Thursday, July 31, 2008


Today is the fifth anniversary of "Avenue Q" and our friend (co-composer) Jeff Marx will be at tonight's performance that will include his writing partner, Robert Lopez and all the members of the original cast including John Tartaglia. Imagine that a show with puppets succeed like crazy. John Nugent and I met Jeff at an ASCAP musical workshop and John and he have been corresponding. What a sweet guy. Speaking of John Nugent and myself we began a big marketing campaign yesterday to promote our musicals. We are putting a lot of effort into each of these submissions to make them the best presentation that we can. We wrote one Tennessee theatre to tell them that we are working on a musical called "The Shadow of Freedom"-- what an amazing story: that of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson (who died on this day at age 66) . Most people have no idea how close this country came to to a complete unraveling on that day in May of 1868 when the United States Senate gathered to vote on whether to remove the president from office. Johnson was guilty of nothing. All he tried to do was to follow in Lincoln's footsteps. The radical Republicans of his day, however hated him- they wanted to really punish the South. Had Johnson been removed from office, that would have made Benjamin "hot head" Wade the Chief executive. Wade wanted to re-ignite the Civil War. Had that happened, France and England (desperate for the export of cotton from Dixie) would have re-entered the war on the side of the South. With that, all progress (including the Industrial Revolution) would have been delayed by about eighteen years. Can you imagine-- we might still be on eight track tapes and dealing with Atari computers. So we sent this theatre in Crossville, TN a proposal for them to be the first theatre to book the show upon its completion. The first two scenes are completed as are three lyrics and one complete song. Today also is the birthday of performer Gary Lewis-- son of Jerry. Remember?The group auditioned for a job at Disneyland, supposedly without telling Disneyland employees about Lewis' celebrity father. They were hired on the spot, audiences at Disneyland quickly accepted them and the Playboys were soon playing to a full house every night. Band leader Les Brown had known Jerry Lewis for years and he told record producer Snuff Garrett that the younger Lewis was playing at Disneyland. After listening to the band, Garrett thought using Gary's famous name might sell records. Garrett took them into a recording studio with the song "This Diamond Ring" in a session financed by Jerry Lewis' wife Patti. However, according to Lewis, the Playboys were'n’t allowed to play their instruments except on the backing tracks. Garrett wanted to maximize the chances for a hit, so he insisted on using experienced studio musicians for the overdubs, which included guitar and keyboard solos, additional bass and drum overdubs, and timpani. These musicians included Tommy Allsup on guitar, Leon Russell on keyboards, Joe Osborn on bass, and Hal Blaine on drums. Session singer Ron Hicklin did the basic vocal track. Garrett then added Gary’s voice twice, added some of the Playboys and more of Hicklin. "When I got through, he sounded like Mario Lanza," Garrett commented.
Garrett got airplay in New York City for "This Diamond Ring" by making a deal with WINS disc jockey Murray the K Kaufman, who ran a series of all-star concerts at theaters around the New York area, promising that if he played Lewis’ record, the Playboys would do his shows. Garrett then had Jerry Lewis use his contacts to get his son onto The Ed Sullivan Show. However, Sullivan had a general policy that all acts appearing on his show were to perform live (although one of his frequent guests, The Dave Clark Five, had lip-synched from their second appearance on, in early 1964). Since so many studio tricks had been used on the record, the Playboys could not re-create its sound. In compromise, Lewis sang along with pre-recorded tracks as the Playboys pretended to play their instruments. The January 1965 broadcast made Gary Lewis and the Playboys instant stars, "This Diamond Ring" went to #1 and pressing plants reportedly could not keep up with initial demand for the record. However, by the end of 1965 only West and Lewis remained in the band. In 1965 Gary Lewis was Cash Box magazine's "Male Vocalist of the Year," winning against nominees Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra and was the only artist during the 1960s to have his first seven single releases reach Billboard magazine's Top 10 on the Hot 100 chart, with "Count Me In" (#2), "Save Your Heart for Me" (#2), "Everybody Loves a Clown" (#4), "She's Just My Style" (#3), "Sure Gonna Miss Her" (#9), and "Green Grass" (#8) all hitting the upper reaches of the chart. Lewis was drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1967 and discharged in 1968. He immediately returned to recording but was unable to regain his group's earlier momentum. Lewis continued touring, eventually marketing the band as a nostalgia act. -- ah the decline of fame! Gary also appeared and performed on many of his father's Labor Day telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Gary Lewis had eight Gold Singles 17 Top 40 hits and four gold albums. In addition to The Ed Sullivan Show, he appeared on American Bandstand, Shindig!, Hullabaloo, The Sally Jessy Raphaël show, Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show, Nashville Now and Wolfman Jack. My sister Annette was able to contact an old family friend by the name of Sally Pritchard. She was a great friend of my mother and the last time I saw her was in 1968--yep that was forty years ago. She is now seventy-eight years old and lives in Rhode Island. Wow! Well, later!

