Burt Reynolds was bald. Way bald. Even the body hair was a toupee. Lonnie said so. She was mad at him and told everybody. I don’t think it fazed his image an iota. Like Cary Grant, Burt Reynolds’ image, that look, was hewn in marble, impermeable. It was hard to believe he was eighty two when he died. We can’t even imagine him old. His Cosmo centerfold sprung up like mushrooms minutes after his death till Facebook, like a high school principal in 1972, took them all down. It offended Facebook’s standards of decency, they said, though perhaps it was just enforcing Zuckerberg’s feelings of inadequacy.
But Burt really was bald. William Shatner bald, but much better toupees. Some guys can wear a toupee. I imagine he was the guy that customers in toupee stores said they wanted to look like. Skinny little guys, paunchy dumpy guys, they wanted to look like Burt. His hairpiece would do it, for sure. Laying across bed with a hand strategically placed and a hair piece. I hate to think how many of those old Polaroids have made it onto the web.
I loved seeing Burt Reynolds on the Tonight Show. Incredibly funny guy but better yet a total show biz anarchist. Once he came out and smashed a raw egg on Johnny Carson’s head, just because because he could. A super hunky Hollywood icon acting like one of the Marx Brothers. Then making toupee jokes.
Now that’s a movie star.
Watched the original Godzilla, sans Raymond Burr. Oddly profound flick, a giant monster movie that leaves you brooding and unsettled, unlike a zillion other Toho movies or, say, the Giant Claw, which left me wondering about the meaningless of a life spent watching The Giant Claw. Anyway, when the scientist with the eye patch (from the war, they say, something I don’t think is mentioned in the Raymond Burr version) drops the oxygen destroyer into the fish tank and reduces its occupants to skeletons I looked at our fish tank but they were still there fully fleshed. Relief turns to guilt a few scenes later as Tokyo is aflame again. First in 1923, then 1945, and now Godzilla. Everything comes in threes.
Watching Fantastic Voyage. Donald Pleasance is standing bald and evil next to Raquel Welch and if you squint your eyes they merge into three thirds of one organism. This film is the first half of Arthur O’Connell’s science fiction oeuvre; the second half being The Reluctant Astronaut. Had that film starred Donald Pleasance instead of Don Knotts it might have been a dark and brooding Dostoevskian study of the human condition. But it didn’t.
Oops, Donald Pleasance just got gooped to death.
A string of great, obscure 30’s horror flicks on TCM tonite. So I asked myself–what would Wayne Shorter watch? A presidential debate or Doctor X? You can watch the debates online, ad infinitum. But Doctor X? With Lee Tracy and mad scientists and scary synthetic skin and Faye Wray?
Politics is ephemeral, a breath of wind. But monster movies are eternal as the living dead.
If we’re talking about movie stars and not, say, jazz musicians or my friends, I’d say Frederic March does the best drunk ever, better even than William Powell, if you don’t count John Barrymore, John Gilbert and Errol Flynn, who cheated, being actual drunks. No one plays a drunk like a drunk drunk.
Now in The Best Years of Our Lives, stone sober Frederic March is drunk and giving a speech. It’s a helluva speech. The major says take that hill, Frederic March. Frederic March says no, Major, there’s no collateral in it. The hill went untaken and America lost the war. And alternate history if there ever was one. I’m not sure if you all appreciate this point. Before multiple universes had even been conjectured over at Caltech, or even on Star Trek, Frederic March laid out the possibilities–the hill not being taken–and the ramifications. In Frederic March’s alternative universe, even if it was only for the duration of an inebriated speech to some babbity little bankers, the Japanese won World War 2. Frederic March, drunk, changed the entire fabric of the universe.
Now that is a drunk. But no wonder, Frederic March played the best drunk. No mean Foster Brooks he, that Frederic March. He played other roles too, and brilliantly, and is one of my favorite actors ever. But today’s lecture was about drunks, so there.
The Misfits morphs into West Side Story and I flash back to the time I was nearly killed in a vicious gang dance. Those grade school square dance lessons–if it wasn’t duck and cover back then, it was square dancing–saved me from a mean pirouetting. When you’re a Jet…one of my last soprano moments was reading aloud from one of these scenes in English class in junior high. I was Tony. Bernardo was a kid whose voice had already plummeted. “Bottles!” he croaked. “Bottles, knives, guns!” I squeaked. I remember the teacher giggling. Within days my voice began cracking like thunder, dropping octaves in an instant. But I digress. I just wanted to point out that Natalie Wood has the greatest Spanish accent ever, up there with Sid James’ western twang in Carry On Cowboy. I always picture her dialect coach as Fortunio Bonanova in Citizen Kane, screaming No! No! No! No! No! at poor Dorothy Comingore. Also, it’s amazing what Rita Moreno could do with a pair of stockings. And did everyone sing like Marni Nixon back then?
Rollerball was on. Cool. I was busy writing and wasn’t watching the television but within seconds of half listening I knew something was wrong. For one thing, the voices were all wrong. For another, there was no Bob Miller announcing. And there was a helluva lot of screeching. Tires screeching. Players screeching. Crowds screeching. I didn’t remember that much screeching. I also didn’t remember Rollerball being this mindnumbingly stupid. I looked at the television. Oh yeah, this was a remake.
I didn’t think I was going to hear Toccata and Fugue in D Minor anytime soon. Or Shostakovich. I think I heard Green Day, though. I didn’t stick around to see who the new John Houseman was. Caught a glimpse of some lady without a lot of clothes on. More loud music. Screeching. And LL Cool J. I remember when he couldn’t live without his radio. Rocking the bells with real bells on. And here he is twenty years later in an incredibly bad remake of a favorite science fiction movie of mine.
Yup, this was the Rollerball remake, 2002. You probably never saw it in the theater. It apparently shows up on IFC occasionally for irony’s sake. Unfortunately, by my age, I don’t feel that I have enough time to spend on irony. Irony is best left for the twenty somethings. Things are funnier then. I imagine a man of my reputation being felled by a stroke watching the remake of Rollerball. Staring dead eyed at whoever that is who’s not James Caan, Green Day blasting from the television. My friends wouldn’t remember what I’m writing now. No, they’d remember that I died watching the remake of Rollerball. You spend your life being an arrogant intellectual snob and they find you watching that. My mother used to warn me about things like this. Well, she said I should wear clean underwear in case I ever had to go to the hospital. You don’t want the nurses to know you wear dirty underwear. But the metaphor holds. So I don’t want people to know I was watching the remake of Rollerball either. I can just hear my smartass friends at my wake, snickering.
So I turn it off. The room fills with silence, nothing but the clacking of the keys as I write this. Though in my head I’m hearing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. But that’s not a pipe organ, it’s a Moog. Switched on Bach, Walter Carlos switching into Wendy Carlos. And before it mentally morphs into Hooked on Classics, I turn on the stereo. Afro-funk fills the room and brings this to a close.
James Caan in the original Rollerball (1975), which was set in 2018, incidentally.