Monthly Archives: August 2010

Americana: New York Public Library

When it was built, the New York Public Library was America's largest marble structure. Despite its impressive architecture, what people remember most are Patience and Fortitude - the lions. Uploaded by murrayhill.gc.cuny.edu.

If you have any question about where you are, the lions will tell you. They’ve been presiding over the  New York Public Library since its construction in 1911.

The Library’s funding distinguishes it among most public libraries. Through most of its history, it has been a public/private partnership – public funds paid for the circulation library and its branches, while private money supported the extensive research facilities.

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When the Library opened, it housed a then-astounding 1,000,000 volumes. Seventy-five miles of shelving were needed, and it took an entire year to bring the collection into the building and set it up. The main reading room is 78 feet wide, 297 feet long, with 52 feet high ceilings.

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Little-known architects Carrere and Hastings designed the building, which at the time was the largest marble structure in America. But, as beautiful as the building is, it’s the lions sculpted by Edward Clock Potter – named “Patience” and “Fortitude” by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia – that have made the building memorable.

I can say from personal experience that there’s no better way to while away a few hours on a beautiful spring afternoon than to sit on the Library’s steps and watch the passing parade of New York City. People-watching at its best.

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History: America Sends a Man into Space

The suborbital flight lasted only 15 1/2 minutes, but lifted American morale and made Alan Shepard a national hero. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.

His name was Alan Shepard, and he was the second man – and first American – into space. His flight took place on May 5, 1961.

The second man, because the USSR had sent up Yuri Gagarin less than a month earlier. The space race wasn’t a matter of dueling technologies, but of competing ideologies. For America, the challenge to beat the Russians into space paralleled the struggle to achieve political superiority over Communism.

Shepard safely completed his 15½ minute flight and became an instant hero. He had sat in a nose cone on top of a Redstone rocket and been exploded into the atmosphere. He received accolades, parades, and met President Kennedy. His successful mission motivated the President to appear before a joint session of Congress just a few weeks later and challenge the country to send a man to the moon “before this decade is out.”

Shepard went on to become the fifth man to walk on the moon. He’s the one who took the famous golf shot. By the way, when asked what he was thinking while sitting in the capsule waiting to be launched into space, he replied, “The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.”

Sports: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca were permanently linked by fate, and became good friends. Branca never became bitter about his role in baseball history. Uploaded by gothamist.com.

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

That famous call by Russ Hodges punctuated what is probably the most dramatic moment in baseball history. Bobby Thomson of the Giants hit a pitch thrown by Ralph Branca of the Dodgers into the left field seats, securing a spot for his team in the World Series and a place for himself in baseball immortality.

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The play occurred at the end of the 1951 season, and it’s hard for a modern fan to appreciate what a momentous event it was. First, these two teams were then crosstown rivals with fans that chose sides and did so with great passion. And second, on August 11 the Dodgers had a 13 1/2 game lead over the Giants, and finished the season a more than respectable 26-22. But the Giants went on a phenomenal 37-7 tear to pull to an identical 96-58 record. The champion would be determined by a three-game playoff, and the two teams split the first two. Everything was on the line for this last game.

The Dodgers held a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. But the Giants rallied, and with a run in and men on second and third, Bobby Thomson came to the plate. The Dodgers brought in Branca as a relief pitcher, a curious decision considering Thomson had homered off Branca to win the first game of the playoff. With a one-strike count, Branca came in high and inside, and Thomson turned on the pitch and deposited it in the left field stands. And Russ Hodges – and Giants fans across the country – went crazy:

Music: Aaron Copland

Copland used American musical idioms in such popular works as Rodeo, Fanfare for the Common Man, and Appalachian Spring.

Though certainly not the first American composer whose music captured the national mood, Aaron Copland created ballets, popular works, and film scores that earned him the unofficial title as “The Dean of American composers.”

Copland weaved such true American musical idioms as jazz and folk into his compositions, and audiences loved him for it. He looked to these forms to liberate our classical music from the influence of Europe. He loved the European masters, of course – he spent a great deal of time in Europe and Asia, immersing himself in the music of the world. But he felt it was time for America to establish its own musical identity.

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His first composition to achieve iconic status was the ballet Billy the Kid (1935). It incorporated cowboy tunes and folk songs, and is still one of his most popular and widely performed pieces. Similarly, another ballet with a western theme, Rodeo (1942), also blended recognizable folk tunes with a Copland flair. Especially notable was the “Hoedown” section near the end. (Beef – it’s what’s for dinner.)

