Monthly Archives: December 2010

TV Show: New Year’s Rockin’ Eve

 

New Year's Rockin' Eve has been on since 1972 with this formula: prerecorded performances cut in with (usually) Dick Clark doing the countdown in Times Square. Uploaded by dip-ld.com.

If you’re old enough to remember New Year’s celebrations prior to 1972, then you remember the hideous music of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. Lombardo was a long-time New Year’s Eve institution, dating back to his first NYE radio broadcast in 1928. Fortunately, Dick Clark (Great American Things, December 14, 2010) had a better idea, and put the word “Rockin'” in his show’s title so a younger generation would know there was a new kid on the block.

Uploaded by tvlistings.zap2it.com.

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve has been a fixture since then, with the exception of December 31, 1999, when the networks were anticipating that computers would go kerflooey and airplanes would start falling from the sky due to the Y2K bug. The first couple of years found the show on NBC, but it then moved to ABC where it’s thrived ever since. That first year, the musical guests were Blood, Sweat & Tears, Three Dog Night, Helen Reddy, and Al Green. Just as now, much of the music and the studio celebration was prerecorded, cut in with the live festivities and countdown in Times Square (Great American Things, December 31, 2009).

The show hasn’t quite been the same since the unflappable Dick Clark had his stroke in 2004. Regis Philbin took host duties for a couple of years, but now Ryan Seacrest is the show’s executive producer and co-host. He does a fine job, and in time the show will feel like it belongs to him. In the meantime, whether you like the musical guests or not, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve is the place to see the new year arrive in New York City – and regardless of what they show in Sydney or Paris or wherever, it’s not the new year until it comes to Times Square.

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Writer: David Mamet

 

David Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for his play/screenplay, Glengarry Glen Ross, a tour de force of brilliant and often profane dialogue. Uploaded by sonypictures.com.

David Mamet is one of the all-time masters of film/stage dialogue. His preference for natural conversation, in which characters often interrupt each other and sentences are left unfinished, has come to be known as “Mamet speak.” He has written fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and stage plays. He has written and produced. And though his isn’t a household name, he is well respected for his diverse talents.

 

Alec Baldwin was brilliant in Glengarry Glen Ross. Uploaded by dailyfill.com.

You’ll recognize a few of Mamet’s works, though they aren’t blockbusters. He received the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the adult play Glengarry Glen Ross, which waas also a remarkable movie. He also received Oscar nominations for The Verdict (Great American Things, Sept. 18, 2009) and Wag the Dog. Other movies he’s responsible for (as screenwriter) include The Untouchables, Ronin, and Hannibal. He’s also directed a couple of small gems: The Spanish Prisoner and State and Main.

 

I love this description of Mamet from his biography on FilmMakers.com:

Mamet makes few distinctions between working on the stage and the screen; He believes both involve putting the material on its feet and seeing how it plays. With movies, that’s done in the editing room or sometimes on the set. With plays, it’s done during rehearsals. In neither case does he see himself handicapped by being both the writer and the director. “There are two stages,” Mamet says. “First I write the best script I can and then I put on my director’s hat and say, ‘What am I going to do with this piece of crap?'”

Food: Clam Chowder

 

Most Americans know about New England Clam Chowder (with cream) and Manhattan Clam Chowder (with tomatoes), but there's also Rhode Island style, made with a clear broth. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.

Let’s not fight the battle of clam chowders here. Most Americans outside of New England know of basically two variations on this dish – New England style (made with milk or cream) and Manhattan style (with tomatoes). I like them both, though they’re very different flavors.

New England style. Uploaded by trufflemutt.com.

But in researching this post I find that there’s a third kind of clam chowder, call it Rhode Island style. It’s made with a clear broth. One source said that tourists prefer the white chowder, while locals choose the clear.

Many of the ingredients of clam chowder remain the same, regardless of color. Clams, of course; usually diced potatoes and onions; butter; corn and celery, sometimes; and occasionally a little salt pork or bacon for flavor.

 

Rhode Island style. Uploaded by foodgps.com.

Clam chowder is a hearty beginning to any seafood dinner, or can be a main course by itself. But let’s agree on one thing together, right now. It’s pronounced the New England way. Not “chow-der,” but “chow-dah.” It’s also more fun to say it that way.

