The inveterate Chris Dunn brought this to my attention. It was a wonderful thread on Twitter. A bit of background first, though, which is about baseball, but bear with me because the story really isn’t. But it helps round-out the tale, getting to know the person involved.
Yu Darvish is a Japanese pitcher who signed with the Texas Rangers in 2012. He was considered at the time perhaps the best pitcher in Japan and has largely had a very good career since coming to America and playing in the majors here, but not without some bumps along the way.
In his first season with Texas, he finished third in the American League voting for Rookie of the Year. The following year he lead all of baseball in strikeouts and finished second in American League voting for the Cy Young Award as best pitcher. He also struck out 500 batters in fewer innings than any starting pitcher in the history of baseball. So, he's very good.
He moved to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and had a mixed career. His record was good, though there were some inconsistencies, and he had a famous flameout in the 2017 World Series against the Houston Astros. It later came out that the Astros cheated by stealing signs between the pitcher and catcher -– whether that impacted Darvish’s collapse in the World Series, it’s hard to say. But it’s certainly possible.
Anyway, the following year he was signed by the Chicago Cubs. I was thrilled.
I had a fellow-Cubs fan friend, however, who was very down on Darvish after he got off to a very bad start with Chicago his first year -– not helped by coming off his World Series meltdown, and bolstered by criticism by a Dodgers fan who was friends with my friend. We'd argue because I'd defend Darvish, despite his problems. I liked Yu Darvish from the start -- though was certainly bothered when he started poorly. But I sensed it was an anomaly since his career was far better than that. And I didn't hold his Dodger post-season blow-up against him. (Hey, by those standards you should hate a lot of great players who performed badly in the World Series, like Dodger star Clayton Kershaw.)
It turned out that Darvish had been hurt his first year, and even had to stop pitching, eventually missing the last third of that season. Though he did start the season, he wasn't up to speed yet, working himself back in to shape -- and so the debates between my friend and I continued. Darvish finally got fully recovered by mid-season of his second year, and from that point on he was absolutely tremendous. But because his great "second-half" numbers got lost amid his full-season stats, it took a while for many people to realize that, particularly since his first year had been so problematic. But as the remainder of the season progressed, my friend was open-minded enough to start giving my debating points some leeway and finally accepted that Darvish had good games in him, though he still needed convincing it wasn't a fluke and would hold through the next year. By the third year, though, he became convinced and was totally on board. Darvish had a great season, leading the National League in wins and having the second-best earned run average in the league, a miserly 2.01. It reached the point that when the Cubs traded him after 2020 to the San Diego Padres, my friend was disappointed. As was I.
Which brings us to the tale. This comes from a series of tweets by Annie Heilbrunn, who is a sportswriter for the San Diego Union-Tribune. I’ve edited them together here in story form, and tweaked some of the text for normal-writing style.
And here it is --
Wanted to share a quick story about Yu Darvish. It starts with a boy named Landon, who, for his 10th birthday, was gifted a trip by his grandparents to Truist Park in Atlanta to see the Padres play the Braves. Landon is a Padres fan.
Landon and his dad made the 3.5 hour trip from Tennessee, where he lives. But the game was postponed due to rain, which would bum any kid out. However, one player stood outside to sign autographs in the rain: Yu Darvish. Landon was thrilled when he got a ball signed.
Landon's mom is not a baseball fan, but she noticed how happy Landon was (despite the rainout) and messaged Darvish on Instagram. Didn't expect him to write back, but wanted to say thanks for standing in the rain and making her son happy with a signed ball.
Darvish wrote back the next day:
But the NEXT day, Darvish followed up, asking if he could gift Landon and his family a trip to Petco Park in San Diego to see the Padres, since his trip was rained out. Darvish offered to pay the flights, hotel and tickets. Landon and his dad accepted, blown away by the generosity.
Landon came to Petco Park earlier this week, courtesy of Darvish, and saw his Padres play. He got to chat in the dugout with Darvish before the game. Yu gave him signed cleats, a glove and an autographed [Francisco] Tatis jersey. Landon said it was the best day of his life.
His family hopes to host Darvish for a homecooked meal if he ever comes through Tennessee. They are still in shock this trip even happened, and that a chance encounter led to it. Landon will likely never forget this moment. The end.
