Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Banned" Books

If there is anything that makes me think "That's Un-American!" it's the idea of banning books. Sure, there are plenty of books that I would hate to *have* to read (just ask my Victorian British Poetry professor, haha). On the other hand, I cannot understand...nay, that is too weak a word...I cannot FATHOM how you hating a book makes you think *nobody else* should read it, either.

September 30 thru October 6 is National Banned Books Week in the United States. Every year at about this time the American Library Association issues a list of those books that have been asked about the most in the last twelve months. The list runs the gamut from "I wish you didn't have these in the library!" to "Get this filth out of my library!" Of course, most of the books are not actually banned from public libraries. (You need over-zealous School Superintendents for that type of illogical decision).  I first noticed this list a few years ago and now I look forward to it every year. If there is a book on the list that I have not read yet, I go to my library (Columbus Metropolitan) and reserve it. So far, none of the "banned" books have not been available in Columbus.

Challenges to library materials explains the process. You could have one concerned individual come up to the librarian on duty and voice their concern about the appropriateness of some book. Or that person could write an official letter to the library board. Or, that person could organize a demonstration or group to get something banned or moved out of the open stacks. And as far as the ALA is concerned, any decision to restrict/control the availability of the content above and beyond what the local library decides should happen is considered Censorship. 

I can understand that. I used to borrow anatomy books to learn how to draw the human figure. Once when I was a kid I came across a book that was in the system but was not available on the shelves. Turns out that some of the models were nudes, so the book was on "lock down." I had to ask for it specifically. It wasn't "banned" per se, but it was definitely controlled.

Then I went to college and at the college library I found quite a few anatomy and art books with plenty of nudes in them. (Not that I checked them all out and took them back to my dorm room in a dirty way, haha!) The idea, I think, was that the people using the library were 18-plus year old students or faculty, so it was okay to leave this type of material out on the stacks for us to find by ourselves. Atleast,  that's what I figured was what was happening.

Unfortunately, most of the times I hear about "book banning" (the more correct term is "book challenging") is when religious nuts complain about the sorcery in HARRY POTTER or overly protective parents challenge the sexual content in Judy Blume books like FOREVER. Sexual education books are always on the list, and for several years the true story of two male penguins at the New York Zoo raising a baby penguin was on the list because it showed that there are such things as nurturing *gay* penguins! (The book is AND TANGO MAKES THREE. I am not making this up.)

The saddest part of these lists are when bonafide classics such as HUCKLEBERRY FINN, CATCHER IN THE RYE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and BRAVE NEW WORLD are included. Banning HUCK FINN  because slavery was legal at the time the story is set?! Obviously the "n" word is going to be used. Likewise, in MOCKINGBIRD.  How can we understand what used to constitute "normal" if we aren't shown explicitly how evil it really was? How can we understand the true ramifications of "utopia" if we can't see all that it entails? And CATCHER....? Whoever challenges that was never a teenager. 

And that's the reason, I guess. Parents don't want little Johnnie or Joanie to read about crazy Holden Caulfield or sexually active Gossip Girls. Or gay penguins.

I shake my head at the whole idea of book banning. Eventually your little darlings are going to fly on their own. Why not arm them with knowledge, instead of trying to protect them in some way from big bad ideas different from your own? It's a losing proposition, and it is un-American.

Doing research for this article I came across the 2011 list of Challenged Books. I haven't read some of these, so as soon as I'm done here I'm heading over to make some book reservations. I hope you will do the same.  If/when I see the 2012 list I will post it, too.
1. TTYL (series) by Lauren Myracle
(read this; thought it was immature)
2. Color of Earth (series) by Kim Dong Hwa
(never heard of this!) 
3. Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins
(not going to read this; I read Battle Royale, the original!)
4. My Mom's Having A Baby
(do I really need a refresher course, haha)
5. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
(I read this a few years ago; I liked it)
6. Alice (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
(not going to read this or Gossip Girl below; I think I know what type of stories these are: junior Harlequin with a touch more sex and "hipness")
7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
(this? really?) 
8. What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
(I read this a few years ago....not great literature, that's for sure)
9. Gossip Girl (series)
(see (6) above)
10. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee 
(this must have made it because it's celebrating its 50th anniversary)

Good Bye, Jimmy Dean....

On September 30, 1955, James Byron Dean was in a car accident in the middle of nowhere and was killed.

The world kept revolving, but nearly 60 years later we still haven't forgotten.

When I lived in Indiana I made a point of visiting James Dean's hometown of Fairmount, Indiana and his grave. They call themselves the town "where cool was born."  It's a drive-by town and you can tell how Dean probably couldn't wait to get out of there. I visited a museum to Dean that was there at the time, although I think it's been moved now. A lot of the props you see in some of his more famous photos of him were preserved an old motorcycle, and the jacket from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and a typewriter. It was cool to see these things and know that he had actually used them.

James Dean was speeding on a California highway in a silver Porsche Spyder when he had a near head-on collision with a larger car. His car flipped over and he died before he could get to a hospital.

