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August 10, 1998 - #46
Have any of you noticed that it is hot ? It's so hot that the bird is outside, lying on its back with its bird feet in the air, singing Mr. Irving Berlin's immortal Heat Wave. I, on the other hand, am now inside my home, sitting on the couch like so much fish, in air conditioned bliss. I have been reading a book with the luridly wonderful title of I Wake Up Screaming. It's a noir, very hard boiled (like an egg), not brilliant, but still fun. The book was written in the early 40s by Steve Fisher, and it was turned into a memorably lurid film entitled I Wake Up Screaming, in case you didn't know. It starred the lurid Betty Grable and Victor Mature. Interestingly, the copy that I'm reading is a lurid paperback reprint from 1960, in which all the 40s Hollywood references have been updated to the 60s. I think that is a pretty unique thing, to have a novel updated like that. I mean, what if Dickens were still alive? Would he update Oliver Twist? Would Oliver now say "I want more, butt nose, and if I don't get it I will blow your head off"? I don't know that I'm in favor of this updating. Especially when the rest of the book is written in a totally lurid 40s style. To suddenly throw in Tuesday Weld, instead of Hedy Lamarr, seems downright peculiar, especially when you're talking about a guy with a gat. And speaking of peculiar, have you been reading this column? This whole thing feels like a rush job, because I am racing against the clock and the clock is clearly winning. Blame it on the heat. Or the bossa nova. And speaking of the bossa nova, I just got back from seeing Nancy Sinatra. That's right, you heard it here, dear readers. But unlike seeing Judy Garland last week, this was the real deal. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Nancy Sinatra. Is it dangerous to have a soft spot in your heart? Is that like having a soft spot in your head when you're a baby? Where was I? Oh, yes, These Boots Were Made For Walking. I like Nancy Sinatra, but what has she done to her lips? Her lips are now the size of Pomona. Why do people do this? Nancy had cute little lips when her boots were walking, but now she has huge lips. Large lips. Her lips are so big that you could bump into them and be across the street at the time, that's how big her lips are. What am I, Henny Youngman all of a sudden? These collagen-injected lips are heinous (heinous, do you hear me?). Why can't we, as people just grow old gracefully. I don't mean let ourselves go to pot, or any other kitchen pan or utensil, but just let our faces and bodies age as they will. This desire to "fix" ourselves has resulted in people not even resembling what they used to look like. I'm not going to mention any names, but have you seen Robert Blake since he got a face lift? He's like a walking horror movie. Stephen Sondheim hasn't had a face lift. The Real A hasn't had a face lift. No nips and tucks here (or there). All original parts. I don't know what the hell I'm talking about anymore, but I'm sure I'll figure it out and hopefully before I finish the column.
I had an egg today. The only reason I bring said egg up is because as I was cracking the egg and depositing its contents in the frying pan I thought, what a stupid looking thing is an egg. Who would eat such a gelatinous bunch of goo? It resembles the results of a really bad sneeze with some yellow in the middle. Then the gelatinous stuff turns white (this is known as Egg Magic) but the yellow stays yellow. Some people prefer their yellow runny, and some people prefer their yellow hard (this is known as Yellow Preference). We used to have a boy on our block, Paul Needle, who used to suck the contents out of the egg shell raw. None of us kids went anywhere near Paul Needle for this very reason. We drew the line at raw egg suckers, and frankly I still draw the line at raw egg suckers. Are you beginning to get the feeling that this column has gone awry (or awholewheat)? That this column is quickly approaching incomprehension? Are you getting the feeling that someone started this column late? That someone we both know is racing against the clock? This column is starting to feel like Merrily We Roll Along: Maybe it would be better backwards. But enough about me.
Do you realize that the only difference between a "life" and a "lie" is an "f"? One little "f" can make all the difference, word-wise. I just thought I'd share that with you.
Oh, that Miss Meryle Secrest is poking and prodding at the corners of my mind and producing misty watercolor memories of the way I was. She pummels, she pulls, she extracts like a fine dentist and unearths such things I'd thought were long forgotten. For example, until she poked, prodded, pummeled and pulled, I hadn't thought of Aunt Minnie and Uncle Rube in ages. Ages, I say, and don't forget that "ages" anagramed is "sage" and therein lies my point, which, as usual, is nil. A nil point is a point that is null and void. Null and Void sounds like a CPA firm. Where was I? Oh, yes, Aunt Minnie and Uncle Rube.
Aunt Minnie and Uncle Rube would come for a visit once a year, from the far off and exotic land known as Brooklyn, New York. They stayed in our house, although to this day I would not be able to tell you where they slept. We had no extra bedrooms in our house. Perhaps they slept on the stove. Anyway, it was always a cause for great joy when they would come. Aunt Minnie was a gregarious lady, warm and funny, a grammar school teacher. She'd written a children's book, so she always had great stories to tell us. Uncle Rube sold drugs (before that phrase connoted something wholly other), that is to say he sold pharmaceuticals to pharmacies. He was also a diabetic. Every morning of their visit I'd awaken at seven so I could watch him take his insulin shot. Then we'd walk down to Leo's Delicatessen and have a soft drink. In those days there were no lazy loafers and businesses would be open by eight. This is what got me hooked on having sodas in the morning. He also got me hooked on saving bottle caps. That was a hobby!
Aunt Minnie, while a very wonderful person, had some peculiar habits, chief among them that she liked to keep her money in the freezer. I don't know why. No one ever asked her. But at night she'd put her money in the freezer and in the morning she'd take it out. Maybe she believed in the expression, "cold, hard cash". In any case, I adored them both, but especially Uncle Rube, because he could not stomach Paul Needle who would stand on the sidewalk sucking his raw eggs. But we neighborhood kids had to suck up to Paul Needle because The Needles had the only swimming pool on the block. Isn't that always the way? The most obnoxious family always has the pool. Anyway, everyone has an Aunt Minnie and an Uncle Rube, the totally "cool" relatives. Everyone also has an Uncle Charlie, the mean, mean Uncle who never has a nice word to say and is always grouchy and gruff. I had an Uncle Charlie and I truly truly disliked him. To me, he was the "c" word (for Charlie, of course), he was a tough "c" word (customer) who, I discovered much later, consorted with gangsters.
The other thing that Miss Meryle Secrest yanked from the innermost crevices of my cranium was about my infamous radio shows. When I was twelve years of age, my father bought me a Webcor reel-to-reel tape recorder. For me this was the equivalent of someone getting a computer and going online for the first time. I would not leave this tape recorder alone. I spent all my time taping things, making aural diaries (or diaretics, as my mother used to say), recording favorite records (by holding the microphone to the record player speaker - this was high fidelity!) and whatever else I could think of doing. One day, I went to a book store and there I found the scripts to two radio plays, The Hitchhiker and Sorry, Wrong Number, both written by Lucille Fletcher (who, when she wrote them, was married to Sondheim favorite Bernard Herrmann). I bought them immediately, because I knew I had finally found the key use for my Webcor tape recorder. I enlisted my best friend and together we decided to make the ultimate taped drama. We had sound effects, music, and we played all the parts, male and female, and of course it all had to be done live . It was like doing radio, and if memory serves, we did a superb job. Everyone who heard said tape was very impressed. There was, at that time, a small local radio station that played jazz music (which I'd become fond of) and being the bold brash person I was, I'd called the disc jockey I liked (the late night guy) and struck up a phone friendship with this fellow, who was very tolerant of my young age and a terrific guide in the world of jazz music. I told him about the world's greatest tape and he told me to bring it down to the station and that he'd play it on the air. I guess you could get away with such things then, because that is precisely what happened. Apparently so few people listened to this particular station that I think the entire audience for my brilliant tape was me, my friend and the disc jockey. Still it was a big thrill for a kid, as you can well imagine. I was really feeling heady from the experience, so when a local movie theater announced a talent show contest, my friend and I decided to enter. I had a good feeling about it, because Uncle Rube and Aunt Minnie had just come into town and Uncle Rube agreed to come to the talent contest to root for us. We did some sort of tremendously unfunny comedy skit, but to show you how bad the other people were (I remember one kid who strummed a ukulele without playing chords, he just hit the strings, while singing "Davy Crockett" in a key that hadn't been invented yet, while wearing a coonskin cap that actually looked alive), we won the contest with our horrid act. The highlight of our skit was a pie fight, and because I didn't know that pie fights were done with just tins of shaving cream, I went out and bought nine lemon meringue pies from Dick Webster's, Home of the Lemon Meringue Pie, which cost a small fortune, and that's what we used. Our prize was a year's free pass to the theater.
Are you all getting a very clear picture of the things that shaped my life and made me what I am today? And what am I today? Late, that's what I am. I better finish this column or Mr. Mark Bakalor will yell on me and call me a lazy loafing loafer. I wonder if Paul Needle still sucks raw eggs. If anyone knows this, please fill me in.
With all this reminiscing going on, I suddenly remembered the niftiest thing. When I was a kid, I used to love any kind of "gimmick" used in movies. I loved Cinemascope, I loved VistaVision, I loved 3-D, I loved the William Castle gimmicks Percepto, Emergo and the sublime Ghost Viewer, Camera 65, Cinemascope 55, Todd AO, Cinerama, well, you get the idea. Any movie with a gimmick, I was there.
Which leads me to my favorite gimmick of them all, which, for all intents and purposes lasted for only one film. The film, Scent of Mystery, was produced by Michael Todd, Jr. in Todd AO, color, and six track stereophonic sound. Those things were enough to get me into the theater. But those things were not what made Scent of Mystery unique. No, it was the brand new process which had never been used before. And this process was Smell-O-Vision. That's right, you heard it here, dear readers, Smell-O-Vision. Wherein the film you watched (in this case, Scent of Mystery) had odors which wafted through the movie theater during key scenes. Oh, I was excited when I heard about this. Oh, I was simply aquiver with anticipation. I mean, I'd seen stinky smelly movies before (and since) but none that really smelled! I made my father get reserved seat tickets and marked the date on my handy dandy wall calendar which just so happened to be hanging on my handy dandy wall.
Now, as things are wont to go in Hollywood, a rival producer took a look at the impending arrival of Smell-O-Vision and, as are rival producer's wonts, decided to cash in on what was sure to be "the next big thing". So, this producer bought a cheap documentary called Behind The Great Wall (about China), added a prologue in which Chet Huntley (if I recall correctly) explained the miracle of actually being able to smell this documentary and beat Scent of Mystery to the theater by three weeks. Of course I was there. How could I not be there to see Behind The Great Wall in Aromarama?
The difference between Aromarama and Smell-O-Vision were night and day. Smell-O-Vision had been developed by scientists and was carefully thought out. Each seat in the theater had a "thing" under it, from which would be released a "smell" from a giant "thing" in the projection booth, which would become active when a sensor on the film itself would trigger it. Then as soon as the smell was done, an elaborate air conditioning unit would suck it up so that it wasn't still in the air by the time the next smell came. Are you with me? Aromarama, on the other hand, was a slapped together process in which the smells were blown through the theater via the air conditioning system. Unfortunately, that meant that the smells couldn't be gotten rid of, and they just hung in the air until the next smell, and this combination of smells became truly nauseating quickly. That said, it was very magical when, in the added prologue, Chet Huntley cut into an orange and we, the audience, smelled the orange. But Aromarama came and went in three weeks. People knew a cheap rip-off stinker when they smelled one.
Finally, the glorious Smell-O-Vision day arrived and off we went to the Ritz Theater to see and smell it. The lights dimmed, and after a brief overture (in glorious six track stereo sound, in which car horns were honking from all over the theater), the curtains parted and revealed the huge Todd AO screen. An aerial camera flies over Spain revealing its glorious vistas. There is a butterfly flying in the shot, and the camera follows this butterfly as it flies over mountains and valleys, finally swooping with it as it sees a beautiful huge flower garden filled with roses. As the camera follows the butterfly into the garden of roses, suddenly the theater was filled with the glorious Smell-O-Vision aroma of fresh roses. It was amazing. This was simply going to be the best film I'd ever seen. During the film, we were treated to over fifty different aromas, and if you had a smart schnoz you could actually solve the titular mystery of the film by using it. Alas, the public showed no interest whatsoever in Smell-O-Vision and since it was so costly, the process disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. The film was retitled Holiday In Spain several years later, and shown as a one-panel 70mm Cinerama film travelogue. In the mid-Eighties, it finally made its TV debut, in association with 7-11 stores, where you could get a scratch and sniff card to watch the film with. They took this magnificent two hour 70mm film, shot the middle portion of it as it was being projected with a video camera (I kid you not!) and that is what aired, a fifty-five minute version of the film. A travesty of the highest order, although it didn't stop me from watching it or using my scratch and sniff card.
One other movie with smells was made, by the cult director John Waters. This was Polyester, in Odorama, and also used scratch and sniff cards. If you are at all familiar with Mr. Waters work, you know that you did not want to smell any of the smells on that card.
Smell-O-Vision is but a distant memory lingering in my olfactory glands. But I remember it with some fondness and still have my official Scent of Mystery souvenir program book at which I can gaze at scenes with the wonderful cast, which included Denholm Elliot, Peter Lorre, Diana Dors and, in a cameo appearance (wearing that oh-so-smellable Scent of Mystery perfume) Elizabeth Taylor. Right now I am sitting on my couch like so much fish with the aroma of eggs wafting in from the other room. Why, it's almost as good as Smell-O-Vision right here in my very own house.
Not much stuff this week. Cabaret is still on hiatus with no official word of its reopening. Oops, I just received an e-mail, let's see who it's from, shall we?
Dear The Real A:
Pardon me? My lips are huge? I'm sorry, but as we get older our lips get larger, didn't you know that? Have you seen Frank Jr.'s lips lately? They're bigger than a hoagie, for God's sake. Go pick on him. Actually, it's probably not a good idea to pick on anyone with the name Sinatra. Let me just throw out the phrase, "horse's head" for whatever it's worth. I'm having quite a resurgence right now, doing lots of appearances, too. Anyway, I hope you were just kidding about my lips. If not, just remember the most famous line from my most famous song: One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.
The reaction to bringing back the songs of the great team of Morty (Adolph) Gluckman and Herman Fitz has been tremendous. Liza Minnelli has expressed interest in singing one of their songs in her next concert appearance, and Mandy Patinkin may do a whole evening based on their work. As I continue to delve (much like Miss Meryle Secrest) into their trunk I am just amazed at the depth and breadth of their songwriting talent. Such a shame that they never quite got their due, owing to bad timing and never quite being in the right place at the right time. In this week's column we present two more of Gluckman and Fitz' finest works. The first is entitled Lou, I Hear.
Lou, I hear,
It started out with some soup,
Oh, I am disappointed, dear readers. No one sent me photos of their activities to post. I'm afraid you all were lazy loafers this week, but all will be forgiven if you send them to me for next week.
Oh, goodness, I am really up against the clock now and I'm sure this does not please the clock which is always accusing me of being in its face. Onto the letters.
Tiffany tells me that my ruminations on death last week reminded her that she once worked in a coroner's office and saw lots of autopsies. I would have no stomach at all for an autopsy, which would confound the person who was doing the autopsy and who would probably say, "what happened to this person's stomach?". It is very hot where Tiffany lives, 106 degrees in the shade. Four more degrees and they'll have a musical comedy. It's so hot that Tiffany has taken to sleeping in the buff. She inadvertently showed her buffness to a young man who happened to be passing by just as she opened her window. If Tiffany has a picture of this event, we will be happy to print it right here in this here column. Tiffany also tells me that she's about to see her first live Sondheim show, Into The Woods.
Emily assures me that the aliens have returned her head and lower body and that like Sweeney Todd's arm she is complete again. Emily's parents are out of town this week and Emily is alone in the house. As a security measure, she is armed with frozen dinners which she plans to use on any uncouth interlopers who may invade her home. And if you've ever had a frozen Stouffer's Macaroni and Cheese hurled at you, you know how painful and dangerous that can be. The last uncouth interloper who was felled by frozen Macaroni and Cheese was in a coma for a year and a half. And that person was our very own Mr. Mark Bakalor!
Roy S. from Merry Olde England will be seeing my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim's very rare show, The Frogs, at the Barbicon Centre. Perhaps Roy S. will let us know what he thought of said show.
Karen has written a play about Judy Garland and wants to get in touch with the Judy Garland impersonator I saw last week. I shall pass the information along to said impersonator.
Hannah is wondering if there will ever be a Side By Side with Mandy Patinkin here at the SSS. I believe that is a question for the Macaroni and Cheese impaired Mr. Mark Bakalor. Perhaps he will answer said question within the parens that follow. (Perhaps. - Mr. Mark Bakalor)
Robert was driving and saw a big truck with the word "Fish" written on its side. He pulled up alongside the driver, honked, rolled down his window and yelled, "what is it, fish?". Apparently the driver was not as amused as Robert, and he looked at Robert as if he were a fetid wart.
Josh wants to know who my other favorite noir authors are, in addition to Cornell Woolrich, and if I like Jim Thompson (he of The Grifters and The Getaway). Yes, I do like Thompson, but my other favorites are pretty standard, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, David Goodis (very fond of him) and the very underrated Lionel White.
Otto (Otto spelled backwards and forwards and up and down) feels my writing reminds him of the author Harlan Ellison, but without the venom. I take this as high praise, as I'm a fan of Mr. Ellison. I met him quite a long time ago when he had a bit less venom than he does now. I recommend his book of movie reviews entitled Watching, to those who are interested.
Stephen (not Sondheim) has returned from his New York jaunt, but sadly did not get to see Cabaret. Of the things he saw, he liked the play Art the best. Not only did he see Art, but he also thinks he saw Stephen (Sondheim) walking down 56th Street. Either it was Stephen or it was his evil twin Art. But then there are those of us who feel that Stephen is Art. And, as we all know, Art Isn't Easy. Stephen also wanted to know if I could print the lyrics to Gluckman and Fitz's lost song, A Tuna Melt. Sadly only one verse survives and I'm happy to be able to print it:
It's called A Tuna Melt,
Michael's living arrangements at school have been sorted out, and Michael sans his roommate has gotten the nice room he wanted, while the roommate sans Michael has gotten the dinky rundown room.
Jon B. thinks Too Many Marvins by Gluckman and Fitz sounds like it could be a cut song from Falsettos. It, in fact, is from Gluckman and Fitz' only musical show, which was entitled False Set 'O Teeth. It was a rollicking good show about a dentist, Morley Weintraub and his daily experiences with teeth. It only ran three performances, but got some good reviews, notably from Clive Barnes, who said "Good God! A musical about a dentist!" They used that quote extensively in the ads, but it didn't help.
Not too many answers to last week's trivia question, which Sondheim song has the most subtext. Here are your answers:
Tiffany: Every Day A Little Death
This week's question is: What Sondheim song has had the most recordings?
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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