Monday, December 31, 2018

Two Comic Legends, and a Clipboard

Last month, two giants in the comic-book industry died within a couple of days of each other. You probably heard about one of them, the other, probably not. The first, the one you didn't hear about, was John Rogers, the president of Comic-Con International. He passed away on November 10, 2018 of brain cancer. John was president of Comic-Con from 1986 until his death. As a Comic-Con department head and board member for the last quarter of a century, I was friends with John and knew him well. While Comic-Con and the comics industry was still reeling from the news on John's death, Stan Lee passed away two days later. Stan Lee was Marvel Comics writer, editor, publisher, and Hollywood celebrity, mostly from his cameo roles in numerous Marvel superhero movies.

When I first heard the news about Stan Lee, I was upset. Not because he died, I rarely take the death of a celebrity too hard, especially ones who live into their 90s. Stan Lee was 95. He was blessed with a long healthy life. John Rogers was only 57, a year older than me. I was upset that Stan Lee's death would steal the thunder of the death of my friend. Then I realized something. John was a very private person. I think he would have been fine with the news of Stan Lee's death eclipsing his own. That made me feel better about it as well.


When Stan Lee took a job as an assistant at the newly formed Timely Comics in 1939, comics books were a relatively new commodity. Comics had been around for decades in the form of newspaper strips, but the idea of new stories being written and drawn specifically for the inexpensive small-format magazines known as comic books was still relatively new. Comic books were mostly aimed to children and adolescents. By the 1960s when Stan Lee and others started to re-vitalize the superhero genre, little had changed in the public's perception of comics. It was a childish medium, created for children, and the teens and adults who read them were delinquents, mentally deficient, or both.

In comic book production, it takes much much longer to create the finished artwork, than it does to write the content in that artwork. As a result, the artwork is traditionally broken into different tasks. A penciller draws all of the art of the artwork that appears on the page in pencil. An inker reproduces each line of the penciled art in India ink, so it will print properly. The letterer hand draws all of the panel and caption borders, word and thought balloons, sound effects, and all of the text on the page. Finally, a colorist lays out the colors on page. In the 1960s, Stan Lee was credited as writer, while the rest of the artistic team was credited with their respective tasks. It implies that the artists were only responsible for drafting what Stan Lee told them. In reality, Stan Lee would write a synopsis of the story. The penciller would often take a huge responsibility for the way the story played out. Then once the pencilled art was complete, Stan Lee would write the dialog and caption text to be placed on the pencilled art.

As a result, there tend to be two schools of thought when comes to Stan Lee and Marvel Comics. Either, Stan Lee created the Marvel Universe single handed. Or Stan Lee was a hack, who took all the credit for great artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. The truth is somewhere in the middle. What Stan Lee did do was revamp the superhero. Earlier superheros were near gods, who lived in a black and white world of good and evil, who dispensed justice and punished wrong-doers. Stan Lee introduced human frailty to superheros. Without his influence, I don't think the Marvel Universe would have thrived the way it did. 

Other than newspaper strips and the odd MAD Magazine, I didn't read comics as a kid. When my wife and I first started dating, she mentioned that she was really into comics. On a lark, I picked up some Silver Surfer comics at a swap meet. They had been written by Stan Lee in the late-1960s. Being Southern California born and bred, I figured a superhero, who surfs, now that's cool. Then I made the mistake of reading them. Silver Surfer had nothing to do with surfing.

The Silver Surfer was originally a humanoid alien. When another alien, Galactus, a gigantic being who lived by devouring the life force of entire planets, came to the Silver Surfer's home planet, the Silver Surfer gave up is humanity to save his planet and the woman he loved. He became Galactus' herald, searching the universe on a flying surfboard for planets for Galactus to devour. When the Silver Surfer came to Earth, he realized that the Earth's human inhabitants were very similar to the people on his home world, and he rebelled against Galactus to save the Earth. As punishment, Galactus imprisoned the Silver Surfer on Earth.

Yeah, I know all of this sounds kind of stupid, but all of that is the back story. When I started reading Silver Silver, he was stuck on Earth, and all he wanted was to escape. He knew that humans were capable of nobility, but they were also capable of incredible cruelty to each other. The humans set up societies where all were supposed to be treated as equal, yet they didn't seem to be able to live up to the ideals they set for themselves. I was hooked. If the Silver Surfer had been just a guy on a flying surfboard, beating hell out of bad guys, I would have lost interest. But whole inhumanity of man thing, that got me, and I think that was Stan Lee. Yes, he did have help from writer/artists who were not properly credited for the work they did. But I think Stan Lee brought humanity to superhero comics, and that might not have happened had he not been there to foster it. That opened the door for many others to do really interesting work in the genre. Without Stan Lee, I don't think comics would have been the same.


In 1970, a small group of San Diego comic-book fans decided to hold a convention to celebrate comics as a legitimate art-form. Okay, that's probably overstating things. They mostly wanted to buy, sell, and trade, old comics and anything else they thought was cool and be able to meet and hang out with the people who created them. That convention would ultimately became Comic-Con International.

John Rogers started working for Comic-Con as a volunteer while a student at University of California, San Diego. He had a vision for Comic-Con, that it could be run like a business while still maintaining it original purpose of providing a venue for comic fans to geek over the things that they loved. By treating Comic-Con as a business, Comic-Con saw unprecedented growth, from 6,500 in 1986 to 34,000 in 1995 to 103,000 in 2005, to what it is today, about 140,000, the maximum number you can safely fit in a very very large building. What I think John realized about Comic-Con (possibly before anyone else), it wasn't about comic books or cartoons or science fiction; it was about people coming together over their shared love of these things. 