 

Sports: Arthur Ashe

 

Arthur Ashe won the NCAA Singles Title, the U.S. Amateur Championship, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon. But we remember the man, not just the athlete. Uploaded by teamtalk.com.

Richmond, Virginia’s Arthur Ashe knew the highest highs and the lowest lows in his too-brief lifetime. He won three of Grand Slam events of tennis – the U.S. Open (1968), the Australian Open (1970), and Wimbledon (1975). And yet he had serious heart problems that required multiple surgeries, during one of which he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. He died at age 49.

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Ashe showed talent early at a sport that was all but closed to African-Americans. He had to move to St. Louis to find a place where he could play tennis without bias, and went all the way across the continent to UCLA for college. In 1968 he became the only person to win both the U.S. Amateur Championship and the U.S. Open in the same year. But in 1979, Ashe suffered a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass. More heart problems required more surgery in 1983. A few years later he fell ill, and learned that he had HIV.

Ashe took an active role in the civil rights field, visiting South Africa and being arrested in the U.S. outside the South African embassy at an anti-apartheid rally. His leadership in all areas of his life didn’t go unappreciated. The main stadium at the home of the U.S. Open is now Arthur Ashe Stadium, ESPN gives a special ESPY award named the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, and President Clinton honored his memory with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Album: “Are You Experienced”

Everyone knows how spectacular Jimi Hendrix was. But Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass helped make the album memorable, as did producer Chas Chandler. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.

You know that feeling you get when you hear unknown music and you think, Wow. This changes everything. That’s the reaction I had upon hearing Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Its release came only a couple of months after Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles, and the comfortable walls of singles-oriented rock had effectively been blown away.

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Are You Experienced contains several of Jimi Hendrix’s (Great American Things, June 15, 2009) best-known songs, including “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Foxy Lady.” Everyone knows about Hendrix’s talent, of course, but the Experience was a three-person group. Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass both contributed significantly to the album’s unique sound. As did the expert production by Chas Chandler, a British musician who made his name as the bass player for the British blues-rock band The Animals.

Rolling Stone named Are You Experienced the number 15 album in its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And a poll in Guitar World magazine named it the greatest album of the millennium. (Must have been crushing to Greatest Gregorian Chants and The World of Madrigals.)

Travel: Central Park

 

NYC residents and visitors alike are surrounded by skyscrapers and noise, concrete and asphalt - until they come to the oasis, Central Park. Uploaded by grandcanyon.free.fr.

When Central Park was established back in 1857, New York City’s population had begun to move northward from the downtown area. Though some people lived in the area now covered by the park, to much of Manhattan it was “out in the country.” City officials recognized the need to create open public spaces, and architects Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux won a competition to design the new park.

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What they created is bigger than the typical city park, but then, almost everything is bigger in Manhattan. Central Park is roughly 2.5 miles long (from 59th St. to West 110th St.) and .5 mile wide (from 8th Ave. to 5th Ave.). This oasis of green in the asphalt and concrete of the big city has more visitors — more than 25 million each year — than any other city park in America.

The park’s usage has changed over the years. For example, sheep grazed in the area known as Sheep Meadow until about 1930. Now, though, Central Park is committed in large part to recreation and special events. It has walking tracks, bridle paths, skating rinks, small lakes, ball fields, playgrounds, a zoo, and large open areas. Beginning in the sixties, major events made Central Park their home, including summer performances by the the New York Philharmonic, Shakespeare in the Park, and outdoor concerts. As the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation says on its website, “150 years’ worth of visitors have enjoyed and recommended Central Park; don’t you think it’s time for your turn?”

Uploaded by incentralpark.com.

 

Uploaded to Flickr by Andrew Mace.
Uploaded by incentralpark.com.

Uploaded by nyphil.org.

Film: It’s a Wonderful Life

 

In the movie's climactic scene, George Bailey runs to his family down the street of Bedford Falls in the snow. But the performers suffered - it was 90 degrees the day the scene was filmed. Uploaded by movieforum.com.

(Originally posted December 1, 2009)

This movie is shown on TV at Christmas, but it’s not really a Christmas movie. It just happens that its climactic scenes take place during the season. It’s a film about – well, about the goodness of ordinary people. And second chances. And sacrifice.

