Joan Marshall

(New Year’s Eve, 2016)

Fyl decided her husband is still too sick to be life of the party on a wet, cold night and so we’re sitting home on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t argue. Besides, there’s a Jack Benny marathon on Antenna TV. When the pizza came It was guest star Frankie Avalon singing, so I joined Fyl in front of her TV watching old Sid Caesar shows and munching on a Palermo’s special, thin crust, crispy, anchovies on half. Taking my empty plate into the kitchen later the Benny marathon was still on in the living room and I could hear Robert Goulet. Even an hour apart the difference in timbre, phrasing, range–hell, in sheer quality of everything–with Frankie Avalon was beyond glaring. Plus Goulet was much, much funnier in the follow up bit, a natural. Funniest of all, though, was Joan Marshall, the woman in the sketch and one of the great undiscovered comic talents of the sixties. Alas, she was gorgeous, and in that decade gorgeous and funny were not allowed to mix. In the thirties she might have been a screwball superstar, another Carole Lombard; in the fifties she could have been the female lead in a sophisticated comedy. But in the sixties only Jack Benny recognized how funny she was and let her run riot in a couple sketches. They said it really bothered Joan that she never got choice comedy roles, and she never seemed happy in her career being beautiful. Hollywood is full of beautiful women. It’s not full of naturally funny people. But sometimes what you are really good at and the times you live in don’t coincide. If only you’d been born twenty years earlier.

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The seventies

Saw a Tonight Show late last night from the late seventies. My god look at those ties my wife said. Johnny Carson was uptight, mildly paranoid, his timing off, the monologue died in a series of unfunny Jimmy Carter jokes. It was hot today he said. How hot was it shouted an audience member. Shut up! Johnny yelled back. Ed was laughing hysterically as each flop followed the other. Carnac the Magnificent began with Johnny fluffing the trip schtick so he nearly fell and then blowing the delivery of the lines. Again, Ed laughed all the harder. Out came the first guest, Tony Curtis, is a flaming white disco outfit and so buzzed he radiated paranoia. He stood, frozen, as the audience applauded and unable to think of what to do he nearly saluted. He walked over stiffly, introduced himself to Johnny with a formal handshake, then to Ed, and sat down and gave an interview so coke freaked it was uncomfortable to watch. Johnny wasn’t much better. Tony was not exactly at the peak of his career in 1978 and was promoting The Bad News Bears Go To Japan. One got the impression he did not like children. The clip shown was Tony explaining to a five year old why people get naked when having sex. These were obviously the pre-McMartin preschool days.

Next guest was Steve Landesberg. He comes out supercharged, rubbing his nose, and delivers a rapid fire series of jokes and random ethnic accents at an adenoidal high volume shout, and looking coke dazed each time the audience laughed. Then he strutted over to his chair where he and a slightly more relaxed Johnny and Tony began a strange conversation that veered back and forth, everyone stepping on each others lines, Landesberg doing assorted foreign accents way too loud, and all having a very excited good time. Next up was Bess Armstrong, very cute and a little too chemically edgy and funny but not quite as high strung as Tony or Steve. She said she was from Baltimore. BALLIMER!!! shouts Steve. Tony makes an unannounced trip backstage. Returned very excited. All four were having a grand old time talking and joking and laughing way too loud at the wrong time. Oddly, though, even with the combination of coked out Tony Curtis and Steve Landesberg and a pretty young single actress it never got dirty. Not even a little bit. Not even after that Bad News Bear clip. Then came the very charming and witty eighty-nine year old Merie Earle. No wonder it never got dirty. Grandma was in the house. Tony, Steve and Bess froze, completely silent. Not a peep till Johnny winds up her interview (which was the only coherent part of the night) and Steve shouts out something random in a loud Puerto Rican accent. As the credits rolled, Pete Christlieb (probably, from the tone anyway) took off on a gorgeous saxophone solo.

Ya gotta love the seventies.

Skip E. Lowe

I’d totally blanked on the name of the strange only-in-Hollywood real life character who hosted a public access interview show in which he’d interview stars, sometimes famous stars. The interviews could be pretty great, actually. His name was on the tip of my tongue. Jiminy Glick was basically Martin Short’s impression of him in a fat suit. I remember he’d been a child star. His and Dr. Franklin Ruehl’s–who is broadcasting on Facebook–were my favorite public access shows, hand down.

Skip E. Lowe. That was it.

This came up because John Altman and Terry Gibbs were talking about Red Buttons and I remember that Red gave a terrific, revealing interview on that little public access show, which I thought was pretty classy.

I miss the days of public access television. It was endlessly entertaining. I remember for a while we got WOR, the NYC station (well, New Jersey station).  I tried watching the NYC public access. It was appalling. Howard Stern was Shakespeare in comparison. LA’s was almost professional in comparison, though you wouldn’t think so until you saw the NYC public access. Back there it was a guy named Vinnie and a couple aging fat strippers talking about masturbation, out here it was all about the movies.

Incidentally, WOR’s local news was all New Jersey. There were always bodies dumped in the river and an angry Teamster named Sal who looked like Chris Christie but without his tailor. And Joe Franklin, who was New York. The show may have been broadcast outta Jersey, but Joe Franklin was New York. He’s hard to explain to Angelenos. One surreal night it was I think was Fay Wray and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. If it was possible to love a band, Joe loved that band. They played Yummy, Yummy, Yummy but to their credit couldn’t remember it, and it spluttered to a dismal end and Joe stood up and applauded them for the effort with complete sincerity. If it’s possible to love a band, he said, he loved the 1910 Fruitgum Company. They thanked him. You are New York, Joe, they said, yes you are. Joe beamed.

Actually I was on the Skip E. Lowe show one night. We were in the audience to see our friends, Oozing Thumb. Somehow Oozing Thumb were on Skip E. Lowe’s show, filmed in a club I can’t recall, somewhere in Hollywood. Skip peered into the beautiful people out there in the dark and saw this enormous hulk of a man. Me. I was big gnarly dude back then, strong as an ox. Skip had the camera pan my way. He asked how tall I was. Six foot five, I said. Skip shivered. He asked my wife if she liked her men big. She rolled her eyes. He giggled. Skip E. Lowe was Hollywood.

Late nite TV

Wow, Morgan Fairchild is selling me a burial plot of Get TV. I mean I haven’t even started using the catheters yet. I’m not actually sure what they’re for. It’s fallen and I can’t get it up? Or is it a prostate thing? Maybe I should change the subject. Or change the channel. Seems like all the channels I watch anymore are full of AARP and catheters and doom. I’d watch a younger television network but all I ever see on there is Kim Kardashian’s ass, and he just can’t seem to shut up.

.

The Saints Are Coming

Watching a hockey game on ESPN–a rare thing, hockey on ESPN–and an ad for an upcoming New Orleans Saints game is on and I immediately recognize the vamp to the old Skids song The Saints Are Coming. Wow. I loved that song, but it’s ancient history. It’s quickly obvious that it’s not the Skids, though. Google said it might be U2 and Green Day doing a limp rock star rendition some years ago. Well, Google didn’t say limp, I said limp. But it was. Or maybe it is some ESPN only version. I have no idea. I just thought it was bizarre hearing a Skids tune that was utterly unknown in the US back in the day in an NFL ad. Now somebody will tell me they play it every time the New Orleans Saints play and that everybody knows that except me. Life is so bewildering when you never watch football. Drop the puck already.

Anyway, Team USA was beaten by the Kazakhstani Paralympic team and have now gone home to earn millions and millions of dollars.

Family Affair

Checking out Alice Cooper in these old Leave It To Beavers, I posted, way before Jerry Mathers was killed in Viet Nam.

But after Buffy OD’d, a pal added.

