Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Man Who DOOMED San Francisco!

Last Wednesday, movie producer Charles H. Schneer died at age 88. Now normally, among honest actresses (an admittedly rare breed), a dead producer is the best kind, but Schneer will be missed by film fantasy fans everywhere.

The screaming headline above: "San Francisco DOOMED!" comes from the preview of the second movie Schneer produced, It Came From Beneath the Sea, his first of 13 collaborations with film legend Ray Harryhausen. Here's Ray and Charles together, preparing to make fantasy film history. Ray, as always, is the bald one. Since the bull-headed model between them is from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, the next-to-last of their mutual films, this picture is from late in their collaboration.

Charles was not simply the Roy Disney (Money man) to Ray's Walt (Creative). Charles was a true collaborator, as deeply invested creatively in their projects, as he was to making them happen. If you look at their string of films, as we are about to do, you will see that he was as important to fantasy films as George Pal.

Oh look, here's George Pal with Ray. Was Ray cheating on Charles? No. Harryhausen and Pal went way back, to Ray's early days working on George's "Puppetoons". Besides, no one who met George Pal could avoid falling in love with the darling man. Plus, well, don't they both look a bit drunk?

Ray probably wished he was drunk when this next, quite recent, picture was taken, since he's stuck posing with Little Dougie. Well, when you're a figure as towering as Ray, you have to put up with a lot of annoying fans.

Charles made other films besides his work with Ray Harryhausen. But perhaps the less said about them the better. One was Hellcats of the Navy, the film which brought Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan together. When you're partially responsible for America getting stuck with that evil cow Nancy Reagan as First Lady for 8 years, 8 years you spent safely living in London, well, you're well advised to keep quiet about it.

Another of his films was I Aim for the Stars, an admiring biopic of Wernher Von Braun, the Nazi rocket scientist and SS officer who developed the V-2 rocket that rained death on London on behalf of Hitler, and then, after the war, came over here and was a major force in America's rocket programs, while teaching rocket science to kids on TV for Walt Disney, all his enabling mass murder for the Nazi's forgiven. Shrug it off. So he was a Nazi swine. That was so last decade.

Another of his non-Harryhausen films was the oppressive musical Half a Sixpence, starring the flash-in-a-pan, overbearing Tommy Steele.

You see why I think we should perhaps just skip his non-Harryhausen movies?

After producing his first film, The 49th Man, Charles saw The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and was excited by the possibilities of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation techniques. They met, and decided to sic a giant sextopus on Northern California to tear down the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco was DOOMED!

What, you ask, is a sextopus? Well, aside from being something I've been called on more than one occasion (Eleanor Roosevelt had such a mouth on her!), it's also an octopus with only six tentacles, which is, of course, cheaper to hand animate.

They had to smuggle their cameras onto the bridge secretly because the San Francisco City Council refused them permission to shoot on the bridge. Why? Because they felt the movie would "undermine public confidence in the bridge." Yes, the council was afraid that the movie It Came From Beneath the Sea would make people afraid to use the Golden Gate Bridge in case a giant sextopus might tear it down while they were on it! Well, the movie came out and there was no drop in bridge use, and now it's been out for 53 years ago, and so far, there has not been any giant sextopus attacks on the bridge, or indeed, any proof that there are any giant sextopuses at all, nor even any giant octopuses. What science has proved is that George W. Bush was not the first, nor even the dumbest, idiot politician in America. The San Francisco City Council: protecting Californians from the fear of giant mollusks for more than half a century.

Their second film together was Earth vs the Flying Saucers, a spectacular depiction of Washington DC getting trashed by aggressive flying saucers. Except for being in black and white, and the fact that Hugh Marlowe makes Gene Barry look like Marlon Brando, it's every bit as good as George Pal's War of the Worlds.

At the age of 6, Little Dougie saw this film in it's original release. It opens with a faux-documentary sequence. Since Little Dougie hadn't yet learned to read (I wouldn't say he's mastered it even now), he thought the film was a newsreel, and it scared the bloody hell out of him. The fact that Hugh Marlowe had a successful career as a professional actor, he still finds frightening.

This shot is supposed to be at a missile base on the east coast, but it was actually shot at a water purification plant in El Segundo, a couple miles away from where Little Dougie was living at the time in Redondo Beach. It wasn't bad enough that Dougie thought the movie was really happening, the friggin' flying saucers were invading his neighborhood.

No, that's not the vehicle waiting last week to take George Bush back to whatever evil planet he came from in the first place, his mission to destroy American values and economy accomplished. It's Harryhausen's aliens trying to attack Eisenhower. Too bad he was off playing golf. If you ignore the script and the acting, Earth vs the Flying Saucers is a damn good movie.

The next Schneer-Hrryhausen collaboration was the sci-fi thriller 20 Million Miles to Earth. In it an earth rocket, sent up by a secret American space program, returns from the planet Venus with the egg of a Venusian, which hatches, grows to be a huge monster in about three days, and goes on a rampage in Rome before being shot to death on the Roman Colosseum.

Where to start? Okay, the rocket was supposed to have landed on Venus, where the astronauts (Paul Drake from Perry Mason) had adventures. The temperature on Venus is around 800 degrees Fahrenheit, and the atmosphere is as thick as Jello. I hope they had good cooling systems on their space suits, and, let's say sturdy and heat-resistant technology on the ship.

The Venusian creature, a "Ymir," just grows, without eating. When it does eat, it eats nourishing sulphur. If it's a species that evolved on Venus, it would find our atmosphere unbreathable, and it would freeze to death in the chilly (compared to 800 degrees) Mediterranean climate of Italy. They call this science fiction, because all the science in it is fictional.

Incidentally, the film is set in Italy because Ray was bored with life in Los Angeles, so he set the story in Italy to get a free trip to Italy. That is executive thinking at its finest.

Bart Braverman from the TV series Vegas, as a small boy (with the very non-Jewish stage name "Bart Bradley") plays the obnoxious child-hustler who is supposed to be plucky and adorable. This horrible character type also recurs in Schneer & Harryhausen's Valley of Gwangi, where it's just as unbearable. 20 Million Miles to Earth is a very entertaining movie, but it is wildly preposterous from beginning to end.

For their next film, Schneer and Harryhausen switched to color, and from sci-fi to Arabian Nights fantasy with one of their biggest hits, the beloved 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

That's gay actor Kerwin Mathews, who is about as Arabic as I am, in the film's most famous sequence, having a scimitar fight with a living human skeleton. How do you kill a living skeleton? The picture revolves around a mission by Sinbad to release Mrs. Bing Crosby from a curse laid on her by an evil sorcerer. Since it's all fantasy, one can't point to scientific errors, but there's still the fact that it presents Bhagdad as a seaport. There are now way too many Americans who know only too well how very far inland Bhagdad is.

And look at the poster for this film above. It says "The sheer magic of Dynarama now recreates the most spectacular adventures ever filmed." Recreates? Did someone think that sword-fighting skeletons, fire-breathing dragons, horned cylopses, four-inch high crooners' wives, and Scandinavian Arabs actually existed at some time in the past?

But silly as it is, it's a tremendously fun, deservedly beloved movie, and it has a terrific musical score from genius Bernard Herrman. And the skeleton fight is rightly considered some of Ray's best work. Here is Ray's own sketch of the climax of the skeleton fight, showing just how you kill a skeleton.

They liked Kerwin Mathews (So did I!), and so kept him around for their next fantasy epic, an adaptation of Jonathon Swift's satirical classic novel Gulliver's Travels, which they titled The Three Worlds of Gulliver, since it was felt that using the extremely well-known title of the famous-for-centuries classic novel might confuse people. If they'd filmed The Wizard of Oz, they'd have called it Dorothy and the Blustery Day. Plus, Gulliver only visits two fantasy worlds in the movie, so the title is actually more confusing.

As this photo implies, starring in two consecutive Schneer-Harryhausen fantasy classics (as well as an imitation Schneer-Harryhausen fantasy film, the 7th Voyage knock-off film Jack the Giant Killer, which is actually a lot of fun also) must have given Kerwin a severely swelled head, although every thing I've ever heard about the late Mr. Mathews indicates that he was a lovely, charming man. I wrote an obituary piece on him titled The Last Voyage of Sinbad, and a follow up piece titled Oh What a Bagdad Had. Click on both and enjoy.

Their next joint project was an adaptation of Jules Verne's sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the science fiction classic Mysterious Island, about a group of American Civil War soldiers escaping from a southern prison camp only to get marooned on an island beneath which lurked the Nautilus, with an elderly Captain Nemo rattling around all by himself.

Little Dougie had just read the book when the film came out, so he was surprised, to say the least, by the parade of giant monsters the castaways had to deal with, since there are none in the novel. Well, at least they weren't assaulted by a smoke monster, attacked by Ben Linus and The Others, or jostled about in time. Time jostling was George Pal's province at the time. Here they are battling an attack by giant crabs. These days, they have a lotion that will take care of that in one shower - ah - so I'm told, that is.

The actor in the center of that shot is Gary Merrill. When the movie was shot, he had just divorced Bette Davis, after a decade of marriage. After ten years of - ah - "Wedded Bliss" with Bette Davis, all the giant monsters Ray Harryhausen could hurl at him weren't enough to raise a sweat. "Huge crabs? Giant honeybees? An undersea tentacled horror? A volcanic eruption that destroys a whole island? Puh-lease! Child's play. Try surviving Bette's journey through menopause."

Ray, Charles (as opposed to Ray Charles), and many of their fans agreed that their next film, Jason and the Argonauts, was their best one, although I think that Clash of the Titans is at least as good, and as a hero, Harry Hamlin is a vast improvement over Todd Armstrong. In the picture above, the titan Talos is strolling along the beach, stomping on Argonauts. Clearly Talos spends a lot of time on the beach. He's so bronzed, he looks like he's made of bronze.

The move from Arabian Nights and whimsical satirical English fantasy literature into Greek mythology was a good idea. Both Ray's techniques and his artistic temprament were a good fit with the Gods of Olympus. Oddly enough, it was actually a remake of the recent international mega-hit Hercules, starring Steve Reeves. Watch them as a double feature sometime. Two more vastly different versions of the same story are hard to imagine. Harryhausen & Schneer's film has a strong, literate script, a damn good cast (Honor Blackman, fresh from playing Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, plays Queen Hera), 1964 state-of-the-art special effects, including a magnificent 7-headed hydra (see below) and a battle between three Argonauts, and a whole platoon of living skeletons. Reeves's film has a lousy script, a laughable excuse for a monster, ludicrous overdubbed dialogue, cheap special effects, the nearly-naked body of Steve Reeves, and a shirtless crew of Argonauts (Jason is a supporting character in his own story) all of them handsome and covered in rippling muscles. Yes, Hercules is by far the better movie!!!!

Of course, like all fairy tales, there's a boy-meets-girl subplot, and the hero and heroine are last seen sailing off to Happily Ever After. But for adults with some literary knowledge, it has a blackly hilarious edge, because the lovers are Jason and Medea, and the educated know that the marriage of Jason and Medea will end one day with Jason dumping her for another woman, and Medea, All-Time Mother of the Year, taking revenge on her husband by murdering their children. Lovely bit of horrific irony there.

Their first foray into the world of anamorphic widescreen came with their Cinemascope science fiction literary adaptation H. G. Wells's The First Men in the Moon. Nominally science-fiction, the science in this film makes 20 Million Miles to Earth look like a lecture by Stephen Hawking.

The 19th Century astronauts travel to the moon via "Cavorite," a ludicrous substance which "Cuts off' gravity the way a window blind cuts off sunlight. After that, finding a moon full of caves with a breathable subterranean atmosphere, and a population of intelligent insectoid creatures is a small leap. That the astronauts are able to cavort about the surface of the moon in ocean diving suits with no gloves, and just tight-fitting cuffs around their wrists to keep their air in is almost believable next to Cavorite.

The first hour of the film, on earth, with a lot of expertly-played comedy dominated by the great comic actor Lionel Jeffries as Professor Cavor (And a tiny, unbilled cameo appearance by Peter Finch) is actually the best part of the movie. Once they take off for the moon, it all becomes rather odd, and there is a singular parcity of Harryhausen's animated creatures, though some of the sharp satire of Wells's novel does find its way into the movie. There is a clever modern-day prologue, that depicts a modern moon landing with astonishing accuracy, given that we were still five years away from actually landing on the moon, in which the modern astronauts find evidence that humans had preceeded them to the lunar surface. And there's an ending Wells would have approved of; learning that Cavor's head cold had wiped out the entire lunar population.

A remarkably odd dinosaur adventure came next: Valley of Gwangi, based on a story by Harryhausen's mentor Willis O'Brian. Set at the turn of the century in Mexico, it's a cowboys and dinosaurs story, with a lost world in a cut-off valley, a two-bit wild west show, a band of gypsies led by a blind crone who croaks out dire pronouncements about "The Curse of Gwangi," and even a dwarf who gets eaten by a tyrannasaur in front of a paying audience. (That's entertainment!)

After Gwangi, Schneer and Harryhausen returned to Sinbad for two consecutive films. The first, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, featured John Phillip Law as a blonde Sinbad, a most unusual trait in an Iraqi. The villain is Doctor Who, Tom Baker to narrow it down. There's a lovely Miklos Rozsa musical score, and a terrific, tour-de-force sequence of Sinbad's men battling a six-armed statue of Kali.

Things were more of a mess in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, as the lumpy, inelegant title shows. Determined never to cast an Arabic actor, or even close to one, as Sinbad, this time they went with Patrick Wayne, John Wayne's even-less-talented (hard as that is to imagine) son. Had they done a fourth Sinbad film, they probably would have cast Tab Hunter. Come to think of it, Tab would have been a double improvement on Patrick Wayne. Tab can act, and he's sexy. Wayne is neither. The plot is a mess, with a villainess who grows weaker as the film goes along (strong villians get more powerful, not weaker) and they end up in an arctic pyramid.

There's another Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton this time, only he's a good guy in this one. Tyrone Power's daughter, Taryn Power, is in it, and beautiful Jane Seymour. There's a saber-tooth tiger, a friendly troglydite that could have been played just as well by an actor, and a giant golden minataur, sometimes animated, and sometimes played by the actor who played Chewbacca in the Star Tours movies. But dopey as the whole thing is, it features some of the subtlest, most amazing animation Ray ever did.

You see one character is a human prince transformed into a baboon. Instead of using a real baboon, Ray animates the baboon, and animates his human emotions onto his face with a delicacy and artistry that surpassed anything he had ever done before. The movie is pretty bad, but the animation of the baboon's face is amazing. The best work he'd done since Mighty Joe Young.

Charles and Ray were to make one last film together before mutually retiring. Clash of the Titans was a glorious last hurrah. Returning to Greek myths, this time they took on the myth of Perseus and Medusa, but felt so utterly free of any duty to tell the ancient story as it has been for millennia, that they stuck The Kraken, a character out of Norse mythology, into the story as the ultimate menace, rather like having Seigfried and Brunhilde battle Paul Bunyun and Pecos Bill.

The cast is about as star-packed as you can get. Laurence Olivier is Zeus. Claire Bloom is Hera. Others in the cast include Ursula Andress, Sian Phillips, Maggie Smith, Burgess Meredith, Flora Robeson, Tim Piggot-Smith, and gorgeous Harry Hamlin, at the height of his himbo beauty, as Perseus, wearing peek-a-boo, nipple-revealing togas.

Harry and Ursula, though widely seperated in age, took to each other, and ended up having a child together. Yes, Harry and Ursula's son owes his existence to Clash of the Titans.
But with all the great actors on view, it is Harryhausen's creatures that steal the show: his beautiful Pegasus, a horse that doesn't so much fly as gallop through the air, the multi-armed, out-of-place Kraken, a brace of scary giant scorpions, and most wonderful of all, his chilling, amazing Medusa, a brilliant sequence, whose lighting, Ray has stated, was based on Joan Crawford movies, More than just the lighting if you ask me. Well, Joan had nicer skin, and less-unruly hair.

An intelligent, literate script, a brilliant cast, even in the small roles, some of Ray's greatest creations, a budget far above any he'd had before, and even some lovely manflesh (Jason and the Argonauts had finally learned its lesson from Hercules), it was a lovely way to go out.

Here's Little Dougie's DVD of the film. Even on the disc, they've made sure you notice how hot Harry looks in the picture, as he attempts to give head to the Krack-en. I must apologize for the way Ray Harryhausen has scribbled his name across the disc. He must have vandalized it when he was visiting me here at Morehead Heights. Ray is always coming by with armloads of Tallulah Morehead memorabilia he begs me to sign for him. Such a trial, but it's the curse of movie legendom that I must bear.

Ray and I made two pictures together. The second, 1,000,000 Years Ago, was produced by Hammer Films, and so doesn't concern us here. But our first, the 1956 Amassed Artists black & white shocker THAT!, was a Charles Schneer production, albeit one he seems to have forgotten he ever made.

I play a lady scientist called in to help Kenneth Tobey and Richard Carlson save the day when a rogue dose of radiation causes my normal pussy cat to grow to the size of The Smithsonian Institution. Needless to say, my giant pussy regards mere humans as cat toys, and the city of Washington DC is nearly shredded to bits. I come up with the brilliant plan to cover the Washington Monument with shag carpeting, turning it into a gigantic scratching post. All Mankind seems to wilt when confronted by my giant pussy, but I stiffen their resolve to destroy the huge furry thing, which is using the National Mall as a massive litter box. Once treed on the Washington Monument, we bombed the oversize pussy with a massive overdose of catnip. Ray had the time of his career, bringing my enormous pussy to life.

There was a lot of discussion about the title. Originally they wanted to call the movie It Came From Out of the Cat Box, but that was felt to be too close to their earlier It Came From Beneath the Sea, as well as Ray's pal Ray Bradbury's It Came From Outer Space, and might cause confusion, as well as pretty much begging critics to call it doo-doo. I suggested just shortening the title to the punchier It Came!, but this was felt to sound too much like a science ficiton porn movie.

They used Bad Kitty for a working title for a while. The problem was, in scenes using a real kitty (Ray only lay his magic hands on my giant pussy), when the first AD would yell stuff like "Bad Kitty, scene 12, take 4!" the cat would hide.

Then we tried calling it Bad Pussy, but marketing had some kind of problem with putting out posters that read "See Tallulah Morehead's Bad Pussy!" Finally, we just went with THAT!, joining the ranks of films of the decade with titles like The Thing, It, Them, They, Those, Them Thar, and Pronoun!, all very scary movies.

Charles H. Schneer, the unsung half of Ray Harryhausen. The 20th Century would have been a lot more mundane without him. Thanks Chuck.

Cheers darlings.

Donations in name of Charles H. Schneer may be made to the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, Department of Development, Mayo Clinic, 200 1st Street SW, Rochester, MN 55905.

The Bush Legacy

At least they're gone. Let the rebuilding begin.

Cheers darlings.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Saggy Awards

Drink up darlings. It's the night each year when actors gather to congratulate each other, and blow smoke up each other's butts about how "Great" they are, even though The Great Ones, except for me, are all dead. How does that differ from every night in Hollywood? Ah ... damn good question. Because they're doing it on TV?

No. They do that every night.

Because they're handing each other a buff naked man to take home as a prize?

No. They do that every night too.

Okay, it's just another normal night in Hollywood, but they did hand out "The Actor" tonight, that hunky, mouthless little SAG Award statuette, which is better hung than The Oscar, as Sean Penn pointed out this evening. Sean, what did it to you? Playing Harvey Milk, or having been married to Madonna? Either can turn you gay. Both must turn you gay. Any day now, Guy Ritchie will be changing his name to Gal Ritchie.

Above is the new, improved "The Actor" Award, with a larger, Sean Penn-approved "even healthier" package, and my own severed face.

For my full, no-bars-held review of the show on The Huffington Post, click here:
It's fun for the whole family, if you're a family of pervs, and who isn't?
Meanwhile, I'll be back with a whole new flogging just for my loyal readers of The Morehead the Merrier soon.

Cheers darlings.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Old John

Little Dougie has asked to borrow my flog for this evening, to discuss an event that means something to him. Besides, since I am reviewing The Screen Actors Guild Awards tomorrow night over on The Huffington Post, by the personal request of President O'Bama, who has named petit moi Secretary of Libations for his administration (I await Senate confirmation. Oh dear. I've never declared taxes for employing the Headless Indian Brave as my longtime companion. What is the going tax rate for employing deceased aboriginal Americans anyway?), it's just as well that I spend this evening resting up and drinking. So here's Little Dougie on a subject that may be of interest to you. See you on the HuffPo early Monday. Cheers darlings.

Today, January 24, 2009, would have been John Belushi's 60th birthday. It would be customary to here state "if he hadn't lived too fast, and ridden the Self-Destruction Express," but I don't buy it. Even if John had survived that dark night at the Chateau Marmont back in that terrible March of 1982, I can't really believe John would have lived to see this day. His candle burned ferociously at both ends, and he kept trying to light it in the middle as well. Might he have learned to live sensibly and moderately? Perhaps. But I doubt it. Take the live-too-wildly madman out of John Belushi and what would you have?

Jim Belushi. Ew.

John Belushi was a genius. John Belushi was truely awesome, in the original meaning of the word. I worshipped him. John lived balls to the wall, full speed ahead.

I can't say the idea of a 60 year old John Belushi is unimaginable, because the photo of him made-up to look 70 that tops this column proves someone imagined it. But imagining it is one thing. Believing it could ever have happened is another.

The whole joke of the classic Saturday Night Live film that that make-up is from, Don't Look Back in Anger, in which John danced on the graves of the other original Not Ready for Prime-Time Players, was that John was sure to be the first to die. John got the joke.

John Belushi could only be young and full-force. He was the Janis Joplin of Comedy, and I mean that as a large compliment.

And he had a glorious youth. Look at the adorable punim on this high school youth of the mid-1960s. Wasn't young John Belushi adorable?

Here he is with his date for his homecoming dance, at the high school he attended in Illinois. Isn't that sweet?

John aged as much as he could in his 33 years with us. He lived more during those three and a third decades than most of us will live in thrice that time.

Chicago Second City audiences were the first to experience John's genius. New York audiences were first blown away by his amazing work dominating National Lampoon's legendary live stage show Lemmings, with Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest, two gentlemen who have also done well. The Lemmings original cast album was where I first encountered him.

The three of them, and Gilda Radnor and Bill Murray, were first nationally sent out in The National Lampoon Radio Hour, which John ran for its second season. How strange that this most physical of comedians had his first notable success in radio.

But everyone came to know him as a member of the original Not Ready For Prime-Time Players when NBC's Saturday Night (SNL's name when it premiered) first hit the airwaves in October, 1975.

Chevy was the early break-out star, and left too quickly. His appeal has not aged well.

But when John broke out shortly thereafter, he burned with a tremendous intensity. What a galaxy of memorable characters he created: the Samurai Jack-of-All-Trades, the "Cheeseburger, cheeseburger" guy, Captain Kirk, Liz Taylor (Hands down, the funniest Liz Taylor of all time), Brando, Joe Cocker, Jake Blues, the reluctant Bee actor, and his greatest creation, John Belushi, comic madman.

Much has been made of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as a comedy team, as well they should be, but to me, his funniest partner, with whom he had the greatest comic chemistry, was Gilda Radner. They were hilarious together, Look at them here. How sexy are these two? Mucho.

Gilda herself wrote a caption for this picture, "In loving memory of John Belushi [He was alive when this was written and published. It was a gag, then.], who can hit me without hurting me, and hurt me without hitting me."

And for a stocky man, I always found him enormously sexy. And I was not alone. There was no way around it. John was hot, something no one has ever said about Jim Belushi.

But John was not available. John married his high school sweetheart, Judith Jacklin, now Judith Jacklin Belushi Pisano. They were still married when he died. John remained deeply in love with her. The madman was a true romantic, and Judith was the love of his life.

John didn't have time to wait until he left SNL to begin his movie career. Animal House was shot between seasons. And John had already played a small role in a Jack Nicholson romantic comedy western, Goin' South. (Watchable solely to see John.) Though Bluto in Animal House was only a supporting role, when it opened and became the highest-grossing comedy ever to that time, there was no question but that John was a Major Movie Star.

That picture of Senator Blutarsky, as a one-sheet poster, adorned my living room wall in 1980, just below pictures of WC Fields, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Chaplin, and Groucho, my idols. That's how important John was to me then.

Another supporting role was already in the can, in the forgotten picture Old Boyfriends. But then John and Dan went to play with the big boys, in the giant budget Steven Spielberg spectacle farce 1941.

John was a huge star. The Blues Brothers were selling out large venues in the blink of an eye, and he was on every magazine cover but Filthy Butts Monthly.

1941 was not a huge hit, and is disdained by critics, fans, and Spielberg himself, although I have always kind of liked it. It's a giant comedy, with an unbelievable all-star cast, including Christopher Lee, Robert Stack, Toshiro Mifune, Slim Pickens, John Candy, Treat Williams, and about a billion others.

For me, it will always be special, because I had a friend in the cast, Walter Olkewicz, and Wally kindly invited me down to the set, on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, to attend two nights of shooting. I got to meet Dan Aykroyd and John Candy, to watch Spielberg direct, to have my picture taken sandwiched between John Landis and John Milius, and best of all, the reason I came, to meet and be introduced to John Belushi.

Those who knew John say he had two basic personality settings: coked-up manic asshole, and the Greatest, Sweetest Guy in the World. It was the latter John I met that night. John was tremendously kind and sweet with me, with no need to be. I was no one (A condition that persists to this day), just an ardent admirer. But John spent time with me, and could not have been friendlier.

He signed my Saturday Night Live book, and thumbed through it, pointing out sketches and pictures, and telling me tales about them.

He also scribbled this on the second page.

I told you he was in love with her.

This photo of John and Dan is one I have always cherished, because I was standing beside the photographer when he shot it, watching them work. This is where I stood with John, and passed the time.

John made only three more movies: the mega-hit musical comedy spectacle The Blues Brothers, the surprisingly charming romantic comedy Continental Divide, in which John scored in a role one easily imagines Spencer Tracy playing, and the over-the-top, peculiar suburban comedy Neighbors.

And then suddenly, one day in March, 1982, it was over. John was dead. I was working in a bank in Hollywood that day, and a customer, it was Dorothy Beatty, wife of John's 1941 co-star Ned Beatty, who told me that it was all over the news that John had been found dead. I was so devastated I had to close down and go home early. I went to see friends, and we got stoned and watched an old SNL repeat, with Don't Look Back in Anger, of all things, on it, and I wept.

A few years later Bob Woodward wrote a terrible, sensationalistic, nasty book about John's life, titled Wired. In it, appreciating John's comic genius, and his beautiful, warm giving side, was subjucated to reduce John's life to a cautionary tale on the evils of drug abuse. Don't read this book. Don't see the movie made from it.

Fortunately more recently, Judith Belushi Pisano has put out a much better biography of her late husband. Simply titled Belushi. It is lavishly illustrated, and John's life is told solely in the words of people who knew him. It is Judith's second book on John. Her earlier work, Samurai Widow, was about her relationship with John, and her recovery after his loss. Both are worth reading, but Belushi is a must-have.

It's been 27 years since John left us, but he lives on in my heart, and in the hearts of millions of other people. He was unforgettable. I spent today remembering him, by watching the Best of John Belushi DVD of his most memorable SNL pieces, and by watching a double feature of Animal House and 1941. Still a lot of laughs, but I was wet-eyed through them all.

I can't believe he would ever have made it to 60, but I wish he'd proven me wrong. He'd make one holy hell of a senior citizen, and I bet he'd still be funniest guy in the room, no matter what room.

So many from those days are gone now, John Candy, Douglas Kenney (Another major idol of mine, whom I met but once also), Michael O'Donahue, Wendie Jo Sperber, Bernie Brillstein, Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, and worst of all, dear, lovely, divine Gilda Radner; but John was the leader of the pack.

Rest in Chaos, John; peace was never your style.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Presidential Inebriation.

Let joy be unconfined! Joy always hated being confined anyway, and who can blame her? But on this magnificently great day in American history, even I can not improve upon these wonderful words. I just wish I could have watched Bush flinch at each slightly padded refutation of every evil thing he stood for.

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbears, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
- Barack Hussein O'Bama
44th President of the United States
January 20, 2009

Well, it's time for American Idol, and yes, I recognize the irony. See you over on The Huffington Post on Monday.

Cheers darlings.

Take a Hike, Bozos!

What is even better than seeing the new president in? Seeing these crooks OUT!

Now it's time to say "Goodbye,"
To all their infamy.
D - I - C,
See you in Hell!
K - C - H
"H" is where we'll see you!
E - N - E - Y - and Bush!

Now let's just hand them over to The Hague, and let their trials for international war crimes begin. Let "The Rule of Law" mean something again, and hold these two War Criminals responsible for their crimes.

Look for me again on Monday over on The Huffington Post, where I'll be reviewing the Screen Actor's Guild Awards, something I am uniquely qualified to do, as they named them "The SAG Awards" in honor of my breasts.

Cheers darlings.

A Departing Sensation.

In 1943, in an interview concerning his little-known, 19-year-old co-star of his upcoming turkey The Phantom of the Opera, iconic horror movie star Nelson Eddy (A man who made any movie he appeared in a horror movie. How iconic can you get?) described Susanna Foster as "A Coming Sensation."

No higher praise can be imagined, as a coming sensation is The Greatest Pleasure in Life. Even vodka comes in second, although vodka can inhance a coming sensation.

Of course, Nelson didn't invent the phrase. Nelson was not known for originality. He was quoting PMS chief studio publicist Pete Moss in 1915, describing me prior to the release of my debut film, Heat Crazed. So strongly was the phrase associated with me, that I titled the second section of my award-free autobiography My Lush Life, A Coming Sensation as well.

But sadly, on this, the Happiest Day of the 21st Century so far, we must bid a sad farewell to Susanna Foster, now a departing sensation, as she has died at the age of 84 of heart failure. It almost seems impossible. She survived a short, less-than-memorable film career, she survived hardship and want, she survived being homeless and living in her car in her late 50s, she even survived singing love duets with Nelson Eddy, but she didn't quite survive the Bush Administration.

Here she is looking on (undoubtedly appalled) at Nelson Eddy as he gets a little head from a white woman.

Her movie career encompassed only 12 films. Of those, only 2 are well-remembered: The Phantom of the Opera with Nelson, and with Claude Rains in the title role, a complete mangling of the story, with more opera than phantom, so the horror rested on Nelson and Susanna's endless singing far more than on Claude's spookiness (ironically, Claude's non-singing voice was the most memorable of the three), and The Climax, another musical horror movie which was basically a remake of the just-finished Phantom, in which she co-starred with my ex-husband, Boris Karloff, and with total sexy dreamboat, Turhan Bey.

Both films were in particularly garish Technicolor, which made them A-films, rare in mid-World War II pictures.
Phantom won two Oscars, and was nominated for 2 more. The Climax was nominated for one, but managed to lose. They must have been desperate in the 1940s, although not desperate enough to give me one. Oh sure, Phantom looked pretty in color, but what about me? What about my magnificent performance in PMS's utterly unforgettable Civil War epic East vs West?

Susanna, showing rare judgement (very rare judgement, almost none. How do you think she ended up living in a car?), turned down National Velvet. How embarrassing for her when Liz Taylor took the role she disdained and became one of the most beloved stars in the history of movies, second only to me? MGM dropped her contract. (Teenagers did not say "No" to L.B. Mayer.) Oh Susanna, were you too chagrined to confess you thought you'd been offered the title role?

At Universal, her primary function was as a threat to keep Deanna Durbin in line. Deanna turned down Phantom. I never realized Deanna was that smart. Maybe Nelson creeped her out too.

Of her performance in Phantom, Bosley Crowther wrote that Susanna sang "quite pleasingly." I am reminded of Lucia's comments on the opera singer Olga Braceley's voice in Trouble For Lucia, one of E. F. Benson's divinely hilarious Mapp & Lucia novels. Lucia "praises" Olga thusly: "Some notes lovely." (If you've never read any of Benson's Lucia books, do so right away. They are the purest comic joy.)

Here's a last look at Susanna, in The Climax, with my ex-husband doing all lovers of music and/or horror a huge favor. Now Prince Sirki has taken over for Boris forever.

Cheers darlings.