Monday, July 28, 2008


Today is the anniversary in 1920 of the professional debut of two amazing songwriters. These of course are Rodgers and Hart and on this day in 1920 they opened their very first Broadway show together called (believe it or not) "Poor Little Ritz Girl" -- now since I used to work for Ritz Camera and these guys pay so damn little to new "associates" everybody new is "poor" working for them. I am still astonished how poorly they treat the people that make their business possible.-- sales people. Nothing happens without "the sale". By the way Larry Hart died in 1943-- a victim of alcohol abuse- very sad.They worked together on about thirty musicals from 1919 until Hart's death in 1943. Their big breakthrough didn't come along until five years n 1925 with The Garrick Gaiety's, which featured the hit song "Manhattan."Their many other hits include "Here In My Arms," "Mountain Greenery," "The Blue Room" "My Heart Stood Still," "You Took Advantage of Me," "Ten Cents a Dance," "Dancing on the Ceiling," "Spring is Here," "Lover," "Mimi," "Isn't It Romantic?" "Blue Moon," "Easy To Remember" "The Most Beautiful Girl In The World," "My Romance," "Little Girl Blue" "There's a Small Hotel," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," "Where Or When," "My Funny Valentine," "Johnny One Note" "The Lady is a Tramp," "Have You Met Miss Jones?," "This Can't Be Love," "Falling In Love With Love," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "I Could Write a Book," and "Wait Till You See Her"So okay, now, how many of those songs do you know? How many have you played on the piano or just sung out loud? Rodgers and Hart songs have long been favorites of cabaret singers and jazz artists. Hart's lyrics, (as opposed to Hammerstein's) were facile, vernacular, dazzling, sometimes playful, sometimes melancholic and they raised the standard for Broadway songwriting. Rodgers wrote the melodies first and Hart crafted the lyrics after: the direct opposite of the Rodgers and Hammerstein method in which Oscar wrote the lyrics first. Rodgers was a creator of melodies and he ranks with Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin. Rodgers and Hart shows belong to the era when musicals were revue-like and librettos weren't much more than excuses for comic turns and music cues. Still, just as the duo's tunes were a cut above, so did the team try to raise the standard of the musical form in general. Thus A Connecticut Yankee (1927) was based on Mark Twain's novel, and The Boys From Syracuse (1938) on William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors.I bet you didn't know that last one! My favorite is Pal Joey (1940), which is often thought their best show, has a book by The New Yorker writer John O'Hara--adapting his own short stories--and features a title character who's a heel. So unflinching was the portrait that critic Brooks Atkinson famously asked in his review "Although it is expertly done, how can you draw sweet water from a foul well?" When the show was revived in 1952, audiences had learned to accept and enjoy darker material on Broadway (thanks in large part to Rodgers' work with Hammerstein) and audiences found it easier to deal with. The new production ran considerably longer than the original. Atkinson, reviewing the revival, said his original judgment had been wrong. Comparisons between Rodgers and Hart and the successor team of Rodgers and Hammerstein are inevitable. Hammerstein's lyrics project warmth, sincere optimism, and occasional corniness. Hart's lyrics showed greater sophistication in subject matter, more use of overt verbal cleverness, and more of a "New York" or "Broadway" sensibility. The archetypal Rodgers and Hart song, "Manhattan," rhymes "The great big city's a wondrous toy/Just made for a girl and boy" in the first stanza, then reprises with "The city's glamor can never spoil/The dreams of a boy and goil" in the last. (oh well) Many of the songs ("Falling in Love with Love", "Little Girl Blue", "My Funny Valentine") are wistful or sad, and are really emotional ambivalence that seems to be perceptible in the background of even the sunnier songs. For example, "You Took Advantage of Me" appears to be an evocation of amorous joy, but the very title suggests some doubt as to whether the relationship is mutual or exploitative. We lost Frank Loesser today in 1959 at the very young age of fifty-nine. What wonderful songs he wrote! My favorite is "Inchworm" and "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat" John and I had a computer crash, but we were able to save everything. Printer is still out, however and we are trying to figure out why because after backing it all up, we returned the computer to original specs. The error message says that we are lacking a connection device. Now if used this same software to install the printer the first time two years ago, why is that same software suddenly missing a "connection device" Well this for sure: No more HP Printers for me. They are simply a big pain in the ass! Until next time!

