Sunday, August 29, 2010


RIP to the lovely Hungarian-born actress Ahna Capri, whose career ranged from Leave It To Beaver to Enter the Dragon, & who has passed on at 65 after a car accident...

RIP also to another former child star, Gloria Winters of Sky King.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The last or month or so Your Humble Narrator has felt almost like a press agent for MadCap Theater in downtown Tempe. I can’t help it—the redoubtable film programmer there, the Midnite Movie Mamacita, has been eating her Wheaties lately, & serving up some really kickass offerings.

This weekend is no exception. Tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m., MadCap shows a film I’m proud to say that I, Your Humble Narrator, introduced the Mamacita to myself a while back: 1973’s Doctor Death, Seeker of Souls.

It’s being presented as a “Movie Mashterpiece Theatre” show with a live riffing performance by the Phoenix National Comedy Theatre. All I can say is that the troupe will have its work cut out for it to make this movie any more hilarious than it is already.

The story concerns a studly ‘70s-type dude (Barry Coe) so bereaved at the death of his wife that he hangs out in her mausoleum. He learns of the creepy mystical conjurer of the title, who has the power to transfer souls from one body to another—for a price, of course.

Dr. D is played by that first-rate journeyman actor John Considine, veteran of everything from soap operas to Altman movies to The Greatest Story Ever Told. He rips into this twisted, lascivious role with great campy gusto. The scene in which he performs the Sawing-a-Woman-in-Half trick is roll-in-the-aisles riotous.

This scene also contains this movie’s other meager claim to fame, of special interest to Three Stooges completists: The volunteer from the audience is played by Moe Howard, in his final film role.

Admission is $9.

On the other hand, tomorrow you could go to MadCap for a free movie—Phoenix-area filmmaker Rafa Alcantara’s documentary Decade of Disturbed, a chronicle of the famed hard-rockers, screens, free to the public, this Friday at 8 & 10 pm.


Monster-of-the-Week: …in honor of Disturbed, this week let’s give the nod to The Guy, the creepy spectre who graces, if that’s the word, the cover art of Disturbed albums…

The Guy is the work of artist Todd McFarlane. Looking at his grinning non-visage leaves me…well, disturbed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Over on “The Twitter” my pal Barry asks “Is it possible to be so cruel, corrupt, incompetent and depraved that you’re unelectable in Arizona?” He doubts it, & so do I, but it is clearly possible to be so intelligent & decent that you’re unelectable here: John Dougherty & his fellow candidates lost the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate to well-funded stooge Democrat Rodney Glassman.

I genuinely hope that John, who with his staff & volunteers showed remarkable energy & capability merely getting his last-minute campaign on the ballot, isn’t through with politics in this state. We could really use him.

Barry also remarks that “In the next Arizona election, we might as well have Fu Manchu as a write-in candidate.” Given the other names on the ballot, I suppose he’s right—Fu, at least, is competent.

His immigration status may be a problem, however...

Monday, August 23, 2010


Attention all Arizona Democrats! Unless you're like me, & have already done so by Early Ballot, don't forget to cast your vote for the intrepid John Dougherty for U.S. Senate tomorrow in the AZ Primary!

Friday, August 20, 2010


Those of us who can spend hours watching terrible movies sometimes find it hard to explain why, even to ourselves. At best, it can seem like a huge waste of time; at worst, sitting around guffawing at stiff acting & silly writing & clunky direction can seem mean-spirited & flippantly knowing, “ironic” in the worst sense. It can also seem disrespectful of the honest effort, however misguided, that goes into even the lamest movie. I once heard a Hollywood line producer remark that “the person who made the worst movie you ever saw deserves an Oscar,” & I’m inclined to agree with him.

All the same, the phenomenon of the “good bad movie” is undeniable for all but the most humorless of cinema lovers, & it gets a fine exploration in Best Worst Movie, showing Friday & Saturday at MadCap Theater in Tempe.

