Actor Bill Murray turns 70

The Cubs win the Series! (2016)

bill murray.groundhog-day-drivingAs I perused the Wikipedia page of Bill Murray, I discovered a potential link. “Murray’s direct paternal grandfather was from County Cork, while his maternal origins are from County Galway.” I have fourth cousins from Munster, County Cork.

Of course, I first remember him from NBC’s Saturday Night, which he joined after Chevy Chase left. I don’t recall him from ABC variety show Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell, and I did watch that single season. (The NBC series added Live to the title once Cosell’s show was canceled.) I associate Murray mostly with Nerd scenes with the late Gilda Radner, and the lounge singer performing the Star Wars theme. He was also Bill Murray the K in the Rutles TV movie, which was a Beatles parody.

He went on to have a great movie career. One of the first three VHS tapes I ever purchased was Groundhog Day (1992). I always loved that film, as it speaks of redemption. But I’ve only seen a fraction of his films. I’ve never seen, for instance, Meatballs (1979) or Caddyshack (1980).

Murray movies I’ve seen

Stripes (1981) I didn’t see this until 2018, while I was giving blood. While dated, it had its moments. He was great in a small part in Tootsie (1982). Ghostbusters (1984), Scrooged (1988), and What About Bob (1991) I remember fondly; Ghostbusters II (1989) was a lesser effort.

His body of work since 2005 that I’ve watched, all in the movie theater, that I wrote about is not an overwhelming list. It includes Get Low (2009); Moonrise Kingdom (2012); Hyde Park on the Hudson (2012); and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

Also, he voiced characters for The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009); The Jungle Book (2016); and Isle of Dogs (2018). His voice is always both familiar and evocative.

I feel I’m going to have to watch The Royal Tennenbaums (2001) and Lost in Translation (2003) again. Murray was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor in a Leading Role in the latter film. He did receive the Golden Globe as Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. Yet I found both of them terribly… frustrating. Sometimes, you’re just not in the right mood for a particular film.

In 2016, Bill Murray was deservedly awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor by the Kennedy Center. The following year, he was touring a “series of ‘songs and literary recordings’ accompanied by chamber music.” I saw a bit of this on CBS Sunday Morning at the time.

Baseball has been very, very good to him

“In 1978, Murray appeared in two at-bats for the Grays Harbor Loggers Minor League Baseball team, credited with one hit and a lifetime batting average of .500.

“He is a part-owner of the St. Paul Saints independent baseball team and occasionally travels to Saint Paul, Minnesota to watch the team’s games.[43] He also owns part of the Charleston RiverDogs, the Hudson Valley Renegades, and the Brockton Rox. He has invested in a number of other minor league teams in the past… In 2012 he was inducted into the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame for his ownership and investment activities in the league.”

And his love of Chicago sports teams is legendary, especially for his beloved Cubs. He has done commentary for games and sung Take Me Out to the Ballgame. He was present when the Cubs took Game 7 to win the 2016 World Series, after a 108-yar drought. He’s a fan of other sports as well.

In spite of a list of possible feuds in the past, he now seems comfortable in his skin.

NSFW video: Earl Butz and “Loose Shoes”

About an hour into the film Loose Shoes was a short musical sketch based on Earl Butz’s joke that also gave the movie its title.

ButzA3622-19Earl Butz, who was born 105 years ago today, was one of the worst US government officials ever. He was Secretary of Agriculture in the Cabinets of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. “His policies favored large-scale corporate farming” which has damaged the family farm to this day, and arguably “led directly to overproduction of corn and a subsequent rise of obesity in the United States.” But “he is best remembered for a series of verbal gaffes that eventually cost him his job.”

Butz resigned his cabinet post on October 4, 1976… News outlets revealed a racist remark he made in front of entertainer Pat Boone and former White House counsel John Dean while aboard a commercial flight to California following the 1976 Republican National Convention. The October 18, 1976 issue of Time reported the comment while obscuring its vulgarity [which I will only mildly do so here]:

When the conversation turned to politics, Boone, a right-wing Republican, asked Butz why the party of Lincoln was not able to attract more blacks. The Secretary responded… “I’ll tell you what the coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight p****; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to s***.”
After some indecision, Dean used the line in Rolling Stone, attributing it to an unnamed Cabinet officer. But New Times magazine enterprisingly sleuthed out Butz’s identity by checking the itineraries of all Cabinet members.

