Sunday, March 31, 2013

These United States Series: The End

Today I officially end my 51 part series "These United States." (The 50 States and Washington, DC)
I started last April 28 with Maryland and just finished on March 4 with Vermont, which I updated today.

Now, you might be thinking, "Wait, in what parallel universe is Maryland first and Vermont last??" Well, let me tell you! I saw the movie "Julie and Julia" last year; it's about a woman named Julie who challenged herself to try every recipe in Julia Child's cookbook within a set amount of time (a year, I think). I thought of doing something similar, and hit upon writing about each of the States.

At first I thought of going in alphabetical order, but I would have to figure out how often I would post (once a week? four a month?). Then I thought of going in chronological order by year.....but that would be the same issue as the alphabetical listing: how often would I do it? Then I happened to hear that March 1 was my current state Ohio's "birthday." What if I linked my posts to each state's "birthday"? Of course, if I did that, I would either have to start with the next state, whichever it would be, or wait until January of 2013 to start with Alaska. Obviously, I didn't wait. :-)

So here is how I organized it....I listed the states in chronological order, then re-copied them into a calendar notebook. That is how I can tell what order they joined ("Ohio joined seven years after Tennessee (June 1796) and nine years before Louisana (April 1812)"), but could see that Florida (3-3) was one day before Vermont (3-4)!

One last thing...when I decided to write these I wanted to do something different besides the State Bird, the State Flower, etc etc blah blah blah. I hit on the idea of Famous People, but unfortunately, I really don't know a lot of recent sports figures. I gave it the old college try, but you may have noticed that "Sportsmen from (whichever)" fell by the wayside about five months ago. Sorry!!

I don't know if YOU learned anything exceptional by reading this series, but I know I had a blast doing the homework for it. Four states were independent countries before they joined the Union!? Virginia used to be the majority of the East Coast? Amazing. Plus, I realized (again) that we live in a wonderful, blessed place. There are SO many places in America I want to visit now!! I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I enjoyed doing it. :-)

Lastly, here's the list of the Fifty States of the USA in chronological order. The first thirteen states are in order of when they ratified the US Constitution. Delaware signed first, on December 7, 1787, so it gets to claim The First State. The other States are in order as to when they were admitted, ending with Hawaii on August 21, 1959.

 1. Delaware
 2. Pennsylvania
 3. New Jersey
 4. Georgia
 5. Connecticut
 6. Massachusetts
 7. Maryland
 8. South Carolina
 9. New Hampshire
10. Virginia
11. New York
12. North Carolina
13. Rhode Island
14. Vermont
15. Kentucky
16. Tennessee
17. Ohio
18. Louisiana
19. Indiana
20. Mississippi
21. Illinois
22. Alabama
23. Maine
24. Missouri
25. Arkansas
26. Michigan
27. Florida
28. Texas
29. Iowa
30. Wisconsin
31. California
32. Minnesota
33. Oregon
34. Kansas
35. West Virginia
36. Nevada
37. Nebraska
38. Colorado
39. North Dakota (or vice versa)
40. South Dakota (probably)
41. Montana
42. Washington
43. Idaho
44. Wyoming
45. Utah
46. Oklahoma
47. New Mexico
48. Arizona
49. Alaska
50. Hawaii

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"A Contract With God" by Will Eisner

On the occasion of Will Eisner's birthday earlier this month I promised that I would track down and read his ground-breaking book A Contract With God. It is considered the first "graphic novel," a term Eisner himself coined. I talked about what a genius Eisner was in my earlier post, so today I want to just review this work.

A Contract With God is a collection of four short stories woven around the tenants of an apartment building at 55 Dropsie Ave in the Bronx. The action occurs in the late Thirties or early Forties. "A Contract With God" tells the sad story of Frimme Hersh, who loses his young daughter to a sudden illness. "The Street Singer" tells the story of Eddie, an alcoholic who spends his days singing in the alleys between the tenements. "The Super" is the superintendent at 55 Dropsie Ave, an unpleasant man named Mr. Scuggs. And "The Cookalein" is about what happens when several Bronx residents go to the Catskills on summer vacation.  According to the introduction to the 2006 volume, a cookalein is a Yiddish-English word which means "cook alone." "It describes a summer resort on a farm where the guests cooked their own meals." They seemed to be the precursors to the low-charge motels and hotels that started in the late Forties. The family at the center of this story gets a room on the farm and their mother has to cook for them in a shared kitchen. They interact and witness the actions of various other guests in the other bungalows.

