuff involved Fiorina.
The former HP chief keeps using a roundly debunked line originally dug up by the Romney campaign, about how 92 percent of the jobs lost under Obama belonged to women. The Romney campaign itself ditched the line because it was wrong even in 2012. When confronted this year, Fiorina simply said, “If the liberal media doesn’t like the data, maybe the liberal media doesn’t like the facts.”
This is a horrible thing to have to say about one’s own country, but this story makes it official. America is now too dumb for TV news.
It’s our fault. We in the media have spent decades turning the news into a consumer business that’s basically indistinguishable from selling cheeseburgers or video games. You want bigger margins, you just cram the product full of more fat and sugar and violence and wait for your obese, over-stimulated customer to come waddling forth.
The old Edward R. Murrow, eat-your-broccoli version of the news was banished long ago. Once such whiny purists were driven from editorial posts and the ad people over the last four or five decades got invited in, things changed. Then it was nothing but murders, bombs, and panda births, delivered to thickening couch potatoes in ever briefer blasts of forty, thirty, twenty seconds.
What we call right-wing and liberal media in this country are really just two different strategies of the same kind of nihilistic lizard-brain sensationalism. The ideal CNN story is a baby down a well, while the ideal Fox story is probably a baby thrown down a well by a Muslim terrorist or an ACORN activist. Both companies offer the same service, it’s just that the Fox version is a little kinkier.
We are completely doomed.