As you might imagine, there were a lot of comments to this Twitter thread, all ravingly positive. But this one stood out, because it was sort of an addendum to the story. A father wrote --
"We were there as well. Yu made my boy's dreams come true, he’s such a good dude. First game my son has been to that a player signed autographs, and to do it in the rain was awesome."
So, yeah, that's the answer to anyone who asks, "Yu who?" That's Yu Darvish
On Tuesday, I wrote that for me there are two standards for singing the song, "Old Man River" from the musical Show Boat. One was by Paul Robeson, for whom the song was written, and the other was William Warfield who sang it MGM's 1951 color movie remake. Robeson's is deeper and richer, Warfield's more textured. Both are powerful and remarkable.
Since I posted Paul Robeson's version yesterday, I figured I should follow-up with William Warfield. This is a piece I wrote about him and the song almost seven years to they day, on July 6, 2014.
Warfield and Peace
Yesterday, I noted that Paul Robeson's version of the song "Ol' Man River" was the standard by which others are judged. Having established that, I believe there is one other that I find pretty much at that level and equally definitive, and that's from William Warfield.
William Warfield was a man of great skill, and though perhaps less-known to the general public today than Paul Robeson, he did reach a level of great acclaim, thanks to having had a longer career and also living deep into the multimedia age, passing away only about 10 years ago -- still occasionally performing, and being active on the teaching staff at Northwestern University, where he became a professor in their acclaimed Music School. A position he kept until his death at the age of 80. All the while promoting the cause of and creating a scholarship fund for African-American singers.
Bear with me here, there are a couple of treats below.
Trust me on this.
Among his many accomplishments, he was an opera star and toured throughout Europe for the U.S. State Department in Porgy & Bess with Leontyne Price, who subsequently married for a while. He also made the premiere recording of Aaron Copland's "Old American Songs."
And when the musical Show Boat was remade as a film in 1951, it was Warfield who played the role of 'Joe.' He subsequently re-created the role in the 1966 revival at Lincoln Center, and on a studio recording with Barbara Cook and John Raitt. His interpretation of the song was slightly different, perhaps more textural than explosive, but with the resonance, power, sadness and hope the song demands.
The main version used in the remake was trimmed back from the original, though it's repeated throughout the film, as the story requires. This footage edits two of those sequences today.
A year before then, in 2001, the Hollywood Bowl did a semi-staged concert version of Show Boat, which starred Broadway stars Alice Ripley and Douglas Sills, as well as Susan Egan. I went to see it -- in large part because, as I noted, I love Show Boat. But mainly because it featured -- at age 81 -- William Warfield!
In fairness, Warfield didn't play the role of 'Joe,' but rather took a non-singing part as the narrator, coming on stage through to fill in the truncated book. But just seeing him there, participating in Show Boat, was a joy. And they were wise enough to include a nod to the audience, when -- after Warfield introduced the character of 'Joe' and then walked off -- when he and actor Gregg Baker cross paths with one another, they both stopped for just a moment, and looked at each other, which brought an appreciate laugh and applause for the 15,000 audience members.
But the biggest nod and emotional surprise came near the end of the show when 'Joe' has a reprise of "Ol' Man River," and not only did Baker perform The Song...but Warfield returned to the stage to join him and have some solo moments. If you thought the audience went crazy...you'd be right.
(Here's how the Los Angeles Times described it in their review, which I just tracked down. "...while, in a twist that brought a tear to many an eye, William Warfield, who sang that song so memorably in the 1951 film and served as Sunday's narrator, reprised a verse of it as old Joe at the story's end.")
When Warfield passed away the next year, I wrote a note to the Music School at Northwestern, and explained about seeing him at the Hollywood Bowl the previous summer. I got a very nice note back, explaining what a wonderful and beloved member of the department Warfield had been -- and how when they gave him a party for his 80th birthday, he put on an impromptu concert, which included a performance of "Ol' Man River," which she said bowled everyone over and there wasn't a dry eye.
Lest you think that was hyperbole, here is a rare treat. William Warfield in 2000, at age 78, at a small event performing "Ol' Man River." This comes with rarely-heard, moving lyrics from one of the song's reprises -- along with his powerful tribute to Paul Robeson.
Just so you know, the performance actually lasts a minute less than what the video says. That last minute? It's roars of cheering.
There are many wonderful performances of "Ol' Man River." But when anyone dives in, Paul Robeson and William Warfield are the standards you're matched again.