I remember John telling me on a couple of different occasions that if we didn't show up, Comic-Con would happen anyway. In a way he was being facetious, but in a way he was not. He understood that Comic-Con was not just an exhibit hall with comic books and swag from movie companies, not just film clips in a programming room, not just a game room, a film room, an anime room, a whatever room, it was the people who came together because of their love for those things. Comic-Con is a gathering of the tribes. As custodians of the organization, we need to just provide a place for that to happen and make sure that everybody has a fair chance to participate. Like Stan Lee, John had help, but without John, I know Comic-Con would not be the same.


Sometime, in the late-1990s/early 2000s, some changes happened in the film and television industry:

  • Hollywood took notice of comics. A lot of film and TV adaptations of comics and graphic novels started being produced. 
  • Hollywood took notice of Comic-Con. Stars, directors, and producers started coming Comic-Con in droves. 
  • Stan Lee as an elder statesman of the comics medium became a celebrity through his cameo roles in Marvel comic adaptations.

Are the three things related? I kind of think they are.Would Comic-Con have ever come into being had Stan Lee not breathed new life into them in the 1960s? Maybe, maybe not. Would Comic-Con have become a cultural phenomenon without John Rogers putting a structure into place that allowed the event to grow and thrive? Maybe, maybe not. On this one, I would venture to say, probably not. Then again, I am biased on this one. Would Hollywood have taken notice of comics had they not seen throngs of people descending on San Diego every year? Maybe, maybe not. Would Stan Lee have become a household name without the success of the Marvel superhero movies? This one, I think I can say, probably not to as well.


I didn't know Stan Lee, though I did meet him a couple of times. I do have two stories about him. What follows is the better of the two. It was at Comic-Con in the early-1990s, a good ten years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe made him a household name. At the time, he was a legend in the comics industry, but outside of microcosm of Comic-Con, not so much. I was working the program room he was appearing in. I honestly don't what the panel was about. I might have been covering the room for someone else. The room was crowded, about 80 to 100 people, definitely not overflowing. Back then, there was no Hall H. In fact, that part of the center hadn't been built yet. A hundred people for a comics panel was considered a good crowd at the time.

I had just shut down the panel and was trying to get the room clear, so the next panel could start on time. Twenty or thirty people came up to get autographs. Stan Lee obliged. He would have been in his seventies then. He sat on the edge of the stage signing very flimsy comic books on his knee. I had a clipboard and handed it to him. He signed it and gave it back. I told him, he could use it to sign on. He looked slightly sheepish, thanked me, and kept signing, faster now that he had a decent surface to write on. I quickly got the room ready for the next panel, throwing away empty water cups and name placards of the previous panelists. By this time, it was about a minute before the next panel was supposed to start. I asked if he could take it into the hall. He was gracious, finished signing the one or two he was already doing, and stepped out to sign for dozen or so people who were still waiting.

I got the next panel started only a minute or two late. When I stepped into the hall, he was just finishing. He shook my hand, thanked me, and gave me back the clipboard. I thanked him back and went on with my day. At the end of the con that year, I kept the clipboard.

About six months ago, we were cleaning out the garage at my mother-in-law's house, getting it ready as a rental, and I found the clipboard. I joked that I should wait until Stan Lee dies and put it up on ebay. Then Stan Lee did die and I actually did consider putting it up for auction but that seemed too mercenary. I mean, what is a decent interval to wait on a thing like this. The problem is I really don't have a place to display it. And to me, the story is better than the clipboard anyway. I figure if someone else wants it and will enjoy the object more that me, why not.

I told the story to a friend of mine, another Comic-Con person. She loved it. And asked if she could have the clipboard. She has done a gazillion favors for me and everyone around her over the years. She will give it a good home. And I don't have to feel like a mercenary piece of shit for selling it.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

µ-Blog – Great Christmas Movie, Meh, Great Action Movie, Yeah Buddy

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

Tonight, my wife, my daughter and I are going to see Die Hard at the La Paloma Theater. My wife and I haven't seen it in the theater since it first came out, roughly 30 years ago. Our daughter has never seen it. We missed the Fathom Events screenings last month. Me, I'm not going to see it because it's a great Christmas movie. I'm not going to see it because society has deemed it a Christmas classic. I'm going to see it because it's a really kick-ass action movie. But if calling Die Hard a Christmas classic means that I get to see a great action movie on the big screen at this time of year, I'm cool with that.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Die Hard, a Christmas Movie?

For years, I have maintained that the movie Die Hard was not a Christmas movie. Oh sure, it's set at Christmas, but it's an action movie that just happens to take place at Christmas. Don't get me wrong, I love Die Hard. It's a great action movie. But a Christmas movie, I don't know.

Sure there are a lot of Christmas things in it.

Bruce Willis with a ridiculously large stuffed bear for his daughter

Argyle, the limo driver, playing hip hop Christmas music,
okay, he's talking on the phone here but he does at some point.

Whole movie takes place at an office Christmas party

Now I have a machine gun, Ho Ho Ho.

Most of my favorite Christmas movies have the main character having a change of heart from being touched by the Spirit of Christmas. In A Christmas Carol, pick a version, Ebenezer Scrooge becomes a better person because of being visited by the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. In How the Grinch Stole Christmas,  the Grinch's heart grows three sizes that day. In Miracle on 34th Street, Natalie Wood learns that Santa Claus is real.