It’s a Wonderful Life was originally planned as a vehicle for Cary Grant. But he was never pleased with the scripts developed, and decided to make another

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Christmas movie, The Bishop’s Wife, instead. Frank Capra then bought the rights, but still had a difficult time getting a script he liked. Though he may not have known it at the time, when he cast Jimmy Stewart (Great American Things, April 8, 2009) as George Bailey, he ensured that his film would be revered forever.

The box office wasn’t kind to the movie, however. It had the bad fortune to be released one week after The Best Years of Our Lives (Great American Things, May 25, 2009), which turned out to be the highest-grossing film of the decade, and which also took most of the Academy Awards for which It’s a Wonderful Life was nominated.

The American Film Institute named it number 11 in its 100 Years…100 Movies awards. And Jimmy Stewart’s performance was chosen as the eighth greatest performance of all time by Premiere magazine. Both Stewart and Capra said that It’s a Wonderful Life was their favorite film. “The film has a life of its own now,” Capra said in 1984, “and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

Film: Miracle on 34th Street

 

The American Film Institute has named Miracle on 34th Street number 9 on its list of most inspiring films, and the number 5 fantasy film. Uploaded by katiethoughts.wordpress.com.

Does Santa Claus really exist? Edmund Gwenn has made believers out of generations of movie lovers thanks to his performance as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street. This film, which also starred Maureen O’Hara and a very young Natalie Wood, is in the pantheon of Christmas classics that are a must-see every Christmas season. For me, the other movies in that category are Scrooge (the musical with Albert Finney), It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and White Christmas.

Uploaded to Flickr by djabonillojr.2008.

20th Century-Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was not enthusiastic about making this movie. It seemed just too corny for him. Director George Seaton eventually won him over, but only after agreeing to direct the next three films of Zanuck’s choosing. Zanuck also believed that the largest audience for movies is in the summer, so in spite of Miracle on 34th Street’s content, he dictated that it be released in May. The studio’s  marketing department had to promote the movie without letting on that it took place at Christmas. Watch the trailer below to see how they accomplished this.

Miracle on 34th Street won four Academy Awards, losing out for Best Picture to Gentleman’s Agreement. The American Film Institute ranked it number nine in its list of inspiring movies, and as the number five fantasy movie of all time.

 

 

Album: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Soundtrack

The execs at CBS didn't know what to make of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Commercialism? The Bible? JAZZ??? But Vince Guaraldi's score won the day, and became an instant classic. Uploaded by untitledrecords.com.

Even today, it doesn’t seem like a natural fit for a jazz soundtrack to accompany an animated Christmas show. Certainly the executives at CBS in 1965 didn’t see how children would appreciate this very adult musical form. But Charles Schulz had vision, and Vince Guaraldi’s sparkling jazz balanced the sophisticated themes of commercialism and secularism that Schulz included in his story.

Uploaded by wantitall.co.za.

In the book A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, executive producer Lee Mendelson discussed how he chose a jazz soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas (Great American Things, December 14, 2009). “Once we completed filming I had to add some music. I had always been a great fan of jazz, and while driving back from Sparky’s (Charles Schulz, ed.) I heard a song called ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind.’ The radio announcer said it had won a Grammy and had been written and performed by a San Franciscan named Vince Guaraldi…It turned out that Vince was a big fan of Peanuts, and he agreed to work on the music.”

Several of the tracks are classics, including “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Linus and Lucy,” in which the characters memorably danced on the stage as Schroeder played the song on his piano.

By the way, the children who sang the hauntingly beautiful “Christmas Time Is Here” weren’t professional musicians. They were members of a children’s choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, California. Was the best part getting to sing in a professional sound studio? Nope. It was getting to go out for ice cream afterward.

Americana: Macy’s New York

 

Macy's Herald Square store in Manhattan has more than two million square feet of retail space. Uploaded by earthdocumentary.com.

