Thursday February 25, 2021
Movie Review: The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (2020)
Wait, where was “Sgt. Pepper”?
That’s what I asked my wife the day after we watched “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” on HBO—a doc we both enjoyed. She gave me a tight smile and laughed a note for what she assumed was a feeble joke.
No no, not the album, I said. Or not the Beatles album. The movie.
The movie starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton? With the Bee Gees as the Hendersons and Peter Frampton as Billy Shears in an all-star musical of Beatles’ songs? Came out in the summer of ’78. The doc didn’t mention it at all.
That’s a real thing? she asked incredulously.
A huge bomb. I looked up some of the details. The Bee Gees were filming it in the fall of ’77—right as “How Deep Is Your Love?” was climbing the charts, and months before “Saturday Night Fever” was even released. I’d always assumed they were cast in “Pepper” because of the success of “Fever” but it was before then. It was a Robert Stigwood production, as was “Fever,” and Stigwood was their manager, so I guess that’s why. But it seems worth a mention.
And yes, I get it, you can’t put everything into a 90-minute doc. At the same time, it’s the only feature film the Bee Gees starred in, it was the music of the Beatles, whom they idolized and wanted to be, and it was supposed to be a kind of passing of the torch even if it wasn’t nearly. The release of “Pepper” also adds to the group’s late ’70s oversaturation, which led to the inevitable backlash against them. Which is so much of this story.
It is fascinating how the Bee Gees and their younger brother Andy Gibb were always being played on the radio, and then how they were never being played on the radio. But to paraphrase “All the President’s Men,” “Don’t tell me you think that all of this was the work of little Stevie Dahl.”
The doc, written by Mark Monroe (“The Cove,” “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week”) and directed by longtime producer Frank Marshall (Bogdanovich, Spielberg), implies as much. We get a great juxtaposition of the Bee Gees playing to sold-out stadiums in the summer of ’79, safe in their bubble, while over in Chicago, Dahl, a tubby, white radio shock jock in army helmet, organized Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park: a White Sox twi-night double-header would cost just 99 cents if you brought a disco record that would get blown up at second base in-between games. It was a fiasco, led to a riot, and the White Sox had to forfeit the second game. A Black usher who was there says he pointed out that a lot of the records being added to the pile weren’t disco at all but R&B—Isaac Hayes and Stevie Wonder albums are shown—adding to the idea that the disco backlash was racist and homophobic in nature. Maybe. Or maybe these stupid white kids grabbed what they could to get into the park. (BTW: Did anyone really destroy “Songs in the Key of Life” for a ChiSox game? Talk about your dumbshit moves.)
There are other cultural touchstones the filmmakers could’ve added besides Dahl. This is a longshot, but I was hoping they’d quote the stream-of consciousness, cultural flotsam thoughts of middle-aged Toyota dealer Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom in “Rabbit Is Rich,” John Updike’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, published in 1981. It's the summer of 1979, Rabbit is driving around in his red metallic Toyota Corona and listening to the radio:
The disco music shifts to the Bee Gees, white men who have done this wonderful thing of making themselves sound like black women. “Stayin’ Alive” comes on with all that amplified throbbleo and a strange nasal whining underneath: the John Travolta theme song. Rabbit still thinks of him as one of the Sweathogs from Mr. Kotter’s class but for a while back there last summer the U.S.A. was one hundred percent his, every twat under 15 wanting to be humped by a former Sweathog in the back seat of a car parked in Brooklyn.
(One can imagine Updike getting canceled today for that second sentence.)
By the end of the novel it’s January 1980, and Rabbit is listening to the radio in a grape-blue Toyota Celica Supra: “Though he moves the dial from left to right and back again,” Updike writes, “he can’t find Donna Summer, she went out with the Seventies.”
When I first read that sentence, decades ago, I found it reductive. But is it? Disco was fucking everywhere in 1979: “Le Freak,” “I Will Survive,” “Knock on Wood” and “Ring My Bell” all topped the charts. Donna Summer had three #1s in 1979 and never another. The Bee Gees had three #1s in 1979 and never another. Maybe we do flip switches that quickly.
