Monday, June 1, 2015


A variety of stuff to catch up on:

This Saturday night I had the honor to be the auctioneer at a charity auction at Phoenix Comicon (my pal Gayle was supposed to do it, but couldn’t, and volunteered me). Various pieces of comic art and memorabilia were auctioned off for the excellent children’s literacy charity Kids Need to Read. I was very intimidated, and I doubt I have a career at Sotheby’s ahead of me, but I got good laughs and several thousand dollars were raised. I’d love to know where these nerds get all this money.

One item which went for more than $200 was a football from the Comicon booth at Super Bowl FanFest in February, which had been signed by a bunch of famous comic book artists (Neal Adams among them). I said “Who’d’ve thought you’d see a roomful of geeks fighting over a football?”

This was not, however, the most startling thing that happened this Saturday. Earlier that day, The Wife and The Kid and I were leaving to go to lunch, and saw an adorable little black-and-white Chihuahua wandering up the sidewalk. The Kid was able to coax her over, and she turned out to be very friendly and sweet, and seems well fed. She had a collar, no tag, and we took her to the Humane Society where they scanned her and determined she didn't have a chip, either.

So, at least for the moment, we have three Chihuahuas at Casa de los Chihuahuas.

The other two, Lily and Eddie, are unimpressed, but coping. We’d like to keep her, although she’s such an affectionate, well-socialized little character that she shows every sign of having been well cared for and loved, and I hate to think what her person or people may be going through.

RIP to Dan Mer, manager of the Tempe Improv during its best years, who passed on in his sleep last weekend. I got to know Dan when I was calendar editor at the Phoenix New Times, and when that paper laid me off in 2001 he immediately offered me a job as his in-house publicist. My thirteen months at the Improv—I left in 2002 for a job with more regular hours—offered me some of the most fascinating and memorable experiences of my working life. Dan could be a demanding boss, but he was brilliant and loyal. I learned a great deal from him and I owe him a great deal.

On a less personal note, last Tuesday I also said farewell to Mesa’s Landmark restaurant, stopping in for one more lunch order of truly delicious stroganoff and one more trip to the famed salad room for a plate of kumquats, hearts of palm, pickled watermelon and, of course, tiny hard-boiled quail eggs. Whoever supplied that venerable eatery, which closed yesterday, with quail eggs must be crying in their beer today (I took a half-pint home with me). I’ll miss it, though it always somehow suggested to me an evangelical’s idea of the afterlife.

Finally, I’m only now getting around to reporting on the 16th Annual Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, which I attended two weekends ago. Although this year’s schedule included such familiar selections as The Big Clock and On Dangerous Ground, for the true cinematic scavenger, the real highlights of the Noir Festival are the rarely-shown obscurities. This year I saw two such prizes.

One was a newly restored Library of Congress print of Joseph Losey’s 1951 American version of M, Fritz Lang’s 1931 German classic about a child murderer for whom both the police and the underworld are hunting. I had long wanted to see this film, and while few would suggest it’s in the same league with Lang’s masterpiece, or that David Wayne’s performance in the lead compares to Peter Lorre’s riveting turn in the original, it’s a fascinating curio, shot in the Bunker Hill section of L.A., with a superb cast of character vets—Howard Da Silva, Martin Gabel, Luther Adler, Raymond Burr, Steve Brodie, Jim Backus and Norman Lloyd, who was the guest for the Q&A afterwards, vigorous and confident at 100 years old!

The other rarity I saw was Chicago Calling, also from 1951, and also shot in the grittier districts of downtown L.A. This poignant yarn about an alcoholic loser (Dan Duryea), desperately trying to keep the phone that’s about to be removed from his apartment long enough to get an important call he’s expecting from Chicago, barely qualifies as a noir—hardly any violence, and only the pettiest of crimes.

In the course of the story Duryea bonds with a little boy (Gordon Gebert) who offers him the money to pay the bill. Gebert, best known as Janet Leigh’s son in the 1949 Christmas romance Holiday Affair, was the guest at this screening. Now 71, he looks like a million bucks, and had a fantastic adult career as an architect and teacher after attending MIT and Princeton. It was nice to hear a story like this from a child actor.

Still, when you consider that two of this year’s guests were a 100-year-old character actor and a 71-year-old former child actor, it’s wistfully clear that the relentless march of time is starting to make finding guests harder on the Noir Festival organizers.

I also had the good luck to meet another favorite of mine, longtime movie and TV vet Clu Gulager. The actor was there with his son, the talented director John Gulager, talented daughter-in-law Diane Goldner, and charismatic grand-dog Apollo to watch movies, record archival interviews with guests, and soak up well-earned adulation.

It doesn’t rain in Palm Springs very often. But while we were there, the resort town managed a couple of days of gray, drizzly showers.

Such weather was appropriate for the festival, of course, but with The Wife and The Kid, the rain wasn’t as big a hit. What was good noir-ish atmosphere for me was an annoyance for them, raining them out of the Thursday evening street market on Palm Canyon, the highlight of the trip as far as The Wife is concerned, and keeping The Kid out of the hotel’s pool. But we did, at least, manage several sublime meals—scrumptious Italian at Johnny Costa’s, superlative steak and salmon at LG’s Steakhouse and knockout knockwurst and eggs, among other goodies, at Sherman’s Deli.

Naturally, by the time we were headed home Saturday evening, there was scarcely a cloud in the sky.

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