Saturday, November 28, 2015

Non-Cynical Boomer Holiday Memories

Not mine, but close enough
The overarching internal conundrum within my aching aging bones involves the ever-evolving conflict with my current angst and railing regarding the corporate takeover of the world and my chestnut memories of the holiday season which were spiced and seasoned with the same cynical manipulative persuasive pro-consumer enticements I rail against.

So I will happily digest youtube clips of a dopey 1972 toy TV commercial over a 2015 holiday-tinged politically correct snarky Black Friday mobile-app blowout micro-clip (or whatever they call it nowadays).   And I’m not alone.

Why does the Rankin Bass machine (highlighted by the phenomenon of Rudolph--and the Charlie Brown specials rank among the most enduring form of holiday entertainment?  It’s the sweet simplicity and lack of pretense. 

But this isn’t a cranky opinion piece.  I just wanted to establish my hypocrisy up front so that it is clear it all comes down to selling something, no matter the era.  I just wanted to benignly and politely share the following memories:

As an only child television pretty much formed my sensibilities “back in the day.”  Even though there were family gatherings and that dynamic was a huge joy for me, I always managed to find a TV to hole up in front of to watch whatever offerings the networks or some obscure UHF station were offering as we visited Waco or Austin.  Back then, thanks to syndication, one didn’t have the same cable offerings during travel as today. 

Visiting a different city (even 100 miles away) could send you into a brand new world with different sitcom reruns or local kid’s shows with cartoons you never heard of.  Channel 11 from Fort Worth had Slam Bang Theater with the Three Stooges and Felix the Cat.  On my visits to the distant lands tens of miles away, we could pick those up (with old-school cable) and no one knew where I was when we arrived--I crawled into the TV “dens” or “studies” as soon as possible to start consuming cultural differences.

However, at home in San Antonio (pre-1973), attending every
McDonald’s opening and gorging myself on Krofft Saturday Morning offerings and reading silver age Hanna Barbera comics and ordering Scholastic books and listening to Disney records made up my spare time.  So with that as base, it’s easy to ascertain the fabric of my seasonal joys:  Media.

It’s funny how the homey snow-village hearth obsessed version of the holidays, while clearly of an earlier time and lacking in antennas, was refined through the media representations.  My parents may have actually experienced those things but I related to the idea of that little berg.  There were the animated specials by Hanna-Barbera and
others that fed into the depiction.  A sweet made for television film
that was set in such a village (yet contemporary) was requiredviewing each year and despite it’s depressing tone put me in the mood much as “The Christmas Story” did for the next generation.  Of course I will rewatch today a “very special” holiday edition of Lucy or Mary or Bob or the Bunkers and Bradys, the Clampetts and Cunninghams.

And of course, the Manhattan environs of Buffy, Jody and the Jeffersons were perfect fodder for the holiday escapades.  Which leads me to:

Thanksgiving is the gateway to the shopping…ahem…goodwill season and the Macy’s Parade was a complete blast with the “Miracle on 34th street” location.  I loved the idea of New York during the holidays (although I had never been there…again representation). 
Those were the years before Times Square was cleaned up…the “Taxi Driver” years….but that parade ran down a Disney-fied Broadway with lots of clean, safe grime-free holiday cheer.  Even in San Antonio, I could grasp at some of that utopitan urbanity
when I visited the Christmas Wonderland at Joske’s downtown (now the Rivercenter Mall).  I cannot express the joy of those memories…the train that ran through the village, the fake snow, the piped-in carolers and of course Santa himself…was it the same santa from North Star Mall I wondered?

Although the weather in South Texas could sometimes be balmy at this time of year, we could be blessed with a “brown”
Thanksgiving, with football games on inside and played outside (in crisp clean air).  The “white” Christmas was rare though.  But any amount of frigidity certainly helped.  I still have the little Christmas village with the fake snow (now yellowed--well) and the little houses (now barely holding together).  This little neighborhood was always packed away in the same musty little suitcase (still in pretty good shape actually) which is just a part of the memories as the contents themselves.  Funny how that is.

I still have the ornaments that we put up on the tree.  I don’t put up a
tree anymore but with my entire obsessive-compulsive family unit, alterations to the tree attire were almost non-existent for decades.  The stockings made by my aunt made regular appearances as did that one gingerbread ornament which looked so real I almost ate it a couple of times (there is a bite mark or two).  We did morning presents which changed to the night before as my
parents got older.  I remember the time when Christmas landed on Saturday and my folks had to compete with the cartoons for my attention.  But most of the games I got--Kooky Carnival, Operation, any offering from Shaper--reminded me of the commercials on TV that hawked them.  Unless some idiot chose to give my UNDERWEAR or SOCKS or a SWEATER for Christmas.  You see, I wasn’t much different than today’s kids.  I realize that. 

