Archive - October 2003
October 31st, 2003
As I mentioned previously, I've been watching some vintage horror movies from the thirties and forties on the Turner Classic Movies channel, all in my never-ending effort to get in the proper mood for the season. Mostly, I've been taking in flicks I've never seen before, but am nonetheless inordinately familiar with due to reading and re-reading my monster magazine collection over the decades, amassed mostly in the mid-sixties when a lot of these films--save for the more popular "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" entries--were rarely, if ever, broadcast over the then-severely limited airwaves.
While I've become accustomed to recognizing a key shot from a long-ago ingrained still photo--such as Peter Lorre wearing dark glasses, an elaborate neck brace, and fake mechanical hands near the conclusion of "Mad Love"--I wasn't at all prepared for what greeted me when I sat down and watched Tod Browning's classic "Freaks" last night!!
This unique look into the bizarre world of circus sideshows was legendary for using actual, authentic performers to populate it's decidedly peculiar cast. I'd always found this particular notion to be at once intriguing AND off-putting. I was never one to take in these sort of exhibits when I'd, on occasion, visit a carnival, and in fact, generally went out of my way to avoid them entirely. Similarly, I'd kept a wide berth of this 1932 MGM production the few times in the past when the rare opportunity to view it presented itself to me. But last night I figured, what the heck--it's supposed to be a pretty good movie, after all--why not watch it? So I did. And it WAS good, treating it's subject matter with a great deal of understanding and respect. And the climactic finale, wherein the so-called freaks take rightful vengeance on their tormentors, is indeed powerful stuff. But that's not what prompted me to write this piece. This fellow here is...
|Anybody else out there who read comics in
the mid-seventies couldn't possibly have
forgotten THIS little guy!! This startling
ad--and several others like it for the book,
"Very Special People"--ran in most
of the Marvel and Atlas/Seaboard comic lines
throughout the decade.(I scanned this one
in from the second issue of Atlas' delightful
MORLOCK 2001, perhaps the most beloved flesh-eating
plant-man in comics history. Or, perhaps
It was very odd when our friend, Prince Randian, first came on screen, because my initial reaction was, "Hey! There's that guy from the 1970's comic book ads--what's he doing here??" Well, as it turned out, not very much. His big scene consisted of him lighting and then smoking a cigarette (and, oh, how I'm trying so very hard NOT to make a stunted growth gag now!?!...)--but considering his unusual situation, I'd have to say that's a pretty amazing accomplishment, y'know? Then, directly following his successful striking of the match, he receives his lone line of dialog, and frankly, that wasn't nearly the success his tobacco trick was, as, frankly--and despite several rewindings--I have absolutely NO idea what he said!! (Though I'm reasonably certain it wasn't "Buy Atlas Comics!"...) Don't feel TOO bad for this gent, though, as the promo copy in the ad happily informs us that not only did he maintain an enduring star in his own little corner of showbiz for nigh onto forty-five years, eventually passing on at the fairly-ripe old age of 65, but--and get this--he left behind a wife and five children!! Now, THERE'S a bio-pic just screaming out to be made!! Jim Carrey--you listening?...
In unspooling these cinematic chestnuts, I fully expect pages from past issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND to jump out at me, but folks, even I was taken aback when old ads from my moldering comics collection started crawling (literally, in this case) across my TV screen!! What's next? That kid selling Grit with the mop of hair unconvincingly added to his dome? Or the fellow from the La Salle Extension University, mocking us all with his sneering statement, "Look who's smiling NOW!" Or maybe even that massively muscled body-builder, bikini model carefully balanced on his bulging bicep? What if HE wound up in the movies? Or...or worse--as the Governor of California?!?...
Brrr. Now THAT'S scary...
October 30, 2003
That was the line I cleverly taught 3 year-old Julie to say when we went door-to-door the night of her very first Trick Or Treating expedition some eleven Halloweens back. Okay, Arthur Miller I'm not, but c'mon--some situations just cry out for cliches, y'know?
|It was quite an evening. We still lived in
Kingston back then, which was more of a small--VERY
small--city than the more spaciously developed
area where we currently reside. The houses
were all fairly close to one another, and
while that may not be the most desirable
of situations the rest of the year, on Halloween
night that can indeed be a very good thing!
Even so, the trudging up and down one walkway
after another very shortly proved to be too
much for Lynn's bum knee, and she soon retreated
back to our house to dole out goodies while
me and the wide-eyed ghost in my care went
about collecting massive amounts of sweets
from our generous neighbors.
Julie couldn't quite believe the concept at first--go up to a complete stranger's door, recite some well rehearsed patter, and voila! You magically get some delicious candy in return!! But it didn't take her long to get with the program--or for me to either, for that matter. I hadn't hit the streets on an October 31st for over a quarter century at that point, but I assure you, all the excitement of the experience came flooding back almost immediately! It's mind-boggling when you stop and think about it--one night a year, for two or three hours, kids are disguised, let loose on the streets, and given the chance to amass as many sweet offerings from welcoming--i.e., well lit--houses as they possibly can during that deceptively small window of opportunity! That's the great part. The not so great part? There are no do-overs. If it's below freezing and you're dressed up as Christina Aguilera, too bad. And if it's raining, tough. Unfortunately, that first Halloween, it was...
Hey, when it pours on the Fourth of July, they always manage to reschedule their whiz-bang Fireworks extravaganzas, don't they? But when the cats and dogs are raining down on the witches and warlocks in late October, well gang, that's it for THAT year. The folks waiting at home, primed to pass out goodies galore, they just wind up eating all that left-over candy! And every 4, 5, and 6 year-old who've seen their dreams dampened will just have to wait until they're 5, 6, and 7 years old for another chancey chance to haunt their local boulevards. Frankly, it just doesn't seem fair. Oh sure, there are parties, and quite a few areas these days have organized institutional Trick Or Treating (or so I've heard, never having experienced it), but that just isn't the same as the thrill of venturing out on your own. Or, in Julie's case, with her dad...
Yeah, we sure didn't let a little thing like rain stop us that night. Luckily, it wasn't pouring, though the intensity DID pick up towards the end of our journey. There was a 7 o'clock curfew in Kingston, and I can distinctly recall the last stop we made that evening on what amounted to a far-ranging but circular travel route. It was a mere few minutes past 7, the rain was coming down steadily, and as I rang the doorbell to one last house, I could see the woman inside react with barely hidden disgust at the sight of a dripping wet, scraggly bearded character standing on her porch. As she swiftly approached, though, she caught a glimpse of my pint-sized partner, and almost immediately, a bright smile crossed across her once-cross face. Nothing charms 'em more than a 3 year-old ghost--that's the secret of Casper, after all! We got our candy, and we went home. Wet? Oh yes. Exhausted? Sure. Happy? Hey, you have to ask?...
Well, at the risk of jinxing things, it hasn't rained since, and all indications are that we're in for a mild, dry evening this time around. Or, at least Julie is. I hung on as long as I possibly could, but I "retired" last year at the behest of my ever-growing ghoul-child. But still, I managed to tag along for nine glorious years, and had one heckuva time doing so, lemme tell ya! Some of our yearly jaunts were undertaken in downright balmy conditions--including our very second one, which I took as some sort of cosmic payback for the previous year's lousy weather conditions--but even when it's cold, I've found that the adrenaline rush surrounding the eerie activities manages to somehow keep you warm...
We prowled the streets of Kingston for three years, and then moved here, to Wappinger Falls, where we discovered--glory be!--that there IS no curfew!?! Yippee!! Julie and I went out alone our first two Halloweens here, which caused a bit of a problem that very first October. We'd been living here barely two months, y'see, and with the small intertwining roads having no streetlights, and admittedly I'd never been good with directions any old way, so for a few panicky minutes there, late that evening, we actually seemed to be...um... LOST!! But fear not--we were soon directed safely home by some helpful wretchedly-reined revelers, which came as a tremendous relief, as I'd gone and left my compass in my OTHER pair of jeans that particular night...
After the two sisters moved in next door back in '98, we'd join forces with Christina, Elizabeth, and their mom, Jeannie, on our yearly cavities-inducing quest. Julie was growing up, and having friends along made the events even more enjoyable for her. And as she grew older, I was no longer required to approach the myriad of doors with her, and prompt her to verbalize her tried-and-true ritual-like request (though a reminder to say "Thank you" lingered on for years and years, whether I was up close with her, or hanging back in the various driveways...). We'd usually start our expeditions between 6 and 6:30 (closer to 6, given my druthers, but several times additional friends and/or relatives of the other kids became involved, delaying our disembarking time for a tad), and usually lasting until as close to 9 o'clock as we could manage. Of course, game as our neighbors were, they usually called it a night by 8:15, 8:30 at the latest. However, since there were still avenues unexplored, doorbells unrung, candy unclaimed, we boldly marched on...
I suppose that's one of the things that separates me from the vast majority of parents out there. Most of the ones I've spoken with over the years seem to view Trick Or Treating as a bit of a chore, something to be gotten over with in as little time as their child will allow them to get away with. Ninety minutes seems to be the preferred duration, tops, for most moms and dads, I've found. And when the day finally comes for them to once again sit comfortably in their houses on October 31st, handing out candy rather than seeking it, that then is considered a GOOD thing. Well, NOT around here. Julie and I would try to squeeze at least three hours out of the night, and only headed home when we felt common decency--AND noticing lights being flicked off on porch after porch--dictated it! My thoughts were, hey, this amazing situation only presents itself but once a year--why not make the absolute best of it? It's not about the candy, understand, it's about ACQUIRING the candy! All those otherwise never-to-be-broached homes, all those other fellow costumed conspirators crossing our shambling paths, all the sheer giddy excitement of being out and about in the dark, fer gosh sakes--why WOULDN'T you want to take maximum advantage of that, I ask you?!?...