Sunday, July 27, 2008


It's hard to believe, but it was five years ago today that we lost the late great and incredible Bob Hope. The man was simply the most incredible entertainer of all time and lived to the ripe old age of one hundred. In the last waning days of his life Bob Hope was funny right to the end. His dear wife Dolores went to him a couple of months before his demise and asked him "Where would you like to be buried? And the great Bob Hope quipped back "Surprise Me". How many Christmases did this dear man save for thousands upon thousands of lonely GI'S. I used to so enjoy those monologues of his. There is one classic show that Jack Benny had on NBC in which Walt Disney and Bob Hope were the guest stars. Yes, believe it or not Jack was trying to pilfer one hundred free tickets to Disneyland. The Beach Boys were also featured on the program. But the real hoot came as Bob Hope did a spoof on "Mary Poppins" called "Mary Poppanini"-- in which Hope falls for the mythical nanny. Mary was played onm the show by the late Anita Eckberg, the blond bombshell of the 1960's. In other news I see another Broadway show is closing-- it's called "A Catered Affair" and had only played 117 regular performances. John Bucchini and Harvey Fierstein wrote the book and the score. You would think with all of John's many credits, not to mention Harvey's--and all those Tony nominations for this show would have saved it. It was a small cast musical to boot! Maybe Broadway expects and demands big spectacles as we saw in the age of the mega musical--oh well. A little sad side note. How many know of pancreatic cancer? It is a real killer. Jack Benny, Donna Reed, Michael Landon, Luciano Pavarotti, and most of Jimmy Carter's family have all died of this dreaded disease. A simple blood test can detect it's presence. Go get one with your next physical. And to Bob Hope! Thanks for the memory, dear soul. Your generous spirit and your amazing talent will stay with us for many many years to come. In news about the creative side of my life, John Nugent and i continue working on "A Little Bit of Broadway"-- a small cast musical-- gee, I wonder with today's news, we need to increase the cast size, add spectacle and a few explosions, and in light of what won the Tony's this year make it a full rap score. Ha Ha! Fortunately today, closing on Broadway is not the end of the chapter as long as you have a promoter/producer who knows how to take it on tour. John and I do have a rather spectacular ending planned for "A Little Bit of Broadway"-- but if we can pull this off it will not involve cast members. One side note I found amusing. Today would have been film critic's Vincent Camby's birthday. Camby was the noted film critic for the New York Times. Camby died before Bob Hope did, but because everybody thought that Hope would die at any moment starting at age ninety-five they had Camby write his obituary-- FIVE YEARS-- before Hope died. On the day that he did, the Times took the obituary out of editorial mothballs and printed it as if it had just been written the night before. I can only imagine Hope meeting Camby in eternity and having one hell of a laugh about it! All good thoughts for Tim tomorrow-- fingers and toes crossed and our prayers .
I was very sad to learn of a mother who was in the news in the last few days who killed herself because the mortgage company was about to sell her house at five pm the same day. Incredibly her husband and grown son had absolutely no idea that the couple was behind in the mortgage. Good Lord! How does that happen. Does the husband wear a blindfold while he's home and never look at the mail. I would think the phone calls alone would have tipped him off-- very sad!