I still had the cassette tape as my Dad, pretending to be St. Nik, was testing out the new-fangled tape recorder (wow!) he got me.  Unfortunately, the tape, consisting of my father reading the instructions into the mike and my Mom in the background making the coffee (Mrs. Clause I guess I was to surmise) broke and cannot be retrieved.  Well, it was 1970 after all.  I should be glad no evidence exists of my spoiled tantrums over the gifts I opened that
had no brand-name or comic character attached.  Anything Hot Wheels or the lesser Matchbox elicited untold joy however.  Especially if they had the little magic gas pumps.  To this day, I have no idea how those little gas pumps made the cars run.  I guess I can Google it.

I generally forgot about all these tropes during the eighties and nineties when the holiday season became about parties  (well, that’s a people thing right?).  As the lines between fiction and reality became blurred thanks to vociferous cinema attendance, the
Christmas get togethers became fertile soil for possible romantic hookups, trembling parking lot encounters, and the resulting self-fulfilling depression and loneliness (however bittersweet--tinged with seasonal joy).    And of course, having a small business, buying presents for clients and close friends and relatives became a rather tiresome yet rewarding experience.  I can’t say that media didn’t play a huge part in later years as the rollout of the Holiday Tentpole films excited me to no end. 

But the holidays are a quiet time now.  In my “waxing nostalgic” faze I will get some eggnog and rum (that’s the “party” part nowadays) and settle in with a marathon of Rudolph and Charlie Brown with the unpacked village suitcase sitting nearby waiting to be unpacked.  I put up a few decorations for my Mom in her little apartment--not much room for a tree--and she says that’s all right but I know she would love to have all the trappings up the holiday in her gaze.  Currently, a large part my job involves decorating for the holidays for a store so my enthusiasm wanes when on the homefront. 

But it’s fun to bring back all that at my job.  I hang old cheesy
holiday albums featuring cartoon characters and media celebrities from the ceiling and sneak in a lot of golden books and tattered decorations to fill out the d├ęcor.  Sometimes a boomer or slacker will come in and marvel. 

Aside from that, when all the razmataz is stripped out, you realize it comes down to being with loved ones, if only for a day…seeing old friends in person (infrequent in the age of Facebook)…and appreciating what you have been blessed with rather than what you lost or don’t possess.  It’s OK to hold on to those old memories but what is left are the ingredients of a quiet celebration of gratitude and selflessness, a celebration that at it’s core celebrates the Reason for the Season.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

"Carter Country"

Two sad things happened a couple of months ago:  The loss of TV producer Bud Yorkin and the cancer diagnosis of former President Jimmy Carter.  There was an interesting connection between these two in the year after Carter became the leader of the free world.

Yorkin was best-known for his collaborations with uber-producer Norman Lear in the seventies.  Not only did the two work together in television starting in the late fifties, but they continued with films in the sixties--Yorkin directed Lear's "Divorce, American Style" for
Yorkin and Lear
instance.  But when the two devised the ill-fated pilots for a videotaped sitcom based on a British hit "Til Death Do Us Part," little did they know that their persistence would change the face of television.

There is no need to re-hash the phenomenon that was "All in the Family."  Before Lear and Yorkin (together as "Tandem" Productions) brought to CBS two spin-offs from that show--"Maude" begets "Good Times"--Yorkin took a heavier producing hand to Tandem's second mega-hit, this time on NBC, "Sanford and Son."  A second British remake, this was the first American TV series to portray the African American experience as something other than the glossy,  whitewashed, and  condescending safety of "Julia," "Room 222," or Bill Cosby's multiple sixties series.  Sadly, however, this new junkyard hit revealed a stark thrust backwards in its stereotypes and slapstick--avoiding the controversial topics save the irony of a racist who is himself a minority citizen.

In the meantime, "Good Times" struggled with cast issues due to the decreasing influence of its black story-runners and the ever-increasing prevalence of the mid-seventies fascination with catch-phrase characters (JJ's "Dyno-Mite!").  By the time Lear spun of "The Jeffersons"--also falling prey to the same dilemma while exhibiting bravery in its depiction of a bi-racial relationships--Tandem became TAT and Yorkin formed a new company, TOY, with Saul Turtletaub and Bernie Orenstein.

After Sanford's "Grady" spinoff and the failed Sanford continuation "Sanford Arms," TOY moved to ABC and piggybacked on the Sanford success with "What's Happening!!," a comic
version of the more grim feature film, "Cooley High."  With Duwayne, Rerun, Raj, Mama, Shirley and Dee, the socio-level was amped up to middle-class but the antics stayed true to the  insult-slinging hi-jinks that by this time--post Mary Tyler Moore/early MASH and plopped squarely in the new ascendancy of the T and A/Happy Days revolution--sitcoms were back in the Vietnam-era business of escapism and mindless franchises.

