This Week's Piano Puzzler
And now another "Piano Puzzler" to play along with from American Public Radio, with genial host Fred Child and wonderfully talented pianist/composer Bruce Adolph.
To those new to the game, Bruce Adolph takes a well-known piece of music, usually a popular song, and arranges it in the style of a classical composer. You have to guess the song and the classical composer.
In this episode, the song should be clear, but it's impressive how the caller is able to figure out the composer.
There are a number of musicals that never got made, or made with Hollywood casting which meant the original classic performance was lost forever, which fill musical fans with angst. At the top of the list are probably using Audrey Hepburn rather than Julie Andrews for My Fair Lady and Barbra Streisand instead of Carol Channing for Hello, Dolly!
But there's another "if only" that probably trumps those, because it's a movie that was supposed to be made, that was cast (and cast brilliantly), had a director and was set to go -- but didn't. And the story that this didn't happen is close to unknown. If you're impressionable and given to writhing on the ground, you might want to avert your eyes. I was reminded of this in a reader exchange here the other day telling Douglass Abramson the tale, and I've since found out a little more about it.
In 1969, MGM was planning to make a movie version of the wonderful musical, She Loves Me. The show is based on the classic film, The Shop Around the Corner, that starred James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan (which in turned was based on a Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo) -- all of which were the source for the more recent film, You've Got Mail.
The music and lyrics for She Loves Me are by the legendary Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, who wrote Fiddler on the Roof, The Apple Tree and the Pulitzer Prize-winning (and Tony Award-winning Best Musical) Fiorello!, among many others. It's a glorious score -- one of the best in Broadway history, for my taste. In fact, when it was released as an LP, the record company did rare: they put it out as a 2-album set. The score is that great.
It tells the story of a middle-aged, withdrawn man who deeply dislikes the pretty free-spirited new employee at the parfumerie store he manages, and she detests him in return -- neither of the two realizing that they're actually pen pals and in love with each other.
(In fact, I embedded the TV version of She Loves Me that the BBC did. If you want to see it, it's here.)
Okay, and here's the kicker. Buckle your seat belts.
The movie was going to star Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Re-teaming for the first time since Mary Poppins.
The thing is, not only is this perfect casting for audiences, seeing that pair back together again after the beloved film four years earlier -- but this isn't just "Hollywood casting," this is spot-on perfect casting for the two roles. All around, it's hard to imagine casting for any movie much better for all the various reasons.
Further, Blake Edwards was set to direct.
And the movie got dropped by the studio. Never made. Gone forever. We will now pause to let the screams of disbelief and agony escape, and for people to regain their equilibrium.
What I've subsequently found out in recent days, from checking with Sheldon Harnick, is that he'd flown to Los Angeles to meet with everyone -- yes, that's how close it was to being done, this wasn't one of those "Let's talk about it) -- and he asked Blake Edwards if he was sure it was going to be made, not something that would fall apart. Edwards was dead-on certain, most especially since Julie Andrews was attached. No way the studio wouldn't go forward. "Not a chance" was his answer.
Harnick flew back to New York, and just days later read that Kirk Kerkorian had bought MGM. He brought in James Aubrey, whose nickname was "The Smiling Cobra," to run the studio. At that point, Easy Rider was the big phenomenon, so studios began looking for the Youth Culture. (And MGM began Kerkorkian's cost-stripping, which eventually destroyed the studio.) They dropped a great many movies, and started instead making such counter-culture oriented disasters as The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart and The Strawberry Statement.
And one of those movies dropped was She Loves Me -- to star Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, directed by Blake Edwards.
It will not shock you that after 40 years, Sheldon Harnick was still heart-broken about this. I admired his restraint.
And after all that, this leads to today's remarkable find, and at least a nod towards a happy-ish ending.
It turns out that Julie Andrews recorded one of what would have been her character's song, the beautiful Dear Friend, and released it as a single. (The song comes in the scene when Amalia -- or Meg Ryan, for those of you who've only seen You've Got Mail -- has finally set up a date with her pen pal, and he hasn't shown up. "Dear Friend," you will recall, is how they address one another in their anonymous pen letters to each other.)
This is a tremendous vocal performance and an absolutely gorgeous arrangement. Interestingly, Sheldon Harnick had never heard it, and was blown away by the recording. On the one hand, this is difficult to listen to, knowing what might have been. On the other hand, it is such a great treat to have at least this -- and heard what almost was.
Here is what almost was.
Back during the 2008 presidential election, I wrote an article on the Huffington Post how about all the Democrats had to do was sit back and let the self-destructive GOP keep shooting themselves in the foot, because every week seemed to bring a new story of insane behavior. And ultimately that's what happened. And for the first time in U.S. history a black candidate was elected President of the United States.