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I am reminded today of a great classic comedy show from the mid 1950's to 1964. It was the Danny Thomas Show called "Make Room For Daddy" It starred of course Danny Thomas and his original wife was actress Jean Hagen(she was the mother in Walt Disney's "The Shaggy Dog") Jean quit in 1956 and was replaced by actress Marjorie Lord who played Danny's new wife Kathy Williams. Well, Dear Danny died in 1991 of a heart attack, but today is Marjorie Lord's 90th birthday-- imagine that. Angella Cartwright who played Linda, Sid Melton who played "Uncle Charley" and Pat Carroll (she did the voice of Ursula for Disney's "Little Mermaid") are still alive. Rusty Hamner who played the wise cracking kid killed himself in 1990 and Hans Conreid ("Uncle Tonoose") died in 1982. Also in the show was Bill Dana ("Jose Jimenez") and Gale Gordon who played Danny's new landlord. It was delightful. Happy Birthday, Marjorie. I also found out that Marjorie performed on tape and CD a letter that was written by the wife of Pontious Pilate-- written after the crucifixion-- while she was in exile. Her name was Claudia. You might remember that it was Pilate's wife who sent the great "hand washing" governor a note about Jesus that basically said "I have had a dream-- have nothing to do with the fate of this just man". I have read that Pilate became a slave of Caligula-- but have never been able to confirm that.In the New Testament, the only reference to Pilate’s wife exists in a single sentence by Matthew. According to the Gospel of Matthew 27:19, she sent a message to her husband asking him not to condemn Jesus Christ to death: ‘While Pilate was sitting in the judgment hall, his wife sent him a message: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him.”[1] Pilate did not heed his wife’s warning.
The name "Claudia" only appears once in the New Testament, in 2 Timothy 4:21: ‘Eubulus, Pudens, Linus and Claudia send their greetings, and so all the other Christians’. However, there is nothing to suggest that this Claudia was Pilate's wife.
Origen's second century Homilies on Matthew suggest that she became a Christian, or at least that God sent her the dream mentioned by Matthew so that she would become one.This interpretation was shared by several theologians of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Rival theologians contended the dream was sent by Satan in an attempt to thwart the salvation that was going to result from Christ's death.Pontius Pilate's wife is mentioned in the apocryphal Acts of Pilate(Gospel of Nicodemus, probably written around the middle of the 4th century),which gives a more elaborate version of the episode of the dream than Matthew.The name Procula derives from translated versions of that text. The chronicle of Pseudo-Dexter (1619) is the first place known where she is referred to as Claudia.
Procula Claudia is recognized as a saint in two churches within the Eastern Christian tradition: the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, she is celebrated on October 27th. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Pilate and Procula together on June 25th A letter, purportedly written in Latin by Pilate's wife from "a little Gallic mountain town" several years after Pilate left Jerusalem, was first published in English by Pictorial Review Magazine in April 1929.The English version of the letter was provided by writer Catherine Van Dyke and it states that Pilate's wife successfully sought Jesus' aid to heal the crippled foot of her son Pilo. Pilate's wife has been featured in literature, theater, film and television.Charlotte Brontë wrote the poem "Pilate's Wife's Dream" in 1846. The Biblical scholar Paul Maier, in Pontius Pilate: A Biographical Novel attempts to take what is known from the documented record and from there construct a fictional narrative as connective material. Maier refers to Pilate's wife as "Procula" arguing that the name "Claudia" only comes from a later tradition.Novels inspired by Pilate's wife include The Bride of Pilate (1959) by Esther Kellner and Pilate's Wife: A Novel of the Roman Empire (2006) by Antoinette May. Both books use the name Claudia, and May's book depicts her parents as Roman aristocrats related by blood to Emperor Augustus. In theater, the life of Pilate's wife has been the subject of the dramas “A Play for Easter” by Jewell Ellen Smith and “Claudia Procula” by Curt M. Joseph. The Andrew Lloyd Weber-Tim Ricestage musical Jesus Christ Superstar and the subsequent film version omits Pilate's wife and gives the dream about Jesus to her husband in the song Pilate's Dream.In films, Pilate's wife was called “Proculla” in the 1927 Cecil B. DeMille epic The King of Kings Majel Coleman played the role. Other notable cinematic references include Barbara Billingsley in the 1954 Day of Triumph, Viveca Lindfors in the 1961 King of Kings (where she is identified as the daughter of the Roman emperor Tiberius), Jeanne Crain in the 1962 Italian film Ponzio Pilato, and Angela Lansbury in the 1965 epic The Greatest Story Ever Told) In the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ she is known as Claudia Procles (played by Claudia Gerini). In this film, she fails to lobby her husband to save Jesus and consoles Jesus' mother Mary, while Mary Magdalene generously hands them towels to clean up the blood from his scourging.Amazing stuff, folks, amazing stuff! This all sounds like it could make one amazing musical.

