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.

Comic actors Jerry Stiller, Fred Willard

mockumentaries

Jerry Stiller.Thom Wade
Art by Thom Wade c 2020. Used by permission.
When I read that Jerry Stiller, died at 92 recently, I didn’t first think of the 1990s. I went right away to Stiller and Meara. They were on The Ed Sullivan Show over 30 times between 1963 and 1971. I probably saw most of them.

Their schtick was that Jerry Stiller’s character was Jewish and the late Anne Meara’s character was Irish Catholic. You can see them from June 14th, 1964. Except that their characters mirrored their real-life status, though Anne converted to Judaism. In fact, they broke up the act in the early 1970s because they couldn’t always tell where their act ended and their lives began.

Yet their example was a very light-hearted way to talk about breaking down ethnic barriers. In a Theater Talk interview around 2010, Part 1 and Part 2, Jerry mentioned their biggest controversy in those days. They did a joke their son marrying one of the Supremes, a bit that didn’t go over well in certain parts of the country. Jerry told Sullivan that the couple was taking a bit of flak over the joke. Sullivan said not to worry about it, that he’d take care of it.

A couple more bits: The Carol Burnett Show and an ad for the National Safety Council.

Of course, a younger generation knew him better as George Costanza’s dad Frank in 26 episodes of Seinfeld. The character famously created A FESTIVUS for the rest of US!. I never watched The King of Queens, but here is The Best of Arthur Spooner. Stiller’s character eventually was matched up with a character played by Anne Meara.

Jerry Stiller had over 100 other credits, in comedy, dramas, game shows, and talk shows. He was 92 when he died, the father of an up-and-coming actor named Ben Stiller.

He was the Best in Show

Fred Willard.Thom Wade
Art by Thom Wade c 2020. Used by permission.
Fred Willard has over 300 credits in the IMBD, from guest appearances going back to 1966, to his breakthrough as Jerry Hubbard on over 100 episodes of Fernwood Tonight/America 2-Night. He’s had recurring roles on Roseanne, Mad About You, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Modern Family, as Phil Dunphy’s dad, Frank.

I best know him from that series of Christopher Guest mockumentaries, Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003). Here’s a clip from the latter.

The New York Times called him, “The king of the deadpan cameo, the guy who makes a one-shot appearance as an office manager or furniture salesman and ends up stealing the scene.” Hollywood Reporter called him the Master of Comic Cluelessness. Watch The New WKRP in Cincinnati: Nancy’s Old Man episode.

Here’s the Fred Willard Collection on Letterman, 1982-2007. I saw this bit years ago, and I’m still going to post it: The Worst Video Will. His proudest achievement and biggest regret. He was 86.

Is ‘laugh resistance’ against the regime funny?

Pottersville is our reality.

Seth Meyers
Seth Meyers
Recently, writer Mark Evanier made this suggestion after that Saturday Night Live sketch that set him off, the It’s a Wonderful Life “remake” —which “wasn’t even the harshest thing they’ve done about him.

“The cold open I’d like to see them do would go something like this: They’d have an Oval Office setting and they’d trot out all the usual players… — and right in the middle of it, Alec Baldwin stops in mid-sentence, everyone on stage freezes and Baldwin breaks character…

“He pulls off the wig, turns to everyone and says, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do this anymore. This man is no longer a clown to make fun of. This man is doing so much damage to the country I love and causing so much anxiety and pain among the poor and the non-white that I can’t make fun of his hair anymore. This is much more serious than that.’

“He walks off, the other cast members look at each other to ask ‘What do we do now?’ And then they all realize he’s right and they start pulling off their wigs and appliances and in unison, they tell the camera, ‘Live from New York…’ etc., and the show proceeds with no more Trump imitations. Until he’s no longer a threat.”

Larry Wilmore
Larry Wilmore

Evanier’s not wrong. The trick here for me is that it has already been done, three years ago. The Nightly Show, starring Larry Gilmore, which followed The Daily Show on Comedy Central, did this skit in December 2015.

In case you can’t see it in your country, actors Mike Yard and Ricky Velez each start doing a piece mocking Trump and then quit mid-skit, suggesting that the guy isn’t funny. Gilmore is initial “surprised” but then agrees that his cast is absolutely right. Unfortunately, The Nightly Show was canceled a few months later.

This is why the comic shows I watch that skewer Trump are, for my money, only purportedly funny. I’m not laughing ha-ha, only at the absurdity of the situation. If he’s upset when “idiot” is trending on Google, the humor factor is mitigated by the noise of him and his sycophants. As Ken Levine noted, “‘Pottersville’ – named after the evil businessman Mr. Potter – is our reality. The nightmare has come true.”

