elly, who loves ya, baby?
I'll drop just about anything when Telly Savalas comes on TV doing ads for the Players Club casino credit card.
"C'mon, have some fun," Telly says as he strolls around a lobby in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, the consummate American Big Guy, sometimes with his shirt open and always with a half-smile that says you know he knows you know he's right. It's his greatest role since "Kojak," maybe his only role, for all I know, a perfect Telly Savalas show complete in 30 seconds, a video haiku of big-guydom.
This is why I love it. The Big Guy is vanishing from the American scene, shrouded in the mists of history and a thousand steam baths, a tribe of human Buicks and 200-pound pinky rings for whom nothing has been the same since Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack stopped being the hippest guys in America. (Big Guy quiz: Name five members of the Rat Pack. Sinatra, right. Dean Martin. Sammy Davis. And, ah, Peter Lawford and ... Joey Bishop! How could you forget Joey?)
"So you're gonna call me and you're gonna do one of these -- 'Who loves ya, baby?' "
I do. Henry Allen
I don't think I can confess in public my urge to turn the radio up whenever a song by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap comes on. (But I found out at a recent party that a lot of people know Gary Puckett words by heart: "But it's -- the fact -- you're looking back/ That's really KILLIN' meeeee!") Mary Belferman
Ah Rilke, my Rose, and Roethke, my lively, understandable spirit, and Stevens, Blackmur, Tate and Warren, Richard Wilbur, the poets laureate of three generations, polish the veneer of my sophistication as you churn along from sense to reeling sense, but wait: I wasn't always as you see me here today, trousers rolled in studied casualness. Once it was the two of us, raw untutored boy, that's me, and Robert Service, who taught me meter and the joy of living as he taught me principles of Western Civilization, handed out, I'm sure, that day I stayed home sick from Mrs. Blackman's third-grade class. I learned compassion from this versifier, I learned that words can thrill the way a marching band or (gasp!) the stringless "Victory at Sea" can raise the hair upon my nape, and silently some nights when all seems difficult, when fear and pain begin to reign, I listen across the years and hear "A promise made is a debt unpaid." Some days, nights, some weeks and months a voice reminds me that
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold... .
And I open this ancient book and read of heroes and duty and courage and honesty and justice and faith until these no longer are abstract words, and I, of course, am no longer a raw untutored boy. Robert H. Williams
My father passed out in the hospital while I was being born. He was that scared.
When he woke up, he said, the first thing he heard was Petula Clark singing "Downtown." When he told me that I wondered if it was the singer herself he heard or a nurse emptying bedpans down the hall.
Just the same, I bought the record when I was old enough to say Petula's name, and though it's scratched beyond belief, I still listen to it despite guffaws and squeals of disdain from friends.
They can't seem to understand. Petula confirms my existence. Cristina Del Sesto
Heston. Charlton Heston. Nobody understands. Even in togas. Even in chariots. Ben Hur. Moses. God. Even as El Cid -- dead and propped up on a horse. Even as the shirtless cad cowhand in "The Big Country." Even as the sexually repressed plantation owner in "The Naked Jungle" or the lonely "Omega Man." Even in "Planet of the Apes." Even his pompous overacting, his smug grimacing, his grand gesturing, his hairpieces. Heston. Charlton Heston. Nobody understands.
1. The Jerry Lewis Telethon. I used to "stay up and watch the stars come out" with Jerry, and once around 2 o'clock in the morning I saw him put an entire camera lens in his mouth, with the camera turned on, so that you saw the inside of his mouth. Or what would have been the inside of his mouth if it hadn't been so dark. I felt proud to be an American.
2. Dionne Warwick. Once I saw her driving around L.A. in a gold Mercedes convertible with a license plate that said: "Number 1."
3. "Love American Style." Especially the hair.
