Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Even in his later years, hunched over a cane, age did not appear to de-fang him. Don Rickles was still quick with his quips, even if the quips came quickly to him because he shot them out every day for six decades, quick with his many facial expressions of disgust and disappointment.

His reactions to audience reactions often brought his jokes from the barely memorable to the legendary. Rarely has a performer conveyed so much with the mere flicker of a expression change.

Don Rickles died today. The stand-up comic was 90, a month shy of his 91st birthday, but he was rarely shy. (I’ll be here all night folks, thanks.)

His stand-up act, till his last days, was remarkable, for someone past age 90 or not even 19, really: it was always unscripted. Yes, he knew what “insults” he was most likely going to deploy “against” audience members, and he knew that somehow he was going to convey that he was on the audience member’s side and not punching down at them. That was the extent of the notes he carried on stage with him. It was a tightrope act.

“If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn’t be funny. There is a difference between an actual insult” and doing that, he often stated.
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A Memory of Mary Tyler Moore

The television star (this is one of those occasions in which “icon” can not be overused) Mary Tyler Moore died earlier today at the age of 80. I have one brief, personal memory of an encounter with her. I wish my family had saved the answering machine tape …

In our current era of Twitter and Facebook and the many other social media outlets, virtual celebrity encounters can be had quite easily. (Among my Facebook friends are the accounts of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. Mr. Brooks plays several games each night on the service.) These encounters were more rare once upon a time, the 1990s, say.

In the 1980s, Mary Tyler Moore and her husband, Dr. Robert Levine, lived in Millbrook, New York, in Dutchess County. This is the county in which I was born and raised.
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A Flying Circus

The only circus I have attended made its debut on the BBC on October 5, 1969. I was less than a year old that day and more than seven or eight years away from encountering it for the first time, on American television, PBS to be exact.

PBS, America’s Public Broadcasting Service, is a non-commercial broadcaster, and its hundreds of member stations must each do what they can to fill the broadcast day. This is less true for New York City’s PBS station, the famous Channel 13, or Los Angeles’s PBS station, as these two have many subscribers and can afford to create their own programs.

When the BBC started to make its programs available for sale in the 1970s, episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus started to appear on American television sets. On PBS stations, because the BBC was selling the rights for not very much money at all, as I understand it. As a viewer of Channel 13 when I was a pre-teen, because it aired many (inexpensive to produce) children’s television shows, I wound up seeing Monty Python’s Flying Circus at perhaps too young an age. Seven or eight. Perhaps my parents thought something along the lines of “It’s on Channel 13, and it says it is a ‘circus,’ so it must be a kid’s show.” To this day, I sometimes watch episodes of Monty Python with that thought—it’s a kids’ show—in mind.
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Rainy Days and Mondays

I am as awkward around famous people as I am around people people. Even the clunkiness of that sentence captures my general social clunkiness.

It is entirely likely that anyone within reading distance of this blog has him or herself met more famous people (and more-famous people) than I have. A well-balanced person treats the waiter like a prince and talks with royalty like they’re the next-door neighbors; I am well-balanced, but not in a good way: I treat everyone like they are a teacher who has announced a pop quiz that I have not studied for.
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Paul McCartney’s Very Good Month

Paul McCartney was having a pretty successful season the autumn of 1968. Now, most of the autumns that Paul McCartney has spent on this Earth in his adult years have probably felt quite successful to him, but autumn 1968 may have been special even by his standards.

In August of that year, The Beatles had two songs prepared for release as a single: “Revolution” and “Hey Jude.” The band was about to release its double album, “The Beatles” (more commonly known as the White Album), but these two songs were not going to be included. A rendition of “Revolution” appears on the album, but the group had another, a faster version, that it wanted released. “Hey Jude” and the hit single version of “Revolution” did not fit that already over-stuffed album, so the two songs were slated to be their new record label’s (Apple Records) first single.
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TV Land is Not Bree Newsome

I am offended that I have to defend “The Dukes of Hazzard,” a show I was not a fan of, but this is where the purveyors of popular culture have brought us. Not “where we have been brought,” but where they have decided to bring us.

Two blogs broke the news today that TV Land, a channel dedicated to TV nostalgia, has silently pulled the late-’70s comedy from its line up. “TV Classics ‘R’ Us” published a piece, and then Will McKinley’s great website, “cinematically insane,” followed up on this news, and he requested an official comment from the nostalgia channel. A representative from TV Land confirmed to him that the program had been deleted but gave no elaboration. (Article: “TV Land Pulls ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.'”)
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Tom Waits’ Letterman Tribute

David Letterman retired from his 33-year-plus career hosting late night television last night. One of his best guests through the years was Tom Waits, who usually showed a flair for comedy that he did not often display anywhere else. (The sad fact is that not many television shows have requested Tom Waits to appear at all, much less bring whatever object or idea that had sparked some comic possibilities in his brain.)

Out of Letterman’s 6000-plus shows, Waits appeared on only 10, whether or not he had a new album or tour or play or film to advertise. Last week, he appeared for the last time and debuted a song that keeps lingering with me, “Take One Last Look.” He directed it as a tribute to Mr. Letterman and was accompanied by Larry Taylor (once of Canned Heat) on upright bass and Gabriel Donohue on piano accordion, with the horn section of the CBS Orchestra helping on the choruses.

On his website, Waits joked, “I don’t know when I will see Dave again. I guess from now on we’ll have to settle for bumping into each other at Pilates.”
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