I've posted this video in the past, but like it so much that I browsed around to find it again. And watching it last night, I thought it would be nice to post it once more, for no reason other than it's SO good. But I thought I should hold off, since I already had a song this morning from Sheldon Harnick on the occasion of his 91st birthday. But then however I realized it not only is particularly appropriate to re-post it now...but there are actually three reasons why it's spot-on appropriate to post today.
This is legendary lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg singing his song, "Over the Rainbow." Given that I just posted the full, seven-segment version of The Wizard of Oz in concert, it seemed proper to have the writer himself conclude the festivities with his classic song. And that's the first reason.
This may be my favorite version of the song -- which is saying a lot, given how many recordings there are of it. This recording comes from a 1980s TV series I've mentioned, The Songwriters, where songwriters performed their own songs. Harburg's program might be the least interesting, not because of the songs (they're great, including his score with Burton Lane of Finian's Rainbow, and numbers like "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" for the Marx Bros., and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime") , but rather because he's not much of a singer, so they have a troupe of performers doing most of the singing. One of the few he sings himself though is the very first one in the show -- "Over the Rainbow." But, boy, howdy, does he blow it out of the park. He puts so much nuance and emotion into his rendition that you get a new, rich insight into a song you've heard relentlessly. He's not whimsically wondering about things, but Really Wants to Know, with all his heart, if birds can fly, why then can't he??! It's so meaningful and moving to Harburg that, even though he must have sung this hundreds if not thousands of times, he's in tears at the end.
The second reason I realized how appropriate this is for today is that, not only does it not conflict with the video this morning, it perfectly complements it. Two songs performed by the legendary lyricists who wrote them. Book-end companion pieces, as it were.
But the third reason why this video is ideal for today comes from a story that Sheldon Harnick has told repeatedly about his career.
Harnick attended Northwestern University (o huzzah...!) and had written a few songs for the school's famous student revue, the Waa-Mu Show, though the reason he went to college there was to train to be a professional violinist. However, one day a friend of his, Charlotte Rae (who went on to have a long career, including as the housemother on the series, Facts of Life) came back from a trip to New York, and lent him the cast album of a show she'd seen that she loved and knew Harnick would love it, that it was perfect for him. The show was Finian's Rainbow, and Harnick has said that it floored him. While he loved the whole album, he was most especially taken by the lyrics, hearing what they could do so cleverly and with humor, yet say important things. He changed his career path, and decided to focus instead on his songwriting, rather than playing the violin.
Eventually, he did go to New York and started getting small bits of work, writing for revues and such. And eventually, Charlotte Rae (who was now in New York, too) invited him to a party specifically because she knew that Harnick's idol, Yip Harburg would be there. The two met, and Harnick asked if he could set up a meeting to "audition" some of his songs for Harburg, who said yes. The meeting went very well, and afterwards Harburg himself sent a thoughtful card to the young songwriter offering him encouragement. (Talk about grace and charm.)
So...in the end, all of that, but most especially since Yip Harburg was the idol and mentor of Sheldon Harnick, today's birthday celebrant, that's why I realized that this video belongs here today.
Today is the 91st birthday of Sheldon Harnick, the Tony Award and Pultizer Prize-winning lyricist of such musicals of Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, She Loves Me, The Rothschilds and more.
Among his musicals, he wrote the lyrics for Rex, the last show that Richard Rodgers composed the score for. It starred Nicol Williamson as Henry VIII, and only had a short run of 49 performances, and was never included in the Rodgers and Hammerstein company's catalog. However, a couple of years ago, Harnick and the show's book writer Sherman Yellen revisited the show and did some extensive rewriting on it. They'd always envisioned the show as a small piece, but thanks in part to the musical's notoriously difficult star, it kept expanding. The new version of Rex finally was re-mounted in Toronto in 2010 to quite respectable reviews -- and it was at last added to the R&H catalog.
