A couple of days ago, for reasons I can't remember why, I was talking about the TV show Green Acres with a friend. The show ran from 1965-1970, has the general reputation in memory as being one of the corny, hick shows for kids that CBS was running at the time, like The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Mayberry RFD and Hee Haw, all of which got famously "purged: by the network around 1970, to change focus.
In reality, if you check out the show in reruns -- and happily, it's actually stuck around in reruns after 50 years, unlike most of the others -- you'll see that this was a sly, almost-subversive program for adults that was often very intelligent and wildly clever, filled with sophisticated humor...just wrapped in cornball hokum for those who weren't paying close attention. It's not just me who recognizes this, of course -- "Amiable madness" is the way a recent article and appreciation on the very good AV Club website described the program. Green Acres was created by Jay Sommers who in many knowing-circles has been credited for the show's bizarre creativity. It starred Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor, and featured a cast that was dry as sand in their lunacy.
To show what I meant to my friend, I went online to track down some clips. I'll show a bunch more of the gems upcoming, perhaps tomorrow, but for now this is an absolutely great 10-minute montage of totally clever ways that Green Acres broke "the fourth wall" with nothing more than just the opening credits.
Because the montage deals with the opening credits, I thought it was best first to post the main theme song, so that people unfamiliar with the show have a perspective on it all. (The lyrics have been added over, so you can sing along...)
And now, here is what the show regularly did with the opening credits that came after -- not every week, since they mixed things up enough to keep audiences on their toes. But every once in a while they'd throw these in to make sure you were all in on the joke.
By the way, it isn't just that they did something like this so often, or that they were generally very funny, but that they were able to come up with SO MANY clever ways to make these jokes.
On this week's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the main story was about the Equal Rights Amendment -- which is past its deadline, but only one state away from reaching the status where it could possibly be ratified. I didn't find the story as strong as some of their best, but that's a high standard, and it was very good -- and funny, nonetheless.
On the heels of my posting the West Point video of the theme to The Longest Day, the movie was shown on Turner Classic Movies on June 6. I watched it again, and enjoyed it again. And among the many memorable scenes, I noted the one where Sal Mineo's character parachutes into France as the invasion begins -- and almost immediately gets shot when he mistakenly misidentifies a safety response.
I envisioned this conversation months earlier back in Hollywood --
INT. AGENT’S OFFICE – DAY
Slouched in a chair, Sal Mineo is reading the screenplay his agent has given him, with his part highlighted so he can jump to those scenes. Suddenly, he bolts upright.
Oh, man!! I get shot three minutes into the invasion??!!!
I asked the producers if maybe the German could miss,
But they said no.
But it’s called “The Longest DAY.” Not “The Shortest
Still, it’s a very dramatic moment. People will remember it.
Remember it?? It’s the bloody D-Day invasion. They’re not
going to remember one guy who died after three minutes.
What if it takes me the rest of the movie to bleed out? I’m
really good at writhing.
I asked. They said they have storylines that sort of deal with
that with Red Buttons and Richard Burton. Sorry.
So I’m out of the movie after just three minutes into the invasion?!
Look at the bright side. The invasion doesn’t start for
two hours into the film.
Do you have Janet Leigh’s phone number? I want to find out how
she dealt with this sort of thing after being told she was going to star
in a Hitchcock movie. And then read the script.
On last night's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the main story was on medical devices, and it was wonderful -- pointed, in-depth and yet very funny.
One point of interest -- I think. Somewhat early in the piece they show a clip from a very old informational Public Service film by the FDA explaining that not all medical devices should be considered safe and why one should be careful. While it helps make the point Oliver and his team were driving at, I'm sure it got lots of chuckles for its stylistic presentation of the age -- except that if my observation is correct, it's much more interesting than that because I'm pretty-near certain that the spokesperson was none other than Raymond Massey, one of the most acclaimed actors of his era.
I suspect that most readers of these pages know Raymond Massey, though plenty don't. He was most-famous for his stage role in the play Abe Lincoln in Illinois by Robert Sherwood, a performance he recreated for the movies and for which he got an Oscar nomination. He also played the comic role originated on stage by Boris Karloff in the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. And starred as James Dean's self-righteous, religious father in the film East of Eden. What I also suspect is that they didn't identify him because -- just a guess -- they didn't know it was Raymond Massey...)
But back to John Oliver and his look at medical devices --
Randy Rainbow has a new song parody that was released today. I don't find the lyrics as much at the level of some of his best -- for the record, it's based on the song "Breathin'" from Ariana Grande -- but mostly I like the production.
A new production of Fiddler on the Roof is playing in New York City, right on the heels of a revival only a couple years ago. But this one is different -- the off-Broadway production is performed entirely in Yiddish, by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Also drawing attention is that it's directed by Tony and Oscar-winning actor Joel Grey. (Though he doesn't speak Yiddish, which I suspect was a challenge, his father Mickey Katz was a big star of the Yiddish theater, which may have had something -- if not a huge deal -- to do with him wanting to take on the challenge.)
The show has been a big hit, and watching clips of it I can see why. The production includes English supertitles (and also Russian ones!), not unlike an opera. And it appears rich and vibrant, and very moving. And by this point, I would think most people have a pretty good idea what the story is of Fiddler on the Roof anyway, even with out the supertitles.
The video here is well-done, and the show looks wonderful and vibrant. And stick around after, because I have a fun bonus video below -- which actually is what I saw first that prompted this.
And now the bonus. As I said, this is what came to my attention first, and as I was preparing to post it, I thought I should check out the show itself. Which brought about the video above. And now we come to that initial video below --
There's an annual fundraising event in New York City that the Broadway community puts on, called the Easter Bonnet." And every year they also given an award for the Best Presentation by a theater company. This year, the award went to this off-Broadway company of Fiddlier on the Roof" in Yiddish. They wondered what it would be like if other Broadway shows were done in Yiddish, too. And there's a guest appearance at the end by Joel Grey, who joins in -- despite not speaking Yiddish.
On this week's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the main story was death. And somehow, Oliver was able to make it funny. And, of course, infuriating. The focus, though, wasn't on those who pass away, but the people who look into why -- coroners and medical examiners. And it's all quite interesting, too.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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