Not many retail establishments can trace their roots back before the Civil War. But R.H. Macy opened his eponymous store at the corner of 14th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan in 1858, then later moved to 18th Street and Broadway as the business grew. Finally, further growth took the flagship store to 34th Street and Broadway — Herald Square — in 1902, where it remains to this day. Its

Macy's in 1907. Uploaded by flickriver.com.

building, an art deco masterpiece, is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

With about two million square feet of retail space, Macy’s claims to be “The World’s Largest Store.” Maybe it is, but it’s certainly the one that’s been permanently linked in the minds of Americans everywhere as what New York elegance is all about. The Thanksgiving parade (Great American Things, November 25, 2009) for which the company is justifiably proud, dates back to 1924, and is still one of the most anticipated events of the holiday season.

In the last century, Macy’s merged with other department store chains and is now a national brand found at many regional malls. But there’s still something magical about that store in Herald Square. Sure, the branches are Macy’s, but the Manhattan store is MACY’S.

 

Book: Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card earned the two most prestigious prizes in Science Fiction - the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award - for Ender's Game. Uploaded by io9.com.

I have to admit up front that I’m not personally a big fan of science fiction. Never have been. My brother, on the other hand, began devouring books by Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov while we were in high school. I admire the creativity upon which the genre is based, but space and the future aren’t topics I find all that interesting.

So you’ll understand why it’s even more amazing that I loved Ender’s Game. Author Orson Scott Card lives not far from me, and I thought I might run into

Orson Scott Card. Uploaded by s3.amazonaws.com.

him at some time (yeah, I know) and I should at least be able to say I’d read one of his books. So I picked up Ender’s Game, and loved it. It was enough to cause me to end my personal sci-fi embargo.

The best I can summarize the plot in a line or two is that Ender Wiggin lives in the future and is selected to train at Battle School. He isn’t very enthusiastic about it, but he’s a natural fighter, and his skills take him places he didn’t want to go at a price he didn’t want to pay. Card has written a number of sequels for those who want to follow Ender’s exploits. Ender’s Game won the two highest awards in science fiction, the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award, and placed at number 59 in the reader’s list of Modern Library’s top 100 novels.

Song: “White Christmas”

"White Christmas" was released in July 1942 - and did nothing. Must have been the season. By the end of October it was number one, and upon re-releases reached the charts an astounding 20 times. Uploaded by ecx.images-amazon.com.

My favorite Christmas album in my childhood was Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas, which was released as an LP in 1949 and has never since been out of print. It’s still one of the most popular Christmas albums ever, and of course it contains the classic Irving Berlin song, “White Christmas.”

Crosby first performed “White Christmas” on his NBC radio show on Christmas Day, 1941. He recorded it the following year, and included it in an album of songs from the movie Holiday Inn. The album debuted in July, and maybe the season wasn’t right, because the song floundered. But by the end of October it topped the charts, where it stayed for eleven weeks. Re-released each holiday season, it also went to number one in 1945 and 1946. In fact, it appeared on the

Uploaded by amoeba.com.

charts for twenty separate years, eventually leading Billboard to create a separate chart just for holiday music.

The song as it appeared in Holiday Inn received the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and it helped make the movie White Christmas the runaway box office champion of 1954. The song’s many appearances on the charts have led to it being the best-selling single of all time – more than 50 million sold, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Counting the albums it’s been on, that total exceeds 100 million. Bing Crosby gets the credit, and deserves it; but don’t forget the brilliance of Irving Berlin (Great American Things, May 11, 2010) who wrote this wonderful song.

Kid Stuff: Lionel Trains

 

 

The first Lionel trains were created by a fan manufacturer to feature its motors. Turns out people couldn't have cared less about the motors or the fans, they wanted those trains. Uploaded by cokerfamily.com.

For many families of the 1940s and 1950s, a Christmas tree wasn’t complete without a Lionel train set encircling it. This wasn’t accidental, of course; as early as the post-WWI era, Lionel made the rounds of major department stores, showing them how much better their Christmas displays would look with a toy train included.

 

For many years, Lionel  disdained realism in its products. It made its trains larger and painted them in brighter colors than its competitors. Model train aficionados turned up their noses, but the mothers and fathers who bought

Uploaded by jonwilliamson.com.

Christmas trains loved Lionel. It overwhelmed other manufacturers, eventually becoming synonymous with toy trains.

Lionel’s golden decade was 1946-56. Then something happened – kids became more fascinated with toy cars than trains. The company failed to diversify, lost business, and eventually had to file bankruptcy in 1967. General Mills purchased the brand name, and eventually a new Lionel company formed, but it has no direct link to the original.