Each of these stories is interesting in its own way. When Frimme Hersh's daughter dies, he throws out his old "contract" with God and heads in the other moral direction. Eventually he returns to his old synagogue and asks his former spiritual advisers to write a new contract. This story is fascinating in the atleast two ways: 1) the way we humans think we can understand God's will is pure hubris; and 2) "Good" and "Evil" are really very much linked.

"The Street Singer" seems most like an episode of The Twilight Zone or some other similar "gotcha!" O. Henry type story; every time you think you know what is about to happen you find out you are totally off. The fourth to last page from the end, when Eddie suddenly realizes what has happened, is a real zinger.

"The Cookalein" seems to me to be the most standard of the stories. The Boy and The Girl are not what they seem to be, and only we readers know it; compared to the other three is seemed the most ordinary. The illustrations accompanying the story are wonderful, however; the expressions on the boy's face in the barn as he watches what unfolds tells us more than any description or scripted words possibly could.

And lastly, there is "The Super." This is the most depressing of the four stories, which is probably why Eisner chose not to end the collection with it, although I will. We are led to believe that Mr. Scuggs is the type of man we should not care for: his demeanor, his way of speaking, and even his dog suggests to us that he is an unpleasant man. When I realized that he was not the most evil character in his story, I was shocked. This was another story where I did not see what was coming. For me, that is high praise indeed.

In the introduction to the 2006 edition Eisner writes that all of these stories are semi-autographical. As you can see, there is nary a super-hero or alien in sight. And yet, these are comics and yes, they are entertaining as hell. If you enjoy the plays of Neil Simon or the movies of Woody Allen in New York City, I think you will enjoy this book. It should be at your local library or bookstore. Give it a try; I heartily recommend it.

Friday, March 29, 2013

RIP Tony Hamilton

Tony Hamilton was a British-Australian model turned actor who played "Max" on the 1988-1990 MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE revival. He was blonde and rugged; I remember watching him in the series back in the day and thinking, "He's a capable replacement for the Peter Lupus role."

Tony Hamilton died of AIDS-related pneumonia on March 29, 1995.

After MISSION went off the air I never saw Tony Hamilton in anything else. Then a few years later I picked up the awesome MISSION guide The Complete Mission Impossible Dossier by Patrick J. White. I was then reminded that Hamilton was in the short-lived TV series "Cover Up" in 1984. He had gotten this big break when the star, Jon-Eric Hexum, had accidentally been killed firing blanks in a prop gun on set. I definitely had remembered that incident and had probably even seen Tony Hamilton in one or two of his episodes. However, I was in college at the time and my interest in US popular culture was not strong.

No, it was on MISSION on Japanese television a few years later that I really got to know Tony Hamilton. Unfortunately, by the time I got back to the States in 2001, Hamilton had died. So I'll never get to shake his hand or get his autograph or tell him how he sounded dubbed into Japanese. He had his brief moment of fame, and then he was gone, another tragic victim of the AIDS epidemic.

I found out that he had died when I typed in the name "Tony Hamilton" to see what I could find out about him. I had no idea that he had been gay or that he had died. It was something of a shock, as he was one of the youngest MISSION cast members or staff to have passed on. He was a month shy of his 43rd birthday.

Just recently, looking for photos and any other details about Hamilton for this column, I came across a book called Signals by Joel Rothschild. The author is a gay man and Tony Hamilton was one of his friends. Rothschild writes somewhat about him and his death, but the book is mostly about Rothschild's ability to pass messages from spirits to those of us left behind. He writes in a very serious way, but all I could do was imagine Whoopi Goldberg in "Ghost" and Michael J. Fox in "The Frighteners." IF you are interested in this type of spiritual phenomenon then I can recommend it; as a memorial or biography of Tony Hamilton, unfortunately, there is nothing really much to it.

