Thursday, January 29, 2009

Great TV Shows: Part 2 - The Dramas

Wow,this proved to be as hard as narrowing down the comedy category. So many good dramas aired in the past 50 years, but I was ruthless in making my selections. I kept telling myself that on my mythical desert island, I would be restricted to only these six shows. Here's my list.

The Twilight Zone made its debut in 1959 and, before the original series went off the air in 1964, it aired 156 episodes, 92 of which were written by the series' brilliant creator, Rod Serling. Each episode presented its own separate story involving people who face unusual or extraordinary circumstances, and therefore entering the "Twilight Zone". The show featured a "Who's Who" of great actors including Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Ida Lupino, Mickey Rooney, Agnes Moorehead, and William Shatner and dozens of others. Some plots were scary, others bizarre,and many were humorous....what they all had in common was quality. One extra-added treat of watching old episodes is spotting a now established actor playing a bit part early in his/her career.

"Alfred Hitchcock Presents" is well known for its opening title sequence. The camera fades in on a simple line-drawing caricature of Hitchcock's rotund profile. As the program's theme music plays, Hitchcock himself appears in silhouette from the right edge of the screen, and then walks to center screen to eclipse the caricature. He then always says "Good evening", in a rather sinister tone. The show premiered in 1955 and consistently delivered great drama in the Hitchcock tradition. Originally 30 minutes per episode, in 1962 the show was extended to a full hour and retitled "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" Like the Twilight Zone, many famous leading and character actors appeared on the program. It was a treat to watch.

Star Trek's opening narration: ..."to boldly go where no man has gone before" could be used to describe the way this show redefined the science-fiction genre for television audiences. Under the watchful eye of creator Gene Roddenberry, the series was not an immediate hit when it began on NBC in 1966. Interestingly, Desilu head Lucille Ball at that time single-handedly kept Star Trek from being dumped from the NBC-TV lineup. Eventually, with Scotty down in the engine room, Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, Doctor McCoy, Lieutenant Uhuru and Mister Sulu became part of our lives. Patrick Stewart took over the helm from William Shatner in 1987 and, although creditable in the role, couldn't match Shatner's hammy but loveable Kirk.

"Playhouse 90" (it was 90 minutes long) moved live TV drama to another level, and established a reputation as television's most distinguished anthology drama series. The ambitious series frequently featured critically acclaimed dramas, and a parade of distinguished actors who carried the show for five seasons. Playhouse 90 received many Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards, and Golden Globe Awards, and it was ranked #33 on "TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" list. Maybe my favorite show starred Jack Palance in "Requiem for a Heavyweight". Playhouse 90 was a heavyweight champ in the annals of TV drama.

My last choice is bit of a dark horse, an import called "The Avengers" featuring secret agents in 1960s Britian. Running from 1961 to 1969, it is the longest running espionage series produced for English-language television. Patrick McNee played John Steed, a dapper, cane carrying spy whose female partner from 1962 to 1964 was played by Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore in the James Bond films). In 1965 her role was taken over by the wonderfully cool and beautiful Diana Rigg, whose black, skin-tight costumes assured I would be a faithful viewer. The humor and tongue-in-cheek British dialogue made this show highly successful on both sides of the Atlantic.

My selections lean toward older shows I know, but some of the modern-day dramas that receive such acclaim like E.R. and West Wing just don't do it for me. I almost included "The Sopranos" and would have if not for that lame-ass ending!


Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Great TV Shows: Part 1 - The Comedies

I recently wrote a post about the six movies I'd pick if I was on a desert island with nothing else to watch. I got to thinking about the TV shows that might make the "desert Island" list. I've been watching television for over fifty years, and I've seen hundreds of shows come and go. After considerable thought, I concluded that there were just too many to settle on only six. To make things a bit easier, Ive decided to do different posts for different show categories. Since I love to laugh, comedy shows will be first.

I've spoken at length in other posts about my all time favorite comedy show, "The Honeymooners" featuring the Great One, Jackie Gleason, briliantly assisted by Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, and Joyce Randolph. This show was about characters we could identify with, and the chemistry between them. In my opinion, The Honeymooners is probably the best television comedy ever. The sets were sparse, (mostly the bare Kramden kitchen or "my Disneyland" as Alice once described it) the picture was in black and white, but the laughs never failed as Ralph chased his elusive dreams. The true test of this show's greatness is that it plays as well today as when it first ran fifty years ago. Hands down, the number one comedy on my list.

