Monthly Archives: November 2009

Holiday: How The Grinch Stole Christmas!

Here the Grinch holds the leg of Max, the dog, who was added for extra comic effect. Uploaded by

Most movies made from TV shows reflect nothing so much as Hollywood’s lack of imagination. So it was with the movie version of this beloved Dr. Seuss (Great American Things, April 21, 2009) TV special. It wasn’t that Ron Howard and Jim Carrey ruined it; they didn’t. It’s just that the original is so well crafted, so well produced, and so fresh even after 43 years that it didn’t need to be remade.

Unfortunately, the version you see on television these days has been edited slightly for time. Commercial breaks were shorter in 1966 than they are today, so unless you watch it on DVD, you’re missing a little bit. Not that you’re likely to notice.

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Several elements went into making this such a memorable Christmas animation. The story, of course, which for the most part is taken directly from the book. (The dog Max was added for excellent comic effect, along with the difficulty Max and the Grinch have getting down the mountain to Whoville.) Choosing Boris Karloff as the narrator and voice of the Grinch was inspired. And the special was directed by the great Chuck Jones, known for making so many of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons.

But probably my favorite part of the program is the contribution of Thurl Ravenscroft. Who’s that, you ask? Well, he’s probably best known as the voice of Tony the Tiger. But in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, he sang the wonderful song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”:

Music: The Rat Pack

Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, Dean Martin. And Sinatra was the Chairman of the Board. Uploaded by

They called themselves “The Summit” or “The Clan.” Everyone else called them something else – The Rat Pack.

While those five were the heart of the Pack, membership was somewhat fluid. Lawford was the brother-in-law of President John Kennedy, and Sinatra thought he’d have some influence on the administration as a result. The Government was wary of his perceived mafia connections, however, and never allowed him the access he desired. As a result, Lawford was never part of the group again after 1962.

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A still developing Las Vegas was their headquarters, and their popularity was a significant factor in the city’s growth. When one member had a concert, the others would often show up for an impromptu group show. The Sands Hotel even put on their sign “DEAN MARTIN – MAYBE FRANK – MAYBE SAMMY.”

The five appeared together in two films, the original Oceans Eleven (1960) and Sergeants 3 (1962). At least two of the group appeared together in six other movies.

Of course, women were a major part of the Rat Pack as well. Shirley MacLaine, Lauren Bacall, Angie Dickinson, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland all had their times hanging out with the guys. They didn’t perform with the Pack, but definitely partied with them. As they might have said, “They were broads and they were barn burners, baby, but they were always the end.”

Actor: Clark Gable

Yep, regardless of all the other movies he made, he'll always be Rhett Butler to us. Uploaded by

Admit it. When you hear “Clark Gable,” you think “Rhett Butler.” Gable was an excellent actor who appeared in many movies and won lots of acclaim, but he’ll always be Rhett Butler to us.

Most actors have a career role, but seldom has there been a man so prominent in a movie as successful as Gone With the Wind. Gable had already won the Oscar for Best Actor in It Happened One Night (1934), in which he and Claudette Colbert made a delightful team. And he received another Best Actor nomination for Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). So he already was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars when GWTW came along. But as great as those performances were, Clark Gable is Rhett Butler.

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Gable’s career actually began in silent movies and lasted until 1961’s The Misfits, in which he co-starred with Marilyn Monroe in her final film. He worked opposite Joan Crawford eight times, Myrna Loy seven times, and Jean Harlow six times. But it’s that one movie opposite Vivien Leigh that has stayed with us.

He appeared in 81 movies in all, and you really can’t say he had a huge hit after 1939. Maybe he just became a bad judge of scripts. Maybe he just had bad luck. Or maybe it’s that even Hollywood producers always saw him as…you know.

Doris Day summed up Clark Gable this way: “He was as masculine as any man I’ve ever known, and as much a little boy as a grown man could be – it was this combination that had such a devastating effect on women.”

