The October Surprise in 2020

“autocratic malarkey”

hydrochloroquineI woke up in the morning, and suddenly, it made sense, in a Bizarro world sort of way. Many pundits said there was no October surprise in 2020. I would disagree. The surprise was djt getting COVID.

He flies on Marine One to the hospital on a Friday. By Sunday, he’s riding around in a limo, waving to supporters. And on Monday evening, he’s back at the White House, defiantly ripping off his mask, saying “Screw you, COVID.” A week or so later, he’s off doing dozens of his rallies before tens of thousands of his adoring acolytes, including five events in four states in one day.

Now, you and I may see this as grossly irresponsible behavior, creating a bunch of possible super-spreader events. But to his fans, he is portraying Strength and Resilience.

It’s like in that old Saturday Night Live skit. He is the Arnold clones, Hans and Franz. He’s going to “Pump you up.” Meanwhile, the other guy, he says, is hiding in his basement like a “girly man.”

Never underestimate the appeal of toxic masculinity, especially mixed with half-truths. My gut says that the big blue wave didn’t come because those mysterious undecided voters leaned red. And possibly because his supporters lie to pollsters.

“The unhinged, dangerous, Democracy-destabilizing thing”

He gave a speech at the White House around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday in which he prematurely declared victory. This despite the fact that “millions upon millions of legitimate votes were still being counted. As Vanity Fair noted: “The goal, in all of its authoritarian bluster, was to get out in front of a result that might not land in his favor.”

Now, “the networks quickly and aggressively called bulls**t on Trump’s remarks, either breaking away from the speech or butting in with fact-checks. ‘We are reluctant to step in but duty-bound to point out when he says, ‘We did win this election, we’ve already won,’ that’s not based in the facts at all,’ said MSNBC’s Brian Williams.

His colleague Nicolle Wallace put it this way: ‘It’s straight-up autocratic malarkey, and what we have to keep in mind is that he’s not the boss of the counting…”

“CBS threw up a graphic stating, ‘CBS NEWS IS NOT PROJECTING A WINNER IN THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE,’ and Norah O’Donnell described Trump as ‘castrating the facts…’

“But perhaps the most noteworthy analysis was that seen on Trump’s frenemy network, Fox News… At a historic and uncharted moment like this, it was crucial to have a respected veteran newsman like anchor Chris Wallace telling the viewers what they needed to hear.

“‘This is an extremely flammable situation, and the president just threw a match on it,’ Wallace said. ‘He hasn’t won these states. Nobody is saying he’s won the states. The states haven’t said that he’s won.’

“The question is, did the viewers believe him?”

Where he leads, they will follow

Apparently not. Because the media, he keeps telling them, is fake. This despite the fact the shift in vote count was predictable.

“Dozens of [his] angry supporters… converged on vote-counting centers in Detroit and Phoenix as the returns went against him Wednesday in the two key states. The folks pounding on the Plexiglass in Detroit chanting “Stop the Count” made the NBC News on Wednesday. I feared for the wellbeing of the election workers inside.

Demonstrators, some armed, gathered at the government office in Maricopa County, AZ yelling, “Kill Fox,” and “Count the Vote.” Reportedly, the group became so threatening that the work of counting the vote had to be ended for the evening.

What does one want in a president? I found this four-minute video from John Green (no relation) about the decency of Joe Biden rather touching. And this 20-minute piece of John Oliver on the incompetence of the coronavirus response infuriating.

But djt apparently overcame the COVID. So he must be America Strong, even if he leaves it to his idiot son-in-law to “Let the Markets Decide America’s COVID-19 Fate.”

His fans appreciate his disdain for “political correctness.” He orchestrates his rallies as places to express their anger: “Fire Fauci,” “Lock Her Up.” Yet they’re OK with him lying to them about the seriousness of the pandemic, pushing conspiracy theories, dismissing climate change, pandering to racists, using the government for personal gain, and ruining our international reputation.

Yes, he suggests he’s for individual liberty, but it’s for those who agree with him. Lower taxes but really for the rich. Smaller government when it involves human services or the environment, but not the military. 

My rational brain says his fans are crazy. But I also have to admit I’m just not experiencing his persona the same way as they do. And it’s not just the one person but Trumpism I just don’t grok.

John Candy would have been 70

SCTV

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is my favorite John Candy movie. It’s also my favorite John Hughes film.

James Kendrick described it as “a road comedy about two men trying desperately to get home for Thanksgiving and having every obstacle imaginable thrown in their way. The men are played, in a feat of pitch-perfect casting, by Steve Martin and John Candy as complete opposites who, at the beginning of the film, don’t know each other, but by the end have found that they have more in common than they thought.”

Candy himself was quoted about the script. “I just cried with laughter when I read it. It’s like it was written with me in mind, which makes a big difference. I could see just see the movie in my mind.”

Back in 1972, John was accepted in the Second City comedy troupe’s Chicago group. For two years, he worked with folks such as John Belushi and Gilda Radner. He then returned to Toronto in 1974, working with Second City’s Toronto group.

SCTV

John “helped bring the troupe’s skits and sketches to Canadian television in 1977 as SCTV. The series also featured Martin Short, Eugene Levy, and Harold Ramis. That’s where I first him. “John Candy’s Johnny LaRue, Josh Shmenge and Gil Fisher (“The Fishin’ Musician”) were about as different from each other and Candy himself as you could possibly get.”

He reportedly turned down offers to be in the SNL cast. Interesting, then that he ended up in ten movies with SNL alums.

Among the movies I saw, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, Stripes, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Splash, and Home Alone. One of his best performances was in a more serious role. “During his screen-time as Dean Andrews in JFK (1991), the nervous sweat seen on his face is real, as the thought of acting in a dramatic film opposite such heavyweight actors as Donald Sutherland and Gary Oldman made him very scared.” He was very good.