And as you see here, William Warfield he just keeps rolling along...
At this point, there's a good chance you’ve seen stories about Zaila Avant-Garde, the 14-year-old girl who the other day won this year’s Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee and wat the first African-American to do so. You may have also read about some of her other talents, like that she’s in the Guinness Book of Records three times. More about that in a moment -- and more, because I want to present her in a little more in-depth way than the coverage she's gotten. Because, as you'll see, she deservies it.
First though, let’s see her win the contest that got all the attention.
What you may have read about her Guinness world records is that they were for her skills dribbling a basketball. But while that’s certainly very impressive, it also sort of gives the suggestion of a solitary skill, another “geek” thing she can do by herself alone in her room like spelling. But the thing is, dribbling a basketball is a part of…well, actually basketball. And she’s really good in it. And by “good” I mean absolutely wonderful. Her ball control and physicality is tremendous.
And so, instead of jumping right to her dribbling, I first wanted to show a video of her playing basketball,. Though here's the thing -- as tremendous as the video is, it doesn’t do her justice. That’s because it mostly shows her dribbling and driving with the ball, not making many long, three-point shots. I did find a video of that, her shooting bombs from all over the court, but that’s all it was, her alone shooting three-pointers, and I thought a video of her playing actual basketball showed her skill far, far, far better – especially since it does includes some three-point shots about halfway through, made (not alone on court during her own relaxed time, but) during competition with opposing players guarding her after she’s been running around the court. And another reason this video doesn’t do her justice is that, as truly impressive as she is here…it's from three years ago, and she’s only 11 years old!
And trust me, you ain’t see nothing yet.
Because here it is. Here she is dribbling and juggling basketballs, what she got her three Guinness Book of World Records for. There are several videos of her doing other tricks beyond just these. This is merely just one of many. I’m not going to say anything more about the specifics you're about to see, this since it not only speaks loudly for itself, it shouts it from the rafters. And it’s not repetitious, her skills just keep getting better and better as the video progresses – and they’re jaw-dropping amazing from the first. And no, I’m not exaggerating. And no, too, there are no special effects here, this is all Zaila Avant-Garde. In real time.
And remember, as she was painstakingly teaching herself this unearthly skill, she was training to become the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee champion.
There are probably more "Oh, my God" moments here than in most tent revival meetings.
Yeah, between that and her regularly basketball, not too shabby for a Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee winner.
I thought I’d end with arguably the best video of all. Her being herself, interviewed on the Today Show. Showing why she can likely do whatever she wants to in the future. And probably will.
The other day I came across a wonderful radio interview from probably 15 years ago (maybe longer) that was with Joan Rivers and my friend Treva Silverman. (Also known to me and a few others as TLT -- The Lovely Treva.) The history between Treva and Joan goes back a long way -- not showbiz "a long way," but really long, like in this case, back to college. Treva today is a writer, and they worked together on-and-off over the years, but eventually Treva carved out her own very successful writing career. She most famously worked on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (winning to Emmy Awards for it), but also wrote for The Monkees, the wildly-admired (deservedly so) though unsuccessful He & She that starred Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss, That Girl and many others series, and wrote several TV movies. And she plays a mean honky tonk piano. (Okay, it's not honky tonk, I just like saying that, since early in her career she did get work playing the piano, and it's how I choose to characterize it...)
What stands out in the interview is how clear it is that Treva and Joan do go back that far. And it shows here. You can hear Joan let Treva take over stories about their history together – and that Treva has no hesitancies in doing so. Which may not seem like much, but Treva is generally a very quiet, deeply polite person. Though to succeed in TV comedy, you need to have a tough side.
By the way, the stories they tell are a joy.
There's one thing in the interview that I really disagreed with, and that's when Joan Rivers talks about how there aren’t that many Jewish comics – and then, joyously, Treva actually contradicts her and politely, but pointedly explains why she's wrong...with a wonderful line.
And I have one quibble with the interview. Though only one. It's that in the introduction, the hosts don’t give Treva's credits and, most especially, don’t reference The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Not just to give Treva her due, but as hosts, knowing those credit would help inform the interview for the audience. They wouldn’t just think, “Oh, she’s a ‘successful comedy writer,’ nice.” But “Oh!!! She wrote for The Mary Tyler Moore Show! I looooved that. And The Monkees. Wow. And she won two Emmy Awards.” It’s weird that they didn't do that.