Of course, the NEXT obvious question would be, "Why would you want your Mommy--or, in this case, your Daddy--dogging your every move?" I know I ditched parental accompaniment LONG before I was 12, but people, those were far less crazy times. Add in the fact that Julie's two most constant companion's are one and two years younger than she is, and I was able to weasel my way into the proceedings right up to and including when she was 11. Not last year, though. She managed to enlist another 12 year-old friend from nearby to go out with her, so I reluctantly had to step aside, my services no longer required. It was yet another Mr. C moment for this rapidly aging dad. So, I geared up instead to answer the door to all the goblins and ghoulies as I had for the many years in between my teens and Julie's third birthday. But much to my utter disappointment, we had but a mere seven visitors at our door!?! Seven! Geez, what a bummer. Twenty groups--that's the amount that usually shows up. Why, that first year, we were even surprised to hear a knock at our door close to 11 o'clock, almost two hours after our last previous visitors. When I cautiously opened it up to a gaggle of barely-costumed teenage boys, I commented that it seemed a wee bit late to still be out Trick Or Treating, but they pointed out that since we still had our porch light on, they figured we were still fair game. Lesson learned. Ever since, the off-switch has been thrown roundabouts 9:30. But still, considering it's a Friday night and all, I sure hope more than 7 show up THIS year...
In recent days, our thrill-seeking little family went to a surprisingly effective Haunted House exhibit rigged up at Lynn's IBM site. Tonight we'll carve ourselves some Jack O' Lanterns, and then tomorrow, before Julie and her two 8th grade pals head out--possibly to hook up with one of the girls next door and her friends as well--we'll play "The Bride Of Frankenstein" soundtrack CD during dinner, then put "The Monster Mash" on repeat for ever how long folks can stand it (usually a dozen plays, tops)--though THIS year it'll be joined by another fitting slice of seasonal sounds--what else?--Michael Jackson's "Thriller"!! Myself, I've watched me a few old-time horror movies on Turner Classic Movies and I've re-read a Little Lulu Halloween Giant--but...I don't get to go out and roam the streets on All Hallow's Eve any more. Apparently, that's over. Again.
Ah well. I suppose we all have to grow up sometime.
And folks, when that happens, I'll be sure and let you know! In the meantime, have a horribly happy Halloween--and just for the record, allow me to once again offer up the following message:
(...Sometimes ya just gotta stick with what works...)
October 29th, 2003
It was during this festive yet fright-filled fall season four years back that I had my first, true Howard Cunningham moment...
You're all familiar with Howard Cunnigham, right? The patriarch on "Happy Days"? Tom Bosley played the mostly thankless part to perfection, which generally meant that a lot of self-righteous sputtering was involved. But there was this one scene that's stuck indelibly in my head for years now, and it had nothing at all to do with Richie, Ralph Malph, or even the Fonz. The overall plot of the episode itself escapes me, but suffice it to say, Howard the dad had been acting in an overly protective manner concerning his young daughter, Joanie--then, maybe 9 or 10 years old--and she wasn't at all happy about it. That particular show wound down, and tacked on the farce's finale was one of those oft-derided "very special moments". Things got quiet as Howard tried his best to seriously explain to young Joanie just exactly why he'd behaved in the manner he had. After his sincerely contrite apologies were offered to his still puzzled daughter, he came out with a few lines that, for some reason, have nestled their way into my brain, staying there ever since. This may not be the precise letter of it, but the spirit of it went something like this...
"Someday you're going to be just too big for me to pick up and carry around in my arms, sweetheart, and you know what? That's going to be one of the saddest days of my life..."
Now why this hit such a chord in me, I couldn't tell you. When I first heard it, I didn't have a kid, I had no imminent plans to have a kid, and didn't even consider the concept as anything I seriously foresaw in my future. Yet, this poignant moment from an otherwise forgettable episode of a silly sitcom may just as well've been a famous scene from the celebrated Shakespeare canon considering the deep impression it made on me. And, as you all know by now, Lynn and I indeed have a kid, Julie by name.
So there I was, going in to the local K-Mart to pick up some equipment for the soccer team during my first fall as Julie's coach in early October of 2000, when I belatedly noticed the several aisles turned over to hawking Halloween costumes, masks, and decorations. I stopped dead in my tracks for a moment, and then went on over to more closely examine the gaudy goods in what was a near deserted store. I hadn't realized it up until right then, but it had been several years--at least two at that point--since Julie and I had spent any time trolling these seasonal sections of our various local department stores as we had oft-times in the past.
From age 3 on, Julie was totally enamored of the whole notion of Halloween. This delighted me no end, as I most certainly shared her devotion to everything All Hallows Eve-ish. Fearlessly, even at such a tender age, she'd pull the most gruesomely horrible looking mask on over her tiny head, and then pretend to scare any other shoppers who might've wandered into her vicinity. Without exception, the passerbys found Julie's attempts to be menacing "awww"-inducingly cute, and how could you blame them? A five year old in a rubber Frankenstein mask, arms outstretched in classic walking dead fashion--hey, it doesn't get much cuter that that!! Year after year, we'd spend many a happy hour gearing up for the 31st this way--and y'know, sometimes we'd even BUY something, too!! But just like that, without even being cognizant of our little shopping tradition slipping away, it was gone...
I stood there, alone, surrounded by ghosts of another kind, a strangely empty feeling enveloping me. THIS is what Howard Cunningham meant, I suddenly realized. There's no going back, no more chances to charm little old ladies with my cutie-pie jumping out at them from behind a pumpkin display, wearing a devil's mask and shouting "Boo!" Those days had passed. There I was, feeling what ol' Howard had been feeling, and as bad as THAT notion was, my blood quickly turned cold as a new, even more horrifying thought entered my head uninvited: bad as he felt when he couldn't pick her up any more, WHAT must've Mr. C thought when he realized that...choke...Joanie loved Chachi?!?...
Brrr. Thankfully, we haven't gotten to THAT stage yet, and besides, I still had Trick Or Treating available to me, at least for a few more years. I'll tell you more about that soon, but in the meantime, I'd better prepare some plans to keep any potential Scott Baios far, far away from my little Erin Moran's door!!
Those of you who can't get enough of my muddled memories of past Halloween hi-jinx might do well to check out a recent entry in the seldom used Life Story section of Hembeck.com, "Slipping Into Superman's Shorts, or, The Wolf Who Came Out Of The Closet"! No trick--it's a real treat!!...
October 27th, 2003
Here's the image that's going to stick with me...
Game six is scoreless in the middle innings. Suddenly, a Marlin dumps one into right field, not very deep. The Yankee outfielder quickly scoops it up and fires a bullet to the plate, hoping to cut off the first run of the night. Sure enough, the strong, accurate throw is there in plenty of time, but instead of blocking the dish, the Yankee catcher stands in front of it, intent it appears in making a sweeping tag on the sliding baserunner to get him out. And he would've, too, had the Marlin slid in the more traditional way, legs aimed at crossing home plate. Instead, he craftily slides around the outside of the plate, missing the tag, and slipping his hand underneath and victoriously brushing the plate with his fingers. Florida Marlins 1, New York Yankees 0. But, sports fans, that's NOT the scene I'm talking about, merely the set-up...
After showing multiple slow-motion replays of that ultimately pivotal play--from the left, from the right, from overhead, from every which way save from that blimp lolling up above The House Ruth Built--the TV people eventually got around to showing just what the Yankee pitcher was doing as the play unfolded. Showing a proper grasp of his baseball fundamentals, the pin-striped moundsman was rightly backing up the action several feet behind the plate. The camera caught his hand clenching into a fist, his arm about to shoot into the air in exultation, his mouth forming for a shout of triumph at the sight of his team getting the out and cutting the run off at the plate. And then, midway through, his body stutters and stops, the arm suddenly spasming at his side, not truly knowing which direction to go. A look of total confusion played across his face, the arch-typical deer-in-headlights moment. He clearly couldn't believe what he'd just seen.
"We're the Yankees," he surely was thinking, "The ball was definitely there before the runner--how could he POSSIBLY score? Breaks like that don't happen TO us, they happen FOR us!?! We're the Yankees..."
But, Andy Pettitte, it DID happen. And you and your fellow Yankees did go on to lose the World Series to an 11 year-old franchise, a team that's never actually finished first in it's division, a team that's only ever had two season's with a winning record--both of which, thanks to the recently instituted wild card playoff position they exuberantly turned into a pair of unlikely World Championships. Congratulations are due them for their fine play--and, not to be overlooked, for appearing to actually ENJOY themselves while doing so!! Because, Andy--and Jorge, Bernie, Derek, and everyone else--you're probably a fine bunch of fellas, and I mean you no personal animosity (Okay, except for maybe Clemens. Excuse me if I haven't gotten over that Piazza bat throwing incident yet...). Still, I relished your loss, absolutely relished it, and I think you know why. Yup. Steinbrenner.
Midway during this especially exciting post season, the principal owner and head bully of the N.Y. Yankees issued a statement proclaiming that that the only thing that supersedes winning is breathing. With that level of pressure on them, is it any wonder that his players choke? He's suffocating them!! His near impossible expectations are deflating the air out of his team, and I saw it reflected in Pettitte's eyes when that play went bad. The pitcher has nothing to be ashamed of--he was a rock throughout all of October. And certainly, losing is disappointing for any team that comes in second, but excuse me if I save my heartache for an organization or two that HASN'T chalked up 26 Championships and has been playing during the Columbus Day Sales weekends 7 of the last 9 seasons while the majority of ballplayers are out shopping! Any sane individual would be satisfied with achievements like that, but the man they call "The Boss"--the one who can't sing, I should hastily clarify--isn't, and apparently, never will be.
And that's why his most reliable big-game pitcher looked like Bambi taking a shortcut across a busy highway Saturday night. And why the rest of us--fans of one or another of the remaining 29 Major League franchises--can't help but gloat when the mighty Yankees (Steinbrenner), the arrogant Yankees (Steinbrenner!), the entitled Yankees (STEINBRENNER!!) fall to ignominious defeat at the hands of a team constructed with but one-third the payroll as the bloated Yankees (Steinbrenner...). So here's to you, Josh Beckett, Jeff Conine, Juan Pierre, Jack McKeon, and all the rest of you unsung heroes--thank you! At the very least, now Mike Piazza and the rest of my Mets buddies won't have to put up with that once-seemingly annual victory parade throughout the canyons of Manhatten, fawningly broadcast over each and every local TV stations hereabouts, criminally disrupting my Stories!!..
Better the daytime schedule show an episode of Jerry Springer, something along the lines of "Big Payrolls, Small Men"!! (..uh huh--Steinbrenner...)