In a classic example of irony, one of the last appearances James Dean ever made on film was for a public service announcement to try to get people to drive more safely. You can see where it has been edited; near the end it looks like the suit Gig Young is wearing has changed. But it is still definitely James Dean. You can watch it below.

Rest in Peace, James Dean 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Happy Birthday, Larry Linville!

September 29, 1939 is the birthday of actor Larry Linville. He is best-known for playing Major Frank Burns on the TV show MASH. However, he was also a bad guy on several episodes of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and guest-starred on many other series, including MANNIX and KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER. He also did theatre and movies.

I had the great good-fortune of hearing him speak in person when he came to my college in 1985. He was on the speaking circuit, I guess. He talked about the work conditions on MASH and working as a team to try to do good television. It was a wildly entertaining 90 minutes, and one of the funnest things I remember from college. The chapel where it was held was PACKED. The thing I never forgot about the evening was that he said when they were just starting up, the new cast was invited to a screening of the movie MASH, but that nobody went. "I didn't want to be another Bobby Duvall (the actor who played Major Burns in the movie). I had to find my own take on the character."

Larry Linville passed away on April 10, 2000.

Happy Birthday, Larry Linville! 

Friday, September 28, 2012

"Practice Makes Perfect"

 Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from September 26, 1996.

Last week, the Aya International Exchange Contest was held. During the English Speech Contest section there were speeches by Elementary School students (4th, 5th, 6th graders) as well as Junior High and Senior High School students as well as adults.  As an attraction the lower grade Elementary School students (1st, 2nd, 3rd) introduce themselves in English or perform a conversation together. (see photo)

Some of this year's Junior High and Senior High School students have been in the town English Classroom since they were in Elementary School. From their childhood they played in English while learning vocabulary and mastered their pronunciation. Their speeches were awesome. Language starts from listening, so when you are a child

The winners are as follows. Congratulations to all! (terms of respect are not included)
Elementary School Students
1. Nakamura Yuichi
2. Teraoka Kazuki
3. Yamamoto Miyabi 
Junior High 1st Graders
1. Sei Takayoshi
2. Shimada Koichi
3. Ikemi Shinji
Junior High 2nd Graders
1. Kumamoto Takuto
2. Momiki Junya 
3. Hiroshige Sachiko
Junior High 3rd Graders
1. Saigo Mizue 
2. Yoshino Rumiko 
3. Ono Yuri 
1. Morizono Toshihiko 
2. Ogura Nahoko 
3. Shitanda Sachiyo

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Hero, Christopher Reeve

Yesterday would have been the 60th birthday of actor Christopher Reeve. He was born on September 25, 1952 in New York. Unfortunately, he died on October 10, 2004.

I'm not ashamed to say that I cried when I read his obituary eight years ago. I was never a Superman fan; that wasn't it. It was more what he ended up representing, and how his potential was cut short. 

Although he was permanently branded with an "S" after making four of the films for Warner Bros, he tried (successfully?) to be an actual ACTOR. He was in "Somewhere In Time," one of the ultimate chick-flicks. He was in "Deathtrap" in a role that took his good looks and squeaky-clean image and turned it on its head. He co-starred with Morgan Freeman in "Street Smart" in 1987. He was in "Remains of the Day." He did Broadway and off-Broadway. He had success. And then, of course, in 1995 he fell off his horse badly and landed on his head. He was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. This man, who had been all about action, now faced life with no mobility or feeling in his body whatsoever.

According to his official homepage he initially faced depression (who wouldn't?) but eventually came to grips with his condition. He made speeches and appearances to raise awareness about paralysis. He even acted again, taking over the paralyzed role made famous by James Stewart in "Rear Window," and the enigmatic Dr. Swann on the TV series "SMALLVILLE,"  among others.

In 2004 he was regaining some feeling and the prognoses were good. Then in October his body had a severe reaction to an antibiotic. He went into cardiac arrest, and we lost him. He was 52 years old.

His wife, Dana Reeve, took over the Christopher Reeve Foundation. Unfortunately, just to prove that Life is in fact a Bitch, Dana was diagnosed with cancer at about this time. She died in March, 2006. This woman, who had been Christopher Reeve's ROCK, went to join him. 

I'm listening to John Williams' iconic SUPERMAN THEME as I write this and crying like a baby.

If we could all face adversity with as much class and as much courage as he did, this world would be a much better place. Christopher Reeve was my hero.

Famous quotes attributed to Christopher Reeve: 

Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

Happy Birthday, Christopher Reeve

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Debut of The Brady Bunch

On September 26, 1969 a brand-new situation comedy made its debut on ABC-TV. This was THE BRADY BUNCH, created by Sherwood Schwartz. If you know TV, you will recognize this name as the creator and producer of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. Yes, he was responsible for both of these classic series.

According to his book on the series, which he wrote with his son and co-producer Lloyd, he had the idea for the Brady Bunch several years before it made it on television. At the time he initially pitched it no network wanted to air a show about two divorced (?) or widowed families. That is, until Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda made the motion picture hit, "Yours, Mine, and Ours." Then suddenly "blended families" were in and Schwartz got the green light for his new series.

