Monthly Archives: July 2009

Actor: Mel Blanc

The great characters of Warner Bros. lost their voice in July, 1989. Uploaded by eraserart.com.

The great characters of Warner Bros. lost their voice in July, 1989. Uploaded by eraserart.com.

Bugs Bunny. Porky Pig. Sylvester. Tweety. Daffy Duck. Elmer Fudd. Yosemite Sam. Barney Rubble. Pepe Le Pew. Foghorn Leghorn. Speedy Gonzales. Marvin the Martian. Woody Woodpecker. 400 different voices in all.

Blanc’s impact is so great that it’s impossible to even conceive of what animation would have been like without him. His first voice job for Warner Brothers was Porky Pig. Though he wasn’t the first voice of Porky, he made the character uniquely his own – as he did with all his voices. He worked almost exclusively for Warner, though he voiced Woody Woodpecker for Universal and Barney Rubble for Hanna-Barbera.

Mel Blanc, uploaded by born-today.com.

Mel Blanc, uploaded by born-today.com.

He also acted in several radio and television series (The Jack Benny Program, Burns & Allen, Abbott & Costell0), but voices were his first love. And his paycheck. He voiced Porky and Daffy for an amazing 52 years, and Bugs for 49.

Blanc died 10 years ago this month, and he almost didn’t make it that long. He was in a serious car accident, and languished in a coma for two weeks. Then his doctor, in an inspired moment, addressed him as Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. Blanc responded, and eventually made a full recovery. This is a Wikipedia story, so I’m 87.4 percent sure it’s accurate.

Here’s a great video in which Blanc discusses his career and voices with Johnny Carson (No. 81):

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Americana: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Some of the kids helped by St. Jude express their gratitude. Uploaded by rightwordsbooks.com.

Some of the kids helped by St. Jude express their gratitude. Uploaded by rightwordsbooks.com.

Jude was one of the disciples of Jesus, and has been adopted by the Roman Catholic Church as the patron saint of desperate cases. It’s no wonder, then, that when entertainer Danny Thomas founded this hospital for children’s diseases, St. Jude was chosen as its namesake.

Marlo and Danny Thomas. Uploaded by danny-thomas.com.

Marlo and Danny Thomas. Uploaded by danny-thomas.com.

That was in 1962 when the survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer, was 4 percent. Today, thanks in large part to the research conducted at St. Jude, the survival rate is 94 percent.

Some of the most extensive study of childhood diseases in the world is done at St. Jude. The Nobel Prize committee gave testimony to that fact in 1996 when a St. Jude physician was corecipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Doctors around the world consult with St. Jude researchers on their most difficult pediatric cases. Children from every state and more than 70 countries have received care in the Memphis facility.

But the most remarkable thing about St. Jude is that patients are admitted solely because of their need for the Hospital’s research protocols. Families never have to pay for treatment that isn’t covered by insurance, and those without insurance are never asked to pay. Housing for patients and immediate family members is also provided at no cost. The hospital has an extensive fund-raising effort to cover these costs and to assure that the finest researchers in the world will want to study and practice there.

Danny Thomas’s daughter Marlo explains how St. Jude works and how you can be a part of its future:

Singer: Elvis Presley

Elvis recording with the Jordanaires, 1956. Uploaded by timeinc.net.

Elvis recording with the Jordanaires, 1956. Uploaded by timeinc.net.

There’s a great line in a Paul Simon song: “Every generation throws a hero up the pop chart.” The postwar generation threw up Elvis. So to speak.

The teen  musical culture in the mid-1950s was perfectly set for a new icon. Performers such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry popularized a strain of  rhythm and blues that appealed to white kids, but scandalized their elders. Suddenly, a Southern boy with gospel roots burst on the scene, blending the R&B style with the growing field of country music. That R&B/Country mix got a new name: Rock. And Rock got a king: Elvis.

Uploaded on Photobucket by Mrs_Tea.

Uploaded on Photobucket by Mrs_Tea.

Of course, there were two Elvi (thanks, SNL). Young Elvis, who had hit after hit and who made Viva Las Vegas and Blue Hawaii. Then there was Old Elvis, who wore the sequins and cape, took the drugs, played Las Vegas and ate Hawaii.