Rest in Peace
Tony Hamilton 
(5-4-52 ~ 3-29-95)

The original (1988) cast: Thaao Penghlis, Tony Hamilton, Phil Morris,
Terry Markwell, and Peter Graves

 During the first season Terry Markwell left and was replaced by Jane Badler
Remaining: Phil Morris, Thaao Penghlis, Peter Graves, and Tony Hamilton

Tony Hamilton can be seen in either of these DVD collections

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ken-Bun-Ki "Being Called 'Papa'"

 Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996-97. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from March 27, 1997. 

Last week my daughter caught a cood with a bad cough and a temperature. My wife took care of her, but after I got home from my evening classes at about 10 pm she was still awake watching a video. She welcomed me home by saying to me, "Papa, watch this with me!" with a big grin on her face. My daughter knows I have to work, but she is happy whenever I get to spend time with her. Her happiness shows in not only her smile but in her whole body. Not ten minutes after I sat down with her, she fell asleep in my lap.

Do you all have similar experiences? Fathers in America work just like in Japan, as hard as they can. However, in American  the family is more important than the job. We work to support our families. When the children are young, we go home every night to have dinner together. We talk about how our days were, without the television on. I sometimes go out with my Japanese family to eat ramen, and when I do I always look at the other families. The children ware reading comic-books and the parents are watching television. There is no conversation at all. I know it is none of my business, but I always think this is a shame.

Recently there is a commercial with the tag line, "Today let's play with Dad!" There is another commercial with children saying the line, "There's a shooting star! Let's wish for Papa to come home early tonight!" When I see these commericals I think that fathers ARE important. For all you fathers out there, doesn't it feel great to be called, "Papa"?

Tonight, why don't you get home in time to read your child a bedtime story?

This is one of the columns that I *think* is a little bit out-dated. Even at the time I wrote this sixteen years ago there already was a movement among younger fathers to spend more time with their children. My buddies at the time, for example, were not spending endless hours at the office, especially if their children had a play or a concert or some other school event he had to get to. Fatherhood and families were two themes I liked to write about because I felt there were real differences between the US and Japan models; they made for thought-provoking columns.
Nowadays, of course, if you go into an American restaurant the children AND the adults are all busy on their devices, texting or playing. It's the same old lack of communication going on. We have all this technology in order to communicate, and then we're alone in a group of people. It's sad.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Happy Birthday Jose Luis Garcia Lopez!!

March 26 is the birthday of one of the most talented artists to ever work in the comic-book industry, the one-and-only Jose Luis Garcia Lopez (praise be his name!).

Senor Garcia-Lopez was born in Spain, then moved to Argentine when he was five years old. He has worked professionally as an artist since he was in his teens; he sold some of his first US work to Charlton when he was 18 years old! He moved to the US at the end of 1974. He started doing work for DC Comics such as "The Private Life of Clark Kent" or issues of  THE JOKER. I remember him also doing various back-ups and Superman things, but I was never a huge Superman fan. Then he started working in the Batman universe, and I started taking notice. He did wonderful work like this DETECTIVE COMICS cover that became a poster.

In the early 1980s Senor Garcia-Lopez was asked to create a Design Guide for licensing purposes. It was a "style" book for marketing and also for other (new) artists to know how to draw the DC line of characters. From all of these poses have come the vast majority of DC licensing in the past 30 years! In fact, because of this work I was able to strike up a conversation with Senor Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (praise be his name) himself!

It was at the Baltimore Comic Book Convention in 2011. My friend Rick and I had driven to Baltimore the night before to attend. We were staying at the Sheraton, but the Convention was at the Hilton (or vice-versa?). So I was making my way over to the Convention after breakfast and held the door open for an older gentleman. Now I have to say, I had no idea who he was at the time; I was simply being friendly. If you've never been to a convention I'll tell you this: it seems like there are two types of people there: those who are happy to be there, and those who are frustrated or angry or unhappy to be there. I'm always one of the happy ones because 1. I can remember when there weren't any conventions to go to at all! and 2. I live and work in a "normal" environment, so I'm in a great mood when I'm surrounded by like-minded geeks and nerds! I am just so gung-ho to be there that I try to share the happiness. So anyway, I held the door open for this older gentleman, knowing he was either an artist or a vendor or a fan like me. I, of course, had an Aquaman t-shirt on. We chatted on our way to the convention site and it became obvious that he was an artist. He thought we had met before (do I have one of those types of faces? haha) and I told him that it was the first time I had been East for a convention. When I said that my favorite character was Aquaman, I pointed at my shirt. He then said, "Oh, I drew that."
the t-shirt in question
I'm sure my mouth dropped open, at least a little bit.