I remember watching the last seasons of THE BRADY BUNCH on their first-runs on Friday nights. I was too young to go out and it was a show I enjoyed watching. I even remember watching some of THE BRADY KIDS cartoons on Saturday morning. But boy, did I hate Cousin Oliver! Then in 1974 it was cancelled. Almost immediately it was sold to syndication. Now I could watch it every day after school when it was re-run. So I have never not seen or liked THE BRADY BUNCH.

That being said, I did watch a few episodes of the variety show, but not most of them. And I watched Marcia and Jan marry their boyfriends, but I didn't watch the series itself. Also, I did not get into the "remakes" (if that is the word) of the recent movies. I couldn't decide if they were making fun of the originals or trying to celebrate them. Either way, I would rather just watch the originals. Likewise, I was in Japan for the last "new" Brady Bunch series. I have yet to see any of those. 
At the TV Land Awards 2007
As for the originals, I think my favorite season is Season Four. That's the one where Marcia gets hit by a football ("Oh! My nose!") as well as the one where Peter is cast as Benedict Arnold in the school play. My all-time favorite episode though is "The Not-So-Rose-Colored Glasses" from Season Three where Jan has to get glasses, but because of pride, refuses to wear them.

Happy Birthday, Brady Bunch! 
In celebration, here's your theme song by The Brady Kids
from 1972  

JL #21 "Crisis on Earth-2!" AFTERWARD

So, what did you think?

When I re-read this issue now, I only find the negatives. Let me see if I can touch on a few things that I did right before heaping on the faults.

I liked how I established the way the JLA and JSA trade members. I would think that by this time, there would be some "rules" for the exchanging of members. And in my opinion Black Canary would want to go back for visits. As a child of several hometowns (and now two countries) I definitely think Dinah would want to go back, at least sometimes. In the "real" comics she only ever went back once, and then it was only mentioned in passing that she was from there. It seemed odd to me, so I corrected that situation here.

Also, it seems logical that the new members would be brought over to Earth-2.Here you are the greatest super-heroes on your world, doesn't it make sense that you would want to introduce your newest member(s) to their Earth-2 counter-parts? As far as I know, this was never done in the comics...although I vaguely recall new-member Firestorm being overwhelmed by the whole concept in his first team-up.

As for the others, I never could understand that characters like Superman, Batman, the Flash, and the Earth-Two Wonder Woman participated in a dis-proportionate number of those team-ups. Wouldn't YOU want to meet heroes from another universe if you had the chance?! "No, thanks, Batman,  I have a date with my wife that night. Give my regards to Dr. Fate and everybody." I mean, come on!

So "pulling straws" seemed like the obvious choice to decide who gets to go. 

Here's a shot of all the Justice Society members (except the Spectre). There are sixteen (count'em, sixteen) heroes here, and my gosh that's about six or eight too many!! I put too many in because I had a few goals with this story. One, I wanted to show that characters like Hawkman, the Atom, Flash, and Green Lantern were on both Earths. I also wanted to stress the "generational" side of the JSA, so I included both Hawkman and Northwind, although I should have included only the younger one. Likewise, I included TWO Wildcats, when only one would have sufficed. I could have had the other role taken by another relatively powerless character like Sandman or Huntress or the Atom. In fact, I included the Atom for a very specific reason, and had no intention of ever using the character again. I'll get to that in a minute. Also, I wanted to include all the JLAers, and to balance them off in a team-up I needed at least as many as them (12). The last thing I had in mind was that I wanted to show that this was a Crisis that actually threatened the whole world. So characters who were nominally retired, like Hawkman and the Atom, would come out to see if they could help. So there was that, too.

You may notice that I kept changing the Huntress' costume. I am a big fan of her original uniform, but by this time she had been re-imagined as a daughter of a crime boss and her Batman connections were played down. I had Skybox trading cards with all of these DC characters so I used the then-current costume but did not like it. You'll see her mask "ears" kept getting longer as the story progresses, haha!

Here is the shot of the group that I actually consider the "main" Justice Society members. If this hadn't been a world-wide crisis, these are the only characters I would have used. When I was thinking of writing another team-up, this is the group that I looked at. Of course, this was in 1999 before Geoff Johns and David Goyer re-created the JSA with awesome characters like the new Dr. Mid-Nite, Mr. Terrific, Star-Spangled Kid, the new Johnny Thunder, etc. So if I was doing this today it would be a bit different looking. 

This is another scene that I think happens every time the JLA and JSA get-together...small talk, gossip, and chatting about what has happened since the last time they all got together. I liked doing this scene.

Now here is a scene I did not like including, but there will be a pay-off next issue. I wanted to show that some racism/sexism/ism still lingers in the world. And I chose the Atom for two reasons: 1) he is an older character, and I found that sometimes older people cling to their out-of-date beliefs instead of changing with society and 2) I wasn't going to use the Atom again, so it was okay to make him somewhat of a less-than likeable character. In my mind, he was a cranky old man. I could see him saying things like "robot heroes? black heroes? girl heroes? bah! In MY day...." and then going off into tales of World War II. Now I know this is probably painting him as being a bit of a bigot, but I did need a little bit of animosity AND I needed somebody to point out that Red Tornado was not human. So the Atom served that role. Thanks, Al!