4. Robert Wagner as Alexander Mundy on "It Takes a Thief" was a big hero of mine. For a while when I was around 13, I tried wearing those Apache scarves, and even flirted with the idea of buying a Nehru jacket, but instead settled for a three-button jacket with black pegged pants and a black turtleneck like Ilya Kuryakin wore.
5. I laughed at Harvey Corman once -- that made me feel guilty.
6. I think Mike Nichols's "The Fortune" is one of the funniest movies ever made. So shoot me.
7. When I was little, I wanted to be Senor Wences when I grew up. Sometimes I still draw on my hand.
8. Pictures of vegetables that look like celebrities. Once, I remember seeing a summer squash that looked exactly like Joey Bishop.
9. Which reminds me: Regis Philbin.
10. Nancy Sinatra -- the thinking man's Cher. Hal Hinson
I once asked a friend the date of his birthday. Sept. 5, he replied. "Oh, that will be easy to remember," I said. "Louis XIV was born on September 5 in 1638."
I mention this not to flaunt my command of 17th-century French trivia but to explain its origins: "Angelique," by Sergeanne Golon. I was about 14 when I first discovered the heroine of the historical romance at a church rummage sale. She was beautiful. Smart. And sexy without being slutty.
Louis XIV, of course, fell in love with her, but she remained true to her husband, the brilliant Joffrey, who was caught in the dark intrigues of Versailles by the end of the novel. I was thrilled to find there were more books in the series: Angelique gets sold into a harem. Angelique is swept into the Huguenot rebellion. Angelique flees to the New World. In the last one I read, she had been reunited with Joffrey, established a French settlement in Acadia and set out for Quebec.
It's not the kind of thing you list on a college application, but it got me hooked on French history. It got me to Paris. Je prends mon bien ou` je le trouve. Roxanne Roberts
I'm a Stooge addict. I've seen every episode at least 10,000 times. I've got Curly's "nyuck nyuck nyuck" down pat. When I was a teenager, I used to answer requests with that whining Curlyism, "Why, soitenly!" I can sing the alphabet song all the way through. I love it all. Moe's bad haircut. Larry's even goofier hair. And Curly's -- well, everything.
Pie-throwing dames. Really dopey gangsters. Screwy Polynesian witch doctors pushing "love candy." Mace-wielding knights. Mad scientists looking for the perfect head for their Frankenstein-like monster. That vicious, brine-spewing clam. Those dummkopf Nazis who actually believed Moe -- with that hair and teeny drawn-on mustache -- was Hitler!
They kill me. Absolutely kill me. Still. Dana Thomas
"Watch out," warned a passing acquaintance, leaning into the open window of my parked car a few weeks ago, "I'll tell people what kind of music you listen to." I assume that he was kidding, but there is only one way to handle that kind of threat, so I hereby make a public confession: I was listening to Chuck Berry. I do that a lot, particularly in my car, and if that threatens my membership in the Music Critics' Association ... well, so be it.
Berry does not exactly stand alone in the proto-rock music of the 1950s -- you can hear similar blues-rooted rhythms and cadences in the music of Little Richard, Bill Haley, Bo Diddley, even the early Jerry Lee Lewis. But his best records not only have some guitar licks that proclaim the arrival of a new era, they also have literate, carefully articulated lyrics that make it clear Berry knew exactly what his music meant. In such self-referential songs as "Roll Over Beethoven," "School Days," "Rock and Roll Music" and "Johnny B. Goode," you have the manifesto of a revolution that eventually was largely co-opted by the music business but first changed its style and ground rules. Joseph McLellan
They lie deep in the armoire, in the bowels of my record (yes!) collection, back behind the Dave Brubeck Trio and Chet Baker originals from the 1950s and the banjo pickers taped by Folkways in assorted Appalachian hollows. Deeper even than that 10-inch LP classic "Old Timey Songs for Children" by the New Lost City Ramblers. It's not so much that I play them as that I know they're there.