October 26th, 2003
|I have--and have always had--my very own set of specialized rituals, and when it comes 'round to this time of year, there was one thing I could always count on when I was growing up back there in the sixties--sometime, in the last few days just before good ol' Halloween night rolled around and it was FINALLY time to once again don my outrageous outfit de jour for an exhilarating evening of Trick or Treating, I'd first faithfully re-read my three treasured Dell Giant editions of LITTLE LULU AND WITCH HAZEL HALLOWEEN FUN as sort of an inspirational warm-up for the big, big event itself!|
|And even after I'd stopped annually trolling the streets on October 31st evenings, I'd still find time to sit down and relive all the thrills and laughs found in these oversized 1959, 1960, and 1961 editions (which, confusingly enough, went by the names of LULU AND TUBBY HALLOWEEN FUN in '59 and LITTLE LULU AND WITCH HAZEL TRICK N' TREAT in '61, with the 1960 edition having been published under the aforementioned name...).|
|For years, experiencing these familiar, beloved tales was as much a part of my late Octobers as getting candy corn stuck in my teeth. Each one was a collection of short stories, stories that were nonetheless connected loosely by a shared purpose and a specific progression of time--i.e., finding a pumpkin, choosing a costume, having a party at school, having another party at either Tubby or Lulu's house (or sometimes both), taking to the streets to Trick or Treat, returning home as the night ends, and finally, turning in for bed as the realization that Halloween is over again for another year painfully yet inevitably sinks in.|
|Readers got to vicariously experience in
those stories what had to be the most exciting
night in a young kid's life, the one night
you were unabashedly let out of your parents
clutches to freely roam the dark streets
of your neighborhood--all while dressed up
in some way cool outfit! What could be better?
Well, these Lulu comics may not've replaced
the actual thrills of going door to door
in search of sweets, but they did an admirable
job of mirroring the heady experience from
the beginning of the process on off to it's
natural conclusion. This was no small accomplishment.
Halloween may've permeated the land each
October, but curiously, fiction based on
it's many quirks and joys had mostly been
ignored in the popular culture of the time.
Oh sure, there were--and always have been--horror
tales, ghost stories, and the like, but that's
hardly the same as writings ABOUT All Hallow's
Eve and all the wonderment that surrounds
|These comics, though, had all that and more. More, because they not only beautifully captured the essence of the day, but additionally they were just masterfully produced pieces of comic art. And why shouldn't they be? To my way of thinking, the Little Lulu comics scripted and laid out by the genius of John Stanley over much of two decades commencing in the forties (mostly, but not always, featuring the precise, crisp line of Irving Tripp on finished art chores) are among the very best--and my all-time personal favorite--in the medium's entire history. Now, that said, there's been some question as to whether or not Stanley was still on board when these issues were churned out, but you know what? I just love 'em so much, I'm inclined to believe that they were indeed the fruitful products of his brilliant comedic imagination! And if I'm wrong--well, they're STILL great comics!...|
|How can I help but not smile thinking about the school truant officer, the aptly named Mr. McNabbem, dressing up as the Pied Piper in the ultimately vain hopes of corralling a passel of wayward students? Or Tubby's desperate and always demeaning attempts to appease the West Side Boys, a group of hardened bullies who demand from him a specially prepared Halloween feast in the Gang's precious clubhouse under the threat of it's imminent destruction should he not come up with a menu to their liking?|
|Or Lulu's dad, dressed as a witch as a special Halloween treat for the kids--his wife's idea, natch--taking the whole group of kids to a magic show downtown, all the while trying to desperately avoid some business associates while in that ridiculous outfit? How about the party game that pitted the boys versus the girls in a hard fought scavenger hunt?|
|Then there was rotten rich kid Wilbur's lavish party--with just a touch of unwelcome sadism thrown in on the part of the host towards his reluctant guests? Or Tubby and smaller, identical cousin Chubby, causing farcical confusion to a hapless costume store salesman, who can't help but think the two are one and the same due to some well-timed wandering in and out of the panels by the pair, having no choice but to wonder just why his potential customer seems to keep changing sizes each and every time he brings out an outfit for him (them?) to try on?|
|And then there's the many, many yarns Lulu is forever spinning in a seemingly never-ending attempt to get that annoying little pest, Alvin, to pipe down! Ol Witch Hazel and The World-Wide Halloween, Little Itch and the Scary Pumpkin, Ol' Witch Hazel's Halloween Party, and a score more of similarly themed whimsical flights of four-colored fancies. And that, folks, only scratches the surface of what's contained in the nigh on hundreds of pages these three ad-free Dell Giants amassed. Quality AND volume--geez, how could I NOT absolutely revere these choice pulp paper Halloween treats, I ask you?|
|But don't take my word for it, at least not entirely. As my own special Halloween gift to you, I've scanned in one very special story for your reading enjoyment. There were, obviously, so many delightful entries to pick from, and while I would've loved to have chosen one featuring the whole gang, any one of that sort that I considered somehow seemed to be diminished without being able to include the accompanying stories that surrounded it. Finally, then, I decided it would be best to share one of Lulu's many Alvin-placating tales with you, though not one with the Hazel and her niece, Itch. No, this particular story--called "Good Night, Alvin!"--instead stars a thinly veiled version of the pesky redhead himself in place of the witch duo.|
|The final six pages in the 1959 edition, it deals with a little boy who, like Alvin himself--and no doubt many of the audience reading the book as well (me?)--wished Halloween would never, ever come to an end. But since this is a fairy tale of sorts, that's exactly what does happen--or more to the point, DOESN'T, as living in a land that celebrates Trick or Treating every day, day in and day out, turns out not to be the utopia one might think it would be. In other words, Lulu's cautionary tale echoes that well known saying--watch out for what you wish for, gang, because you just might get it, dig?...|
|While the art was provided by one of several
illustrators who supplemented Stanley's main
collaborator and not by Tripp himself (names,
anyone?), the episode is no less effective
in it's poignant conjuring up of a sense
of melancholy at the inevitable prospect
of the imminent all-too-soon ending of a
much anticipated event--in this case, Halloween,
and it's many unique charms--all the while
gracefully making the point that all good
things MUST be allowed to come to their natural
conclusions, elsewise the joy they impart
could easily turn to despair when stretched
beyond their inherent limits. Or something
like that. I don't know--I just like the story is all. And I hope you will too. You'll
find it nestled over in the "More" section, the initial entry in a brand-new
category I couldn't help but call "Stuff
I Had Nothing To Do With"!
October 17th, 2003
Julie can be a real witch sometimes.
In fact, just about a year ago, she donned her best black shawl, got herself a tall pointy hat, and--with the help of her dad the chauffeur--she flew off to the annual Halloween Dance at the Junior High dressed as what can only be described as Ol' Witch Hazel's OTHER niece!
She had a wonderful time. There were scores of seventh and eighth graders wandering about in all sorts of outfits, ranging from the scary to the sublime. The Gym was suitably decorated in a classic All Hallow's Eve motif, there were costume contests to compete in, pumpkins gored galore, loud and atmospheric music, and the ever-traditional snacks. In short, everything you could ask for in a Halloween Dance. Is it any wonder then that Julie had been anticipating this years edition weeks before the event was set to take place? Why, in a manner of speaking, she was even able to help, in a small fashion, with the preparation.
Actually, it was a fellow member of the Art Club who did most of the work. This talented young girl was given the task of spelling out the word "Halloween" using a single 9" by12" sheet to draw each letter utilizing appropriate icons--pumpkins, skulls, witches, bones, black cats and whatnot. This took several days to complete, but when it was finally ready, the letters were then glued onto a banner, with the no-frills word "Dance" and all other pertinent information listed below it--time, date, fee--and hung in a prominent place in the school's hallways. According to Julie, it looked great.
And then, about a week ago, on their way to their classes one misbegotten morning, the students--and some of the teachers as well, including the art instructor--were shocked to look up and see that the word "Halloween" had been carelessly and quickly torn off the banner. No, it wasn't some regrettable case of student vandalism--more regrettably, it was a case of the school administration spinelessly caving in to a small coterie of dissension. Somebody--or some group, who really knows?--got to the school bigwigs and put the kibosh on the whole holiday aspect of the enterprise. Oh worry not, though, as the gathering IS going forward--as a "Spirit" Dance...
Sorry to disappoint you Will Eisner fans, but no, not THAT Spirit. Nor the ghostly kind (why, no, of course not!), nor even the likes favored by booze hounds from coast to coast--no, we're talking SCHOOL spirit here. Not that there's very much of THAT left when their annual congregation of faux ghoulies and ghosties has been unceremoniously pulled out from underneath the students at the misguided behest of some thin-skinned individual or group who's apparently deathly afraid that by prancing around on a gymnasium floor in a cheap skeleton outfit will somehow turn our dear darlin' little ones into Druids for life instead of their--WHICHEVER it may be--more favored form of worship. And any hope that the whole thing might've been an exercise in "wink wink, nudge nudge"--you know, being a Halloween Dance in all but name only--was quashed yesterday when a stern announcement came over the P. A. system stating that, under absolutely no circumstances will anyone wearing a costume be allowed into the hastily rechristened Spirit Dance, not even those poor saps like my Julie who forked over five bucks for a ticket a mere day earlier, when it was still going under the guise of a highly anticipated costumed extravaganza!?! Bah.
People are certainly entitled to their religious beliefs, but really, how are the long practiced Halloween traditions any sort of threat to anyone? It's all good-natured make believe, people! That's all. Last time I looked, the ritual sacrifice portion of the dance had been canceled in lieu of the decidedly more popular bobbing for apples! C'mon,folks, let the kids have some fun! Geez, in case you've forgotten, there isn't a more exciting time of the year than Halloween when you're young, gang, and now someone's gone and messed THAT up!?! I have no idea if there was a wide-ranging effect over all the schools in the district--though I wouldn't doubt it--but as bad as this is for the Junior High Schoolers, I can only imagine what a drag the younger kids experienced when given the news that their annual in-class Halloween Parties had been taken off the schedule. As someone who went to a bunch of Julie's grade school October celebrations in year's past, I know just how devastating THAT news would've been!!
By now, you may've already suspected this, but I LOVE Halloween. Always have, always will. You'll hear more about some of my past Halloweens in the coming weeks, but I'm just sorry I had to introduce the topic into the mix in such a sour manner. Believe me, I'm as fair minded a guy as you're gonna find, but really, what would've been so awful if they'd held a Halloween Dance tonight rather than some cockamamie dispiriting Spirit Dance? After all, attendance isn't mandatory. You have a problem with it, just stay home, dig? As it is, Julie's still on the fence as to whether she wants to go or not. If she does, it probably won't be nearly as much fun as she'd been counting on, and she most surely won't be wearing her planned get-up. No, she's not slipping into witch drag one more time this year. She'd planned to dress up as--well, I'm NOT going to say his name again here at the site, okay? You've all heard it far too much lately. Suffice it to say that the costume utilizes only ONE glove--and she's NOT going as a baseball player!?!...
