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August 3, 1998 - #45
I saw a nightclub act last night, in which the performer imitated Judy Garland for the entire show. It was supposed to be like the pianist was in a lounge and Judy stops by and ends up singing twenty-four songs. First of all, Judy Garland is no longer with us, so at first it's a little unnerving to see her in the nightclub. Then they let us know it's supposed to be 1961, before her Carnegie Hall concert has taken place. There is only one problem with this: Several of the songs she sings were written in the mid-60s, so either Judy was very prescient or someone screwed up the chronology. The lady who was playing Judy was uncanny at times. She did a lot of stuff with the audience, and wouldn't you know I was sitting so damn close she sang one of the songs to me! Now, I don't know about you, dear readers, but I find this totally annoying. I just want to sit there like so much fish and enjoy or not enjoy the show. I don't want people singing in my face or asking me to sing along. That is just heinous (heinous, do you hear me?). I was a good sport, though. If she hadn't been playing Judy Garland I might've pushed her over, but I liked Judy so I was nice. Perhaps I'll tell Miss Meryle Secrest some of my Judy Garland stories for her book on me.
Buffalo Bob Smith has passed away. He brought so much joy to so many people, he and Mr. Howdy Doody did. He was a wonderful sweet man and we hope he'll be in comfort wherever he is.
Jerome Robbins has died, too. I just mention these things in passing ("passing" being the operative word) because these things should be noted. Robbins lived a long full life and his art will live on for generations to come.
So much for Every Day A Little Death. I know that in fifty years or so when it is my turn to pass on, I don't want anyone to be too sad. I want everyone to be irreverent and just speak of fun things. I have always felt that in death there should be a celebration of the life that was lived. I remember at my father's funeral everyone was doing the heaving and the crying and the mourning as only Jewish people know how, and I thought, my father would have hated this. And I told everyone that. I said let's have music (he loved music), let's have laughs (he loved to laugh), because that's what he'd want. And so, that's what we did. I stopped all that heavy heaving and sighing and crying and we celebrated his life. Much easier and nicer that way. And I can't help but think that, wherever he was, he was smiling.
What are we talking about death for? This whole column is getting a little morbid for my taste. Have you ever tasted morbid? It's really bitter. It tastes like burnt celery. What am I talking about? Is this what happens in the dog days of summer? You become a raving lunatic, talking about morbid taste, death, doggie "gifts", and flies circling said "gift". Isn't this column supposed to be about Stephen Sondheim and the musical theater, for God's sake? It's not supposed to be about doggie cow patties. Can a doggie make a cow patty or is the cow patty indigenous to the cow and if not, can a cow make a doggie patty? I am scraping the bottom of the barrel here, and if you've ever scraped the bottom of a barrel you know how pointless and stupid that is. I was having more fun talking about death, frankly. In fact, this column is starting to feel like the revival of Cabaret: It's practically dead, but if we all clap our hands real loud it might come back to life, just like Tinkerbell. But enough about me.
Before I get to the point (you know I simply can't get to the point too quickly, dear readers - that would be so unlike me) I just want to mention the wonderful discovery I've made. Apparently, everyone but me knows about this wonderful discovery, which means I'm probably the last to discover the discovery. It is some weird chocolate stuff that you pour on ice cream and which hardens as soon as it hits said ice cream and becomes a chocolate shell, hence the name of the product, Magic Shell Topping. This reminds me of Foster Freeze, where I'd get a soft vanilla cone dipped in chocolate. And now you can do this in your own home. The squeezable (squeezable but not huggable - if you hug it it squirts up into your nose) plastic container is very handy-dandy. It says clearly DO NOT REFRIGERATE, so of course I immediately put it in the refrigerator, my eye having passed over that pertinent bit of information. So, sadly that first squeezable (but not huggable) container of Magic Shell Topping was totally useless as it had hardened before I could squeeze or hug it. Don't you hate that? However, I ran back to the market (in my car, my favorite way to "run" back to the market) and bought another handy-dandy container of Magic Shell Topping. I poured it on top of some vanilla ice cream and lo and behold it hardened in front of my very eyes into a chocolate shell. I ate it all up and it was quite good. I then put the container in the pantry where it remains soft and runny until the day it becomes hard and edible. Wasn't that interesting? What am I supposed to be talking about? Oh, yeah, "Art Isn't Easy".
As you all know, I am currently addicted to two things: Diet Coke and eBay, the online auction site. I have thus far bid on and won over eighty items. This is a sick thing, but I cannot stop. I need to enter a twelve step program for eBayholics. Recently I have been bidding on wonderful things that I absolutely cannot live without, like a 1969 Bob's Big Boy Menu (Big Boy Burger - $.55 - I took the menu to a Bob's Big Boy and tried to order from it, but they were not amused), a Monopoly watch, a Jack Benny chalkware statue, well, you get the idea. But I have recently discovered the Fine Art categories, and this has been both a blessing and a curse. Because I love art. I adore art. I have several wonderful art pieces hanging in my home and I have gotten more enjoyment out of them than you can possibly imagine. And two of them are originals by well known theater people. Anyway, at times there are just amazing things up for auction at eBay, art-wise. I have recently won an original oil painting by the great J.C. Leyendecker which is now my pride and joy. The minute I saw it I knew I had to have it, and the fact that I ultimately got it for a fraction of its real value was icing on the cake. Or Magic Shell Topping on the ice cream which sits on top of the icing on the cake. Leyendecker is considered the "father" of modern magazine illustration. He was Norman Rockwell's idol, and did over three hundred wonderful Saturday Evening Post covers. Also, lots of classic advertisements from the turn of the century through the 40s. An amazing artist, and the painting I won of a beautiful blonde lady in a silk dress playing a guitar-like instrument is stunning. The colors and the lighting, well, it's simply breathtaking. It looks like it may have been used for an ad of some sort. Perhaps Mr. Mark Bakalor and I can figure out a way to scan it and put it up next week in this here column. Then you can see it for yourself. I also "won" an early Charles Bragg oil, which is very different from the wild caricatures he is known for. Anyway, the whole point of this (yes, I'm finally getting to the point) is that I love art. And artists. I have been blessed with the ability to do several things very well, but drawing is not one of them. I have no talent whatsoever. I cannot draw anything. I am inept and so it makes me appreciate people who can do it all the more. The ability to actually draw or paint things is an amazing thing to me. The magic that comes out of people's hands is both touching and mystical. It's a solitary art, unlike the art of filmmaking or the musical theater, which are collaborative arts. There is just artist and paper or canvas or board or whatever. As a teenager, I was quite taken with Dali and Magritte and always was in love with Rockwell and Edward Hopper. As in music, I appreciate the old masters, but my taste runs to the mid 20th century. Other favorites are Raphael Soyer (I now own three original Soyer sketches), Reginald Marsh (very American, and his paintings of the vaudeville era are marvelous garish evocations of theaters and performers), and a relatively new artist named Claude Lazar. These people are all searchable on the Internet and you should look some of them up. You can get lost for hours in the worlds these artists create. Of course my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, wrote a whole musical about art, Sunday In The Park With George. The Grand Jatte painting is one of the most beautiful mysterious wonderful paintings ever done. And in said musical, Mr. Sondheim in two lines captures what to me is the very essence and nature of art:
Look I made a hat,
Miss Meryle Secrest has been plumbing, oh yes, she's been plumbing, she's been flushing up my memories from deep within the cranial cavities in which they reside. I'll bet you didn't know we could have cranial cavities. Getting them filled is not too pleasant, so you should lay off the brain candy. I am proud to say that I haven't had a tooth cavity in over twenty-five years. Anyway, Miss Meryle Secrest is doing her plumbing thing and bringing back fond memories from my distant past. Having read this here column thus far, she has badgered me into telling her the stories behind several things I've already mentioned. Badgered me, do you hear? It's not enough that she's a plumber and a dredger upper, now she's a badgerer, too.
The death of Buffalo Bob Smith, he of Howdy Doody, has brought up a wealth of memories of my favorite kid show hosts. This won't mean much to you if you're not from Los Angeles, but every city had their own kid show hosts and I'm sure you'll know whereof I speak. In Los Angeles, we had several kid show hosts, but three in particular were my favorites. Remember, these people had shows five days a week and the shows were live. No tape. First, there was Chucko The Clown, who was on each and every morning. I liked Chucko, but I've never been that fond of clown makeup, so Chucko was never my favorite favorite. He was very funny, though, and I loved when the camera would close in on his spinning clown hat, which, when he would spin it, meant that we were going to see a wonderful cartoon, like Tom Terrific. Better for me was Engineer Bill, who I adored. He, too, was very personable and likable, and his show, Cartoon Express, was one of my favorites. The theme, as you might have guessed, was trains. He had a huge model train on the set, and as the train would barrel down the tracks we'd get a cartoon. He also had kids on every day, and he would play a game called Red Light, Green Light, which was a fun game to get you to drink your milk. I played it with anything but milk. You'd stand, glass in hand, and he'd say "red light" and you didn't drink, or he'd say "green light" and you'd drink. But you never knew what he was going to say when, so you frequently would drink on the "red light" and not drink on the "green light". Engineer Bill would look at the camera, and say "c'mon I see you, you drank on the red light" and you'd believe he did see you. But my absolute favorite was Sheriff John. I loved Sheriff John. His show, Sheriff John's Lunch Brigade, was on every day at noon and I never missed it, until I started to go to school, and even then, I'd go home at lunch time and watch if it was at all possible. I don't know what it was about the Sheriff. I mean, he wasn't funny, he was just an ordinary nice guy, and somehow you trusted him and listened to his advice. During the show there would always be a fifteen minute segment called Suzy and Her Sketchbook, and I do believe that is where I first learned to love art (and also from Tom Hatten, the local host of the Popeye show, who used to draw - he was also a musical comedy actor and would later play FDR in the national tour of Annie). Sheriff John had two great songs on his show every day, his main theme "Laugh And Be Happy" and the famous birthday song "Put Another Candle On Your Birthday Cake". Those three hosts helped shape this A's childhood, as I'm sure other hosts in other cities helped shape other kids' childhoods. We don't really have anything like that today, and it's a shame really.
The other thing that plumber Miss Meryle Secrest badgered me about was my alluding to Judy Garland stories. And yes, sure enough, said stories came welling up. Have you ever had stories well up inside of you? They just well up, and then come pouring out of you like so much fish. Wet fish. I, as a child, had several Close Encounters Of The Fourth Kind, the kind where you meet celebrities. Did I ever meet the legendary Judy Garland? Are you waiting with bated breath, dear readers? Yes, I did meet the legendary Judy Garland, and on several occasions. One fine summer, during the dog days, I became friendly with a twelve year old precocious girl named Lorna Luft. That whole summer, several friends and I hung out with LL, and on a few occasions went to her house. I remember having an extended funny conversation with her through the box where the milkman would leave the milk. Why and what it was about are lost to the teenages. And several times Lorna's mom, yes, Judy herself, would be there all charming and delightful, sitting in the living room with all the hideous red-flocked wallpaper. A decorator she wasn't. But even before that summer I'd run into Judy Garland. I remember being in a play in school (yes, you heard it here, dear readers, I was in a play in school), and afterwards my parents took me out for some ice cream to Wil Wright's in Beverly Hills. I insisted on going in full makeup so that no one could possibly miss the fact that I'd been in a play. As we walked down the street toward the restaurant, who should be walking right toward us but Judy Garland. She looked at me in the makeup and smiled and asked if I'd been in a play, to which I shyly replied yes, and then she said that she bet I'd been really good in it. She wished me luck and went on her way. I thought and still think that was one of the sweetest gestures. Classy and lovely.
There were other celebrities who were very nice to me too. I went to an acting class once and in the class was the little girl who played Amaryllis in the film of The Music Man. We became fast friends, and I've never forgotten her, even though I haven't seen her since. I often wonder whatever happened to Monique Vermont.
I was once trying to find a house on Palm Dr. where I'd been invited to a party. I was with a friend and hopelessly lost. I saw a man come out of a house across the street, so I went over to him to ask directions. He turned around and suddenly I was face to face with Phil Silvers! Yes, Phil Silvers, Sgt. Bilko, Marcus Lycus, Psuedolus, yes that Phil Silvers. I was so flustered I showed him the paper I was holding with the address on it. He took it from me, and then I blurted out "I know who you are" and he did a Bilko take and put his hands on my cheeks and said "hyah, attention"...and gave me directions. What a nice man. Can you imagine this sort of thing happening today? And I once got a ride from someone, and as we drove he told me he was an actor. I didn't recognize him at the time and I asked his name so I could watch for him. When he told it to me I was positive he was putting me on, and I got out of the car and forgot about it. A couple of months later I was watching television and there he was. I waited for the credits and there was the name that I thought had been a put on: Rip Torn.
Oh, these trips down memory lane. I hope you're enjoying them as much as Miss Meryle Secrest seems to be. I hope they're illuminating, and I hope that by the end of the book (which apparently is going to run over a thousand pages) you have a better understanding of who The Real A Really Is. Next week Miss Meryle Secrest discovers the truth about my personally produced and taped radio shows, yes, the infamous The Real A Lost Tapes. Stay tuned.
The reader response to last week's inclusion of the Gluckman and Fitz song Bring In The Clowns was tremendous. I've had many requests to print more of their very underrated songs. They had the misfortune of having a career filled with bad timing. Other songwriters (one in particular) always seemed to beat them to the punch and always with a slightly more popularized lyric than the frequently ethnic and quaint lyrics of Herman Fitz. It's a shame you can't hear the sublime yet simple (usually no more than three chords per song) music of Morty (Adolph) Gluckman. Sadly, they both died in relative obscurity, but instead of being sad, let's celebrate their lives. Over the next few weeks I'll print some of their songs, which I hope you'll all find as wonderful as I do. I had an e-mail from the daughter of Herman Fitz and I share it with you now.
Dear Real A:
I was so touched to see that you remembered my father Herman, and his partner Morty (Adolph) Gluckman. I didn't think anyone knew who they were anymore. Bring In The Clowns was always one of their favorites. Of course they made no bones about their absolute favorite being Finishing The Borscht. That song had everything. I hope you'll print the lyrics to it so that your readers can revel in my father's word-play. I wish you could have watched them work, it was simply amazing. As a child, many times I would awaken in the morning, and hear the sound of the piano being played in that distinctive Gluckman style, while my father would shout words across the room. My father would come up with a phrase like "Another Hundred Skiksas just got out of the cab" and Morty (Adolph) Gluckman would immediately find the three chords that worked perfectly for the phrase. It was a symbiotic relationship. They finished each others' sentences. Literally. For example, Morty would say "I think for lunch I'd like..." and my father would say "a tuna melt". And that's the way it went. Ironically, they both passed away on the same day, which was poetic in a way. My father had just called Morty with his latest lyric "Losing My Mink" and Gussie Gluckman informed dad that Morty had just passed away while playing a C diminished chord, which was somehow appropriate. As soon as my father heard this, he died. Anyway, thanks for celebrating their art. As far as I'm concerned they were Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Michael Jackson all rolled into one great team.
Too many Marvins,
Finishing the borscht,
Not as many as usual, but that is probably because we are in the dog days of summer, which will soon become the giraffe days of autumn and all our errant dog days of summer readers will be back and writing wonderful letters. Speaking of letters, what is that "n" doing at the end of "autumn". It's just sitting there like so much fish, isn't it? Just like in the word "column" as in this here column. I feel that a sick individual put those useless letters there. The kind that likes to "pull the hooks out of fish", if you know what I mean and I know you do which is why I said it. Well, let's get to your letters, which always have a point and are never useless.
Emily, like Tiffany, sent me a photo. But unlike Tiffany's photo of her cat Nellie, Emily's was a picture of her very own self. While Tiffany's picture of Nellie was named "The Crab", Emily has named her picture "The Grab". Here it is.
mrsmig has lost her Tamagotchi and wants to know if I've ever had a Tamagotchi. I had never heard of a Tamagotchi until a few days ago when someone mentioned it in my presence. I always thought Tamagotchi was the deputy coroner of Los Angeles for many years. But apparently a Tamagotchi is a computerized virtual pet (not like Nellie or the bird) that one must care for "electronically" by feeding it little electronic hamburgers (these are delicious, in an electronic sort of way), playing little number guessing games with it, cleaning up its little electronic messes (I wish the dog that left me my little "gift" would've left an electronic one), giving it electronic medicine when it is ill, and even disciplining it when it is bad. mrsmig's Tamagotchi is named Louise. And Louise has gone missing. Lost. Somewhere in the theater where mrsmig works. If not found soon, Louise will probably "die" in a mass of her own mess. Yes, Tamagotchi's "die" but let's remember one thing... The Tamagotchi would not want mrsmig to be sad, but to celebrate the life of said Tamagotchi. However, there's still hope that mrsmig will find Louise. Perhaps if mrsmig shouts, "Sing out, Louise!" loudly, the Tamagotchi will respond and this story can have a happy ending.
Robert feels that my earwax dream stems from the fear that Miss Meryle Secrest is going to draw something out of me that will leave a permanent scar, and perhaps at the last second I won't give her the information, hence my ear turning "chicken" (breast, skinless). This is an excellent interpretation of my rather disgusting dream.
kokol tells me that her paternal grandparents are coming to visit and that she is not excited about it as they are apparently insane. But they will be bringing live lobsters to boil and eat. I do hope that kokol will say "what is it, fish" prior to eating said lobsters. If the grandparents are truly insane, they will understand this instantly. When kokol was a kid, her grandpa would toss a lobster into the boiling water and would tell the impressionable young kokol to listen to the lobster screaming. Then grandpa would secretly make "screaming" noises out of the side of his mouth. And, of course, kokol believed it was the lobsters screaming, even though her parents told her otherwise. That was a heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) thing for grandpa to do to young kokol. I feel that a suitable revenge would be to give grandpa a Tamagotchi.
Mordecai wrote a couple of funny parodies about my dreaded earwax dream. Here's a sample:
Alina had another one of her celebrity sightings on the streets of New York. This time she saw Terrence Mann having coffee at an outdoor cafe. She wanted to approach him, but didn't. And just what was Terrence Mann doing having coffee at an outdoor cafe, that's what I'd like to know? Does he think he was Getting Away With Murder doing this?
Josh also likes the work of my favorite noir novelist, Cornell Woolrich and thinks that I Married A Dead Man would make a good Sondheim musical. Josh wonders why the Woolrich books aren't in print. It's because the attorney who administers the estate is holding out for a hefty sum of money. This is a shame. But the books were all reprinted in paperback during the mid-80s and you can sometimes find them in used paperback mystery sections for not too much money. Sadly, until Universal makes some kind of deal with this same attorney, Rear Window, the great Hitchcock film taken from a Woolrich short story, sits in limbo. If you've ever sat in limbo you know just how annoying that can be. And if you've ever done the limbo, you know just how annoying that can be.
We had lots of good answers to last week's question, everyone's favorite Sondheim comedy song. The clear winner, as I expected it to be, was A Little Priest, one of the greatest comedy songs ever written. I was surprised that no one named Bring Me My Bride, which I find hilarious. Here are your answers:
mrsmig, Robert, Guillaume, kokol: A Little Priest
This week's question: Sondheim is well known for his use of "subtext" in his lyrics. Which song do you feel has the most subtext. My vote would go to In Buddy's Eyes. I look forward, as always, to your answers, dear readers.
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...
- Mark Bakalor
Which is not to say that it is perfect...
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