And how much of the anti sentiment (of Blacks, disco, gays, sex and Bee Gees) was part of the general rising tide of conservatism that swept the U.K. and U.S. in that period? When the Bee Gees released “Spirits Having Flown” and it went to No. 1 on the album charts in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, Sweden and New Zealand, it was Feb. 1979: gas lines hadn’t begun forming, hostages hadn’t been taken, and Afghanistan hadn’t been invaded. When they released their next album, “Living Eyes,” it was Oct. 1981, Reagan and Thatcher were in power, every dumbfuck around every corner was chanting “USA! USA!” and the album just died. All over the world. In the U.S. and U.K. it peaked at #41 and #73, respectively. Ouch. No wonder Barry Gibb seems so desperate and pissed off when he faces a camera on an early ’80s TV show and says ‘Does anybody mind if we exist in the ’80s? Thank you.” He and his brothers went from everywhere to nowhere. They went out, as Updike wrote, with the Seventies.
“The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” is fun, poignant and brought back a lot of memories. I began listening to the radio with regularity, and American Top 40 religiously, in 1975 when “Jive Talkin’” hit the charts. I never sought them out but I enjoyed a lot of their pre-“Saturday Night Fever” singles: “Nights on Broadway, “Fanny (Be Tender with My Love”) (which I’d completely forgotten), and “Love So Right.” I liked all that; I was a sappy kid. I also liked a lot of the “Fever” stuff, to be honest: “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “You Should Be Dancing.” I just disliked their ubiquity, and the fact that they clogged the top 5 singles charts like no band since the Beatles. That felt like blasphemy to me. Plus I hated “How Deep Is Your Love?” I could never understand why it was so big. Drove me nuts. I remember getting into an argument with my best friend, Peter, at the time. He kept talking up the Bee Gees, I dismissed them, he said who do you like, I said Paul Simon, we mocked each other’s tastes and then didn’t speak for months. Ninth grade.
I do wish Marshall and Monroe had gone a bit deeper and paid greater attention to chronology. Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” is played as an example of the schlock that followed the Bee Gees’ huge success in 1978, which got people got tired of disco, but it was actually released two years earlier. That matters. Chronology matters.
The broken heart of the title refers to Barry, the band’s leader and only surviving member. Maurice died in 2003, Robin in 2012, while Andy, a huge pop sensation in the 1970s, struggled with drug addiction and died in 1988, age 30. Anyone’s heart would break. “I’d rather have them all back here,” Barry says at the end, “and no hits at all.”
Wednesday February 24, 2021
Rascally Roy Defends Stan the Man
“That Stan Lee was the co-creator, and not the sole creator, of the key Marvel heroes from the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man through Daredevil and the Silver Surfer can hardly be in dispute at this late stage. I myself, back in the '80s when I wasn't working for him, had a friendly argument with him on that score over lunch. I soon realized that, as much as he respected the talents and contributions of artists ... such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to the characters introduced in the 1960s, he could never really bring himself, in his own mind, to think of them as 'co-creators.' The two of us had to agree to disagree, and I never saw any use in bringing it up again.
”If I can judge from Riesman's writings, and from other sources over the years, I'm sure I'd have encountered the same kind of blinders-on stubbornness in Jack Kirby (oft-quoted in this book), who saw Stan as little more than the guy who scribbled a few words of dialogue and rode to unearned glory on his back.
“Both men were, I think, wrong, and that's why Riesman is so ill-advised to use nearly every opportunity he gets to weight things in Jack's favor and against Stan.”
-- Rascally Roy Thomas, the first Marvel Comics editor-in-chief after Stan Lee, in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter: “Roy Thomas, Former Marvel Editor, Pushes Back on New Stan Lee Biography.” The biography is “True Believer” by Abraham Reisman, and based on Roy's column I won't be reading it, but it's worth reading this. I particularly like the early draft Stan wrote for FF#1 and how it differed from what we finally read. (Sue couldn't turn visible again? Ben had a thing for her? No pun intended.) What always goes unmentioned in these Stan v. Jack arguments, too, is what amounted to the real Marvel Comics breakthrough: treating superheroes as normal people with problems. I don't think there's any dispute that the idea came from Stan. Plus the whole tongue-in-cheek braggadaccio thing that was part of Marvel's charm? That was Stan's charm. 'Nuff said.