No post on Elvis would be complete without a chronicle of the King’s accomplishments. I don’t have enough space to list all of them, but here are some of the most significant. He had 38 top 10 hits, and 18 made it to number one. He was huge as a live performer (pun unintended, but liked), and sold out almost every show he ever performed. He’s in four separate music Halls of Fame. His first hit was “That’s All Right” (1954), and his final chart song…well, we don’t know, because remixed duets with other artists are still being made.

I realize this post just touches the surface of Elvis’s life, but a blog can only go so far. I remember the shock I felt when I learned of his death. It’s one of those “Do you remember where you were when…” moments. Although he was less relevant to the music of the 70s, it still hurt when we heard that Elvis had permanently left the building. In the video: The hip. The lip. The King.

Americana: Route 66

This is in Seligman, Arizona, but cool junk like this lines Route 66. Uploaded by static.panoramio.com.

This is in Seligman, Arizona, but cool junk like this lines Route 66. Uploaded by static.panoramio.com.

The song says “It winds from Chicago to L.A. More than 2,000 miles all the way.” For a generation of drivers, Route 66 was the way to the West.

Yes, “was.” Past tense. Route 66 doesn’t exist anymore as an official US highway. The Mother Road (as named by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath) is now a scenic byway, a “historic route.” But before you settle for the efficiently soulless Interstate System, let’s take a moment and remember why 66 was the highway of legend.

The World's Largest Ketchup Bottle. Duh. Uploaded to Flickr by alcott1.

The World's Largest Ketchup Bottle. Duh. Uploaded to Flickr by alcott1.

California’s population exploded in the fifties and sixties, and many of those drivers arrived via the Main Street of America. (Yes, it does have several nicknames, thank you for noticing.) It’s hard to imagine these days, but much of the road was dirt or gravel until 1938, when it became the first national highway to be fully paved.

But what made Route 66 so special were the places it passed, and the attractions that sprang up along its length. It passed Lincoln’s tomb in Illinois, the Jesse James Museum in Missouri, the “World’s Largest Totem Pole” in Oklahoma, Cadillac Ranch in Texas, the Dinosaur Museum in New Mexico, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and the Santa Anita Race Track in California.

Eventually, the old road was just too slow for mobile America. If there’s a Dairy Queen beside the Interstate exit, why would you need to stop at Roy and Daisy’s Custard Shop? That doesn’t mean those attractions are gone forever, fortunately. Many still exist, and lots of folks now see the highway as a destination in itself. And God bless everyone who does. One of my “Things to do before I…you know” is to drive Route 66.

Here’s a very young Nat King Cole singing the song that helped make Route 66 famous:

Film: Citizen Kane

Charles Foster Kane is destroying the special interests! Uploaded on Flickr by peternoster.

Charles Foster Kane is destroying the special interests! Uploaded on Flickr by peternoster.

It’s generally acknowledged to be the finest film ever made. And you’ll get no argument from me. If it were technically brilliant but emotionally cold, I wouldn’t buy it. And there are lots of movies that reveal or remind us of deeper truths, but don’t change the way we look at film. What makes Citizen Kane so remarkable is that it did both.

By now you know that Kane’s dying word was “Rosebud.” (How anyone knew that fact when Kane died alone was never explained by director Orson Welles.) The film then goes back through his life, as reporters try to learn what the newspaper mogul meant. Along the way, Kane buys a string of newspapers, runs for political office, has an affair, and is destroyed by the very fortune that he held in contempt.

Look, a ceiling in a movie. Uploaded by classicmoviefavorites.com.

Look, a ceiling in a movie. Uploaded by classicmoviefavorites.com.

Citizen Kane was written by Welles and Joseph Mankiewicz, and was loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearst. The movie made Hearst furious, and he would not allow any of his newspapers to run ads for the film. As a result, the movie was not widely seen at the time of its release, and was a financial flop.

Welles was just 25 years old when he made Kane. That could be one reason he wanted to develop new techniques, even remake the way films were made. With cinematographer Greg Toland, he created a lens to make foreground, middle ground, and background all remain in sharp focus. He had many low-angle shots that revealed ceilings, a rarity in movies made on sound stages. The extended scene at the dining room table that chronicled the breakup of Kane’s marriage was a brilliant use of set and costume changes. And on several occasions, props were split apart and then rejoined immediately to allow the camera to pass “through” them seamlessly.