This documentary was directed by Michael Stephenson, who as a 12-year-old starred in Troll 2, a low-budget horror picture shot by an Italian production company in Utah & released in 1990. This preposterously conceived & ineptly executed saga was greatly mortifying to Stephenson, & to many of his cast-mates as well, when it played (endlessly) on cable TV in the ‘90s.

What they didn’t know until recently was that the film had gradually developed into cult favorite on the level of such timeless disasters as Plan Nine From Outer Space & Robot Monster & Manos, The Hands of Fate. This wasn’t just any bad movie; this was a bad classic, & Stephenson & the rest of the Troll 2 gang were stars.

No one enjoyed this realization more than George Hardy, a successful, divorced dentist in the small town of Alexander City, Alabama, who had, almost two decades earlier, played Stephenson’s father in Troll 2, having auditioned on a lark while he was practicing dentistry in Salt Lake City. An enormously jovial, spotlight-loving fellow, Hardy dropped everything &, along with a couple of the other actors, followed a tour of Troll 2 screenings around the country, soaking up the adulation of adoring fans.

As Stephenson’s camera, in turn, follows him around, Hardy quickly establishes himself as the star of Best Worst Movie. Sort of a Scott Bakula-Charles Napier hybrid with a winning drawl, the amiable Hardy grins & giggles his way through Q&A sessions at screenings, gleefully repeating the odd line from the film which, he learns, has become an audience favorite: “You can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!

Yet he also learns how narrow & organic that adulation is. When he ventures outside of the cult faithful & tries to interest, say, the people in his town, or fans at a horror convention, in Troll 2, they stare at him, baffled & embarrassed.

Hardy & Stephenson’s odyssey into the heart of their own offbeat fame has some poignant stops along the way: It stings a little when the actor that played Stephenson’s grandfather good-naturedly tells us that he’s pretty much frittered his life away. It stings a lot more when they visit Troll 2’s leading lady, a sweet, pretty woman with the marvelous name Margo Prey, & find that she’s become a reclusive caregiver to her elderly mother.

Mostly, though, Best Worst Movie offers high comedy, as when the intense Italian director of Troll 2, Claudio Fragasso, & the nearly-as-intense screenwriter, Rossella Drudi, are shown to quite un-self-consciously regard the film as a serious work of art. At a screening, we see that Fragasso—in part, perhaps, because of the language barrier—doesn’t see what’s so damn funny, & his eyes flash with anger at the audience’s laughter.

This, perhaps, is the key to the Good Bad Movie, as opposed to the merely bad movie. The Good Bad Movie, however inept, still arises from a genuine desire to share a vision with an audience. The poor fragile leading lady rates Troll 2 alongside Casablanca or a Katherine Hepburn movie by comparison to today’s big-studio blockbusters, because, she says, these are concerned with explosions & car chases, while Troll 2 is about people. On one level she seems deluded, but maybe on another she’s right. It’s not for cinematic ineptitude that fans love Troll 2, but for the vibrant eccentricity of its people. Their absurdity in Troll 2 combines with their frailty & vanity in Best Worst Movie to make these people complex & endearing, & the audience’s laughter rings with love.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


This weekend MadCap Theater in downtown Tempe offers a double feature of the 1990 cult favorite Troll 2 & the movie about that movie, Best Worst Movie (check here tomorrow for the review of the latter). So…

Monster-of-the-Week: …this week our honoree(s) is/are any or all of Troll 2’s Goblins from the mysterious town of Nilbog...

These fanged, furry forest dwellers, who can assume human shape, are strict vegetarians, but are fond of using magic to transform human victims into plants so that they can eat them. So apparently their vegetarianism stems from a concern for their health rather than from ethical motives.