One of the songs that was cut from the original production was called The Pears of Anjou, a number that Harnick loved. It came at the end of the show, as Henry knew he was dying, and Williamson didn't want to sing it. When the show was re-written, Harnick added it back in.
The song concerns a gift that King Henry had gotten from the King of France, a pear tree from the Anjou region, known for its particularly luscious fruit. The French king tells Henry that it takes 10 years for the tree to grow. In Henry's final song, he sings of his wish to taste one of those pears -- though as Harnick has pointed out, the real meaning of the song is that Henry wants those 10 more years of life, to have that chance.
In the liner notes to the terrific double-CD, Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures, released last year on his 90th birthday (more about that later), he writes in the liner notes that not just he but Richard Rodgers was especially saddened to cut the song in the original production. He surmised that Rodgers, not in the best of health -- he died not long after the show opened -- perhaps empathized a great deal with the number.
And here's the song. It's made all the more of a treat since it's performed (wonderfully) just a few years ago by today's birthday celebrant himself.
Though I've been showing a lot of segments from What's My Line? over time, I thought I'd have a slight change of pace here and have a piece from To Tell the Truth. I'm not all that big a fan of the show today, though I remember liking it somewhat as a little kid. But when they have interesting guests, I want to know about that guest, not the two fakes and fake answers. Still, this clip highly deserves being shown. That's because the guest is a fellow named Ted Geisel. If that's not familiar to you, you'll likely know him by his pen name -- Dr. Seuss.
(Another quibble with the show, particularly this episode: after the real Dr. Seuss reveals himself, it would be nice to actually hear a bit from him. Instead, they spend their remaining time asking the two other people who they are and what they do. While that's very nice for them...honestly, other than their families and friends, who cares??! I think we'd like to hear from Dr. Seuss, for goodness sake!)
Still, it's a fun segment, a great to see the good doctor. I was able to guess who he was, so now it's your turn.
There's a long-standing tradition among former presidents not to criticize foreign policy decisions of the current office holder. Among the reasons is that they, more than anyone, understand how much secret information a president receives about international affairs that they -- being out of office -- no longer are privy to. It's hardly a rule or obligation, but it's generally always followed.
George W. Bush has even largely followed it. In fact, he's been silent on most everything since leaving office. During the last presidential election, the most he offered publicly was saying, "I'm for Mitt Romney." Given that he left office with a 22-percent approval rating, it was probably a good thing to to be too outgoing in endorsing his party's nominee -- or saying much about anything.
He even acknowledged this presidential tradition when speaking at a fundraiser of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday night, when according to the New York Times, wrote here that "he would not criticize President Obama, whose aim to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State he applauded."
However, the Times went on that it came as a surprise when he went on to do just that, and criticized Mr. Obama for his foreign policy actions.
"Mr. Bush voiced skepticism about the Obama administration’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran. Although he had begun the diplomatic effort to press Iran to give up its nuclear program, Mr. Bush questioned whether it was wise to lift sanctions against Tehran when the Islamic government seemed to be caving in, and suggested that the United States risked losing leverage if it did so."
Later, the former president quoted Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who has said that “Pulling out of Iraq was a strategic blunder."
It's a difficult position for former presidents to be in -- wanting to defend their legacy, wanting to support their party, wanting to be seen as relevant, yet wanting to be respectful to an office that only a handful of people in the history of the United States could ever understand, and who had been respectful to him in return. Still, as difficult a position as it is for former presidents, it's not all that challenging, since they all seem to handle it pretty well. Okay, all except Mr. Bush. But then, he had a hard time handling the office period (a 2010 Siena College poll of presidential historians ranked him 6th worst), so we shouldn't assume his post-office life wouldn't be much different.
Of course, there are two issues here: should he have said anything, and what did he say?
As for the first -- no, he probably shouldn't have said anything, it's very bad form, but he had every right to do so, and that's life.
But it's the second point that gets one eye-rolling. At least it's nice to see that former President Bush hasn't lost his touch is showing why he left office with a 22-percent approval rating and is considered the sixth worst president in U.S. history.