Travel: Big Sur

Photographer Stephen Oachs captured the fading sun as it sent a beam of light through a rock portal to illuminate the waves beyond. Almost too gorgeous to be real.

Big Sur stretches along the central coast of California and isn’t a town, but a roughly identified region covering 90 miles of coastline whose northern boundary is about 120 miles south of San Francisco.

Big Sur is all about its natural beauty. It has no real towns, and Route 1, an American National Scenic Byway, is its backbone. Here you can see whales migrating off the coast in late fall, see dramatic cliffs plunging into the Pacific, while mountains as high as 5,100 feet tall rise a mere three miles from the ocean.

And as unspoiled as Big Sur is, it boasts some of America’s finest inns and restaurants. It was named the number three destination in the USA by Trip Advisor. Smart Money magazine rated Big Sur number seven in its 30 Trips of a Lifetime. And National Geographic Traveler called it one of the world’s greatest destinations.

There’s a lot more to be said about Big Sur, but really, what more can I say that these photographs don’t say better?

Another view of the portal shown in the photo, top. By Patrick Smith Photography.

Bixby Bridge, uploaded by

Garrapata State Park. By Patrick Smith Photography.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. By Buck Forester.

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Highway 1, uploaded by

Food: Thanksgiving Turkey

Ground turkey mimics ground beef, and turkey sausage mimics pork. But nothing mimics a roast turkey. Uploaded to Flickr by jen d. cox.

On Thanksgiving Day, everyone looks forward to a feast unlike any other day of the year. And while the supporting cast is important, the undisputed star of the show…is turkey.

Turkey is native to America, and you may remember that Ben Franklin lobbied to have it named the official American mascot. Fortunately for us all, he was unsuccessful.

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As popular as turkey is on Thanksgiving, so popular that the holiday’s nickname is “Turkey Day,” it’s surprising that people don’t enjoy turkey as much during the rest of the year. It’s inexpensive, rather easy to prepare, and a turkey or breast can feed a family in leftovers and sandwiches for most of a week.

Turkey is a lean meat, and as a result has become a tasty and nutritious substitute for other meats. Ground turkey makes a pretty decent substitute for beef in chili, and for pork in sausage.

One thing we all know about turkey is that it contains the amino acid tryptophan, which works as a natural sedative. I just had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner prepared by my stepdaughter, anzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Americana: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Every year there are new balloons introduced into the parade. Scooby-Doo made his debut in 2005. Photo by Jeff Christensen, AP.

Marching bands and gaudy floats are mandatory. And it just wouldn’t be Macy’s without Santa Claus riding into Herald Square. But really, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is about balloons. Huge balloons.

The 2009 event marks the 85th anniversary of the first Macy’s parade, which went from 145th Street in Harlem down to Macy’s flagship store at 34th Street. These days it’s a bit shorter, starting instead at 77th Street at Central Park West. It was already a hugely popular annual event, but it became even more of an institution following the heartwarming film Miracle on 34th Street, which featured the parade.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the entertainers riding on floats and lip-synching to recorded music. I do enjoy when performers from Broadway musicals do a number at the reviewing stand for the TV audience. Some of the shows featured in the last decade include such huge hits as Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, Wicked, Jersey Boys, and Spamalot.

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But back to the balloons. The first to be introduced was Felix the Cat, in 1927. Some of the other notable balloons, with their year of introduction, include: Mickey Mouse (1934), Popeye (1957), Bullwinkle (1961), Underdog (1965), Superman (1966), Snoopy (1968), Garfield (1984), Big Bird (1988), Bart Simpson (1990), The Cat in the Hat (1994), SpongeBob (2004) and Shrek (2007).

If you ever get to New York for the parade, one of the most interesting sights is the inflating of the massive balloons. It takes place the day before Thanksgiving around the Museum of Natural History between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. You’ll look up and think, “You know, Ronald McDonald could stand to lose a few pounds.”