Tuesday February 23, 2021
Never Be Anyone Else But You
How did you decide to use Ricky Nelson [for “Rio Bravo”]?
I saw Ricky Nelson on a number of TV shows, so I asked his father to send me some of his very latest stuff. I liked it and sent him a script. His father said he liked the script and that was it. We just put him in.
You gave him [Montgomery] Clift's old mannerism from Red River of rubbing the nose with his index finger.
We did anything we could to help him. For two or three days I even shot scenes I didn't need.
Just to relax him?
Yes. And after a few days I thought he did quite well. I imagine it added about a million and a half to the picture's gross. Over in Japan, Ricky Nelson's picture in the ads was in the middle—Wayne and Martin were smaller on the side. We happened to catch him just at the height of his popularity. When we went to a bullfight in Tucson during the shooting, they paid very little attention to Wayne—they just watched Rick Nelson. I think he's OK.
Not exactly Montgomery Clift, but ...
Oh, my God, no, but you can't find those around every corner.
-- Howard Hawks and Peter Bogdanovich in “Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors.”
Monday February 22, 2021
Movie Review: Run for Cover (1955)
This was James Cagney’s second western. His first, The Oklahoma Kid in 1939, caused laughter in some quarters for two reasons: Cagney was so obviously a city kid (except at heart) and he wasn’t exactly John Wayne in stature. Even co-star Humphrey Bogart took a potshot. Cagney in his 10-gallon hat, he said, looked like a mushroom.
Fifteen years later, no one said boo because now it worked: Cagney's face was craggy, his body beefy. He looked like someone who spent a great deal of time outdoors—which he had, as a gentleman farmer in Martha’s Vineyard. Maybe to a fault? His 18-month hiatus between A Lion Is In the Streets and this movie is his longest time away from the screen since becoming a star in 1931, and he’d developed a bit of a paunch.
Cagney was drawn to the project by the director (Nicholas Ray), the script (Winston Miller and the team of Harriet Frank, Jr. and Irving Ravetch), and the location shooting (Silverton, Colorado, amid the Rockies). He had high hopes. They were dashed.
We had tried to make as offbeat a Western as possible, but whoever cut the film was evidently revolted by anything but clichés. As a consequence, little things that the director, Nick Ray (a good man), and the actors put in to give the story extra dimension were excised very proficiently. The result was just another programmer.
Yet Run for Cover isn’t bad. It begins well, sags in the middle, then includes a kind of Mexican-standoff ending that surprises and delights.
Alright, so it begins cheesy. Over the opening credits announcing VistaVision! and Technicolor, we hear a happy, all-male chorus singing the movie’s title song:
Head for the hills hit the trail
When trouble’s on the run
(Run for cover)
Don’t find yourself locked in jail
For something you ain’t done
(Run for cover)
(Run for cover)
(Run for cover)
Yeah. Not good.
At this point, we see great Technicolor shots of Colorado and eventually a dusty Matt Dow (Cagney) riding his beautiful pinto horse to a mountain stream, where he’s set to wash his face and fill his canteen. Then he spins, gun drawn, eyes flashing, as Davey Bishop (John Derek) rides into the clearing. It leads to an odd standoff. With the gun drawn on him, Davey is calm and smiling; as soon as it’s holstered his face crumbles into a pout. Even after Matt apologizes, Davey keeps complaining, and they only get past the moment when Matt defuses the situation with a Billy the Kid reference. All that should’ve been a warning.
Going in the same direction, they ride together, and await a passing train by taking shots at a hawk circling overhead. Two men on the train misinterpret their actions and panic. They’d been robbed the month before—one man still wears a bandage around his head—and thinking the gunshots are signals, and wanting no part of a second robbery, they toss out the town’s payroll bag. Matt, who’d just spent six years in prison for a case of mistaken identity, immediately knows they’re screwed, but he and Davey ride toward town to give the money back. Halfway there, they’re ambushed by the sheriff and his posse, who are about to lynch Matt when a wounded Davey is recognized and tempers subside. They send Davey to a nearby farm while they bring Matt back to the sheriff’s office to face his accusers. I like how Cagney immediately reclaims moral authority here. “What did you tell these people?” he demands of the payroll men. “Let me hear what said to them!” These guys reveal themselves to be boobs, as does the sheriff, and Matt storms off to the Swenson farm to see if Davey is OK.