There are lots of interesting quotes in the movie, my favorite coming when his financial advisor Mr. Thatcher tells Charles that he lost a million dollars. Kane answers, “You’re right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I’ll have to close this place in…60 years.” And what do you know, that scene happens to be available on YouTube:

Kid Stuff: Little League

All those practices finally paid off. Uploaded by blogss.suntimes.com.

All those practices finally paid off. Uploaded by blogss.suntimes.com.

If you’re boy between nine and twelve, the most important place in the world isn’t Washington, DC. Or New York City. Disney World may not even measure up. No, the Valhalla for the junior set is Williamsport, Pennsylvania. That’s the home of Little League Baseball, and its premier event, the Little League World Series.

In towns and cities across the country, dedicated coaches spend countless hours each spring and summer teaching  kids the fundamentals of baseball. Follow through on your throws. Don’t block the basepaths. Don’t step in the bucket.

Updated by cumminghome2.com.

Updated by cumminghome2.com.

The reality, of course, is that baseball doesn’t have the hold on today’s kids that it once did. Look at all it must compete with now that it didn’t in the past – soccer, martial arts, inline skating and adventure sports, video games. But that doesn’t diminish the fun kids have when they play. They probably will never make it to Williamsport, but they’ll get a juice box and an orange slice after the game. And a trophy at the end of the season.

Of course, the Little League organization includes leagues for those up to age 18, and softball leagues as well. But the Little League World Series is the organization’s glamour event. It’s televised by ESPN, and draws a huge nationwide audience. Does that big stage, and those high stakes, put too much pressure on children? I don’t know, but it’s definitely intense. Not that I know personally, of course. My league all-star team played back in the days of single-elimination tournaments, and we had a no-hitter pitched against us. But that doesn’t spoil my memories of one of the great joys of my youth – playing Little League baseball.

Today’s video: a heartwarming story that happened to take place in my hometown.

TV Show: The Twilight Zone

William Shatner from a classic Twilight Zone episode. Uploaded by greenballoon.net.

William Shatner in a classic Twilight Zone episode. Uploaded by greenballoon.net.

Offered for your consideration. A blog post about a classic TV show. An introduction in clipped tones you can still hear after all these years. A post that you might pass by without noticing. But not this time. Not today. Because this blog post has just brought you into…The Twilight Zone.

Think how conventional and conformist America was during the 50s. Then imagine the impact when The Twilight Zone arrived in 1959. In a sense, though, it came along at the perfect time, during an era in which Americans were fascinated with robots, space travel, and UFOs. Rod Serling captured that mindset perfectly in his series, which ran for five seasons.

Uploaded by 3.bp.blogspot.com.

Uploaded by 3.bp.blogspot.com.

Serling contributed most of the scripts – 92 of the show’s 156 episodes, but other famous writers pitched in as well. Earl Hamner, Jr. of The Waltons fame, Harlan Ellison, and Ray Bradbury contributed to the anthology series. And look at some of the actors who appeared on the show, many before they became famous: Lee Marvin, William Shatner, Carol Burnett, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper, and Charles Bronson.

Most of the episodes used a classic short story technique of misdirection. Serling would set you up with a premise, then knock you down with a twist.

The iconic atonal guitar and bongos theme didn’t become part of the series until the second season. And Serling changed the introduction every year till the last, when he must have liked season four’s intro well enough to keep it: You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into the land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into The Twilight Zone. Today’s video shows that prelude and a classic Serling introduction:

Americana: The Far Side

A Gary Larson classic. Uploaded by ejblog.wordpress.com.

A Gary Larson classic. Uploaded by ejblog.wordpress.com.

It’s been fourteen and a half years since new panels of The Far Side took our funny bones by surprise in the daily paper. And you know, daily papers have been going downhill ever since. Coincidence?

Gary Larson looks at the world differently than you and I. He sees aliens we miss, knows how cavemen lived, and has exclusive access to talking animals. Not everyone “gets” The Far Side. I’ll admit I scratched my head a time or two. But that pales beside the number of times I laughed out loud.

Oh, yes. Talking cows. Uploaded on Flickr by sictransitdiesoccident.

Oh, yes. Talking cows. Uploaded on Flickr by sictransitdiesoccident.