Who else has an original of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald singing "Indian Love Call"? Where else can you hear the soprano-to-bass range of camp legend Yma Sumac intoning Inca bird calls on "Songs of the Xtapay"? "Sweet Georgia Brown" on a skating rink pipe organ? I got it. How about "War Songs of the Third Reich"?
Indulgent friends have learned they may be hit with this stuff after dinner and about the third bottle of wine. "Couldn't we just dance?" they plead. "In a minute," I say. "First you gotta hear 'When Dalliance Was in Flower and Maidens Lost Their Heads.' Know who's on recorder? Alan Arkin!" Ken Ringle
When my 7-year-old wanted to watch "America's Funniest Home Videos," I thought it sounded like one of those harmless, inane programs that at least wouldn't have any gratuitous sex, violence or lecturing that would warp his little mind any more than it has been already. Fine, I said, you watch and I'll read the newspaper.
But he was laughing so hard I had to take a peek. This is really corny stuff, I thought. The bride who said she had to go to the bathroom right as the ceremony started. The man whose pants fell down -- many men with pants falling down. The crying baby edited to look like it was singing "New York, New York." And I started to laugh. It's so dumb. It's so funny.
Now this show has become like "Alf." That, in case you have forgotten, is a sitcom in which an alien that looks like some weird mongrel dog has the central role. Sounded truly awful. Our son liked it, so we started watching. Pretty soon it was us reminding him that "Alf" was on. (Until it switched from Monday night and we could never remember which was "Alf" night.)
I guess one thing I like about "Funniest Home Videos" is that it's only a half-hour long. It's not like one of those endless prime-time soap operas where you can't find out who married/killed/fired whom without locking yourself into six nights of numbing mediocrity. You can just sit down for 30 minutes, laugh your head off and then go finish folding the laundry or reading Proust. And how many things are there that you and your 7-year-old find equally funny? Megan Rosenfeld
I am hypnotized by "Geraldo." No kidding. Lord knows there are all kinds of reasons not to watch him -- his sweaters, his swagger, his mustache -- not to mention the fact that getting into the program at all makes me late for work. But the man, and his producers, are clearly geniuses -- the successful marketers of Andy Warhol's 15-minutes-of-fame dictum. Who else could come up with so many things you never realized you wanted to know about: "Daughters of Legends"; "When the Murderer Is Your Neighbor"; "Teen Plastic Surgery"; "Men Who Want Alimony"; and just about everybody's personal favorite, "Prisoners With Incomplete Sex Change Operations." Admittedly, when I lapse into regular viewing, I do OD on new ways of analyzing old info about Ted Bundy, Jackie Onassis, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. But then again, I can recognize more gossip columnists than anybody else I know. Judith Weinraub
Producer-director Al Zugsmith made a half-dozen or so films in the late '50s and early '60s that were way ahead of their time. Clearly a man who saw his mission as exposing the corrupt underbelly of the "silent generation," he demonstrated his social conscience and artistic courage by dealing with such mature themes as pornography ("College Confidential," in which Steve Allen plays a hip sociology professor who takes a sex survey among his students, among them a greasily pompadoured Conway Twitty), drugs ("High School Confidential," starring "West Side Story" lead Russ Tamblyn -- now coming back in "Twin Peaks" -- as a pothead who lives with his vampy older sister, a pneumatic Mamie Van Doren) and rape ("The Beat Generation," which, strangely, has no goateed hipsters but does have Steve Cochran, a bad-guy actor who looked like a cross between Elvis Presley and George Wallace and whose bloated corpse was found adrift on a sailboat in the Caribbean a few years later with two hysterical Mexican prostitutes as the only crew members). Along with the sublime Ms. Van Doren, one of Big Al's reliable repertory players was Martin ("Adam-12") Milner, a sort of thinner Dick Van Patten, minus the animal magnetism. They costarred in "Sex Kittens Go to College," in which Van Doren played a stripper with a genius IQ who invents a computer while on an Ivy League scholarship. A critic at the time said "the computer that picked this script has a screw loose somewhere."