Probably every comedy lover would put "I Love Lucy" on the list, and I'm no exception. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, along with Vivian Vance and William Frawley kept America laughing for six years, four of which saw it as the most watched show in the country. Other TV shows had funny families and good writers, but they didn't have Lucy, maybe the best comedic actress ever. We can all recite our favorite episodes that saw Lucy get herself into impossible situations, and somehow get through them with hilarious results. Desi was the business brains of the outfit who used innovative camera techniques and a keen knowledge of the show's audience to put "I Love Lucy on top."

My sentimental favorite is "The Jack Benny Show", I think partly because my parents loved him so much, and partly because I remember enjoying him on the radio as a kid. Jack was a man who was universally loved in show business, a rarity to be sure. The persona of "the cheapskate" that he created for the show was so far from his real character, yet he worked hard to cultivate it and let everyone get the laughs at his expense. His ensemble cast including Eddie Rochester, Mary Livingstone (Jack's real wife) Dennis Day, Mel Blanc and announcer Don Wilson complimented Jack's talent so perfectly.

"Your Show of Shows" was done live every week for 60 re-takes, no video tape, just the wonder boy of comedy, Sid Caesar, with Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris doing the most inventive, cutting-edge skits, and working without a net. If something went wrong on the live broadcast, they ad-libbed a brilliant solution. It didn't hurt to have writers like Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart and Mel Brooks creating some of the zaniest bits ever seen in prime time. When Imogene left the show, Nannette Fabray did a hell of a job filling a big pair of shoes. Sid had his demons in his personal life, but there were few who could equal his prodigious gift for comedy.

Take an unknown young comedienne who got her first big break on the Gary Moore Show, add an unbelievably versatile supporting cast including Harvey Korman, Vicky Lawrence, Tim Conway and Lyle Waggoner and you have number five on my TV comedy list, "The Carol Burnett Show". Week after week, this group created some of the best sketch comedy ever seen on television. The rubber-faced Burnett created some memorable characters, but the send ups of old movies were my absolute favorites. I never get tired of watching Carol as Scarlett O'Hara, walking down the stairs wearing the green velvet curtains with the rod still in them, and reciting the line: "I saw it in the window and just had to have it."

Last but not least comes "Seinfeld" the consistently funny series about four selfish, neurotic people played by Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards. The series co-creator, Larry David, has a penchant for looking at the everyday events in life and giving them a slight twist to produce funny and insightful comedy. Again, we can all recite our favorite episodes of this groundbreaking show that was often imitated ("Friends") but never equalled. David scored again by writing and starring in his new show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm". In the field of comedy, he was truly "master of his domain."

There were other TV comedies that I enjoyed like The Odd Couple, Cheers, Taxi, the Bob Newhart Show, Married with Children and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but sadly they won't be making the desert island trip.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pet Peeves...Chapter 1

Riding the NYC subway always has its moments. The crowding, assorted wierdos, screaming evangelists, and the worst faux pas of all in my view...eating on the subway. I'm not talking about a candy bar or a bag of chips, but the slobs who sit down and start opening containers of Chinese food! How could you eat a full meal while sitting in that rolling germ casserole they call the subway. I try not to let my ass touch the seat, but people will sit there blithely shoveling food into their mouths! Not to mention the fact that I have to smell greasy Kung Pow chicken while trying to put other equally unpleasant smells out of my mind. Disgusting.

Absent mindedness: I really don't care how absent minded you are, until it affects me. We're standing in line at McDonald's for five minutes. The giant menu is hanging in front of you the whole time. Here are the words I don't want to hear when you reach the front of the line just ahead of me: "Let's see, what shall I have?" Maybe instead of spending five minutes scratching, you could have lifted your dull, lifeless eyes to the freakin' menu you moron! Or we're in line at the supermarket and you're checking out. The clerk rings up your order and you try to pay by check. She asks you if you have a check cashing card with the store and you say: "No, can I fill one out now?" You turn to me and say: "This will just take a minute." Look at me....I'm smiling, but I want to rip your face off!