The film, an Italian production shot in Utah under the working title Goblin, is a sequel in title only to 1986’s Troll, a laugh-riot in its own right but not the nutjob classic that is Troll 2. Both films are available on a double-bill DVD from MGM/UA, & Troll 2 may be viewed in its entirety here. Still, check it out at MadCap if you can—it would be much funnier shared with an audience.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


It’s been some time since Your Humble Narrator has gone to a concert, but I got back a while ago from hearing Natalie Merchant perform at the Dodge Theatre—my pal Scott & his wife Teresa had an extra ticket & were massively kind enough to offer it to me.

Lovely show. The featured chanteuse sounded exquisite, & didn’t look any too repulsive either…
…& her band was superb.

Most of the songs were from her current album Leave Your Sleep, in which she sets poems on the theme of childhood to an eclectic array of musical styles ranging from faux-baroque folk to blues to swing. Featured were works by Edward Lear & Gerald Manley Hopkins & Laurence Alma-Tadema, as well as many more obscure poets about which she provided between-song lectures, complete with slides. It was all great stuff, but my favorite was her blue-grass setting of the wonderful “Isabel” verses of Ogden Nash.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Among the goings-on last week while I was in Erie was Laura Schlessinger’s “N-word”-laced rant to a caller on her radio show.

Delighted as I would be by the possibility (remote, alas) that this flap could end this twit’s Reign of Ignorance on the public airwaves, all she was really doing was repeating an incredibly tired whiny-white-people gripe: Black people can use the N-word to their heart's content, but get mad when white people use it. God, another example of the horrible unfairness of black people toward white people.

Here’s the thing: I’m not a very smart person. I don’t write about partisan political & social issues here all that much, because I’m often not sure exactly where I stand, & even when I do have strong opinions, I usually feel that there are people far better informed to argue them. So I tend to stick to monster movies & baseball & departed character actors.

But there are a handful of issues, of varying importance, that seem enough like no-brainers that I’m willing to weigh in on them: the death penalty, SB 1070, same-sex marriage, gays in the military & the legalization of marijuana are examples. The N-word thing, too, seems sufficiently not like rocket science.


First of all, let’s dispense with a couple of false premises:

False Premise One: White people somehow aren’t “allowed” to use the N-word. Sure we are. As far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong) there’s no law in this country against anyone using that word. A couple of America's greatest, most soul-stirring works of literature, Huckleberry Finn being only the most obvious example, hinge on the use of that word by white people. So does one of the funniest American movie comedies, Blazing Saddles. True, there may be some institutional “speech codes” which prohibit it, say, on college campuses or at businesses, but while I think such measures misguided, they’re rules, not laws, & in any case they don’t only apply to white people.

Lots & lots of white people use that word many times a day without the slightest threat to their liberty or livelihood. Laura Schlessinger can say it repeatedly on the radio. There may be consequences for doing so (I doubt there will be long-term economic consequences for Schlessinger), but the word isn’t censored.

False Premise Two: Black people don’t mind it when other black people use that word. In truth, some black people don’t mind it. Plenty do. It’s probably true that many of the black people that don’t care to hear anyone at all use that word like it less when white people use it than when black people do…but then again, maybe not. Maybe they don’t like hearing other black people validating its use. Even Richard Pryor claimed an epiphany on the point, & publicly forsook the word.

After all that, however, there’s no denying that there are plenty of black folks who, not bothered in particular by hearing a comedian or a rapper or even their friends toss that word around casually, would bristle with anger & hurt if they heard a white person use it in virtually any context at all. Why is that? Schlessinger calls it “very confusing.”

Is it really all that confusing? Black people tend to hate hearing white people use that word because, well, we’re white, & that makes our use of it…well, rude. That word has been used by white people for centuries to designate black people as subhuman, inferior, & that’s still, on the whole, what white people use it for. White people occasionally want to use it to prove that we’re cool enough & accepted enough by black people to do so—a former employer of mine, certainly no racist, once made that mistake publicly. It’s socially inappropriate to use that word for the same reason that you normally wouldn’t, say, use the word “motherfucker” in front of your friend’s grandmother. It’s just not cool.