Speaking of Red Tornado, I decided that I wanted to make Red Tornado's "robotic" status very obvious. So I came up with the visual of him looking more robotic (circa his original 1968 appearance), but using his alter uniform. Also, I decided to type up his words and then cutting and pasting them in instead of actually writing them by hand. It was difficult to fit in his Japanese, to tell you the truth. But it was worth it; I had forgotten I had done it, but when I re-read this issue while posting it and saw it again I thought it was done very, very well. (I actually did it for the first time back in issue # 15 when I had him appear in Black Canary's night-mare and then continued it here.) 

Now, to close this AFTERWARD, I will comment specifically on the stories and characters. First up: Chapter Three. These four characters all actually get to do something, although per my comments earlier I think I could have done it without WILDCAT.

In Chapter Four, you may have noticed that Power Girl did absolutely nothing in this story. She was used as a sounding-board for the other characters but did not actually DO anything! What a waste. She doesn't even know that the Flash can vibrate through objects? Ooops. I like her very much, but I did not do her justice in this story. Sorry, Kara! I did like that sequence when Green Lantern "shoots" the dolphin to show the heroes what he was seeing. I thought that was a good scene. If you look closely, you'll see Aquaman is surprised by this, which I also thought was a nice touch.

Likewise, Chapter Five features the four greatest detectives of two worlds...if you consider Wildcat a detective, which, really....he isn't. He should have stayed at the JSA brownstone while the other three went to handle the menace. Also odd for me now is to see that the Spectre is hanging around portraying the JSA teleporter? I think we could have lost one or two of these characters to make things flow more easily.

Lastly, I want to comment on my choice of villain. When I set up this story, I wasn't sure who I was going to use....I had Brainiac or some of the other more "cosmic" villains in mind. Then suddenly it occurred to me: one of the best Earth-Two villain had already been introduced in "my" universe! Okay, it's a little weird that the JSA doesn't know who Vandal Savage is,! When I re-read this issue as a I scanned it I thought to myself, "That was right."

Next issue: too many members doing too little, again!  (sigh)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Happy Birthday Ray & Bruce!!

Yesterday September 23 was the birthday of two musical icons: Ray Charles (9-23-30) and Bruce Springsteen (9-23-49).

Is there anyone reading this who doesn't know and appreciate these two greats?

Bruce is still with us, making great music, but Ray passed on in 2004. 

Instead of trying to think of new adjectives for them, let's let their music speak for itself, shall we?
Happy Birthday, Bruce Springsteen! 
I hope you enjoy your day!!! 

Happy Birthday, Ray Charles! 
Gone too soon.... 

"What'd I Say?"
Live in Greece, 2000
Still going strong at 70 years old!

Glory Days
"Time slips away and leaves you with nothing, 
mister, but boring stories of glory days...."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

47 Percent?

Today I would like to just say a few words about the recent "47 percent" comment made in a speech by Governor Romney.

Originally, I figured he must have been mis-quoted. I figured that he may have said that he didn't care about the 47 percent of the US voters who are going to vote Democratic, no matter what. During the election, sure, it makes sense that he isn't going to care about die-hard Liberal voters. Why should he? But you know what? I actually listened to what he SAID. And while he started off talking about not needing to craft an election message to 47% of the voters, what he ended up saying was that these people are free-loaders and lazy. Now, again, he may have mis-spoken. I think he mixed up the 47% of the voters who will absolutely not support him with another 47% of people who pay no income tax. In reality, these are not the same groups of people. However, in his eagerness to make a point he *seemed* to be saying that they are the same 47%.

Disagree with me? Watch/listen to it yourself. Was this clip edited? It could have been, but it sounds pretty one-cut to me.

My gripe is pretty clear. If Governor Romney is in fact saying that he believes anyone who is supporting the President is a loafer or expecting entitlement of any kind, I am livid. I have been employed every day of my life since I graduated college. I am not a loafer and I do not expect any hand-outs. Did the government offer me student loans? Then I will take them, happily. (And I have already paid mine back, thank you very much.) Did the government offer me a tax break when I had a daughter between a certain age? Then I will take that tax break, willingly. Does the government allow me to save millions of US dollars in an untaxed Swiss bank account? Then if I had that money, Governor Romney, I would do what I could *legally* to take advantage of the system. Wouldn't.... Don't you?

More so than the insult that he tossed at all Democratic supporters, I am dismayed that he is basically saying that IF elected, he would not even try to represent the entire country. It's not his job to worry about 47% of the American public? Wow. When was the last time we had a President who *actively* worked at representing everybody? President Reagan, maybe? More recently President George W was everyone's President for about six months after Sept 11. All too soon he wasted the public's good fortune on some mistaken idea that Iraq was involved with Al-Qaeda. And then it was back to normal, i.e. political hatred.

I know that during elections each party says things they don't mean or promise to do things they aren't going to do. But after the election, it's time to get back to One Country. I haven't seen that happen much since I came back to the US (in 2001). I know two people who tell me to my face, "President Obama is not MY President." That kind of talk really burns me up. Now we have Governor Romney appearing to say, "These people are not my people." Shame on you, Mr. Romney. Shame on you.