But Zugsmith's signature work is surely "The Private Lives of Adam and Eve." In it, passengers on a broken-down bus -- including Van Doren, Mel Torme and Mickey Rooney -- are stranded in the sticks and abruptly transported back to the time of Genesis, where they encounter Adam, who bears a striking resemblance to Martin Milner. This may explain the sad shape of humankind today. Critic Stephen Scheuer, in his first "Movies on TV" guide (1966), had this to say about the film: "The movie contains a strange assortment of singers turned actors, actors turned comics, comics turned singers, etc. All the acting should have been kept private."
"EastEnders." Sure, this half-hour British import is on PBS, so it must be okay, right? Well, face it, it's a soaper that would make "Dallas" blush with shame. It's the most popular program in England, we are told, but some Brits my husband and I met this summer looked at me as though I was truly tasteless when I admitted to my "EastEnders" obsession. (They prefer "Dallas," the clods.)
"EastEnders" is filled with Cockneys and lower-middle-class muddlers in an often amusing, occasionally incomprehensible series of troubles -- unwed teenage mothers, intermarriages and/or interracial relationships (including Turk-Brit, black-white, Jewish-Christian and one male-male). Somebody is always in jail, about to be in jail, on drugs, getting off drugs, unemployed, depressed, getting raped, alcoholic, gay worried about AIDS, gay with MS. I mean, it is absolutely irresistible.
It's on every night at 11:30 here on WETA. That's too late for me. I tape it and watch it with breakfast. It's better than any of the network offerings. They don't meet the breakfast test. Sandy Rovner
Our television has passed on to that big Montgomery Ward repair center in the sky, and while we wait for a replacement set, my Sunday afternoons seem meaningless and empty. Each week I used to be transported at 3 p.m. by the glow of the Magnavox from my armchair to The Kitchen That Does Not Exist. (This is where someone has already minced the onion and the green pepper and has measured all the ingredients into separate matching glass bowls.)
The hosts all have eccentric personalities, like bizarre cousins you hope won't come to your wedding. Jeff "The Frugal Gourmet" Smith is my fave. He keeps up a running commentary peppered liberally with little aphorisms: "Hot pan, cold oil, foods won't stick," or, admonishing his viewers after a trip to China, "A 'wahk' is what you take your dog for. A 'wook' is what you cook Chinese food in."
There's Madeleine of "Madeleine Cooks," whose English is unfortunately incomprehensible and who, sadly, has a penchant for edible flowers. There's the quaint overalled Cajun Justin Wilson, who during his Thanksgiving show deep-fried a whole turkey in cayenne pepper and insisted it was good. And there's Pierre Franey, dear Pierre. I always had to keep a firm hand on the remote control during Pierre's show because he has an incessant need to scream when discussing garlic or pretty girls.
And there's no tearing out to the Safeway at 5 when "This Old House" comes on to pick up the odd capon or an extra carton of cre'me fraiche to try and play chef for real. Some fantasies are best left unrealized. Sharyn Wizda
I have always loved "America's favorite family," the Brady Bunch. Mike, Carol, Ann B. Davis as Alice and the gang have all left their mark on me, and the reruns are still a part of my secret viewing pleasure.
The Brady bug bit early in my life and had a profound effect. When Bobby ran away, I did too, trying to get the same attention showered on him. Marcia was my first huge crush, until I discovered Jan's budding attributes and fell for her. I always wished we had their modern house, with my room just like Greg's cool attic pad -- complete with doorway beads.
Age has not diminished the Bradys' appeal, and I am unable to explain exactly why. Sure, they are corny, obnoxiously perky and often downright dorky (witness Carol's flip-in-the-back hairdo). It could never be claimed that they present an accurate portrait of the period's American family, coming through the tumultuous late-'60's/early-'70's with crises no worse than Greg's smoking (cigarettes). But there's a loyalty there, and I tune in for a little Brady bliss every chance I get. Michael Farquhar