That same year, Copland composed one of the most instantly recognizable and loved pieces of American music, Fanfare for the Common Man. Written as America was gearing up for World War II, it accomplished Copland’s goal to create a national morale booster.

Copland later arranged his most famous ballet into an orchestral arrangement – Appalachian Spring. Originally written for 13 instruments, it incorporated the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” in a beautiful and inspiring American classic. It earned him the Pulitzer Prize (Great American Things, February 19, 2010).

Copland also wrote film scores, most notably Of Mice and Men (1939) for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and The Heiress (1949) for which he won the award.

Actress: Bette Davis

I had to find a picture in which her eyes didn't scare me. It wasn't easy. Woman had the scariest eyes EVER. Uploaded by image.toutlecine.com.

Bette Davis still scares me. I can go back and watch movies from her early career, when she was young and beautiful, and I think, “Yeah, but look how she turned out. Scary.” The song was right – it was her eyes. They just make me want to look the other way.

As I’ve seen with many actors during the early years of the studio system, Bette Davis was forced to be in some pretty lousy movies during the early part of her career. Her breakout performance came after she’d been in more than 20 films, with her role in Of Human Bondage. It demonstrated her courage in taking roles that were unsympathetic, something she was willing to do throughout her career.

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One thing of which Davis was particularly proud was her part in the establishment of the Hollywood Canteen during World War II. She took an abandoned nightclub, fixed it up, made sure there were name stars there every night, and opened it to servicemen. She even made a movie based around it, with the unsurprising name Hollywood Canteen.

Her amazing film career included:

Of Human Bondage (1934, Nomination) … Dangerous (1935, Oscar) … Jezebel (1938, Oscar) … Dark Victory (1939, Nomination) … All This, and Heaven Too (1940) … The Letter (1940, Nomination) … The Little Foxes (1941, Nomination) … Now, Voyager (1942, Nomination) … Mr. Skeffington (1944, Nomination) … Deception (1946) … All About Eve (1950, Nomination) … The Star (1952, Nomination) … What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962, Nomination)

The AFI honored her as the first woman to receive its Life Achievement Award in 1977. And in its list of 100 Years…100 Stars, she was the second-highest-ranking woman, behind only Katharine Hepburn (Great American Things, December 26, 2009).

TV Show: The West Wing

Through its run, The West Wing produced Emmys for Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, Stockard Channing, and John Spencer. Martin Sheen won a Golden Globe and a SAG award, but never the Emmy. Uploaded by newswire.ca.

I’ll start by saying that I love the work of Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing’s creator and principal writer. He wrote one of my favorite movies, A Few Good Men (Great American Things, October 11, 2009), and his first short-lived TV series was Sports Night, a great show that never captured the public’s attention, probably because it’s title made it seem unappealing to women.

The West Wing ran on NBC from 1999 to 2006, and documented the fictional presidency of Democrat Josiah Bartlet. Though it no doubt appealed more to those on the left side of the political spectrum, its characters were so well drawn and it did such a good job of creating a sense of realism, it was a delight to watch no matter what your political persuasion.

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The show featured an exceptional cast. Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, Stockard Channing, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Janel Moloney, and Richard Schiff all handled Sorkin’s rapid-fire scripts with veteran aplomb. Perhaps best of all was John Spencer as chief of staff Leo McGarry. If I were president, I’d have wanted Spencer as my chief of staff, actor or not. Sadly, he died of a heart attack near the end of the show’s run.

The West Wing earned nine Emmy Awards – in its first season. It was named Outstanding Drama Series in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. Virtually the entire cast received nominations for acting during the show’s run, and Channing, Janney, Schiff, Spencer, and Whitford won. Emmys were also won for directing, writing, and theme music…

Kid Stuff: Rocky and Bullwinkle

While the show was on ABC (1959-1961), it was called Rocky and His Friends. When it switched to NBC (1961-1964), it became The Bullwinkle Show. Uploaded by images.onset.freedom.com.

Actually, there were two series that ran one after the other: Rocky and His Friends (1959-1961) and The Bullwinkle Show (1961-1964). Both were produced by Jay Ward, and featured essentially the same cast of characters.

Each episode contained several recurring elements: Fractured Fairy Tales, Peabody’s Improbable History, Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, Mr. Know-It-All, Aesop and Son, and Bullwinkle’s Corner.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Uploaded by home.comcast.net.