So why are black people “allowed” to use the word with at least some degree of social impunity? Well, think of it this way: In the act of making love to his wife, Laura Schlessinger’s husband might use a variety of coarse terms as endearments—he might call her, say, a “sweet little whore” or something like that. In the context of their shared intimacy, this might be entirely acceptable; she might even like it. This would not, however, make it appropriate for me to use that phrase as a casual form of address when meeting her.

Why, finally, is the N-word so often cited as if it were the only slur with this sort of charge to it? Try going into a Knights of Columbus meeting & throwing around the G-word or the D-word or the W-word & see what kind of response you get. John Leguizamo titled one of his performance pieces Spic-O-Rama, but does anyone think that this makes that epithet acceptable for any speaker? Why do many whites seem to find the disapproval of their use of the N-word such a particular hardship?

I used to think that it was simply the reflexive whining of a dominant class about giving up even an entirely theoretical privilege. It’s only in the last two years, since the reaction to the current President’s complexion—only to his complexion, alas; the old-white-guy policies that he so far seems intent on perpetuating couldn't provoke it—that it’s occurred to me that it may be more than that: Many white people really want that word back. They want to use that word really fucking badly. They hear it flying from the lips of HBO comics or rappers & their hearts throb with envy; they long to fling it out, at the President, & at all the other dark-skinned people they see interfering with how they think the country should look.


The Wife & I are back, after most of a week in our beloved hometown of Erie, PA. Way too short a time, plus The Wife woke up with a head cold our second day back, but we still managed to have a great deal of fun, including but not limited to:

—Hanging out with our pals Al & Emma, with whom we spent an afternoon at Waldameer Park, riding the Whacky Shack, the Ferris Wheel & the Sky Ride—I wimped out & didn’t join The Wife on the Tilt-a-Whirl; it was too soon after lunch for me. I also didn’t take a second ride on the Ravine Flyer 2, Waldameer’s famed wooden rollercoaster. My first ride, last year (captured on video by Al & viewable here; the low animal moans of terror you hear are mine), was enough to suit my taste for thrills for a while. I did, however, replace the Ravine Flyer 2 hat that I bought last year—probably the most comfortable piece of headgear I’ve ever owned—with an identical one. This side by side picture will give you an idea of what a year of exposure to my sweaty melon can do:

—Al, Emma, The Wife & I also saw the Erie Seawolves play the New Britain (Connecticut) Rock Cats, & though the ‘Wolves are having a fairly dismal year, they obliged us with a 7-1 win. Plus, we had hot dogs & pepperoni balls at the game.

—Hanging out at the Plymouth with several splendid old pals from my high school days, some of whom I hadn’t seen since. I missed my 30-year class reunion last month, so it was a treat to have a mini-reunion.

—Hanging out, albeit too briefly, with some of my sisters & in-laws, & also with my pals Ronnie & Stan. Ron & I watched an old favorite of ours, The Green Slime...

...& we also went to see the film Inception, which I liked more than I thought I would; quite absorbing & imaginative. I especially liked the scenes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt spidering his way along the walls & ceiling of the hotel corridor.

—A quick visit with illustrator John Oless, whose work I was occasionally lucky enough to have accompanying my articles in the Erie Times-News, at his kiosk at the Millcreek Mall. Check out John’s lushly macabre pictures here.

—Feasting on a variety of goodies, including filet & shrimp from Ricardo’s (twice), Rita’s Italian Ice (three times), fried smelt at Oscar’s Pub, tongue sandwich with chicken & kluski soup at Gerry Urbaniak’s 8th Street Deli (four times!), pizza subs & Italian wedding soup from Barbato’s, mussels & clams from the Plymouth & chocolates from Stefanelli’s. I also got to sample Peeps-flavored Italian Ice at Rita’s, & I must regretfully report that while Peeps are perhaps the most heavenly of Easter candies, they make an unfortunate Italian Ice flavor.