Speaking of baseball players--and how's THAT for a Major League segue?--it looks like we'll be subjected to a Yankees-Marlins World Series beginning this weekend. As I said earlier, bah.
Curses abounded this post-season. The Oakland Athletics always seem to win the first two games in the initial round of Playoffs, but can never get that all important third win to advance on to the next round. But that's small potatoes in the Doomed Department compared to the hapless Cubs and the despondent Red Sox. I really, really thought they were going to make it this time--both teams were both five outs from sealing their respective deals against their opponents holding 3 run leads with their ace pitchers on the mound before they both inexorably crumbled. My sympathies go out to all the folks in Chicago and Boston who's hearts are still broken, and will most likely remain that way for a long, long time. As a lifelong Mets fan, I can only hope the Yankees, with their smug sense of entitlement, fall hard and fast to Jack McKeon's spunky Florida Marlins. We don't need any classic seventh game showdown this time around--we've seen enough of those in the Playoffs. Best case scenario would be a four game sweep by the Marlins. THAT'D keep Steinbrenner pacing the floor long into the night for the next several months, and from that, at least, I could derive some cruel satisfaction!!
Or, as I might say were I playing a particular game of cards all kids try their hand at sooner or later--
October 16th, 2003
|...So there I was, reading my fancy-shmancy SUPERGIRL ARCHIVES, when I stumble across that panel over there in the provocatively titled "The Day Supergirl Revealed Herself!"(ACTION COMICS #265 June 1960), and all I can think to myself is, "That is SO Mort!!" Mort, as in Weisinger, the demented mastermind behind a decade plus of the Superman Family's most fertile, successful, but nonetheless peculiar period. And it's panels like this that make statements like that hard to argue with...|
|Let's just forget about the larger Supergirl
story involved here, okay? For the purposes
of our discussion, just know that the Jerry
Siegel penned script has an amnesiac Girl
of Steel--in an adopted civilian identity--wandering
into Smallville's Superboy Museum. That's
where she encounters this bit of young Kal-El's
self-portraiture in one of editor Weisinger's
typical trademark throwaway vignettes. Mort
liked to sprinkle his tales with small scenes
like this to help illustrate for readers
exactly what it would be like to be gifted
with all the amazing abilities author Jerry
and partner Joe dreamt up for their Kryptonian
kreation several decades earlier.
And just what would Mort have his mighty champion DO with his mighty powers? Well, how about seek out the world's biggest diamond--JUST SO THAT HE COULD CARVE A STATUE OF HIMSELF OUT OF IT!?! Forget about the world's biggest diamond--apparently, we're dealing with the world's biggest EGO here!?! I mean, is this really the BEST way to utilize this incredibly enormous gem?? I wouldn't think so, and neither, it would seem, did any of his comics biz contemporaries...
Julie Schwartz had the citizens of Central City erect a Flash Museum for their hometown hero, but the speedster wisely left the establishment's acquisitions to the duly elected board and not to some way-out whims of his own. And Stan Lee? Well, his Fantastic Four had to wait until they hooked up with the blind step-daughter of one of their arch-est of enemies before they found someone interested in sculpting their likenesses. And as for Spider-Man? We all know how J. Jonah Jameson's Daily Bugle treated the Web-spinner, don't we? Spidey was hardly considered a diamond of ANY sort by the sour newspaper publisher, although when it came to "World's Biggest", JJJ may've had some thoughts on THAT, though I'd prefer not to print the less-than-complimentary categories he no doubt considered here. Use your imagination, true believers...
My point is, it's absolutely ridiculous to think a true-blue hero like Superboy would ever indulge in such an excessive act of self-promotion as Mort had pictured in this perverse little panel. A super-villain might do something like this, you bet--but a good guy? Uh uh. Hard to swallow that notion coming from the white hats.
I mean, try and think about this in real life terms. Maybe some megalomaniacal dictator would fashion a massive statue of this sort as a misguided tribute to himself, but certainly not someone who works for the betterment of mankind. Nope. No way.
|After all, what self-respecting role model
would EVER stoop to promoting their image
in such a blatantly crass manner, I ask you?
Um, well, I guess you could say that while that's generally the rule of thumb...
...I suppose THAT little theory loses out being a hundred per cent true by...
|October 15th, 2003|
|Mark Evanier provides a concise and expert
overview of cartoonist Pete Morisi's life
and career over at his weblog for October 13th, but I didn't want to let
the opportunity pass without saying a few
words about the man we also knew as P.A.M.
upon hearing the news of his recent death
at age 75.
|Rarely has an artist made such an impression
on me with such a small body of work, but
the 8 issues he masterminded of his creation,
PETER CANNON...THUNDERBOLT, that Charlton
Comics published back in 1966 and 1967 has
had an influence over me far beyond its meager
volume. Perhaps it was his writer/artist
designation--far from an industry standard
in those days--that caught my fancy. Or maybe
it was his unique mix of Eastern philosophy
with tried and true pulp magazine staples
in his quirky tales. His hero's alternating
red and blue uniform--hearkening back to
the costume worn by the Golden Age Daredevil--had
it's own subliminal charm as well. But I
think what REALLY sold me on the pseudo-anonymous
P.A.M.--initials used to keep his superiors
at the New York City Police Department from
realizing just how he spent his evenings
and weekends--was his artwork.
While obviously borrowing from industry favorite George Tuska at an employers suggestion early in his career, he fashioned a style and approach that was nonetheless wholly his own. I always thought each of his panels looked like a perfectly frozen tableau, the action caught precisely at it's most dramatic moment. No, it didn't shoot kinetic sparks of excitement off the page--rather it mesmerized with it's frequently symmetrical and always elegant designs. A thick, confident inking line, sparse but sufficient backgrounds, even the wider than norm gutter areas between panels--all these elements combined to make Pete Morisi's work unlike any other I'd seen up to that time. And, in truth, since...
I managed to scare up a couple of his "Kid Montana" strips in various Charlton western titles during the late sixties, bought the mid-seventies VENGEANCE SQUAD series merely for his art, and, through the miracle of reprints and back issue sales, discovered much of his fifties work for Comic Media, most delightful being his noirish detective feature, "Johnny Dynamite". But, y'know, it's those 8 issues chronicling the adventures of Peter Cannon and his pal Tabu that I'll always remember most...
DC Comics, which bought the old Charlton Action Heroes after the demise of the Derby, Connecticut based company, tried their own version of Thunderbolt in the early nineties. It lasted 12 issues, and sad to say, I don't recall it as being particularly inspired. What I do recall is hearing that, just a few years earlier, Morisi wrote and drew a short feature (4 or 5 pages, tops) recapping the genesis of his signature character for DC's then ongoing SECRET ORIGINS anthology title. Only--wouldn't you know it?--that book was canceled before this much anticipated featurette could make it onto the schedule!?! There was some hope of squeezing it into the ongoing T-Bolt title, and for this, if no other reason, I was rooting for that book's survival, but alas and alack, 'twas not to be.
For my money, Pete Morisi--a creator who lavished obvious care and intelligence when concocting his scripts as well as a singular vision when bringing them to life with pencil and brush--graced far too few comic books, and hasn't been seen between the covers of one for far too many years. Well, given this sad turn of events, there's not much to be done about that now. But somehow, some way, wouldn't it be nice if that short little Thunderbolt swan song of the once and always P.A.M. could find it's way out of limbo and into the public arena? It's probably as a good a testament as any regarding the effect Pete Morisi's work has had on me that I've spent more time thinking about that lost little gem over the past decade than I have about many far more heralded projects...
Whatever happens, I just want to go on record as being thankful for what the late cartoonist did share with us, and express my sincere admiration for his woefully underappreciated talents. He won't be forgotten--not around these parts.
Y'know, playing cops and robbers may've been a fun game growing up, but playing cops and cartoonists with the one man who could do both-- now THAT'D be awesome! Rest easy, Mr. Morisi--you've earned it.
October 13th, 2003
Year's back, when it came time for Julie's Kindergarten class to go on their very first field trip, merrily on off to a nearby game farm, there were far more volunteers to chaperone the lovable little tykes on their jaunt than could possibly have been accommodated by the limited seating on the buses. That was just one of the reasons I was so surprised when I found out I had been one of the lucky few chosen to accompany the adorable young 'uns on their animal expedition (the OTHER reason being the fact that, by this late point in the school year, the rather rigid instructor seemed to care little for either five-year old Julie or myself--but folks, THAT'S an entirely different story...)
Thrilled at the opportunity and proud of my selection, I wondered out loud at my unexpected good fortune. Big mistake. My daughter innocently deflated any delusions I may've been harboring--however briefly--about my standing in her teacher's eyes...
"I know why they picked you, daddy."
"Oh really? Why?"
"Cuz they needed someone who wasn't a mommy to take the boys into the potty!..."
THAT'S how I started my career as a field trip chaperone--as a Men's Room Attendant!?! And now that we've reached the 8th grade, and with the prospect of Julie's first out-of-classroom excursion since the sixth grade laying before the two of us, I again found myself chosen to tag along, and I once again felt a false sense of superiority because of it--AND Julie once again managed to swiftly deflate those foolish feelings. Reason I was picked this particular go-round? Not enough volunteers, I was informed. Seems as if they're not the cute little darlings they once were, and I'm not sure very many other parents want to spend the better part of a day with a surly, sullen group of hormonal 13 year olds--and after going along for the ride, I can't honestly say as I truly blame them...
So where were we off to anyway? Well, how about Washington's Headquarter's in nearby Newburgh, New York? And yes, we're talking about THAT Washington--George, not Denzel! And if that weren't enough--and apparently, it weren't--we were also scheduled to drive across a few more towns and over to Mount Gulian, a historical site that was once home to a Civil War General. Our itinerary called for us to meet at the school's cafeteria at 8am, take off 30 minutes later, spend some time on the bus, and first visit the Revolutionary War site, and then the other. We'd be back at the school by 1:30 because, even though classes aren't let out until 2:40, the buses are needed to transport the High School students home an hour earlier than their Junior High counterparts. Lucky little Julie would get back to school just in time to take a major math test during her 9th and final period of the day--it's all in the timing, kid! Me, well, I just get to go home--but I'm moving way ahead of myself here, aren't I? Let's go back to the early morning gathering of the tribes as that first bell of the day chimed, shall we?...