The Republican Party doesn't always act self-destructive or insane. There are times when they've somehow been able to convince people that the party has "compassionate conservatives" or "a new Nixon" or that Democrats are socialist radicals. But too soon that passes. For instance, when "compassionate conservative" George W. Bush squeaked in with a razor thin re-election over John Kerry in 2004, one of the first things he did was let hubris wash over him and say he was now going to swagger and spend his "political capital" that he'd just won. This ignored that all that "coin" he suddenly found in his pockets wasn't there because he had won any political capital, but rather he'd had to take out a big loan and was balancing on a tightrope in hopes of being able to pay it back. And as such, he ended up destroying the economy and leaving office in disgrace with a 34% approval rating.
The problem the Republican Party tends to have is when they fall outside that safe, creamy nougat center in the middle, and land on either side of it. When they have an election win, they ignore the specifics of how close the results actually were and let that same hubris take over, thinking that The American Public has given them the proverbial "Mandate" and that it wants to follow their far-right, conservative, religious agenda. Which it doesn't. Or when they've lost elections, they panic, think the world is ending and go soul-crushing crazy and double-down on their extreme-right agenda. Ignoring that...well, they lost, and the public voted against that extreme-right agenda.
We are in such a period of self-destructive panic by the Republican Party.
And on Sunday, they reached a point of utter angst-driven insanity. I'll get to that in a moment. But first we have to step back and look at the self-destructive panic that has taken over the nerve endings of the GOP.
To start with, not just the core, but the near-total entirety of their agenda for the past year has been to block affordable health care for Americans. Now, mind you, it's certainly possible that people may not like the Affordable Health Care how it's written or how it operates. And that's not unreasonable. But whatever one thinks about, people must at least accept what it is -- whether you like it or not. Your opinion may be that it's a terrible, horrible, despicable law for giving affordable health care to Americans -- BUT -- it's still a law for giving affordable health care to Americans. Like the law or not.
So, when the GOP puts all its being into entirely, completely, relentlessly trying to defeat the ACA -- not fixing it, not tweaking it to make it better, not working out a way to provide affordable health care in a way they approve, but rather crushing and destroying it -- that's what they're making the standard-bearing soul of the party's agenda: stopping affordable health care. You can argue that that's not what they're doing, but you'd be wrong. They want to defund affordable health care, and have no alternative to offer. Ipso facto.
But then, the Republican Party has decided to ratchet this insanity up a notch. And that's to push for shutting down the government.
Now, shutting down the government is never considered a good thing by the American public. When Republicans last did it, the voters demolished the GOP in the next election. So, you'd think they'd learn by their past mistakes. But, nope. Here we are again. And even if Republicans back off at the last minute (a big "if"), the public knows what the party has done and brought the nation to the brink of. And has it in them to do again.
And then even that has gotten ratcheted up by yet another issue to an almost catastrophic level, as Republicans threaten to not raise the debt ceiling, something that risks international financial calamity. How critical is it that the debt ceiling be raised? Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of conservatism, when faced by his own party's threatening actions, himself said, "The risks, the costs, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion: the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns."
(Actually, he said a LOT more about why this must be done, and was even more blunt.)
And what's essential to understand -- something that I don't get the sense many people do in the Republican Party, or else they'd demand their election officials always immediately raise the debt ceiling -- is that all that raising the debt ceiling means is that "we, the United States, authorize paying the bill for things we have already bought." It means we will not default on what we already owe, that we will not be dead-beats. That not only "in God we trust," but that others who we owe money to can trust us. Now, and forever.
And the Republican Party is saying "no" to that. What they as a party always claim for others -- insisting on personal responsibility on balancing your budget, on doing the right thing -- they are doing the opposite. The GOP is threatening to run out of the store and not pay for what they bought. Tearing up their MasterCard bill when it arrives and laugh it off like no one will notice, and think it'll have no consequences.
It has massive consequences. There is no way it can't. What would happen if you didn't pay your bills?
And that brings up to that aforementioned point of utter insanity.
It's one thing to be so crazed to make the core of your political party about blocking affordable health for Americans, shutting down the government and destroying the international economy because you won't pay your bills. That's near-impossible to justify to the American public on almost any level. But to go beyond that and make one of your conditions that you won't do all this be (are you ready?) that you insist people not have full access to contraceptives (contraceptives!) -- for individual "moral or religious" reasons -- that turns insanity into self-destruction.
Contraceptives, for goodness sake!! Getting themselves involved with condoms. With birth control pills, IUDS,. This is the United States Congress, remember. All this relates to a "conscience clause" that Republicans added into a funding bill they passed on Sunday.