—Al, Emma, The Wife & I also made a side trip to Bemus Point, New York, to feast at the Italian Fisherman on the shore of Lake Chautauqua. While dining, we were treated to a rehearsal for that evening’s entertainment on the floating stage next door: “Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was,” a Vegas-based Sinatra-&-Streisand imitation act backed up here by The Bemus Bay Pops. We probably wouldn’t have wanted to sit through the show, but the rehearsal made an above-average accompaniment for our lunch.

—I also picked up this book:

A Picture Palace Transformed: How Erie’s Warner Theatre Survived a Changing World is a beautifully illustrated chronicle of my first place of employment, & it includes a mention of my dear old late pal Jean Eisert as one of the ghosts reputed to haunt the place (though his name is misspelled as “Gene Eisert” in the book, which ought to put the authors high on the haunting list themselves). This makes Jean, as far as I know, the first legendary ghost that I ever knew in life. I can think of few fates that would have pleased him more.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Robert Duvall made his movie debut in the small, wordless role of Boo Radley, a small-town recluse who has the status of boogeyman for children in his neighborhood, in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In the end, we get a closer look at Boo, who emerges as a hero of the story.

48 years later, Duvall plays another scary recluse, in Get Low, which opens this weekend here in the Valley. This time he plays Felix Bush, a long-bearded, taciturn hermit who lives in a cabin in the woods near a small Tennessee town during the Depression. When Felix realizes that his body is about to give out, he heads to town & arranges with sly mortician Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) for a funeral to be held before he dies. He plans it as a party, open to anyone who has a story about him to share. There’s to be a pretty good raffle prize, too: A drawing for the timber-rich land on which Felix lives.

Felix has spent years avoiding society; but with a haircut & beard trim & some fresh clothes, he emerges as a handsome old fellow, with a dry, laconic humor. As the movie progresses, Felix forms a mostly unspoken bond with Frank’s goodhearted assistant Buddy (Lucas Black), & we learn that he withdrew into isolation many years earlier as a self-punishment because of a guilty secret. This is somehow connected to a widow (Sissy Spacek) who has recently moved back to town after many years. The true story about him, he implies, is the one that only he knows, & he can’t bear to tell it. It’s as if Boo Radley had been combined with Mac Sledge, the guilt-haunted country singer that Duvall brought so painfully to life in 1983’s Tender Mercies.

Get Low is the directorial debut of the veteran cinematographer Aaron Schneider, working from a script by several hands. The story was inspired by the real-life Tennessee hermit Felix “Uncle Bush” Breazeale, who, very much alive, hosted his own funeral in 1938. It’s a gorgeous movie, with its sepia-toned, old-photograph look, & there isn’t a bad performance in it.

Duvall, unsurprisingly, dominates the proceedings. Muttering & chuckling to himself as he labors to breathe, he lets you see Felix’s intelligence & curiosity & sense of whimsy, & thus what his renunciation of human society has cost him. But Black, Spacek & Murray, along with Bill Cobbs, Gerald McRaney & Lori Beth Edgeman all contribute fine work as well.

I enjoyed Get Low thoroughly, but I’ve been trying to decide since I saw it if it really adds up to all that much. When we finally get to hear Felix’s secret, it’s certainly tragic and traumatic, but it isn’t quite surprising. It was something along the lines of what we would probably guess, & it makes Felix’s self-exile seem a bit extreme. If the backstory was as compelling as Duvall’s quietly forceful performance, Get Low might be a classic. Even as it is, it’s a pleasure.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Arnold Schwarzenegger very rightly won some new fans last week by publicly supporting the right to same-sex marriage in California. In honor of the Gov, & in recognition of his return to the big screen this weekend in The Expendables

Monster-of-the-Week: …this week let’s recall the hideous ogre Dagoth, with whom Arnie did battle in 1984’s Conan the Destroyer. Not as destructive or difficult to vanquish as beasts like Intolerance or Bigotry, but still…

Under the suit, by the way, Dagoth was played by the late lamented Andre the Giant, one of the few guys able to make Arnie look puny…

Monday, August 9, 2010


RIP to the great Patricia Neal, passed on at 84, who looked deliciously chic in The Fountainhead, or while being menaced by Gort the Robot in The Day the Earth Stood Still, but who proved she was a real actress in Hud & A Face in the Crowd, & a majestic one in The Homecoming.