Let’s pause a moment to consider his actions here. Why go to the Swenson farm? He’s been with Davey a few hours at best. They got off on the wrong foot, then stumbled into disaster. Why not keep riding? Particularly since Matt was riding toward the town to see if it was a place worth settling in, and his near-lynching gave him the answer.
Bit by bit, though, we find out the following: 1) Matt feels guilty because he told Davey to ride first, maybe knowing he’d be shot first; and 2) Matt lost a son who would’ve been about Davey’s age. Is that reason enough? Meh. The bonus is Helga Swenson (Viveca Lindfors), your typical beautiful Swede working the farm with her taciturn father (Jean Hersholt, of the humanitarian award, in his final film role), and with nary a suitor nearby. Matt isn’t even one, initially. He’s more worried about Davey than interested in pursuing Helga, which might be why she’s attracted to him. Either way, she does most of the heavy lifting, while Matt frets and carps over Davey: “What kind of doctor are you? Can’t even fix a broken leg!” he says at one point. “What makes you so sure now? You were wrong once before!” he says later.
Davey survives but with a lifelong limp, and Matt spends the rest of the movie propping him up. When Matt becomes sheriff, he makes Davey his deputy. When the townspeople ignore Davey to lynch a bank robber, and Davey pouts and turns in his badge, Matt gives it back. Then he lets Davey take the second bank robber, Morgan (Ernest Borgnine), to the next county seat, but Davey can’t do this, either. Morgan gets away. Chance after chance Davey gets, and he always blows it. It gets old. Derek’s pout really gets old.
Then on Easter Sunday the robbers return in force, led by Gentry (Grant Withers), who, it turns out, was Matt’s cellmate back in the day. This is how the townspeople find out about Matt’s past, so even as Matt gathers a posse to catch Gentry and his men, they remain suspicious. But at the last moment, Davey rides up, announcing, with bravado, “Looks like you could use a deputy.” We think: Hey, is this when Davey redeems himself? Once they reach Comanche territory, the townsfolk balk and return to safety, while Matt keeps going with Davey. We think: Hey, is this when Davey redeems himself?
Nope. Riding through a windstorm, Davey shoots Matt. In the process, Davey is spilled from his horse, and Matt, winged, kicks his gun away.
Matt: Why did you do that? Tell me why?
Davey: You wouldn’t quit. There was no other way of stopping you.
Matt: Stop me from what?
Davey: From catching Gentry … finding out I was in on it.
Matt: You … with THEM?
First, I love the reading Cagney gives that top line. There’s no anger, just bewilderment. But yes, the little shit’s a traitor. Morgan never overpowered him; that’s when Davey joinedthe gang. He even gave them the idea of Easter Sunday, when all the townsfolk would be in church. Matt adds: “All except Pa Swenson,” who was killed while the men were fleeing. But even here, even with blood on his hands, Davey’s a little shit about it. “What was I supposed to do: Hobble up and down a hardware counter for the rest of my life? For $8.00 a week?”
Throughout, Matt has tried to impart wisdom to Davey. When Davey learns he’ll never walk right again, Matt says this: “Lots of fellows live and die without ever having to find out how much of a man they are. You could be as good a man as anybody in town.” That's pretty good. And after they find Gentry and the other men killed by Comanches, grab the money, and get ready to return home, Matt tells him this:
There's a lot of people in this world who've had a tougher time than you or me. It comes with the ticket. Nobody guarantees you a free ride. The only difference is: Most people don’t run for cover. They keep right on going, picking up the pieces the best way they can.
There’s our title reference, oddly in the negative. Meaning everything the title song trumpets is the opposite of the way the hero actually thinks. We should really be watching a movie called Don’t Run for Cover.
Amazingly, after all this, Matt still gives Davey another chance. No one in town knows Davey betrayed them and caused the death of Pa Swenson, Matt says, so why not just keep that part quiet and Davey can resume his normal life? Davey just looks at him, stunned. It’s the one moment we identify with him; we’re stunned, too. But before anything else can happen, they hear Comanches nearby, hide until dark, and try to ford a river to safety. “I can’t make it,” Matt says, gasping in the deep water. “Help me back.”
