Monthly Archives: October 2009

Film: A Few Good Men

Jack Nicholson is wonderful as the arrogant Col. Jessup. Uploaded by i.cdn.turner.com.

Jack Nicholson is wonderful as the arrogant Col. Jessup. Uploaded by i.cdn.turner.com.

I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing. (You’ll eventually see a couple of his TV series in this list.) And A Few Good Men is, above all else, a wonderfully written film.

It starred Tom Cruise back when we liked him. And a wonderfully pompous Jack Nicholson. Even the minor parts were wonderfully cast, with Cuba Gooding, Jr., Kiefer Sutherland, Noah Wyle, Christopher Guest, and J.T. Walsh demonstrating why they would go on to be bigger stars.

Uploaded by japattie.info.

Uploaded by japattie.info.

A Few Good Men is essentially a courtroom drama that climaxes in the famous “I want the truth!” “You can’t handle the truth!” confrontation between Cruise and Nicholson. “You can’t handle the truth” was selected as the 29th greatest movie quote of all time by the American Film Institute. The AFI also ranked the movie as the fifth greatest courtroom drama ever.

Oh, one story that’s the kind of lore we love about movies. A defendent that Tom Cruise’s character Lt. Kaffee defends was Lance Corporal Harold Dawson, played by Wolfgang Bodison. But Bodison never tried out for the part – he was working as a location scout for the film. Director Rob Reiner thought he looked like a Marine, and suddenly Bodison had an acting career.

Singer: Ella Fitzgerald

My hometown girl. Uploaded by wijsf.com.

My hometown girl. Uploaded by wijsf.com.

What would you call the most popular female jazz singer over a period of 50 years? Who won 13 Grammys and sold more than 40 million albums? You could only be talking about Miss Ella, and you’d call her “The First Lady of Song.”

Ella and I have something in common, besides our golden voices. We were both born in Newport News, Virginia. But Ella endured a difficult early life – a father who left early, a mother who died when Ella was 15, a brief time in a reformatory after being orphaned. Only one thing got her through, and that was singing.

Uploaded by edsmart.com

Uploaded by edsmart.com

An appearance at an amateur night at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem gave her the confidence to know that performing is where she felt truly at home. She mastered the art of scat singing as no one has before or since. She finally had her first million seller, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” at the ripe old age of 21.

Ella was greatly admired by her fellow musicians and those who wrote her songs. “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them,” was how Ira Gershwin put it. The “Great American Songbook” was her text, and she was a master interpreter.

“I know I’m no glamour girl,” Ella said, “and it’s not easy for me to get up in front of a crowd of people. It used to bother me a lot, but now I’ve got it figured out that God gave me this talent to use, so I just stand there and sing.”

Americana: Gettysburg

About 50,000 Americans died on the Gettysburg battlefields. Uploaded to Flickr by Gregg Obst.

About 50,000 Americans died on the Gettysburg battlefields. Uploaded to Flickr by Gregg Obst.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is perhaps the most famous speech in American history, delivered at our most famous battlefield.

I’ll leave it to Civil War historians to dissect the strategies the competing armies employed on July 1-3, 1863. Suffice it to say it was the most lethal battle of the entire conflict, with some 50,000 casualties. Robert E. Lee had taken the fight to the North, and the defeat of his army by Union forces caused him to retreat to Virginia, and is generally considered the turning point of the war.

Ten sentences that will never be forgotten. Uploaded to Flickr by Second Story.

Ten sentences that will never be forgotten. Uploaded to Flickr by Second Story.

Lincoln visited the site four months later to dedicate the Gettysburg National Cemetery, using the opportunity to say ten sentences, no more than three minutes, that would resonate forever among his countrymen. All Americans, not just Northerners, share Lincoln’s dream that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Today, the National Park Services administers Gettysburg National Military Park, 6,000 acres of battlefield and surrounding land. A new Museum and Visitor Center that opened a year ago provides perspective not just on the Battle of Gettysburg, but the entire Civil War. There are also a variety of Ranger-led walks and programs around much of the sacred grounds.

America is one nation, and romantic notions of Southerners notwithstanding, we are fortunate to have a unified country. That ideal was in jeopardy – until three days in 1863 in a little Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.

