And to Pat Fitzgerald who just won the Dodd Coach of the Year Award for college football.
So, really -- huzzah.
Huzzah to the beloved Northwestern for winning the Citrus Bowl 35-19 over Auburn. And the 400th coaching win by defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz who is retiring after 51 years in college football.
And to Pat Fitzgerald who just won the Dodd Coach of the Year Award for college football.
I always especially appreciate bowl game wins -- let alone just bowl game appearances -- because my dad had season tickets to Northwestern football for 51 years, and for almost all of those years they not only didn't play in a bowl game, but lost most of the games they played. This includes a 34-game losing streak, still the longest in NCAA Division 1 history.
So, really -- huzzah.
This is an awkward piece to write. Not in a bad, problematic way. More an eye-rolling, deep sigh, teeth-gnashing and pissed off kind of thing.
It's a bit long, but I think the background is helpful, and it's what's in the news, after all, but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that if you stick around it will all be worth it. Really.
I suspect most people by now have seen the story about the idiotic op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the author taking Dr. Jill Biden to task for daring to use her PhD credentials in her name, when the "kiddo" isn't a medical doctor and didn't deliver a baby. (And no, having children doesn't count.)
It was a truly awful, belittling article on so many levels, not the least of which is the starting point that I'm sure the author, Joseph Epstein, has had not problem over the years referring to Dr. Henry Kissinger or Dr. Martin Luther King among many others, none of whom ever delivered a baby in either way. And if for some imaginable reason he did have a problem, never wrote a public article about it. Nor did the Wall Street Journal ever publish such an article, by anyone.
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal should not be let off the hook here. After all, if Mr. Epstein had just written his screed and sent it privately to a fellow-misogynist, no one would be the wiser or care at his self-contained rantings. It took such a major national newspaper to bring the thing such national attention. And to make matters worse, they doubled-down on creating a problem for themselves when the op-ed page editor Paul Gigot wrote a defense of publishing the piece, noting (among other things) that as a public figure, Dr. Biden "can't be off-limits."
And, well...yes, that's very correct, Dr. Jill Biden should not be off-limits. If she does something wrong, she (like everyone in life) should be held accountable.
The thing is, and this is the very important point, which happily should be incredibly easy to understand -- earning a PhD and using the "Dr." title that you earned through difficult, long academic scholarship is NOT doing something wrong.
The article was truly awful. And the defense was tone deaf.
Tone deaf, too, was some criticism of Dr. Biden that she should have a tougher skin to put up with articles like this one. In fact, she only put only one response, and it was very polite, gracious and didn't even reference the author or the article. It just made a point about young women and girls. And indeed that's why the outrage at Joseph Epstein's article was so justified. Not because it hurt Dr. Biden's feelings -- I'd be shocked if it did -- but because it sent such a horrible, public message to young women and girls (and all women, for that matter) that your scholarship doesn't matter.
(There was one amusing side note to Mr. Epstein's article. It's when he referenced how he'd taught at a college for decades and never used a "Dr." in his title. But it turns out that that's because he never earned a doctorate! That makes it really quite difficult to legitimately claim one. He has a Bachelor's degree. Hey, I have a Master's degree, so even I outrank him! In fairness, Joseph Epstein does have an honorary doctorate -- but well...y'know. That doesn't carry you too far with college administrations trying to decide on tenure. Or getting you a better table at most Wendy's. And while it would be at the very least interesting to know where his honorary degree is from, alas he doesn't even name it. He does at least mention that the president of the University who awarded it to him was later fired. For the record, the school is Adelphi University.)
By the way, it should be noted that this isn't the first time that Joseph Epstein has come under great criticism for misogyny. He did as editor for 22 years of The American Scholar, official magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa society. His views and articles were seen as critical of feminist scholars (yes, there's a shock to discover), and rarely gave voice to opposing views. This included given a platform without opposition to such far-right voices as Dinesh D'Souza, who later pled guilty to a felony and subsequently got a pardon from Trump. Even as eminent a writer as Joyce Carol Oates co-wrote an editorial calling for Epstein's firing. He was, finally, fired in 1997, with a former president of Phi Beta Kappa commenting, "He has been driving people crazy for years. What has changed is that more and more senators were elected who are uncomfortable with the totally one-sided views in the journal.".