We think: Hey, is this when Davey redeems himself?
Nope. He tries to drown Matt.
You gotta give the filmmakers credit for persistence. They keep playing the same off-key notes of the forgiveness cycle—screw-up, forgiveness, betrayal; screw-up, forgiveness, betrayal—and we keep hoping for a shift near the end, an upbeat note, a moment when the forgiveness actually works.
But here’s the great thing about this movie: Just when we’re not expecting it, the moment we don’t think, “Hey, is this when Davey redeems himself?,” Davey redeems himself.
After the near drowning, Matt clings to a log and floats downriver, then walks back to their camp for the stashed payroll. On his way to town, still wounded, he stumbles upon an old abandoned fort/mission, which turns out to be the gang’s hideout; Davey’s there with Morgan. Matt shoots Morgan, then he and Davey have it out. Davey accuses Matt of preaching and Matt says that a preacher’s “gotta they’re some good about everybody. But there’s no more good in you than in a rattlesnake.” He’s finally done with him. No more forgiveness. I assume he’s going to take him back to town for a trial and a hanging.
Except Morgan’s not dead. And as he crawls to his gun and aims it at Matt, Davey sees, draws and fires. Except Matt thinks Davey is drawing on him, so he shoots Davey. Only after the fact does he realize Davey was saving his life. He kills Davey for saving his life.
And like that, we go from being bored to being floored.
Is there a musical term for this? Playing the same notes forever until you veer off suddenly, unexpectedly? It’s so beautifully done. The one who always betrays proves loyal, while the one who always forgives punishes a moral act.
The movie then does two more things—one right, one sadly wrong. The right thing is they don’t give Davey any dying words. He just stares up, rolls his eyes back, dies. The wrong thing is the happy ending. In this era of the blacklist, no western, it seemed, had townspeople worth a damn. Here, too. They want law but take it into their own hands; they want Matt but never trust him. In the end, when Matt returns, wounded, exhausted, he’s met on the outskirts of town by these same chuckleheads still suspicious of him. Fed up, he tosses them the money, says “Compliments of Davey,” then dismounts and hugs Helga. Then the townspeople ride past and Matt gives them the finger.
Kidding. They ride past, waving, and, as the music wells, Matt waves back. All is well. The End.
Wait, what? Shouldn’t he be throwing his badge in the dirt or something? Or showing remorse? The pain he’ll feel the rest of his life—knowing he took the life of his prodigal son for saving his own?
In the 1950s Cagney worked with some great directors but never on any great movies. Indeed, he often starred in the one before their great one. Mister Roberts began with John Ford at the helm until Ford was kicked off; then Ford went and made The Searchers. Tribute to a Bad Man was directed by Robert Wise, who then directed Somebody Up There Likes Me. As for Nicholas Ray? His next pic was a little something called Rebel Without a Cause.
Hey, can you imagine James Dean as Davey? That might've worked. At the least, it would’ve saved us from John Derek. The rest of the cast is good anyway. Lindfors is a nice mix of Hollywood beauty and maybe, potentially—if you squint hard enough—a hardscrabble frontierwoman. The worst of the townspeople, Larsen, is played by longtime character actor Jack Lambert, who has the deepest of voices and thinnest of eyes. Fun fact: 10 years later, he wound up in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show in a jail cell with Billy Halop of the Dead End Kids, whom Cagney befriended in Angels with Dirty Faces. (I might have to watch that episode.) Grant Withers is another actor with Cagney history. A big name in the early 1930s—he scandalously eloped with a 17-year-old Loretta Young in 1930—he starred in two of the first movies Cagney appeared in: Sinners’ Holiday and Other Men’s Women. While Cagney rose, Withers fell into character acting and hard times. Drink, mostly. He killed himself in 1959, age 54. He’s good here. I like that he plays a man who knew Cagney way back when, since he did.
There's also Borgnine, seventh-billed, who this same year would star in Marty and win the Academy Award for best actor. Among the other nominees? Cagney for Love Me or Leave Me. It’s interesting seeing Cagney chasing and catching Borgnine since he won’t at Oscar time.