Here’s a cool look behind the scenes at this wonderful event:

History: Ellis Island

Those who came to the US as first and second class passengers didn't come to Ellis Island. But the poor, the hard cases, entered there. Uploaded by

For the twelve million immigrants who came through Ellis Island, and their now 100 million descendants, these 27.5 acres are sacred ground.

Hundreds of thousands of would-be Americans were processed at Ellis Island each year between 1892 and 1924, when immigration was strictly curtailed. Its busiest year was 1907, when just over a million people were processed. Its busiest day ever was that April 17, when 11,747 immigrants arrived. The center stayed open until 1954, serving mainly as a site for processing those to be detained or deported.

The vast majority of arrivals came aboard huge steamships. Those traveling first and second class received a brief screening aboard ship, but weren’t processed at Ellis Island. The belief was that if you could afford those tickets, you had the resources to make it without public assistance. Upon arriving in New York, they were free to go.

Those traveling third class or “steerage” had an altogether different experience. If their papers were in order and they were reasonably healthy, their processing took somewhere from three to five hours. Doctors were so used to seeing certain conditions that they were often able to pull the sick out out by a visual inspection. These became known as “six-second physicals.”

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Ellis Island became part of the National Park Service in 1966 as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, its neighbor a half mile to the north. There’s an amazing museum on Ellis Island today, and you can get there by ferry from Jersey City or from the lower tip of Manhattan.

Here are just some of the notable people who entered the United States as immigrants on Ellis Island: Isaac Asimov, Charles Atlas, Irving Berlin, Frank Capra, Claudette Colbert, Xavier Cugat, Max Factor, Bela Lugosi, Knute Rockne, Rudolph Valentino, and Henny Youngman.

Song: “Autumn Leaves”

This hauntingly beautiful song had French origins, but was adapted to English by American Johnny Mercer. Uploaded by

We would share this wonderful classic with Great French Things, were there such a thing, because its melody was written by a French songwriter, Joseph Kosma. American Johnny Mercer gave it English lyrics in 1947.

Johnny Mercer. Uploaded by

Johnny Mercer founded and co-owned Capitol Records. Jo Stafford was under contract to Capitol Records. Therefore, Jo Stafford was the first to record Kosma and Mercer’s beautiful song.

Even though such popular artists as Bing Crosby and Artie Shaw did their own versions, “Autumn Leaves” didn’t really catch on for almost a decade. Then pianist Roger Williams took it to number one – the only piano instrumental ever to reach the top of the charts. From then on it became a jazz standard, brought to life by Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, and Cannonball Adderley.

Most of the jazz versions are, understandably, instrumentals. Until recently, the essential vocal version was performed by Nat King Cole for a movie called – surprise! – Autumn Leaves. But once you’ve heard Eva Cassidy’s unbelievable version, you’ll realize that she now owns this song. OWNS it.

“Les feuilles mortes” (literally “The Dead Leaves”)

Person: Erma Bombeck

The book's title demonstrates Erma's connection and empathy for real women. Uploaded by

Imagine writing more than 4,000 newspaper columns over three decades. Could you make each one great, funny, touching, memorable? I couldn’t. Most people couldn’t. But somehow, Erma Bombeck did.

Erma was writing for her hometown paper in Dayton, Ohio, when her editor sent some of her columns to the Newsday Newspaper Syndicate. They loved “At Wit’s End,” and within a few years it appeared in more than 900 newspapers nationwide.

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Erma wrote about the daily lives of real women, gently poking fun while always displaying empathy. After all, that was her life. She was the mother of two, the wife of a teacher, the resident of suburbia.

She wrote thirteen books, most compendiums of her columns, most bestsellers. We couldn’t cover this wonderful woman without remembering some of her famous lines:

“Did you ever notice that the first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone?”

“God created man, but I could do better.”

“I’ve exercised with women so thin that buzzards followed them to their cars.”

“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.”