After being greeted by Julie's social studies teacher and given a list of the kids I was assigned to supervise, I was then directed as to where we were all going to congregate. Two and half classes were going on this trip (two other classes and the remaining other half of the third had already made the expedition the previous day, to answer your unspoken query), and the approximate 60 students had been divided into two groups--A and B--and subsequently broken down into sub-groups of three(A1, A2, A3 and B1, B2, B3, with me heading up B3--got all that?...). One bus, you see, would head off to one location--Washington's Headquarters in our case--while the second group would first visit the other location. That way, only half the kids would be at one place at a time, meaning we'd be traveling in small enough numbers so as not to overwhelm the sites' personnel nor to the folks in control--namely, us! Good plan.
So I looked at my list. Four boys, four girls. They slowly assembled around me at our designated portion of a table in the cafeteria, but outside of some brief small talk meant to familiarize myself with my charges--two of whom I knew from previous outings--I kept mum and let them yammer amongst themselves as they killed the half hour awaiting the arrival of our buses, which were, yes, working double-duty--or is it triple?--for the local elementary schools.
Finally, we boarded our canary-colored ferries, and the 30 minute trip was a surrealistic mixture of the old and of the new. The new being a kid sitting in the seat just in front of me watching a small, battery powered color TV so as to pass the down time. Back in MY school days, when we set off on a expedition, we had to make due merely with rowdy behavior to make the tedious time spent in broken down old buses--always without the basic benefit of seatbelts--palatable!?! And as for the old, well, 35 years later, kids are STILL being driven around in the same old broken down buses, STILL lacking the basic benefit of seatbelts!?! Hey, but at least these students can keep a close eye on the Maury Povitch Show while we barrel precipitously on down the highways, and I guess that's SOMETHING!?! Ah, progress...
Once we arrived at our destination, I quickly came to a slightly disturbing realization--myself, along with the two other moms who had accompanied the kids, were essentially, in the grand scheme of things, little more than human ballast. Needing to divide into only two groups, the accompanying math teacher blithely sent my four boys off with the what was originally the first of three groupings, and then sent the girls off to join the second--and now, final--configuration. Naturally, I remained with Julie's newly assigned group, but it wasn't until I got back home that I realized that, since the other two moms were attached to that team as well, that meant all three chaperones were with one half of the kids, while there were NONE with the other half!?! And--it didn't matter!?! The fact is, we were never actually called upon to DO anything from that point on, which probably accounts for me overlooking this seemingly salient point until I was comfortably back home. My best guess would be that the school itself was legally obligated to have a certain number of adults on hand, and we three fulfilled that necessary quota. However, as long as things didn't get out of hand--and thankfully, they didn't--we weren't really needed, except maybe as window dressing. Sensing this not long into the journey, the kids felt no further need to interact with us un-tenured old folks, not even my darlin' daughter herself!?! (...Whose idea, I should point out, it was that I join the festivities in the first place...)
Visiting the centuries-old headquarters of Gorgeous George Washington proved to be a fairly interesting diversion, at least for me. The kids, on the other hand, are at such an age where showing any appreciation for learning something is just about the last thing they'd ever, ever want to do. As one of the girls in my tenuous little group said as we climbed up the steps and onto the bus, "Why do I have to learn this stuff? Washington means nothing to me, nothing at all." And as if to add an exclamation to her point, when we all were finally in that historical edifice, and after listening to a short lecture in the larger outer room, she and a friend were the only two to not even bother to stick their heads into two adjoining bedrooms at the behest of our guide!?! Everyone else looked in, if only briefly and if only out of curiosity, but not these two. They were just way too cool to even be bothered--they were determined that they weren't gonna learn anything that they didn't have to, by--you should pardon the expression--George!! Sigh...
Well, I learned stuff--I learned that our future number one Prez had about 150 different headquarters, but this one was the one that he used for the longest period of time, close to a year and a half in all. According to the young woman who was directing us throughout the grounds, history hasn't been kind to the Newburgh site since very little of lasting impact happened during those 18 months. Lotta cooking and card playing, apparently. Maybe the building's biggest claim to fame was that it was where the General originated the Purple Heart, and that fascinating fact led to what had to be the most memorable exchange of the day--and it wasn't necessarily good memorable...
Now, this is somewhat difficult to explain. Understand please that although our guide did a fine, cogent job at dispersing her factual material, she nonetheless served it up in a rather condescending manner, continually calling these 13 year-olds "children". "Kids"--okay, that would've been fine, but this group was a tad and a half past the "children" stage, and inasmuch as she couldn't have been far out of her twenties her ownself, she should've realized her faux pas. But she didn't. So when she launched into her history of the Purple Heart for the antsy assemblage, she somewhat clumsily attempted to instill the medal with some present day relevance by relating it to recent events. She turned to the kids before her, and, in a patronizing tone, inquired, "You've all heard of 9/11?..." and brother, that's ALL the smart-mouth's in the crowd needed to hear. One girl in particular (not one of the sullen but essentially silent aforementioned duo), sarcastically replied to the implied rhetorical question, "Nope, never heard of it. What happened?" much to the amusement of the flock of boys she had circling her the duration of the trip, but decidedly NOT to the liking of our hostess. Obviously, it was a rude thing to say. Stupid, too. Certainly it called for a reprimand of some sort, but before one of the teachers could jump in, our guide, struggling to control her simmering emotions, pointedly berated the sassy wisegal, all the boys who laughed at her impertinence, and by extension, just about everyone in that historic room, labeling them all as being pretty much unrepentant traitors to our great nation!?!
Yeah, it was insulting, but the overreaction on the part of the young woman was disconcerting, not unlike Pedro Martinez tossing a charging--but 72 year-old--Don Zimmer to the ground . After she gathered herself up and ended her coldly delivered tirade, we proceeded on to several more rooms and then on to the museum area of the site without further incident. That is, until she pulled out a contemporary Purple Heart the Museum had acquired to show us. We were told the story behind it, and she ended her tale by indicating that there was a very poignant inscription found on the back of it. "But," she added brusquely, "I don't think anyone here deserves to see it..." At which point, she quickly turned heel on her now-stunned audience, leading us off into the exhibit hall and onto the last leg of our troubled tour...
I later overheard the teachers complaining on the bus about how she mishandled the situation, and I can't say they were wrong. The kids were being stupid, but that was essentially it. Yes, it was disrespectful, but isn't that what teenagers are famous for? I know it sounds like I'm defending bad behavior, but what I'm really trying to get across is that there are ways of dealing with typically brainless antics such as these, and I don't think our guide came anywhere close to striking the proper pitch in her petulantly patriotic reproachment. The fellow at our NEXT destination--now, HE knew what he was doing...
We drove another 20 minutes, got off the bus, settled in on the back porch of our Civil War era manor and ate our lunches (and for the first time in my history of school trips, I ate alone. As did the other two moms--our kids have gotten too old to break bread with their parents on these outings, it would seem...). Afterward, we all as one big group went inside and listened to an hour-long lecture, only briefly broken up with a short trip outside. As you can imagine, as gifted a speaker as we may've had, there was bound to be some rough patches and some rumblings. Keeping his good humor throughout, our Civil War expert didn't hesitate to point out that, as he had once been a vice-principal himself, he wasn't going to let anyone disrupt his carefully measured presentation. More often than not, though, when events bordered on derailing, he swiftly got things back on track with a joke or a diversion of some sort, never--save once, in the first five minutes--having to resort to throwing his weight around. Of course, he didn't try to force a parallel between Robert E. Lee and Saddam Hussein, either...
Finally, 1 o'clock rolled around, and the kids anxiously hopped aboard the bus, and a half hour later were back at school. I disembarked, and making sure my services were no longer needed, waved to one of the teachers and started to back away. At this point, there apparently came the belated realization that we chaperones had indeed been on the trip as well, so the teacher thanked us and prompted the students to also show their appreciation, which resulted primarily in a series of blank stares and some half-hearted grunts. Things had changed significantly since Kindergarten, it appeared...
Well, it proved worthwhile hooking up with the group for me if for no other reason than I always like to check out just how Julie's doing whilst hanging out with the general population, and not just with the kids she invites over to the house. None of her best buddies were anywhere nearby, as none were scheduled to go along on this trip, but still, she seemed to fit in well enough with the kids who were there (her closest associate amongst them all being--wouldn't you know it?--our loose-lipped loudmouth!?!) Still, just like every other kid who spent the day outside their normal classroom routine on this historical jaunt, she found the trip "boring". Or so she'd have me believe that that's what the consensus was.
I don't doubt it. 13 is a tough age. No longer truly a child, not yet nearly mature enough to be considered an adult, sometimes the only way to express the inherent growing pains is disdain for what your elders consider to be good for you. It's not a pretty sight, and I can't say I'm chomping at the bit to sign up for another peek into the rough and tumble maturation process of my daughter's angst-filled age group. But if I do, I'll make sure to remember how it was for me and my buddies back in early 1964...
Making inappropriate Lee Harvey Oswald jokes just seemed funny at the time, y'know? Proving, I guess, that while technology may advance, fashions may change, and culture may progress, you need make NO mistake about it--stupidity is forever!...
October 10th, 2003
|Take a good look at that panel. Originally the final scene in the Legion of Super-Heroes tale found in the December, 1965 issue of DC's ADVENTURE COMICS (#339), there's a unique, almost unsettling significance to it--but you won't read about it here...|
|No, instead you'll have to find your way
over to the "Best of Dateline:@#$%!" section of this site and read the two latest
additions. Those of you who regularly receive
THE COMICS' BUYERS GUIDE might recognize
this two-part cartoon monolog as my most
recent contribution to the pages of CBG,
but in reality, these strips were completed
at least two years back. For those at all
curious about my seemingly erratic appearance
in the long-running trade paper, well, the
truth of the matter is that my strip fell
victim to some unfortunate budget cuts. The
editorial staff, commendably, felt an obligation
to run the work I had already submitted back
in the days when a weekly spot in their pages
was still a doable deal, but that left-over
material has been coming out, by necessity,
in dribs and drabs ever since (I believe
they still have a few left, for those of
you who care...). Ever since I instituted
the "Dateline" area here at Hembeck.com,
I've been particularly anxious to get these
two pages out for your perusal, and now that
CBG's finally had first crack at 'em, I feel
comfortable sharing them with you folks.