No, I said, it was before. Buffy died in 1976. I had been living in OC at the time, and it was front page news and highly detailed. I was a freshman in college that year, in fact, and Buffy’s demise was a big topic of conversation on the quad, especially all the drugs and Marines.

He was strangely silent, imagining, I figured, Buffy and drugs and the U.S. Marines.

Getting back to my narrative, I explained how Eddie Haskell became Alice Cooper sometime in the mid sixties, after the usual child star failures. I had learned that in 10th grade, and felt humiliated I didn’t know it already being that it was common knowledge. I had just arrived at a new school after year at a high school that had Future Farmers of America on campus. Future Fags of America the few hippies kids at Brea-Olinda High called them, then were beaten up by sons of farmers in overalls spattered with pig shit. There were still farmers with farms and farm animals in Orange County in the seventies, and their presence on campus was a secret thrill. Cows. Sheep. Chickens. Pigs big as Volkswagens being poked along by freshman girls in pony tails. It wasn’t cool but it was groovy in an earthy kind of way. That was Brea, and if anyone on campus knew that Alice Cooper had been Eddie Haskell on Leave It to Beaver, nobody told me. Then again, Leave it to Beaver almost seemed real at Brea-Olinda High. I knew the mildly thuggish Lumpy, the dopey Republican Wally, and the brainiac with the glasses. I even knew Eddie Haskell, though he was a short Albanian kid, funny as hell. I learned everything I know about being a smartass from that short Albanian kid. Probably the only funny Albanian kid in all of Orange County. Certainly all of Brea.

Then we moved to the other end of Brea at the end of my freshman year, which put me in another school district, and when I began my sophomore year at the much richer El Dorado High School it was like I’d fallen off the turnip truck. A lot of rich kids. I was out of my element. I soon found losers to glom onto, though, the serious rock’n’roll cognoscenti. They smoked cigarettes and talked about Roxy Music. I learned everything I know about being a music snob from those guys. And it was while with them, behind the handball courts during PE, in that holiest of high school stoner sepulchers, that I was told that no, Eddie Haskell was not Alice Cooper. How absurd. I felt like such a dork.

Now about The Beav and Viet Nam, he had died either during the Tet Offensive or on Hamburger Hill, I remember both. I’d heard that in maybe 1970, when I was in seventh grade and the Viet Nam War was at full roar. One two three what are we fighting for, we sang during recess, don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Viet Nam. We enunciated that damn with particular gusto. I learned to say fuck then too. Been saying it ever since. The Beaver was killed on Hamburger Hill someone with an older brother said. Older brothers knew. I didn’t have an older brother and had no idea how full of shit older brothers can be. Fuck I said. The Beaver is dead? Yup. Fuck. Damn fuck. What about Wally? Someone said he was a hippie. Maybe they said that, or maybe I am making that up. I’s been so long now it’s hard to remember what is true and what was once a joke, or a lie, or a parallel universe. In real life I think he became a director. I don’t remember what exactly we thought happened to Wally, though. Or Lumpy. All I remember for sure is that the Beaver was killed in two places at once when he was not anywhere at all. Weird the shit from junior high you remember,  while forgetting everything else but a smattering of useless French sentences about le plume being sur le table.

I just wish all that other stuff was true, my buddy said, but that Buffy was still alive. I just read her wiki, he said, damn. The second saddest wiki after The Singing Nun’s.

I hope you feel ashamed, I said.

I just loved Buffy so much, he said.

Well, Jody didn’t do so well either, I said, but has recovered. I spared him the details of drugs and booze and adolescent failure. Mr. French died in his fifties after a series of strokes, and Brian Keith blew his brains out. Suicide, they say. Prostate cancer and bottomless depression. Cissy, however, thrives.

Are you TRYING to bum me out? He was almost yelling at me. He had no idea that Family Affair was so tragic. But good news about Cissy, he said, at least there was one happy ending.

Silence.

Their little dog got run over by a steamroller, I said.