Again, if he mis-spoke then he needs to fix this. It sounds like he called 47% of the US population dead-beats, and that is NOT okay.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The F-Troop Book "The Great Indian Uprising"

During one of my wife's requested visits to an antique mall, I happened across an item I did not even know existed: F TROOP The Great Indian Uprising by William Johnston, with illustrations by Larry Pelini. I bought it a few weeks ago and finally got around to reading it last week.

It's an amusing story about how Sgt O'Rourke and Corporal Agarn are not making enough money selling Indian-made trinkets through O'Rourke Enterprises. So they decide to re-negotiate their contract with the Hekawis. Meanwhile, Chief Wild Eagle and Crazy Cat have decided that *they* need to make more money on their souvenirs, too. So in the midst of this animosity, a general from Washington arrives and wants F Troop to go to war with the Hekawis!Captain Parmenter, of course, is against this idea, but for the sake of government secrets can not reveal all of his problems to his girlfriend, Wrangler Jane, who thinks he is going stir crazy.

Each "star" has his or her bit in the story. It's a compliment to the author that I could "hear" the actors associated with these characters speak these lines in the story. I found myself "visualizing" the action with the stars of the show. It's like a long-lost F TROOP SPECIAL EPISODE or something. 

The cover is of course a stock photo from ABC-TV featuring Larry Storch, Ken Berry, and Forest Tucker. 

The one complaint I have is that the fine illustrations were all printed in blue ink, which made some of the details bleed together. Other than that quibble, I enjoyed it immensely.  It's finds like this that keep me going out to antique malls etc with the wife. You never know what you're going to find!

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover"

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from September 5, 1996. 
I meant to post it last week but I have had computer problems, and then I forgot. Sorry! 

The other day I saw Disney's newest movie, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." The hero is a young man named Quasimodo who has an ugly outer countenance but a pure heart. The source material is the French novel "Notre Dame of Paris." It is a very famous piece of literature, and has been made into movies several times.

I brought my 5 year old daughter to the film, but I think I enjoyed it more than she did. Children like "pretty" and "handsome" things. They judge things by their appearance. Their feelings are still not fully developed, so my daughter could not understand the deeper meanings of the movie. I cheered for the ugly Quasimodo, but my daughter liked his cute and attractive friends. After the movie, I talked to her about how brave and kind Quasimodo was. I think she began to understand on a child's level.

Unfortunately, too many adults don't understand this, either. In affairs of the heart, doesn't appearance play too big a part? I hear all the time "I want someone tall." "I don't like fat girls." "I want someone with a good education." "Family ties are important." etc etc etc!

In English we say, "don't judge a book by it's cover." In Japanese you say "there is more to people than just how they look." (hito wa mikake ni yorazu) I know it is not easy, but let's try to open our hearts to judge people by their character. I think that's a very important lesson in life to learn.

(click on the Japanese for a readable version)

Nearly twenty years later, and this is still true. (sigh)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Adam West & Joe Kubert!

Today is Adam West's birthday. If you don't know who Adam West is, why the hell are you on this page?! Haha....

Adam West was only 40 years old when BATMAN ended, as his birthday is September 19, 1928. That means that he has been Batman for longer than he lived before he was Batman. 

He is also, of course, Mayor West from FAMILY GUY.

Thank you, Mr. West, for being such a great actor. When I was a kid I liked Robin and Batgirl better because they looked the parts a little bit more than you did. Yes, I admit it, I was a Batman snob. As an adult, however, I can see that you are such a great actor. I catch throw-away lines now that I missed before, especially against actors who matched you line-for-line like Julie Newmar and Frank Gorshin.

I met Mr. West briefly at last year's Mid-Ohio Comic Con. He seemed entertainingly fun. Here's hoping he can continue to bring smiles to all of us!

Happy Birthday, Adam West!

On a sadder note, yesterday September 18 was Joe Kubert's birthday. He would have been 86 years old. Unfortunately, he died this past August 12.

As a kid I never was a huge fan of Joe Kubert. His main series were war comics such as SGT ROCK or ENEMY ACE or fantasy-adventure series like TARZAN that I simply did not read. I was a fan of his super-hero work, especially HAWKMAN, but by the time I was reading comics he was not drawing this series. I mostly came across his work in the reprints of THE BRAVE & THE BOLD, such as VIKING PRINCE, which were great. Later I came to appreciate his SGT ROCK work and purchased Fax From Sarajevo and Between Hell and a Hard Place. Both of these are terrific, so go to your local library and borrow them!

I had the great good fortune to meet Mr. Kubert at a Mid-Ohio Con a few years ago. He was friendly and charming. I didn't have anything with me for him to sign, and to this day I regret it. 

Happy Birthday, Joe Kubert! 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mission Impossible The Early Years

On September 17, 1966 MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, a brand-new type of television series, made its debut.

Like so many other classic television series, it did not initially find its audience. It took several months before it started to click, but when it did...! It lasted for seven seasons and made stars out of almost all of its players.