With a better producer, and a better actor in the Davey role, Run for Cover might be viewed as a classic today. It might’ve led to a string of ’50s westerns for Cagney. It didn't. But it ain’t bad.
The many moods of future svengali John Derek.
Saturday February 20, 2021
Does Superhero Worship Lead to Fascism?
I'm reading “Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors,” by Peter Bogdanovich, and the Fritz Lang section is pretty fascinating. And this part made me do a double-take. Lang is talking about his first Hollywood movie, “Fury,” from 1936, and a lesson he learned about the difference between America and Germany:
In our original script, the character Spencer Tracy played was a lawyer. I felt that a lawyer could better express his feelings and thoughts than a working man, a laborer. ... We wrote the first 10 pages and gave them to a producer at MGM to read. And this producer said, “No, this is absolutely impossible.” I said, “Why?” And that was the first time I heard the words, Joe Doe, Jane Doe.
He explained to me something I should have known by then, because it's exactly what I forgot to tell you before about comic strips: everything there happens to Joe Doe—meaning to you and me—not to some upperclass man. And he explained to me that in an American picture one would have to have Joe Doe—a man of the people—as a hero. And I thought, “Here is a sign of a democracy.” In Germany, under the influence of military power—I'm not speaking of Hitler, but even before, under the military power of the emperor. There is a phrase you cannot translate, Kadaver gehorsam, which means “Even your cadaver must obey.” Absolute obedience. So because of that influence, and Nietzsche's, the hero in Germany was always a superman. For example, I had made a series about a criminal called Dr. Mabuse—he was a superman. Here in America, Al Capone was not a superman. In a totalitarian state, or in a state governed by a dictator, an emperor or a king, this leader himself is, in a way, a superman; he can't do wrong. At least he couldn't in those days. So over there the hero in a motion picture should be a superman, whereas in a democracy he had to be Joe Doe.
First, I love that Land keeps using Joe Doe for John Doe, and Bogdanovich never corrects him.
Second, Lang's thoughts on comic strips—the funny kind—being about the Joe Does of the world recalls something I've written many times: comedy is who we are, action-adventure is who we want to be. Superhero movies simply take the latter a step further—from John Wayne to Superman.
Third, and most important: Is there a connection between the worship of the superman/superhero and the rise of Fascism? And did all the superhero movies that permeated American culture in the first two decades of this century lead to the rise of Donald Trump? Asking not telling.
Friday February 19, 2021
Rush Limbaugh (1951-2021)
I heard the news via Twitter. Since I don't follow any dittoheads, Foxholes or Qberts, the type of response I saw was mostly versions of the Clarence Darrow line, “I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.” Some even quoted that line. Or misquoted it. Or attributed it to Mark Twain.
One of the first responses I saw was one of the best:
My friend Vinny said something similar: “Don't care how many evil little motherfuckers got born today, the world's a little less poisonous with Rush Limbaugh dead.” People pointed out Rush was “Trending with: Good Riddance; Rot in Hell.” Others pointed out Rush wasn't exactly circumspect about the death of others. The day after Kurt Cobain died, Jim Walsh wrote, Rush called him “a worthless shred of human debris.” Rush daily celebrated the death of gay people from AIDS with bells and horns. He regularly attacked Chelsea Clinton when she was 12. He coined “feminazi.” He mocked Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's Disease. He was a horror show.
Even the Shakespeare Twitter handle got into the act:
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.
Rush is a big part of how we got here—with 40% of the voting public thriving on fact-less, looney-tunes vitriol. I remember when he broke big in the 1990s, I couldn't get quite wrap my mind around what was happening. I reveled at Al Franken's great takedown, “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big, Fat Idiot, and Other Observations,” as I reviewed it for The Seattle Times. I thought the takedown would take care of things. I wrote: “I won't feign objectivity here: Rush Limbaugh is to the '90s what Father Coughlin was to the '30s: a blotch upon the decade for future historians to wonder over.” Except few wondered over it and Rush kept going. He moved us away from the Age of Enlightenment and into something darker; he created communities outside of objective reality that continue to grow: from Fox to Breitbart to NewsMax to QAnon. Rush begat that ecosystem.
I wonder what he felt in his final moments? Was he fearful? Were there epiphanies? Did scales fall? Whatever there is to know, now he knows.