" drew this?" Obviously I then realized who he was.  I stammered out a reply. "I....One of the reasons I'm here is to see and meet you, Senor."

"Well, I'll be at my table all day. Come by and we'll chat some more."

And he walked in to the hall, leaving me to walk to the "general admission" line. Floated, I should say, as I was definitely on cloud nine!!

Later that day when there weren't so many people in line to meet and greet with him I did stop by and we did continue our chat. I reminded him who I was by pointing at my t-shirt (HIS Aquaman) and asking him how his day had been. There was no sign on his table about him doing sketches, so I didn't even think to ask him. Instead I had him autograph a few of my comics (LEGACIES, shown below, featuring my favorite, Aquaman, of course!). When other fans started to show up, I moved on. I was very very happy.

A few hours later as the convention was winding down and I was in line to get somebody else's autograph, the guy in front of me and I struck up a conversation. When I told him about meeting and chatting with Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (praise be his name), HE told me that he had gotten an original pencil sketch of Robin from him for only ten dollars. TEN DOLLARS!!! He showed it to me and I nearly flipped out. It was beautiful!! Anybody remember those "I could have had a V-8?!" commercials when the actor slaps his forehead in stupidity? THAT was me. By this point it was too late to go back, but I knew that the next chance I got I would get a sketch.

Fast-forward to Baltimore Comic-Con 2012. One of the reasons I decided to make the trip at all was to get a sketch from The Master. After I verified that he would be in attendance again, I decided to return. On the day, I got back in line to meet Senor Garcia-Lopez again, and this time I brought my copy of Modern Masters Vol. V. THIS time, I got an original pencil sketch of Aquaman, reproduced here. It is still one of the treasures in my collection of Aquaman goodies. Plus it's a hell of a story.
As you probably guessed, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (praise be his name) is a soft-spoken, friendly man. I hope that someday I will get another chance to meet him. In the meantime....I have my sketch, my memories, and my t-shirts.  Thank you, senor, for your incredible talent!!

Happy Birthday, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez!
 One of the Aquaman Style Guides. Look: the first pose is the same as the one on my t-shirt! 

 The greatest illustration of Classic JLA 
(except for Hawkwoman getting blocked by her husband's wings)
  This one is for you, Shag! 

My copy of this has my Aquaman sketch on the inside front cover. :-) 

My copies of these two issues have autographs on the inside where 
Aquaman and the Justice League and Teen Titans appear, 
as drawn by The Master. :-) 

My current favorite t-shirt....check out ALL of the 
Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez goodness!! 

Happy Birthday, Leonard Nimoy & Vicki Lawrence!

Today March 26 is not only the birthday of two of my favorite TV stars, but it is also the birthday of one of my all-time favorite comic book artists! I will talk about Jose Luis Garcia Lopez tomorrow but for now it's TV Tuesday so it's time to celebrate Leonard Nimoy and Vicki Lawrence!

Happy Birthday, Leonard Nimoy!

I first came across Mr. Nimoy on some science fiction show called "Star Trek." You may have heard of it. I think the character of Mr. Spock is incredibly attractive to kids in general and boys in particular: as you are getting older, how do you balance your inclination to be "smart" with your wanting to be "active" and to "fit in." Atleast, that's what attracted me to the Mr. Spock character. As a kid I didn't understand the formula for the Kirk-Spock-McCoy friendship; I just knew it was fun to watch them. Very quickly I identified with Spock and McCoy over Kirk; to this day Kirk is one of my least favorite "Star Trek" characters. He's just not that interesting to me! Spock, on the other hand, was brought to life by Leonard Nimoy and I could watch him for hours and hours.

Quick question: what character played by Leonard Nimoy appeared as a one-named "supporting" character to the "lead" character named Jim, then went away without any explanation whatsoever? The answer, is, of course, The Great Paris from "Mission: Impossible!" Yes, there have been quite a few actors who appeared on both "Star Trek" and "Mission," but none as prominent as Leonard Nimoy! When Martin Landau quit the show after three years, Leonard was already on the Paramount lot, having just lost his "Star Trek" job. A quick contract later, Spock was replaced by Paris; Jim Kirk was replaced by Jim Phelps. I've read that Mr. Nimoy almost never gets asked questions about his "Mission" if I ever get to meet him, I'm for sure going to ask him some "Mission" stories.

Here's a great example of just how far into pop culture Leonard Nimoy has permeated. 
Here he is with two voice cameos on "The Big Bang Theory." 

Happy Birthday, Vicki Lawrence! 

Have you heard the story about how Vicki Lawrence was "discovered" by Carol Burnett? She was graduating from high school in 1967 and wrote a fan letter telling Carol about how many people told her she (Vicki) resembled her (Carol). Carol and her husband visited Vicki on a lark and was taken with the youth; they hired her for The Carol Burnett Show that fall. Vicki was able to show just how talented she was, and stayed with the show the entire eleven years. During this time she helped create the role she is most famous for, Mrs. Thelma "Mama" Harper. After The Carol Burnett Show ended, Vicki Lawrence reprised the role on "Mama's Family" from 1983~1990. Along the way, she also recorded the Number One hit, "The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia," written by her then-husband, Bobby Russell. Reba McIntire later re-made it in 1991.

The Carol Burnett Cast reunion circa 2000
(Lyle Waggoner, Vicki, Harvey Korman, Carol, and Tim Conway)

Here's Vicki as "Mama" and Carol as "Eunice" on Password Plus circa 1980. 
They play in character. It's hilarious! There are atleast seven parts if you want
to watch them all...!  

Monday, March 25, 2013


So, what did you think? This is one of my favorites, just because I think everything about it works so well. 

As I talked about in the Forward, I'm not sure *why* I used a Press Conference as a reason to start the adventure; however,  I think that it *does* work. It allows us to see some of the "behind-the-scenes" stuff, PLUS it allows us to see some of the "public JLA personas" we almost never get to see. In fact, I don't think I ever had any "public" appearances since JL #10, when the various JLAers appeared at world-wide AIDS charity events.  There were a few other mentions of charity events, like the JLAers promising to appear at a half-time show during NBA play-offs or talking about doing things for charity, but that is the only other time I  remember actually *showing* them appearing in public. 

New Pronunciation Key

In JL #27 I introduced a new system of pronunciation keys for the English words. If you don't know how Japanese works it's kind of difficult to explain, but over each Japanese word (such as Justice League in the title shown directly below) I write smaller Japanese characters as pronunciation. However, because the Japanese sounds are fewer and more stringent than English, words like "cup" and "cap" end up being given the same pronunciations in Japanese. I added a "dot" or a "triangle" to try to help differentiate the sounds. Obviously, it didn't work. :-) 

Happy Birthday Miss Ross!

Tomorrow March 26 is Diana Ross' 69th birthday. Yes, believe it or not, she's nearly 70 years old. She still looks pretty damn good, don't you think?  

Diana Ross was one of my first crushes. I loved her mid-Sixties look as shown below, and I loved her Supremes' songs. My sister had The Supremes Anthology album and I listened to it all the time! At that time, in the mid-'70s she was one of the few voices on the radio that I recognized and felt I knew, even though I wasn't a big fan of most of her songs at this time. (Really, most of them haven't stood the test of time, have they?). Her Eighties songs are better, I think, especially "I'm Coming Out," "Upside Down," and "Endless Love" (with Lionel Ritchie). However, by the time she left Motown and moved to RCA, I had heard things.  I had read that during the Motown Reunion Special she had bumped the microphone out of Mary Wilson's hand. I saw that there was no Supremes reunion on that show. It appeared to be true what I had read: she was a diva. I wasn't sure what that was, but I knew it wasn't a good thing. I knew would-be "divas" in high  school, and I didn't want to have a crush on one. Also, by this time I knew other classic Motown acts like Martha & The Vandellas and The Marvelettes. I knew that Miss Ross hadn't really done the original Supremes a favor by hitting it big. In fact, I now preferred Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard to Diana; I sang the background vocals as well as the leads. I was moving on.

Another true story: when I first heard "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," her solo hit from 1970, I thought it was a Supremes song. My goodness, there is a larger chorus part in it than in some of the actual Supremes songs!
My first Diana Ross album....which featured an awesome Supremes Mega-Mix, 
which was my favorite part of the album, haha! 

Anyway, at about this time Diana Ross came in concert to St. Louis. My best friends got together with my parents and they bought us all tickets. We went, and we had a good time, felt wrong somehow. Too many changes of clothes and too much spectacle; not enough Supremes and Motown. This isn't what I wanted from a concert. Still, it was the first concert I had ever been to, and I remember it fondly, but vaguely.

I was a huge fan of the first single from her first RCA album, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" I still love that song. And partly because it was a cover of an even older song, it helped me realize that I could dis-connect a love for a musician's music and any feelings good or bad I may have for that musician's personality. Now, I'm not saying that I hate or dislike Diana Ross. I'm simply saying that she is not my "hero" or even one of my real favorites any more.

Crazy sexy shot from her 1983 "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" album....

 ...that unfolded into this! 

Flash forward a few years, and I was in Japan. I happened to be watching a "Top of the Pops" music show and I saw the following video. It sounded catchy and reminded me of hits from the Supremes era. In fact, I learned that the b&w sections were based on her first appearance in the UK as a Supreme! I liked it, and wanted to get a copy of it. However, Japanese music is very expensive, so I didn't buy it there. Instead I wrote the name down so I could buy it when I got back to the States. Well, when I finally got back, nobody in the USA had ever heard of the song! It turns out that "Chain Reaction" by Diana Ross was a huge #1 hit in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia, but made almost no effect on the US charts. It stalled at the lower 60s.

So *eventually* I found a copy of this song on another "Greatest Hits" album. It also turns out that it has been redone by a British band, Steps, who took it to #2 in 2001.

JL #27 Next Issue Blurb

Why did the six absent members not participate in this adventure? Next issue, we see the six members' individual stories! Don't miss JUSTICE LEAGUE #28!!  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Happy Birthday, Harry Houdini!

When I was a kid I loved magicians. Anybody remember watching that short-lived TV series starring Bill Bixby as "The Magician"? Also, one of my favorite comic-book characters was Zatanna The Magician,  in her fishnet stockings and top hat and tails, of course. And as soon as I heard about Harry Houdini, I was enthralled.
I've read atleast three different biographies about Houdini. Basically he was born in Europe but moved to the United States as a child. He grew up in Wisconsin. At a very young age, he got bitten by the showmanship bug. He studied magic and then escape tricks and then illusions. In his day and age he was a bonafide celebrity.

Of course, part of his legend was his sudden death at age 52. He often challenged men to hit him in his stomach; he could withstand these physical attacks by tensing his abdominal muscles. In late 1926, however, he was ill prepared for a young man's blow. He died of a ruptured appendix a few days later on October 31, 1926.

Anybody out there remember the Harry Houdini TV-movie that was made circa 1975 starring Paul Michael Glaser and Sally Struthers? I wasn't sure if I was remembering it correctly, but a quick Google search found that it really did exist. I never did see the Tony Curtis movie, "Houdini" from 1953. I have read that it was mostly fabricated...the fact that Curtis as Houdini dies while failing to escape from his famed Chinese Water Trick just makes it unwatchable for me.

Today would have been Houdini's 139th birthday. In honor, pick a card...any card....!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ken-Bun-Ki "About Auld Lang Syne"

 Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996-97. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from March 19, 1997. 
This is graduation season (in Japan). And when you think of graduation ceremonies, you think of "The Light of the Fireflies." (This is the Japanese title for "Auld Lang Syne.") My daughter is going to sing this song at her kindergarten's graduation ceremony, so she has been practicing it a lot recently.

In America this is not a graduation song; it is a song sung to welcome in The New Year. We all sing it together at midnight on Dec 31. So when I firt came to Japan and started hearing this "The Light of the Fireflies" every March I always wondered, "Why?" It was a mystery to me. So last week I finally did the research and found out WHY. 