Over-answering: Ever ask someone how they are and ten minutes later you're still listening to their reply? What about people who tell pointless, boring stories in excruciating detail to the point that you're wondering if it's possible to kill yourself with a ballpoint pen? It's nice to make polite conversation when the other party understands that the question: "How've you been?" does not call for a half-hour presentation on the state of their hemorrhoids. For those of you who struggle with this, here are some ready-made answers to common questions for you to memorize: "Fine thanks, how are you?"; "Never better, see you around."; "Yes it is a nice day, enjoy it."

Twist ties: Who invented these things? Is there a twist tie industry out there cranking them out for the good of mankind? Men prefer to just twist the top of the bread package and fold it under; women are definitely pro-twist tie. Ever notice that the minute you put a twist tie down on the counter, it disappears? Like chameleons, they are made to blend in with whatever surface you lay them on, so that you have to go looking for a new twist tie. (The technology for doing this is known only to a few twist tie executives.) Once the old twist tie sees you have selected a new one, the old one magically reappears in the hope that you will throw it into the junk drawer with all the other used twist ties. It's diabolical.

Men's winter hats: There are a variety of hats men can wear in winter that are functional and don't make them look ridiculous. A new hat has popped up in the last few years that makes the wearer look like an older "special ed" kid. These babies are made of wool, usually in pukey colors, and the fashion grand slam is completed by ear flaps, and a string with pom poms on the ends that ties under the chin. I guarantee you if you put one of these on and stand outside Macy's with a tin cup, you'll clear fifty bucks a day. If you own one of these dorky hats, try this. Put the hat on and look in a mirror...if you don't lose your lunch, have your eyes checked!

Pet people: I like pets OK, although I'm not what you would call a pet person. The clincher for me was when they passed the "pooper scooper" law in New York City. Let me see if I have this want me to go out on a freezing cold morning, follow my dog around with a plastic bag and pick up the steaming little present he deposits in the grass? Not happening bucko. I had fish once; they were OK. Nice to look at and I didn't have to dive in after them to clean up. I'm talking about the very scary pet people, the ones that dress their pets in cute little outfits and leave Fluffy millions in their wills. C-R-E-E-P-Y.

I couldn't agree more that these are such trivial things, and yet they get my attention. Not only that, as I get older and flirt with Tourette's Syndrome, I'm apt to say something to the poor unsuspecting slob who has dared to ruin my day with their annoying behavior. God, life is good.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The "Blimp Watch" Begins

When I got out of the army reserves in 1961, I had a 33" waistline and weighed a lean 165 pounds. As with most people, I got wider and fatter as I got older, with the last ten years or so probably being the worst. I now have a 39" waistline and tip the scales at tubby 215 pounds, a full 50 pounds heavier than when I was keeping the world safe for democracy in San Antonio, Texas. Although I can still walk 18 holes of golf, and shovel the miserable winter snow that all seems to blow on my side of the street, I don't look or feel as well as I could.

Taking off that extra poundage used to be easy, but keeping it off was another story. I've been successful in the past with various diets including Slim Fast, Atkins, and Weight Watchers, but the pounds always creep back. If I could add up all the weight I've lost over the years, I could make up my own golf foursome, with enough left over for a skinny caddy. Extra weight affects not only your appearance, but your health. Billy Crystal's Fernando Lamas character on Saturday Night Live used to say: "Dahling, it's better to look good than to feel good." As you age, that's definitely not true. Excess weight contributes to high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, lower back problems, and a general lack of energy. I want the loss/gain cycle to stop, and I am declaring war on fat!

I get a kick out of all the diet ads; after extolling how well the diet works, they always add" "....with proper diet and exercise." Here's a newsflash Skippy, if we ate properly and exercised regularly, we wouldn't need your dumb diet. It's no secret that diets like Jenny Craig and Nutra-System work because they limit your calorie intake and pretty much restrict you to foods that are nutritious. Anyone who faithfully follows these diets is bound to lose weight. The problem arises when people go off the diets and gradually return to their old eating habits. Ask poor Kirstie Alley who slimmed down to 145 lbs. and was a celebrity spokesperson for Jenny Craig, only to bulk up again and lose her job. No knock on ain't easy folks.

Some people eat to live (curse them); the rest of us live to eat. As we get older, two things happen regarding food, both of them bad. First, our discretionary income goes up so we eat out more. When we were first married and times were tough, an occasional family trip to the Rustler Steak House was a real treat. Now we eat out frequently, and restaurant meals tend not only to be super sized, but accompanied by wine and dessert. Second, we're not as active so those extra calories don't burn off as quickly as they used to. More calories in, less daily exercise is a formula for disaster.