Friday, July 25, 2008


The passing of Estelle Ghetty was pretty hard on me. I loved the character of Sophia that she portrayed. When I studied comedy writing with the late great Danny Simon, he had always taught us writers that only absolute honesty was funny--in fact it could be downright hysterical. We laugh at something honest because we can see ourselves in that very role and/or in the very same situation. Why do we laugh at Lucy? Because Lucy has no pretensions. She plays her character as we should lead our lives-- direct, as we are, "warts and all". Sophia was written in such a way that you could not help laughing at her zingers. The set up was wonderful -- an elderly lady has an operation that does away with that inhibition device in our brains that prevents us from saying exactly what is on our minds. Well because you can incorporate comedy into everything that was the basic premise for the show. I had a chance once to pitch an idea to the Golden Girls producers. There I was and they said to me-- Ok, you think you can write for us -- give us something funny that Sophia would do and what she would say about it. I thought a moment and said "Ok, Sophia and Dorothy go to a "Rocky Horror Show" midnight showing. Now everyone should know that because of the nature of the showing (in which every one can come in a costume from the film and they know the lines from the script by heart that once you are in one of these lines to see it, they don't permit you to leave the line. So my premise was that Dorothy and Sophia would actually have gone into the showing, maybe by accident and watched "Rocky Horror" for the very first time in their lives. (This person would be called "a virgin")They said to me "That smells funny"-- meaning that the situation was "ripe" for comic development. "What would Sophia have said about that experience? In my best Sophia voice at the time (this was 1987) I said as Sophia "I actually started watching that movie- and all these kids pointed at Me and said "Virgin, virgin !" That's like pointing at Queen Elizabeth and yelling "Pretty! Pretty". They were on the floor and I was given an option. But then I hurt my back and well as they say "that's show business"
Estelle Ghetty was absolutely perfect for the role and her dream of becoming an actress didn't happen until she was 47. She got the role of Sophia when she was 60. So dreams come true. I had a mini crash on my computer-- so this time EVERYTHING is going to get backed up and labeled on a CD. Thank goodness for John Nugent-- he is such an amazing friend and partner. He keeps me so level headed and sane sometimes. He is a true gift from God. Well still looking for work, but now on disability so in better shape financially. The background of Sophia's character by the way is this:Sophia Petrillo is the daughter of Don Angelo and his wife Eleanor from Sicily. Sophia was born in Sicily and moved to New York after annulling her first (arranged) marriage to Guido Spirelli (she was also briefly engaged to a young man from her village, Augustine Bagatelli, as a teenager). She married Salvador Petrillo (Sid Melton),--remember him from "The Danny Thomas Show" and they had three children: Dorothy, a divorced substitute teacher whom Sophia depended upon and came to live with; Phil, a cross-dresser who was married with kids; and Gloria, who married into wealth, but eventually lost the fortune that her deceased husband left her.Sophia was put away in the Shady Pines Retirement Home by Dorothy prior to the start of the series. Sophia had suffered a massive stroke, which, on more than one occasion, was said to have destroyed the part of her brain that acted as a censor; indeed, much of Sophia's popularity comes from her humorous, and often shocking, frankness and general lack of inhibition. In the pilot episode, she came to live with the girls after Shady Pines burned down. In a later episode, Sophia tried to run away to Sicily after becoming the prime suspect in starting the fire after making s'mores with a roommate on an illegal hotplate. Sophia never had good things to say about her retirement home, and she alluded to poor treatment by the staff many times throughout the series' run (although, in an episode meant to raise awareness about poor-quality nursing homes, she did admit that the treatment at Shady Pines was satisfactory). There were constant hints in the series that she and her family back in Sicily had some mafia connections; she once stated that she had lived through "two world wars, 15 vendettas, 4 operations and two Darrins on Bewitched" In one episode, she accidentally let it slip that she knew what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.Members of Sophia's family who appeared throughout the course of the show include: her sister Angela (played by the layte great Nancy Walker), her brother Angelo (played by Bill Dana), her daughter Gloria (played by Doris Belack and Dena Dietrich), and, in flashbacks, her husband Sal, her mother (played by Bea Arthur), and her father (also played by Bill Dana), and Dorothy herself at a younger age (played by Lyn Greene). Phil, her only son, was never seen; he died later on in the series when he suffered a heart attack (due to his obesity) while trying on large women's clothing (even in his wake, Phil is referred to as wearing women's clothing). In the episode "Ebbtide's Revenge," after her son's funeral, Sophia (with the help of Dorothy's no-nonsense personality and Rose's caring counseling expertise from her grief counseling center job) finally realized the root of her anger, broke into tears, and ended the long feud with Phil's wife Angela (played by Brenda Vaccaro). It is revealed that Sophia was angry at herself because she wondered what she had done or said to her son to make him want to be a cross-dresser, and she is finally able to reconcile with Angela after coming to the realization that she still loved him. In one of Sophia's few true emotional moments, she says, "My baby is gone." Sophia always referred to Angela as "Big Sally" because it got on Angela's nerves. Phil, Angela, and their children lived in a trailer home in Newark, New Jersey.
During the series' run, Sophia married Max Weinstock (played by the great character actor Jack Gilford), Sal's business partner, and attempted to revive Sal and Max's old pizza-and-knish business (Does anybody know what a knish is?) at the beach, but they soon separated, realizing they were better off as friends "with occasional benefits." Throughout the series, she held a few part-time jobs mostly involving food, including fast-food worker and entrepreneur of spaghetti sauce and homemade "chuck wagon" sandwiches.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Julie Andrews as she appeared at the Hollywood Bowl July 19, 2008.

