Today is the 95th birthday of Broadway lyricist Sheldon Harnick, who won a Tony Award for Fiddler on the Roof, a Tony and Pulitzer Price for Fiorello!, and such other musicals with Jerry Bock as She Loves Me, The Apple Tree, The Rothschilds, Rex (with Richard Rodgers), and even operas and much more, including musical versions of It's a Wonderful Life with Joe Raposo of Sesame Street fame, and A Christmas Carol with 5-time Oscar-winner Michel Legrand.
I've told this story before, but on his 95th birthday it bears repeating. I interviewed him years ago when I was a student at Northwestern, and he returned to campus as Homecoming Grand Marshall. I made a radio documentary from it and two decades later after trying fruitlessly I finally tracked down his address through a mutual friend to send him a copy -- and when I told my mother that I had at last found someone who knew where Harnick lived, she said, "Oh, you mean, Aunt Joan?" I was floored. I never had any idea that they grew up together and even went to college together. Though. no, she didn't have her address. When I sent him the radio documentary though and explained my further connection, he sent a handwritten note back, and the first line was, "OH, MY GOD!!! JOAN SERED!!! (which was her maiden name. And yes, this is the Aunt Joan who I wrote about here last year for her surprise 90th birthday party.) Though he and my aunt had periodically crossed paths over the many decades, I was able to get them together eight years ago when we all saw a production of his show She Loves Me at the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois. (And yes, this was the production I've written about several times that starred Jessie Mueller before she left for Broadway and won a Tony Award for starring in the musical Beautiful.) We've stayed email buddies, as well, over the years, and that makes his birthday today all the more enjoyable for me.
I can't pick "A Favorite" Harnick song, but I think this video will serve nicely. I'm not sure what year it's from, but it might be 2015 when Harnick was 91. It's at a tribute evening for Barbara Cook, who had starred in the musical Harnick and Bock wrote, She Loves Me. And it's parody lyrics he's written -- and sings to Cook -- to the tune of the title song. The words and rhymes are wonderful.
And we'll end with this highly-deserved gme. It's Sheldon Harnick accepting a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre in 2016. It's a short, but charming speech. My only question is why did they wait until 2016 when the legendary lyricist who won two Best Musical Tony Awards for Fiddler on the Roof and Fiorello! (the latter which became only the third musical to win the Pulitzer Prize), as well as She Loves Me and The Apple Tree, was 92 years old.
On Saturday at his bonfire pep rally in Wisconsin, Trump made a statement that instantly reverberated in basic, sane society. Rather than show video of the comment -- which makes it even worse as you hear him rant and sashay and play to the crowd -- to give him added the screen time around the world he craves, I'll just quote the heart of the passage. Well...no, let's call it the "core," because there's not heart here. What Trump said was --
"The baby is born. The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby, they wrap the baby beautifully. And then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby."
Many articles and news stories have pointed out the actual, proposed law in Virginia that Trump has completely lied about, explaining how it has absolutely nothing at all to do with what he said. I will not do so here. Not only OF COURSE does it have absolutely nothing at all to do with what he said and if anyone thought there was even a hint of validity to Trump's knowing-lie then they are unthinking, empty-headed, easily-fooled by your shameful prejudices and close-minded, and nothing I said would convince them otherwise -- but more so because explaining what the actual, benign law would be changes the subject and gives substance to Trump's lie by making it a subject of debate.
It is not a subject of debate any more than "Italy is not a real country" is. It was a sick, full-bore, knowing-lie meant only to inflame. And we can be assured it was a knowing lie because the proposed law doesn't actually exist so there can be no evidence ever presented to him to make such a claim. As foolish and sick as his most-resistant opponents may think Trump, for him to truly believe such a crazed claim by others would require a descent into madness so deep that not only would he be unable to string sentences together at a profoundly worse and consistent non-stop level than he's at now, but even his own cabinet would at last know that they have no option for their own safety and the 25th Amendment for mental instability must kick in immediately, and there has been no move for that. Well...yet.