Americana: Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes come back! We miss you. Uploaded by andymangold.com.

Calvin and Hobbes, come back! We miss you. Uploaded by andymangold.com.

Calvin and Hobbes ran daily for fourteen years. It was syndicated in more than 2,400 newspapers. It sold more than 30 million anthology books. And now that it and The Far Side are gone, the comics just aren’t the same.

Calvin was a little firecracker, and Hobbes was his stuffed animal/pet tiger who usually provided the voice of reason. Sometimes we saw Calvin as “Stupendous Man” or “Spaceman Spiff.” His favorite cereal was Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. And his snowmen creations were the stuff of true genius.

Uploaded by geocities.com/malimodeinblack.

Uploaded by geocities.com/malimodeinblack.

The strip was created by Bill Watterson, a man I frankly don’t understand. He tried repeatedly to get a comic strip idea accepted by a syndicate, clearly a commercial objective. Then when C&H became a smash hit, he was suddenly above commercialization. Here’s the high-minded crapola he put out when he quit the strip: “My interests have shifted however, and I believe I’ve done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises.” Poor little rich kid, can’t handle deadlines and small panels, despite desperately wanting them and being wildly rewarded for them.

Anyway, Watterson’s self-idolization doesn’t detract from his genius. Calvin and Hobbes is one of the cultural highlights of the 20th century, and you can count the comic strips that deserve that honor on one hand.

Actor: Bob Hope

Bob Hope and the reigning Miss World entertain aboard the USS Bennington in 1966. Uploaded by uss-bennington.org.

Bob Hope and the reigning Miss World entertain aboard the USS Bennington in 1966. Uploaded by uss-bennington.org.

No one has ever done as much to entertain our troops overseas as Bob did. It began normally enough, when Bob was one of many Hollywood stars who visited our troops fighting in World War II. But he continued his service whenever Americans were in harm’s way – in the Berlin airlift, in Korea, in Vietnam, in Beirut, and in Operation Desert Storm.

His dedication didn’t go unappreciated. He had a ship named in his honor (the USNS Bob Hope) as well as an Air Force C-17 (the “Spirit of Bob Hope”). But perhaps his biggest honor was being honored by Congress as an Honorary Veteran, the first individual so honored in American history.

Uploaded by freewebs.com.

Uploaded by freewebs.com.

I remember as a kid dreading when a Bob Hope special came on TV. We had only one set, of course, and only three channels. And my parents loved Bob Hope, so we were stuck. I didn’t appreciate what Bob Hope meant to The Greatest Generation.

As an adult, though, I’ve learned to love those Road pictures Bob made with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Those films featured excellent writing and great comic timing among the principals. He always joked about never winning an Oscar: “Oscar night at my house is called Passover,” he said. And yet he starred in 50 films, and appeared on the NBC radio and television networks for an astonishing 60 years. Bob lived to the age of 100, and was active almost to the end.

Bob, I’d like to apologize for the mean thoughts I had about you when I was young. I join the rest of America in honoring you for all you did for your profession and your country. Thanks for the memories…

Sports: “Bear” Bryant

A national championship will get you a ride on the shoulders, but you may lose your hat. Photo by Jerry Lodriguss, The Times Picayune.

A national championship will get you a ride on the shoulders, but you may lose your hat. Photo by Jerry Lodriguss, The Times Picayune.

Paul “Bear” Bryant was born in Arkansas, and coached at Maryland, Kentucky, and Texas A&M. But just look at the man. Has there ever been a face that says “Alabama” more than this one?

At retirement, Bryant had the most wins of any coach in college football history. During his 25 years as head coach of the Crimson Tide, he won six national championships and 13 SEC conference titles. He was national coach of the year three times, and the trophy is now the “Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant Award”.

With the famous houndstooth hat. Uploaded by nndb.com.

With the famous houndstooth hat. Uploaded by nndb.com.