At the end of the Die Hard, Bruce Willis does indeed have a change of heart and becomes a better person. He learns that what is important is not being a cop in New York, but his family out in Los Angeles. But how does he learn this? Does he learn it from the Spirit of Christmas? No, he learns it from his experience fighting terrorists. My logic was without the Spirit of Christmas, it's not a Christmas movie. Doing the math on this, you get:


Mgenre is a Movie of any Genre

Sxmas is Set at Christmas

Xspirit is the Spirit of Christmas


Mxmas is a Christmas Movie

But then I started thinking, do all of my favorite Christmas movies work that way? Hmm, I don't know. What about It's a Wonderful Life? It's definitely one of my favorite Christmas movies. Does anybody argue whether It's a Wonderful Life is a Christmas movie? No, of course not, that's ridiculous.

In It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey is visited by a spirit of sorts, an angel named Clarence. Does Clarence come to teach George the meaning of Christmas? No. He teaches George that he had a wonderful life. Even though he never traveled the world or built bridges or any of the things he dreamed of as a kid, he built the community. And that community wouldn't be the same without him. So applying that definition, where does that leave It's a Wonderful Life?

If Die Hard is not a Christmas movie, but an action movies set at Christmas. Wouldn't that mean that It's a Wonderful Life is just a Frank Capra movie set at Christmas? That means that if I have to throw Die Hard out of the Christmas movie pool, I also need to throw out It's a Wonderful Life. And I just can't bring myself to do that. I guess that makes Die Hard a Christmas movie. 

Yippee-ki-yay motherf***ker. Umm, and Merry Christmas

Friday, November 30, 2018

µ-Blog – A Compliment

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

A couple of weeks ago, I was getting the Sunday paper. Yes, I still read the Sunday paper. I don't have it delivered. I just go out on Sunday morning to 7-Eleven and buy it. As I was leaving, I got to the door and stopped.

I stopped because at the same time I got to the door, going out, a young woman got there, going in. We both stopped trying to figure out who was going to go first. Now, she was young, about 25 or 30 and pretty cute. After a second or two, I did the gentlemanly thing. I pushed the door open for her, even though it opened out, which makes it awkward holding the door for someone when you're pushing the door away from you. As she went past me,  she said something, "You have the most gorgeous eyes, ..."

I was feeling pretty good about myself. Here was this young cute woman giving me a compliment. It was an incredible boost my ego. Until she ruined it. She ruined it with a single word, "sir." So that boost my ego lasted all of about 0.25 seconds, the time it takes to get from, "You have the most gorgeous eyes," to "sir." Damn.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Ukulele in the Up and Down Lounge

So about three weeks ago, I had my first ukulele gig. Well, sort of. I was at Tiki Oasis. Tiki Oasis is a convention for people who collect Tiki stuff, but truth be told it's really just a good excuse for people to get rip-roaring drunk on fruity tropical drinks. Anyway, when I go to small conventions, I usually take my ukulele. I've been playing about three and a half years. I'm not great, but I can play some stuff that sounds pretty good. The problem is I make a lot of mistakes, especially when people are around. That's why I like to bring my uke to conventions. I'll find a quiet corner to play and if anyone wants to listen, they can, but there's no pressure. And I get a little practice playing in front of people.

Anyway, it was fairly late in the day, and I was thinking about leaving for the day. I had my ukulele in its case on my back. This couple, Rebecca and Dave, come up to me and ask if that is a ukulele. I say, yes.

"We need a ukulele player."

"Okay, I'm not really that great." I explain. I take it out and play something that I know I can make sound decent.

"That's perfect. What are you doing between 8 and 8:45?"

"I don't know?" I say trying to emphasize the question mark, so they would explain.

"We run this bar in one of the glass elevators here at the hotel, and we need a ukulele player. It's only about 45 minutes. It's really fun. It will be hot and sweaty, but a really good time."

I tell them to hold on. The parking situation at Tiki Oasis is really bad, so I had my wife drop me off in the morning. I gave her a call and asked if she wouldn't mind bringing me back a bit before 8 and picking me up sometime after 9. She said, okay.

"Okay, I guess I'm in. So what's going on again?"


I went home and grabbed some dinner. Then I picked up my uke to go through to go through the songs I wanted to play. I have about eight to ten songs that I know well enough to play in front of people. My plan was to get back by about 7:45, so I'd have time to find the right elevator. I ended getting there at about 7:55, which meant that I got to what I thought was the right elevator just a minute or two early. I still was a little fuzzy about the whole thing at this point.

There were about four or five women standing in front the elevator. "Are you waiting for the Up and Down Lounge?"

"Is that the bar in the elevator?" I asked.

"Yeah, so you're the entertainment?"

I nodded and took out my ukulele and started to play a little something. At this point, one of the women said that her boyfriend played ukulele, but only knew two songs. She then proceeded to sing one of them, a song I had never heard and had no clue how to play. So I'm thinking, God, I hope she doesn't keep singing some song I don't know, so I look like an idiot. Fortunately, she stopped after a verse or two. By this time, it was about 8:02 and still no sign of the couple that asked me to play, but at least I was reasonably confident that I was at the right elevator.

About 8:05, the elevator door opened, some people got out and there was they were, Dave and Rebecca. I got in and moved to the back and start playing. Dave stood behind a little teeney tiny bar and started handing out drinks. He had two and a half gallons of some Jungle Juice-looking drink in a container with a spigot on the bottom. Immediately, the elevator goes from almost empty to way way way over capacity. I'm sure that if I had taken the time to look, there would have been a sign saying that the elevator had a capacity of 12 people, and we were easily at like, 25.