Today would have been the birthday of the most amazing American novelist of all time: the one and only Ernest Hemingway. I discovered with research today that Papa had actually been a Roman Catholic despite that famous "Our Nada Which Are In Nada" nonsense attributed to him. I found a picture of Hemingway as a young man-- boy, was he a handsome stud He had tried to commit suicide twice 1n 1961 and finally succeeded at that on July 2, 1961. But it was the effect of the treatment for his first attempt that led church leaders to declare him "not in right mind" and he was given a Church service burial. That would not have happened in 1961 unless the Church had given its blessings. On Saturday night, John Nugent and I attended a very nice concert that starred Julie Andrews called "The Gift of Music". Julie and her daughter Emma had written a children's story called "Simeon's Gift" about an impoverished young minstrel who loves a beautiful aristocratic woman named Sarrah. And now it had been musicalized and this was its tryout. That part of the show was the last hour. The first part was a tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein. So of course the show begins with the overture to the Sound of Music played live by the Hollywood Bowl orchestra with snippets of Julie's childhood and early career included. And on the film she sings "The Sound of Music". The film cuts to the real Julie who welcomes us all and tells of that regrettable operation that she had twelve years ago. I hadn't expected Julie to sing at all except in chorus. But instead the amazing Julie Andrews tells us all "I may not be able to sing those high notes like I used to, but I can sure sing the hell out of "Old Man River". Well she didn't sing the Kern-Hammerstein classic, but she did sing to our amazement including "My Funny Valentine" and playing the Fairy Godmother in R&H'S Cinderella with "Impossible" and many others. It was a glorious night with all of us singing "Do-Re-Me" as an entire group. What fun! The musical was lovely but unfortunately you could not remember or whistle home a single song. Julie needs to remember just how catchy the Mary Poppins songs were and remain so to this day. The story was nice enough, but didn't carry or pass "The Who Cares Test"-- vital for any musical. There is one advantage of previewing something at Hollywood Bowl-- because of the stacked parking, nobody can leave early-- it's the original "captive audience" if there ever was one. John and I sent off materials for "The Traveling Companion" and "The Runaway Heart" to an open air amphitheatre that has shown real interest in both and of course we are hoping for that production in Vermont. The Hollywood Bowl concert by the way was a sell out.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Today would have been the 95th birthday of one of the greatest and most natural clowns of all time-- Red Skelton. As a child, I remember watching this amazingly gifted man create characters and routines that were so very original and incredibly funny. Nobody could mime like Skelton. Born in Vincennes, Indiana, Red was the son of a Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus clown named Joe who died in 1913 shortly before the birth of his son. Skelton himself got one of his earliest tastes of show business with the same circus as a teenager. Before that, however, he had been given the show business bug at age ten by entertainer Ed Wynn, who spotted him selling newspapers in front of the Pantheon Theatre in Vincennes, trying to help his family. After buying every newspaper in Skelton's stock, Wynn took the boy backstage and introduced him to every member of the show with which he was traveling. By age 15, Skelton had hit the road full-time as an entertainer, working everywhere from medicine shows and vaudeville to burlesque, showboats, minstrel shows and circuses. While performing in Kansas City in 1930, Skelton met and married his first wife, Edna Stillwell. The couple divorced 13 years later, but Stillwell remained one of his chief writers. Red Skelton caught his big break in two media at once: radio and film. In 1938 he made his film debut for RKO Radio Pictures, in the supporting role of a camp counselor in Having Wonderful Time, Two short subjects followed for Vitaphone in 1939: Seeing Red and The Bashful Buckaroo. Skelton was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, believe it or not to lend comic relief to its Dr. Kildare medical dramas, but soon he was starring in comedy features (as inept radio detective "The Fox") and in Technicolor musicals. When Skelton signed his long-term contract with MGM in 1940, he insisted on a clause that permitted him to star in not only radio (which he had already done) but on television, which was still in its early years; studio chief Louis B. Mayer agreed to the terms, only to regret it years later when television became a serious threat to the motion picture industry. Many of Red's films, especially the Technicolor musicals, were issued on home video.In 1945, he married Georgia Davis. The couple had two children, Richard and Valentina; but young thirteen year old Richard's childhood death of leukemia devastated the household. Red refused to do "The Mean little Kid" forever after the boy's demise.Red and Georgia divorced in 1971, and he remarried. In 1976, Georgia committed suicide by gunshot. Deeply affected by the loss of his ex-wife, Red would abstain from performing for the next decade and a half, finding solace only in painting clowns.John and I went to Forest Lawn Glendale and saw his grave along with those of George Burns and Gracie Allen (the inscription on the grave now reads "together again') Nat King Cole,(my all time favorite singer) Alan Ladd, Douglas Fairbanks, Chico and Gummo Marx and Larry Fine of the Three Stooges. The one thing that was so impressive was first the Walt Disney grave site where Walt's ashes are (no, he was NEVER frozen) His wife Lillian's ashes are there too. It's in a little garden right off the mausoleum steps. Then we both saw L. Frank Baum's grave. The good soul who gave the world "The Wizard Of Oz" and his many children and his wife Maude. I'm on disability now and had an MRI this week. We'll find out what that says soon. So Happy Birthday Red!. We love you!

