Skating away

I told my wife that Eddie Albert had died last week at the age of 99 of pneumonia and Alzheimer’s. She said that she figured he was already dead. I suppose that was a reasonable assumption.

When I was a kid, I admit to not only watching Green Acres, but liking it. (I also enjoyed Switch, but there was no shame in that.) Maybe it was because it was another show in the same Hooterville universe as Petticoat Junction. (Think Buffy/Angel on TV, or Marvel Comics crossovers.) Or maybe it was that it had Green in the title. I realized that Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert), who initiated the move to the country (check out the theme lyrics) remained a fish out of water, confounded by Mr. Haney, Arnold Ziffel the pig, and their handyman Eb. Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor), on the other hand, seemed to take it as it came in “Hootersville”. Like most supposed “airheads” on TV, she was probably smarter than her husband, the lawyer. I’m not defending it as Great Television, just not as bad as it has been portrayed.

Eddie Albert sang the title song (Eva Gabor more or less talked it). It is unusual for a star to sing the title song, I thought. Oh, there’s Dean Martin, Tom Jones, Jimmy Durante, and Happening ’68, hosted by Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders, but those were entertainment shows. And, of course, there’s Mr. Rogers. But I’m thinking scripted comedies or dramas. There was Erica Gimpel on Fame, but that was an ersatz performing arts school.
The only other ones I could think of were Drew Carey (Drew Carey Show, “Moon over Parma” -first season only) and Linda Lavin (Alice, “There’s a New Girl in Town”). Oh, and I nearly forgot the classic Carroll O’Connor/Jean Stapleton rendition of “Those Were the Days” on All in the Family, so notorious that it had to be recorded twice. (No one could understand, “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great.”)
But then I checked out some of my Television’s Greatest Hits CDs and discovered Tony Danza (“Hudson Street”) and Marla Gibbs (227, “There’s No Place Like Home”). And how did I forget Will Smith (with Jeff Townes, a/k/a DJ Jazzy Jeff) on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”? But the leader in this category, as far as I can tell is Greg Evigan from My Two Dads (“You Can Count on Me”) and the title song of “B.J. and the Bear”; this is in quantity, not necessarily quality. For my money, Green Acres told the story as well as any theme.

CBS canceled Green Acres and the Beverly Hillbillies in 1971, part of its de-ruralfication, despite its still strong ratings. Would that happen now? Maybe, with emphasis on “demographics”, the coveted 18-49 market. But these days, some cable outlet (TNN?) would have snatched them up.

But my everlasting recollection about the Green Acres theme is the routine performed by the ice dancing duo of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. The couple, who won a silver medal at the World Championship in Moscow in March, do a goofy, sexy exhibition featuring the Green Acres theme segued with the theme to Deliverance. (BTW, I didn’t look this up. My wife watches skating; now, I’m watching skating. I know more about the new international scoring system than I care to.)

So, as Eddie Albert skates away to a new existence, Green Acres lives on, not only in reruns, but on the ice as well.

What Did You Do In the War, Daddy?

My father entered military service on May 1945, just after V-E Day. It was still the period of segregated units. He didn’t talk much (or at all) about his time in the army. What little I know were stories my father told my mother, and my mother told us, of course, long after the fact and second hand.

One of these piecemeal tales involved the fact that my father was temporarily raised to corporal (or sergeant) for a particular task, because the army wanted someone of that level to do the task. Then, when the task was complete, he was busted back down to private (or corporal), something I gather he was none too happy about. (Allegedly, lowering his rank was done to save money for the government.) If this sounds vague to you, trust me that this is all I’ve got.

A year or so ago, my sister Marcia had contacted the VA and was advised that the records that would have included my father’s records were destroyed in a fire in 1973. We found it strange that he only served 1 1/2 years, rather than 2-4 years, being honorably discharged in December 1946.

The one other aspect of the story is that there was a copy of an article from Ebony magazine from 1945 or 1946 that described “Negro servicemen” fraternizing with the local (white) women in Germany (I think), much to the chagrin of some, that was discovered in my father’s papers (and temporarily misplaced by me. Subsequently, there was a Newsweek article that reported on the Ebony piece.) I have no idea if this had anything to do with my father – it could have been about a friend of his – but straw grasping is what I’ve got.

So, blogiverse, on this Memorial Day, I’m hoping that somebody out there knows something about the military career of one Leslie Harold Green (b. 9/26/1926) from Binghamton, NY. If so, please e-mail me, if you would. Thank you.

The Force is Trying to Suck Me In

I ran into one of my FantaCo buddies, Joe Fludd, the other day. Joe did some art for the Chronicles series. Anyway, he asked, “Did you see Sith yet?” And I said, “No,” and that I really hadn’t planned to see it. But he seemed very enthusiastic. “It’s everything that you wanted in Episode 1.” Hmm. And, of course, it explains how Anakin becomes Darth Vader.

Let me look at the PROS and CONS:

PRO: I really loved the first three Star Wars movies, or Episodes 4-6, if you prefer.
CON: I was really bored by the fourth film, Episode 1, except for hating a particularly universally loathed character, which I will not name (JJB). So,
CON: I never saw the fifth film, Episode 2.
PRO: The sixth (and final, according to George Lucas) film, Episode 3, is playing at the local, independently-owned, recently reopened Madison Theater, right in my neighborhood. I wouldn’t have to go to the mall and/or to some big chain of theaters to see it.
The Madison has been around since 1929. In 1994, it was sold, renamed the Norma Jean Madison Theater, after Arthur Miller’s ex-wife (or was it Joe DiMaggio’s?) It was closed in 2001, then opened under new management, only to close again in 2003.
PRO: Carol would like to see it.
CON: We’d have to get a babysitter, which isn’t always easy. Indeed, we were invited to view the film with another couple this past Thursday, but care for the child became the deciding factor in not going.
CON: Episode 3 is rated PG-13, and I know why – one of those parental warning pieces appeared in the local paper. The second Raiders film, a scene from which I found a bit disturbing, practically created PG-13. The Hoffinator, who also saw it last week, said it was very good but “dark.”