The thing is, I spent a couple of summers back with the first 10 editions of DC's LSH ARCHIVES, re-reading a lot of stories I hadn't even looked at since I was a mere lad (and after plowing through that many Legionnaire episodes, how could you be anything BUT? Unless, of course, you're a lass...). That much exposure to the future of the past struck me in several ways, the most indelible of which I dealt with in my CBG columns.
And in many ways, they were more "columns" that "strips". Fact is, you could say they were a direct precursor to these Fred Sez rambles. I had so much to say about my topic that I decided to give up even the pretext of adding exciting graphic elements to the piece. Instead, I continued examining the subject across two pages of 20 equally sized panels, the only art being the requisite Cartoon Fred Heads, talkin' right atcha! Not exactly an artistic triumph for yours truly, but I truly felt that the message was more important this time(s) around. But there was one thing missing: the panel up above.
It provided the pivotal punchline to my drawn-out discussion, and, working within my self-proscribed boundaries, I was left with no other option but to merely describe it, not show it. Ah, but NOW things are different! NOW you can go and wade through my dubious diatribe (with it's occasional screwy sentence syntax, necessitated by my desperate attempt to squish as many words as possible into a woefully finite format), and then you can come back here, glance up the drawing that led off this entry---and THEN you can get up and close the window---
--because, if you're anything like me, that was a chill you just felt run up and down your spine!! Except--I just now noticed-- the window isn't even OPEN!?!..
Good lord...choke...and all the rest...
October 6th, 2003
Brace yourself--it's time for a slog through current events over here at Hembeck Manor! This update is provided especially for those of you who care--and even for those of you who DON'T!?! (Please--no need for a statistical breakdown, percentage-wise, of for and against. Just indulge me, okay?...)
I haven't, for instance, had a chance to say much about the newly assembled soccer team I'm guiding this fall. The primary reason for that is, well, there just isn't very much to say. Of the previous five potential Saturdays available for us to play games, we've only been involved in a measly two contests!?! What happened was this--the first week was canceled when a tournament took priority over our matchup on the away field we were slated to use, the fourth week was a "bye" (there are 11 squads involved in our Under 14 Girls schedule, meaning each week, a different team sits out, and that was our turn for fanny-warming), and this past weekend, well, wouldn't you know it--it rained. And since there are traditionally no games scheduled during the upcoming Columbus Day holiday weekend, what that ultimately means is that we'll have a full month between our second and third games!?! Providing, of course, that the skies don't open up on THAT Saturday as well. Sigh...
The games we DID play? Well, the first one was up against a group that seemed to operate, frankly, on a higher plain than our little congregation was capable of. It wasn't so much that they were good--which, of course, they were--but that they hardly looked like a group that had only been together a mere two weeks, with all sorts of pre-planned and well-practiced plays being called out by their coaches, plays they actually knew how to execute!?! We had the same sort of situation facing us this past spring when going up against another team from this same town. Suspicion is that perhaps they're employing players that are also on the so-called "travel" teams, which destroys any notion of parity in regards to the overall intramural league. Yeah, we got creamed, 7-0, and if it wasn't for the fact that one of my new girls turned out to be a surprisingly adept goalie, maybe the best I've ever had available to me, the score would've been far, far worse. They probably took 30 shots--at least--on our goal, while we would've been lucky to've made a half-dozen scoring attempts on theirs, futile though they may've ultimately been.
I of course wondered if indeed we were that bad, but after a very competitive game the week following that see-sawed back and forth--they scored one, we scored one; they scored a second goal, we scored a second goal; they scored a third goal, we-- well, oops, we ran out of time, so, yeah, we lost, 3-2, but after the previous drubbing, it proved to be a satisfying morning on the field nonetheless. And maybe--just maybe--if we ever actually PLAY another game, perhaps we'll even WIN one!?!...
Meanwhile, there's our weekly practices. I've been lucky enough to have one of the mom's step forward to help out as my official assistant coach, a first for me. Coach Janice helps me keep the girls focused--not always the easiest thing to do when it's one of me and a dozen or more of them--and, due to a substantial soccer playing background on her part, is invaluable when it comes to running the various drills. The only sour note is that while we had 14 girls show for the initial two practices (we had 15 signed up at the outset, but one had to drop out two weeks in due to an injury unrelated to soccer, reducing our roster to 14), the three subsequent Thursday afternoons have seen 7, 6, and then 7 attendees. There's been a nasty stomach virus going around, accounting for some, if not all, the absences. Still, it's kinda hard to train like a team when the only time you see the rest of your squad is on game day!?! But, y'know, if there's one thing I've found out about kids these days it's that they tend to lead busy, busy lives, and over-commitment is often the name of the game (aside, of course, from the video ones they always seem to be playing...).
Speaking of that intestinal malady, Julie herself suffered from it and suffered from it for a decidedly long time--just about 8 days, as it eventually turned out. Yup, she missed an entire week of school earlier this month. That's never the preferable approach to take to your first semester in the ever pressure-filled eighth grade. Still, when Julie's sick, she's sick. She's never resorted to scamming us, and if we needed any further evidence that that wasn't the case in this particular situation, well, two things clearly pointed to the truth of her malaise. For one, she first complained of her sorry lot early on a Sunday--not Monday--morning, flushing a potential free day down the tubes, that being one such indication. The other? She didn't even start playing her Michael Jackson CDs until roundabouts when Thursday rolled around, and even then, only at low to moderate volumes. (Insert your own quip about her suffering somehow alleviating OUR suffering here.) So yeah, this kid was ailing, no doubt about it.
Worry not. She's better now. Completed all her overdue homework, and, dragging her butt out of bed frighteningly close to dawn and going into school an hour early twice this past week, squeaked nicely enough through a pair math and science tests that had been given in her absence. Hectic days, lemme tell ya. And later this upcoming week, yours truly will be going along on a field trip with her class as a chaperone. Although I've managed to tag along on one trip or another from pre-K right on up through a CPR demonstration in the 6th grade, this'll be my first chance to mix amongst these newly-turned teenagers in about two years, and I have a feeling that I may not be prepared for what I'm about to encounter!?! More on the event once it passes...
Otherwise, not much new. Marvel editor Tom Brevoort checked in to inform me that my two-page strip from the recent FANTASTIC FOUR #500 has been included in the upcoming "Unthinkable" trade-paperback collection. Aside from the inherent fame involved, I'll, best of all, be entitled to some cash royalties--though due to my rather sparse contribution, Tom cautions me that, at best, my payment will likely only cover dinner for moi at a fine restaurant (provided, of course, that I don't Super-size anything...) Thanks, Tom! I'll be thinking of you while pulling alongside the pick-up window!
You might well notice that, after a particularly long dry patch, this is, proudly, the 14th consecutive day we've posted something here on Hembeck.com!! Okay, okay-- so one day we did little more that write one-line descriptions to accompany already published Dateline:@#$%! strips, which may be seen as a cheat of sorts, but hey, if you haven't read them before, they were new to you, right? In any event, it's been fun, but look for things to slow down just a bit again hereabouts. I have some really nifty and fairly special things in mind for October--some of which are related to (oboy!) Halloween--but to properly prepare them might preclude such regular day-in and day-out posting. But keep checking back, because when they DO show up, it should prove to be well worth your time!!
And if you're enjoying ANY of the nonsense we've been cranking out for you ere long, now is the time to consider a donation to the web-site, a purchase from the gallery, or a commission of some sort from ye olde host! After all, when I head on out for my lavish meal courtesy of Marvel Comics, you wouldn't want me to make Lynn and Julie drag along PB&J sandwiches in brown paper bags, now wouldja?,,,
October 4th, 2003
It began in, of all places, the school library.
The year was 1967, I was a wide-eyed, clueless 8th grader who hadn't come anywhere near to figuring out the whole boy/girl mystery, when, one particular day, I began to notice the unusually over-heated reactions of some of the other fellas seated around my table. Standard operating procedure was just to treat our required Library time as little more than a study hall, maybe talk softly amongst ourselves, or check out some of the latest subscription copies from the periodical shelves. Nothing to get excited about. Nothing like the reaction I could easily read on their faces...
Because, plainly, they were passing around one of the folder-encased library copies of some magazine or another with a zealousness far beyond the ordinary. When I finally managed a peek, I immediately understood. There, for all the world to see, gracing the cover of the current edition of usually staid NEWSWEEK, was a photo of Jane Fonda.
Oh, sure, she had her back to the camera as she stood right up to her derriere in a stream near a waterfall, with all the significant areas that had already made Hugh Hefner a rich man merely suggested but not explicitly shown. Still, it was a shocking amount of flesh to find on the cover of a serious newsweekly--and in any event, clothes or no clothes, the suggestive look she threw over her shoulder and directly at the spellbound viewer spoke volumes!?! Unfortunately, at the time, I had yet to actually READ any of those volumes--in fact, I still have more than a few to get through even at this late date--but it certainly pointed me in a hitherto unexplored direction...
The feature story itself focused on the then controversial inroads the once taboo subjects of sex and nudity were currently making in Hollywood's once squeaky clean product. The arresting image used on the cover, it turned out, was snapped on the set of the actress Fonda's upcoming flick, "Barbarella", a sci-fi farce directed by her (then) husband, Roger Vadim, and based on a popular French adult-oriented comic strip. Hello! I like comic strips, and well, I was an adult--almost. Encountering that NEWSWEEK sparked a sudden and intense interest in both the lovely blonde-tressed thespian and her line art alter-ego...
Up until that time, yeah, I'd been sorta aware of the cinematic career of Henry Fonda's little girl. I'd just generally chosen to ignore it. Now, however, I found myself more than a little curious, so when the ABC Network ran the acclaimed 1965 western parody, "Cat Ballou", one Sunday night not long afterwards, well, I made darn sure to be tuned in THAT night! What I subsequently saw fully exceeded whatever expectations I may've had, lemme tell ya! No, Jane remained fully clothed throughout, but in a role that called for her to act alternatingly naively innocent and then an outraged, determined victim, all the while serving as straight-woman for the casts' vast array of colorful characters (including Oscar winner Lee Marvin in a delightfully delivered dual role), her charisma practically leapt off the television screen and grabbed me by the throat!?! I'll admit it, folks--I was smitten...