Let me repeat that, lest its impact just slide by. George W. Bush left office with a 22-percent approval rating and presidential scholars say he is the sixth worst president ever.
He got the United States involved in a war based on a lie, the war lasted over a decade -- the longest ever in U.S. history -- and he's still arguing in support of it. Forget whether he should have said anything or not: that he still thinks this way is pathetic and confirms every bad opinion the public and experts have on his abilities.
Not terribly long ago, when that eminent former part-time governor Sarah Palin (R-AK-half-term) was addressing the Susan B. Anthony List breakfast in 2010 (right around when that Siena Poll of presidential historians place Mr. Bush as sixth worst ever), she swaggered with glee about a billboard she'd seen that referenced George Bush, "Miss me yet?" Somewhat similarly, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), only a few months later, told C-SPAN, "I think a lot of people are looking back with a little -- with more fondness on President Bush's administration, and I think history will treat him well."
The only reason that Americans will miss George Bush is if he has the good sense to not be found. And the only way that history will treat him well is if he lets them admire him for refusing to talk about politics any more. And in the end, he will best be served by following the advice of his own Republican Party's founding father, when Abraham Lincoln said --
"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt.
This week's contestant is Jim Hanson from St. Paul, Minnesota, It's a short, fun piece -- and I didn't get any of it. And my teeth were chattering enough because so much sounded familiar that i felt I should get both the hidden song and composer style. It turns out that while I do indeed know the song quite well, it isn't one that I know as wildly-familiarly as I thought. To the contestant's great credit, he guesses it -- so it is gettable.
This is one of those tales that is about a small matter, but got me thinking about how it relates to a larger one. I know I write about such things from time to time. An occasion that bugs me personally and, perhaps few others, that might even be seen as commonplace and is nothing more than that, yet once in a while you step back (or at least I do...) and see it in a different context. And think, c'mon, guys we can aspire to better than this.
Real Clear Politics had an interesting in-depth article here by statistician David Byler, which I read after seeing it linked to on the Huffington Post homepage yesterday. Mr. Byler's article asked the question in its headline, "Will 'Proven Losers' Cost Democrats Senate Races in '16"? The question came about since Democrats have a number of potential candidates who might be running who have run before and lost -- indeed who were former senators, but got voted out of office (and now might run again).
After describing all the methodology and analyzing its resultant research, the conclusion that Mr. Byler came up with it in his last sentence was --
"And our analysis shows that, unlike presidential candidates, Senate candidates who lost once are typically not 'losers for life'"
In other words -- no. No, just because someone is a former candidate for the U.S. Senate who had previously lost, that doesn't mean that person will lose again. Fine, that makes sense. A reasonable question, a well-researched answer. The answer is No.
Although it makes sense, however, something was nagging at me. I was still a bit surprised by this result, yet didn't quite know why. Mind you, the opposite conclusion hadn't necessarily been my personal presumption before reading the article -- so, why did I have that nagging concern when reading it?? I went back and checked the Huffington Post headline that I'd originally clicked on, that took me to the Real Clear Politics story. It turns out...that was the reason for my nagging concern, and why I felt it important to read the article.
While the actual Real Clear Politics article raised the question to study -- "Will 'Proven Losers' Cost Democrats Senate Races in '16"? (to which it then answered, "no") -- the HuffPo link instead stated its headline and did so as a concerning, declarative sentence: "Proven Losers Could Cost Democrats in 2016."
To be fair, the headline is accurate. There's nothing in the actual story that suggests otherwise. A former loser could lose again. Absolutely. Then again, as the article makes clear, they could also win.
Ultimately, the headline did just what it set out to do. It piqued my interest. So, hat's off. Mind you, it did so in a deceptive way -- in fact, not just in making it seem the conclusions of the article were different than they were, but also in suggesting that the way such Proven Losers could cost Democrats was in the presidential race, but that wasn't the case either.
