Saturday, May 21, 2016

In Memoriam: Alan Young

Alan Young is one of my favorite performers of all time. Although he's mostly known as Wilbur from Mister Ed, he was more than just the guy who starred opposite the talking horse, as this article reveals.

For my part, I've been following Mr. Young's career since I was five and discovered DuckTales one rainy afternoon. His beautifully nuanced portrayal of Scrooge McDuck, one of the most complex characters in pop culture, anchored the series and helped to make it legendary.

Upon seeing my first episode, I remember being entranced. The writing, the acting, the adventure, and the characters, especially Uncle Scrooge, just grabbed this little boy's imagination.

DuckTales became my gateway into a lifelong love and appreciation for the art of animation in all of its forms and a lifelong love for that intriguing, anthropomorphic duck, Uncle Scrooge.

Most important, DuckTales was the first time in my life that I remember feeling creatively inspired. I wanted to write stories that were as exciting and well-done as the stories on DuckTales. I wanted to be as good an actor as those performers were, so good that I, as an audience member, often forgot that I was watching talking ducks and dogs.

As the heart and soul of DuckTales, I credit Alan Young with helping to fuel my passion for animation, acting, and writing. If he didn't care as much as he obviously did for that crotchety old duck, I doubt DuckTales would have made as much of an impression on me and millions of other kids.

The next time I benefited from Mr. Young's work came in the mid-90s, when he was given a lead role on the long-running radio drama, Adventures in Odyssey.

His warm, thoughtful performance as Jack Allen on AIO helped the series transition through a difficult time after the voice of its lead character, John Avery Whittaker (first portrayed by another one of my favorite performers, Hal Smith), died suddenly. In fact, Mr. Young's performance was so fascinating and engaging that he outlasted the transition and worked on the series until ill health prevented him from doing so.

And then, of course, there's Mister Ed. It can be difficult for actors to perform opposite other human actors and make it believable, but to perform opposite a horse and make it believable? Once again, Mr. Young's talent and skill informed his interactions with Mister Ed and made them seem human and real. He wasn't just cashing a check; he was thinking, as good performers do when presented with off-the-wall material, about the realities behind the insanity.

"If I were talking to a horse every day, how would I behave? What would I think? How would I relate to him and then to the other humans in my life who can't hear Ed talk?"

In each episode, he provided astute viewers with a master class in comedic timing and grounded motivation. As a result, a series that could have been dumb was rich in humor and laughs.

Obviously, I love this guy and his talent. Which is why it's difficult for me to say a final thank you, Mr. Young, for all of the joy and inspiration you have brought me (and will continue to bring me) throughout my life. May you rest in well-deserved peace...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

This Morning I Woke Up...


This morning I woke up and decided I wouldn't behave like a clueless, arrogant prick toward people whose journeys don't match my own and whose experiences might be different from what I'm used to.

This morning I woke up and decided I would listen to other people's stories before I judged their motives or assumed they wanted to assault women and little children in public restrooms (or anywhere at all, for that matter).

This morning I woke up and decided I wouldn't accuse other people of simply waking up and deciding one morning that they weren't what they were when they went to bed the night before, since most of them (probably all of them) are born that way and have spent their entire lives trying to come to grips with who they truly are.

This morning I woke up and decided that it's common sense to accompany your children into a public restroom or at least wait outside while they use the public restroom because they're your children and they shouldn't be wandering around shopping malls or other public venues alone because there are a lot of guy guys and girl girls who could harm them without "pretending" to be the opposite sex or using the "wrong" bathroom. In fact, a lot of guy guys and girl girls who harm children use the guy guy bathroom and the girl girl bathroom with the other guy guys and girl girls, meaning you and your wife/girlfriend/mistress and your children have been using public restrooms all of your life with real, actual predators who dress and look and go to the bathroom just like you.

This morning I woke up and decided that attacking someone in a public restroom is one of the dumbest places you could attack someone because it's PUBLIC, not to mention smelly, greasy, grimy, poopy, pissy, and generally putrid. And the sinks are ALWAYS wet and paper towels are everywhere (when there are paper towels), and the floors feel like you're walking on dirt that was trod upon by our ancestors when they were still using outhouses.

Which is why...

This morning I woke up and decided that I would continue doing my best to avoid public restrooms, not because of who may be using them now, but because the people who have always used them--y'know, the "real" men--tend to offend me with their inability to wipe off the seat after they plaster their barenaked behinds on it or fail to shoot their streams in a straight line while standing up or their propensity for leaving the seat up in general for no clear, logical reason or their inclination to drop both dry and wet toilet paper on the floor or their die-hard resistance to washing their hands after touching and wiping their various orifices.

This morning I woke up and decided that the word "stupid" isn't always nice to use, but with this latest pathetic cultural discussion, "stupid" is a perfectly fine word to use, as is asinine,unintelligent, ignorant, wrongheaded, dense, foolish, dull-witted, simpleminded, idiotic, imbecilic, obtuse, doltish, dimwitted, slow-witted, dopey, moronic, pea-brained, halfwitted, brain-dead, boneheaded, thickheaded, wooden-headed, muttonheaded, cracked, cockeyed, lamebrained, nutty, batty, loony, loopy, cuckoo, and of course, dumb-ass...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Bedtime Story

Yes, but the Jester Bernard from the Little-Known (and Vastly Underfunded) House of Sanders should drop out immediately, quoth the TelePrompTer Prophet WolfAnderson BlitzerCooper. He doesn't have a shot in hell, quoth the Wise (Wo)Men of Punditry and Rear-Ended Opinions. After all, we crowned her Hillary the Inevitable, Heir to the Dynastic Throne of the Two Georges and Bill the Skirt-Chaser, quoth the Many Merry Money (Wo)Men from the Kingdom of Wall Street and the Sheltered Swamplands of Big Banksville. So it came to pass that the Overlords of the Kingdom--the One-Percenters--gathered the Forces of the Elite together and unleashed the three-headed dragon--the left head Business, the right Government, and the middle Media--upon the Kingdom to silence the Jester Bernard's Voice and to secure submissive silence from the plebeians across the land. But still, the Jester Bernard from the Little-Known (and Vastly Underfunded) House of Sanders persisted against the three-headed dragon's fury, and throughout the countryside, the Common People and the Kids These Days heard his cries and defied their Overlords, the One-Percenters. For to them, he was not a Jester or even an Upstart, as their Overlords had declared. He was their Voice, crying in the Wilderness of Wonkery and the Streets of the Status Quo, proclaiming that they possessed the real power within the land, no matter what their Overlords decreed. And much to the dismay of Hillary the Inevitable and to her many masters, the Jester's Voice could not be silenced and instead became many Voices, echoing throughout the Kingdom and demanding the power be returned to them. And slowly, the Inevitable One and her many masters, having declared themselves wise in their own eyes for many years, began to realize that they were the jesters and the voices being silenced... #FeeltheBern #NotMeUs

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

On West Virginia's Primary Day...


It felt good to vote today in a primary where, for once, my state is consequential to the outcome. I really need to be more proactive in the future about learning who some of the "Page 4" candidates are on the ballot. Some of them I took my best guess on. For those who didn't have any challengers, I wrote in challengers just for the sake of contesting their uncontestedness. (Rick Snyder, you're now on the ballot for one of the local judgeships...)

Sometimes I get so immersed in national politics that I forget to keep up on local politics and global politics, and yet both inform our national politics. For example, the Philippines just elected a guy named Rodrigo Duterte as president. Depending on which soundbite you catch, this dude either sounds like Trump's long-lost brother or he makes Trump sound like a wuss.

Meanwhile, our fellow humans in London just elected their first Muslim Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and Mayor-Elect Khan is wasting no time in challenging Trump's Islamophobic rhetoric. Brazil's political chaos makes our political chaos look like it's all staged (no further comment needed). North Korea just booted some BBC journalists out of the country. The Islamic State in Iraq is making good on Bush's claim that Iraq had WMDs by ensuring that, in 2016 or 13 years later, Iraq actually does have WMDs courtesy of its aggressive chemical weapons program. And Syria is too depressing to even talk about.

Meanwhile, here in the States, I showed up at my polling place, walked in, talked about "The Walking Dead" with the election officials (who now recognize me because we all watch the same TV shows; "We were talking about you this morning and wondering when you would show up!").

One of them urged me to start watching "Game of Thrones," even though it has lots of violence and nudity. I resisted making a Trump joke, voted, went back over to the one mega-TWD fan and asked if she thought Glenn was who Negan killed. We both agreed that he was. Then, she said she was worried that Maggie's baby would die inside of her, turn, then start eating Maggie from the inside out. I resisted making a Trump joke, laughed, told them all I would see them in November, and left.

Barely 15 minutes had passed.

As we walked back to the car, I realized that I not only vote at the most boring polling place in the country, but I also am very sentimental and patriotic about how we vote.