For example, Barbara Bain, who was cast as the voluptuous Cinnamon Carter, won three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Dramatic Series. At the time, that was unheard of. If you doubt her ability, borrow any of the first three seasons from the library and check her out for yourself. One of the actresses she beat out was Diana Rigg on THE AVENGERS. Long-time readers *know* how much I love Mrs. Emma Peel, so listen when I tell you: Barbara Bain portrayed a different character every week, but still was, at heart, Cinnamon Carter. She was a wonder. By the way, Miss Barbara Bain's birthday was last Thursday, September 13. She is 81 years young.

Besides Barbara Bain, that first season featured electrical genius Barney, played by Greg Morris; strongman Willy, played by Peter Lupus; and the head of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), played by....Steven Hill? Yes, Peter Graves as Mr. Phelps did not arrive until the second year! Hill, Bain, Morris, and Lupus  were the four "set" agents that were supposed to have  a team built around them. Do you know why there was that whole "who will be on the team?" scene at the beginning of most episodes? It was because originally there was going to be a "guest" spy on every episode! However, due  to Steven Hill's behavior, he was fired before the end of the first year, and the producers, in a pinch, asked Special Guest Star Martin Landau to appear in every episode instead. Landau, who was a close personal friend of M:I creator Bruce Geller, did not want to do series television. (At the time his most famous role was in the Hitchcock classic, NORTH BY NORTHWEST.) Geller asked him to become a regular and he agreed as long as the quality was maintained.

Greg Morris and Peter Lupus were basically "nobodies" who went to an audition and ended up landing life-changing parts. Morris was best-known for a guest-appearance on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" before he landed the part of electronic wizard Barney Collier. Lupus had appeared most famously in MUSCLE BEACH, besides other Italian "Hercules" type movies, when Geller and company chose him. They did most of their earliest work together as the "back-up" team before getting more and more screen time in later years. They were involved from the very beginning until the very end, appearing in the most number of episodes. They, and Peter Graves after season two, came to symbolize the show.Greg Morris' birthday is also in September: he would have been 79 on September 27. Greg Morris passed away in 1996.

So in 1967 Steven Hill was fired and Peter Graves was brought in. These five spies were set and the idea of having "guest" spies slowly faded away. If you are going to watch any of the seasons, I recommend 2nd or 3rd, because the writing is top-knotch, the acting is wonderful, and the stories still seem fresh. The show hit its stride and was getting wonderful ratings. It ws at this time that Bain was nominated and won her three Emmy Awards.

Unfortunately, the studio that created M:I was Desilu. After its heyday during the Fifties (when it was run by Desi and Lucy), it finally went bankrupt in 1968 and was bought out by Paramount. Contracts and budgets were re-evaluated. To make a long story short, at the end of the 1968-69 season, both Martin Landau and Barbara Bain decided to leave. Landau had only signed year-by-year, so he was able to walk away easily. Bain, however, had a long-term contract and fought with Paramount for years afterwards. Landau was replaced by Leonard Nimoy, fresh from another Desilu-created Paramount bought-out series that had just been cancelled. Barbara Bain, however, was not initially replaced because of her contract problems. For the 1969-70 season there would be a rotating female character. For this reason, many fans consider this year the least satisfying. Obviously, any series that lost an actress of Barbara Bain's caliber was in trouble. For a double whammy of losing both her Martin Landau, it could have been insurmountable. Yet, the series marched on.

Here's the opening theme from one of the best Barbara Bain episodes, "The Heir Apparent" from 1968.  

To Be Continued....!
I'll talk about the later years, and eventually I'll get to The Magnificent Seven, as well.

Happy Birthday, Barbara Bain! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

One Hit Wonders: Edison Lighthouse

The song "Love Grows" recorded by Edison Lighthouse went to #1 in the UK but stalled at #5 on the US chart and #3 on the Canadian chart. The song was written by Tony Macauley and Barry Mason.

Turns out that there was no real "Edison Lighthouse." That was the name that the writers and the session singer Tony Burrows (yeah, I never heard of him, either) used to record. However, when the song became an overnight sensation there was no band to go along with the song. Tony Burrows appeared on TOP OF THE POPS to do the vocals but a band called The Greenfields were hired to pretend to play behind him.
After the song hit its peak of popularity, the group quietly faded away.

Until 2001, when the movie SHALLOW HAL used the song on its soundtrack. The extremely obese character played by Gwyneth Paltrow was named "Rosemary."

I was going to use a clip from SHALLOW HAL but because the song was used as the closing song, it ran over the credits. That's boring, so I pulled up this obscure video of Edison Lighthouse's "live" performance from TOP OF THE POPS from February, 1970. The vocal is probably by Tony Burrows, who is at least  singing. If you watch the guitarists, however, they don't appear to actually be playing.

I have no idea who the initial men are or what they are doing for the first minute. Skip that if you just want to see the song.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Baltimore Comic Con 2012

Last week my wife and friend and I drove the seven plus hours from Columbus, OH to Baltimore, MD to attend the 2012 Baltimore Comic Con. It was my second time, but my friend's first. And my wife went sight-seeing instead of actually attending the convention. 