As a former publicist, I certainly understand a publication trying to grab its readers interest. And I also well-know by now that headlines can by hyperbolic and do want readers to check them out. This is my first -- or thousandth hyperbolic headline. So, this is hardly an earth-shattering issue. It happens, and it will continue to happen. But -- and this is the issue here -- there are smart ways to do that and ways that can be counter-productive. There are hyperbolic headlines that still remain true to the article, and ones that tell a near-totally different story. And there are publications that we know do it more than others, and those that do it much less. I just think that when you're hoping to be seen as a good, trustworthy news source, deceiving your readers isn't the best way to fly. It raises too many questions of trust that are the lifeblood of news coverage. (I include "Fox News" -- whatever you think of its coverage, its viewers trust what they're being told.) That's another thing I learned as a publicist and did my best to avoid: I knew I could fool a journalist and get a story -- but lose any chance of working with them again, or I could be a straight-forward, risk not getting the story, but try to find some other way to make the story valuable...or find some other story that would interest them and build a good working relationship. (Side note: this is a rule I learned, as I said, doing PR. I think we hold journalism to a higher standard of truth than we do movie study publicity...) As a result, this rule not only holds, but holds to an even far-greater extent with a deceptive news headline: You might get those initial click-throughs, but eventually you start eroding that patina of trust. Which can take a far longer time to win back, as opposed to the blink it takes to lose it.
Ultimately, you have to decide: is the story good enough to stand on its own without a razzle-dazzle, deceptive headline? If so, you have a great story. If not, well then perhaps it shouldn't go on your home page.
No, this was not an egregious action. It just wasn't a smart one.
There's no place like home. And tonight, we finally return to Kansas, as we reach the conclusion of the 1995 TNT special, The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True.
In this final segment, the story wraps up, we get to hear a rambunctious performance of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" from the legendary Ronnie Specter, but most of all there's the wonderful finale.
Everyone of the truly all star cast returns on stage, and joy reigns, as most everyone gets their solo moment singing a part of...oh, you know what they sing, including the musicians David Sanborn and Dr. John.
There's also a terrific curtain call, where everyone in the audience most likely expected when they took their seats to be applauding wildly for their favorite Big Star rockers, but instead (most likely to their surprise) the biggest cheers of the night are for the unknown singer they'd never heard of when the evening started, Jewel.
There are a few nice touches, as well. I love after Phoebe Snow finishes her moment, she scrunches up with pleasure, almost like a little kid. And watching Jewel joyfully applauding all her fellow-performers throughout the bows, and a lovely moment when they cut to the audience cheering and, what seems symbolic of the full crowd's reaction, there's a little boy on his father's shoulder, almost in joyful heaven. There's one other moment I like that's unfortunately cut off in this particular video, but you can see it here -- when everyone walks off, and Roger Daltrey and Joel Grey pass by the chorus and stop to applaud them.
(And again, if you're just joining the festivities now, you can jump here to find out more about this benefit concert and watch the six parts from the beginning.)
And with that, we now conclude the Elisberg Industries International Film Festival.
Mark Evanier offers another wonderful tale in his series of stories about working with his friend Stan Freberg. In this piece he talks about the making of Freberg's long-awaited follow-up, "Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America: Volume 2 -- the Middle Years".
You can read it here.
This is a reprint of a column originally written on The Huffington Post in 2009. And this year is the 12th anniversary of the actual event itself, Some stories simply demand repeating. Or better put, demand not being forgotten. This is one of them. And so, once again, here 'tis.
April 27, 2009
Oh, Say Can You Sing? A National Anthem to Remember
As I prepared to write about an act of uncommon decency by a professional athlete, I realized that calling it that was unfair, that it diminishes what happened, because this was simply an act of uncommon decency, period. That it happened on such a high level and under such a bright microscope might likely stir the heart more, but it's the act itself that is ultimately what stirs us to begin with. Who it was and when it took place simply moves it up the pedestal.
Today is the sixth anniversary of Maurice Cheek's moment on the pedestal.
There is in the American consciousness for notable performances of the National Anthem at sporting events. Jose Feliciano's evocative singing at the 1968 World Series in Detroit was the first to interpret the "Star Spangled Banner" before a national audience. Because 1968 was one of the most tumultuous years in U.S. history, many at the time were so outraged that it took his career years to recover. Today, the rendition not only seems tame, but one of the most tender and beautiful. (And among the least known. If you've never heard it, do yourself a favor and click here to listen.)
Whitney Houston gets mentioned often for her rousing rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl, during the Gulf War. For many, Marvin Gaye's deeply soulful performance at the 1983 NBA All Star is the most memorable.
But for sheer emotional joy, it's hard to top what happened on April 27, 2003, before Game 4 of the NBA playoffs between the Portland Trailblazers and Dallas Mavericks.
Context only adds to the story. So, once again:
This was the playoffs. This is what all professional athletes live for, what their year is about. The regular season is a prelude, an effort to get into the post-season and be in place to win the league championship, to become a part of your sport's history. Everything centers on this. As the start of each playoff game nears, as the roaring crowd is at its highest pitch, as players put on their proverbial "game faces" and the battle is moments from beginning, all external thoughts get filtered out, and focus is completely, solely on their task ahead.
The National Anthem, for most athletes, must be one of those external influences. More than most of us, who hear the "Star Spangled Banner" largely on special occasions, professional athletes have heard the National Anthem played before every single competitive game they've played. Game after game repeatedly each season, and season after season, for decades. Relentlessly. As meaningful as the song is, it is also just part of the ritual for a professional athlete, focused on the game, geared up for the game, anxious to start the game. Silent, not singing, maybe not even hearing the music. Waiting for the National Anthem to be played, and finished, so that they can finally start what they're there for. It's likely as much background noise as it is patriotic uplift.
And so it must have been as the Trailblazers and Mavericks prepared for their playoff game to start.
Stepping out onto the court was Natalie Gilbert, a 13-year-old girl. Just another National Anthem, just another youngster who won a contest, just another two minutes the crowd wanted to get past for the game they were there to see, to start. And she started fine. A little hesitant, since it's a frightening occasion for a child, with a national audience, flashing lights and a military guard. But in her wavering voice, she was prepared.
Except that a few lines in, the high pageantry of the moment got her, and something went very wrong. She totally, thoroughly forgot the words. A young 13-year-old child, standing in front of over 10,000 people, lost. Alone.
And that's when Maurice Cheeks showed the kind of person he was.
Maurice Cheeks had had a very good NBA career as a player. He played for 15 years and was selected to four All Star games. When he retired, he was the all-time leader in steals and fifth in assists. He averaged over 11 points a game. And then he later became a coach, the position he was currently in for the Portland Trailblazers. It was Cheeks who was responsible for his team, responsible for keeping them focused on the game, responsible for guiding them. But he saw a 13-year-old girl in trouble.
And that's when Maurice Cheeks showed the kind of person he was. Immediately.
Cheeks always had a reputation in the NBA as a good guy. But he was about to prove it on a national stage. And what happened next - not just with Maurice Cheeks, but eventually with all the jaded players whose minds had been previously-focused on their game, an entire stadium of basketball fans there to see basketball, even the opposing white-haired coach Don Nelson - is just enthralling.
The moment is wonderful, but how it builds and surprises is even better.
And at the end, this tiny girl looking up at the giant of a man - who stayed around, refusing to leave her side and return to his team - with her face awash with relief, a huge hug, and the clear words mouthed, "Thank you," is all you need to see to why it's hard to top what happened on April 27, 2003, before Game 4 of the NBA playoffs for sheer emotional joy. Six years ago today.
It's been a quiet week. Clarence Bunsen observes Mrs. Rasmussen hanging her laundry out to dry, Eloise Krebsbach attends her daughter's piano recital, and some of the local farmers spend a long weekend in Las Vegas.
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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