I don't think it's really all that unusual to, somewhat inexplicably, find yourself under the influence of a massive--and ultimately, pointless--crush on a clearly unattainable celebrity sometime early in your life, not at all. At least, I sure as heck hope not, or I'm sure gonna sound like one first class nut!?! Let's then, for the sake of argument, assume that I'm not. I mean, no stalking was involved, y'know? I couldn't afford the cab fare, for one thing. The deal was, though, from that point on, Jane Fonda represented the ideal woman to me, and would for several years hence. I scoured the TV listings for screenings of any and all of her earlier films, and even managed to sit through such trifles as "Sunday In New York", "The Chase", and "Barefoot In The Park", none of which were anywhere near as good as "Cat Ballou"--but that wasn't really the point, was it? And all the while, I kept an eye out for whatever information I could scare up about her still upcoming futuristic French farce--you know? That one where she's nekkid?!?
Then one day, while returning from a visit with my dad's relatives in New Jersey, I found large black lettering heralding the title "Barbarella" staring at me from afar, yards away across a bustling expanse, tantalizingly on display right smack dab in the middle of a magazine rack located underground in the cavernous Grand Central Station. Momentarily stunned at the sight, I soon rushed forward for a closer look, only to spy the fetching Ms. Fonda in a suitably skimpy outfit, festively festooned on the book's cover. Yes, my heart skipped an itty-bitty beat, I won't lie to you. I took a deep breath, and then, trembling imperceptibly, picked up the tome. It appeared to be an American translation of Jean-Claude Forest's original source material. A quick glimpse through it's pages provided no further evidence of sweet Jane anywhere within--was it worth dipping into my wallet for anyway? After all, it was going for the then pricey sum of a whole buck and a half (!?!). Plus, I'm still just a kid, and my father is standing right there, looking over my shoulder the whole time!?! Forget "should"-- WOULD they even LET me buy this thing?!? And maybe more importantly, would I even have the nerve to ATTEMPT purchasing it?!?...
Yeah, I wound up buying it. That's it up above (I never did figure out why there was an "R" scrawled on the upper left hand corner of the cover, though...) Hey, let that be a lesson for you-- never underestimate the connection between a pubescent boy and the gorgeous movie star he's hopelessly obsessed with, okay? I'm pretty sure now that the guy behind the counter could've cared less, and my pop? Well, he never did pay much attention to my comics collecting, having more contempt for it than any actual interest. How was he to know that in THIS one, the blond and brunette Betty and Veronica stand-ins lost their tops for a few brief, slightly salacious, panels? By todays standards, the story featured what could only be described as mild nudity, but it still held my attention more readily than any issue of WONDER WOMAN published that transitional year of 1967!?!...
"Barbarella" finally made it to the silver screen the following year, but I wasn't in the audience. While they didn't quite have that whole ratings thing figured out by then, it plainly wasn't a film for little kids--or even young punks like myself, however much to the contrary I might've argued--and there was just no way, especially at 15, I was ever gonna convince my totally unhip parents to accompany me to a wild, happening piece of celluloid magic like this "Barbarella" thing--which, by the way, mom and dad, features a desirable dollop of nudity by the title character--nor was I ever gonna even CONSIDER doing so!?! No, instead, I had to content myself with merely reading all the reviews--most of which were, sadly, negative--of this fanciful and sensuous sf opus that I could get my grubby little hands on. Clipping out any and all accompanying photos became my latest project, and in fact led to my sole instance of school vandalism when I surreptitiously excised a full-color still of the film's lovely heroine from a page in a much later issue of NEWSWEEK. Yes, my perverse love was now leading me inexorably down a crime-ridden path!! Luckily, Jane herself must have sensed the problems that lay ahead, and veered sharply at the proverbial fork in the road, saving us all in the process.
Critical acclaim--and her first Oscar nomination--greeted her next full-blown role, starring in the unique period drama, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?", a film revolving around the dance marathons of the Depression era. All of a sudden, Jane wasn't merely a spandex clad sex symbol anymore, she was an acclaimed actress. I remember using this turn of events to lord it over my best friend at the time. He, you see, was quite taken with Racquel Welch, who had only recently burst upon the scene. Attractive as she may have been, she was clearly destined to spend Oscar night at home, watching the ceremonies sitting in front of the tube with a large bowl of popcorn, never to be concerned whether or not her name would be called at the opening of one of those special little envelopes. Not so my oh-so-talented Jane--and I snobbily reminded him of this indisputable fact at every juvenile opportunity!?!
As for the flick under discussion, well, THIS movie I somehow conned my father into taking me to, playing to his interest in the era as well as it's pedigreed critical reception to spark his interest. Still, I can vividly recall to this day the uncomfortable, uneasy feelings I experienced sitting next to the old fella when a mild but fairly suggestive sex scene briefly frittered across the screen!?! Geez, that's when I KNEW taking "Barbarella" in as a family outing would've been a big, BIG mistake!?! This strangely titled picture made for a very distinctive--if decidedly downbeat--film, one that seems to have unfortunately been forgotten by the critics and the public alike over the ensuing decades. Too bad. It's probably the best film ever made focusing on the dance marathons of the Depression era. Of course, it's probably the ONLY one ever made focusing on the dance marathons of the Depression era, too, but don't let that minor footnote undermine my appraisal any,okay?...
Fans of the cinema know the rest. Jane Fonda went on to become a big star and an widely respected thespian in the years to come--as well as a magnet for controversy. I went to see quite a few of her later vehicles--"Julia", "Fun With Dick and Jane", "Coming Home", "9 to 5", "The China Syndrome", "Comes A Horseman", "On Golden Pond" and "The Electric Horseman" (though, oddly enough, her first Academy Award winning performance in "Klute" has somehow, to this day, managed to escape me...), but the spell of the big-time crush I long had labored under was pretty much finito not long after "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" was released. In the years that followed, I appreciated her more for her skills than anything else--though admittedly, there was STILL a smidgen of fan-boy fondness for Fonda, truth to tell! Sure, she made some mistakes over the years--besides marrying Ted Turner, I mean--but despite everything that's happened, a part of me will always think warmly of her in the twin title roles of both "Cat Ballou" and "Barbarella"...
And concerning that sci-fi spoof, yeah, I FINALLY did see it late one night on cable back in the early eighties. Turns out it wasn't much of a movie. The critics got this one right. Talk about your anti-climaxes. And as far as her still undeniable allure, well, yup, she still looked fabulous in all those outrageous outfits, but I was at a time in my life (i.e., grown up) where they didn't have quite the effect they might've had had I seen the film on it's initial release. Truth is, I find the many publicity photos that continue to float around from the project far more intriguing than the actual movie, mainly because, in them at least, Jane doesn't have to mouth the script's inane dialog!?! As our old pal Andre from the Blackhawks might say, "Sacre Bleu!?!"
Incidentally, the motivation for taking this queasy stroll down memory lane came just the other day when I posted a 1999 Dateline:@#$%! strip dealing with my very FIRST encounter with a gorgeous leggy blonde torn from the comics page and thrust up onto the big screen when Cartoon Fred interviewed the star of the 1959 film adaptation of the stage musical, "Li'l Abner", Ms. Daisy Mae Yokum. Since Al Capp's lovely lady waylaid me at the tender age of 7, it somehow seemed appropriate to say a little bit about the OTHER comics queen that commanded my attention at the other end of that whole pre-pubescent spectrum.
So that's it. Pardon me if this has turned out to have been the creepiest thing you've yet to read here at the site. Maybe tomorrow we''ll get back to normal and check in with the latest on Wacko Jacko!!
(Wait--and just how is THAT an improvement?...)
October 2nd, 2003
Word came in just the other day that the World's Oldest Man, a 114 year old Japanese fellow, had passed on. My condolences to the World's Oldest Family, but pardon me if I focus instead on the alarming rate by which we seem to be losing some of the World's Oldest Celebrities!?!
Since June alone we've had final curtain calls for Hume Croyn (91), Elia Kazan (94), Benny Carter (95), Buddy Ebsen (95), Katherine Hepburn (96), Strom Thurmond (100), Bob Hope (100), and Leni Riefenstahl (101) (Gee, I wonder what the odds of HER turning up in next year's inevitable Academy Awards "In Memoriam" segment? In any event, in light of the distressing rate the famous of ALL ages are falling by the wayside lately, that next Oscar show is sure to run overtime on the strength of that portion alone!?!)
I mean, a year ago, all these folks were still alive, and now, well, they're NOT. Not a really profound statement, true, but for some reason, I've always been one to measure the passing of time by the passing of celebrities. Kinda nuts, huh? Hey, I'm not one to dwell on my own mortality--what's the point, right?--but I'll readily confess that for years now I'd occasionally joke to family and friends alike that in regards to THAT particular situation, my immediate plans were to, at the very least, outlive Bob Hope!?! Now that little plan is out the window, and confusion reigns, although I assure you, I'm NOT teetering on the edge. Because we still have SOME icons left...
Character actor Charles Lane, boxer Max Schmeling (both 98), cartoonist Dale Messick, "Tarzan" Bruce Bennett (both 97), Kong's Fay Wray (96), Hayley's dad, actor John Mills, "Green Acres" Eddie Albert, perfume magnate Estee Lauder, "Blondie" Penny Singleton (all 95), PBS host Alistair Cooke, surviving vineyard sibling, Ernest Gallo (both 94), Oscar winner Luis Rainer, Big Band legend, Artie Shaw, "Titanic"s Gloria Stuart, quiz show's Kitty Carlisle (all clocking in at 93), ex-Prez Ronald Reagan, Sing-along's Mitch Miller, animation's Joseph Barbara (all 92), filmmaker/actor Jules Dassin, actor Karl Malden, writer Studs Terkel, TV host Art Linkletter, noted chef Julia Child (all 91), director Michelangelo Antonioni, ex-First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, civil rights icon Rosa Parks, singer Frankie Laine, designer Oleg Cassini, "This Is Your Life's" Ralph Edwards, and that other ex-Prez, Gerald Ford, (all 90). I wish them all the most happiness and the best of health--and myself, the opportunity to mourn them ALL (though really, there's no rush, gang, no rush at all...)!