Even though toy trains aren’t what they once were, seeing a train set humming along beside stations and through tunnels, is still a wonderful sight. Lionel trains were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2006.

Film: Gone with the Wind

 

According to legend, more than 1,400 actresses were considered for the part of Scarlett O'Hara. Nineteen were given screen tests; the losers included Tallulah Bankhead, Jean Arthur, Susan Hayward, and Lana Turner. Uploaded by theyoungandhungry.com.

(Originally posted April 29, 2009)

Did you know that Gary Cooper turned down the role of Rhett Butler? Oh, yeah. He even said, “Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood

Uploaded by paxaeterna.org.

history. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.”

Clearly, Gary was no psychic. Just how big was GWTW? In 2007 the American Film Institute voted it the #6 Greatest Movie of All Time. For the premiere in Atlanta, the Governor declared a state holiday. It won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. And if total box office receipts were adjusted for inflation, it would be the number one grossing movie of all time. The projected total: $3.78 billion.

Yes, this is the first movie added to the list of Great American Things. You may think another film should have had the honor.

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Actress: Jean Arthur

 

Jean Arthur's three films with Frank Capra -- "You Can't Take It With You," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" -- established her as one of the greatest comedic actresses of all time. Uploaded by the-frame.com.

I’ll readily admit that Jean Arthur isn’t as well known today as some of her contemporaries. But during the 1930s and 1940s she reigned as one of Hollywood’s leading leading ladies, especially in the comedy genre. Robert Osborne, host on the network where you can still see Jean Arthur’s films (Turner Classic Movies), called her “the quintessential comedic leading lady.”

While she made a couple of dozen films during the Twenties and early Thirties, her breakout role came when Frank Capra cast her as a tough newspaper reporter who fell in love with a country bumpkin. The country bumpkin was Gary Cooper (Great American Things, April 28, 2010) and the film was Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Capra loved her distinctive voice and pretty girl-next-door

Uploaded by readingeagle.com.

looks, and cast her in two more hits, both with Jimmy Stewart (Great American Things, April 8, 2009): You Can’t Take It with You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Arthur also made several comedies (Only Angels Have Wings and The Talk of the Town) with Cary Grant, who was considered more of a comic actor than a leading man early in his career. She was nominated for an Academy Award for 1944’s The More the Merrier. Arthur all but retired after that year, only appearing in two more movies, one of which was the classic Shane.

Arthur eventually taught drama, first at Vassar College (where Meryl Streep was one of her students), then here in Winston-Salem at the North Carolina School of the Arts. One of the skills she stressed with her classes was the art of being natural on stage and film. She said, “I had to learn that to appear natural on the screen requires a vast amount of training, that is the test of an actor’s art.”

Holiday: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" made its debut in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy Garland introduced it to the world. Uploaded by annyas.com.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is one of the relatively few Christmas songs  to have their genesis in films or on Broadway. This song made its debut in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, sung by Judy Garland.

Uploaded by pattisprimitives to etsy.com.

In the movie, Judy Garland’s father planned to move the family to New York, a move which pleased no one. Garland sang this song to her little sister to cheer her up. One line in the song, still heard occasionally, went:

From now on we’ll have to muddle through somehow.

Then in 1957, Frank Sinatra recorded the song for his album A Jolly Christmas. He asked the song’s writer, Hugh Martin, to change that line to make it more, well, jolly. So now we usually hear:

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

Since that time, there’s been one more change to the lyrics. A line that always bugged me was “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.” Turns out Martin originally wrote: “…if our Lord allows,” but it was removed so the song wouldn’t be too religious. I’m surprised to see that this kind of negative sentiment already existed more than 60 years ago.

Music: Quincy Jones

 

An arranger, record producer, performer, film score composer, and television producer, Quincy Jones is one of the most influential musicians of the last century. Uploaded by urbanascore.com.

You could probably win a few bar bets with this question: What individual has the most Grammy Nominations? Yes, the answer is Quincy Jones – with a whopping 79 (and 27 wins, all as a record producer). “Q,” as he’s often called, is not only a record producer but also an arranger, a film composer, and a television producer.

