The other day, when posting here the medley of Jim Henson's favorite songs, which were sung by Muppet performers at Henson's memorial, I mentioned two songs included that were based on poems by A.A. Milne. Both of them were put to music by Harold Fraser-Simson, and originally recorded on an album sung by Frank Luther. I mentioned that it had a long life as a very successful children’s album, and we had an old copy in our house.
I remember the album (and even these two songs, "Cottleston Pie" and "Halfway Down") with huge affection. For that matter, while I no longer have the album, I still do have well-read copies of both When We Were Very Young (from which "Halfway Down" comes) and also Milne’s other poetry collection, Now We are Six, as well as the two Pooh books, of which "Cottleston Pie" is in the original. But though I no longer have the record, happily many of the selections from it have been posted online.
The album is Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin: Children Stories and Songs, performed by Frank Luther back in 1948. It's possible that my parents got it several years later for my older brother when he was old enough to appreciate such things, and so was still in the house when I came around later, though my sense is it may have been bought new in a subsequent re-release. In any regard, here is a medley of several songs from it, the first two of which I remember with great fondness.
Eight years ago to the day, June 18, 2014, I posted this article about one of the greatest (though little-known) sports miracles, which concerned the World Cup. And me. I reposted it four years later, to the day, as the World Cup was then-starting, after having watched England's exciting opening match against Tunisia (that was tied 1-1 through regulation and then England scored during the four minutes of Extra Time to win the game).
The original article told the story of perhaps the greatest sports miracle that I ever witnessed -- and concerned not only the World Cup, but England. I thought it only appropriate to once again re-tell the story.
One of the Greatest Sports Miracles Ever
Now that the World Cup has started, and the United States has come up with a miracle victory, I thought this would be a good time to tell the story of not only one of the greatest, unknown World Cup miracles, but one of the all-time great sports miracles, period.
It's how my family and I got to see the World Cup in London, 1966,
And I'm serious.
Okay, no, it's not the upstart United States hockey team beating the Soviet steamrollers. Or the unknown Roulon Gardner defeating the unbeaten, invincible legend Alexander Karelin. It's not Kirk Gibson hitting a home run on one leg, or Doug Flutie's Hail Mary. But those are more remarkable physical achievements by talented athletic. This was an act of otherworldly intervention.
When I was but a wee kidling, my family took a summer trip to Europe. One of our stops was London, where as fate would have it, the British were hosting the World Cup that year. As maniacal as we know the rest of the world is over soccer, England might be the home of soccer insanity. In a land known for tradition, soccer riots are de rigeur there. If you're not rioting, you're not trying.
Nonetheless, my dad thought it would fun to see a World Cup match. (Note: The concept of it being "fun" to see a World Cup match is not relatable for most soccer fans, most especially those who are the aforementioned British. "Fun" is a nice get together for tea, or taking your dog for walkies. Being able to see a World Cup match in England is closer to being life-affirming.) And so, uncaring of the obstacles, my dad found out how to apply to the world lottery being held to get tickets He sent in his form and enclosed his check, and then went on with his life. Meanwhile, throughout England there was national prayer held nightly in homes throughout the country, if only the Almighty would grant them a ticket.
We got four tickets.
But that's not the story, it's not even close to the miracle. It's just the heavens warming up. Because, you see, we just get four tickets to the World Cup, we got them for...the Opening Match! Which would be filled with grand celebration and royalty. But thing is -- that's not the story, either. Because, again you see, featured in the Opening Match of World Cup 1968 was a team that it was likely British fans -- so knowledgeable of all the great teams in the world -- would dearly would love to see.
That team was England.
Yes, that's right. By just randomly sending in to the worldwide lottery, we got four tickets to the Opening Match of the World Cup between England and Uruguay, held in London at Wembley Stadium. And here's the thing: no, that's not the sports miracle, either.
I should note that we were very happy to get the tickets. Not "mad-crazy-happy, my life has been made whole" like anyone in England would have been to get those four tickets, but certainly happy. But happy as in, boy, this will be fun. I mean, to be honest, one has to put this in perspective. Wembley Stadium is huge, after all. It seats 90.000 people, which is 80,000 more than the town, Glencoe, we lived in. So, the chances of seeing the match very well were small. And not being mad-crazy soccer fanatics, not being able to see the game very well in the nosebleed section would certainly lessen the majesty of the moment. But still, that didn't matter all that much, since I was pretty young and didn't know the rules of soccer all that well. (I can't speak for the rest of my family, though I suspect I knew more than my mother. You kick the ball and hope it goes in the net.) But just being there in the massive crowd, somewhere, anywhere, amid all the excitement, that would be cool. Just to be able to say we were there. Wherever "there" was.
Where "there" was turned out to be -- okay, are you ready: mid-field, center line, halfway up, directly across the field from where the Queen of England was sitting in the Royal Box.
Okay, that's the sports miracle.
Let me repeat. With the entire world of sports fanatics converging on London, England, for the World Cup, we got four tickets to the Opening Match in which the host country England was playing, seated at midfield halfway up Wembley Stadium across from the Queen of England.
And to be clear, this isn't the fuzzy memory of a little kid recalling things far better than they actually were. Exaggerating for posterity. No, I have photographic evidence.
I took pictures.
(Sorry for the guy's head. I wasn't great at composition at that age.)
Look directly across the field. Do you see that "box" just below the horizontal white line, marking the upper level? That's where the Royal Family is sitting. Directly opposite us. If you look closely, I believe that Queen Elizabeth is waving at you.
I told you I wasn't lying.
It was pretty remarkable. As I said to my dad just a couple days ago, reminding of the story, if he had decided to sell these tickets it would have paid for the entire trip. "And," he added, "your college education. And your brother's."
The crowd, the ceremony, the excitement, the game, it was great. Memorable to one's bones. Absolutely wonderful, historic. There was only one disappointing thing about the match. Ever since I knew we had the tickets, one of the things I was looking forward to seeing was England score a goal amid that maniacal crowd going soul-bursting wild for the home team. (Even at that age, I grasped the concept of such drama.) And the final score of the game between England and Uruguay was...0-0.
Zippo. Or as the soccer folks like to say, "Nil." Or more accurately, nil to nil.
(More action photos from the collection of photo-journalist Robert J. Elisberg. Notice the compositional improvement after many minutes of experience represented here by the lack of heads getting at least completely in the way. Hey, when you're a little kid, people are bigger than you are.)
So, no bursting of massive cheers by the heart-loyal English crowd at the site of the goal for their beloved home team. No cheers over a goal from anyone. On the good side, at least we weren't there to see England lose. In fact, just so you know, the zero goals were not the result of a mediocre team. Indeed, host England went on to win the world championship. They just didn't choose to get any goals that particular day.
Hey, that's the way some miracles go. Sometimes, the fates decide to put the miracle in perspective. After all, you shouldn't take the good and miracle for granted.
But a dozen years before Al Michaels asked the question of sports fans at the Lake Placid Olympics, I had already been able to answer the sports question. Yes, I do believe in miracles.
When I next get together with the Queen, I'm sure we'll swap tales of that day. No doubt it wasn't as much a sports miracle for her -- I'm sure she had an in, or went to a scalper -- but it was nonetheless quite a day of national pomp and circumstance, so I'm sure she had to have written about it in her journal. For all I know, she's got snapshots of me in return.
When talking with my dad about this the other day, he noted one other thing. "How did I get those seats??"
It was a miracle, dad. The greatest sports miracle ever. At least to some people.
There were a few shows that I hoped did well in the Tony Awards last night, but only one that I actually cared about, and that was The Lehman Trilogy. I just dearly love the play on several levels. And it went five-for-five! Best Play, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design.
(Okay, for sticklers, to be accurate it went five-for-seven, because it actually got seven nominations - since all three actors, the entire cast, were nominated for Best Actor. Though, of course, it could only win one of those.)
I've seen The Lehman Trilogy twice, which is saying a lot because it's about 3-1/2 hours long. The first time was when it streamed a live production from London as part of the National Theatre Live series, with the original cast. It was spectacular - a look at the history of the Lehman Brothers who came to America as immigrants not speaking English, and following the family over the intervening 200 years through to the growth of the Lehman Brothers investment firm today and its ultimate collapse. It's a visceral production with three actors as essentially the entire cast - playing about 150 roles, men, women, children, adults and aged grandparents. Yes, really. (Again, to be accurate, in one scene at the very end there a half-dozen actors in non-speaking roles in the background, portraying the modern Lehman Brothers firm.) Most notable for me was Simon Russell Beale, who was one of my dad's three favorite British actors from my folks regular trips to London. (Seven years ago, I posted this video with him and others singing Stephen Sondheim's "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" at the London Proms. It's a lot of fun and worth pausing here to check or -- or come back when you're done.)
In fairness to his brilliant performance, which won him the Tony for Best Actor tonight, all three actors in the show have equal parts, which he acknowledged in his acceptance speech. In fact, when the play premiered in London, the three actors were all nominated as Best Actor - as they were here at the Tonys - but with one huge difference: because it was near-impossible to separate their intertwining performances, the three were nominated together as one "person."
In fact, I raved about it here, three years ago, for those interested in more detail about the play.
The second time I saw The Lehman Trilogy was just a few months ago when the original cast brought the play to Los Angeles. (Well, two of the three - Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley, who those who watch the streaming series The Great on Hulu about Catherine the Great will recognize as the Archbishop.) I dearly, dearly wanted to see it live and most-especially with Simon Russell Beale, but it was during COVID. And I hadn't yet cross the threshold where I was ready to go to the theater. But I kept checking the seating chart for the Ahmanson, and found a seat in the last row of the mezzanine where there was no one around me for five rows. So, I felt comfortable enough with that. And it was the first - and still only - theater production I've seen since the pandemic. That's how much I love the play and wanted to see it.
And I'm serious about the five rows. Here's the seating chart when I bought my tickets a few days before the performance. All the darkened dots are unsold seats. My seat is the purple dot in the last row at the bottom.
I obviously didn't have a great view of the stage, though they had a video screen and I brought binocular, so I divided my time between "live," binoculars and video. But above all, seeing it live with that cast (and, of course, Simon Russell Beale) was tremendous. And seeing the physicality of the almost-always turning set and actors moving props around to change settings added to it. And there was also a physical dimension and depth to the production (including with almost-impressionist video as a moving background) that didn't come across in the streaming version, which was deeply impressive.
I also had a sort of personally-memorable moment that overlaps the play. About three years ago, the Writers Guild screened the movie 1917, directed by Sam Mendes - who had also directed The Lehman Trilogy - and since he cowrote the film's screenplay, he was going to be present afterwards with his cowriters for a Q&A. I very much wanted to see the movie (which was great), but I was also considering getting called on during the Q&A to mention The Lehman Trilogy, having nothing of course to do with the movie, but it was that great. And given that I feel awkward asking questions at Q&As, it was even more of a leap. But I wanted to do so in part because it was indeed great, but also because the production was not well-known in the U.S. at that point, so I thought he'd like to know of an American awareness and admiration of it. As the post-screening questions about the movie went on, combined with my awkwardness, I ultimately felt it was not the venue to say anything there. But…hmmm, maybe I could go down to the stage after to say something. However, he and his reps immediately left through the side door. And so, I made a quick and weird decision. I raced out the theater, turned the corner and ran to the side door where were the waiting limos. The group was just exiting, but much as I wanted to say something, even more I didn't want to intrude. So…what to do??? I quickly had an idea. As they headed to the limo, I slowly and calmly timed my walk, so that as I passed the car as Mendes was getting in…all I said was, "I loved The Lehman Trilogy." And kept walking. That's it. I only paused to look back to see if he might have heard. And he not only did - he got out of the limo and walked to me. With a big smile on his face. So, I walked back. And said that, yes, I loved tonight's movie, but I most-especially loved The Lehman Trilogy and had seen it on National Theatre Live. He expressed his appreciation, we nodded, and he left. The thing is - as much as I went through that because I wanted to express my admiration for the work, even more I truly thought that because of what the production is (which anyone who's seen it can understand) he - and indeed anyone who worked on it - would be glad to hear appreciation of the monumental work. And it turned out, I was right about that. So, I'm glad that I made that silly effort.
And I'm glad that the play won five Tony Awards out of five, including Best Play, Best Director and Best Actor for Simon Russell Beale.