Thursday February 18, 2021
Frances Farmer by Howard Hawks
How did you find Frances Farmer? She was extraordinary in the movie. [Come and Get It (1936)]
She came in to play the part of a little Swedish girl. She was getting seventy-five bucks a week over at Paramount and I said, “My God, you ought to be playing the lead in this.” She said, “I can play it.” So I had her read a little bit and I began to get enthusiastic about it, and then I said I'd make a test. We started to disagree because she came in all made up and was going to “act,” but I let her go to it and then showed her the test and said, “What do you think?” She said, “I'm horrible.” I said, “OK, where do you live?” and that night I picked her up and we went around to little cafés until we found somebody who acted the way I wanted her to play it: We saw a waitress in this beer joint and I said, “Now, you come in here every night for 10 days. Get picked up. The worst that'll happen to you is you'll get your legs felt.” She was a big husky girl who could take care of herself, you know. “Then we'll make another test.” And at the end of 10 days she came in and made a test—without makeup or anything—with just a change in attitude. Oh, she was marvelous, probably the best actress—outside of Lombard and Rosalind Russell—I've ever worked with.
-- Howard Hawks in Peter Bogdanovich's “Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors.”
Wednesday February 17, 2021
That Yankees Pennant Drought
Over the years I've written a lot about the how, why and when of the New York Yankees sucking. It started with the 61* reasons in The Grand Salami in the early 2000s, and I added more as I learned more: the org's historic racism, treating the KC A's like its farm club, David Cone's faux outrage speech against the Mariners in 1998, more historic racism, Derek Jeter's parting gifts, etc. etc. It should be a book. Maybe it will be.
But it's worth reiterating the No. 1 reason why the Yankees suck: They win. They win all the fucking time. They are the sports symbol of our horribly unequal society—U.S. Steel and Amazon.com all rolled into one. Rooting for them is like rooting for white people. A Yankee pennant or championship is like a Republican tax cut: It benefits the people who need it least.
It's worth reiterating all this now because the Yankees are in the midst of one of their longest pennant droughts.
First, a little history.
The Yankees started out as a shoddy little organization called the Highlanders that didn't have its own ballpark for a few years; they had to make do with the Giants' ballpark. They were one of the last teams to win a pennant—the lucky 13th of the original 16 teams to do so. It took 18 seasons. That is still their longest pennant drought.
Then on Jan. 5, 1920 they purchased Babe Ruth for $125,000. Here are the Yankees pennantless runs since that day.
Just how dominant were the Yankees in their 1920-1964 heyday? For nearly half a century, Yankee fans never had to suffer for four staight years without a pennant. Not once. Put it this way: If, on Jan. 5, 1920, you'd told Yankee fans that for the next 45 years they could win a pennant every other year—every other year for 45 years—or they could let things play out as the fates allowed, I'm sure most would've chosen the former. And they would've shortchanged themselves. In these 45 seasons, the Yankees won 29 pennants and the rest of the AL combined won 16:
Ah, but the fun part. Some combination of new CBS ownership and longstanding racist policies led to their downfall. By 1966, the Yankees were the worst team in the AL. Good times. I like how, immediately after the Yankee Years ended, four Have-Nots stepped up to win pennants: Senators/Twins, Browns/Orioles, Red Sox and Tigers. And the first team to dominate was the team that had the least. Before 1966, the Orioles franchise had been to the World Series just once and lost. That was it. Then, in the next six years, they won four pennants and two titles. Then it was on to another Have-Not, the Oakland A's, which won three pennants and three championships in three years. No team besides the Yankees has ever done that. Then the Sox and their memorable '75 Series. And then, crap, back to the Yankees. Oh well. Fun while it lasted.
Indeed, even after the Yankee Years ended, who has been the most dominant team in baseball? Sadly:
Which is why we need to enjoy the Yankees' current pennant drought. Sure, it doesn't hold a candle to the Mariners' current drought (44 seasons and counting), or the Pirates (41 seasons), Brewers (38), Orioles (37), A's and Reds (30). Hell, almost half the Majors have longer current pennant droughts than the Yankees. But for the Yankees, this is still historically bad territory—their second worst drought since the day they bought Babe Ruth. Enjoy.