Re: The ugly tantrum that is AZ's Immigration law: If you haven't already, you ought to read this & then this.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


In most areas of my life, I tend to chronic lateness, but when it comes to democracy, I'm an Early Ballot type of guy (this is entirely due, of course, to the efficiency of The Wife).

Today I dropped our early ballots for the Arizona Democratic Primary into the mail, & they included our votes for my old New Times pal, the brilliant, fearless, tireless John Dougherty. I can't recall ever being prouder of a vote. I urge all my fellow AZ Dems to support John's candidacy, & I hope I get the chance to urge all thoughtful, principled AZ Republicans to vote for him against whichever unsuitable clod their party puts up in the general election.

RIP to mime & dancer Lorene Yarnell, half of Shields & Yarnell, who has passed on at 66.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Another one worth catching, today & Saturday at MadCap Theatre in Tempe:

Duke Mitchell is best known as the “Dean” half of a Martin-and-Lewis imitation act from the ‘50s, opposite the “Jerry” of Sammy Petrillo. In 1952 the pair starred, along with the titular horror has-been, in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. After the act broke up, Mitchell appeared in a few more films & worked as a nightclub singer, based in Palm Springs. In the early ‘70s, in the wake of The Godfather’s popularity, he wrote, directed & starred in a very low budget gangster picture called Massacre Mafia Style (among other titles).

In 1975 Mitchell wrote & shot a second zero-budget gangster opus, with the working title Kiss the Ring. He got the footage in the can, & that’s where it stayed, still unedited when he died, in his fifties, in 1981. That would have been the end of the story if not for a grindhouse-movie buff named Bob Murawski, who just happened to be a big-time Hollywood editor (he won the Oscar for The Hurt Locker).

Murawski, looking to get in touch with Mitchell as a fan, met Mitchell’s son, who told him about the unfinished movie & gave him the footage. Over the next decade & a half, between editing gigs, Murawski & a few friends managed to piece together a first-rate cut of this birdbrained epic, now called Gone With the Pope.

If you’re guessing that the story behind the film may be more interesting than the film itself, you aren’t wrong. But it’s only a little less interesting. Bad-movie aficionados owe Murawski a debt of gratitude: Gone With the Pope, though unsavory, is prostratingly funny for long stretches.

The plot? As the title suggests, a quartet of aging ex-con gangsters led by Mitchell (who was born Dominic Miceli), hatch a plan to kidnap the Bishop of Rome himself (played by Lorenzo Dardado, who bears a vague resemblance to Paul VI) & then demand “a dollar from every Catholic in the world.” Mitchell’s character discusses this ambitious scheme with his gang over a nice al fresco lunch at an outdoor cafĂ©, as if it was a fishing trip.

Be forewarned: In terms of political correctness, this movie isn’t for the faint of heart. Early on, for instance, Mitchell spews racist epithets & insults at a patiently smiling black hooker, after which he contemplates her crotch & remarks “Looks like brillo.” Considering the halo of orangutan-like fuzz around his own noggin, he’s got his nerve:

Scenes like this—& a later one, in which Mitchell & another man humiliate a morbidly obese woman—come across as truly sleazy & make Mitchell, & the movie, harder to like. But in the end, both are sort of redeemed: Mitchell delivers a long, impassioned, perfectly incoherent monologue to the captive Pontiff in which he seems to be standing up for Jews & blacks against the intolerance & neglect of the Catholic Church. His logic is deeply screwy, but these passages still suggest that his racial views weren’t, at heart, as odious as they sound. I think the ugly racial riffs early on are Mitchell’s imbecilic idea of jocular banter, like when Frankie & The Rat Pack would self-consciously yuk it up about each other’s races & ethnicities. It doesn’t work that way at all here, but I doubt any actual malice was consciously meant.