Okay, here is where we get to the awkward part. And no, all that above was not "awkward," just reprehensible. Very different concepts.
As readers of these pages know well, I went to Northwestern University, my dad taught at the medical school there -- and had season tickets to the school's football team for 51 years,, my brother went to medical school there, and about half-dozen relatives went there. (Okay, I can guess most people can guess where this is heading. But you don't, exactly.) I love Northwestern University.
And yes, the school where Joseph Epstein taught for 28 years was...Northwestern University.
It is indeed galling. That he was a visiting lecturer there for all those years and not a professor is no salve. It is still galling to know. Especially that he taught there for 28 years.
And here's the odd thing -- that's not even the most awkward part.
It's that -- while I can't swear to it, though I'm sure I could find out for certain -- but I am pretty sure that I had him as a teacher in one of my classes! Yes, really.
I didn't put his name together with my time at Northwestern. It's a fairly common name, I was there long ago, and remember the names of very few of my teachers there. But last night, Brian Williams had a story on MSNBC about the whole controversy, and they showed an old photo of him. And even though it was so long ago, and it was just one class, the picture flashed by and the name "Joseph Epstein" kept getting repeated -- and suddenly I went, "Oh, my God, I think I had him as a teacher!" The professor was thin and had short hair name, like the person in photo, it was an English literature class (and that's what this Joseph Epstein taught) and I'm near certain that the teacher was named "Epstein" and as I focus on it, "Joseph" rings a bell. And I even think he was a lecturer, not a professor. I can't swear to it. But if I absolutely had to bet, and afterwards we'd track it down in old transcripts, I would bet that, yes, I had Joseph Epstein as my teacher for an English literature class.
The class stands out because, though my college studies were in the humanities and not science, and my career work has been in writing, I think it was my only pure literature course. Though I can't swear to that either. But the other reason the class stands out is because of an amusing aside that took place one day. For whatever reason, the name of author Arthur C. Clarke came up, and his story of 2001: A Space Odyssey -- and the subsequent movie phenomenon. And the teacher (this Joseph Epstein, I presume) asked the class to raise their hands if they'd either read the book or seen the movie, and all the hands around me shot up. Then, he asked who had neither read the book or seen the movie -- and my hand was the only one to raise.
For what it's worth, my hand would still go up if asked the question...
By the way, there is one positive in all this.
After the MSNBC story and my ruminating thoughts, I went online to do some research about "Joseph Epstein" and his time at Northwestern. A Google search turned up a page for him on the Northwestern University website, so I clicked on it. But unfortunately it turned up a "Page Not Found" result. I did other searching and found other information. But today, I checking out information for this article, I discovered something new -- Northwestern University, to their great credit, has actually scrubbed Joseph Epstein's emeritus page from its website!
There is a happy ending to this after all.
I mentioned earlier that for this year's Holiday Music Fest I had a few TV specials from the past. This is the first -- not a standalone special per se, but the Christmas special for the weekly Julie Andrews hour, and they went all out to make it stand out. This is from December 20, 1972, and the cast includes Jimmy Stewart, Joel Grey, Mama Cass Elliot, Carl Reiner, Steve Lawrence, Sergio Franchi, Dan Dailey, Alice Ghostley and Rich Little.
(Side note: For those who don't know his name, Dan Dailey had a successful movie career in the 1940s and 1950s, including many musicals, and even got an Oscar nomination as Best Actor for When My Baby Smiles at Me. I saw him on stage at the Blackstone Theater in Chicago as 'Oscar' in a 1966 production of The Odd Couple, which also starred Richard Benjamin as 'Felix,' who so often played nervous, neurotic characters and was memorably picture-perfect for the role. And years later I got to tell him that when I met him and his wife Paula Prentis at a Northwestern alumni party which was held before the football team played in the Rose Bowl in 1995. And yes, he was stunned. And pleased.)
(But I digress.
The special is very well done. Carl Reiner even has a solo song, and does a nice job on "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Jimmy Stewart is the main guest, and travels around with Julie Andrews – and just when you think that that's pretty much all he'll get to do, later in the show he actually gets a solo number with "Away in the Manger" -- then sings a bit on two duets, including one with Julie Andrews, which in the singing world is the definition of courageous.
What's also fun is that Alice Ghostley sings one of the little-known Christmas songs I've posted here the past few years from the TV musical The Stingiest Man in Town. For that matter, they also perform yet another little-known song I post here -- in fact, that I posted just the other day, “A Christmas Carol” from the movie Scrooge. And are a couple of fun short sketches between Jimmy Stewart and Rich Little. The spepcial also includes the original commercials which adds some whimsy.
(Note: for some reason, this may open at the 1:48 mark, but I think I've finally gotten it to begin at the start. If not, though, you can just click on the scroll bar at the bottom of the video to get it all the way back to the beginning.)
No, the other one.
This is a huge treat for classical music lovers. But I also think that for those who aren't, at the very least the first 20 minutes or so of this video may well still be fascinating. It's a video that the Chicago Symphony posted on their new CSOtv website of Sir Georg Solti conducting the orchestra in 1989 playing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I believe this may have aired originally on PBS Great Performances. I don’t know if this video will only be up during the holiday weekend or longer. I suspect the latter, but no guarantees
What's important to add – this isn’t just Solti conducting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. They call it “Revisited,” and the video begins with over 20 minutes of Solti talking about how and why he chose to interpret the performance this new way, which is much more “violent” than usual, but which -- after years of studying it -- he believes is close to what Beethoven wanted, and that is intercut with extensive clips of him rehearsing the orchestra to get what he wants. Only after that do they have the full piece. The whole thing is wonderful but it's that first 20 minutes that's riveting. So, you really get an idea what a conductor does, better than almost anything I’ve seen – and you also see why Solti and the CSO were considered so great together.
For those who only want to see and hear the symphony itself, you can jump to the 22:30 mark. Any who just want to see the documentary part, it runs...well, 22-and-a-half minutes. But you probably figured that out.
Because it's only on the CSOtv website, I can't embed it on these pages, but you can watch it here.
By the way, speaking of Solti and his deep connection to the Chicago Symphony brings up a fond memory. Back in 1997, I was home visiting Chicago and remember going to a CSO concert with my mother to what was supposed to have been Solti's 1,000th concert with the orchestra – but he’d passed away a few weeks earlier (having done 999 concerts). They still went ahead with the scheduled festivities, but it was more a memorial than gala celebration.
After the concert, they still had the planned reception for invited guests. We found this out as we were leaving and passed by a large, glass-enclosed conference room, and my mother asked the security guard at the door what it was for. Now, for this tale to have any meaning, you must understand that my mother was 74 at the time, tiny (about 5’-2” 90 pounds), had had polio and was deeply Midwestern polite, she never swore, always went by decorum, tried to be nice to everyone, if you or she or anyone did something rude, even accidentally, it really bothered her, and she was a full-believer in apologies – the point being that she was profoundly sweet, on the frail side, and very lowkey -- but when she found out about the reception she insisted to me on getting inside. When I explained that it just didn't seem possible, she stood her ground. (My joke about her -- and I even said it to her -- was she was someone who wouldn't take "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no" for an answer. And the reason she was so insistent on getting inside was because, as she said -- I want to see Lady Solti.” So...we actually sneaked it. Somehow. My recollection was that the security wasn’t very tight, to say the least, but thankfully not because it made her SO happy that she did get to see Lady Solti.
I never would have imagined that she’d have wanted to sneak into anything. But she did. So, that’s what convinced me that it must me done.
So, today we're turning these pages over to material about Thanksgiving. And we'll start with how one should -- Stan Freberg and his classic album Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America: The Early Years.
This is actually two sketches in one -- "Pilgrim's Progress," with the song "Take an Indian to Lunch" and Freberg's version of how "The Thanksgiving Story" actually came about.
When the 1984 Chicago Bears went 15-1 and won the Super Bowl, it was in large part thanks to its stifling defense, famously known as the "46 Defense" after safety Doug Plank.
Here's to a good 46 Defense, whenever it comes. In 1984 or 2020.
This is a huge deal for theater-lovers.
Starting tonight and running through this Sunday, October 25, the Goodman Theatre of Chicago is going to stream its 1999 Tony-winning production of “Death of a Salesman” with Brian Dennehy.
The production won four Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor in a Play (Dennehy), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Elizabeth Franz), and Best Direction of a Play (Robert Falls, the artistic director of the Goodman.).