It's bad enough when Republicans in Congress, with its overall 14% approval rating, gets into conscience and morals as a reason not to shut down the government (mind you, you'd think if they had conscience and morals themselves to begin with, shutting down the government wouldn't be on the table), but to concern themselves with something as personal and private as using contraceptives for having sex is far worse, is so far worse to the point of ghastly.
And you'd think it should be ghastly to most everyone.
After all, who in the world is supposed to find this appealing??
Yes, I know that on the surface, it would seem that the extreme, radical evangelical right would be dancing on the ceiling for this. But that group is the base of the Republican Party, an institution driven by the concept small government and keeping government out of our lives. What is more gutterally intrusive than the government looking into your underpants and getting involved in matters of the condoms and IUDS you're using??! Surely any True Conservative fighting against government intrusion would be red-hot furious at this. Unless they are so full-blown twisted hypocritical that it makes it hard to speak without choking.
And the other side of the coin, liberals, they certainly abhor the thought of the government getting involved in matters of using contraceptives. And this clearly isn't something directed towards independents with their open minds.
And again -- and it's most important to remember -- the issue here isn't even about conscience, or morals, or religious belief, or that Republicans in Congress are intruding themselves in your sex life, or that the GOP is solely focusing the question of "morals" and religious belief on condoms, on contraceptives to the exclusive of all other matters of conscience and morals. All that, horrible as it is, is not the issue. The issue is that Republicans in Congress are doing all this...as a way to hold the country hostage against shutting down the government.
Seriously, is this how you want your country run? Are these the kind of people you want deciding what America should be? People who want to block affordable health care to Americans -- shut down the government -- destroy the international economy -- and stand in the privacy of your bedroom passing judgment on what contraceptives you can employ on your body before having sex, and using that as a hostage-taking threat???
I am sure there are some people saying, "Yes!" There are always people saying, "Yes!" When Ron Paul was asking during the 2012 GOP presidential debate whether we should let people die if they couldn't afford health care, some people in the audience yelled, "Yes!" So, I get it. Some people will say, "Yes! That's what I want for America!"
I just have a sense, when it comes down to their private, personal thoughts, most people don't say, "Yes!" And when I say "most people," I mean like 96%. When put in those simple, basic terms -- with all the politics and hot-button passions stripped away -- most people don't want "that" for America. It's only when voting comes around, that they sometimes forget what they really want for themselves and their children and the future, and instead vote the way they think they're supposed to. Because they think they're not supposed to give in to the other guy. Because they're not supposed to compromise. We all comprise all the time in our lives. It's how we move forward. But when it comes to politics, conservatives apparently aren't supposed to compromise. And this then is the result.
But it will be interesting to watch as the GOP continues on its road to self-destruction, and keep shooting itself in the foot with the party's giant blunderbuss -- with an emphasis on the "blunder." In 2014, if the Republican Party continues on this path (and it's difficult from this vantage point not seeing them do so. Frenzied momentum has a way of working like that), then they risk a serious likelihood of losing control of the House, and Democrats taking control again.
All because Americans -- most especially those open-minded souls in the independent middle and women, even conservative women tired of having war waged on them and having probes stuck into orifices of their bodies without approval -- look at this world of conservative angst, crazed closed-minded selfishness, and international destruction -- and say, "No! That is not what I want for America."
And anyone who disagrees -- feel free to write your Republican congressman and senator, tell them "Good job!" and then, "Keep up the good work and following that path."
Note: It leads over the cliff.
Of Cabbages and Clowns
I'm just in the mood for some good Smothers Brothers. This is from early in their career, so it's in black-and-white. Amazing, it turns out that people can still be very funny in black-and-white.
This is their number, "Boil That Cabbage Down."
Learn to Speak Dog
For a story that's about something so unfortunate, this is just one of the feel-good stories you will read.
A South Carolina family noticed that whenever their babysitter would come over to the house, their black lab dog would start barking and insert himself between their 7-month old boy and the babysitter. Deciding to take a hint from their dog, the parents left their iPhone behind to record what was going on.
What was going on was yelling and some physical abuse that got the babysitter arrested and sent to jail.
That's one fine dog. And smart parents to pay attention to it.
Here's the full story and a video from the local ABC News outlet.
For this week's Email Interview, we have that rarity -- a TV writer you may actually have heard of. This is for two reasons, one of which he's likely pleased with, and the other he could probably do without. The fellow's name is Chuck Lorre. And many people know of him for the whimsical and thoughtful "end cards" he puts after the closing credits of the shows he's created, with his ruminations on various subject. Things in very small print that zip by, but people have gotten to recording on their DVR and then pausing when they pop on. The other is the very public spat he got into with the then-star of his show Two and a Half Men, Charlie Sheen. Alas, this interview was done for the the WGA website long before his more recent -- and highly successful shows -- went on the air. But at least here you don't have to hit "pause" to read what he has to say.
Edited by Robert J. Elisberg
Chuck Lorre has had an extensive and varied writing career. He co-created and executive-produced the series Dharma & Greg; created and executive-produced Cybill, Grace Under Fire and Frannie's Turn; and was co-executive producer on Roseanne.
In addition, Lorre was the writer of Debbie Harry's French Kissin' in the U.S.A. and co-writer of the theme and score for the TV series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
[Subsequent to this interview, Chuck Lorre wrote for CSI, and was on the writing staff of Mike & Molly. He then co-created Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and the new series Mom, all of which he also serves as executive producer.]
>> Were there any movies, TV shows or books that first got you interested in writing?
CL: The passion, anger and exhilaration that informed the music of the sixties was my first major influence. I was in love with the way music could bypass a lot of the mental censors we carry around. Then everything really changed when I discovered Randy Newman around 1970 or so. This was the first time I'd heard character-driven story-telling with a sharp comedic slant brought to pop music. I was hooked and spent years trying to emulate that approach to songwriting.
>> When you write, how do you generally work?
CL: Every Dharma & Greg episode is initially written by a group of 4-6 writers. In addition to writing, I act as sort of editor/guide to the process.
After many years of banging my head against the wall, I finally admitted that for me, the first draft process never really worked. With the group approach, I have some semblance of control of the script at every point. Also, no one feels they have a first draft to defend, so things move much more quickly.
>> Do you have any specific kind of music playing or prefer silence?
CL: No music, but if you can't write amidst a healthy dollop of chaos, I don't think you can work on a sitcom.
>> Are you a good procrastinator?
I put off this interview for three months, what do you think? But when doing a show, the big, scary train of production keeps me from screwing around too much.
>> What sort of characters interest you?
CL: For me, main characters have to be extraordinary in some way, even if they're extraordinarily dull. Supporting characters must have a life outside of and prior to the story. That way they bring something to the process and are not mere story props or situation catalysts.
>> What sort of stories?
CL: The story must be about something. Jokes and comedic scenes are obviously essential, but ultimately the story must have a spine, a theme, something you can keep an eye on to determine if you've gone off the track. It could be very simple or very complex, but I find that if you can't explain the hero's journey in simple terms, you're headed for trouble. In sitcom terms, story trouble generally means you'll be faking
your way through the episode by linking jokes together -- something I find extremely hard to do.
>> How do you work through parts of a script where you hit a roadblock in the story?
CL: If the story presents obstacles which defeat our best efforts, it usually means the story is, for the time being, defective and should be abandoned. Coherent stories generally reveal themselves without a lot of heartache. The process still takes several days, but no one has an aneurysm along the way.
>> On those occasions when you do hit a roadblock, do you have any specific tricks to help, or just tough it out?
CL: One trick is to try and see the story through the eyes of the characters. How would they react? What would they do or say? What do they want? This seems to free up the thought process a bit.
But my best trick is simply to hire really smart people and hope they can fix the stuff I'm too dull to figure out.
>> When you create a series, at what point do you feel comfortable turning over your creation to others so that it can move in different directions, or do you feel it more important to stay fully involved since you know it best?
CL: With Grace Under Fire, Cybill and Dharma I've been very hands on. Some might say obsessively so. Okay, screw it, I'm a control freak and I need help. But.... I am fortunate on D & G to have an incredible staff, so the turning over process is one I'm slowly becoming more comfortable with.
It's actually quite a joy to see great work being done that I have nothing to do with.
>> What is your most memorable experience as a writer?
CL: The first episode of Roseanne I was involved with. I was standing on the stage watching a run-through, and I looked at Bob Myer (the exec) and we shared a wonderful moment of disbelief that these big stars were actually saying the words we wrote. Of course that was probably the only good
moment in two years, but it still shines brightly.
But the best would have to be the night of the taping of the Dharma & Greg pilot.
It was so stunningly clear that we had somehow put together something extraordinary. There was never any doubt in my mind, or I think anyone else's, that we had created a hit show and that Jenna and Thomas would become big stars.
>> Was there any particular writer who acted as a sort of mentor to you?
CL: That would have to be Bob Myer. He was very patient with me in my wilder days. VERY PATIENT. He also taught me to be patient with writing. To believe that good material would come if you don't quit on the process. If you have a so-so joke, keep hammering away at it until you are convinced you have gold. Don't bullshit yourself by saying the actors will make a mediocre line work. Or the audience will buy it. Also, he
showed me how good a show can be if the exec gets his ego out of the way, surrounds himself with good writers and trusts them. In my humble estimation, that was why years 3 and 4 of Roseanne were the best years of the series.
>> Why do you write?
CL: I can't hit a curve ball and Bruce Springsteen doesn't need a third guitarist.
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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