The Far Side is the only comic that people could have conversations about. You’d be at a party, and people would describe their favorite panels. Everyone loved “Boneless Chicken Ranch.” Someone would mention the polar bear eating an igloo, saying “I just love these things!…Crunchy on the outside, and a chewy center!” Then I’d describe mine – the kid at the Midvale School for the Gifted trying to push open a door under a sign that says “PULL.”

Larson stumbled into an ingenious way to sell The Far Side books. He published a collection and let it get on the best seller list. He’d do this two or three times, then he’d publish a huge book, such as The Far Side Gallery. Finally, he collected all the Gallery books into The Complete Far Side. But he deserves every penny.

You may not remember, but Larson turned The Far Side into two animated television specials. Today’s video is a segment from one of them: Tales from the Far Side.

Travel: Williamsburg

The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.

The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.

First, let’s be clear that it’s not Outlet Mall Williamsburg that’s a Great American Thing. Or Pancake House Williamsburg. Or Theme Park Williamsburg. All of those things have their place, and can be a fun part of a family visit to the colonial capital. But they’re also available lots of other places. It’s Colonial Williamsburg, and the beautiful area surrounding it, that we celebrate.

Williamsburg became the capital of the Colony of Virginia in 1699 when the original capital in Jamestown burned for the second time. The city received a royal charter as a city in 1722. By this time, the College of William & Mary had been established, the Capitol had been built, and Duke of Gloucester Street was laid out to connect the two. Of course, Williamsburg was one of the hotbeds of activity leading up to the American Revolution, with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Henry, and others making their imprints on the fledgling country.

Fife and drum parade. Uploaded by danvilleschools.net.

Fife and drum parade. Uploaded by danvilleschools.net.

In 1780, Virginia’s capital was moved upriver to Richmond, and Williamsburg reverted to a rural, college town life. By the early 1900s, however, its historic buildings were falling into disrepair and their survival was endangered. W.A.R. Goodwin, the rector of Bruton Parish Church, worked to make certain his church was restored. But he realized that more needed to be done, so he managed to enlist the help of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in a massive restoration of the entire colonial area.

Today, Williamsburg is Virginia’s premier tourist destination. Now you can see artisans recreating 18th century crafts such as weaving, blacksmithing, and printing. You can dine in a historic tavern. You can enjoy beautiful gardens. You can even stay in Colonial Williamsburg’s 4-star hotels, and enjoy a level of luxury the Governor himself wouldn’t have imagined in 1776.

Then you can have your pancakes. Go to Busch Gardens. Get a great deal at an outlet store. With the ghosts of earlier centuries lingering just minutes away. Here’s a beautiful video that gives you Williamsburg’s highlights in just over three minutes:

Director: Steven Spielberg

Bruce the shark is mad. And hungry. Uploaded by billsmovieemporium.wordpress.com.

Bruce the shark is mad. And hungry. Uploaded by billsmovieemporium.wordpress.com.

As a medium, film is not much more than 100 years old. But you’ll be hard pressed to find any director who’s produced better films with the diversity of style and genre than Steven Spielberg.

He’s created brilliant films using adventure (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark), SciFi (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), fantasy (E.T.), literary drama (The Color Purple), and war (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List). If he has a weakness, it’s comedy, but with a filmography like this we can forgive 1941. Barely. That doesn’t even include his 113 producing credits, which include such great films as Back to the Future, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Letters from Iwo Jima.

Even a prodigious talent such as Spielberg has to start somewhere, and for directors, that often means television. He cut his teeth directing episodes of Marcus Welby, M.D. and Columbo before getting the go-ahead to make The Sugarland Express, his first major film.

Steven Spielberg, uploaded by people.bukiki.com.

Steven Spielberg, uploaded by people.bukiki.com.

He applied three times to the prestigious USC School of Theater, Film, and Television, and was turned down each time. That’s as bad as the high school basketball coach who cut Michael Jordan from the team. Now Spielberg is wealthy enough to buy and sell USC. Well, almost.

As you’d expect, Spielberg probably needs another house just to hold his awards. He’s won Oscars for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. The American Film Institute gave him its Life Achievement Award. He’s been honored by the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, and will no doubt receive more lifetime awards for his achievements.