In any case, Gone With the Pope serves as a wonderful mid-‘70s time capsule, with location work in Palm Springs, Vegas & L.A., as well as Lake Arrowhead. There’s also the kind of unhinged dialogue that can’t be faked, as when Mitchell, departing this country, delivers his benediction: “People of the United States! Judges! Cops! All the law! I got something for you! Take this, and stick it up in your mother’s tw*t!

Ah, such delicate poetry. Brings a tear to the eye…

Here's the trailer (discretion STRONGLY advised).

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Presumably in anticipation of Piranha 3-D, opening later this month, Joe Dante’s original 1978 Piranha, co-scripted by the great John Sayles, is out this week on Blu-Ray. Therefore...
Monster-of-the-Week: …this week let’s give the nod to the mutant fishy from the film, beautifully stop-motion animated by Phil Tippett & quite comfortable out of the water. You can see him in this clip (although it’s from the Spanish-language version, so maybe viewers here in Arizona should be careful about playing it too loud…)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


A bunch of passings:

Mitch Miller of Sing Along With Mitch has departed, at 99. If I was truly hip, I suppose I would sneer at the man’s irredeemable corniness & at his famous reactionary scorn for rock n’ roll, but…well, back in my teen years, the late ‘70s, my parents once bought tickets for me & my brother to see Miller conduct the Erie Philharmonic in a sing-along pops concert at the Warner Theatre. The two of us went, probably mostly because we didn’t want to hurt their feelings, & ended up having a great time together. So my only significant memory of Miller is a happy one. Plus, he had a seriously cool beard:

RIP also to the lantern-jawed actor Dan Resin, passed on at 79, a Broadway veteran who specialized in country-club types in movies & on TV—he was the toilet-tank yachtsman in the Ty-D-Bowl commercials, & most memorably, played Dr. Beeper in Caddyshack.

Further RIPs to top-notch art director Robert F. Boyle, at 100, & to screenwriter & occasional director Tom Mankiewicz, at 68. The son of Joseph L., Mankiewicz wrote the scripts for Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, & The Man with the Golden Gun, among many other films, & directed 1987’s hit Dragnet as well as many episodes of TV’s Hart to Hart.

Monday, August 2, 2010


My senior year at Harbor Creek High School, our swim team made it to County Finals. In those days I swam the 100 yard backstroke, & it was suggested to me that I could trim some portion of a second off my time if I shaved the hair off my chest, belly & legs to cut down resistance in the water. It was just a little high-school-kid fuzz, but I was so flattered by the recognition that I had noticeable body hair that I willingly complied.

It amazed me how much it seemed to improve my performance. I felt like a porpoise, a torpedo, I slipped through the water like I was greased. As a team, we came in second to our rival Fairview, but I did indeed manage a personal best.

When the hair on my chest & legs came back, it was significantly thicker.

Some four years later I got my first professional acting job, in the epic Tecumseh! at Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheatre in Chillicothe, Ohio. I was hired, in what I suppose might be called nontraditional casting, to play a Shawnee Indian. My costume was a loin cloth and knee-high moccasins. I had been fully-clothed at the audition, so the casting folks didn’t know that I carried some extra wool on my torso.

There was no alternative: I had to shave almost my whole body—even my butt-cheeks & the outer edges of my pubic area; the loin cloth wasn’t wide—then apply a coat of liquid Bronze Egyptian body makeup. The makeup had an alcohol base & stung brutally, especially after re-shaving, which I had to do every few days. It was a long summer.