Each election cycle, we Americans tend to think either the Start of All Things or the End of All Things awaits us, depending on who gets in. More than likely, it'll be somewhere in the middle, with a few issues hopefully being made a little bit better. Which was what those rich, bewigged, white guys in all of those patriotic paintings were aiming for anyway: stability accompanied by gradual change. It's easy to knock them for what they didn't get right, but man, they managed to be on-point with the bigger picture.

Still, I couldn't help but feel a wee bit sorry this morning when I drove past the guy standing in the rain with a Trump sign. At first I thought someone didn't tell him the news. Then, I looked a little more closely.

It was Chris Christie. Go figure...

Sunday, May 8, 2016

On Mother's Day...

I'm blessed to be surrounded by many amazing mothers. Each one has added to my life in numerous ways, but I'm thinking of four special ladies in particular who are simply joy.

Beyond being exemplary individuals, they have also brought into this world six (soon to be seven) beautiful kids who call me "Uncle Pete," a designation that no degree or title or career accomplishment or award could trump in how it makes me feel every time I hear it.

So, thank you, Angel, Nicky, and Lacey for being the unique and accomplished individuals that you are and for finding the time to also nurture the next generation of our families. And Karli, I'm looking forward to meeting our newest niece or nephew.

Essie, thank you for raising Bethany to be an amazing person. I'm so fortunate to be her partner and husband, and I know the qualities she exhibits every day are a reflection of how you raised her to be. Thank you also for bringing me into your family with such love, warmth, and acceptance.

Finally, to my mother, Terry: Thank you for the example you have set even in the toughest times. Thank you for making home a haven when we were growing up and for making life fun even when it wasn't always fun. Thank you for always believing in us even when we've royally screwed up and have made terrible, life-altering mistakes. And thank you for being a better mother, a better woman, and a better person than you'll ever think you are and have been. (Self-doubt runs in the family...)

Finally: I stood beside a guy in the card aisle this morning who, like me, had waited until the last minute to get a card, but who, unlike me, was facing a different dilemma than I was.

I was trying to find a card that wasn't rife with empty sap and sentiment. He was trying to find a card that would convey love for his mom without giving a dishonest representation of what I gathered was a troubled relationship.

His girlfriend kept picking out cards and he kept saying, "It's nice, but it's still a lie. Any of these would be a lie." Finally, they found one that was vague, yet loving enough to honor his Mom, but not let her off the hook for her misdeeds.

I know he isn't the only one who is feeling this way today. It's got to be hard for them to see post after post on social media that talks about awesome, incredible, fantastic mothers and the awesome, incredible, fantastic relationships their awesome, incredible, fantastic kids have with them.

To those special folks who are persevering and surviving without the kind of upbringing I and many others are fortunate to have had, I want you to know how much I respect you for the people you are becoming. You're learning life without the crucial influence of a good mother (or father), and I admire that immensely.

I'm not sure I could have done the same...

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Movie Mash-Up #14: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Last night I saw The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the first time, and thanks to Cinemark, I was able to see it on the big screen. I left in awe of the film. I love genre movies that defy their genre by having their own stylistic twist.

I also enjoyed each of the three main characters and found Lee Van Cleef's Angel Eyes to be one of the most magnetic, charismatic, and likable villains ever. Maybe it was the smile, the laugh, the voice, but it was probably his seductive gaze.

Another equally shallow observation I had involved Clint Eastwood's hair. His performance is cool, and he does more with silence than he does with words. But that head of hair! Holy cow.

Finally, is it fair to say that Eli Wallach stole the movie from his co-stars? He's one of those performers who was always so good that I forget how good he was. Every scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with Wallach is made better by him being in it. His physicality and his timing are simply flawless. And there's something magical about his feverish run through the graveyard in the last act of the movie.

And my gosh, the soundtrack. There's nothing original I could say about it, so I'll leave it at this: Guess what I was listening to first thing this morning.

There was only one thing that bothered me about the movie: the title doesn't have an Oxford comma.

As you can see, I have my artistic priorities straight.

Next week, Cinemark, Fandango, and Turner Classic Movies are rereleasing The Ten Commandments to theaters. I loved that movie as a kid, but I've never had a chance to see it on anything other than VHS or ABC and where we lived, the reception was so bad, the movie looked like it had been shot through sands in an hourglass.

Before you go, here's Metallica's cover of  "Ecstasy of Gold" from Ennio Morricone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly score...



Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Superman Replies

If Metropolis had been destroyed at the end of Man of Steel because Superman was texting and flying, that movie would have been so much better...
This cartoon is by Liam Francis Walsh and was printed in the most recent issue of The New Yorker. I wish I had thought of it...