“The only reason I would take up jogging is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.”

“Who in their infinite wisdom decreed that Little League uniforms be white? Certainly not a mother.”

“Have you any idea how many children it takes to turn off one light in the kitchen? Three. It takes one to say, ‘What light?’ and two more to say, ‘I didn’t turn it on.'”

“When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.”

“In two decades I’ve lost a total of 789 pounds. I should be hanging from a charm bracelet.”

Sports: Larry Bird

Larry Legend was one of his nicknames. Another was The Hick from French Lick. Uploaded by

Of course, Larry’s not the only world-class athlete to come out of French Lick, Indiana. There’s…Uh…Okay, Larry Bird is the only world-class athlete to come out of French Lick, Indiana.

I’m going out on a limb and say that Bird is the most complete basketball player of all time. He excelled in all phases of the game – scoring, passing, rebounding, defense. Michael Jordan scored more and was certainly the greatest clutch player ever; others dominated one phase or another. But Bird could do it all. And he was the kind of fierce competitor who could put his team on his back and carry them to championships.

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Look at his college experience, for example. He took Indiana State to the NCAA championship game. Indiana State hasn’t come close before or since. He had talent playing with the Boston Celtics in the NBA, but to demonstrate his impact, the Celtics went from 29-53 the year before he joined to the league’s best record of 61-21 his rookie season.

Bird won the Naismith Award for college player of the year. His Celtics won three NBA titles. He was the NBA MVP three times. Of course, he’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame. And he won the 3-point shooting contest three times.

Speaking of the 3-point contest, Bird never had any lack of self-confidence. The story is that he entered the locker room before the 1986 contest, and didn’t say a word. He just waited till he had everyone’s attention, then said, “I want all of you to know I am winning this thing. I’m just looking around to see who’s gonna finish up second.” And he went out and won. Here are more examples:

Americana: “Happy Birthday To You”

Probably the most famous performance of the song ever, Marilyn Monroe to John Kennedy. Uploaded by

It probably won’t surprise you to know that this is the most recognized song in the English language. (The runners up, according to the Guiness Book of World Records: For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow and Auld Lang Syne.)

Sisters Mildred and Patty Hill were kindergarten teachers who wanted a simple melody that children could sing, so they came up with this tune and called it “Good Morning to All.” (“Good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning dear children, good morning to you.”) It’s not really clear how the song morphed into the most common birthday song, but the words and music appeared together as early as 1912.

Isn't this better than showing kids singing around a cake? Uploaded by

Today, the song is copyrighted. Probably. Maybe. Sort of. The fact is that Warner Music Group claims a copyright, and enforces it to the tune of $2 million in royalties in 2008 alone. Copyright scholars (if such a term is appropriate) say that if disputed in court, the copyright might not hold. But no one wants to take on that battle, so films and television shows either pony up the dough or avoid the song.

Well, it’s sad when the most you can say in discussing a song is that its trademark is in question. You can’t talk about the many outstanding cover versions recorded, the subtleties of phrasing, or the fresh and inspiring melody. Even so, sing Happy Birthday To You all you want.

Just don’t let The Man catch you.

Wonder if royalties were paid for this performance?

Food: Pumpkin Pie

Turkey is great. But pumpkin pie makes the meal complete. Uploaded by

It’s that time of the year, when pumpkins line the roadside and canned pumpkin filling flees the grocer’s shelves. Some holidays just aren’t right without the appropriate foods, and Thanksgiving isn’t right without pumpkin pie for dessert.

Pumpkins are native to North America, and their innards have been used for desserts all the way back to – yes – the Pilgrims. I’m not sure if they had nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger to give it the right flavor. For us, Libby’s has figured that out just fine.

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Of course, you can build your pumpkin pie from scratch, if you prefer. Because heaven knows, there’s plenty of time during the holidays, especially while preparing fifteen dishes for eight people, to cook a homemade pie. If you do, I salute you.

Way back in the nineteenth century, poet John Greenleaf Whittier had this to say about the humble, but delicious pumpkin pie:

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

The Arts: New Yorker Cartoons

A classic by Danny Shanahan. Uploaded by

Sure, occasionally their New York focus is a little difficult for us in the hinterlands to appreciate. And yes, sometimes you think, I’m sure that’s funny – but I don’t get it. But more often than not, they’re sharp glances into our world that you don’t find anywhere else.

And because it’s kind of silly to talk about something funny rather than show it, here are examples of some of the best cartoonists writing the best cartoons for the best cartoon magazine:

Roz Chast

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Bruce Eric Kaplan

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Barbara Smaller

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David Sipress

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Gahan Wilson

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Jack Ziegler

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TV Show: The Price Is Right

Bob Barker is the greatest host ever of The Price Is Right, but I have a soft spot for Bill Cullen. Uploaded by

“Robin Chalkley…Come on down! You’re the next contestant on The Price Is Right!” No, I’ve never heard those words, nor will ever hear them, but there’s a part of me that would love to win…A NEW CAR!

Actually, I have attended a taping of The Price Is Right, but not the current version. When I was a kid visiting New York with my parents to see the 1964 World’s Fair, we were walking on the streets of midtown Manhattan when we were offered tickets to the show. Obviously, they needed to fill the studio audience. That show, featuring Bill Cullen (one of the all-time greatest game show hosts) ran from 1956-1965.

The show was reincarnated in 1972 as “The New Price Is Right.” (“New” was dropped when the show no longer was.) And Bob Barker took over as host, and Janice Pennington became the show’s all-time best model. Barker continued until his retirement in 2007, when the show ended.

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Wait, it didn’t end. They brought in Drew Carey as host, and he is to Bob Barker what Conan O’Brien is to Johnny Carson – a pale comparison. (Of course, Conan would be a pale comparison to anyone. Ba da boom.)

A couple of weeks ago, the show celebrated it 7,000th episode. Think of how many showcase showdowns have occurred, how many times Barker was hugged by happy winners, how many people went home empty-handed because they overbid by a few bucks.

If you’re ever in Argentina, don’t miss El Precio Justo. In India, it’s Yehi Hai Right Price. In Vietnam, watch Hãy Chọn Giá Đúng, Wherever you travel around the globe, you’re likely to be close to one of the 35 or so countries that have their own version of the show. Luigi Bartolomeo – Venire qui! You’re the next contestant on OK il Prezzo è Giusto!

Singer: Patsy Cline

Today's female country singers owe Patsy a debt of gratitude for creating a country-pop sound. Uploaded by

Patsy Cline had just begun to experience success in the music industry when an airplane crash took her life on March 5, 1963. She was only 30 years old. But in an eight-year career she recorded more absolutely classic songs than the Rhiannas and Britneys could ever dream of.

Patsy had recorded some songs, and even performed at the Grand Ole Opry, but her music wasn’t hitting the charts. Then she went on television and performed “Walkin’ After Midnight” on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts program on CBS. She was a phenomenon. She then released the song and it made it to number 12 on the pop chart and number 2 in country, making her one of the first artists to have a crossover hit.

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Her record contract, however, permitted her to sing only songs written by the label’s writers. And let’s face it, if you couldn’t write a song for that voice, you didn’t belong in the business. So it was a long four years before the contract expired, and she hit the charts again in 1961 with both “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy.” She had three hits the following year, including the number one song “She’s Got You.”

It’s hard to tell what classics never got recorded, because Patsy boarded a Piper Comanche following a benefit concert and headed along with three others for her home in Nashville. The plane encountered bad weather, and crashed near Camden, Tennessee, killing all aboard. She’s buried in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia.

Patsy Cline had a giant talent and leaves behind a legacy of wonderful performances. Today’s women of country music owe her a huge debt for opening the door to a country-pop sound. She was elected posthumously to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Film: The Graduate

These famous legs don't actually belong to Anne Bancroft, but to actress Linda Gray. Uploaded by

Beyond a memorable script, a terrific cast, a visionary director, and perfect music, some movies just happen to fully embody the Zeitgeist of its era. So it was with The Graduate, a masterful movie that perfectly captured the freedom and angst of the late 60s.

The script came courtesy of Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. Dustin Hoffman made his major movie debut, and was perfect as Benjamin Braddock, while Anne Bancroft portrayed Mrs. Robinson with the perfect blend of sultriness and ennui. It was director Mike Nichols’ second film, following the startling Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. That’s a pretty auspicious beginning. And the music of Simon and Garfunkel was expertly woven through the film, a soundtrack not just for the movie, but for the times.

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I love behind-the-scenes movie trivia, so here are a couple of things about The Graduate I found interesting. Dustin Hoffman was 30 and Anne Bancroft was 36 when the movie was made, but Hoffman looked so young and Bancroft so mature that they carried off cross-generational lovers. And the legs in the famous movie poster, beyond which we see Hoffman, didn’t belong to Bancroft, but to a young model – Linda Gray, who went on to play Sue Ellen Ewing in Dallas.

The Graduate was selected as the number seven movie in the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies” program. Two lines from the movie also are among the most famous in film history: “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?” was selected as number 63 by the AFI and number 17 by Premiere magazine. And “Plastics” was the AFI’s number 42 quote.

Music: Holland-Dozier-Holland

They wrote and produced 25 number one hits, most for Motown. Uploaded by

If you love what’s commonly called “Soul” music, the Motown Sound in particular, then you probably know who Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Edward Holland, Jr. are. They’re one of the most successful and influential songwriting teams of the twentieth century, that’s who they are.

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Dozier and the Holland brothers worked in-house for Motown Records from 1962 to 1967. After that they went out on their own, but still wrote and produced many of the label’s biggest hits. They wrote an amazing total of 25 number one hits. Great songs like “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” for Marvin Gaye, “Heat Wave” for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and a whopping ten number one songs for the Supremes.

The guys left Motown in a contract dispute which took years to resolve. They went on to start their own record label, Invictus, which obviously didn’t come close to the impact that Motown had. Then Holland split with the Dozier brothers in the seventies, and the team hasn’t worked together since.

But as a team, they accomplished great things. They’re in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Space doesn’t allow me to list all their hits, but here are the really big ones:

“Mickey’s Monkey” (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles)
“Where Did Our Love Go” (The Supremes)
“Baby Love” (The Supremes)
“Come See About Me” (The Supremes)
“Baby I Need Your Loving” (The Four Tops)
“You’re A Wonderful One” (Marvin Gaye)
“Stop In The Name Of Love” (The Supremes)
“Nowhere To Run” (Martha Reeves and the Vandellas)
“I Can’t Help Myself” (The Four Tops)
“Back In My Arms Again” (The Supremes)
“Nothing But Heartaches” (The Supremes)
“It’s The Same Old Song” (The Four Tops)
“I Hear a Symphony” (The Supremes)
“This Old Heart Of Mine” (The Isley Brothers)
“Reach Out, I’ll Be There” (The Four Tops)
“Standing In The Shadows Of Love” (The Four Tops)
“My World Is Empty Without You” (The Supremes)
“Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” (The Supremes)
“You Keep Me Hanging On” (The Supremes)
“You Can’t Hurry Love” (The Supremes)
“Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone” (The Supremes)
“Jimmy Mack” (Martha Reeves and the Vandellas)
“Bernadette” (The Four Tops)
“The Happening” (The Supremes)
“Reflections” (The Supremes)
“In And Out Of Love” (The Supremes)
“Give Me Just A Little More Time” (Chairmen of the Board)
“Band of Gold” (Freda Payne)

This is a fascinating video as the three songwriters discuss their creative process:

Actor: Fred Astaire

Of all his dance partners, Astaire is still linked in the public mind most closely to Ginger Rogers. Uploaded by

You’ll get a kick out of the studio’s evaluation of Fred Astaire’s initial screen test. It’s purported to have read: “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” Yeah, just a little. No less a talent than Gene Kelly said, “The history of dance on film begins with Astaire.”