Jones earned a scholarship to a music conservatory in Boston, but dropped out to travel with Lionel Hampton. That experience led to the opportunity to arrange songs for Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Ray Charles. Not long after, director Sidney Lumet chose

Uploaded by arts.endow.gov.

Jones to compose the music for his film The Pawnbroker. It was the first of 33 movies for which he wrote the score. Among his other films are In the Heat of the Night and The Color Purple.

As he turned his attention to record producing, he maintained his high standards. Among the records he produced are “We Are The World,” Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Frank Sinatra’s It Might As Well Be Spring, and Ella Fitzgerald/Count Basie’s Ella and Basie!

In 1995, Jones became the first African-American to win the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award presented at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony.

Person: Dick Clark

The World's Oldest Living Teenager made his mark as host of American Bandstand. The dance show ran weekly through most of four decades. Uploaded by picklehead.com.

It would be easy to pigeonhole Dick Clark as a dance show host or a game show host, or a New Year’s Eve host. And he is all those things, but he is so much more than that. He’s also an entertainment mogul whose company, Dick Clark Productions, produces the Golden Globes telecast, the American Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards, and even So You Think You Can Dance. (Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, purchased DCP in 2007.)

Of course, everyone got to know Dick Clark through American Bandstand (Great American Things, July 7, 2009) which began its national run in 1957 and stayed on weekly until 1987. During that time he also started his $10,000/

Uploaded to Flickr by dtramos.

$20,000/ $25,000/ $50,000/ $100,000 Pyramid shows which earned him three Emmy Awards as best game show host. He also had a top 40 countdown show on radio in addition to the syndicated Rock, Roll & Remember.

These are just the highlights of a long and distinguished career in broadcasting that culminated in membership in these halls of fame: Rock and Roll, Broadcasting Magazine, Radio, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, as well as a Peabody Award and a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Because he retained his youthful looks forever, a long-running joke held that he was “America’s Oldest Living Teenager.” As we all know, that myth was shattered by a devastating stroke in 2004. Though rumors of his death continue to circulate, he is still alive as of this posting and recently celebrated his 81st birthday.

Architecture: Grand Central Station

 

With 44 platforms and 67 tracks, Grand Central Terminal (its official name) handles both rail and subway trains in Manhattan. Uploaded by panoramio.com.

As I read about this building in preparation for this post, I find that its correct name is “Grand Central Terminal.” Okay, that’s nice. But most Americans call it “Station,” and that’s good enough for me. Seems to me if you have 44 platforms and 67 tracks, you’re pretty big just to be a simple terminal.

Though railroad buildings have stood on this site since 1871, the current structure began service in 1914. Surprisingly, much of the architectural work

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for which the building is noted was not created by a prominent New York firm, but by the firm of Reed and Stern from St. Paul, Minnesota. It did cooperate on some of the Beaux-Arts with the NYC firm of Warren and Wetmore.

Most people recognize Grand Central for its cavernous main concourse, which has been featured in dozens of movies, from North by Northwest to Men in Black to The Freshman. GCS came in number 13 in the AIA compilation of America’s favorite architecture.

Holiday TV Show: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rankin/Bass created this stop-action animation version of Rudolph in 1964. It's now the longest-running animated Christmas program, which is just holly jolly with me. Uploaded by tvworthwatching.com.

Rudolph started life in a poem, written in 1939 by Robert L. May. His brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, liked the poem and turned it into the popular song we all know. Then in 1964, it took on new life as an animated television special on NBC. It’s now the longest-running animated Christmas special, and one of only four from the 60s still on. (The others are A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman.)

The TV special’s plot is necessarily a bit more complex than the song’s. There are additional characters, including prospector Yukon Cornelius, a reindeer

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babe named Clarice, a new reindeer named “Fireball,” and the arch-enemy — the Abominable Snowman. And there’s the narrator, Sam the Snowman, who just happens to resemble Burl Ives. How else would we have been able to hear “A Holly Jolly Christmas?”

The version we see now (on CBS) has been digitally remastered for enhanced clarity. The folks at Rankin/Bass created this stop-action animation classic. It looked clunky when it first appeared, and it looks positively antique in the age of Pixar. And yet, somehow, that’s part of its charm. That, and the music, and the story of Rudolph the underdog (underreindeer?) who saved Christmas. For many families, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a viewing of Rudolph.