It begins streaming at 7 PM CDT tonight and will end at midnight CDT on Sunday. This is being done as a benefit for the Actors Fund
You can stream it here on the Goodman Theatre's website. Or if for some reasons that's not working, over on Playbill.com.
For some reason, Dennehy loved performing in Chicago, which he did a lot. Periodically at the Goodman, often at Steppenwolf. Apparently, he was pushing to do a production of this play in the city for years. It did so well there and was so acclaimed that they took it to Broadway.
Here are a couple of minutes from the production with Dennehy and Franz. It gives a good sense why he received the Best Actor award. It's a low-key scene, but done with such realism and heart.
And as a bonus, this is the Tony Awards when Dennehy won. It's quite nice, and often very funny.
I've been planning to write a piece for a while about Mary Schmich, who is one of my favorite columnists and writes for Chicago Tribune. (She wrote the famous "Wear sunscreen" graduation tips most people think was by Kurt Vonnegut.) She has a very good piece today about the new "Chicago 7" Netflix movie by Aaron Sorkin and a juror who is part of local history. I'll get to the planned column later -- there's no rush on it these days, when other news pushes it back... -- but you can find her latest column here.
You may not care much about football or sports. So be it. But bear with me (no pun intended). This is about football, yes, but it's mostly about the foundation of the man underneath it all.
I was very saddened to read today about the passing of Chicago Bears Hall of Fame halfback Gale Sayers, at the age of 77. Because of a leg injury, he only played seven years, but oh those years. Man was he great. The cliche "poetry in motion" was invented for him, fluidly gliding through the line, stopping, changing directions and making cuts you didn't think were humanly possible. When he was a rookie, he tied the NFL record by scoring six touchdowns in one game. He led the league in touchdowns that rookie year, with 22. He was that special.
By the way, the first knee injury didn't end his career -- he rehabbed, actually came back...and then led the league in rushing the next year! As I said, he was that great. But another injury to his knee is what ended it. When he was elected to the Hall of Fame, he was the youngest man in the history of the league.
And as amazing a runner as we was, by all accounts I've read over the years, he was a better person. Many people may know of all this because of the most acclaimed TV movies of all time was made about him and his relationship with fellow halfback Brian Piccolo, the first black and white roommates in NFL history, though that was only just a small part of the film, notable as it was.
His time with the Bears was odd. In what has to have been the greatest draft in NFL history, the Chicago Bears had two first-round selections in 1965 -- and they picked Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus, not only another Hall of Famer but considered by many the greatest linebacker in the league, but if not, at least of the five best. The college award for best linebacker of the year is called the Butkus Award, that's how great he was. What made it all odd, though, was that the team was absolutely awful -- yet with Sayers on offense and Butkus on defense, even as a little kid I knew enough not to miss a game or a down whether the Bears had the ball or not. They were both too special to watch.
I remember another player on that team, too -- Brian Piccolo. If you've never seen the TV movie (the 1971 original with a young James Caan and a young Billy Dee Williams, since they tried remaking it a few years ago), it's highly-worth checking out, just a wonderful film, and it gives a good sense of who Sayers and Piccolo were. Here's just a hint of that.
But all that aside, I have a special affection to Gale Sayers for a particular reason.
Through the first 50 years of the Chicago Bears existence, they played in Wrigley Field, after the Cubs season was over. Though I'm a big Bears fan, have seen countless Bears games over the years on TV, and been to years and years of college games at the beloved Northwestern (where my dad had season tickets for 49 years) and UCLA, I've only been to one Chicago Bears game in person in my life. But that one game, which was played at Wrigley Field, was not just the only time I saw the Bears play live, but it was my first professional football game ever, -- and boy, it was a doozy. It was the game when Gale Sayers as a rookie scored six touchdowns to tie the National Football League record, which still stands. December 12, 1965.
The day was pouring rain and the field was muddy, but while most everyone else was sliding all over the place, Sayers was seemingly unfazed, running free through the San Francisco 49ers defense, or what positioned itself as a defense. The Bears won 61-20. What isn't generally remembered is that although Sayers scored six touchdown, the team actually took him out of the game after three quarters when he had five touchdowns. Perhaps it was because they were so far ahead, perhaps it was because of the muddy field they didn't want to risk injury. Probably both. In fact, they only put him in the fourth quarter, for just one single play. A punt return. And he ran it back for a touchdown! His sixth, which tied the record. Through the mud, with the opposing San Francisco 49ers slipping all over the place. (Also notable about that rainy day is that it was also the game where the 49ers kicker, Tommy Davis, who at that point had the longest streak of kick extra points...missed. Which is why, you'll note, that they ended up with just 20 points, not 21.
This is an affectionate video of Gale Sayers sitting down with a sports reporter and going through film of his six touchdowns. Sayers was always a modest man (the title of his "as told to" autobiography is I Am Third), though an honest one. And in this video you'll hear him repeatedly say, "They couldn't touch me. They couldn't touch me." That isn't bragging. As you watch this video, what you'll see is that...they couldn't touch him.
For what it's worth, our seats were in the upper deck, sort of in the area of the end zone to the right, though we were a little further away, to the left. Yes, it was up high, but we had a great view of the field and everything that took place that glorious, albeit dreary day.
I was going to end things there, on real life -- but I decided to go back to reel life, and the movie Brian's Song. In 1969, Gale Sayers were given the George S. Halas Courage Award (named, as it happens, for Sayers' coach). He won the award for coming back from his devastating knee injury -- a rehab he credited to being made possible by his roommate Brian Piccolo. But though Sayers got the Courage Award, what those in the room didn't really know was the serious condition his dear friend was in, and he gave a famously moving speech, which was memorialized in the film. But though it got edited a bit for the movie, this was basically what Sayers said in his acceptance --
And I decided to go back to the movie because I found an excerpt of the actual speech. And as you can see, it really was Sayers.
"...He has the heart of a giant and that rare form of courage that allows him to kid himself and his opponent --cancer. He has the mental attitude that makes me proud to have a friend who spells out the word 'courage' twenty-four hours a day, every day of his life. You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. It is mine tonight, it is Brian Piccolo's tomorrow... I love Brian Piccolo, and I'd like all of you to love him too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him."
That's Gale Sayers. And that's only just a part of while he'll be missed. And remembered.
A couple of days ago, I got an email from my cousin Diana Leviton Gondek who lives back in Naperville, a western suburb of Chicago. I've mentioned here several times that Diana is an accomplished artist, most notably for the three fiberglass "horses" she made to honor fallen police that were displayed around the city, including outside Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's office, as well as being commissioned to do the artiwork for the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, which got its start in Chicago. My own mentions aside, my favorite piece about Diana was when eShe magazine published in New Delhi, India, did a story which referred to Diana as "Famed America artist," which I told her likely came as a surprise to the estate of Jackson Pollock. However, it did allow me to make up business cards to refer to myself as "Cousin of Famed America Artist."
The point being that it didn't come as a surprise when she offhandedly noted that "The local paper did a nice little article about me and a show I was just in."
“The local paper did a nice little article about me…”
When I read that, my first reaction was, ‘Oh, how nice, the Napervile Gazette wrote a little feature on her." Even closer than eShe magazine. Then I clicked on the link and it was the freaking Chicago Tribune!!
Okay, yes, fairness, it is the “local paper.” But still. That’s carrying modesty much too far…
The article is extremely good, centered on a pandemic-focused art show in Chicago called "In the Same Boat - Or Are We?" But it singles out Diana and her work, in particular a mixed-media work of oil, colored pencil, acrylic and photography, called "Beach."
Yes, I'm utterly biased, but being as objective as I can be, it's wonderful And just because I'm biased doesn't mean I'm wrong. And given that it's mixed-media, I can only imagine the added layers of texture when one sees the work in person.
(I hope you appreciate that I used one of the few "painting" words I actually know, "texture," and hopefully did so properly.)
Okay, "Naperville artist" doesn't have the same panache as "Famed American Artist," but then the Chicago Tribune is merely the "local paper," after all, so I can understand their civic pride emphasizing one of their native daughters.
(Why the reporter's credit says "Naperville Sun," I'm not sure. Perhaps the Chicago Tribune has a complementary relationship with the paper, or for all I know they may even own it, and that's who the writer works for. But this was most definitely published in the Chicago Tribune.)
If you'd like to read the full article -- in the Chicago Tribune -- you can find it here. Lots more good material in it, about the interesting-sounding show, as well as the featured artist. Plus, when you're done, you can click over to the Sports section and read about the Cubs. But Diana comes first.
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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