Cicely Tyson; Hank Aaron; Hal Holbrook; Cloris Leachman

Also, Larry King

The first time I ever saw the very brilliant performer Cicely Tyson, it was opposite George C. Scott in East Side/West Side back in 1963. Her work was always mesmerizing. I wrote about her here in 2013.

Ms. Tyson was the first Black woman to win a leading actress Emmy for the 1974 TV movie “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” She received a Tony for A Trip to Bountiful n 2013 at age 88, the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Variety called her a Pioneering Hollywood Icon.

The CNN piece noted that she “embodied African American women who demanded attention — and more than that, respect.” She was “bringing a sense of depth, nobility, and grace to every character.”

Cicely Tyson was highlighted in How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement, a 2013 book turned into a segment of American Masters on PBS in January 2021.

She had just released “Just as I Am: A Memoir” on Jan. 26. Here’s an interview with Gayle King, which you should watch if you can. It was taped on January 22, and she still had plans for the future.

Hammerin’ Hank

You may have heard about all of the hate mail Henry Aaron received, a black man pursuing Babe Ruth’s home run record, which he eclipsed in April 1974.

I only heard recently about a member of his security detail who wondered if the people running onto the field when Hank hit number 715 were exuberant fans or folks out to do the slugger harm. Would he have to shoot someone to protect the ballplayer?

And Hank had to put up with a lot of crap in his relatively brief minor league career, as explained here. “The Deep South circuit’s eight teams rigidly adhered to Jim Crow segregation laws; racist abuse from fans and exclusionary business practices were commonplace.” Yet he always dealt with this stress with dignity.

After his retirement, Aaron held front office roles with the Atlanta Braves, including as a senior vice president. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. I wrote about him in 2015.

Hank Aaron still holds the MLB records for runs batted in, extra-base hits, and total bases, and is second in home runs. He got into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 with 97.8% of the vote. Who were the nine sportswriters who left him off the ballot?

He was one of the greatest players of all time, possibly undervalued because he started playing in relatively small market Milwaukee when Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were working in New York City.

Samuel Clemens

Hal Holbrook has played John Adams, Abraham Lincoln (more than once), and the guy who helped bring down Nixon – Deep Throat – in All The President’s Men.

Of course, he was best known for playing Mark Twain for so long that he didn’t need the makeup in later years. Here’s a short video of Mr. Holbrook with actor James Karen. 

I watched him in Everything from Designing Women to Evening Shade. But my first favorite role of his was as the title character in The Bold Ones: The Senator, one of those rotating NBC shows in 1970-71 that lasted only one season, which was eight episodes. Yet it won five Emmys, including one for Hal.

Phyllis Lindstrom

Cloris Leachman won a best-supporting actress Oscar for The Last Picture Show, which I probably saw close to its 1971 release. She also was in arguably my favorite movie comedy, Young Frankenstein; here’s a clip.

Cloris won a total of seven Emmys, including two for Malcolm in the Middle, and a pair for appearing in one of my favorite TV shows of all time, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was a voice actor on Phineas and Ferb. And most recently, I saw her on the Mad About You reboot in 2019. My wife would note that, at age 82, she appeared on Dancing with the Stars (2005).

Gregory Sierra  I knew from SOAP, Sanford And Son, and Murder, She Wrote. But mostly from playing Chano on Barney Miller, another of my favorite shows.

I tended to watch Larry King only when he was interviewing folks I was really interested in. While that was a small percentage of his prodigious output, that turned out to be several dozen times. Here are some highlights.

Ken Levine remembers baseball’s Don Sutton and The Mary Tyler Moore Show co-creator Allan Burns

I’m working on more pieces about death. Oh, joy…

Music producer Phil Spector has died

art v artist

Phil SpectorEvery December, I listen to the Phil Spector box set Back to Mono. Why December? Because his birthday was on Boxing Day. There are three discs of music he had produced from 1958-1969 by such artists as the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love, and the Righteous Brothers. The fourth disc is the amazing album A Christmas Gift For You.

And yet it was increasingly clear that Phil Spector was a really awful individual. “In her 1990 memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette,” his ex-wife Ronnie “depicted Spector as an abusive husband prone to eccentric if not outright insane behavior.” He notoriously enjoyed playing with guns. Notably, a drugged Spector fired a gun in a recording control room, inches from former Beatle John Lennon’s ear in the early 1970s.

In 2003, actress Lana Clarkson was found dead at Spector’s mansion from a gunshot wound. “Despite telling his chauffeur that ‘I think I just shot her,’ as the chauffeur told police in an affidavit, Spector later recanted this.” Spector told police, and said “in interviews that Clarkson ‘may have accidentally taken her own life.’”

There was a hung jury in the first trial, ending in 2007. But he was convicted of second-degree murder in 2009. He died in a California prison on January 16, 2021.