Fred experienced great success on Broadway in such successes as the Gershwins’ Funny Face and Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce (renamed The Gay Divorcee for film). But the world of movies and Hollywood beckoned, and he went west and appeared in his first film in 1933. He first danced with Ginger Rogers in that year’s Flying Down to Rio, and he went on to partner with her in nine more pictures.

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It’s generally agreed that while Rogers wasn’t the most talented dancer of Fred’s partners, she just looked right with him. She seemed to be having the time of her life. Others he danced with, with varying degrees of success, include Eleanor Powell, Paulette Goddard, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse, and Leslie Caron. One of his highest compliments was payed to Charisse. “When you dance with her,” he said, “you stay danced.”

At least two of his routines are film classics. And, though we remember Astaire most for his partner dances, these were both solos. The first is “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” from the film Blue Skies. Here, he wears his signature top hat and tails, and parodies his upcoming retirement in what was then known as “Fred Astaire’s last dance.” (He unretired two years later.) The other is his dancing on the ceiling number from Royal Wedding. Everyone loves it, so here it is for your enjoyment:

Travel: Small Towns (1)

Every small town has a main street, and most actually are Main Street. Uploaded to Flickr by Let Ideas Compete.

For the first time, this is a multi-part selection, although part two may be months away. There are simply too many great small towns in America to settle on a small handful. People who’ve grown up in cities, or who’ve become accustomed to city living, think small towns are a thing of the past. But they’re very much real, and very relevant, today.

Here are some that are beautiful and vibrant:

Lexington, Virginia
Home of Washington & Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, Civil War history, shopping, Natural Bridge nearby.

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New Bern, North Carolina
At the convergence of two rivers, settled in 1710, historic homes, quaint shops, gardens.

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Louisville, Colorado
Trails, the Rockies, close to ski resorts, Money magazine’s number one Best Places to Live.

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Natchitoches, Louisiana
Established 1714, where Steel Magnolias was filmed, National Historic Landmark District, bed and breakfast haven

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Leavenworth, Washington
Yes, it’s a Bavarian village in Washington State, No, I don’t know why, climbing, rafting, skiing nearby.

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Ashland, Oregon
The Siskiyou Mountains, Shakespeare Festival, vineyards, 196 days of sunshine.

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Camden, Maine
Exceptionally beautiful harbor, classic downtown, country inns, quintessential New England.

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Song: “Tangled Up in Blue”

He can't sing all that well, but somehow it's okay when he's doing his own material. Uploaded by

When we look back on a relationship, we don’t remember it in a linear, chronological manner. Our minds flash forward and back, calling up the joys and heartaches. That’s the breakthrough this Bob Dylan song achieved – it breaks the conventions of storytelling through what we’d now call “real-time” experience.

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There are lots of unusual things about this song, part of Dylan’s album “Blood on the Tracks,” released in 1975. For one thing, it has seven verses, and no chorus. And Dylan recorded several versions of the song, changing the lyrics each time and often changing the point of view from first to third person. (Psst, Bob: It’s ten times better and more immediate in the first person. Leave…it…alone.)

Dylan described the song’s narrative form this way: “What’s different about it is that there’s a code in the lyrics, and there’s also no sense of time. There’s no respect for it. You’ve got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little you can’t imagine not happening.” And he said, “It took ten years to live, and two years to write.”

Rolling Stone named “Tangled Up in Blue” number 68 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. (For Rolling Stone, “all time” means the rock and roll era.) In any case, that’s way too low for this great song. One particularly special cover is by the Scottish singer KT Tunstall: