On this week’s episode of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is author and actress Justine Bateman who talks about making her screenwriting and directing feature debut with her new film Violet, which opened this past Friday. The movie explores the difference between a person’s private thoughts and public face.
On a personal note, I’m very pleased to know about his for an odd reason. Back in 2007, when I was writing two or three articles a week for my column on the Huffington Post, I devoted one of them to the Writers Guild strike. In the midst of all that, the Writers Guild magazine Written By was publishes articles as well from other voices on the strike, and a few of them were written by Justine Bateman. (I’m near-certain they were in Written By, but can’t swear to it under oath.) And they were excellent – smart, serious and insightful. I believe that I wrote to the editor of the magazine, who I knew pretty well, and asked him to pass along how impressed I was by her writing. She ended up writing back, and our brief exchange was terrific – she’d been reading my own articles, and was looking forward so much to one day getting into the Writers Guild, and so she was pleased to have some validation from a Guild member. While I understand her reaction, the reality was that her writing was really smart and terrific, period. She said she was going back to college at UCLA to get some further education to expand her work opportunities. That was the extent of our communication, but she ended up graduating with a degree in computer science and digital management. She kept writing, though, completing a couple of books and also making short films. That she’s gotten to this point both writing and directing a feature film – and getting into the Writers Guild – is just wonderful to know, and I hope it only builds from there.
The Problem with Jon Stewart keeps finding its feet each new show – which Apple TV+ posts every other week. Some of that is figuring out what works, though I think some is picking the right topics. In any event, this week’s new show was particularly good. It’s listed as “The Economy,” though really dealt with income inequality.
The opening section, which is basically like an extended version of his old opening on The Daily Show remains my favorite and was particularly good this week. Here’s a small segment of it –
But Stewart also did a wonderful interview with Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellin. It stood out on its own as a smart, interesting conversation – but even after all his years doing this it’s impossible to be impressed with the quality given the reality that Jon Stewart is, at heart, a comedian.
The show also has comic sketches that serve as their version of “commercial breaks” to break up each segment. This one wasn’t all that different from similar sketches that comedy shows have been doing the past few weeks, but it was very elaborate, well-done and fun.
Because it's probably R-rated, I can't embed it, but it's available on YouTube by clicking here.
And finally, there is a companion podcast to go with each new episode. It’s totally different from The Mothership, but has the same theme and often includes some of the same panelists (though not always). In this case, I don’t believe any of the guests were on the TV version. But for those interested, here 'tis --
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guest is Rep. Adam Schiff who talks about (as Al puts it) “The Curious Case of Donald Trump and His Goons.” And goes on to explain that the two talk about “Ripping yarns of collusion, mendacity, and treason” from Chairman Schiff’s new bestseller of non-fiction: Midnight in Washington.
I’m the member of a small social club, along with the inveterate Chris Dunn who is the only other member. It’s the Frank’s Place Appreciation Society. Mind you, I’m sure there are others who highly-appreciate the 1987 series, but they probably have their own groups. The reason there are so few aficionados, though, is because not only was the series on for only one season, but it’s never been released on DVD or streaming, or rerun. So, if you didn’t watch it 34 years ago, you’re out of luck. As for our small fellowship, Chris the president, recording secretary and first member elected into our Hall of Fame. (And for years had a copy of all episodes -- and for all I know he still does. I'll have to ask at our next meeting.) He also is our regular guest speaker. In fairness, most of his speeches are, “Man, wasn’t that series great.” But then, not much more needs to be said. I sit in the back and shout, “Yes, sir!!”
By the way, lest you think our judgement might be skewed in our love of this show, in 2013 TV Guide ranked 60 shows that were “Cancelled Too Soon” – and Frank’s Place was ranked #3. Also, Rolling Stone put together their own list of the best sitcoms of all time, and Frank’s Place was #99. Now, that might not seem terribly high, but you have to remember a) there have probably been thousands of sitcoms, and b) it was only on for one year. Not bad.
Frank’s Place was created by Hugh Wilson, who has a long list of credits, including creating WKRP in Cincinnati, but had his biggest success with the Police Academy series movies – something he joked about in another of his short-lived TV series, The Famous Teddy Z about a Hollywood agent. (As best I can remember it, basically the snarky agent played by the always-edgy Alex Rocco – ‘Mo Green’ in The Godfather – is complaining about one of his clients who only writes really smart, classy material that he can’t sell at all which annoys him to no end, but then adds that the reason he keeps the guy as a client is “Because one day he might surprise you and write something really great like Police Academy.”)
The show starred Tim Reid (who worked with Wilson on WKRP) playing a Boston professor who inherits his father’s restaurant in New Orleans, and against his better judgement keeps it. The supporting cast didn’t have any big names in it, though they were tremendous, and featured Daphne Maxwell Reid (his real-life wife) as a woman he desperately wants to date, and the great Virginia Capers as sort of the matriarch of them all.
On the lower end was Don Yasso, who plays the only white person working at the restaurant. Wilson met him on an airplane and was so taken by his New Orleans personality, he hired him for a small role, despite the fact that he’d never acted before and had an accent so thick that the first few shows hilariously used subtitles for him. (To my shock, I saw his name on a rerun of Murder She Wrote, and checked hid listing on the iMDB – it turns out he decided to stick with acting and has 61 credits, including a recurring role on both My Two Dads and the soap opera Days of Our Lives. I say “has” because he’s still acting – as a recurring character on the current show Queen Sugar on the OWN Network.)
What made Frank’s Place stand out was that it was smart, charming, low-key, deeply affectionate, had jokes that came from the situation and character more than one-liners, didn’t use a laugh track, and – most notably – blended drama with its comedy, and was often very serious. And also, any show whose theme song is Louis Armstrong singing, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” is going to be high on my list.
(One of my all-time favorite jokes in a TV show was an episode of Frank’s Place where a film crew takes over the restaurant. A shlubby guy keeps trying to get in, but the security guards keep stopping him. At the very end, after getting turned away one more time, Frank – I think it was Frank – asks him who he is. “I’m the writer,” he says.)
So, Frank’s Place doesn’t exist on DVD or streaming, for some reason. Maybe some day. Happily, two episodes have been posted. And this is one of them. It’s not necessarily one of the best (though since only 22 were made, it’s in the top 22…) – but it’s an enjoyable one that gives a fairly good sense of the show. Even if you don’t know the characters and relationships, they should be reasonably clear.
The quality is a little faded, but I’m just grateful it exists. The other episode online has a subplot that has to do with a Yom Kippur seder (not your typical sitcom fare), so I’m going to hold posting that one until the holiday next comes around.
This is a charming story out of Texas by way of Philadelphia to Rome.
During the winter freeze this past February in Texas when the power grid failed, 91-year-old Ezell Holley had to move out of his home temporarily. His granddaughter Alex, who cohosts the TV show, Good Day Philadelphia, get him an available room (they were hard to come by, as you can imagine) that the family jokingly called the Waldorf Astoria. She and her grandfather posted a series of sweet video about him taking his stay at the Waldorf all in stride.
And the story came to the attention of a real Waldorf Astoria, the Rome Cavalieri. And they invited him and a guest to be their guest. Conditions improved enough that few weeks ago, Ezell and his granddaughter finally went – as did the whole family, paying the additional way themselves. When they arrived, they all got another surprise – the hotel put them up in the penthouse.
Alex Holley documented it all, and this is the story they showed on Good Day Philadelphia. (My favorite moment may be with the desk clerk when they check out. I don’t want to say why.)
By the way, I'm going to take a bit of a digression here for a moment. But as I was reading the story, I oddly and surprisingly had an extremely tiny but personal connection with the story, all because of one word. When I read that the hotel was the Rome Cavalieri, I flashed back to a hotel with a similar name that my family stayed in on my very first trip to Europe when I was a young kid. It was called the Cavalieri Hilton. (“Cavalieri” is Italian for…well, cavalier, or knight.) But then a thought hit me – wait, was this not just a similar name but, in fact, the very same hotel?? Did Hilton buy the Waldorf Astoria properties and then upgrade this to that luxury level?? I dove in and did some searching. And…and...
…and, yes!! I found one website that refers to the now-Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria as “The former Rome Hilton” and another that says, “Inaugurated in 1963 by Conrad N. Hilton himself, the opening of the Rome Cavalieri coincided with a period of unprecedented economic development and the heyday of the so-called 'Dolce Vita.'” Our trip was 1966, in its very earliest days, just three years after it opening. The hotel was very nice, but…NO, not at the Waldorf Astoria level of "very nice" it is now, and most definitely nothing like the utterly spectacular penthouse.
Further, I actually still have the stylish ashtray that I, er…took from the room, which I thought (even as a kidling) that it looked very nice. And not only do I still have it, but still use in on my desk, about 18 inches from me as I type this. So, it wasn’t merely a souvenir that a little kid took and soon threw away, or something buried in boxes. It’s done its duty for a very long time. I’ve taken out all the paraphernalia usually sitting in it so that you can see the Conrad Hilton “CH” logo.
And as a bonus, this is a photo I took of my older brother John. The hotel (as the news report notes) overlooks the Vatican, which historically has long been protected by the Swiss Guard. So, John put on a little hat and took one of the long pillows from the sofa and did his bit to join the Swiss Guard and help defend the place from high.
Anyway, back to Ezell Holley and Family being treated like royalty and having the time of their – and most notably, his – lives.
I probably should have titled this "Incredibly Well-Worth Reading," but since we have our regular title for such things, we'll stick with tradition. But first, a little housekeeping to know where all this comes from --
Delthia Ricks is an award-winning science writer who was the health and science writer for Newsday for 22 years. She’s written four books in the field, was a Summer Fellow in molecular biology computer research at the Farber Cancer Institute, and is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Among many other accomplishments.
Laurie Garrett is one of the leading reporters on medical science. To give just some of her credentials, she has received the Pulitzer Prize, two Polk Awards and the Peabody Award. (Yeah, I know, not bad.) Among her books are The Coming Plague, Ebola, and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Public Health, as well as Epidemic! The World of Infectious Disease. So, she not only really knows her stuff, but as you can see, she doesn’t sugar coat anything, but is very blunt and extremely pointed. She was a frequent guest on The Rachel Maddow Show in the very early days of the COVID-19 outbreak and spoke warningly of what was ahead.
I mention both their credentials, because it was notable a couple days ago when I saw tweets from them (especially the always deeply-blunt Laurie Garrett) that were actually about something encouraging in the pandemic. I didn’t want to make note of this as just Something I Saw on the Internet. Rather, this is something I saw from Laurie Garrett and Delthia Ricks.
It began with a tweet from Ricks about an article from the National Institute of Health on research into COVID antibodies. She wrote --
“The map: Researchers have mapped where various antibodies bind to SARSCoV2's spike protein. Results could help in the design of new antibody therapies for Covid. Map includes 370 antibodies that target the spike protein.”
This brought a response from Laurie Garrett, never one to be upbeat encouraging unless it is absolutely warranted. Her reply was –
“There are many targets on #SARSCoV2 for antibodies -- some more effectively neutralize the virus than others. Future, better #vaccines and treatments should hit multiple targets, perhaps stopping variants from emerging.”
The point of all this is that research is beginning to show some very positive advances in COVID vaccines. The COVID virus has many protein spikes, each which are “targets” for antibodies. And it seems that some antibodies are able to neutralize these spikes especially well which, if successful, could mean the ability to block variant mutations of the coronavirus from forming.
That’s my very simplistic layman’s sort-hand explanation. For those interested in the NIH article which will be actually detailed and fully correct, you can find it here.
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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