Worse, it was the kind of lie fascists use to create a foundation for later fomenting violence. Angering their trusting, idolizing base into a mad frenzy against the murderers and heathens and rapists and bad hombres and Muslims and Jews and black people who live in shi*thole countries all out to ruin the white way of life.
To say that someone does something that Nazis did is not to say that they themselves are Nazis. It only says that they live by beliefs that evil hatred has used over time and overlaps with one another occasionally to create their own sick path. And blaming Jews on killing babies and "blood libel" is something that Nazi propaganda did out to stoke fear in others to be used as victims. I don't believe that Trump is a Nazi, and most definitely not a Hitler. I believe that some of Trump's supporting base are Nazis and he speaks to them in words he know they will hear in their own way as familiar and comforting, and so he builds on their hate, and enables them in their actions. I also believe that Trump is a fascist, and white supremacist, and a pathologically lying, misogynistic, racist, hate-filled con man. That I don't think he is a Nazi, nor especially a Hitler -- which implies a level of actions far-deeper and sickeningly worse -- is small comfort.
Almost more than in the past, though, venal as Trump was over the weekend, this is yet another event that is not about Trump. This is about the elected members of the Republican Party in Congress who enable him. That not a single Republican stood up on the House or Senate floor to speak of his or her distress at Trump's statements -- let alone that most of them did not -- speaks to what the Republican Party has become. (Mind you, I don't also say that "all of them" did not because I suspect in today's Republican Party there are some -- too many -- who agree with Trump's tactics.) And I note that I set a very low bar here for them to merely speak of their "distress" at this knowing-lie. What it actually requires is far more than simple distress, but total outrage. I long ago gave up expectation of that in today's GOP.
What Trump did was, yet again, disqualifying. Further, anyone who actually believed what he said disqualified their own opinion on any political subject as having thoughtful insight and being meaningful. But it is the elected officials of the Republican Party who enable it all who are the ones that the light shines the most because they know what is being said and done, and are in a position to stop it, and stop it easily, but chose to go along for the ride.
We saw what happened in the Blue Wave of the 2018 mid-terms. The ride they are taking is a deserved one into oblivion. Or hell, whichever comes along first.
It's been too long since we've had some Jiminy Glick, so to correct that, here is one of Martin Short's SCTV fellow-alum Eugene Levy as his guest -- along with another SCTV pop-in surprise later.
Jose Andres is a world-renowned chef who is aggressive in his actions and unafraid to speak his mind when he sees a wrong. He pulled his restaurant out of Trump International Hotel in protest of racist comments Trump made about Mexicans. After the Trump administration showed a lack of proper assistance to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Chef Andres organized the World Central Kitchen to prepare meals there for those in need -- and has continued the charity organization ever since.
During the first round of the NFL draft, Trump sent out a tweet congratulating the second selected player -- a young white man, Nick Basso, who had previously made insulting comments about Colin Kaepernick and kneeling for the National Anthem -- all the while ignoring the first player picked, a young black man Kyler Murray.
(By the way, perhaps no one on his staff told Trump but it's worth noting that the other day Nick Basso apologized for his comments about Kaepernick, said he was just a young kid and had done a lot of growing, adding -- "I respect what he's done. If it empowers anybody, then he's doing a good thing.")
Here is Trump's tweet and the response from Jose Andres.
After last year's event, the White House Correspondents organization kowtowed to Trump and decided not to get a comedian this year because, well, gee, comedians are so mean and it’s so divisive.
Meanwhile, Trump still didn’t show up and ordered those on his administration staff not to show up.
Instead they got historian Ron Chernow.
And Chernow was…masterful. Often as funny as a comedian. Often as scathing. And overloaded with rich substance based on historical reality.
What was interesting was reading comments about his speech on YouTube from people marveling at this guy they didn’t know – unaware that he was the person wrote the Alexander Hamilton biography that Lin-Manuel Miranda based his musical on. I haven't read that, but did read his biography of George Washington which was wonderful.
If you didn't see Chernow's speech, here it is. It's about 25 minutes and eminently watchable. Often very funny, as I said, and even self-effacing, but mostly about the historic relationship between the press and President, filled with fun and fascinating stories to support his points. He's blunt and charming, and what's interesting, as well, is seeing the people there who clearly do not like his bluntness. But he speaks with a gravitas that gives it all so much more more support.
When Prince Charles celebrated his 60th birthday, there was a big, gala concert on his behalf, We Are Most Amused. I posted some videos from it, most notably this wonderful sequence here that opens with John Cleese and ended the evening.
Well, Good Prince Charlie just had his 70th birthday last year, and there was another gala -- this one titled, We are Most Amused and Amazed. And here is one of the pieces from it with the pretty much always wonderful Rowan Atkinson.
This week, the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is broadcast from Texas, and the guest contestant is news journalist Dan Rather -- who is from Texas and still lives there, so rather than calling in like most guest contestants he's in studio with host Peter Sagal. While not a warm and open interview, it's interesting and surprisingly funny. And the 'Not My Job' quiz is a touch different from most for a reason I don't want to give away, and hilarious.
By the way, when they refer a couple of times to "Bill," they are talking about Bill Kurtis who is the show's announcer, but before that had had a long career as a TV anchor in Chicago and then went on to be a national correspondent for CBS and co-hosted the CBS Morning Show with Diane Sawyer. And then later hosted several syndicated TV shows, like American Justice -- and even was the narrator for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.and its sequel. And as I've mentioned, I found out only a few years ago that he was good friend with my dad's cousin (and my second cousin) Marion Elisberg Simon, and wrote the introduction to her autobiography. But I digress... Back to the show --
The other day I had a video of Bernadette Peters in Hello Dolly!, so I thought it was good timing to throw her hat in the ring with her entry of singing "Just One Person" with The Muppets. And as I've noted previously, though the song is widely identified these days with The Muppets, in fact it was written for another beloved children's source. The song is from the off-Broadway musical Snoopy!!!! -- which was a sequel to You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown -- with a score by Hal Hackady and Larry Grossman.
This should be an enjoyable video for most people, but especially those who have been watching the f/X mini-series, Fosse/Verdon. But surprisingly, it's particularly fun for the latter not because of the musical number, but the conversation that comes latter.
The musical part, though, is quite wonderful. This is a clip from the old daytime talk show, The Mike Douglas Show. It's Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera doing an absolutely great job performing one of my favorite songs from the Kander and Ebb musical Chicago that they starred in on Broadway (and then latter on tour in Los Angeles, where I saw them, as well as Jerry Orbach). And which was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. And then the song is followed by them doing the Hot Honey Rag. Making a appearance in between is Douglas's guest co-host for the week, Hal Linden, who fills in as the musical's emcee for the number. (Though most people know Linden for his series Barney Miller, he was an accomplished stage musical performer, and even won a Tony Award for the show, The Rothschilds, by Harnick and Bock.)
The video continues afterwards for the talk portion of the evening, and often I'll click away at that point, but this time -- given the people involved -- I decided to keep watching...and am glad I did. That's because later in the interview, Gwen Verdon talks about a disastrous flop she was in, which as she was describing it, I felt certain that it was the show her character just began rehearsals for at the end of last week's episode of the mini-series -- and it's not going well -- called Children, Children. And sure enough, as she continues the story....it is! If you want to jump to that, it starts around the 8:00 mark.
The video quality is not very good, it's quite washed out, but it's still a big treat -- whether you watch the interview or not. And for those who have been watching the mini-series, you'll not only enjoy the story but appreciate even more the terrific job Michelle Williams is doing as Gwen Verdon.
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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