No trailer will do it justice, but it will give some sense of the tone and staging. That's Simon Russell Beale who starts the narration.
And as a bonus, here's one minute of a scene --
I am sure the House Select Committee has their opening already well-planned. And it's likely been planned for quite a while.
Nonetheless, I hope that at the beginning, they play video of Mitch McConnell saying Trump can be held accountable in court. And play video of Kevin McCarthy saying Trump bears responsibility. And play audio of McCarthy saying he’s going to Trump to tell him to resign. And play video of Ted Cruz calling the rioters “terrorists.” And let the committee chair make clear that “That is the starting point, where Republican leaders and Democrats alike saw the problem clearly. And so it was the duty of this Select Committee of Democrats and Republicans to dig further and find out how this all happened.”
Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised that they actually have planned to do something like this -- whether at the beginning or some point. I almost feel how could they not?!
Last year, I reposted an article here about my abiding love for the movie Joe versus the Volcano, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, who is best know for his play and movie, Doubt. I'd originally written the article in 2008 for the Huffington Post.
I note that life seems to be divided into people who dearly love Joe versus the Volcano, and those who hate it. My long-held theory is that most people who hate the film tend to do so because they miss the point that it is not intended to be seen as realistic, but is actually a fairy tale, which Shanley makes blatantly clear at the very beginning of the movie and the very end. (NOTE: I am not saying people don't have a perfectly good right to hate the film. Of course they do. Just that most people generally hate it because they don't get that it's a fairy tale. If they do understand that and still hate the movie, fine. But most people who do grasp that it's a fairy tale seem to love it profoundly.)
I mention this because an article was brought to my attention written two years ago on the RogertEbert.com website by critic Collin Souter. He explains why he not only loves Joe versus the Volcano, but that it's his favorite movie of all time. And does not expect that opinion to change.
You can read the article here.
We take a moment of a Point of Personal Privilege today. But I think it's more than worthwhile on its own merits.
I've mentioned here having a cousin, Andy Elisburg (that branch of the family changed the spelling for a reason too long to go into) who is the General Manager and Senior Vice President of the Miami Heat basketball team in the NBA. Well, a week ago, on May 13, he was given an honorary doctorate from St. Thomas University, and I thought his commencement address was very well-done. Interesting, thoughtful, good stories, some nice quips and an extremely proper length. So, granting myself cousin's rights, here it is.
The introduction by the school president David Armstrong is sort of rushed, I think, although the background material is good and worth hearing. Andy's speech starts around the 3:30 mark, and only runs about 7-1/2 minutes.
By the way, Andy got the tall genes in the family. That is an especially good thing when you end up making a career in professional basketball.
A few things stood out for me. I liked the line about “how that day not only changed my life, but the person I became. That is what an education can do for you.” It looked at education from an uncommon perspective, that it doesn’t just make you smarter and learn things…but changes who you are. We so often hear, “Why do I have to learn arithmetic or history, I’ll never use it,” and this – in one simple phrase – explains that education is about much more than that. What you learn and the process itself affect who you are and who you will become.
But my favorite part was about how there is a catch, because there’s always a catch. “Doing something you Love is not a substitute for…” [fill in the blank]. It always bugs me when I hear “Follow your bliss” without the second part of the concept. Yes, absolutely, do something you love…but understand that you must still work at that.
By the way, his advice at starting at the bottom for little pay (which I thoroughly agree with – among other things, as you go up the ladder, you learn how to do all the grunt things that most of those at the top never had to know, and it makes you more valuable) is somewhat similar to advice Mark Twain gave –
It wasn’t a joke quip, but a serious response he wrote in a letter to someone. The short version was to offer your services for free where you wanted to work. Work very hard, become invaluable. And do that for a limited period of time, at which point you tell your employer you’re ready to move on. Because you’ve done such a good job, other businesses will have come in contact with you and want you to work for them – and your company will not want to lose you. And you’ll get good offers of pay to do what you love doing. Obviously, Twain wrote this at a very different time from today, but the basic concept holds: work at what you want to do, and don’t worry about the starting pay. If you work hard and do a great job, it will be recognized and rewarded.
Anyway, again, very good speech. And a wonderful honor.
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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