Each time I go to a convention I look at the guest list and decide who I want to visit with. Last year I was able to meet one of my all-time favorite artists, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. I got him to sign a few of my comics, and I even chatted with him for a little while. However, I didn't realize he did sketches, and after I heard that he *did*, I kicked myself for not getting one. So this year, my number one goal was to get a sketch of Aquaman from the master.

I wore my orange Aquaman t-shirt with a green dress shirt over it. I figured it would be cold in the convention center.

My wife waited in line with me and my friend before the convention opened. During that time she saw several people in costumes as well as several...well....shall I call them "Extreme 40 Year Old Virgins"? And by that I mean over-weight and or unattractive people in obscure comic or anime or pop culture character t-shirts. I mean, I'm no Brad Pitt myself but I looked normal! (One of the pleasures I get from going to these types of things, to tell you the truth!) My wife turned to me and said, "I understand. I take back all the bad nerdy things I've called you over the years." In Japanese there is a word, "o-taku," that is used to call people what I think of as "extreme nerds." Characters from THE BIG BANG THEORY, perhaps? Oddly enough, this year for every two or three of these people we saw, I saw a hot girl or guy, too. When I was a kid the "cool" or "good looking" kids never admitted to reading this stuff. So I was impressed every time I saw a good looking, fit guy and a normal looking, sexy girl together. The future looks bright!

As soon as I got inside I made a bee-line to Garcia-Lopez' table. However, he wasn't there, yet. So we went to Larry Hama, who is well-known for creating Obnoxio The Clown, for editing X-MEN, G.I. JOE, and WOLVERINE, for appearing on an episode of MASH, and for editing SUPER FRIENDS. That is why I wanted to see him....we chatted a little bit about the comic-book (his first editorial job, he said) and the work involved in it. He was obviously surprised to see 70s DC comics when he's used to seeing 80s MARVELs.  He told me how much of a joy it was to work with the artist, the extra-ordinary Ramona Fradon. I told him I hoped to see her at the upcoming NY Comic Con and maybe get her to sign the same issues he had just signed for me.
He was seated right next to Roger Stern and Scott Hanna. I think Roger Stern wrote the best CAPTAIN AMERICA series ever and one of the best AVENGERS stories, so I got in line to ask him to sign those. His wife (I assume) asked if I wanted them personalized, but I was so surprised by the request that I was momentarily struck speechless. In the end I said no, and I got "Best, Roger Stern." He was a hell of a nice guy. Scott Hanna was offering new copies of PHANTOM STRANGER, so I bought a copy and got him to sign it as we chatted about the character. That was cool, too.

And then.....back to Garcia-Lopez' booth. He was there and we waited in line. My buddy John joined us because he, too, wanted to get a sketch from the master. Finally, after some annoying dealer guy was finished being rude to him, it was our turn. By this time I had seen an earlier guy ask for a sketch and pay $20, so I knew that it would be okay. "Hello, sir," I said respectfully. "Could you please draw a sketch of Aquaman on my Garcia-Lopez Treasury inside front cover?"  He took my book, grabbed a pencil, and went to work. Moments (yes, mere moments!) later, I had the following illustration. "Thank you so much!" 

I could have gone home right then, I was so happy.

My friend and I walked around for the rest of the day. I saw and chatted with Mark Waid, who signed his newest project, STEED AND MRS PEEL.

I had Paul Levitz sign a few of my favorite LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES issues, then later went to listen to him talk about his life in the industry. I chatted with Peter Tomasi, who was the editor of AQUAMAN for several years.

I hung out some more with my buddy John at TWO-MORROWS PUBLISHING. I bought a few back-issues of Back Issue and Alter Ego. They always seem to have interesting articles in their magazines, so that was fun to chat with them.

And lastly, I went up to one of the all-time greats, Mr. Neal Adams, and asked for an autograph. Now, all of these other creators had been signing things for free. Neal Adams, however, charged five bucks. So I gave him a favorite illustration of the JLA and asked him to sign near Aquaman. I pointed to my shirt and told him that Aquaman was my favorite. We made small talk about The Aquaman Shrine, and then I was leaving. It was definitely a tad surreal to meet one of you idols like this, but I'm glad I did. Five bucks seems steep for a signature, but for the whole experience, it definitely seems worth it.


We headed back to our hotel and got stuck in the sudden storm. I had to change into one of my newly purchased Aquaman t-shirts (green this time) for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. I met up with my Aquaman Shrine and Ace Kilroy buddy Rob Kelly and *his* pal, Doug Slack.

The next day we got up early and drove to Washington DC to visit with another friend. Seven plus hours later, we were back in Columbus. It was a greatly fun weekend.

Next up is the Ohio Mid-Ohio Con (aka Wizard World Columbus) coming up the last week of September. Then we are hitting the road again to go to the NY Comic Con. Looking forward to that one, for sure!

Like Little Kids in a Sandbox

Foreign policy has been in the news lately because of the attacks on US embassies in the Middle East and with Governor Romney's visit to the London Olympics. Having lived abroad (in Japan, for 14 years) I think I may have a different take on foreign policy than the average American. Read what I have to say and let me know if you agree or not.