Here’s a great scene from Jaws, featuring the inimitable Robert Shaw:

Sports: Richard Petty

I bet Richard had something stronger than Goody's after a race. Photo uploaded to Flickr by mandj98.

I bet Richard had something stronger than Goody's after a race. Photo uploaded to Flickr by mandj98.

“The King” celebrated his 72nd birthday this month, and to look at him you can still picture him in the No. 43 Pontiac swapping paint at Talladega. I’m a little concerned that I even know what that means.

Richard won the Daytona 500 seven times, the NASCAR championship seven times, and a total of 200 races during his career. His best year was 1967, when he earned 27 victories. And here’s a truly amazing stat: He finished in the top 10 in 513 consecutive starts between 1971 and 1989. That’s crazy good.

Richard Petty, uploaded by race2win.net.

Richard Petty, uploaded by race2win.net.

Of course, you can’t race as many times as Richard did without a few spectacular crashes. At Darlington in 1970, his car blew a tire, hit the wall, and ended up flipping several times before coming to rest on its side. He probably had his worst crash at the 1988 Daytona 500. His car became airborne after turning sideways, then flipped down the track throwing parts in every direction. In both cases he was injured slightly, but was able to race the next week.

The Petty family is from Level Cross, North Carolina. Richard got into racing because his father was a NASCAR driver, and because…well, there’s sure nothing else to do in Level Cross.

It’s said that people only watch races for the crashes. Well, duh. Tighten your chin strap, make sure your seat harness is tight, and watch the No. 43 STP Pontiac do racetrack somersaults for almost nineteen seconds:

Food: Clam Box of Ipswich

Yes, that is "CLAM BOX" spelled in flowers out front. Photo courtesy of Roadfood.com.

Yes, that is "CLAM BOX" spelled in flowers out front. Photo courtesy of Roadfood.com.

It is shaped like a clam box. As you can imagine, it’s become a landmark in Ipswich, Massachusetts, a quaint town about 30 miles north of Boston. Built over 70 years ago, the Clam Box draws folks from all over the region for its fried feasts, featuring local clams, scallops, and shrimp.

Mmm, fried seafood. Photo uploaded on Flickr by EdKopp4.

Mmm, fried seafood. Photo uploaded on Flickr by EdKopp4.

But don’t take my word for it. (Actually, you couldn’t, because my personal travels haven’t led me to Ipswich thus far.) Here’s what the undeniable expert in such matters, Roadfood.com, has to say: “The trapezoidal Clam Box is the place to eat the best fried clams on the North Shore; and since the North Shore is home of the best fried clams anywhere, these are the best fried clams in the universe. Get them piled high on a platter along with French fries and onion rings. You’ll get a little tartar sauce for dipping and some wonderful sweet cole slaw.

But the truly wonderful thing about Clam Box fried clams is how greaseless they seem. They are luscious and crunchy, no doubt about that; but you’ll have no oily fingers after plowing through a plate. Overall: Worth planning a day around.”

Friend and New Englander LysaC recommended the Clam Shack as a Great American Thing. In fact, she wanted all of New England to be considered, and I promise it will. Just not all at once. Patience, Lysa, patience!

Let Coldwell Banker (sorry, the Clam Box spends its time cooking, not making video) show you the town of Ipswich, with a brief visit to the Clam Box.

Person: Billy Graham

Billy Graham being greeted by Nancy and Ronald Reagan in 1981. Uploaded by reagan.utexas.edu.

Billy Graham being greeted by Nancy and Ronald Reagan in 1981. Uploaded by reagan.utexas.edu.

Billy Graham has preached the gospel to more people than anyone in history. During one appearance in Seoul, South Korea alone, he addressed more than one million people. Considering his broadcast audiences, the total number who have heard him speak probably exceeds 2.5 billion people.

Franklin and Billy Graham. Uploaded on Flickr by escapedtowisconsin.

Franklin and Billy Graham. Uploaded on Flickr by escapedtowisconsin.

In a Gallup poll, he was chosen the number eight most admired person of the 20th century. In part, that approval stems from his integrity. As a Southerner during the height of racial unrest, he refused to speak in segregated auditoriums. He paid bail to release Martin Luther King, Jr. from jail, then invited him to share the pulpit during a 16-week engagement in New York City that included Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, and Times Square as venues. Graham also wouldn’t speak in South Africa if the audience wasn’t integrated, and when finally that condition was met in 1973, he spoke out against apartheid. People realized he wasn’t a reactionary hick, but a man who lived the principles he preached.

As a young and unknown evangelist, he was clearly promoted by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. Hearst recognized the young preacher’s enthusiasm and youth appeal, but the publisher’s hope was that Graham would join him in speaking out against Communism. Hearst told his papers to promote the evangelist, and Graham’s crowds grew larger from that point on.

The Billy Graham Library opened in Charlotte in 2007, and is by all accounts a remarkable testament to Graham’s faith. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a conference called Explo 72 in Dallas, and I remember the power of his delivery all these years later. If you’ve forgotten what a remarkable preacher he’s been, here’s a two-minute reminder of the man and his timeless message.

Singer: Aretha Franklin

Who remembers when she looked this good? Uploaded by tc-pbs.org.

Who remembers when she looked this good? Uploaded by tc-pbs.org.

How do you get the title “Queen of Soul”? First of all, you have to record for Motown, right? Wrong. Aretha’s biggest hits were on Atlantic Records. Well, you have to weigh under 300 pounds, right? Uh, apparently not. So what’s the secret?

Uploaded by jesusheartsmusic.com

Uploaded by jesusheartsmusic.com

How about this: You win the Grammy for Best Female R&B Performance eight years in a row. You have 20 hits make it to number one on the R&B chart. You’re awarded both the Living Legend Grammy and the Lifetime Achievement Grammy. You get selected the Greatest Singer of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine. And you’re the very first woman elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that you sang “America the Beautiful” at WrestleMania 23.)

Yep. The Queen of Soul.

Aretha’s father was a preacher in Detroit, and Aretha got her start by singing gospel music in her church. That gospel sound obviously influenced many of her songs, such as “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, her first hit, and “Chain of Fools.” In fact, Aretha has never given up her gospel music, winning the Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance for her album “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.” (By the way, one of her Greatest Hits albums has the wonderful title “So Damn Happy.”)

Listen to the Queen of Soul at the peak of her powers, singing one of her classic hits:

Americana: 1969

Neil Armstrong on the moon. Uploaded by theunexplainedmysteries.com.

Neil Armstrong on the moon. Uploaded by theunexplainedmysteries.com.

"By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong." Uploaded by screenhead.com.

"By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong." Uploaded by screenhead.com.

It’s a Great American Things first – a year is recognized. Three events propelled this selection onto the list: The first man walks on the moon, Woodstock is the high point of the youth revolution, and I graduated from high school and started college. Okay, maybe just the first two.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” were the famous words spoken by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the surface of the moon. He and Buzz Aldrin had taken the Eagle landing module down while Apollo 11 crew member Michael Collins continued to orbit above. The date was July 20, 1969, just eight years after President John Kennedy issued the challenge for Americans to reach the moon “before this decade is out.”

Woodstock poster, uploaded by solarnavigator.net.

Woodstock poster, uploaded by solarnavigator.net.

Then, less than a month later, and more than a world away, a crowd estimated at between 400,000 to 500,000 gathered at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate New York for a long weekend that changed rock and roll history. The event was planned as a profit-making concert, but that plan didn’t exactly work out. Instead, the crowd heard 32 of the era’s best musicians (who invited Sha-Na-Na?), including The Who, Janis Joplin, The Band, Jimi Hendrix, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The crowd struggled against inadequate food and sanitation, not to mention rain and mud. But it was a badge of honor for the generation that the festival was peaceful. (Altamont was to come later in the year and end that dream.)

Before we leave 1969, let’s look at some of the other mileposts of the year. Number one song: Sugar Sugar. Academy Award for Best Picture: Midnight Cowboy. Sesame Street debuted. But, then, so did Penthouse. Ted Kennedy proved he needed driving lessons – and a conscience.

Thanks to John (who posts as jmq on the Virgin-Islands-On-Line message board) for giving me the idea for the 100th post. John has helped before, by writing No. 23: Bruce Springsteen. He wins nothing except my gratitude, and that’s enough, isn’t it John? John?