Here's my plan, the one I hope will work when all others have failed. I will try to eat smaller portions of the delicious and healthy meals my thoughtful wife cooks for me. No second helpings at dinner, no sneak trips for chocolate, cookies, or ice cream after dinner, and always a doggie bag to bring home half of every restaurant meal I eat. I love food too much to give up my favorites, so I will just try to be content with less of them. I also plan to watch the fast food; I'm not a Big Mac junkie, but I do enjoy fast food breakfasts which are not as healthy as home made.

Regular exercise is a must for this plan to work. I get into a routine with exercise that I follow for a time, and then slack off, especially in winter. Too cold for golf or any outdoor activity, so I will try to walk every day at our indoor mall, They open at 7 am and all the seniors are in there trying to do something to keep fit. I now proudly count myself among them. I am also going to try to use weights at home 3-4 times a week to tone up. If I can stay on this schedule, it will help me not only to drop the extra weight, but to keep it off.

I don't ever expect to see 165 pounds again, but I've set a goal of 185 pounds (30 pounds lighter than I am now) by the end of the year. One thing I found that worked for Weight Watchers was the weekly weigh in....just knowing someone else would be looking over your shoulder. And so, I will bravely (and stupidly) be posting my weight with every new Braindrops blog. The image at left will appear at the bottom of every Braindrops blog, regardless of the topic, to mark my progress. I have too many good things in my life to run the risks that come with extra weight, so wish me well as I officially kick off the "Blimp Watch". With any luck, you'll be seeing a lot less of me in the future!


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

For Seniors Only

One downside of getting older is a tendency to forget simple things. I guess the brain starts running down like every other body part, and suddenly you can't remember where you put your car keys, or your car! Strangers point at your fly, which explains that refreshing breeze you've been feeling all day. (Guess it wasn't the Mentos.) You'll start to do something, get distracted, and leave the task uncompleted. Usually the consequences are not serious, but they can be, like leaving something to burn on the stove while you work on your blog. Here are some tips developed from experience that can help:

Write things down. If you're a computer person, use the "Calendar" feature on Outlook to remind you of important events or appointments. I also use a little black date book for the same purpose...low tech but just as effective. Enter birthdays, anniversaries, car inspection and registration due dates, doctor's visits and anything else you need to remember. The most important thing is to look at the computer or book every morning, otherwise the exercise is pointless.

When you start something, finish it before moving on to the next task. It's so easy to get distracted by interruptions like phone calls, someone at the door, the arrival of the day's mail or a million other things. If you have to go for a tool or something else to complete the task, focus on getting back to what you started before picking up something new. Try to have whatever materials needed to do the job on hand so you don't have to interrupt your work. Resisting distractions will help you avoid incomplete tasks.

Develop routines. If you do things at around the same time every day, they tend to get done by simple time association. If you take a maintenance medication daily, get one of those pill boxes with the compartments, and take your meds at the same time every day. Also, put things like glasses, car keys, wallet, cell phones and remote control units in the same place to minimize the chances for misplacing them. As you get older, regular routines can help you in your day-to-day life.

Watch for changes in routines. If you're used to driving the same route home every day, an unconscious mental program soon develops so that you can follow the route without consciously thinking about making a right turn here or a left there. The mental program runs on a back burner in your brain while you think about other things. This is usually not a problem unless you have a dentist appointment and have to follow a different route. If you're not alert, the mental program will take over and you'll be home sitting in your driveway wondering why you're not at the dentist's.

Exercise your body and your mind. Daily exercise of some type produces chemicals that are beneficial for brain development. Also, exercising your mind through regular reading, doing crossword puzzles, learning new skills like playing an instrument or studying a foreign language, can actually build new brain cells to replace the ones being lost through the aging process. It doesn't matter how successful you are at mastering these new tasks, it's the trying that's important! The less you use your body and brain, the more quickly they will deteriorate, making you a prime candidate for the Shady Pines Rest Home.

See the doctor periodically. Most of us do this of necessity, but periodic checkups can pick up problems before they get more serious. Forgetfulness is common as we age, but more advanced memory loss may be associated with Alzheimer's and require special treatment. Also, many conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease can be detected and managed if caught early enough. Don't take your health for granted; the best way to get back at the government for taking all those tax dollars is to cash as many Social Security checks as possible!