Now on the political front, Americans were completely disillusioned with post-Watergate Washington.  Even though the Nixon/Ford years gave birth to TV's golden age of comedy in teh early seventies, the surprising election of an unkown Georgia governor to President--representing the USA's populist and strangely spiritual left-turn--heralded inanity in boob tube comedy.

I can remember the early SNL jokes and skits about Carter the peanut farmer and the constant coverage of his Plains family as a punchline--brother Billy and his beer brand, mother Lillian, et. al.--and a brief absence of heated political rancor as Carter was branded "God's gift to the White
Billy and a peanut.
House."  Well, many will argue as to his effectiveness as a world leader to this day, but few will doubt his integrity and measured intelligence.  Arguably, he may have been the last president who relied more on moral instinct and less on polls and political gurus.

So it was in this environment that Yorkin and his colleagues introduced the sitcom "Carter Country" in the midst of super-programmer Fred Silverman's revamping of ABC into the masturbatory powerhouse that included "Charlie's Angels" and "Three's Company."  An odd choice, yet reflective of a "trending" topic, the sitcom placed itself squarely in the confines of Carter's own home territory.  Sometimes mistaken as a remake of the Acaemy Award winning film from a decade earlier "In the Heat of the Night," the program's resemblance was limited only to the setting and fish out of water scenario.  That being said, the basic plot was was southern police chief (Victor French) being forced to work with big-city educated black sergeant (Kene Holliday).  And as Chief Mobey, French played a lovable  redneck who's
prejudices were only unintentional and bred by environment (as opposed to Lear's Archie Bunker--less lovable and more dangerous).  Sergeant Baker's main conflicts resided with various residents of Clinton Corners (yes, that was the name of the town)  whose bigotry was a bit more, shall we say, realistic.  But lessons were learned and situations were resolved in true sitcom form as "Carter Country" did for the racist South what "Hogan's Heroes" did for Nazi Germany.   It was a dark version of Mayberry--with a live studio audience.

I remember watching this show upon it's premiere in the fall of 1977 at the height of the ABC "We're the One" resurgence.  Premiering the same month as "Soap,"  and slotted right before Redd Foxx's controversial new post-"Sanford" variety Show, the series didn't quite carry the taboo cache of those programs and somehow managed to slip into a second season unnoticed and unheralded.  ABC did manage to get a catch-phrase out of the show:  Cuddly yet corrupt Mayor Burnside would utter a terse "Handle-it, handle-it" to his backwoods inferiors.  The only thing of pop-culture interest that came of the series was a short recurring character played a young Melanie Griffith--cub reporter for the local paper.

Falling victim to the same level of progressive political-incorrectness as many other seventies sitcoms, we will probably never see this one on DVD.  Holliday went on to be a regular on "Matlock" and French continued to be a part of "Little House on the Prairie" and do character parts.  TOY produced a mild "Soap" ripoff called "13 Queens Blvd" with Eileen Brennan and Jerry Van Dyke, paired with "The Ropers" to no avail.  And in 1982, the company brought back Mickey Rooney to star with two kids (Dana Carvey and Nathan Lane) in "One of the Boys" about a geezer rooming with a couple of college boys.  Yorkin went back to features such as "Twice in a Lifetime" with Gene Hackman and the "Arthur" sequel.

Here's the proof:  Enjoy the snazzy theme-music while you are at it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

My Letter to Dave

Dear Dave,

You always portrayed an outsider, looking at your guests askance.  The audience related to you as you warily eyed your eccentric guests…sneering and jousting….and as you recognized the “good guys”--the honest to goodness heroes of Our Great Land.  And you captivated the growing masses of cynical viewers who were growing weary of how the revolutionary media environment of the seventies was already lapsing into the Reagan era of contrived family pablum.  And as a young audience member with a voracious appetite for all things Hollywood, you spoke to me.

My first encounter with you was when you were a cast member on Mary Tyler Moore’s failed ensemble variety show.  Co-castmember Michael Keaton recently regaled the youngsters with the clip of you--the gangly weatherman--uncompfortably doing dance routines. You hated it.  You seemed to me the “grouchy” character--the outsider looking in.  Even then.  After a character part on “Mork and Mindy” (which I somehow missed at the time, sorry) and many appearances on Carson, NBC gave you that hour slot after the Today Show replacing “Sanford and Son” reruns. Since it premiered during the summer before my senior year I was able to partake.