The video: Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock performing “Purple Haze”:

Film: Fargo

Frances McDormand as Sheriff Marge Gunderson. Uploaded by destgulch.com

Frances McDormand as Sheriff Marge Gunderson. Uploaded by destgulch.com

No one who’s seen this film will ever look at a wood chipper the same as before. You betcha.

It’s a movie that begins by claiming it’s “based on a true story,” then concludes by saying all persons and events are fictitious. It follows Brainerd, Minnesota sheriff Marge Gunderson as she unravels a kidnapping that evolves into a series of murders. Marge is very pregnant, and in one outdoor scene she thinks she’s going to be sick. She bends down, but then after a few moments straightens back up. “Well, that passed,” she said. “Now I’m hungry again.”

William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard. Uploaded on Flickr by hypostylin.

William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard. Uploaded on Flickr by hypostylin.

I think it would have been entirely appropriate to cite the upper Midwest Scndinavian accent as one of the film’s co-stars. The movie would  have been lame without the frequent “ya” and “you betcha” and “the heck do you mean” throughout.

Frances McDormand and William H. Macy were familiar faces as secondary characters before Fargo, but they were unbelievably good in this movie that turned around both their careers. Marge Gunderson and Jerry Lundegaard are two of the most memorable characters in recent movie history, and the Coen Brothers did a brilliant job putting those fabulous words in their mouths.

Fargo was nominated for seven Academy Awards, won two (Best Actress – McDormand and Best Original Screenplay), and Joel Coen won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival.

If you’re squeamish, or want to avoid language problems, better watch this one on TV where it’s sanitized a bit. This video features the accent that made the film so much fun to watch.

TV Show: Seinfeld

The Seinfeld gang. Uploaded by fxuk.com.

The Seinfeld gang. Uploaded by fxuk.com.

Seinfeld is one of only three shows that went off the air while still number one in the ratings (The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy). Who knows how long a “show about nothing” could have continued its run?

All it takes is a few words or a catchphrase to bring back an entire episode. “Yada, yada, yada”…”The puffy shirt”…”The contest”…”No soup for you!”…”Art Vandelay”…”Maybe the dingo ate your baby”…”Hello, Newman”…”Festivus”… “The mansiere”…”Bizarro Jerry”…”Man hands”.

I had to stop myself. Seinfeld captured the zeitgeist of a generation, and took off after a slow start to become can’t miss TV. Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer were people we knew – or at least, people we believed really existed.We knew that if we made it to the Upper West Side in New York, we’e probably run into them on the street.

Flickr photo uploaded by popartdks.

Flickr photo uploaded by popartdks.

The show stayed on for nine seasons, from 1989 through 1998. It wasn’t a show about “nothing,” but about the minor turbulence of daily life, like waiting in line at the movie theater and renting a car that had an odor.

Almost as funny as the four leads were the minor characters who moved through the Seinfeld landscape. Pardon another list, but it’s just fun to remember Jerry’s and George’s parents, Newman, J. Peterman, Kenny Bania, David Puddy, and Jackie Chiles.

All right, before we get to the video, here’s my favorite quote from the show:

GEORGE: That’s pie country. They do a lot of baking up there. JERRY: They sell them by the side of the road. Blueberry blackberry. GEORGE: Blackberry boysenberry. JERRY: Boysenberry huckleberry. GEORGE: Huckleberry raspberry. JERRY: Raspberry strawberry. GEORGE: Strawberry cranberry. JERRY: (pause) Peach.

Travel: Key West

People gather at Mallory Square each day to watch the sunset. Photo by philip.greenspun.com.

People gather at Mallory Square each day to watch the sunset. Photo by philip.greenspun.com.

They say that Key West is the southernmost point in the continental United States. Okay, but “continental” is pushing it. It’s only about 50 miles from Miami to the nearest Bahama island – and three times that far to Key West. In fact, Key West is closer to Cuba than to the U.S. mainland.

It’s not that large to begin with, roughly eight square miles. And it’s home to an estimated 38,000 people, or “Conchs”, the name adopted by residents as far back as the mid-19th century.

Duval Street at night. Uploaded by 511enews.com

Duval Street at night. Uploaded by 511enews.com

Nightlife on the Key revolves around the restaurants and clubs on Duval Street in Old Town, so called because most of its buildings date back before 1912. If you’re looking for a year-’round party scene, you’ve found it. A more reserved celebration occurs at sunset each evening at Mallory Square. Artists, craftspeople, food carts, and all sorts of street performers provide an entertaining art show while tourists watch the sun go down.

Of course, you can’t be an island in the Caribbean and not have a variety of activities on the water. Key West is known for fishing charters, where you can emulate famous resident Ernest Hemingway and fish for blue marlin, sailfish, and giant tarpon. There’s snorkeling and diving, of course, with lots of wrecks to explore. Local beaches, though, are not what you might hope for, though there are some good spots.

Besides Hemingway, lots of famous people have made Key West their home. Tennessee Williams and Shel Silverstein lived there, and President Harry Truman had a winter home there. This video gives you a brief look at Key West along with one of its beaches, Smathers Beach. The Travel Channel called it a Top 10 beach, but the designation definitely is due to the beach scene, not the sand itself, which was brought in from the Bahamas.

Actor: Clint Eastwood

"Do you feel lucky, punk?" Uploaded by tubapants.com.

"Do you feel lucky, punk?" Uploaded by tubapants.com.

Clint Eastwood is one of the toughest tough guys in Hollywood history. Throughout his movie career he’s been a man of few words and lots of action.

You may not remember that Clint’s career started on the small screen. During the golden era of TV westerns he had the role of Rowdy Yates on Rawhide. Largely due to Eastwood’s presence, Rawhide became the fifth-longest-running western in TV history.

The Man with No Name. Uploaded by screenhead.com.

The Man with No Name. Uploaded by screenhead.com.

In the sixties, Eastwood was best known for playing The Man with No Name in a trilogy of spaghetti westerns. Director Sergio Leone said of his star, “I like Clint Eastwood because he has only two facial expressions: one with the hat, and one without it.” I don’t know if a person’s name influences his life, but it’s interesting that “Clint Eastwood” can be anagrammed as “Old West action.”

Perhaps his most memorable character is Dirty Harry Callahan, the epitome of the “loose cannon” cop. Eastwood portrayed Callahan in five films in the seventies and eighties, starting with Dirty Harry in 1971 and Magnum Force in 1973. Dirty Harry spoke one of the most memorable quotes in film history: “But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

Clint has also directed more than 30 films, and is one of his generation’s most accomplished masters of that art. He won Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Other prominent films he directed include Mystic River, The Bridges of Madison County, and Flags of Our Fathers. What’s not as well as well known is his musical acumen – he’s written the score for five of his films in the 2000s.

Tough guy, yes. Renaissance man, yes. Great American Thing, oh yes. Here’s the famous scene from Dirty Harry referenced above:

Travel: Metropolitan Museum of Art

The front entrance of the Met on Fifth Avenue. Uploaded by ofness.com.

The front entrance of the Met on Fifth Avenue. Uploaded by ofness.com.

I have the same feeling with this entry that I have when I encounter The Met: I don’t know where to start. Visit New York, go to the Upper East Side, stay on Fifth Avenue as it hugs Central Park, then head up the steps at Fifth and 82nd Street. That’s when the options can overwhelm you.

You can view work from 22 different curatorial departments during your visit. A partial list, just to show you the amazing breadth of the collection, includes American Paintings and Sculpture, Musical Instruments, European Paintings, Egyptian Art, Modern Art, Musical Instruments, and Photographs.

Rembrandt, Self Portrait. Flickr photo, uploaded by jbparker.

Rembrandt, Self Portrait. Flickr photo, uploaded by jbparker.

Then consider which of the amazing works of art you’d like to see most. Paul Revere’s silver collection. “George Washington” by Gilbert Stuart. Babylonian and Assyrian art. Medieval armor. Chinese calligraphy. Drawings by Michelangelo. The Egyptian Temple of Dendur. Monet. Cezanne. Rembrandt. El Greco.Picasso.

Your  visit can last as long as your attention span does. If you have the time, or another day, or if Medieval Art is your passion, you can visit The Cloisters, another Met-owned museum. It’s located in Fort Tryon Park way uptown.

The Met isn’t one of those “tourist” sites you can check off your list of places to see. It’s a destination that lures you each time you get to visit New York City. Take a video look at one of the few Met collections that, due it its fragility, does not have a permanent exhibit: The Costume Institute: