This week's contestant is Sana Sarfraz from Agoura Hills, California. I found the hidden song extremely easy, though it took about 10 seconds for it to kick in, and I think most people have a good chance to get it, as well -- though the contestant (for a specific reason, I suspect) did not. As for the composer style, this is one of those I can toss a dice on because there are maybe half a dozen similar composers I can't significantly differentiate between. I thought it was one of them, but oddly confused him with the name of another I guessed -- and my guess was right...though it was an accident.
I've been seeing billboards and TV ads for a few weeks now promoting the remake of the movie based on Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary. They've caught my attention more than most remakes since (during my early, dark days when I was a kid and didn't know better and did movie publicity) I was the unit publicist on the original film of Pet Sematary. I'm not quite sure why they feel a remake is needed so soon after the first one -- it's not like it comes from another era, mind you, but 30 years ago in 1989 -- but they do, and so be it.
One notable difference between this new version and the original, which is why I'm glad I worked on that one, is that the original had a screenplay by Stephen King himself. And since we shot the movie in Maine, not far from where he lived -- which was in his contract that we film in the state -- he visited the set periodically. We didn't talk a great deal, but did on occasion. And since I was always wearing my Cubs hat and he's a well-known Boston Red Sox fan, that always served as a good conversation opener.
Our conversations, though not many, actually lead to probably my favorite story. Of any story I've ever told.
My brother John was a bit of a curmudgeon. He hated things that were popular. (Once, when he came to Los Angeles for a visit, I asked if he wanted to go to Disneyland. When he said no, I asked why not, and he said, "Because I'm afraid I might like like it.) On the other hand, his wife loved reading books by Stephen King. She would ask John to read them, but no way in the world would he read a novel by Stephen King. Even if he had the time in the middle of his medical practice, Stephen King wasn't just a popular novelist - he was probably THE most popular current novelist in the world. Stephen King would not be read.
But she didn't let up. And finally, John - the good husband - gave in. Okay, one Stephen King book. He read Firestarter. And he loved it so much that he finished the book in two days. Probably hating every moment that he liked it so much.
Well, as fate would have it, not long after that, I was hired to work on Pet Sematary. As I said, when, Stephen King would visit the set we'd generally talk about baseball or (of course) the movie, since I was also interviewing him for the production noes I was writing on the making of the film. One day, though, I said I had a funny story for him, that I thought he would appreciate.
I told him about my brother. I said he hated anything popular. I explained how my sister-in-law couldn't get my brother to read his books, specifically because they were popular. I went into great detail about who John was, and why the last thing on earth he wanted to do was read a popular Stephen King novel.
And then I explained that John finally broke down, read Firestarter -- and absolutely loved it. Loved it so much that he finished it in two days.
Now, you must understand, this is the Best Possible Reaction that any writer can ever have. It's one thing to be praised by fans - but it's something else entirely to have someone who is so deeply predisposed to hate your books that he's fought off reading them for years finally read one and love it so much that it's devoured.
Stephen thought for a moment after being told all this, trying to figure what to say. It was clear he felt wonderful by John's reaction - which is pretty impressive, considering all the acclaim that Stephen King has had in his renowned career.
And then he leaned over, looked at me and said - "Tell your brother, I apologize. I don't set out to write popular books. It's just that people buy them."
(Not long after, I was back home in the Midwest and visited my brother who lived in Wisconsin. And I told John this story. His face lit up. One of the biggest smiles I've ever seen him make. "Stephen King said that about me???!" he asked. Yes - Stephen King said that about you. He laughed out loud, and said, with much pleasure, and an acknowledgement of his own inexplicable reaction to popularity - "You know, he's probably right." And he kept smiling.)
I didn't take all that many photos of the production -- most of my pictures were of my trips around Maine on my days off, most notably to Arcadia National Park, Baxter State Park (which I particularly wanted to go to because L.L. Bean sells a 'Baxter State Park Parka'), Campabello Island, where FDR lived when he came down with polio, and had his recuperation there -- and was the subject of the classic play and subsequent movie Sunrise at Campabello (both starring Ralph Bellamy, who as whimsy has it went to my high school, New Trier. But I digress...) Interestingly, it's actually located in Canada, but has been made into an "International Park."
I did take a few photos, though. This below is 'Jud Crandall's House,' where the taciturn character played by Fred Gwynne lived. I've previously told the stories of working with him on the film, which you can read here if interested. The short version is that I quite liked him. He was a bit crusty, but personal and direct. He'd done a great deal, was an accomplished artist, hit some highs and lows in his career, and didn't take kindly to fools, but if you were straight with him, he was good to be around. And contrary to what he may have said later in public -- perhaps it was to be diplomatic, perhaps he came to accept things -- at that time, he didn't hold much appreciation for The Munsters. He was grateful for the good it brought him, but it seriously mucked up his career after that, and he didn't want to talk about it.
And this is the house from behind. It's only this rear that the production did additional work on -- the structure existed before we got there, but had to be filled out for the movie's needs.
We filmed in an area known as Hancock Point, which is a bit outside the town of Ellsworth, about 25 miles from Bangor. The town leaders wanted to give the Key to the Town to the movie company, and since the breakfast "ceremony" for that took place at a local restaurant pretty early in the morning, none of the filmmakers wanted to get up that early. And so I -- as unit publicist -- was given the honor. I had to make a little speech, was very gracious (and meant it) and was presented with the key. I figured that since none of the people on the movie cared enough to go themselves to get the key, and it was presented to me...I would keep it. And still have it. I'm not sure what it will open up for me if I ever go back to Ellsworth, but I'm ready, just in case.
I also recall that it was a big enough deal for us to film in the state that the governor showed up one day. (Checking records, since, no, I didn't remember, it was John McKernan, Jr., a Republican.) He told a wonderful story about Hancock Point that I included in the press kit. The short version was --
Back in World War II, the Germans wanted to get spies infiltrated in the U.S. so, Hanock Point being one of the easternmost parts of the country, they got a U-boat close enough to land and dropped two men off. They were dressed as locals and went walking through the point into town -- and almost immediately were spotted and arrested, but everyone knew everyone in that small, taciturn village that any stranger instantly stood out.
One last photo. It has nothing to do with Pet Sematary, but it came during my time there and is one of my favorite pictures, although it's helped by the background. On one of my day's off, I decided to drive through the countryside. At one point, I passed a farm, and saw a large group of cows on the far side of the field. I stopped the car, and got out to look at them. What can I say, I like cows...
And then I soon noticed something unexpected. It turned out that cows are incredibly curious. Because one-by-one, a cow would turn, spot me, and sloooooowwwwllly walk across the field to check me out. And then another. And another. And another. And... Well, I decided to wait to see what would happen. And this was the result.
We all communed there for a while -- it would have been so rude of me to leave right after they had made the notable effort to graciously stop by and visit -- but then eventually it was time for me to head on. From their end, I'm guessing they returned back to the far side of the field. Perhaps discussing the whippersnapper in a Cubs cap.
I have a lot of very good memories of working on the film, and some off-beat one, not just on the set, but traveling around the state. This includes some wonderful country-dining, a lot of blueberries and blueberry pie (Machias in northeast part of the state is the wild blueberry capital of the U.S.), going to a Triple-A minor league baseball game in Old Orchard Beach for the Maine Phillies, several trips to Freeport, the flagship home of L.L. Bean that's open literally 24/7 every day with countless factory outlet stores from other companies built-up around it, eating at "lobster pots" -- seemingly almost as ubiquitous and inexpensive there as McDonalds -- most memorably Bob the Lobster, understanding from the eerieness of parts of the state where Stephen King's stories come from, dismal Mexican food and an absence of a lot of ethnic food, and seeing a concert in town by Noel Paul Stookey -- Paul, of Peter, Paul and Mary -- who lived down the road in Blue Hill.
I wish the remake well. But I'm very glad I worked on the original.
The guest contestant on this week's NPR quiz show Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is Aidy Bryant of Saturday Night Live. Her conversation with host Peter Sagal is exceedingly personable and spends a bit of time - understandable on a show that's broadcast from Chicago -- talking about her time in Chicago with The Second City.
This piece from this week's Full Frontal with Samantha Bee is both very funny and utterly infuriating. Reported by Alana Harkin, it looks at the MAVNI program, taking highly-educated, exceedingly-qualified and deeply-vetted undocumented immigrants and offered them citizenship if they joined the military -- and how the Trump administration has dismantled it.
Here's the latest from Randy Ranbow. It's especially timely, so there's less production than usual, though a lot of use of effective clips edited in. It's also not as funny as most of his other song parodies, but that's sort of the point of it, I think. And it wonderfully captures the sort of schizoid nature of the topic -- appropriate too for the Sondheim song its based on from Follies, which probably won't be well-known to most people, the tour de force number, "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues."
Lest it be accepted as normal given the source, it must be noted -- whether you've been offended in the past by such language or not (and most people claiming a platform of "morality" have been) -- a president saying "Bullsh*t" to a rally is not normal.
About 15 years ago, I started to notice a Republican tactic -- throwing at Democrats the worst charges about themselves, and I began writing about it in my Huffington Post columns. Trying to smear Democrats with the worst things that Republicans had done, not just to hopefully hurt the Democrats but also make it more difficult from Democrats to use the actual charges against the Republicans themselves. At first I thought it was just a random occurrence, and then I realized it was happening so regularly that it was clearly an accepted tactic. And it's continued for the past decade-and-a-half. Still up to yesterday.
Yesterday, when Republicans tried to smear House Intel Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and call for his resignation for some bizarre made-up, meaningless reasons -- made all the more bizarre (though understandable given the aforementioned Standard Republican Tactic) considering his predecessor Republican Devin Nunes literally had to recuse himself as chairman for basically being outed as Trump's bag man and passing secrets to the White House. Only to later "un-recuse" himself, which is largely an unprecedented action.
My first reaction was how stupid, offensive and pathetic the Republican efforts were. Then I heard some discussion of it on MSNBC, and realized it was really something deeper than just the norm. This wasn't about getting Adam Schiff to resign his chairmanship of the House Intel Committee. Republicans know they have zero way they can get him to do that. Democrats are in the majority. Further, they also know that even if he resigned the chairmanship, another Democrat would be named chairman, and they'd remain in the majority -- with Schiff even still on the committee. No, this was about something else entirely. That had the fingerprints of Trump all over it and therefore likely likely something set in motion by him because it's what Trump always tries to do -- discredit areas of authority that can provide a check on him. (Like the media, FBI or judges.) Which is quite literally a fascist tactic. Discredit the House Intelligence Committee with Adam Schiff as its chairman so that any findings they come up with will in turn be discredited. And as I saw Republican after Republican after Republican after Republican -- after Republican -- repeat the Great Republican Echo Chamber Mantra, "We call on Adam Schiff to resign because we no longer have any trust in him -- it became clear that this indeed was what it was. Unfortunately for Trump and the enabling Republicans in Congress, they didn't count on one thing.
They didn't count on Adam Schiff.
They probably assumed that Mr. Schiff would react as they generally see him -- low-key, soft-spoken, eloquent, someone who goes out of his way to not make headlines. What they overlooked was that this nature was part of a profound decency, a deep belief in fairness, and an innate sense of responsibility for his position as chairman of the Intelligence Committee whose mission is to protect the United States against foreign enemies.
And so, for all those who thought Adam Schiff is just soft-spoken and middle-of-the-road, this brilliant, quiet, blistering, 5-minute response to foolish, but potentially dangerous Republican "demands" that he step down from his chairmanship was most surely eye-opening. And though it won't stop Trump attacks on him -- in fact, it may increase them (though the best he could offer later in the evening was to ridiculously, infantilely, emptily refer to the chairman as "Pencil Neck" Schiff) -- it likely will quash any even semi-serious effort on the committee or in the House to repeat this disgraceful action by Republicans. Indeed, after Adam Schiff had finished his masterpiece, Republican after Republican after Republican -- after Republican -- fell over themselves anxiously trying to get him to yield to them so that they each could explain on the official record how none of them believed what he had just pointed out that by their actions they "may" indeed believe.
If you haven't seen it, it's a Must Watch. On some levels, alongside Joseph Welch's famous, "At long last, sir, have you no sense of decency" speech to Joseph McCarthy. If you have already seen it, there's a reasonable chance you'll want to see it again.
We hand the floor over to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
To start the baseball season, this morning we had Maestro Riccardo Muti of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra throwing out the first pitch before a Cubs game in 2012. But to bookend the day and make it all official, this is one of my favorite first-pitch videos. Unlike most first-pitch videos, though, it's a favorite not so much for the pitch itself (though thumbs-up for that), but for what comes before.
This is actress Elle Fanning on the David Letterman Show back in 2014, being perhaps the definition of adorable as she tells the story of her throwing out the first pitch before a Dodgers game earlier in the year. And if her giddy, teenage excitement -- even months later -- doesn't make you a fan, you aren't trying.
And by the way, given that another way of describing a strikeout is "fanning the batter," that makes this all the more appropriate...
Though the first official game of the 2019 season was played the other day in Japan (an odd decision by Major League Baseball), today the first full day when all the other teams in the National and American Leagues on their home turf.
And to help celebrate the day, we'll start the year as we did last season -- with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and their music director Riccardo Muti (in a Cubs jersey) playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I think it was done in honor of the Cubs 2016 World Series, their first in 108 years, since the video was posted on November 6, 2016. And the musicians are in street clothes, but many are wearing Cubs paraphernalia or blue.
It's a wonderful and fun arrangement, too, not trying to overwhelm such a small, charming song with orchestral bombast, but arranged with an almost old-timey feel. And Muti seems to be having a good time with it all.
And as a baseball bonus, we return you to Riccardo Muti, from 2012 when he threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game.
I find it adorable that Muti seems to love the Cubs, particularly since he's from Italy and didn't grow up on baseball or perhaps ever played it at all. But we know now that he's a lefty. Not the same form on the mound (or front thereof) as on the podium, but he did get it to the plate.
By the way, listen closely in the background as he walks to the mount. The P.A. is playing Beethoven's 5th Symphony.
Let's head back to What''s My Line? for another "Mystery Guest" segment, though with a slight twist. And that's because even though the contestant today is one of the more well-known names in the history of rock music, it's not a "Mystery Guest" at all, where the panelists have to put on a mask to hide the celebrity's appearance, he's just a regular guest on the show. However, he doesn't sign in with his real name because that would have been known, even then in October, 1964. Yet even at this, host John Daley gets his wrong, calling him "Barry," rather than "Brian," although the fellow quietly corrects Daley. So, here is Brian Epstein, the manager of The Beatles who were than at perhaps their Fab High. If you want to skip past the show's opening introductions, the segment begins around the 3:00 mark.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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