But still, it's a delightful, fun, funny, and insightful conversation.
I was ready my pal Mark Evanier's website last night, and he wrote a lovely piece here about our mutual friend Mel Sherer who had just passed away. (It's well-worth checking out.) Mel was an absolutely wonderful guy with a long, deeply-admirable career in comedy writing. He also had gotten pummeled by illness 15-20 years ago, and it largely took him out of commission, but he held on for a long time. I last saw him about 10 years when I went over to his house for a visit, and it was tough, but a real pleasure. Because Mel was a real pleasure -- generous and kind. Though we hadn't seen each other since then, we did trade emails on occasion. Too rare.
Rather than go into more detail about Mel's work, instead I want to re-post an article I wrote about him back about eight years ago. Among all the other things, it goes into what was probably the most notable writing partnership he had, and reprehensibly the one he got the least-credit for -- working for years with Andy Kaufman. And just to clarify upfront, no, it wasn't Andy Kaufman responsible for the "reprehensible" part.
The point was to set the record straight. And to celebrate a great career and terrific guy. Which is quite appropriate today, well, when you get down to it.
From May 18, 2013.
There was a long, well-researched article yesterday in the Huffington Post that was sort of the opposite-Obama. The point of it wasn't that there are people who won't believe a birth certificate about where someone was born, but rather that there are people who won't believe a death certificate that says someone died. In this case, the someone is Andy Kaufman.
But this here isn't to convince the unconvincable of anything. I leave that to themselves. This is to address one minor thing in the article, where it talks about "Kaufman's longtime partner-in-crime," as the article puts it, Bob Zmuda. Every time you read an article about Andy Kaufman, it tends to quote Bob Zmuda. There are books that reference Bob Zmuda, as Andy Kaufman's partner. And all of that is true.
What isn't true is the impression all these articles and books give that Bob Zmuda was Andy Kaufman's sole writing partner. What they all leave out is Mel Sherer.
Mel Sherer is a friend (and a wonderful, generous guy, beyond the ordinary levels of generosity) who has a long career writing comedy, from sitcoms to variety to stand-up. He's been a collaborator with Kevin Nealon of Saturday Night Live for years. Look him up on the iMDB. Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Married with Children and a lot more. And the very first credit you'll see there is -- Andy's Funhouse.
There is a lot of other writing that Mel has done than what's listed in the iMDB, but he's just not taken credit for it. Because of his long, admired career in comedy, many people in the field have come to Mel for last-minute help or tweaks. You know that famous scene in Roxanne, Steve Martin's updating of Cyrano de Bergerac, when Martin's character, 'C.D. Bales,' humiliates an adversary in a bar by coming up with a couple dozen great, nose insults? Well...they needed a couple dozen great, nose insults. And finally, at the last minute, ready to shoot but not pleased with what they had, they came to Mel for help. Some of that scene is Mel. Uncredited. Mel has done a great deal of uncredited work because...that's Mel. He regularly has given away story ideas. "Here's a good one. You can have it."
And through all that, Mel was partners with Andy Kaufman. (And Bob Zmuda.) Not just writing, but occasionally performing. You may know there have been times when Kaufman appeared at the same time on stage as his obnoxious alter-ego Tony Clifton, and people couldn't figure out how that was possible. Usually that was Bob Zmuda made up as Clifton -- and so the word has spread that it was always Zmuda. But it wasn't. Occasionally it was Mel.
Bob Zmuda had a lot to do with Andy Kaufman's career. But so did Mel Sherer. It's worth noting that on the Andy Kaufman website (which appears to be fan-based), there is a review of Bob Zmuda's biography on Kaufman that praises the biography in part, but criticizes it a good deal for self-aggrandizement, and at one point states --
"Why did Mr. Zmuda conveniently forget the following individuals?
To be clear, it's not that Mel didn't get the full credit he deserves in the book. It's that he didn't get mentioned. It's bizarre and inexplicable. Mel tends to shrug things like this off all the time. He has a Buddha-like outlook on life. Or maybe he's just so used to it that he gave up being bothered long ago. I like the Buddha theory.
But at least he was discussed in Bill Zehme's biography of Kaufman, Lost in the Funhouse. And there have been things like the E! True Hollywood Story on Andy Kaufman where Mel Sherer was properly included.
By the way, just so you know, I embed these images so that it's clear this is not just a friend speaking up for another friend, but can't support it.
It can be supported. There's so much more. Mel Sherer and Andy Kaufman were writing partners for a very long time. Not Kaufman's only partner, but significant, and integral to his career. And for too long, he's put up with being much-too overlooked, and not saying a word about it. I just like the guy so much that every once in a while I like to point all this out, even if Mel is content being Buddha.
And this will not be the last time I point it out. I like saying it too much.
As a brief addendum to the above article, I want to mention that when it was originally posted, it received a terrific user comment. It's arguably one of the most meaningful I've received. Actually, no, there's nothing "arguably" about it. The person wrote -- "Thank you, Bob, more than I can say here. This is the greatest thing anyone has ever done for me outside of medicine and sex. And it's damn close to at least one of those two. Mel Sherer."
To which I replied -- "I had the easy part. You did the work."
Sorry to hear about the passing of Hal Holbrook yesterday at the good old age of 95. He long-since passed the age of Mark Twain who he portrayed in his one-man show for 62 years and 2,100 performances. In fact, Holbrook didn't retire from doing the show until the age of 91. Twain himself died at age 75.
I actually met Holbrook once, in a manner of speaking. He was doing his Mark Twain Tonight! show in Chicago, and I went to it -- and then afterwards went backstage, spoke briefly and got his autograph on the program.
The program itself was funny but, even better, explained his legendary skill playing Twain. It listed about 30 pieces that "Mr. Twain: might be performing from, but that he didn't want to be pinned down to. And so he might decide to do any of them, or something else. The point being that Holbrook knew the role so well that he could just pick-and-choose what he wanted to do at any given show. I've seen a bunch of highly well-regarded one-man shows like this -- Emlyn Williams as Charles Dickens, James Whitmore as Will Rogers -- but Holbrook as Mark Twain was the best, by a lot. With the others, you thoroughly enjoyed the show. With Holbrook, after a while you came close to forgetting you were watching a show, and instead felt you were watching Mark Twain give one of his lectures. Really. It was that great.
Holbrook began performing Mark Twain Tonight in 1955. He wrote a wonderful book in the mid-1960s -- aptly titled Mark Twain Tonight!: An Actor's Portrait. It was part-memoir, telling how he developed the show, and part a collection of Twain's works that he used in the show. One story that I remember is that he had performed on television, and afterwards got a call for an acting job from the appearance. When he showed up -- as himself, of course, a young actor in his late-30s -- the producer was aghast. He'd thought he had hired an old man.
Holbrook won a Tony Award in 1966 when he brought his Mark Twain Tonight! to Broadway -- and during the run the performance was recorded for a CBS TV special. (Holbrook brought the show to Broadway three times, the last time in 2005 at age 80.) For such an iconic role, he was able to transcend it and had a long career in TV and film, winning five Emmys and getting one Academy Award nomination for his role in Sean Penn's movie Into the Wild. He also famously played 'Deep Throat' in the Oscar-winning Best Picture, All the President's Men. One of my favorite of his shows was a little-remembered one. It was one of the "wheels" on the series The Bold Ones which alternated shows each week, Holbrook's being called The Senator about an idealistic, somewhat controversial U.S. Senator. Only eight episodes were made over two years, but they were wonderful. One of my good friends, David Rintels (who won several Emmys of his own and the Broadway play Clarence Darrow with Henry Fonda) wrote on The Senator, and he and Holbrook stayed friends.
Here's part of a very interesting reminiscence that Hal Holbrook gave for the Television Academy three years ago when he was 92. He talks about how he unexpectedly developed the Twain show (oddly with somewhat of a roundabout personal connection with Twain himself). It's only about 10 minutes and ends with the creation, before getting into the later development of the show, but it's fascinating -- in large part because he not only tells the story, but in a way acts it out, as he remembers the details. The "Ruby" he mentions at the beginning is his first wife, Ruby Johnston, with whom he was performing at the time, I believe in a two-person show.
And here is seven minutes of Hal Holbrook in easily his most famous role, that 1967 TV special recorded live during a performance of Mark Twain Tonight! on Broadway. Keep in mind as he slowly creaks around on stage that he was 42 at the time.
I was extremely sorry to read about the passing of Rebecca Luker at the age of 59 from ALS. She was one of my very favorite Broadway performers. How wonderful was she? She starred in the revivals of The Sound of Music, The Music Man and Show Boat. And starred as 'Winnifred Banks' in Mary Poppins. She had the most glorious, pure, soaring voice, and I was lucky enough to see her once near the start of her career when I drove down to San Diego to see the pre-Broadway tryout of the musical Harmony, a show I've written about here often (such as here), with music by Barry Manilow -- even though I didn't have a clue who she was at the time. Also in that production was Danny Burnstein, who later went on to star in the recent revival of Fiddler on the Roof...and all the more important, later married Luker.
The best I can offer here is a piece I wrote back on October 27, 2015 when I was posted videos from that production of The Music Man.
Here's the next video from our festival of the 2000 Broadway revival of The Music Man, which I wrote about yesterday. It also comes from that same Boston Pops concert, which I'm guessing did a tribute to the show.
This is Rebecca Luker, who starred as Marian Paroo, singing "Goodnight, My Someone.". Yesterday, I told the story about how a good friend of mine who grew up in New York and saw the original production of The Music Man repeated times and swore by Baraba Cook's original performance, said that it wasn't until seeing Ms. Luker that anyone came close. (Readers of these pages will also recall the many articles I wrote about seeing the World Premiere 1997 production of Barry Mannlow's musical Harmony in San Diego, and Luker was in that show. And not shockingly, was a gem.)
When they did a TV version of The Music Man in 2003 with Matthew Broderick, they cast Kristen Chenoweth to play Marian. It always bothered me that they didn't have Rebecca Luker re-create her part. It's not that Chenoweth was better known -- again this was back 12 years ago, and she wasn't. She'd done a few things on TV, but all in small supporting roles. She was largely a Broadway star -- but then, so too was Luker, who had three Tony nominations at that point. (More since.) And great as Kristen Chenoweth's singing is, Luker's voice is, I think, the more proper range for Marian. One odd possibility that I've wondered is that Matthew Broderick is pretty short, and Ms. Chenoweth is extremely short. Rebecca Luker might be taller, and therefore not as good a "fit." Or...maybe they just wanted Kristen Chenoweth. I like her. She was absolutely fine. But I think Rebecca Luker is better for the role. And deserved the chance to re-create it on film.
In my article yesterday, I also more accurately described her has "the ethereal Rebecca Luker."
If you don't know her work, here's why.
For that article, I added a Bonus Note, writing -- "After posting this, I came across Rebecca Luker singing this song onstage during a live performance. I thought about swapping out videos, but I figured that since Craig Bierko got his Boston Pops performance with good sound quality, Rebecca Luker deserved her, as well. But if you want to see that onstage video, as well, just click here.
But rather than make you bother going to the effort of clicking today, I'll just post it instead --
And it's only proper that we add one more video from that 2000 revival. Here is the scene leading into the song and then Rebecca Luker singing to Craig Bierko, "Til There Was You." Leading into the following dialogue into their reprise of "76 Trombones" and "Goodnight, My Someone."
And we'll end with a finale encore.
Here is Rebecca Luker and the Von Trapp children from the 1998 Broadway revival of The Sound of Music" singing "Do-Re-Mi."
Happily, videos and albums exist.
There are people who we honor when they pass for who they are as people, and those who honor for what they achieve. I suspect that Sean Connery is more the latter. His reputation towards women was not especially good, so we'll leave that as it is. But what a film career he had.
I never met Sean Connery, died yesterday at the age of 90, but did cross paths with him. I told this story hear a long while ago, but it's a proper time to bring it up again. Years back, during my very early start in the film industry, what I refer to as my Dark Days, I used to work in public relations, and began in the PR Department at Universal Studios. One evening in 1980 we had our big, All Industry screening of Coal Miner's Daughter. It wasn't a premiere officially, but a lot of celebrities were invited, in large part because the studio had high hopes for the movie (which were well-warranted and came to fruition). It was held at the Motion Picture Academy, and I was there working, and when the screening finally started, I was able to find a seat in the center section, but near the back, on the left center-aisle. At one point, as film was rolling some people near me on the farther left were talking -- and talking -- and it was quite pronounced and annoying. I wasn't quite sure what to do, not knowing protocol as a new and low-level staffer, but then the decision was taken out of my hands. About 10 rows ahead of me, a man turned around towards the noise -- and it was Sean Connery. And with as piercing a look as you could imagine, and in a hiss as blunt as you wouldn't ever want directed at you, everyone in the vicinity heard him snarl at the rude perpetrators -- "SHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!"
It will not shock you to discover that they shhhhhhhhhhhh'd. Immediately.
I posted this before, as well, but it's as good and different a tribute as I suspect there will be. Back in the days when he'd agree to appear on a game show, we have a very young Sean Connery as the Mystery Guest on What's My Line? in 1965. What I always find a treat in these is watching (and listening) to the celebrity put on a fake voice to disguise himself from the panel.
A moment of personal privilege today.
I found out yesterday that my friend Jeff Wright passed away on Monday. It wasn't from the coronavirus -- Jeff had gotten pounded by cancer 2-1/2 years ago and battled strongly against it, going through lots of procedures, having it come back, and fighting it again, but ultimately it was just too much.
I knew Jeff for 30 years. We weren't in close, regular contact -- we spoke or sent emails a couple times a year, and every once in a while we would have lunch...though it was a treasured friendship that lasted for 30 years, well-worth keeping up for three decades specifically because he was an absolutely wonderful guy. Truly nice, just gentle and selfless, decent almost to a fault. Really.
No, really -- so decent that it genuinely was almost to a fault. Sometimes you'd almost have to shake him silly to stop being so freaking decent. Really. Jeff was a very talented writer. Years back, in the very early days of his career, he co-wrote the first draft of a screenplay with another guy I know (who we'll call Ralph). Ralph had a touch more experience and credits, and told Jeff that it would be far beneficial to both their careers if he, Ralph, took sole credit on their draft so that when he and another highly-established writer did the second draft, Ralph's stock would rise more separately than as a team and allow him to bring Jeff along when they did their next script together. Jeff knew it would be important for him to get credit, but with his ethereally good, selfless nature didn't want to stand in the way of the insistence of his slightly-more experienced partner, didn't want to block the project which was moving forward when the new writer got involved, and agreed on the future benefit. (I found all this out after the fact.) The movie got made, was moderately successful, and Jeff was paid, but deeply warm-hearted Jeff never got that boost on their next "we're partners" script together, since it never occurred, But whenever I see the movie every time it shows up on TV -- and it periodically does -- I think of it as Jeff's script, as much as anyone's.
Okay, another screenwriting story on his decency almost to a fault, though fortunately with a better ending. Jeff had written a lovely children's adventure screenplay and gave co-story credit to the person who typed the script. I couldn't understand -- Jeff explained that he didn't have enough money to pay her in full what she deserved but she'd given him some feedback on the script, so he said he'd give her co-story credit. He knew full-well that giving feedback was not even remotely writing, but...he'd given his word. However, when I made clear that he'd never be able to use the script as a sample of his work with someone else's name also on it and kept pounding that in relentlessly against his insistence that he'd promised, he'd promised, "but I promised," he finally agreed to change the title page, worked things out with the typist and thank goodness took his proper full credit.
Happily, Jeff did get a co-writing credit on a fairly-high profile movie that made it to the theaters, though it didn't do well (long story about that...), the comedy BASEketball from David Zucker that starred Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park. That was back in my dark days of PR and I did the publicity on the film -- the screenplay was a lot of fun, unfortunately the filmmakers just mucked it up trying to make a sweet PG movie into something R-rated, which they acknowledged later.
Aside from being so nice and decent, Jeff also loved baseball. So, he gets a double-bonus on being an absolutely wonderful guy. As I said, we didn't get together often or talk often, but it added up to a lot over 30 years, and every time we did I just felt better afterwards. I'm just better for knowing Jeff.
The last time I saw Jeff was last year when we met for dinner at a restaurant in the Silverlake district that made Chicago-style deep dish pizza. It also gave me the chance to finally meet his wife Laurie. They'd married a few years back, but schedules never worked out. Boy, did he marry well. Just an absolutely lovely woman who Jeff adored, and who was a total, impressive, loving Rock of Gibraltar during his last very difficult couple of years. It wasn't the proper ending, but -- sorry, I've got to use the pun because it fits too well -- it was the Wright life.
I'd met Jeff when I was hired to be the publicist on the Naked Gun films, and Jeff was working with the Zucker Bros. company. And since they tended to put people around them in small roles of their films, Jeff was in a bunch of them. In fact, because he'd started out as an aspiring actor before becoming a writer, he actually got lines!
And so, here he is in Naked Gun 2-1/2: The Smell of Fear. Jeff plays a stock boy who comes in around the 30-second mark.
However, the walk-on role that Jeff got the most attention for came in the original The Naked Gun film -- because it involved the famous, hugely-popular sequence when Leslie Nielsen pretends to be opera singer Enrico Pallazzo and destroys singing the National Anthem. Jeff played the Dodger Stadium usher who has to go get Signor Pallazo and bring him to the field. That's Jeff coming down the hallway at the 2-minute mark.
So, happily, Jeff Wright will live on in film. But of course SO far, far, far more he will live on for his profound decency, warmth and glowing kindness in all those people who so-dearly admired and appreciated him.
I was very sorry to read that Carl Reiner passed away last night. And very glad that he lived to the age of 98. And a fairly active 98, as well, with a book published last year and regular tweets on social media.
I won't recap his enire career, since that's much too long and has been well-documented in all the articles about him today. (I was going to post a nice photo of him, but when I came across this above, I didn't see how I could not use it, even if it only hints at him creating The Dick Van Dyke Show and doesn't even touch on his illustrious film career, writing Enter Laughing based on his semi-autobiographical novel and The Comic that reteamed with him Dick Van Dyke, directing Oh, God; The Jerk and All of Me, and acting, in among other things the Ocean's 11 films and starring in The Russians are Coming...The Russians are Coming -- something whose irony from his very public hatred of Trump must have struck him.) But I'm very glad that I had recently finished watching a boxed-DVD set of the best of Sid Caesar, whose series Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour brought Carl Reiner to fame as a performer, as well as a a writer.
I got to see Reiner live on stage from about 25 years ago when the Writers Guild held an event of "Caeser's Writers" -- which remains one of the funniest evenings I've had in the theater. Just a panel discussion, but what a panel. In addition to Carl Reiner, there was Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon Larry Gelbart and lesser-names but equal talents. Not present, but I believe he attended a similar New York event, was Woody Allen. That's quite a staff. And quite an event. While there was a moderator, Reiner's stature -- even among that group -- allowed him to act as a sort of train conductor to coral the other writers, though lion tamer might have been more apt. especially for Mel Brooks with whom Reiner had a long professional association with the "2,000 Year-Old Man" and an even longer friendship.
(That's Reiner's daughter Annie in between him and Brooks. The photo was taken two days ago.)
I was going to say that I didn't have any stories from crossing paths with Carl Reiner ...but then I remembered that I did, although we didn't talk.
In late-2005, during "awards season," I went to a small Academy screening of Hustle & Flow, the film that won a Best Song Oscar for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."). It was held in a screening room that could seat about 70 people. Only a handful of us were there early, when I noticed by the door that Carl Reiner had showed up to check in. What stood out was that the young guard checking in guests had no idea who Carl Reiner was and had to ask his name and slowly go through the list of names. Through the slow process Reiner was incredibly polite, with no whiff at all of "How dare you!" petulance for not being recognized and having to wait. However, the few of us in the screening room saw all this and burst into laughter. When Reiner finally get OK'd for being on the list and walked in, those few of us gave him our "thumbs up" for getting approved, and he just graciously and sort of sheepishly shrugged. Mainly, I admired that Carl Reiner -- then 84 -- went to Hustle & Flow .
I did get to meet with his son. I only mention that because the two were very close, and I sense that Rob Reiner got his core and compass very strongly from his parents. It was when Reiner and his partner were looking to hire a story editor. I eventually got called in to meet with him, and we spent an hour talking. He came across as extremely personable, a highly-focused and smart, fun guy who was a terrific storyteller. Which, again -- from all I know about them, and to bring the story back full circle -- I have always sensed he got from his mother and father.
(Quickly, to finish the tale, in the end the partners felt their two-man operation was too small -- their Castle Rock company was still a few years away -- and so they didn't hire anybody.)
There's so much video to choose from to show for Carl Reiner, but I don't think you can go with anything first other than him with Mel Brooks as the "2,000 Year-Old Man." So, here they are in 1966 on the Hollywood Palace, hosted by Phil Silvers.
And as a bonus, because this is Carl Reiner, after all, so why limit ourselves to just one video, here he is as the host on the classic parody from Your Show of Shows of the TV program This is Your Life.
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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