In the summer of ’80, SNL lost the last of it’s original Not Ready for Prime Time Players, remember?..mostly to movie and Broadway careers.  Lorne Michaels left the show as it was ready to embark on it’s ill-fated 1980 season with all new castmembers (including the only breakout:  Eddie Murphy!).  ABC’s drug-fueled SNL clone called “Fridays” was now the king of late night subversion, but only for limited audiences leading to a short run.  The Canadian SCTV troop was making inroads through syndication.  Variety was dead and the sitcoms were returning to Mayberry with “Alice,” “Flo,” and “Dukes of Hazzard” topping Prime Time.  So your morning show, Dave,  was a welcome but ill-scheduled surprise.  If youngsters youtube some clips from this program, they will see some of the most daring and shocking comedy of the time--and it aired between news and game shows!  How do you feel about that, Dave? The “feel” of that show was so off-putting at the time, hazy--sort of druggy-- out of place, weird, almost like a public access show spoofed to death in years to come….but you were Dave, Dave.  Thanks for leaving some clips up, I know it must be hard on you.  I do wish I had convinced one of my school buddies to let me have his Jimmie Walker comedy 8-track--only I knew that you were his head writer on that!

So flash-forward to my freshman year in college.  When I think of my little wood-toned Sony color TV, I remember the resurgence of NBC which had struggled with mediocre programming during Fred Silverman’s “Big Event” experiments.  Gary Coleman provided the only ratings.  You remember…you were guest hosting Tonight in these years.  I luxuriated among the new classics:  “Hill Street Blues,” “St. Elsewhere,” “SCTV Network” (replacing SNL as appointment viewing), the new sitcom “Cheers” ready for takeoff.  As I adjusted to life in a dorm--away from Mom and Dad--I found a new home, a new family with you and your crew nightly starting February 1, 1982.

“Late Night with David Letterman” was basically the morning show with more edge and the repressed sardonic wit was allowed to flourish.  A complete antidote to “The Tonight Show”s establishment feel.  Carson was still the only game in town on the networks.  Merv, Mike Douglas and Dinah were syndicated in the seventies.  Phil Donohue was emerging to take the daytime talk format into the wastelands of dysfunction and crudity.    Watching “Late Night” on my little Sony in Elliott Hall is such a loaded memory I can’t help but co-mingle your popular coming-out with my own stunted growth.

When Bill Murray, fresh off of “Stripes” emerged as your first guest that night, one could tell you had fans from inside the Hollywood establishment, a begrudging acknowledgement I’m sure.  With SNL out of commission until Lorne returned in ’85, you were the only game in town when one was looking for irreverence.   Somehow you could do a “Velcro suit” gag--stupid as it sounds--but couched in your wink wink nod nod sensibility, it seemed “cool.”  And this was the genius of Stupid Pet Tricks and Larry “Bud” Melman and Monkeycam: you elevated inane schtick into a pseudo-hip phenomenon. 

Dave, one of the aspects of your early years that I found completely enthralling was actually borrowed.  Sorry.   But your humility always allowed for a deference to past groundbreakers and I’m sure you’d agree.  When you would have a camera on the street and comment on the people walking by, you were --in a sideways manner--paying tribute to the great Steve Allen’s observational comedy from the fifties and sixties.  Your visual gags could evoke Ernie Kovaks.  This is why some refer to you as a Great Broadcaster.  Hell, Johnny never went outside the studio, did he? You used the medium of television in a way that had been forgotten.  As you did the drive-through window bits in the 90’s, your show  was referencing your own earlier schtick.  I will never forget the banter during a studio walk-through you did with Willard Scott (also a  great broadcaster) which had me in stitches.  During those years, Dave-watchers (is that OK?)  were the only Texans introduced to  these quirky and gritty urban legends: Hunter S. Thompson, Brother Theodore, Fran Leibowitz, Harvey Pekar, Howard Stern.  Crazy stunts by Crispin Glover and Andy Kaufman were rarely questioned in their authenticity--before the staged “trending” culture we have now.  As a matter of fact, Dave, you provided more Youtube moments before Youtube than anyone at the time.

MTV was taking off in the early 80’s…and “Cool” was becoming “Unhip.”  By commenting on the ridiculousness of pop culture (while actually contributing to it) you became the antithesis of market-driven entertainment.  That is the Dave I have missed during the CBS years.

The late eighties were a blur to me.  With all the changes that come with career choices and newfound freedoms--apartment living, new friends, horrifying possibilities and the inherent escapes--I don’t know how I had time to watch your show.  Somehow I fit you  in.  As Clooney told you the other night, you just become part of one’s night.  With the VCR, I taped you and watched you the next day….the best of all worlds!