The melody is an old Scottish folk song. The writer is unknown. However, the lyricist is Scotland's most famous poet, Robert Burns. He used this folk song's tune and wrote the words to make "Auld Land Syne" in 1794. These lyrics are a mixture of Scottish and English, so the average American does not know the actual meaning to the song! I asked one of my British friends. he told me that in England, this song is not just sung at New Year; it's also sung at the end of parties with friends. Everyone locks arms together and sings it as a group. 

The first publication of the Japanese version was in the November, 1881 first edition of the Ministry of Education Musical Selections for Elementary Schools' Choirs book. The title was "Fireflies." The lyrics at the time symbolized young men leaving their country, going off to battle to help protect it. Nowadays, of course, it is sung at graduation ceremonies by the underclassmen, bidding the graduating class good-bye. Scotland's "Auld Lang Syne" is simply about friends saying good-bye to each other. 

If you research this song on the internet you will find that there are reports that the Japanese lyrics were written by lyricist Chikai Inagaki, whose pseudonym was "Shinjiro."

Here are the actual lyrics by Robert Burns:
Should old acquaintance be forgot 
And never brought to mind
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne my dear
For auld lang syne
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne

Here are the Japanese lyrics:
(first verse only)

Hotaru no hikari 
Mado no yuki
Fumiyomu tuki hi kasanetsutsu
Itsu shika toshi mo sugi no to wo
Aketezo kesa wa wakare yuku 

The light of the fireflies
The snow on the windows 
Days and months of reading books 
Went on and on 
Hours in to years
Open the door of Japanese cedar
This morning we're parting 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Happy Birthday, Peter Graves!

I grew up idolizing three super-spies: James Bond, John Steed, and Jim Phelps. I later came to appreciate Napoleon & Ilya and Jim West, too, but they all were not part of my initial interest. I was only about eight years old when I saw my first 007 movie and my first episodes of THE AVENGERS and MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE. I was immediately hooked on all three. Of these, I've had the most "fun" being a fan of MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, which we fans refer to as, simply, "MISSION."

MISSION started in 1966, but the lead at that time was Steven Hill as Dan Briggs. Peter Graves joined the cast in the show's second season; he stayed until it was cancelled in 1973. He then returned as Jim Phelps in the 1988-1990 version. To many, his premature gray hair and rugged good looks became the symbol of the show. This was probably also due in part to the fact that most of the other lead cast members left; first Barbara Bain and Martin Landau, then some guy named Leonard Nimoy. Peter Graves represented stability as well as security with his go-to support guys, Greg Morris and Peter Lupus.

At the time of MISSION Graves was a well-known and dependable actor. He had his big break in 1953 when he appeared in the motion-picture  STALAG 17,  directed by Billy Wilder. This is the WWII prisoner-of-war camp movie that features William Holden in his Academy Award-winning role as an anti-hero. Several years later Paramount Pictures sued Bing Crosby Productions for their HOGAN'S HEROES; the suit was settled out of court. If you haven't see STALAG 17 and you are a fan of Peter Graves, you owe it to yourself to see it. Peter Graves is wonderful in it.

A few years later Graves starred in the syndicated TV show FURY(1955-1960), about a boy and his horse. This was in re-runs for years, because I remember watching it as a kid in the '70s. It's kind of like LASSIE except with a horse instead of a collie. It's a lot of fun.

Besides MISSION, Peter Graves is probably most famous for appearing in the motion picture AIRPLANE! (1980). I'm sure you remember him as the pedophiliac pilot, Capt. Clarence Over.

One of the reasons I did not get into the Tom Cruise "Mission Impossible" movies is because of what happened in the first. Jon Voight played some character named Jim Phelps, but it was not the "real" character. I hated how Paramount et al did that, so I never saw any of the other sequels.

Peter Graves was born on March 18, 1926. He died on March 14, 2010, a few days before his 84th birthday.
Happy Birthday, Peter Graves!
Rest in Peace 
The producers insisted on NO COLOR during
the "briefing" scenes: only blacks, whites,
and grays were ever worn. 
With William Holden (left) in STALAG 17. 

The best ensemble M:I ever had, 1967-1969
At the 2006 Screen Actors Guild Awards Show with
former co-star Barbara Bain