In case you're curious, I amassed all this information merely from visiting an intriguing if undeniably morbid web-site called "Dead Or Alive". Worry not--there are no grisly photos, no sensationalistic stories, no inappropriate stabs at humor, just the facts, man. Type in the name of a famous person--Jack Webb, say--and up comes his entry, short if not necessarily sweet. Were he still alive, you'd be greeted with a bright yellow smiley face, but since he's not, instead a grim eyeless skull draped in black stares back at you. You're provided with his Field (Entertainment), Info (Played Sgt. Friday on the TV series "Dragnet"), Date of Birth (4/2/1920), Date of Death (12/23/1982), Age at Death (62), and, if known, Cause of Death (Heart attack). Y'know, if there's that obscure second banana who worked on that sit-com you watched as a child that you've always wondered what happened too, well, THIS is the place to find out
There are a number of other interesting features as well, but the two I return to periodically are their ever-changing lists of "Famous People Over the Age of 85" and "Died in the Last 6 Months". The former, as you can tell by now, continues to fascinate me, while the latter can occasionally provide a grim surprise or two...
Certainly we're all sadly familiar with the recent departures of the likes of Warren Zevon, Gordon Jump, Donald O'Connor, George Plimpton, Robert Palmer, and John Ritter, but sometimes a name manages to escape notice primarily due to it's deceptive unfamiliarity. A name like one I came across today, Stanley Fafara. Before you start wracking your brain, perhaps you might know him better as Whitey Whitney, the diminutive blond-headed pal of title character Beaver Cleaver on TV's legendary "Leave It To Beaver" series.
I was mildly surprised--but only mildly--as it wasn't but a few months back that I read a newspaper profile online concerning the one-time child actor. Alcoholism, drug addiction, financial ruin--if he had been just a BIT more famous, the folks at the "E! True Hollywood Story" would've been all over themselves, beating a path to his door. As it was, he'd finally gotten his life together, only to succumb such a short time later at the still young age of 53. This obit will tell you the whole sad story, if you can stand it. Myself, I consider the Beaver show one of my top favorites of all time, and certainly indicative of an idealized existence, fostering picture-perfect childhoods like those of the Cleaver brothers. Since, in the intervening years, the main cast has miraculously shied away from the all too predictable scandals visited upon so many other sit-com kids, it was easier to maintain the fantasy while viewing reruns of the program as opposed to most of it's contemporaries. Now, I guess it won't be quite the same any longer.
Rest in peace, Whitey. Someday, the Beav, Gilbert, Larry Mondello, and all the rest will join you up there in that Metzger's Field in the sky, but until then, give our best regards to Aunt Martha, Uncle Billy, Mrs. Rayburn, Fred Rutherford, and of course, the beloved Ward Cleaver...
October 1st, 2003
Soupy. Stan. Kermit. A few thoughts...
Not long ago, inspired by the massive 1965-style blackout here on the East Coast. I felt compelled to dig out my copy of Soupy Sales' autobiography and finally give it a read, one of the few books in recent memory that I've managed to get through without the express recommendation of my pal, Rocco Nigro (a situation he's quick to point out to me, proudly washing his hands of the entire affair!)
Entitled "Soupy Sez"--and by now, those of you still in the dark as to where I might've come up with the heading above are no doubt having those swell little cartoon light bulbs blink on right over your knotty noggins--the volume starts out well enough, filled with a lot of the good-natured humor similarly found in Stan Lee's "Excelsior!", the Marvel Maven's memoir I'd examined oh-so-thoroughly in this very arena just a few weeks earlier. But then, as the story moves along, Soupy turns the narrative over to a series of sidebars written in tribute to the comedian by a number of his admirers, diluting the first-person impact one expects from a tract like this, and when the comic DOES add his own interjections again eventually, there seems to be just the slightest--but still noticeable--tinge of bitterness hanging over the proceedings, something almost totally absent from Stan's book. And that got me to pondering just how the pair stacked up against one another...
Stan and Soupy are roughly the same age. Both worked for years in virtual anonymity (or at least, in Soupy's case, off the national radar) honing their respective crafts. While both had grand initial goals--"regular" showbiz, "regular" literature--both became almost inadvertantly the leading lights in two highly specialized offshoots of their originally desired fields. Both changed their birth names into highly identifiable ones. And both had their greatest critical success at roughly the same time, the mid-sixties, which, just coincidentally is when the two men were extremely important components in THIS kid's life!?! It was after that when things began to change...
Soupy's moment of fame had been incandescent, rivaling Beatlemania in it's way, albeit on a far smaller scale and with a decidedly shorter shelf life. Abandoning his all-ages kids' show soon after this enviable peak, Soupy still managed to maintain a presence in the nation's consciousness by becoming an almost unavoidable fixture on a half-dozen of the day's most popular quiz shows, but this nonetheless signaled the beginning of a long, slow steady decline from the forefront--or the edges thereof--of the showbiz firmament for the fading funnyman.
Stan pretty much stopped writing comics on a regular basis in the early seventies, turning his back on his greatest successes much as Soupy had only a few years earlier, but HE managed to keep his persona alive throughout a myriad of Marvel publications over the years with his snappy text pieces, the occasional story, and--his ace in the hole--countless reprints. The durability of those early stories he conjured up with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Gene Colan, John Romita, and all the rest are really what's responsible for Stan's enhanced--and enduring--image today.
Poor Soupy. Most all of his old shows were erased, just as a matter of course. That's what they did back then. When he tells you something hilarious happened on the air one day in the late fifties, well, you're just going to have to take his word for it. It doesn't exist anymore. And sadly, the comparative handful of episodes that did survive just don't hold up the way you might hope they would. Comedy has gotten so extreme, and visual techniques so sophisticated that watching a man kibitz with two mostly off-screen puppets while clearly playing to the camera unfortunately demands a "you-had-to-be-there" explanation to any neophyte that a long-time fan might be able to induce into viewing an example of a remaining show. Case in point--daughter Julie.
I persuaded her to watch one of those "Best Of" tapes issued by Rhino Video some time back when she was a mere 8 or 9 years of age. She sat stone faced throughout the first episode, though she evinced far more emotion as the second one was just about to play--she began pleading, begging, even demanding that I turn off the VCR! She had seen enough. Ever since that ignominious evening in front of the tube, the rueful gag between us is that she'd best mind her ways, because if she DIDN'T, I'd make her watch the REST of that Soupy Sales tape!?! And using my "White Fang" voice is always a good way to annoy her. Sigh...
Stan's fame, while almost immediate upon the implementation of his ground-breaking sixties approach with the ever-diminishing and statistically insignificant comics reading audience, has taken decades to slowly but relentlessly blossom with the general public. Thanks to a number of extremely successful films spun off from concepts dreamt up by Stan and his artistic collaborators, the man on the street these days just might know who Stan is, and even if he doesn't, he most certainly is familiar with the likes of Spider-Man and the Hulk. And more than being just a name that flashes ever so quickly across the silver screen once or twice a year, just about all of Lee's sixties canon is being kept continually in print, whether in pricey hardcover editions, mid-range color softbacks, or massive but cheap black and white collections. Unlike the fading legend of Soupy Sales, the curious soul who wants to find out what all the fuss about this Stan Lee fella is has little problem acquainting him or herself with the seminal material. And while it may not have the grit or the flash of today's slick comics product, thanks to Stan's writing and his various pencilling partners, these decades old tales possess the sort of heart and giddy energy rarely seen before or since in the history of the field.
Stan's road to icon-status has been a long, slow, uphill, but--one would hope--rewarding journey for the man. Conversely--and depressingly--Soupy's been taking that same road, but going in the opposite direction from his comics counterpart. That became abundantly clear to me as I was watching two of my favorite talk shows just the other day...
Kermit D. Frog was co-hosting the Jimmy Kimmel Show for the week, and surprisingly, was doing a far better job than three quarters of the previous, non-felt folks similarly charged with that task. Please understand that I'm a member of the generation who just missed out on becoming a "Sesame Street" viewer, being in my early teens when that ground-breaking show debuted. Good buzz or not, there was no way THIS teen was re-learning the alphabet from a bunch of puppets on PBS, so I completely ignored the whole phenomenon for years. Rightly or wrongly, I continued to turn my back on the Muppets, even when their various off-shoot programs began aiming at a wider ranging audience. The only puppets I was interested in were named White Fang, Black Tooth, and Pookie. Oh sure, Julie watched the show a bit as a toddler, but she was actually more caught up in the first wave of Barneymania (!?!) than she was with Big Bird, Miss Piggy, and all the rest. But seeing the reception afforded that green little marionette by both the host and his audience opened my eyes to an undeniable truth--people LOVE this character!! Yes, primarily people who grew up with him, but nowadays, that's pretty much everyone five years my junior--and plenty folks my own age and older are fans as well, even if I'm not counted in that number!?! This, despite the fact that his creator--and long-time voice--passed away almost a decade ago now. THESE children's favorites--along with Stan's co-creations--will undoubtedly have an extended life-span in the country's collective memory, a thoughtful conclusion motivated by something I had witnessed only minutes earlier while watching a tape of the previous evening's Conan O' Brien program...
Actor Alec Baldwin was bantering with the carrot-topped host, when he playfully began to berate Conan for his Arnold Schwartzenegger impression, foisted upon the audience earlier in the hour. He laughingly informed Conan that, to his educated ear, he sounded more like "Fang from the Soupy Sales Show" than Arnold! Receiving a somewhat puzzled reaction to his reference from the host, Baldwin smilingly turned to the audience, and implored, "Who remembers Fang from the Soupy Sales Show?"
The sound of one person's lone applause eerily echoing throughout the edifice said volumes.
That didn't stop the thespian from offering his own impression of "Fang" (perhaps he eliminated the "White" from the ersatz doggie's name in the interests of political correctness?...), but it brought forth no further signs of recognition from anyone seated anywhere in that studio, Conan included. THAT was the moment when I truly realized that Soupy Sales, as important as he once was to me and countless others of my generation, had not and would not be well served by history.
Back in 1965, who would've ever thought Stan would have a better shot at immortality than the then-wildly popular Soupy--and that, in the end, a small green puppet, as yet unformed but a direct descendant of those appearing on that era's "Jimmy Dean" variety show, might actually outlast 'em BOTH?
Hey, that's showbiz!...
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