As a matter of fact, your sensibilities became so intertwined with mine, I copied your act on a public access talent-variety show.  I borrowed your sardonic humor and even had my own Paul Schaffer who used sound effect and music cues of my own selection in the same way you used yours.  What makes it all the more bizarre, was that  I was one of the few English-speakers on a show that catered to an Hispanic audience.  Actually, you would have loved it, Dave. Much as you wore your natty suit with sneakers and a bad haircut, I sadly did the same.  I still had hair then, Dave.  So with my geeky appearance…sort of button-down, my vast knowledge of vintage television, my off-putting sense of humor and my complete sense of estrangement from any particular group--especially the group I was in front of, I became you in San Antonio. 

As television became an increasingly smaller part of my life--with work and theater taking over--,my devotion to you fell by the wayside.  By the time your  transition to CBS occurred--with all the accompanying controversy and hoopla, rememer?--I was following with scant attention.  But I did watch enough to generate some memories of your first years on CBS.  (Sometimes I confuse memories of those early CBS years with your NBC years--such as the Manky Patinkin/Tony Randall skits).  And when did you stop those brilliant “interviews” with Charles Grodin?  Do you guys still talk?

I’m sorry I lost touch with you, Dave.  Mostly after you moved to CBS.  What with more theater, more work, commitments, relationships…my television compadres were limited to prime time must see comedians like Seinfeld, Reiser, and “Frasier” on your old network.  I’d visit occasionally.  And I was one of your few defenders when you hosted the Oscars! (What was all the bitching about?)  By now, even SNL found it’s footing thanks to Hartman, Hooks  Actually, you had a hand in giving showcases to so many of the newer talent gracing Lorne’s stage--Sandler, McDonald, Farley and the rest of the young SNL Rat Pack.  Now, Dave, the guys coming up in the world also came up in your world…like I did.  You are now becoming a Kingmaker.  Much like the newly retired Carson was.

Well, Dave, upheavals in my life….huge events good and bad, major losses, great wins….led to a move to Austin to become a filmmaker.  By now, my time was filmed with, well, film.  Regular TV viewing was limited to a few programs throughout my self-prescribed cinema master class. 

So I wasn’t there for you during your heart surgery.  I hadn’t started contemplating my own mortality yet.  You were as old then as I am now.  Wow. 

And, Dave, I wasn’t with you when “comedy” changed after that fateful day in 2001.  When you and Tina Fey--the queen of SNL--and Leno and all the rest decided it was best to “keep America laughing” and “celebrate our heroes.”  It was sincere, Dave, and I share your anguish over world events….but it did kill comedy.  The edge was gone as politicians now used you and other comedy shows for stump speeches.  Jon Stewart was ushering in the news as a comedy show to reach those young people….like you reached my generation…to use comedy as a sharp beacon of the truth rather than skirt the painful realities.  But, Dave, I quit you around this time.  Your guests were deferential to you and afraid to rile you.  The audience applauded at every line you provided, funny or not.  The Top Ten list had a corporate sponsor.  You allowed politicians on your show to promote their agendas.  Movie stars became your admirers and a mutual appreciation society was formed.  But you still kept to yourself.  As a matter of fact, you may have become more insular than ever.  You were now an institution.  And I could barely watch.

You just became part of the news cycle with your scandals now.  I always admired how you stayed out of the limelight, but now….Hey, I had lost my edge by this time as well.  My performing was relegated to short student film appearances, character actor stuff. 

So, Dave, a year after I turn fifty I see you retiring in your late sixties.  And you aged.  Not in a bad way, but I think “Where did those years go?”  As I watch the parade of VIPs…Presidents and Movie stars…I feel I missed your party.  I wasn’t there, Dave.  Sorry.  I missed your boat and mine.  So I watch with a wistful regret.  My eyes tear up when I see those comics (who I remember starting) pay loving tributes to what you did for their careers.  I nod my head in agreement when celebrities recount their first visits on your NBC couch.  As I watch you, nearing retirement, I sense a retirement of my own. 

I hate to admit it, because you probably could care less, but you were a huge influence on my life.  Whether it was corny local TV, theater performances, drunk party bits, young salesman ice-breakers…..coping….coping with a “world I never made” (Howard the Duck, you know the reference, Dave?)  Appreciating those that blazed the trail before us, recognizing those that stand out beyond the grand morass of digital entertainment, calling out the frauds and the fakes….your tastes and my tastes were the same.  I realize that now. 

You said in your new Rolling Stone interview that you were “motivated by fear and guilt.”  Dave, I feel the same way.  Your neuroses and mine are probably extremely similar.  Although I have never shied from the limelight--if I had ever been in your position, who knows?--I too am an outsider, an observer, ready to comment, condemn or congratulate.  But in my way, I’ve dangerously flirted with movie goddesses; supported dreams of others--opened up avenues for burgeoning talent; kept open that window to the past-- to nurture and inspire rather than to escape. But where we are different, Dave, is whether or not you want it--you are a superstar.  It’s uncomfortable watching you be a hesitant rock star….probably because you and I were the same--once.  And part of me wishes I could partake in your success rather than be sitting here writing this thing no one will read.