One of the startling things about Bryant’s career is the number of his players who became successful head coaches themselves. They include Bill Battle (Tennessee), Mike DuBose (Alabama), Danny Ford (Clemson), Ray Perkins (NY Giants), Mike Reilly (Oregon State), Jackie Sherrill (Pittsburgh, Texas A&M), Steve Sloan (Duke, Ole Miss), Jack Pardee (Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins), Gene Stallings (Alabama), Jerry Claiborne (Virginia Tech, Maryland), Charlie McClendon (LSU), and Howard Schnellenberger (Miami, Louisville).

Bryant had that country wisdom that makes sense across all walks of life. He said, “It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” And, “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”

All I can say is, Put me in, coach!

Food: Maine Lobsters

A pound and a half if you're moderately hungry. Two and a half if you just crave lobster. Uploaded by austinstar.com.

A pound and a half if you're moderately hungry. Two and a half if you just crave lobster. Uploaded by austinstar.com.

We have lots of reasons to love Maine. For example, if it weren’t for Maine, Canada would come down next to Massachusetts. And we wouldn’t have one of the cleanest and greenest states. That’s nice and all, but the primary reason to like Maine is red, ugly, and delicious. Mmm, lobster…

Maine has the cold, clean, rocky water that lobsters love. People want to live on a tropical island with aqua water and palm trees. Lobsters want to live in Maine.

A great meal AND a great view. Uploaded by barnbilly.com.

A great meal AND a great view. Uploaded by barnbilly.com.

Lobsters have a significant economic impact on Maine’s economy. Think of the chain of businesses dependent on them – lobster harvesters, processors, dealers, marine suppliers, boat makers, retailers, and restaurants. And speaking of restaurants, if you’re lucky enough to visit Maine, and you want to don a bib and crack into one of these clawed creatures, where should you head?

Lots of good places, of course, but for a great meal and a wonderful view, try Barnacle Billy’s in scenic Ogunquit. You can enjoy your meal overlooking Perkins Cove, a classic New England view to go along with your classic Maine lobster. When you go, crack a claw for me, okay?

Kid Stuff: Wham-O Products

Hard to say who loves Frisbees more, people or dogs. Uploaded to Flickr by KCzarzasty.

Hard to say who loves Frisbees more, people or dogs. Uploaded to Flickr by KCzarzasty.

Wham-O is probably best known for a product called the Pluto Platter. “Huh?” you ask. “What’s that?” That’s the name the original inventor used, but when Wham-O bought the rights, they gave it a livelier name – Frisbee.

Only a national craze could explain this photo. Uploaded by allhatnocattle.net.

Only a national craze could explain this photo. Uploaded by allhatnocattle.net.

Wham-O’s golden era was the late 1950s, when the company seemed capable of turning its every product into a national obsession. In 1958, company founders Arthur “Spud” Melin (you’ve got to love a company founded buy a guy named “Spud”) and Richard Knerr heard of Australian children using a bamboo ring for exercise. They made them in colors, and sold 25 million of them in four months. That product was – Hula Hoop.

Then the inventor boys came up with another idea that became a national craze. It was as simple as having a long strip of plastic that could be hosed down to allow kids to stay cool in the summer. For a while, every kid in America wanted their own – Slip ‘n Slide.

Wham-O continues in business to this day, having been bought by Kransco in 1982, which was then purchased by Mattel in 1994, spun off into independence again in 1997, and is now owned by a company called Cornerstone.

Oh, one funny story about another Wham-O product, the Superball, a ball that bounced uncontrollably. A large Superball made for promotional purposes was “accidentally” dropped from a 23rd story window in Australia. It bounced back up 15 stories, then plunged right into an open convertible. The car was totaled, but the ball was undamaged.

This video is amazing:

Wham-O, Frisbee, Hula Hoop, Slip ‘n Slide, and Superball are registered trademarks of Wham-O Inc.

Person: Dr. Jonas Salk

Salk's discovery made him a genuine American hero. Uploaded by meisenproductions.com.

Salk's discovery made him a genuine American hero. Uploaded by meisenproductions.com.

We often hear winter called the cold and flu season. But in post-World War II America, summer was the season of fear. Summer was the season of polio, a disease that at its peak in 1952 affected nearly 60,000 children, and killed 3,000. Many of those who survived were crippled.

Jonas Salk accepted the challenge to find a vaccine for the disease. He worked in his virology laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh for eight years, getting closer and closer to finding the solution to the deadly puzzle.