In general I find that when it comes to foreign policy, most US politicians behave like only-children at a kindergarten playground. They are so used to being The Only Child at home that when they have to deal with other children on a relatively equal basis they don't know how to do it. European countries, in contrast, have had hundreds of years of dealing with each other. They tried killing each other off, but because that didn't work,  they're committed to working together. The US is so used to doing things unilaterally that when we face criticism or objections from the global community we take it personally. I hate hearing Americans say things like, "Those Socialist bastards in the UN!" or what have you. News flash, people: the UN represents the rest of the world that isn't us; in other words, more than 6 billion people. Do you really want to argue with 6 billion people, or would you rather try to understand their point of view and try to get along?

I DO think the majority of US citizens want to get along with the rest of the world. How many times have you thought, "Why can't we all just get along?" Let's face it, there will always be rogue countries like North Korea and competitor-rivals like China and Russia. But even if we're all friends or friendly, that doesn't mean we all have to agree on everything. Think of your own friends: won't they tell you if you are wearing stripes with plaid? Friends are not just there to stand with you when you're right, they're there to pull you aside and tell you when you're wrong. Another news flash: we're not always right, and neither are our allies. Do we "owe" Israel blind allegiance, such as when they unilaterally and controversially claim Jerusalem as their capital? Or do we attempt to negotiate with their neighbor states and the Palestinians to try to reach some sort of compromise that we can all live with?

I am not out to make this The United States of Earth. I doubt most Americans are. I am also against creating some sort of United Nations-run world government until/unless aliens come to Earth and want to deal with one single governing body. :-)  What I *am* suggesting is that we work on more respect between sovereign nations and less on "America First" arrogance. In that regard, President W. Bush got better over time, and President Obama seems capable (as a Senator he had a modicum of experience before becoming President). Governor Romney has no foreign policy experience at all. This isn't to say he could not learn "on the job," but the initial feeling I have is that he is one step behind on this issue. He certainly hasn't shown any particular aptitude for foreign relations yet, but obviously, if he is elected President he will have to get with it pretty quickly.

The Bob Newhart Show Debut

On September 16, 1972 CBS-TV first broadcasted a show that was destined to become a classic: THE BOB NEWHART SHOW.

It took all the classic situation comedy building blocks (loving wife, goofy work friends, sane main character surrounded by chaos) and somehow worked it into magic. For six years, it was a wonderfully entertaining show.

Bob Newhart portrayed Robert Hartley, Ph.D, who was a psychologist in Chicago.Suzanne Pleshette was his lovely school-teacher wife, Emily. When I was a kid, she was one of my first crushes. She was strong, vocal, good at her job, and pretty as hell. What wasn't to like? Bill Daily, who I also enjoyed on I DREAM OF JEANNIE, portrayed utterly clueless neighbor Howard Borden. Rounding out the cast was Bob's receptionist Carol, portrayed by Marcia Wallace, and his dentist friend Jerry, portrayed by Peter Bonerz. I also loved seeing some of Bob's more neurotic patients, especially Mr. Carlin, portrayed by Jack Riley. There was also mousey Mr. Peterson, portrayed by John Fiedler (who was also the voice of Piglet in the Disney movies). 

I had the great good fortune to meet Marcia Wallace on one of her trips to Columbus' Mid-Ohio Comic Con. She signed a copy of her autobiography as well as one of my BOB NEWHART DVD covers. She seemed like a lovely person.

Suzanne Pleshette passed away in 2008. The rest of the cast is still whole and hearty.  

The last two seasons are still not available on DVD. Here's hoping this happens soon!

POGO Peek-A-Book from 1955

Yesterday the wife and I went to some HUGE Flea Market in Springfield, OH. We stopped by on the way home from going to the Dayton Art Institute to see their presentation on Super-Heroes. That was fun, and since she did something for me I figured to do something for her.


I am not a HUGE Flea Market fan.

Luckily, neither is she. We were there about half an hour (on the grounds of the Clarke County Fair Grounds) when she said, "this is not my type of event. I'm ready to go." She was looking for Fire-King or other period types of glassware, but the kitsch (if that's the right word) and the sheer *junk* on display was just depressing. Plus the larger-than-life people and the smell of fast food and the heat....well, we were only there about an hour. We walked through about 2/3rds of it, and passed on the rest.

However....I found a stall (booth? tent?) that was selling "pop culture" stuff and came across this book by Walt Kelly. There was no price on it, so I asked the old guy chatting with the guy in the next booth (?) and he said, "Oh, about five bucks."

Later while I was waiting for Yuko to decide she didn't want some garish dishes I looked at it a little more closely. It's from 1955 and NOT a reprint of actual daily comic strips but includes all-new material especially for this book. So that was nice! I thought I had gotten a pretty good deal.

However....(!) when I factor in the $14 we had to pay to get into the place, the book ended up costing $19. That is the high-end of what I was willing to spend, but on the other hand....I guess it IS worth it. I've already devoured the first 20 pages or so. :-)