Little Steven quote

How does one describe a certain musical magician who was so fundamentally flawed as a human being? The  BBC blew it initially. The first version of the breaking news story on the BBC News website carried the headline: “Talented but flawed producer Phil Spector dies aged 81”. Flawed? “The BBC said the headline ‘did not meet our editorial standards’. The text was quickly changed to: ‘Pop producer jailed for murder dies at 81.'”

Stevie Van Zandt wrote on Twitter, “A genius irredeemably conflicted, he was the ultimate example of the Art always being better than the Artist, having made some of the greatest records in history based on the salvation of love while remaining incapable of giving or receiving love his whole life.”

There are so many examples of the Art better than the Artist, and it is always a source of conflict for people with moral centers. Shall I watch X’s movies? Or read Y’s books?

Some songs

And more links in the Rolling Stone article.

Spanish Harlem –Ben E. King, #10 pop, #15 RB in 1961
Da Doo Ron Ron –The Crystals, #3 pop, #5 RB in 1963
A Fine, Fine Boy –Darlene Love, #29 RB, #53 pop in 1963
Unchained Melody –The Righteous Brothers, #4 pop, #6 RB in 1965; #13 pop in 1990

River Deep, Mountain High  –Ike and Tina Turner, #88 pop in 1966; #112 pop in 1969. “The baroque pop epic he considered his masterpiece… stalled… in the U.S. (though it would hit Number Three in the U.K.) A resentful Spector secluded himself in his Hollywood mansion for two years.”
Black Pearl –Sonny Charles And The Checkmates Ltd., #8 RB, #13 pop in 1969

When I Heard John Lennon Had Died

The Late Great Johnny Ace

John-LennonShortly before Thanksgiving 2020, I saw in the New York Post Page Six feature some ghoulish murderabilia [PDF p. 12]. “Double Fantasy’ album John Lennon signed for his killer was up for auction. The album — which in 1998 sold for $150,000 — has a starting bid of $400,000”. It even includes “police-evidence markings.” Yuck. I didn’t bother to follow the conclusion of this sale.

John Lennon died 40 years ago? I seem to remember it so well. On December 1, I had broken up with my girlfriend. So a week later, it was another Monday night. I decided this was the opportunity to watch Monday Night Football, which I would generally pass on for her sake. Since she wasn’t there…

It’s odd that I didn’t remember the game even before Howard Cosell informed me that the ex-Beatle had been killed. I do remember trying to call one of my friends repeatedly in Boston, but the line was busy for a couple of hours. Then I called my now-ex-girlfriend. What’s on the radio? WQBK was taking requests, and I may have asked for The End by the Doors.

The next day at lunchtime, I went to a local record store – Just A Song or maybe Strawberry’s – to buy Double Fantasy. It was sold out, so I purchased John’s Rock and Roll album from 1975. That Sunday, I was working at FantaCo, and the comic book store closed for ten minutes around 2 pm, per Yoko’s request for a period of silence.

Songs

(Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon, the first single off Double Fantasy. If I recall correctly, it was selling fine. But in the wake of his death, it soared to #1  for five weeks in the US, one of those odd posthumous #1 hits. The bitter irony of the damn song made me teary; OK, occasionally, it still does. As did Merry Xmas (War Is Over) by John and Yoko, which I heard a lot that season.

Walking On Thin Ice – Yoko Ono. The guitar on this recording is the last guitar John Lennon ever played on a record, on the day he died. I bought the single and still have it. It went to #58 in the US in early 1981. The B-side was It Happened.

All Those Years Ago – George Harrison. Released in May 1981 as a single from his album Somewhere in England. Ringo on drums, Paul and Linda McCartney on backing vocals. #2 for three weeks in 1981.

Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) – Elton John, #13 in 1982.

Here Today – Paul McCartney, from the April 1982 album Tug of War. It was written like a dialogue between Lennon and McCartney.

The Late Great Johnny Ace – Paul Simon. From the 1983 album Hearts and Bones. A haunting coda composed by Philip Glass.

And also:

Coverville 1335: The 17th Annual Beatles Thanksgiving Cover Story, featuring songs from Rubber Soul

COVID deniers with COVID

Wear a mask in public. Social distancing. This is news?

donald trump wearing corona virus mask face blinded cartoonI’ve been watching the evening news, masochist that I am. More than once in the last few weeks, I’ve seen someone break down crying about the loss of their beloved family member. I’m not made of stone, so I feel a little sad.

Then they weep, “I didn’t know that COVID was REAL!” I bite my lip. In a recent comment on my blog, the blogger fillyjonk wrote, “I find myself irrationally angry at so many of my fellow citizens. ” I tend to agree with her, except for the “irrationally” part. NOW, they believe?

Still, I was STUNNED to read an article in  Vanity Fair this month. What Do You Do When Your COVID Patient Doesn’t Believe In COVID? The online version is quite explicit: “‘It’s the Trump Bubble.'” OMG. “The Right Has Created a Wave of COVID Patients Who Don’t Believe It’s Real.”

Even before getting to the story itself, this description. “A Texas nurse had a patient in a COVID ICU tell her the virus is ‘fake news.’ A California nurse was mocked for wearing a mask. As a new wave of COVID-19 sweeps the country, health care workers are grappling with the consequences of the president’s misinformation machine. ‘This is insane,’ says one. ‘I have never seen anything like it.'”

I am literally holding my hands to my head, fearing that it will somehow explode. COVID deniers with COVID.

Nothing is real

“Gigi Perez, a California–based nurse… told me, ‘The COVID-19 unit I work in has already lost seven nurses in the last three months due to the burnout from managing these types of patients.’ In the last two weeks, Perez said, nine of her fellow health care workers have contracted COVID-19. Workers are ‘beginning to resent the public for not doing their part to help control the pandemic,’ she said.”

And this. “An infectious disease doctor who asked to remain anonymous told me he had never before experienced politics overshadowing science in the medical field. ‘Before [Donald] Trump I never spoke politics in the clinic room,’ he said. ‘There is no doubt that COVID splits into fact-free and factful worlds. This is why we have a raging epidemic.”

In WaPo,  read about a Missouri county health director. Concerning contact tracing, she says, “Probably half of the people we call are skeptical or combative. They refuse to talk. They deny their own positive test results. They hang up. They say they’re going to hire a lawyer. They give you fake people they’ve spent time with and fake numbers.”

While downplaying the pandemic from the beginning, the despicable regime behavior started in earnest on April 3. That’s when IMPOTUS said his experts were “now recommending Americans wear ‘non-medical cloth’ face coverings.” He said “the recommendations… were voluntary and that he would not partake. ‘I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”

And the die was cast. Now, hospitals in half the states are facing a massive staffing shortage as Covid-19 surges.

White flag

Here’s a story in the Boston Globe.  With COVID-19 victory in sight, America surrenders. “What’s happened to us? A lifetime ago, Americans endured years of Great Depression suffering, then went off to fight World War II or, on the home front, tightened their belts, stretched their rationed food, and planted Victory Gardens.”

But that’s not us. “Yes, this isolated, socially distanced existence is tiresome, particularly in cold weather. But we have salvation, in the form of vaccinations, within sight… Then life will begin to return to normal.”

This past summer, the writer “had a chance to catch up with an old pal from high school who, long a Republican, has become a Fox News conservative. The good news, said my friend, who has a graduate degree, was that if the Democrats won, the big to-do about COVID-19 would end on Nov. 3. Why, I asked? Because, he said, it was all a big hoax to get Joe Biden elected. We joke a lot, so I assumed he was kidding. No.”

So it makes “sense” that when the CDC urges against Thanksgiving travel, it will be largely ignored. In the New York Times, a writer traced his COVID-19 bubble and it’s “enormous.” He was thinking a dozen or two, but it was over 100 people.

And much of the blame for the current explosion of cases must fall on a regime that has announced in October, “We are not going to control the pandemic.” That’s the truth. About four dozen of them have had the virus.

I am SO angry with the regime’s handling of the crisis. Americans are dying unnecessarily. And the buck stops there.

Death, The New Normal. 20 years after dad.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Les Green.tree sweaterWading through old email earlier this year, I found this piece that Parker J. Palmer called Death, The New Normal. It’s fairly short.

“If emotional honesty is part of living well — which surely it is — then shaking my fist at death is just as important as accepting it. If that’s unenlightened, so be it! At least I have the good company of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

“I discovered her ‘Dirge Without Music’ when my father died nearly twenty years ago. I found a curious peace in the poet’s refusal to accept the inevitable, and I find it again today.”

As it turns out, it’s been twenty years since my father died. And I remember it all, astonishingly well. Hearing, in Albany, that my father was in the hospital. The news on a Thursday that my father had a stroke. My wife and I staying in his hospital room in Charlotte the following Monday night. The levity between my father and my baby sister on Tuesday morning.

The rapid decline he had undergone between Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening, when the doctor said he would die within the week. Starting to write the obituary on Thursday morning, only to get the news that he was dying. And my sisters had both vehicles. Me waking the next-door neighbor who worked nights, and who I did not know, to get him to drive my mother and me to the hospital. My wife staying back to watch niece Alex. Mom and I arriving after he had died.

The lengthy funeral negotiations on Friday. The funeral on Sunday. The burial at a military cemetery 40 miles away on Monday, and deciding that taking the limo made sense. A bunch of aftermath stuff.

Poem

Dirge Without Music
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

(Excerpted from Collected Poems. Read the full poem here.)