When the three-month run was over, the hair came back with a vengeance, & it’s been werewolf-thick ever since.

As a kid, I was proud of my body hair, regarded it as a sign of fast-approaching manhood. Retrospectively, as is so often the case with growing up, it seems like a classic example of Be Careful What You Wish For. I’ve regretted the repeated shavings I’ve agreed to, & the density they seem to have added to my pelt.

Until this past Friday, that is.

Friday evening, you see, Tempe Marketplace hosted a “Manstravaganza,” a testosterone-fueled party to promote Sylvester Stallone’s action movie The Expendables...

...opening August 13, in which Sly & a bunch of other middle-aged tough guys like Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Bruce Willis & even Governor Arnie all act manly. The Manstravaganza featured attractions like tattoo artists, comic book vendors, Army recruiters, free pizza & beer, vitamin water—because nothing says “man’s man” like vitamin water—&, as a grand finale, a hairy chest competition with a prize package consisting of sizable gift certificates to Marketplace restaurants like Dave & Busters & D’Arcy McGee’s.

This would mean that I would have to remove my shirt, on the open-air stage outside San Felipe’s Cantina, in front of a bunch of howling strangers. I need hardly say, I no longer have the physique I did when I swam the backstoke for Harbor Creek High, or wore a loin cloth in Tecumseh!

Yet when the host for the event asked for ten guys to participate, I was the second one to leap up onto the stage.

“Eight more guys,” the host said. “Eight more guys.”

A few more sorry specimens shuffled reluctantly up to the stage. A couple of them had been egged on by their wives, who perhaps saw, at long last, a chance at payback for what they’d put up with all these years.

“Two more guys,” said the host, a note of pleading in his voice at this point. “Don’t we have two more guys…?”

with minimal dignity? I thought.

In the end, he settled for nine.

He then introduced the guest hosts for the hairy-chest competition: Channel 3 News siren Kaley O’Kelley, & vintage rap legend Young MC. These two alternated interviewing contestants, then asking the audience to vote by applause, & when Young MC asked me why people should vote for me, I suddenly realized how “reality TV” works. The cheap braggadocio kicked in immediately: “Once I take this shirt off, Young MC, that question will be answered!”

When he instructed me to show my stuff, I whipped off my Erie Seawolves polo shirt without hesitation & slapped my chest like an ape.

The audience cheered—less enthusiastically than they should have, in my opinion, but they still cheered.

I kicked it up a notch, turning & slapping my shaggy shoulders.

“Do backs count?” I asked.

“He has it in stereo,” said Young MC.

Backs didn’t count, apparently. My sheepish fellow contestants, clearly nice guys all, were simply not in my league, until…

…a thick-bodied, balding, bespectacled fellow, exuding quiet confidence, stepped forward & removed his World of Warcraft T-shirt.

The crowd went wild. The contest was over. My consolation prize was a ten dollar gift card to Dave & Busters & an Expendables t-shirt.

Driving home, I had this comforting reflection: If I would have had to be hairier than I am already to win the contest, I wouldn’t have wanted to win it.

Anyway, here I am with Young MC:

I didn’t get my picture taken with Ms. O’Kelley. Having seen me shirtless, I feared she might not be able to control herself.

RIP to actor & voice-over artist (& Phoenix resident) Tom Basham. The voice of the Phoenix Cardinals during the ‘90s, Basham appeared on TV in the likes of Ironside, Bonanza, Adam-12 & Dragnet, & starred in such movie oddities as 1975’s The Psychopath

…& the 1971 gay biker movie Pink Angels.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


One of the distributors of the excellent documentary Cropsey (see the review, "Staten Island Scary," in the previous posting) got in touch with me, asking me to note that if you missed the showings Friday & Saturday at MadCap Theaters in Tempe, the film is still available on Video on Demand through August 12.

Details here.