Finally, two suggestions: first, try to laugh every day. Not many laughs in the papers, but get DVDs of your favorite old comedy shows like the Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, or anything that makes you laugh, and watch it at bedtime or when you're feeling low. Second, enjoy a glass of good red wine once in a while. These last two tips may not help your memory, but will make life a little more enjoyable.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Saturday, January 10, 2009

If You Could Pick Just Six Movies....

If someone challenged you to pick a half-dozen movies to take to a desert island, and never watch any other movies, you would be hard pressed to name just six. Would you pick comedies or inspirational films to lift your spirits; or maybe dramas to remind you of the range of human emotions; how about science-fiction or fantasies to take your mind off the fact that you're stuck on an island watching the same six movies over and over? Out of the thousands of films made over the years, and after agonizing deliberation, these are the six I would choose.

The Godfather, Part I - When I first read the Mario Puzo novel, it hit me like a thunderbolt. It told the story of Italian immigrants, one with which I strongly identified, who chose or were driven (depending on your point of view) to a life of crime. The characters were complex; violent criminals but with their own set of street rules and family values (no pun intended). Puzo had such a grasp of the Italian-American lifestyle, and was a master storyteller. My one worry when the book was made into a movie was how well it would translate to the screen. The film was not only true to the book, but in some ways surpassed it, with inspired casting that breathed life into Puzo's broad cast of characters. This may be my favorite movie ever.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee had only one major novel to her credit, but it was a doozie. To Kill a Mockingbird was not only a compelling courtroom drama, but also brought into the realm of fiction one of the strongest characters ever, Mississippi lawyer Atticus Finch, played brilliantly by Gregory Peck. The film's two main themes deal with Finch's defense of an unjustly accused man, and his two children learning about right and wrong. One memorable character who never spoke a line, but who played a pivotal role in the movie was Boo Radley, played by a young Robert Duval. I heard Peck say in an interview that this was his "career role" and the one most fans asked him about.

Gone With the Wind - Like Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell hit one monster home run in her literary career, and it was this sweeping saga of America's Civil War. The movie works, not only on a dramatic level, but as a history lesson, as we see the cocky, gallant Confederacy defeated utterly by the armies of the Union. Gone With the Wind filled the screen with powerful images ranging from life in the genteel, pre-war South to brutal scenes of war and death. Directed by Victor Flemming, who replaced George Cukor, the movie featured outstanding performances by Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, with brilliant support from Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard. Just grab your popcorn and take the phone off the hook, this movie never disappoints.

Blazing Saddles - Got to have some laughs on our desert island, and this little gem delivers them. I know there are film purists who would place the Marx Brothers or Charlie Chaplin at the top of the comedy movie ranks, but sorry folks, their films never made me laugh like this one. The casting director deserves special mention for choosing Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, David Huddleston, and Alex Karras to fill the screen with bizarre characters to say Mel Brooks' hilarious lines. This selection narrowly won out over Caddyshack; they are probably the only two comedies I can sit and watch over and over.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy - One could argue that this is three films, but the story is too big to tell in a single movie. J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy tales totally captured my imagination when I first read his books as a young man. We can only marvel at the genius of this Oxford scholar who invented a whole world of wizards, hobbits, elves, dwarfs and men locked in a classic battle of good versus evil. Again I worried, would it make a good film? Director Peter Jackson shopped this project around before he found a company willing to give him a green light. The results speak for themselves. Lucas and Spielberg's original Star Wars, a landmark film, finished second in the fantasy category.

It's a Wonderful Life - This Christmas present from Frank Capra to all of us probably wouldn't make most peoples' top six list. Those of you who read these posts know I have a minor obsession with the film. (See 12/21/08 post: "ZuZu's Petals".) Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and a great supporting cast give us a film that makes us laugh, cry, and most important, reminds us that we all make a difference in someone's life. The most commonly prescribed-for illness in the United States is depression. This movie is my prescription for depression; it never fails to give me a lift.

I know I only said six, but surely you won't banish me to a desert island without an animated movie. My choice, hands down, would be Walt Disney's classic, Pinocchio. Incomparable Disney animation from the studio's most productive days coupled with a wonderful story based on the book by Italy's Carlo Collodi is enough to make any wayward boy happy.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association