Uploaded by nlm.nih.gov.

Uploaded by nlm.nih.gov.

The March of Dimes, a charity established to help fund polio research, liked what it saw in Salk’s work and helped fund it. That funding, along with a discovery by John Enders of how to keep polio alive in the lab for research purposes, gave Salk the tools he needed to complete his discovery.

He was hailed as a hero when his vaccine was first announced in 1955. Children were immunized, polio was halted, and the polio panic abated. Another researcher, Albert Sabin, was simultaneously coming up with another vaccine that could be taken orally, but it was Salk’s discovery that was announced first, and children received his shots a couple of years before they took Sabin’s sugar cubes.

Uploaded by marshfield.coos-bay.k12.or.us.

Uploaded by marshfield.coos-bay.k12.or.us.

One of the most remarkable things about Jonas Salk was that he didn’t patent his discovery. He realized how urgently the medicine was needed and that lives would be lost during the patent application and approval process. Suppose someone came up with a vaccine for AIDS tomorrow – would such a personal sacrifice even be considered? To ask the question is to know the answer.

Americana: County Fairs

I'm sure that ferris wheel in the background was safety inspected. Well, pretty sure. Uploaded to Flickr by lapstrake.

I'm sure that ferris wheel in the background was safety inspected. Well, pretty sure. Uploaded to Flickr by lapstrake.

Walk with me. Over here we have Elmer Bishop’s 1,100 pound pumpkin. Elmer’s so proud. In this pavilion over here, little Jeffy Scott entered his favorite lamb, Talulah, in competition. Can’t stay long, though – the demolition derby starts in 20 minutes.

Yes, it’s the county fair, and don’t think you’re too good to go to one. It’s a chance to appreciate the hard work that farmers and other down-to-earth neighbors do to make sure you have food on the table and clothes on your back.

Uploaded to Flickr by j cator.

Uploaded to Flickr by j cator.

Your typical county fair might have competitions for livestock, agricultural products, arts and crafts, and things edible from pies to breads to Spam. There’ll be a show by a country music “star” who had a top 30 hit in the seventies. There’ll be a midway with a Tilt-a-Whirl that may have been inspected for safety, or maybe not.

And there’ll be lots of “I can’t believe I’m going to eat that but the county fair happens just once a year” food. Funnel cakes, which Jim Gaffigan described as a giant french fry with sugar on top. Elephant ears, though the one you had last year is still in your stomach. Fried candy bars, Twinkies, and pickles. And cotton candy, of course.

The county fair should be opening soon. Go! And have a fried Snickers bar for me.

TV Show: Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In

The original Laugh-In cast album. Uploaded to Flickr by barney russel23.

The original Laugh-In cast album. Uploaded to Flickr by barney russel23.

First, there was the sit-in. Then the hippies came along, and we had the love-in. This usage reached its highest (or lowest, depending on your perspective) point when two journeymen comedians captured the spirit of the age. And Laugh-In was born.

If you look at episodes of the show now, you come to an inescapable conclusion: It’s not funny. And it wasn’t all that funny at the time, either. But it was visually unlike anything that had been on TV before. It featured an extremely talented cast, including future stars Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin. And it pushed the envelope of what was allowed at that time, particularly in innuendo and in political humor.

Uploaded to Flickr by Johnny Illustrated.

Uploaded to Flickr by Johnny Illustrated.

Foreshadowing Saturday Night Live’s (Great American Thing No. 10) success a few years later, Laugh-In featured a weekly “news” segment that lampooned the political and social stories of the day. But to make sure people didn’t think the show was too highbrow, that would be followed by girls dancing in bikinis with jokes and sayings written on their bodies. Also like SNL, Laugh-In contributed a number of catchphrases to the national vocabulary, including “Verrry interesting…but dumb.” “And that’s the truth. Pbbbt.” “You bet your sweet bippy!” “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.” “Here come da judge.” And, of course, “Sock it to me.”

Laugh-In was on from 1968 to 1973, and claimed the number-one spot in the ratings for its first two seasons. The show was nominated for ten Emmy Awards during its run and won four, including Outstanding Musical or Variety Series in 1968.