The good guys were, of course, Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose. They foiled the plans of the bad guys, who were (of course) Natasha Fatale and Boris Badenov. The show all but developed the concept of dual interest – simple cartoon hijinks for the kids, puns and parodies of current events for adults. All the modern animated productions should be sending Jay Ward’s heirs royalty checks.

Close observers of the show have noticed lots of “continuity” errors on the show – Boris Badenov’s mustache would come and go, colors would change, clothing wasn’t the same. The reason is that the production was animated in Mexico to save money. It became clear that with cost savings came a sacrifice in quality. Some things don’t change, do they?

Singer: Buddy Holly

 

He didn't want to be on the Midwest tour, and his bus was cold and broken down. So he chartered a flight to his next show. It was the day the music died. Uploaded by moockmusic.com.

 

He died at the way-too-young age of 23. He’d only been recognized on the music scene for a year and a half. And yet he managed to create memorable music and an innovative sound that are instantly recognizable half a century later.

Holly had made a name for himself in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, where he opened shows for both Elvis Presley (Great American Things, July 29, 2009) and Bill Haley and the Comets. He put together a band he called the Crickets, signed a contract with Decca Records, and went to Nashville to record his first songs.

They bombed. Decca dumped him. But he found another manager, signed another contract, and released “That’ll Be the Day.” Decca said, “Come on back,” so he did.

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Of course, you know the sad ending to this story. Holly went on a tour of the Midwest along with Dion and the Belmonts, Richie Valens, and the J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson. The tour was plagued with transportation problems, so Holly chartered a plane to take some of the performers from Iowa to Minnesota. It crashed, killing Holly, Valens, Richardson, and the pilot.

It was “the day the music died.”

We’re left with a number of great recordings Holly made in a short time. His unique singing style influenced future artists as diverse as Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Among his hits were “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy!,” “Maybe Baby,” “Rave On,” “It’s So Easy,” “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “Not Fade Away,” “Raining in My Heart,” and “True Love Ways.”

Buddy Holly was in the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Great American Things, August 31, 2009), and was ranked number 13 by Rolling Stone in its list of Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time.

Architecture: Golden Gate Bridge

The original plans for the Golden Gate Bridge were rejected for aesthetic reasons. Irving Morrow fixed that by designing the towers, lighting, and adding the distinctive orange paint. Uploaded by wallpaperdojo.com.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most beautiful bridges not just in America, but in the world. No wonder it placed number five in the American Institute of Architects’ list of America’s favorite architecture.

Until the bridge was completed in 1937, the only way to cross the Golden Gate – the strait between San Francisco and Marin County – was by ferry. By the way, the area received the name “Golden Gate” from explorer, and first senator from California, John C. Fremont.

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A number of individuals contributed to the bridge’s design. Joseph Strauss came up with the original plan… architect Irving Morrow contributed the shape of the bridge towers, its orange vermillion color, and its art deco elements… while Charles Ellis and Leon Moisseiff were primary engineers on the project. It took a little more than four years to complete, and cost about $35 million.

The bridge carries six lanes of traffic, and the toll to cross it is now $6. Walkways are open to the public, one reason why the Golden Gate Bridge has more suicides than any other location in the world. Even so, the American Society of Civil Engineers has named it one of the modern Wonders of the World…

Food: Maryland Crab Cakes

Camden Yards in Baltimore, home of the Orioles, may be the only major league ballpark that offers crab cakes in its concession stands. Well, there has to be SOME reason to see the Orioles play. Uploaded by foodnetwork.com.

I might have called these “Chesapeake Bay” crab cakes instead. But if you trace them to their true home, you come back to Maryland. And if you want to be even more specific, to Baltimore.

Maryland crab cakes are made with blue crab, the best-tasting variety.  Other parts of the country make cakes from their local crabs, but nothing beats the blue crab.

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You have to keep an eye on how the cakes are made, if you want the best experience. It’s not unusual to stretch the crabmeat a bit by adding breadcrumbs or other fillers to the cakes. That might be understandable if you’re stretching your budget at home, but if you’re dining out, don’t order them unless the menu assures you that there are no fillers. As they used to say, Accept no substitutes.