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Most people in my age group know that Milton Berle, bar none was the King of comedy. Tuesday nights on NBC were his property. Everybody watched the Texaco Star Theatre (Texaco is now a big part of Chevron today) At one time, NBC offered him a thirty year exclusive contract beginning in 1953 that paid him a whopping one hundred thousand dollars a year- whether he worked or not. Lucille Ball and he were very best friends in a friendship that went back to 1937. He always had the best writers including Danny and Neil Simon. And today would have been his 100th birthday. In 1947, Milton Berle founded the Friars Club of Beverly Hills at the old Savoy Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Other founding members included Jimmy Durante, George Jessel, Robert Taylor, and Bing Crosby. In 1961, the club moved to Beverly Hills. The club is a private show business club famous for its celebrity members and roasts, where a member is mocked by their club friends in good fun.Unlike many of his peers, Berle's off-stage lifestyle did not include drugs or drinking, but did include cigars, a "who's who" list of beautiful women, and a lifelong addiction to gambling, primarily horse racing. Some felt his obsession with "the ponies" was responsible for Berle never amassing the wealth or business success of others in his position."Uncle Miltie" was also notorious within show business for the rumored size of his penis. Phil Silvers once told a story about standing next to Berle at a urinal, glancing down, and quipping, "You'd better feed that thing, or it's liable to turn on you!" Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel, who had written many Friars Club jokes about Berle's penis for other comedians, described being treated to a private showing: "He just takes out this— this anaconda. He lays it on the table and I'm looking into this thing, right? I'm looking into the head of Milton Berle's dick. It was enormous. It was like a pepperoni. And he goes, 'What do you think of the boy?' And I'm looking right at it and I go, 'Oh, it's really, really nice.'" At a memorial service for Berle at the New York Friars' Club, Freddie Roman solemnly announced, "On May 1st and May 2nd, his penis will be buried." Milton was known to have a colorful vocabulary and few limits on when it was used. Surprisingly, however, he "worked clean" for his entire onstage career, except for the infamous Friars Club all-male, private celebrity roasts. Berle often criticized younger comedians like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin about their X-rated humor, and challenged them to be just as funny without the four-letter words.
Hundreds of younger comics, including several comedy superstars, were encouraged and guided by Berle. Despite some less than flattering (and true) stories told about Berle being difficult to work with; his son, Bill, maintains that Berle was a source of encouragement and technical assistance for many new comics. Uncle Milty's son Bob backs up his brother's statement. He was present many times during Berle's Las Vegas shows and television guest appearances. Milton aided Fred Travelena, Ruth Buzzi, John Ritter, Marla Gibbs, Lilly Tomlin, Dick Shawn and Will Smith. At a taping of a Donny and Marie hour, for example, Donny and Marie Osmond recited a scripted joke routine to a studio audience, to little response. The director asked for a retake, and the Osmonds repeated the act, word for word, to even less response. A third attempt, with no variation, proved dismal — until Milton Berle, off-camera, went into the audience, pantomiming funny faces and gestures. Ever the professional, Berle timed each gesture to coincide with an Osmond punchline, so the dialogue seemed to be getting the maximum laughs.Berle was well known among his peers to have one of the largest joke collections in the world, which Berle estimated to be between five and six million jokes. Berle had a reputation for stealing material from other comedians, which eventually became known to the public. Bob Hope quipped onstage with Berle, that he "never heard a joke he didn't steal." "Uncle Miltie" would then mug for the cameras with an exaggerated innocent face. On more than one occasion, Berle would commend a co-star for a punchline, saying, "I wish I'd said that," to which the co-star would invariably reply, "Oh, you will." Columnist Walter Winchell famously labelled Berle with the unflattering nickname "The Thief of Bad Gags." Upon being accused of stealing jokes from Berle, Jack Benny once quipped, "When you take a joke away from Milton Berle, it's not stealing, it's repossessing."Occasional claims by Berle and others that these jokes were transferred to computer media are suspect, as a member of Berle's family verified that the majority of them were on sheets and scraps of paper and index cards in a vast, disorganized collection amassed over decades, well before personal computers. The books Milton Berle's Private Joke File and The Rest of the Best of Milton Berle's Private Joke File each contained 10,000 of these jokes. At any rate Happy Birthday! Well, I continue to write during my layover and now I'm even re-writing the really old scripts to put them into the proper script format. I was amused by the doomsday people eho have now set the date for the end of the world-- it's December 21, 2012. I'll be sixty-five by that date and ready to retire.