Another solid role was as the title character in Uncle Buck (1989). He said, “In the movie, Uncle Buck doesn’t talk down to these kids. And I think that’s why they like him. He treats them as an equal.”

A sad demise

I’ve learned that John Candy lost his father Sidney to a heart attack when John was only five years old. Sidney was 35; HIS father also died of a heart attack. “John was a heavy smoker for most of his adult life. He officially quit smoking cigarettes a few months before he passed away.” And the large man was sensitive about his weight and periodically tried to shed some pounds.

Still, he too died of a heart attack, on March 4, 1994 at the age of 43. He was in Durango, Mexico filming the western spoof Wagons East. According to fellow SCTV alum Catherine O’Hara, “just before going to Mexico, Candy talked to her on the phone and told her that he feared going to Mexico because he felt that ‘something bad is going to happen there.'”

Sadly, John Candy, who was born 31 October 1950 in Toronto, Ontario, was only 43 when he died. He was well-loved by his compatriots.

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.

Actor Martin Short turns 70

The Associates

Martin ShortMy favorite thing featuring comic actor Martin Short was not a sketch comedy or a movie. It was on something called The Associates.

The writer Ken Levine recently answered a question on his blog. The inquiry was about “sitcoms that lasted a single season that nobody watched that, in your estimation, showcased a certain or unusual style of humor that gave it a little something atmosphere-wise that made them little lost gems?” Levine included “THE ASSOCIATES created by the TAXI team” that starred a young Martin Short as “a standout in the late ‘70s.”

That was my recollection too, but I hadn’t actually SEEN it since that single 13-episode 1979-1980 season. The IMBD describes it. “Three young law school graduates who had just joined the prestigious firm of Bass and Marshall as associates… Tucker [Martin Short] was a Midwesterner slightly out of step with his Ivy League Colleagues, a little naive but very charming.

“Daughter of a poor New York family, Leslie [Alley Mills, Orson Bean’s widow]… felt for the oppressed… Sara [Shelley Smith] was a Boston blueblood, bright as well as sexy.” The “formidable but slightly dotty Senior Partner Emerson Marshall” was played by Wilfrid Hyde-White. The “dedicated junior partner Eliot Streeter” who wanted “to take over the firm” was future Murphy Brown star Joe Regalbuto.

Is it as good as I remember? Do any of you recall it? Here are episodes one and two and three and four and five, at least for now.

SCTV, SNL

After that, Martin Short co-starred on the SCTV network in 1982-1983, with folks such as John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, and Andrea Martin. Then he appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1984-1985. This was an unusual move because SNL tended to pick unknowns, but that season, in addition to Short, the show featured Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest.

He went on to do movies such as the Three Amigos and Father of the Bride. But most recently, I know him best as the voice of the Cat in the Hat cartoon that was on PBS.

Presently, he’s been performing live with Steve Martin. They’d make a great JEOPARDY! “Before and After” clue. “This frequent SNL ‘wild and crazy’ host gigs with an SCTV and SNL star.” Who is Steve Martin Short? Short has a 2014 autobiography, I Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend.

Martin Short turns 70 on March 26.

John Belushi would have turned 70

Saturday Night Live was the platform from which John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd launched the Blues Brothers.

John Belushi.Rolling StoneSince John Belushi (January 24, 1949 – March 5, 1982) was only 33 when he died, he’s been gone longer than he was alive.

I watched Saturday Night Live religiously for the first quarter century. While that original cast was quite gifted, I’ve always balked at the notion that that all the subsequent groups were inadequate by comparison.

It’s unsurprising that Jane Curtin recently talked about sexism at SNL. “‘There were a few people that just out-and-out believe that women should not have been there and they believe that women were not innately funny,’ said the first female anchor of SNL’s ‘Weekend Update’ segment.” And one of those was Belushi.

Nevertheless, in lists of the greatest cast members of all time, Ranker has John Belushi at #3 and Rolling Stone dubbed him #1. “‘Samurai Hitman,’ where Belushi proves he doesn’t need words — just a robe and a sword — to turn a one-joke premise into a savage comic ballet.” He did a great Henry Kissinger, and the Greek owner of the Olympia Café always fascinated me.

SNL was also the platform from which Belushi and Dan Aykroyd launched the Blues Brothers. I suppose I was nervous about their sincerity – I didn’t know at the time that Aykroyd had played with a blues band in Canada – but having such luminaries as guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn from Booker T and the M.G.’s well as Matt “Guitar” Murphy, gave me comfort.

I was pleased when I bought the four-CD set Atlantic Blues in the 1990s and found Hey Bartender by Floyd Dixon and I Don’t Know by Willie Mabon. The Blues Brothers’ covers were surprisingly credible, I discovered.. Now the Blues Brothers MOVIE (1980) was loud and messy and pretty much critic-proof. And it had Aretha, Ray Charles sand Cab Calloway.

Belushi’s previous film, National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) practically invented the raunchy college comedy. What it lacked in script – “food fight!” – it more than made up with energy and panache and a great Elmer Bernstein score. It was wildly successful, and generated spinoffs on all three TV networks, none of which lasted more than a few months.

Animal House was endlessly quotable – “double secret probation.” But never more when Bluto Blutarsky (Belushi) gave the Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? speech.

The other John Belushi movie I saw was Continental Divide (1981), with him playing a tough Chicago reporter who “gets a little too close to the Mob.” For his protection, his editor sends him to Colorado to investigate an eagle researcher (Blair Brown).

I remember enjoying the movie, with Belushi playing against type. Though I recall that the reviews were mixed and the box office tepid, Roger Ebert liked it.

There’s often a desire to play “what if” when performers die tragically young. But it’s a futile task.