  Doesn’t it belong to both of us?  I felt your pain, to quote one of your favorite leaders.

Dammit, Dave I was told in high school that I would be the next Johnny Carson.  When I met Jay Leno in a Hollywood bookstore, he signed his copy of “Headlines” to “my replacement.”  I wanted to listen to all those stories….I’ve always been a great listener.  I’ve wanted to be a “great host”!  My life has been a talk show.  And for thirty-three years, you were the producer.

For that, I thank you, Dave.  And thanks for the memories.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Memories...A little more than a corner of my mind

I’m giving myself less than an hour and a beer to write this note on nostalgia.  Every once in a while I go  through our family storage unit.  I love that.  I was told once that we hoard old shit (clippings etc) because we are afraid to lose the memories.  Well, that’s fine…I don’t want to lose the memories.  My memories give me strength, my memories are what build my character, my memories guide me when I need to remember WHO I was and WHAT I did; my memories remind me of who loved me and when; my memories balance out any unhealthy and wrongheaded assumptions time may gift me with. 

I have many trunks in that storage unit.

1.  The big trunk has all my childhood stuff:  souvenir programs, maps, old postcards I collected, items from my four years at Friday Mountain Boys Camp near Austin (used targets, woodcrafts), cartoons I drew and sent to cartoon studios, toys I won through the back of cereal boxes, McDonald’s chatchkis (yes, have no idea the joy of each and every “opening” in those days), my dad’s souvenirs from his days in various organizations…usually gags and plaques, photos and photos and photos I memorized over the years of my treasured visits with family:  Aunt Fan and her extended clan in Austin; Uncle Bob and family in Waco, Uncle Jim and his family in Ponca City.  Items of note from myriad trips to Port Aransas, Nuevo Laredo, Junction (one of my grandmothers) and our myriad Grand Canyon/Las Vegas trips.  Plus all my report cards and accolades (yes, there were those) from two years at Lanark Daycare Center, two years at a private Catholic school, St Thomas More (I was the only non-Catholic in the entire school save Mrs. Wolf), one year at the military academ San Antonio Academy. and then the lake years:  McQueeney Elementary, AJB middle school (Seguin).  Plus lots of school clippings of my fun years in drama and speech activities at Seguin High School.  There is a subsection of stuff from my four years at Southwest Texas State University mostly including materials related to my activities in Alpha Kappa Psi, a co-ed business fraternity.  And lots of “love” letters from unrequited loves over the years:  Farrah-maned cheerleaders (I wish), South African transfer students (a long-distrance treat), and cute sales clerks from my first job at Montgomery Ward at Windsor Park Mall.  My first autographs are in there:  Iron Eyes Cody, Myron Floren, Forrest Tucker and the cast of Johnny Be Good (my first film…pizza boy number two…number one was John Hawkes himself!)

2.  The next trunk has all the comic books I bought from the late 1960’s through the early 80’s.  I cannot describe the joy of walking into those convenience stores and picking a comic….or going to a flea market and finding an older one for CENTS I tell you.  I have since bought the same comics online for twenty dollars each or more.  And reading them at taverns while Dad knocked back a few.  In retrospect, that was pretty damn cool.  At first I got Gold Key and Charlton, some Dell…..TV and cartoon tie-ins were huge.  I spent most of my time in front of a TV…mostly Saturday morning cartoons.  In the seventies, it was a wonderful time for TV….the best sitcoms (I watched most of them); the most LSD inspired kids shows (Krofftt: Sesame Street started on my watch), action and Sci-Fi unparalleled (Charlie’s Angels and Six Million Dollar Man); variety and game shows which were basically cocktail parties; and the reruns consisted of the best from the “innocent” 60’s--in living color (Star Trek, Wild Wild West, Brady Bunch, Hooterville and Mayberry).   Back to comics: later I started getting DC, Marvel, Harvey and Archie titles….especially weirder ones like Plop (DC) and Mad House (Archie).  And flea markets provided a treasure trove of Dells which I had no idea existed outside of my 1976 overstreet.  I have every comic I bought in this trunk and they smell great.  I have all of the Hanna Barbera comics catalogued and organized in bags, boards and boxes.