By the way, Camden Yards in Baltimore, home of the Orioles, sells crab cakes at its concession stands. Unfortunately, with the way the O’s have played in the last decade or so, it’s about the best reason to go there these days…

Song: “Let’s Stay Together”

What a voice in this Memphis preacher. The Rev. Al Green can growl one moment, soar to a crystal clear falsetto the next. This song is his best, a joy from the first note. Uploaded by list.co.uk.

We’re going to call him Rev. Al Green, because that’s who he is today. He was still just Al in 1972, when he recorded “Let’s Stay Together,” a vocal masterpiece.

This was the second of seven consecutive gold singles. Green brought his full talents to the song, reaching down to growling low notes, then soaring up immediately into falsetto. My favorite part in the song seems like an ad lib – after he sings, “You’d never do that to me” in the second verse, he says quietly, “Would you, baby?”

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Green is a product of the Memphis soul movement, not Motown. Some of the Otis Redding sound is evident from time to time, especially in the horns.

Of course, he is now Rev. Al Green, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis. He’s learned to balance his gospel music with his soul singing. However he works it out in his own mind, we’ll always have the near perfection of “Let’s Stay Together” to enjoy. It was ranked no. 60 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Americana: 7-Eleven

7-Elevens used to be EVERYWHERE. Then financial hard times hit, and many locations closed. Now you may have to keep your eyes open when visiting away from home, for that special Slurpee treat. Uploaded by gasstationsusa.com.

As with other Great American Things posted here, this post honors the convenience store 7-Eleven in its past, when it was ubiquitous in every city – and still American.

In the late 1920s, the Southland Ice Corporation in Dallas started selling a few food products from the ice dock. People liked that their milk and dairy products stayed fresh because of the ice. And they liked not having to go all the way to the grocery store for just a few items. It was…convenient.

Southland and successors owned the company until financial hard times hit, and the company is now operated out of Japan. But 7-Eleven has had a huge impact on American life.

What would America be without the Slurpee? Well, it would be pretty much like it is now in most places where 7-Elevens are no more. But we have the Icee, Slushie, Mr. Misty, and other frozen offspring. Well, that sounds vaguely creepy, but the point is, we need our frozen slushy syrup.

7-Eleven also gave us the Big Gulp, and then the Super Big Gulp. It made it socially acceptable to drink more ounces of soda at one time than most people need for a month.

Financial problems have caused 7-Eleven to close many of its stores across the country. The company says 6,000 remain. But we have Sheetz, Wawa, Circle K, and the Apu’s Quik-E-Mart. Okay, that’s just on television, but you know it’s actually the 7-Eleven in Springfield…

Travel: Grand Teton National Park

 

Grand Teton National Park is located in northwest Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone National Park. Uploaded by wallpaper-s.org.

In this roughly 40-mile long range of the Rockies, you’ll see nine peaks over 12,000 feet high, the highest being (no surprise) Grand Teton at 13,770 feet. They aren’t the tallest, but they rise without foothills and are some of America’s most scenic mountains.

The area became a national park in 1929. The park covers 484 square miles of land and water, and like most of the national parks in the western U.S., is a haven for sports enthusiasts. It’s located in northwest Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone National Park (Great American Things, December 28, 2009).

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There’s biking, boating, camping… cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking… climbing, rafting, and snowmobiling. You can get a guide to show you the best places to fish. If you enjoy birdwatching, this is an especially diverse habitat for birds, with more than 300 species present. And there are more than 200 miles of hiking trails within the park as well.

By the way, it’s likely that the name “Tetons” was given the mountains by some lonely French trappers. Tetons means “breasts” in French…

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Film: The Hope and Crosby “Road” Movies

Hope, Crosby, and Lamour made six movies together, and the best was probably The Road to Morocco. Uploaded by girl-world-decor.blogspot.com.

There were seven produced: The Road to Singapore (1940), The Road to Zanzibar (1941), The Road to Morocco (1942), The Road to Utopia (1946), The Road to Rio (1947), The Road to Bali (1952), and The Road to Hong Kong (1962). The weakest? Probably the last, made not by Paramount but by United Artists. The best? Probably The Road to Morocco.

The pairing of Hope (Great American Things, October 7, 2009) and Crosby (Great American Things, December 19, 2009), both successful at the start of the Forties, was inspired. The movies were scripted, of course, but a significant portion of the repartee between the two main characters was always improvised. And it was brilliant.

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One other character graced the films, and earned a handsome living from them: Dorothy Lamour. She was pretty enough to be the love interest of both men, and could sing well enough to accompany Crosby. She only appeared in a minor role in the last film, having aged out of the “love interest” part.

The movies often parodied other popular films of the day. And they featured some recurring bits, most famously the “patty cake” routine, in which Hope and Crosby would play the kids game to distract bad guys before punching them. Hope would sometimes talk to the audience as well, most famously in The Road to Bali when he said, “He’s (Crosby) gonna sing folks. Now’s the time to go and get the popcorn.”

Sports: Jim Brown

Number 32 of the Cleveland Browns - the best football player ever. Uploaded by assets.espn.go.com.

Among football fans, there’s always a debate about who was the best ever to play each position. Usually, career stats are pulled out as the best method of resolving the question. But as great as Gale Sayers was, as productive as Emmett Smith, as strong as Walter Payton, the greatest running back in NFL history was Jim Brown.

His stats are plenty impressive. 12,312 rushing yards, a 5.2 yards-per-carry average. 106 rushing touchdowns. All this in just nine seasons. Four of which had only 12 games, the other five has 14 games. And he never played past age 29.

Uploaded by jimbrownbiography.com.

But it was the never-matched combination of power, speed, and moves that set Brown apart. There’s a video at the end of this post. Watch it, and see greatness in action.

Brown is known for football, of course, but in college at Syracuse he averaged in double figures in basketball, lettered in track, and was selected as a first-team All-American in lacrosse. Following his football career, he experienced success as an actor as well, most notably in The Dirty Dozen.

Brown’s accolades are too numerous to detail here, but some of the highlights include being an All-Pro every season he played, a three-time NFL MVP, and membership in the Pro Football and Lacrosse Halls of Fame. Most impressive of all, in 2002 The Sporting News named him Football’s Greatest Player Ever.

Actress: Elizabeth Taylor

All those husbands. All those diamonds. All those rumors. All those Oscars and nominations. Uploaded by mdb8.ibibo.com.

Elizabeth Taylor has lived such a tumultuous life that she’s attained a larger-than-life reputation. Married eight times to seven husbands (Richard Burton won the lottery twice), one of the highest-paid actresses of her time, a friend of man-child Michael Jackson – oh, and one of the finest screen performers of all time.

Taylor was born in England of American parents, so he has dual citizenship. After appearances in several mostly forgettable movies (well, who can forget Lassie Come Home), she became a true child star with her role as Velvet Brown in National Velvet. That was in 1944.

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During the next decade she made the transition from adolescent actress to Movie Star. Though most of the movies made during that time were forgettable, she broke through as an adult in Giant in 1956, a film remembered best as the last screen appearance of James Dean.

Among the memorable films of her long career were Little Women (1949), Father of the Bride (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), Raintree County (1957 – Nomination), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958 – Nomination), Suddenly Last Summer (1959 – Nomination), BUtterfield 8 (1960 – Oscar), Cleopatra (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966 – Oscar), The Taming of the Shrew (1967).

Taylor received the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1993, and a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 1997.

And she has violet eyes.

Kid Stuff: Yahtzee

Like most popular games, Yahtzee is a combination of skill and luck. More than 50 million games are still sold around the world each year. Uploaded by ny-image0.etsy.com.

You roll those five dice, hoping that five of a kind will appear during three rolls. That’s a “Yahtzee” – the highest scoring play in a game that’s as popular now as it was when first introduced back in 1956.

The story is that a Canadian couple adapted the game from a couple of other dice games, and played it on their yacht with friends. They brought the idea to a man named Edwin Lowe, who bought the rights in exchange for 1000 copies of the game. Lowe owned the company that made the game until 1973, when it was sold to Milton Bradley. The game is now marketed by Hasbro (as it appears all toys are).

Uploaded by communitybydesign.blogspot.com.

The rules of the game are somewhat similar to poker, in that players try to get full houses, small and large straights, and four and five of a kind. The original marketing slogan was, “The game that makes you think while having fun.”

Hasbro says that 50 million Yahtzee games are sold worldwide each year. That’s pretty amazing. The game was included in the Toy Industry of America’s Century of Toys list.

Singer: Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt tackled the mostly male rock and roll culture of the 1970s, and became one of the biggest stars of the decade. And, by the way, she was quite the babe. Uploaded by morrisonhotelgallery.com.

There are those who are just good singers. “Just” isn’t meant to be pejorative; certainly we welcome all the good singers we can find. Heaven knows there are enough bad ones. But the true artists, the people we return to year after year know how to interpret songs. They make us feel them as well as hear them. That’s what I love about Linda Ronstadt.