The logical solution is to rent Episode 2 (I heard it was on broadcast TV recently, but broadcast TV is a TERRIBLE way to see most movies), THEN go to Episode 3. Based on the box office for the first DAY ($50 million), it’ll probably be around a while.

And now, this message from the Organic Trade Association, featuring ObiWan Cannoli, Cuke Skywalker, Princess Lettuce, C3 Peanuts, and Artoo Tofu. (Thanks, Anne.)

JEOPARDY! Part 1

I plan to do a JEOPARDY! column every Saturday, complete with cliffhangers. This may be an artifice, but so were the Saturday matinee cliffhangers. You always knew if OUR HERO were hanging off the precipice at the end of the reel, that his horse and a piece of rope would save the day in the beginning of the next scene. Didn’t you?

Every weekday at lunchtime from 1965 to 1968, while growing up in Binghamton, NY, I would go to my maternal grandmother’s house and watch JEOPARDY! with Art Fleming as the host, and Don Pardo (later of Saturday Night Live fame) as the announcer. I watched with my great-aunt Deana Yates, who lived with Grandma Williams. (About the only decent scene in the movie Airplane 2 was the Art Fleming JEOPARDY! sequence.)

The money was much less then. The clues in the first round ran from $10 to $50, with the second round double that. Watching that program, I learned that the ZIP Code for the Spiegel catalog in Chicago was 60609, and that Rice-A-Roni was “the San Francisco treat.” I probably learned some other stuff as well. But I went to high school in 1968, and didn’t come home for lunch, so I watched the program only sporadically thereafter, and by the time the show went off the air in 1975, I was off at college and hardly watching it at all.

Meanwhile, I tried out for one of those Pyramid shows, hosted by Dick Clark, when I was living in NYC in 1977. I must have done miserably; even my sister, who didn’t even watch the show, got a callback, though she was not ultimately chosen, either.

JEOPARDY! returned in 1984 as a syndicated show hosted by Alex Trebek, former host of High Rollers, a show I would watch occasionally. I was almost instantly captivated by it. The questions addressed popular culture as well as the more encyclopedic material. The set was more stylish. Also the money had increased tenfold, with the clues running from $100 to $500 in the first round, and again, twice that in the second round. As the show grew in stature in the culture, I knew I’d have to try out “sometime when I get to Los Angeles.” Meanwhile, I watched with a fervor that approached devotion.

Then I saw THE NOTICE in the Times Union, Thursday, April 9, 1998, Page: D5, 169 words. I almost missed it:

If you think you have what it takes to win at “Jeopardy!”, prove it at a pretest at Crossgates Mall April 29 and 30, 4 to 8 p.m. WTEN, Ch. 10, which airs the game show at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, will sponsor the competition. About 75 Capital Region contestants who take the pretest are expected to advance to a regional contestant search in Boston May 14.

I hadn’t gone to Los Angeles, but Los Angeles had come to me!

The instructions in the paper were to call starting at 9 am to register. I called promptly at 9 and got a busy signal. I hit the redial regularly for about 20 minutes before I got through. Finally, I was able to make an appointment.

I rode up to Crossgates on my bike, not really knowing where I was going. (The tryout was at a closed department store, but since I didn’t usually frequent the mall, I didn’t know where this store – which I couldn’t name THEN, let alone NOW – was.) And I had made a 4:15 pm appointment, which I was in danger of missing.

Fortunately, I saw a WTEN truck. I followed a techie through a narrow passageway that wasn’t generally open to the public, getting there about 4:13.

There was a swarm of humanity in queue for the test, some for 4:30 and 4:45 appointments. I signed in, and was seated fairly quickly. We were in a section with a bunch of desks, arranged as though it were a classroom. The test itself was 10 questions. You needed to get seven right to get to go to Boston. I remember little of the test except that there was something about Egyptology that I may have gotten wrong. I also found out later that there was another test in every other seat, so that we couldn’t cheat. The other test had a question, the answer of which was Cal Ripken, Jr. (probably something about his “Iron Man” streak of consecutive games played.) Some folks wrote Cal Ripken, which was marked as WRONG, because there was a Cal Ripken, Sr., his father, who was also associated with baseball (and specifically with the Baltimore Orioles.) I thought at the time that I had gotten at least 8 of 10 right.

About 15 minutes later, someone read a list of names of people who had passed the test. I was ON the list! I went to the designated table and got a sheet of paper informing me that I would be able to take a bus to Boston on May 14 to take the REAL test. But I COULDN’T. I had a NON-REFUNDABLE train ticket to visit Detroit and Cleveland that week. (Obviously, I had missed that part of the newspaper notice.)

What will I do?

Continued next Saturday, June 4.
***
I finally watched the last 10 games of the Ultimate Championship over two early morning viewings. All I have to say is: It’s too bad more stories didn’t say “Brad Rutter wins” (except in his section of Pennsylvania, and on the JEOPARDY! site.) Most stories read “Ken Jennings loses”, because of his now celebrity status. At least Brad will have $2 million to lick his wounds.