Butz was later convicted of tax evasion. He died in 2008 at the age of 98. As Arlo Guthrie said: “But that’s not what I came to tell you about.”

There was a 1980 movie called Loose Shoes, a/k/a Coming Attractions, which was probably filmed two or three years earlier. The premise was rather intriguing, to make a series of trailers for films that actually did not exist. The movie did not fare particularly well critically. It featured author Kinky Friedman, Buddy Hackett, Howard Hesseman (WKRP), Jaye P. Morgan, songwriter Van Dyke Parks, Avery Schreiber, Betty Thomas (Hill Street Blues), and Mark Volman of the singing group The Turtles, with voiceovers by, among others, Gary Owens and Harry Shearer. The reason it probably got released at all was the ascendant star power of Bill Murray, who had starred in Meatballs and Caddyshack, plus his tenure on Saturday Night Live.

But there was one segment of the comedy that was almost universally praised. From HERE: “A sketch movie along the lines of Kentucky Fried Movie, it was racially and sexually offensive and mostly unfunny, except…about an hour into the film was a short musical sketch based on Earl Butz’s joke that also gave the movie its title. This sketch is pure offensive genius. I can’t/won’t describe it, but its effect is on the order of the ‘Springtime for Hitler’ scene in The Producers.”

The reason I found it at all humorous, in its vulgar sort of way, was, in skewering the bigot Butz, that it is an almost letter-perfect take on jazz great Cab Calloway’s band. It was SO good, in fact, that Internet references ask whether the song was some lost Calloway ditty; it was not.

OK, if you like it, fine. If you’re offended, don’t say you weren’t warned. Watch Darktown After Dark HERE or HERE.

MOVIE REVIEW: Get Low

The movie Get Low was occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but it wasn’t cornpone humor as it might have been portrayed.

When I was growing up, living next door to my Grandma Williams’ house in Binghamton, NY was a crotchety old man named Pete Nedahall – not sure of the spelling. We – my sisters, my grandma’s next-door neighbors on the other side, and I were mighty afraid of him. If you stepped on his property to retrieve an errant ball, you were afraid that this stocky man might come out, wearing a T-shirt and boxer shorts, with a pitchfork, which he did from time to time. But mostly he yelled at us in his thick eastern European accent, perhaps Hungarian. Some of the neighbor kids would taunt him. His wife Kate was actually relatively pleasant to us, but when she died, he became even more embittered.

In the new movie Get Low – though it has a 2009 copyright – Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) plays a similarly onery hermit with a shotgun who decides to hold his own funeral, while he was still alive. The local pastor Gus Horton (Gerald McRaney) won’t help Felix with his plan, despite his large wad of “hermit money”, but the local funeral director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) is not so fussy. Aided by his assistant Buddy (Lucas Black), Frank helps Felix promote the party. Meanwhile, someone from Felix’s past, Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), returns to town, which proves to be a complicating factor, as does his relationship with another pastor, Charlie Jackson (Bill Cobbs).

The movie was occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but it wasn’t cornpone humor as it might have been portrayed. This is largely a function of the acting. Duvall has visited similar characters before, most notably in The Apostle, my favorite movie starring him. This is not as good a movie, but his performance is equally solid. Also to be noted is Bill Murray, who has learned in middle age, how to ratchet back his comedic characters and still be funny. I also liked Lucas Black, who I doubt I’ve ever seen in a film.

The movie is based on a true story, which apparently meant the funeral part, but not the back story about why he was closed off for four decades. Interestingly, there were critics who liked the movie very much, save for the more-or-less transparent ending. While I can see their point, the penultimate scene worked for me because of the sheer force of Duvall.

Besides, knowing the ending got me to thinking about old Mr. Nedahall, who I hadn’t crossed my mind in decades, and what secret pain he might have been experiencing those many years ago.