I think most of the late-night shows are “a sort of ‘laugh resistance'” against the regime. This IS quite useful and informative, especially from Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, and John Oliver. But some of them – Stephen Colbert being prime among them – I agree with philosophically yet I find usually unwatchable.

Variety suggests that the trick for the late-night hosts “is to make sure their content is fueled mostly by humor.” That is a fine line to track – be both funny and relevant.

100 greatest movie comedies of all time

literally fell out of my seat laughing, in the movie theater

Some Like It Hot

Some Like It Hot[/caption]My problem with of most rosters such as the “greatest movie comedies” is that there’s a good chance I’ve seen substantial portions of them. But they don’t count unless I’ve seen them in their entirety.

So I’ve seen chunks of:

87. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953)
80. Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999)
65. Caddyshack (Harold Ramis, 1980)
54. Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)
33. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004)

28. It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)
27. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
25. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
21. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)

17. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
16. The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940)
15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 1975)
14. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
13. To Be or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)
12. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
11. The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998) This was playing at the local cinema recently, and I didn’t make it

10. The General (Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 1926)
5. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
2. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
1. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) – I’ve probably watched every scene, but never from beginning to end

Odd thing about 100. (tie) The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982) is that I have the soundtrack on LP but I never saw the film

I have seen, almost always in a cinema:

99. The Jerk (Carl Reiner, 1979) – on TV
95. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)
85. Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973) – probably at college
84. Waiting for Guffman (Christopher Guest, 1996)

78. The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) – saw this, again, recently, in the cinema with the family
74. Trading Places (John Landis, 1983)
73. The Nutty Professor (Jerry Lewis, 1963) – as a kid, at the movies
72. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (David Zucker, 1988)
71. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001) – didn’t particularly like it

69. Love and Death (Woody Allen, 1975) – I’ve seen virtually all of Woody’s films in the 20th century
58. Zelig (Woody Allen, 1983)
57. Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004)
56. Broadcast News (James L Brooks, 1987)- when I saw it in the cinema, I loved it at the time
55. Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 2000)
53. The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980)

47. Animal House (John Landis, 1978) – I can always listen to the “Germans bomb Pearl Harbor” speech
46. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) – ah, this was a comedy. OK, I guess
44. Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011)
43. M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970) – when Albany got an independent TV station in the early 1980, now its FOX affiliate, it showed this movie at 8 a.m. on the first Sunday it was on the air

40. The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1967) – my second favorite Brooks movie
38. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940) – on TV
36. A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton and John Cleese, 1988)
35. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952) – saw it on DVD with the family
34. Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
32. Raising Arizona (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1987) – possibly THE best movie before the opening credits that I’ve ever seen. Six people the movie theater.
31. Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1982)

29. When Harry Met Sally… (Rob Reiner, 1989) – made a star out of Carl Reiner’s wife Estelle
22. Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974) – literally fell out of my seat laughing, in the movie theater
20. Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974)

9. This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)
7. Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1980) – I’ll Roger that
6. Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979) – I never really understood he controversy; Brian CLEARLY wasn’t Jesus. One of my favorite segments is about what the Romans have done for us
4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993) – one of the first movies I bought on VHS
3. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977) – my touchstone movie, and also one of the first I got on VHS

Only 34 of the greatest movie comedies, meh. There are also links to interesting articles about the gender preferences in the selection.

November rambling #2: Book two of the trilogy

Albany by Roger Whitaker

1941 Dr Seuss cartoon illustrating the U.S. stance denying Jews safe haven from the Nazis.
1941 Dr Seuss cartoon illustrating the U.S. stance denying Jews safe haven from the Nazis.

From The Weekly Sift, November 21, 2016:

Like most people I know, I’ve been suffering occasional attacks of rage or depression. But it’s also oddly energizing sometimes. If you ever had fantasies of being a hero, well, gear up; the villains are taking the field. It feels like we’re in a trilogy, somewhere around the end of Book Two. Ancient evils have jumped out of history books and grainy newsreels, and are appearing on live TV. Their words and ideas are coming out of the mouths of our neighbors.

Who thought we’d have to deal with this in our lifetimes?

For some while now, everything that you can think to do about the situation is going to seem hopelessly inadequate. But it’s important that you do it anyway. That’s how it is at the end of Book Two. Continue reading “November rambling #2: Book two of the trilogy”