21/2:  This is a heaven for cartoon Hanna Barbera, records, Viewmasters, dolls, coloring books, Golden books, Big Little Books, Kenner Give-A-Show projector slides, frame tray puzzles, models.....everything Hanna  Barbera.  I have no idea why I kept or started collecting this stuff.  Since I was a kid, I drew the HB characters...Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Jetsons etc....and something about the simplicity of these  guys really spoke to me.  The promo tie-ins, the Hoyt Curtin music, the schtick.  Rather than waxing on the theatrical classics from WB, MGM, Famous, Lantz or Disney, I was charmed by the "TV toons"....even Jay Ward counts here.  I can't explain the joy of those cheesy TV themes and lines....I wasn't looking for quality, just familiarity.    And my family came from Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.

3.  The next trunk is all the stuff that came with working with my Dad in his promotional products business.  He was one of the pioneers in the business in San Antonio and had damn fine accounts (mostly financial institutions)….He did a lot of cool chatskis for Lone Star Beer (I have great memories of being at the brewery…King William area…and putting together packets for the distributors).  Various samples of koozies, key tags, Quill pens etc which gathered dust in our “showroom” in Monte Vista are present in these bins as well as the FIRST orders placed with my accounts.  I hated sales but my clients turned out to be great friends….that’s why it worked!  Lesson to be learned there.  Plus all his desk items which he obsessive-compulsory touched before he left the office that day.  Any neurosis I have he gladly handed them to me and in my old age I say, “Thanks, Dad” because he loved me and in hindsight I realized what a great man he was.  The stuff includes the Greater SA Chamber of Commerce newsletters which sometimes included some tidbit about my meager contributions to promoting business….other than wisecracks.

4.  There are my parents memories in another trunk.  My dear mother’s items from her years in Waco, Washington DC (during the war) and San Antonio (as an independent career woman in insurance).  Photos of our days at the lake, all the cocktail parties (I think they were called “Attitude Adjustment”)…real interesting folk from this place in the middle of Lake McQueeney called Treasure Island.  They all ran businesses of some sort…a very eclectic and interesting crew of older (hell, my age) people that had one thing in common:  a good time and polyester.  Plus I kept most of the books my mom and dad collected over the years…except the reader’s digest condensed books. 

5.  Another trunk is all theater.  Every program and review from every play I did from 1987 until 1997 in San Antonio.  STAGE at Bulverde, Harlequin Dinner Theater, San Antonio Little Theater (now San Pedro Playhouse), Alamo Street Church, tours with Spear Productions,  Actor’s Theater of SA, Josephine Theater, Steven Stoli Playhouse, and the Jump Start with the Firelight Players.  Also, programs of every play I ever saw during those years.  Those were some of the most productive and creative years of my life….and lifelong friends were made.  When you look at the mess I am today, you would not believe how confident and talented I was then….getting a date was not a problem.  That I can (or will) remember! Hah.

6.  Finally, the Austin trunk.  When I decided to pursue my dream and become a filmmaker on the Third Coast I fell in love with the Austin independent film scene that was less than ten years forward from “Slacker.”  In Austin Filmworks, I met more lifelong friends and co-produced a feature (the director has made quite a name for herself!).  Gripping, pulling cords, still some acting, script supervision, scheduling, producing and writing….Every piece of paper related to every film I worked on is in there….storyboards I drew, call sheets I “minimized”, headshots that are presumed thrown away (hmmmm…)…SXSW and AFF programs…the film festivals were incredible and fresh.  And Alamo Drafthouse guides and Austin Film Society ephemera from the most wonderful self-education in the history of cinema provided by a myriad of special screenings:  foreign flicks, documentaries, indies that will never be seen again, old classics I never saw and those revisited (mostly at the Paramount).  Used videotapes bought at Vulcan Video and Waterloo that were probably viewed by the filmmakers themselves.  The other “half” of my Austin trunk is related to another family: those I worked for in a public relations firm….articles and clippings about those incredible people I came in contact with…some great friends….some of the biggest movers and shakers in Texas….my education in TX politics became part and parcel of my love for Austin…the other part of Austin….which led to my four year long journey through a screenplay melding the world of TX politics and Indie film.  It all came together.

And there are stacks of books and videotapes…all the dvd’s are at home on my wall….

The POINT is…..yes, my life is in that unit….and when I look at the world now, changes I cannot (or maybe will not) keep up with in technology and culture, when business practices are micromangaged to nonsensical proportions for lawsuit-avoidance, when entertainment is not so much dumbed down but trashed out by overt crudity and shock, when politics has turned into the worst form of divisive bile in history (thanks in part to social media) and all the progress I saw in the seventies in terms of civil rights and democratic ideals--in the face of utter disappointment (Watergate, Vietnam), yes…turn into a level of out and out hate that I see now…when I look at this world now….I don’t see that storage unit as a crutch but as strength….as that hope that will return…if we let it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

An Ode to Maddie and David: Moonlighting Turns Thirty.

Thirty Years ago today, "Moonlighting" premiered on ABC.