Friday, July 11, 2008


In 1915, A King was born on this date. He was of course, the late great Yul Brynner. You of course was the ultimate King in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King And I"--notably with Gertrude Lawrence on the Broadway stage and with Deborah Kerr (whose voice was supplied by Marni Nixon) for the 20th Century Fox Cinemascope move in the late 1950's. It was in this role, that Yul Brynner won the Academy Award. Believe it or, under the category-- "What the hell were they thinking of?"-- the great actor actually appeared in a 1970's sit-com non-musical version of the King and I called "Anna and The King". Yul was also involved in a really misguided Broadway musical. It ranks as the greatest musical flop in Broadway history. The composer was Mitch Leigh-- yes, the same composer who gave us "Man of La Mancha" . The name of the show was called "Home, Sweet Homer"-- yes, a musical version of The Odyssey. Mr. Brynner had been persuaded to join the production in Los Angeles and other non-Broadway cities with the promise that the show would go to the Great White Way. The producers wanted to mercifully close the poor thing in Los Angeles, but an angry Brynner threatened to sue "every body's brains out" if the show did not play Broadway. Under the heading "be careful of what you ask for-- and the language in which you ask for it" the show did play Broadway-- for exactly one performance. Now other shows have played only one night-- this show played one Sunday matinee and closed the same afternoon. No other Broadway musical in history has open and closed in New York on a single Sunday afternoon. They were dismantling the set before the sun set because the performance was scheduled for 2pm. The producers fulfilled their obligation (it played on Broadway, folks!) and an angry Yul Brynner vowed he would never do another show by Mitch Leigh in his life! Today on this day in 1937 we lost George Gershwin. He died tragically at age thirty-eight of a brain tumor. And if that were not enough, it was on this date in 1989 that we lost Sir Lawrence Olivier. He was eighty-two years old. He was married to Vivian Leigh. And lastly, today we lost the great character actor Barnard Hughes. Oh by the way Happy Birthday, Gene Wilder. My sister leaves for her Alaska cruise this Sunday-- I hope she has a wonderful time. The job search goes on, but I took a break on Wednesday and went to Disneyland. My dear friend Bill Lewis passed both John Nugent and I in saving us almost $200 in park admissions. All we had to pay for was parking-- now $12 and lunch. We ate at the Carnation Cafe on Main Street and hate the best meat loaf on the planet-- wow was that good-- served on a bed of french bread and mashed potatoes with fresh veggies. Bill is now playing one of the pirates on the old Tom Sawyer's Island now called "Pirate's Lair" as one of "The Bootstrappers". --singing pirates! A great easy gig if I ever saw one. Well, the search for work goes on! Pray for me!

Friday, July 04, 2008


Today is indeed the 4th of July. I read in the news today about about two character actors in Philadelphia who have been portraying Benjamin Franklin and Betsey Ross in Philadelphia, Pa for thirty years. well guess what? Today Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross got married. Well certainly these actors did! Actually, Franklin was very much older than Miss Ross, but both historical figures lived until the age of fifty-four! Today is Neil Simon's 81st birthday. What an amazing life! Also today would have been the birthday of Gertrude Lawrence who portrayed Anna in the Broadway production of "The King And I". Today would also have been the birthday of songwriter- lyricist Irving Caesar. You scratch your head? Who is that? How about these songs: "Animal Crackers In My Soup" "I Want To Be Happy" "Swanee" "Tea For Two" and that poignant piece "Sometimes, I'm Happy, Sometimes I'm Sad". Patriotically, it will be a quiet day for me-- still out of work, but the Doctor has put me on disability to heal my aching back. I did find some patriotic trivia for all of you:

In 1776, John Adams declared, "The fourth day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore." In 1777, thirteen guns were fired, once at morning and again as evening fell, on July 4in Bristol, Rhode Island. Philadelphia celebrated the first anniversary in a manner a modern American would find quite familiar: an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, 13-gun salutes, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews, and fireworks. Ships were decked with red, white, and blue bunting.
In 1778, General
George Washington marked July 4 with a double ration of rum-- (Let's hear it for George! ) for his soldiers and an artillery salute. Across the Atlantic Ocean, ambassadors John Adams and Benjamin Franklin held a dinner for their fellow Americans in Paris, France
In 1779, July 4 fell on a Sunday. The holiday was celebrated on Monday,
July 5. In 1781, the Massachusetts General Court became the first state legislature to recognize July 4 as a state celebration. In 1783, Moravians in Salem, North Carolina, held the first celebration of July 4 in the country with a challenging music program assembled by Johann Friedrich Peter. This work was titled "The Psalm of Joy". In 1791 was the first recorded use of the name "Independence Day". In 1870, the U.S. Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees. In 1941, Congress changed Independence Day to a paid federal holiday.and the residents of Vicksburg Mississippi celebrated Independence Day for the first time since July 4, 1863, when the Siege of Vicksburg ended with a Union victory during the American Civil War. So to all of you a great July 4th!