Ronstadt has excelled in several musical genres. She made her name as a rock singer, but she’s also excelled interpreting standards, in country-rock, in Latin, and in Gilbert and Sullivan on Broadway.

Uploaded by jamesnava.com.

The first we heard of her on the national stage was with her band The Stone Poneys. They had one top 20 hit, “Different Drum.” She went solo in 1969, and became the leading female pop singer of the 1970s. Her hits included “You’re No Good,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Heat Wave,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Blue Bayou,” “It’s So Easy,” “Ooh, Baby Baby,” and “Hurt So Bad.”

She then took what was an unusual leap at the time, recording songs from the Great American Songbook with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. She recorded three albums – What’s New, Lush Life, and For Sentimental Reasons – that combined to sell more than 7 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Then in 1987 Ronstadt drew upon her family’s Mexican heritage to record the album Canciones di me Padre. Though she was born in Arizona and lived all her life in America, Ronstadt has described herself as a Mexican-American. The album was well received, and achieved double platinum status.

She has won Grammys and an Emmy, and been nominated for a Tony and Golden Globe. Two of her albums were selected among Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And VH1 had her at number 21 in the 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll.

TV Show: The Rockford Files

Every cool detective or private eye in TV history owes a debt of gratitude to Jim Garner and The Rockford Files. Uploaded to Photobucket by rikerdonegal.

There have been lots of private investigator shows in the history of television. But no P.I. was cooler than Jim Rockford.

The Rockford Files premiered in 1974 and stayed on NBC for six seasons. James Garner (Great American Things, October 30, 2009) had experienced success with Maverick during America’s obsession with westerns, and was looking for a more contemporary character. He found it in Rockford, created by producers Roy Huggins of Maverick and Stephen J. Cannell, fresh from the Jack Webb empire.

With James Garner are Stuart Margolin (Angel) and Noah Beery, Jr. (Rocky). Uploaded by digitaljournal.com.

Rockford was an ex-con, wrongly convicted of armed robbery and paroled, who eked out a living at his dilapidated trailer on the beach at Malibu. Probably the most inspired casting for the show was Stuart Margolin as “Angel” Martin, Jim’s former cellmate. Margolin drew such a wonderful character that I can still hear him saying “Jimmy…Jimmy” thirty years later.

As with many classic shows, there are specific elements I remember with special fondness. For example, I wanted to drive a Pontiac Firebird like the one Jim drove. I remember the answering machine message that opened each show. And I remember the show’s theme, penned by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, that was released as a single and went to number 10 on the charts…

Music: Motown

The list of performers on the Motown label during the 1960s is a Who's Who of soul and R&B. Uploaded by britannica.com.

I’m a little bit embarrassed that Motown hasn’t been on this list before now. I’ve definitely recognized a good many of those who performed and wrote songs for the label, but it’s way overdue that I honor the company itself. This recognizes the time (until 1972) when Motown was headquartered in Detroit.

Motown's original home is now a museum. Uploaded by freerangetalk.com.

Only Stax Records in Memphis challenged Motown during the 1960s as the premier producer of soul and R&B. Founded by Berry Gordy, Jr., Motown had 110 songs reach the Top 10 on the charts between 1961 and 1971.

As successful as Motown was as a music machine, its cultural impact may be even greater. White audiences of all ages loved the Motown sound and identified with the performers. The black/white distinction diminished as the years went by; there are lots of factors behind that change, but there’s no minimizing the Motown effect.

The roster of Motown artists is a Who’s Who of soul music.Here are the Motown performers who took at least one song to Number 1:

The Marvelettes • Stevie Wonder • Mary Wells • The Supremes • The Temptations • Four Tops • Marvin Gaye • The Jackson 5 • Edwin Starr • Diana Ross • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

And here are some of the other Motown stars:

Martha and the Vandellas • Junior Walker & The All-Stars • The Spinners • The Isley Brothers • David Ruffin • Jimmy Ruffin • Gladys Knight & The Pips • Rare Earth

Throughout its history, Motown was known as Hitsville, USA. It churned out songs with almost a factory mentality, yet managed to maintain the spark of creativity never quite matched since. Part of the credit went to the songwriters, most notably the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland (Great American Things, November 15, 2009), and part of it went to the producers – including Berry Gordy, Jr. himself.