The elevator starts to move and about every other stop, they have to tell people that they can't get on because if they have any more bodies, the elevator won't move. Of course, it's hot and oppressive with that many people in such a small space. I'm sweating and trying to play and probably making way more mistakes than I normally do, but everybody has a drink and is talking loudly to be heard over the other people who are talking loudly. I'm sure no one noticed when I hit the wrong notes, with all that was going on.

So things are going along just fine, I'm playing trying not to screw up too bad. About 10 or 15 minutes in, the woman standing next to me decides she needs to show her boobs. Now, I have to say, I'm old. When I was in my prime boob viewing days, women didn't just show their boobs. You had to kind a work on it. Since then, when I've been in situations where women show their boobs, I always just happen to be in the wrong place and the wrong time. Now, here it was happening right next to me. Awesome. Well, it turns out, the sight of boobs right next to me made me completely forget how to play the ukulele. I forgot how to play. I forgot what songs I knew. What songs I'd already played. I got through it somehow. It's actually kind of a blur.

After about a half hour, most of the drinks were gone and people start putting bills in Dave's shirt pocket. When the last drink was poured, the elevator emptied out and Rebecca and Dave said they were getting off at the fourth floor, where their room was. I got out too. I was hot I was sweaty. I just needed some air. Well, Dave took all of the bills out of his pocket and stuck them in my pocket. I said that we should split it or something, and he's like, naw, don't worry about it. I think I made about fifteen bucks on the deal.

So they invited me to their room for a drink. I'd been playing the whole time, so I hadn't had any. It turns out the woman who who showed her boobs and her friend were friends of Rebecca and Dave, so we all went to the went to the room for a drink.

The boob woman said she has a Facebook page, TITTY (Tits in Tikibar Toilets, Yo). She said she takes booby pictures in the bathrooms of tiki bars, but always does it in such a way that you can't see nipples. I swear I've tried to find that page about eight times. No luck. Anyway, Rebecca had taken pictures of the boob flash and was sending them to the woman. Rebecca says, "Wait, that's a nipple." And she hands the phone to the woman.

"That's not a nipple. That's my thumb." She had been holding two drinks in front of her-- umm, self.

I said, "You mind sending those to me?"  Doesn't hurt to ask. Rebecca handed me her phone to put in my number. I did, taking extra care to make sure I didn't transpose any numbers. 

After a while, Dave said they needed to change clothes. We took that as our cue to leave. I asked for a drink for the road, and we left. I ended up watching some swing band for a while before calling my wife to pick me up. In the car, I told my wife the story. She said, "You realize that you're lucky, for two reasons."

"Yeah, first, that it happened. And second, you're not pissed off about it."


Of course, I kept checking my phone for the pictures. Nothing. Damn. The next day I had a Comic-Con meeting, and I couldn't go back to Tiki Oasis. About 1:00 in the middle of the meeting, I got a text message from an unknown number. The pictures. Woohoo!

The best of the two pictures she sent
I sent a quick thank you text to Rebecca and told her that it was a lot of fun. Then of course I told the story and showed the pictures to anyone who would look. 

Post Script

So I am very bad with names, not only did I not get the woman in the picture's name. I didn't remember Dave and Rebecca's names either. The next day sent her another note:

This is Chris, the ukulele guy. By the way, I forgot you and your huband's names. If you are doing the Up and Down Lounge again next year, I'd love to play again.

About 20 minutes later, I got a response:

We are Dave and Rebecca. Would love to have you do it again next year.

So it looks like I have a recurring gig. It's only up from here. Or down, depending of what floor gets pushed.

Monday, August 20, 2018

It's Walking

I started walking. I'm trying to lose some weight. I think I'm doing okay foodwise, but I must be eating exactly the right amount of food. I'm not gaining any weight, and I'm not losing any weight. I figured that if I started walking that might kick my metabolism in the butt. Because I'm walking, I'm noticing other people walking, and I think people are getting way too serious about their walking. It's walking. 

You don't need any special clothes to go walking. It's walking. You don't need special shoes. Okay, you probably don't want shoes that hurt your feet. But you probably don't want shoes that hurt your feet anyway. You don't need a sports drink. It's not working out. It's walking. You don't need a sports bottle. Sure, I guess if you think you're going to get thirsty you could bring a bottle of water. But I honestly don't think you're going to get seriously dehydrated on your walk. You could just as easily have a drink when you get done.

I'm not trying to bash walkers or walking. Okay, I guess I am. a little bit. If you're like me and haven't exercised in a while, walking is a great place to start. It's simple. It's low impact. But it's also just walking.  Let's not get carried away.

Monday, May 28, 2018

TCMFF 2018 – Day 2

Friday at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) started with breakfast at Subway and a change of plans. Of course, I'd pretty much decided to change my plans ahead of time. The original plan called for Grand Prix at the Cinerama Dome, but that would have been involved taking up two film slots for one movie, and I just wasn't willing to do that, especially since the second slot was Witness for the Prosecution.

Getting ready for Pink Panther cartoons.
This meant not seeing Eva Marie Saint speak after the end of Grand Prix, but I did have a chance see her later that day. Unfortunately, that didn't work out either. More on that later.

I started the day with my daughter Jasmine at the Pink Panther Cartoons on the Big Screen. We sat with Michelle and Tom, a woman from Colorado and her adult son who lives out in Southern California and works at a Disney Museum, I think. The presentation by animation historian, Jerry Beck, included the title sequence for The Pink Panther (1963) and numerous shorts from The Pink Panther cartoon series. Also in attendance, where Larry Mirisch, son of producer Walter Mirisch, and the daughters of animation director, Friz Freleng, and one of the animators from the series whose name I don't remember. The animator said that one of the things he was responsible for was the lettering for the credits on the cartoons. Originally, they had a production house do the lettering but any time there was a typo, that caused production delays. By doing the lettering by hand, he could fix minor problems in just a few minutes. He also did a great drawing of the Pink Panther while we watched. Unfortunately, from where we were, you couldn't see it real well. Also there were technical difficulties with the lights.

Next up was a trip down Hollywood Boulevard to the Egyptian for Witness for the Prosecution. I knew that Jasmine had a very short window of only 15 minutes before her next screening, so we ended up sitting in the balcony on the end of a row so that we could get out quickly.

Ruta Lee backstage before Witness for the
(photo courtesy of TCM).
On hand for the screening was Ruta Lee. She played a small part in the film and had some great stories about Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester and Marlene Dietrich. She told a great story about Marlene Dietrich, and how she was very particular about how she was lit on screen. She wanted one light down low and another higher from the one side. She even knew what size and type of lights she needed. The guy in charge of lighting said they didn't have that type of light. Marlene Dietrich told him to wait, and she pulled out a trunk with all kinds of different lights. She had brought her own lights and knew exactly what she needed and just how they should be set up.

Ruta Lee also said how helpful both Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton had been. As a young actress, she knew how to play British accents in fairly broad terms. She could do Cockney or British upper class but the standard British Midlands accent she had no idea about. Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester coached her in a more standard accent that worked better in the part. She also said that everybody had warned her on set about Charles Laughton, how he was a big mean fag (not her term, but what other people had said), and he hated everybody. She found exactly the opposite was the case. He took her under his wing and was very put out if she didn't pay enough attention to him and didn't talk to him first thing when she got on the set.

There was one annoyance. A woman came in and sat next to us and spent the entire time during the interview with the flashlight lit on her phone, taking notes on a little pad. I honestly don't even think she was taking notes on what Ruta Lee was saying but something else she was working on. Then at the end of the interview she got up and left before the film started. Jasmine and I were thinking how rude that was.

A woman in front of us in line had
the coolest Van Gogh Godzilla bag.
The film itself was great. Jasmine had never seen it,  and I've seen it several times. If you haven't seen it, I won't give anything away, only say that it has one of the best twist endings ever. Then after the twist ending, something unexpected happens. I knew the film well enough to know exactly when these things were going to happen, so I knew when to look at Jasmine's face. Her expression in these spots was totally worth the cost of her TCMFF pass.

As I said earlier, we only had a short window before the next film. Jasmine and I booked out the side door and down Hollywood Boulevard back to the TCL Chinese. We caught a light to cross the street and ran down Hollywood Blvd., dodging in and out of the tourists. Right with us was another woman matching our pace step for step. We had to wait for the light at Hollywood and Highland. Turns out she was going to the same movie we were, so in between breaths, I told her we had a different way to get into the Hollywood and Highland Mall. This is what we had found on the Wednesday before TCMFF. If you go north on Highland there's a set of stairs near the bowling alley that goes up into the mall. From there, it's just another quick set of stairs into the movie theater. Well, we made it. Hot, sweaty, and out of breath but we made it.

Now, this hadn't been my plan either. Since I had blown off Grand Prix, I wanted to go to A Hatful of Rain in this block to catch Eva Marie Saint. But in all the excitement to get to How to Marry a Millionaire, I couldn't very well just leave the theater at that point. It turns out this was one of the few films that Jasmine had seen before. It was one of her grandmother's favorites, and she used to watch fairly regular when she was a kid. She actually knew the film fairly well. She didn't know that going in but she did.

I have never seen How to Marry a Millionaire on the big screen and that was a treat. It's such a fun movie, plus for Jasmine, who had just been turned on to Lauren Bacall the night before, seeing her in this in a more mature role was cool for her.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss line number
Next up was Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, but we did have a two-hour fifteen-minute break, which in TCMFF terms means just one thing, a hot meal. Okay, it might also mean an nap, but for us at that point, it meant a hot meal. We toyed with the idea of going to Hollywood landmark Italian restaurant, Miceli's. Unfortunately, I thought it was on Hollywood Blvd. on the north side of the street, but it turns out it was just off Hollywood Blvd., just a half a block south. Whatever the case, we didn't find it. Note to self: You have a computer in your pocket with maps, use them.

Anyway, we ended up going to Pig and Whistle, which was a good alternative. In looking for Miceli's, we did find a couple of Goth stores (if you don't know what that is, think Hot Topic with less Disney). After dinner we had enough time for Jasmine to look through them, while I got coffee at Starbucks.

We sat with Film Geeks San Diego's Beth Accomando and Miguel Rodriguez.  The talk before the movie was with Melvin Van Peebles and fortunately his son,  Mario Van Peebles, was there to translate. Possibly Melvin Van Peeble wasn't hearing the questions or maybe he was tired and having trouble concentrating that late in the day, but all of his answers came out as, how glad he was to be there and how great it was to see all these people, Keep on, keepin' on.

Melvin Van Peebles, Mario Van Peebles, and
Jacqueline Stewart (photo coutesy of TCM)
Having Mario Van Peebles there to speak to the questions being asked was essential. He knew his father's work well enough to speak to it. He was working with his father on films from when he was about 12 on, and it didn't matter that he was just a kid, he had to pull his own weight. He said something I found very interesting. He said that other fathers taught their kids how to play baseball. His dad taught him how to own the team.

The film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, was disappointment, more so for Jasmine than for me. While I can acknowledge that it's an important film, I can't say it's a film that works very well. There's some inappropriate sexuality in the film. That in itself isn't a big problem, but the way the sexuality was handled was gratuitous at times, okay, not just at times, a lot of the time. The film did earn its X rating. The problem with the film is not so much the story, but how the story is told. The story of abuse in the black community is important, and it was good that it was dealt with straight on. But there was some experimental elements going on in the film that made it just a very weird watch. There was a great soundtrack composed by Van Peebles and performed by Earth Wind & Fire but at times, other music was layered on top of it, that just ruined it. There were experimental visual effects that I didn't think served the story. It is an important film, but I think it would have been better served with a more straight-forward approach.

Now, that is my adult objective assessment of the Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Jasmine on the other hand just outright hated it. She was looking forward to that film more than anything else at the festival and then to have it be that disappointing, it was a blow to her. She'd already made the decision that she wasn't going to be doing the late movie. After Sweetback, she was just done.

Dennis Miller, Ruth, and I
My choice for the next block was Romeo and Juliet but a lot of that was I wanted Jasmine to see it. There was nothing else I was particularly enthused to see in that block, so I walked Jasmine back to our AirBnB and headed back to the Roosevelt see if anybody was at Club TCM. I ended up hanging out with a woman I just met a couple of days earlier named Ruth Mundsack. We'd interacted a little bit online on the Going to the TCM Classic Film Festival Facebook page. It turns out I had a flask of some really good bourbon, but I didn't think it was appropriate to drink it inside the hotel lobby so Ruth and I went outside to have some. 

When we got back in and were sitting around talking, we noticed Dennis Miller was standing just about 20 feet away. We went over and talked to him and got a picture. Then we ended up talking to an older couple from somewhere in the Midwest, Nebraska or Wyoming, maybe. It turns out the main lobby bar makes a pretty decent, Mint Julep. In a way, I kind of felt like I should have found another film to see, but had I not taken a break to just slow down and have a drink, I'd never have met Dennis Miller. It really is hard to make a bad decision at TCMFF.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon: Rock Hudson and Tony Randall

This post is an entry in the Dynamic Duos  in Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen and Classic Movie Hub. And only five days late....

On occasion, certain pairs of actors make magic onscreen. While this chemistry is not commonplace, I wouldn't venture to call it rare. I can think of many examples. Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Bogie and Bacall. And it's not just limited to male-female couples. Two buddies, like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby or Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, can achieve that same kind of magic. Even the bitterest of rivals, like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford have a magic just as strong as any of the others. Often when this magic occurs, Hollywood, in pure Hollywood style, reteams these stars to recapture the magic and it usually works, so I can't in good conscience say this magic is rare.

What is rare is finding this magic twice in the same film with two different sets of characters, and rarer still repeating this in a series of films. Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall made three films together, Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), and Send Me No Flowers (1964). Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back have very similar in plots and involve Rock Hudson posing as somebody else in order to get Doris Day in bed. If you look at it a certain way, the biggest difference between these two films is the relationship between Tony Randall and Rock Hudson. Of course, there's great chemisty between Rock Hudson and Doris Day, but almost as strong is the magic between Rock Hudson and Tony Randall.

** Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers, probably of all  **
** all three films, Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), **
** and Send Me No Flowers (1964).                               **


In Pillow Talk, Tony Randall and Rock Hudson are old college buddies, and Tony Randall is in love with Doris Day and trying to get her to marry him. Rock Hudson plays Brad Allen a playboy songwriter sharing a telephone party line with interior decorator, Doris Day. Rock Hudson is always on the phone talking with his many girlfriends, so much so that Doris Day is unable to make calls for her decorating business. 

Tony Randall knows that Rock Hudson is a womanizer and tries his best to keep Rock Hudson away from Doris Day.  When Rock Hudson meets Doris Day and falls for her, he knows he will have no chance with her once she discovers he is the playboy on other end of her party line. Rock Hudson invents an alter ego, a wealthy Texas rancher named Rex Stetson, in order to seduce Doris Day. From there on, it's just a matter of Rock Hudson keeping both Tony Randall and Doris Day from discovering his ploy.

Early in the film, Tony Randall tries to get Rock Hudson to give up his playboy lifestyle and find true love with a good woman, like he has found with Doris Day. Tony Randall is brilliant here. On one level he is condescending of Rock Hudson's philandering, but one another level you can tell he is secretly jealous of him. Later when Tony Randall almost walks in on Doris Day and Rock Hudson on a date, Hudson's subterfuge with Tony Randall to get rid of him is priceless. When it all blows up on him, the way Tony Randall gloats over his friend’s misfortune is perfect. Pillow Talk was a big hit, and when the followups to the film, Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964) came out, fortunately, producers felt that Tony Randall was as integral to the formula as Doris Day and Rock Hudson.

In Lover Come Back, Rock Hudson and Doris Day are rivals at competing advertising firms. When word comes down that the owner of Miller Floor Wax is looking for a new advertising firm, both Rock Hudson and Doris Day set their sights on the account. Knowing that J. Paxton Miller of Miller Wax is from the South, Rock Hudson prepares to land the account by studying up on the Civil War, and finding out what kind of women and booze he likes. On the other hand, Doris Day realizes that the reason Miller Floor Wax isn’t selling is that the can is ugly. She says, “Believe me, the agency that lands this account is the one that shows Mr. Miller the most attractive can.” They then cut to a party where Rock Hudson is showing Miller a very attractive can, the rear end of a dancing girl. This sums up Doris Day and Rock Hudson's varying approaches to advertising. 

Tony Randall is Rock Hudson's boss at the advertising firm but he has no idea how the business is run. Rock Hudson wins new clients by getting them laid. Tony Randall is neurotic and allows himself to be bullied by everybody. With Doris Day, he is afraid that she will make good on her threat to report them to the Advertising Council. He is bullied by Rock Hudson, who really runs the firm that is his in name only. He is even bullied by the memory of his late father who it dominated him since childhood.

When Tony Randall is criticized by Doris Day for Rock Hudson's behavior, he shows up at Rock's apartment indignant and demanding an explanation. Tony Randall wakes up a sleeping and hungover Rock Hudson by tapping him with his walking stick, a walking stick that Tony Randall’s psychiatrist said would give him confidence. Rock Hudson breaks the walking stick. At every turn, Tony Randall tries assert his leadership, only to have Rock Hudson show him just how little he knows about the advertising business. Tony Randall is weak and a weasel, and Rock Hudson, though unscrupulous, get results. Their interplay is perfect.

In Send Me No Flowers, Rock Hudson and Doris Day are married couple and Tony Randall is their neighbor and Rock Hudson's best friend. Rock Hudson is a major hypochondriac and through a misunderstanding at his doctor's office, he thinks he is dying. When he confesses this to Tony Randall, Tony Randall, dutiful friend he that he is, becomes a total wreck and spends about the first half of the film on a drunken bender. The easy grace that Rock Hudson and Tony Randall had in the first two films is on full display.

In all three films, there is gay subtext. Rock Hudson was gay, and his sexuality was fairly common knowledge in Hollywood, but definitely not to the general public when the three films were made. Tony Randall always came off as gay on film and TV, but was married to his first wife Florence Gibbs for over 50 years until she passed away in 1992. Tony Randall later remarried a woman 50 years his junior and they had two children and remained married until his death in 2004. I honestly don't think it fair to speculate on Tony Randall's person life, when he wanted it kept private, but he did come off as gay onscreen.

In retrospect, the gay jokes in Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back must have been some the best inside jokes in Hollywood history. In Pillow Talk, Rock Hudson tells Doris Day that his alter-ego, Rex Stetson, must be gay. “Well there are some men who... hmmm how shall I put it? Well they're very fond of their mothers... They like to share bits of gossip... collect recipes,” he says. In Lover Come Back, when Doris discovers that Rock Hudson is not the famous scientist she thinks him to be, she lures him to the remote beach where they first kissed on the promise of a moonlight skinny dip. She then abandons him without any clothes. Rock Hudson must hitch a ride home (in seaweed jockey shorts) with a delivery truck from a furrier. He has to walk into his apartment wearing only a woman’s mink coat. Two men who had been watching Rock’s sexual exploits throughout the entire movie observe this. One of them turns to the other and says, “He's the last guy in the world I woulda' figured.”

In Send Me No Flowers, Rock Hudson realizes that Doris Day will never be able to take care of herself, so he sets out to find her a new husband while he is still around to do so. Naturally, he recruits his best friend Tony Randall to help him. Think about, practically the whole plot is gay subtext. Rock Hudson and Tony Randall spend most of the movie on a man-hunt trying to find a surrogate husband for Doris Day. When one of Doris’s old flames Clint Walker appears, Rock Hudson and Tony Randall faun over how good a tennis player and dancer he is and how handsome and virile he is. Later when Doris Day discovers the truth that Rock Hudson is not dying, she kicks him out of the house. He has no choice but to spend the night with neighbor Tony Randall. Rock Hudson borrows a pair of Tony Randall’s pajamas, about three sizes too small. And they go to bed together. Straight guys do that, right? No couch surfing for Rock Hudson and Tony Randall, right to the master suite. And Rock complains about Tony’s cold feet and Tony complains about Rock needing to trim his toenails.

Of course, it’s played for laughs, and it works great like the other two films. There seems to be a juxtaposition of comradery and rivalry that permeates all of their scenes. Sure, when you think Rock Hudson, you think Doris Day, but would those films be the same with Tony Randall, I think not.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

TCMFF 2018 – Day 1

Not everything on Hollywood Blvd is
cheesy. Here, a guy keeps RuPaul's 
star spotless.
In years passed at the TCM Film Festival Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), I've done a separate post for day 0. This year I decided to give it amiss. For one thing, day 0 isn't a real thing. It's just something I made up to refer to things that happened on the Wednesday before the festival. In addition, this year most of what I thought was really cool on Day 0 ended up in my post-partum highlights post anyway. I figured I would just move on to Thursday.

Thursday at TCMFF started with breakfast at Mel's on Highland. One of my classic movie Twitter cronies, @BeesKnees_PDX, had made the arrangements and we had about 20 people at four tables. It was the kind of a cool way to start TCMFF, despite it being too early with me nursing a hangover from the night before. Still, it was fun talking with people about all the things we looked forward to seeing, where people are from, etc. Afterwards almost everybody who was at the breakfast ended up in the TCMFF gift shop in the Sweet store in the Hollywood Highland mall. About the only official thing going on in the morning was a first timer's meet-up, which I figure I didn't need to go to. I ended up hanging out with another #TCMParty twitter friend, Ana Roland.

Ana posing with Hedda Hopper
Other than finding a new way into the Hollywood Highland mall, the main thing we did was we walk East on Hollywood Boulevard. When you go to TCMFF, you tend to spend most of your time on Hollywood Boulevard in that section between the Roosevelt and Chinese Theater and Highland. That's the absolute worst part of Hollywood Boulevard, unless of course you like people in bad Party City Spider-Man costumes, your mileage may vary. But as you go east on Hollywood Boulevard, it actually gets kind of cool.

There's Larry Edmunds Bookstore, the new and used book store that specializes in movie stuff, very cool, definitely recommended. As you go further east, there are a lot of cool little businesses, things like wig shops and vintage clothing stores. We even went by this restaurant called, Scum and Villainy. I kind of wanted to go in, just to see what was on the menu. As we are walking we passed the big crowd on the other side of the street where they were giving a posthumous star to the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. We ended up in a dive bar called the Frolic Room. It had a cool wall of caricatures of classic film stars.

Victoria Mature and me
We made it back in time for the meet TCM panel. I ended up sitting in the back of the room with Ana, and another #TCMParty person, Leslie Gaspar. It was nice in that we could chat without disturbing people who were really into it. About halfway through, I noticed Victoria Mature, Victor Mature's daughter. She's a San Diego local and I'd met her when she was introducing one of her father's films at the Noir on the Boulevard festival in San Diego. She was at TCMFF just attending the festival, not a guest or anything.

After the meet TCM panel all of the Twitter #TCMParty people got together for a group photo and in Club TCM. We had just enough time for Jasmine and I grab a quick snack before the So You Think You Know Movies trivia contest.

I made the mistake of getting cocky at the trivia contest. I have been lucky enough to be on the winning team two years running so I kind of started talking some smack, and it blew up in my face. The trivia questions are insanely hard. You really have to know your stuff. Frankly, even though I consider myself very knowledgeable on the subject, I felt like I was mostly agreeing with the others on the very easy questions. Needless to say our team did not win.

Jasmine going Hollywood... umm, and Wakanda. This
was taken just a few steps from our AirBnB. You can
You can see the Hollywood Roosevelt sign from there.
At this point, we had to go back to the Airbnb to change clothes for the opening night party. Jasmine and I usually dress up. I have a white dinner jacket that I wear, and Jasmine who is now a senior in high school has a brand spanking new prom dress that I bought her. A couple of months ago at WonderCon, she found a necklace that was the Wakanda Black Panther costume thing, and she wanted to build her prom dress around that. For me doing the white dinner jacket should be a no-brainer except for one thing, tying a bow tie. Yes, I can tie a bow tie. Most of the time I can do it the first try. The problem is tying a bowtie when I really need to be ready quickly, then it takes me about 15 tries. After much swearing and many many many attempts, we were back out to the opening party.

We ended up meeting and hanging out with a 40-ish couple from Colorado, I think. It was their first TCMFF. So they really weren't sure what they were supposed to do, where they were supposed to go, how the line tickets worked, etc. Turns out they were going to see To Have and Have Not which was the same film we were watching, so we walked with them  to the theater and sat with them in the movie.

We sat in the balcony. The view of the film itself isn't quite as good, but the view from of the ceiling fresco more than makes up for it. This year the staff at the Egyptian seemed to be better about letting people in the balcony even if the regular part of the theater didn't fill. In years past, they would only open in it when the regular auditorium was full or near full.

The film itself was wonderful. I can't say for sure whether I had seen it on the big screen. If I had, it would have been when I was in college [mumble mumble mumble] years ago. I know that Jasmine had not seen it period. Though To Have and Have Not is one of my favorite Bogart films, it's really all about Lauren Bacall. How a 19-year-old can take such command of the screen in her first film is amazing. She simply owns that film. Bogart, you can see him falling in love with her, both her character, Slim, and Lauren Bacall the person.

This was my introduction to both Lauren Bacall and
To Have 
and Have Not as a kid
That alone would be enough to make you want to watch it, but throw in witty clever dialog and great performances by people like Walter Brennan, Hoagy Carmichael, Dan Seymour, Marcel Dalio, and Sheldon Leonard, and it all adds up to a great film. As a kid, I knew the film before I even watched it. They used to show old Warner Brothers cartoons on TV after school. One of them was a parody of Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. That shows how big of a cultural phenomenon it was when when the film was released. Most cultural phenomena are a flash in the pan. You look at them years later and wonder what everyone was thinking. Not so for To Have and Have Not. Like the cartoon Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not is a gasoline fire that still rages today.

I posted this before, but it's not 
every day you get to play dress
up with your drop-dead
gorgeous daughter.
Next, we went back down to the TCL Chinese for Throne of Blood. We sat with our San Diego old movie cronies, Miguel Rodriguez and Beth Accomando (collectively known as Film Geeks San Diego). The film was introduced by the new TCM host, Alicia Malone, and she assured us that we were in for a treat. Jasmine and I were psyched as we nestled into a nice dinner of popcorn and Akira Kurasawa. To be honest, Jasmine and I were both too tired to really enjoy Throne of Blood. Once we'd had our fill of popcorn, neither one of us was having much luck staying awake. Both of us intermittently dozed off, and then woke up throughout the entire movie, each time wondering just how many subtitles we'd missed.

It's not that it was a bad movie or anything, but it an adaptation of Macbeth. For me what makes Kurasawa interesting is that, while his films are often set in feudal Japan, the characters are treated with a modern sensibility. They are not all good or not all bad, but a mix of both. Toshiro Mifune and Isuzu Yamada (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively), were just corrupt and evil, as they should be in a Shakespeare tragedy. I just felt that the subtlety and shades of gray that normally draw me in on Kurosawa films being virtually absent made it hard to get into. That and falling asleep didn't help in the least. 

As we went back to our AirBnB, Jasmine said she didn't want to do late movies anymore, and I was kind of with her on that. I don't know if it's so much it being late, but after being up and running around almost continuously takes a toll. It really doesn't do you a lot of good to see a great movie if you're too exhausted to enjoy it. I'm sure that was a contributing factor to our reaction to Throne of Blood. In fact, I don't even think I went back to the Roosevelt for a drink that night like I normally would.

TCMParty people, photo stolen from TCM Party FB feed