Starring an unknown actor/bartender named Bruce Willis and an ex-movie star diva Cybil Shepherd, this light romantic comedy/mystery took television in a completely new direction.  Occasionally, the fourth wall was broken (hadn't happened since "Green Acres.")  Humor was dark as it was mixed up with light-hearted moments and slapstick.  Witty banter ensued, pages per minute had to have been written, spawning a generation of television viewers weaned on jam-packed dialogue filled with topical, even obscure references. Unattractive nerds were supporting characters, but given non-supporting story lines and a real relationship.  Music was an integral part of the proceedings: an extravagant song and dance number may break out at any moment.

Is it too much to say that without "Moonlighting" there would be no "Ally McBeal," no "Gilmore Girls," no "West Wing," "Lois and Clark," no "Scrubs," no "Six Feet Under," no "Cop Rock," (that's right, forgot?) and no "Game of Thrones."  OK, that last one is a stretch, forget it.

The 80's, the Age of Reagan, was a decade bereft of television viewing after a decade under the influence (the 70's) when I devoured television--mostly sitcoms, Saturday morning shows, CBS's Tiffany lineups, ABC's T and A revolution, NBC's failed big events (all three under Fred Silverman's successive helms.).

During my first college years (before I learned the art of "partying), it was mostly NBC: Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, Fame, Cheers, David Letterman, and SCTV.  All the sitcoms were in their waning years and--with the exception of Taxi, Barney Miller, and WKRP--nothing was worth watching.  CBS allowed the surging 60 Minutes and a new version of Newhart.  ABC provided the nightly news.  During the mid-80's starting a working life, apartment living, alumni affairs and a new pursuit of acting kept my social calendar pretty full except for an occasional foray into the beginnings of NBC Must See TV (let's call it Convenient See TV):  Cosby, Family Ties, Cheers, Golden Girls--I never got into Night Court for some reason.

Some of my friends, fellow alumni from my business fraternity, turned me on to "Moonlighting" during it's second season.  And I was hooked.  The only reason I turned to ABC in the 80's.  I'm so lucky I discovered it.  It's possible that as I had the new freedom to pursue creativity in theater and acting classes, delving into the frothy misadventures of David and Maddie were just the tonic I needed as I was juggling my identity as an up and coming "Yuppie."  Actually, that may have been the magic, the spark for that intoxicating leap into whimsy and unrequited love (up to the last season of course) which fueled so much of the passion for great writing and character development in the 90's.  And that, in turn, led to the new Golden Age of Television, first on cable's premium channels and now on pretty much any and all delivery systems.

During this decade, I spent most of my "me" time in the movie theater, like most of America. The 80's saw a resurgence of the box office after the quality TV of the 70's kept people at home, muffling the pop vibrations of the golden age of 70's cinema.  By 1981,  Spielberg and Lucas laid claim to the world with their franchises.  Summer and Christmas tent poles became the standard of exhibition.  Saturday Night Live (pretty dead during the early 80's except for Mr. Murphy) gave us an entire new cast of comedy legends for film-dom.  Even musicals made a gritty comeback ("Flashdance," "Fame," "Footloose').   John Hughes ushered in the literate and lightly crude  romantic angst that would become the godfather of the "indie" sensibility.  "Moonlighting" fit very well with this new dynamic.

Well, "Rambo" and "Terminator" are a different story.  But then Mr. Willis became the third leg of the Planet Hollywood stool with his new career as a worldwide action hero (thanks to "Diehard" among others) so I guess it all comes around.

"Moonlighting" was appointment television and that didn't occur again until "Twin Peaks" in 1990.  And then NBC started the whole shebang over again with "Seinfeld," "Frasier," "Mad About You," "Friends," "Newsradio" etc etc--all well-written sitcoms in the mold of the best seventies product (see MTM).  But the "will they--won't they" aspect of "Moonlighting" (and Sam and Diane of "Cheers") became a long-running gag in many of these sitcoms:  Niles and Daphne, Rachel and Ross--even "Caroline in the City" used it for it's entire four year run.  Cue "Ally McBeal."

I was fortunate to meet creator Glen Gordon Caron at the Austin Film Festival one year.  He was screening a pilot he did.  I told him he gave me reason to watch TV in the 80's.  He smiled.

I have the first seasons on DVD and I'm afraid to revisit them.  Quite often I am disappointed as time works it's evil on many fine memories of TV and film.  I may find it too precious, too cute, too forced, tired and stale.  Or I may remember that older has-been actress had lit a fire in my heart with her sexy dismissiveness; or how that smart ass guy gave me hope that I, too, may make it on chutzpah and fast-talking patter.  Sometimes, the opposite happens: it's even better.  But the point is--what "Moonlighting" brought to me at that time in my life was priceless and influential.