This is a really great article in the New York Times about composer John Kander who wrote Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, the scores to the movies All That Jazz and New York, New York, and so much more. And clearly such a deserving subject, at age 96, still working on Broadway.
It will not shock you that my favorite line had nothing to do with the theater, but was the description by the reporter about Kander still -- "...making the bed, tight as a drum, as he was taught at Camp Nebagamon when he was 10."
For the record, I started at Nebagamon at age 11 (though my friend, Los Angeles Times journalist Patrick Goldstein, who was in my cabin, was a mere kid of 10). And, yes, we did have to make our cots each day, because every cabin was graded by the Day "Push" (a lumberjack term, since the camp was in Wisconsin's North Woods, on the grounds of the original Weyerhaeuser lumber mills) on how clean it was.
What the article doesn't note is that two other people at camp with John Kander at the time were brothers William Goldman and Jim Goldman. They all stayed lifelong friends, were roommates in New York, and even collaborated on a musical together, A Family Affair. Later, Kander went off to his legendary career, William Goldman went off to write Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Mean, and James Goldman went off to write the play A Lion in Winter and the musical, Follies, with Stephen Sondheim.
My one quibble with the article is when the reporter says that Kander doesn't like the song "New York, New York." I've never heard him say that. All that I've heard him say is the same thing he says in the article. That he "doesn't get it." But not getting why something is SO popular is not even remotely the same as "not liking it."
Anyway, how great that he's been getting all this attention -- finally -- at age 96. You can read the terrific article here even if you don't subscribe to the Times, because I've embedded it with a gift subscription link.
It will come as no shock to people that I love the Chicago Cubs. And I particularly love the radio team, headed by Pat Hughes. In fact, when I watch Cubs games with my MLB.TV subscription, I use their "overlay" feature that syncs up the radio broadcast to the TV picture, rather than the TV play-by-play. It's not that I have anything against the TV team, they're pretty good. But I love listening to Pat Hughes, teamed up with analyst Ron Coomer. Pat Hughes is just warm and knowledgeable and funny and observant and wonderfully entertaining, just a really terrific broadcaster. And as I noted here a few months back, he was just elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, receiving their Ford C. Frick Award. And the induction ceremony was over the weekend.
By the way, Pat is wonderful partnered with Ron Coomer, but when he was previously teamed with another Ron, former Cub great Ron Santo (who was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame), the two were special -- in fact "unique" might be a better word. As an announcer, Ron Santo bordered on the good side of incompetent but was SO human (he once apologized for being late after an inning break because "I was in the bathroom" and another time brought the family's cleaning woman to the booth), SO funny (intentionally and otherwise), had such an other-worldly phenomenal rapport with Pat Hughes (who clearly protected his broadcasting limitations...) and loved the Cubs SO much that when the two did a broadcast, people in Chicago didn't say they were going to listen to the Cubs game, but rather "The Pat and Ron Show" (something Pat Hughes referenced in his induction speech). In fact, the station's email address for the radio broadcast was "@patandronshow.com".)
Anyway, I can't let the day go without embedding Pat Hughes' acceptance speech. It's only 15 minutes, tells some good stories and some funny ones, and much of it is spent praising other people, rather than talking about his career -- which is just so Pat. If this isn't something everyone here wants to listen to, I understand. But hopefully you'll give it a couple of minutes, just to hear how warm and personable he is.
And today we have Jane Horrocks starring as...Jane Horrocks.
After those rough, gutsy performances from Cabaret, it occurred to me that we need a bit of a palate-cleanser, so here is Jane Horrocks being herself, so you have a better idea of who exactly it is we've been featuring here the past three days. This is from nine years ago in a TV interview segment called “Five minutes with…” Low-key, a bit self-effacing and open.
We'll return tomorrow with the first of the final two videos with Jane Horrocks to close out our Fest, both of which I think are a lot of fun. And both highlights in her career.
Back in 2013, I posted a video of a tremendous performance of the title song by a British actress, Jane Horrocks, who starred in a now-famous 1993 revival on the West End of Cabaret. It was a completely re-imagined production that presented the show in a more bleak setting, befitting the material’s history and subject matter. Famously, too, from that production, Alan Cumming starred as the sleazy MC, later coming with the show when it crossed to Broadway, where a variety of actresses stepped to each briefly play 'Sally Bowles." Worth noting, as well, is that the production was directed by acclaimed director Sam Mendes.
But the most famous of performances came from Jane Horrocks with a remarkably gutsy interpretation. For years, her rendition of the title song was the only video of her in the show that I could find. But over the weekend, I came across two more. So, I thought it best to bring back first her version of “Cabaret,” since it’s been a decade.
And since Jane Horrocks is a pretty special performer, I've tracked a few other videos of her that show how special. So, consider this a mini-Jane Horrocks Fest, of sorts.
As I wrote back then, the name of Jane Horrocks might not be familiar to most people, but she herself might be, at least a bit. She's best known for playing the loopy assistant, 'Bubble,' in the British TV series, Absolutely Fabulous. However, she also starred in the fascinating 1998 film, Little Voice, which she created initially on stage. (She plays a painfully shy woman who comes alive when she sings magnificently in the voices of other famous singers she learned from old records, like Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Billie Holiday and others. Horrocks did all her own, extraordinary, spot-on singing -- in fact, the show was originally created for her by her boyfriend.) The movie is well-worth checking out, with terrific performances also by Michael Caine, Ewan McGregor, Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent.
But back to Jane Horrocks in Cabaret.
One thing to keep in mind is that, unlike Liza Minnelli’s dynamic, Oscar-winning performance, 'Sally Bowles' is supposed to be a very-mediocre performer. And she's caught in a terrible, horribly-desperate situation that's tearing her apart, breaking her down. That she's performing in a shoddy Berlin nightclub at the rise of Naziism is indicative of the low level of her talent and the depths she's reached.
And Jane Horrocks throws herself into that, diving off the high-board free-fall without a net. (Keep in mind that, for all the slightly off-key notes, she really can sing wonderfully.) She gives a grippingly risky performance, showing all the incompetence and terrified neuroses of the character. And is electric for it.
I have a good friend I've mentioned here before, John Kander -- not "the" who wrote the music to Cabaret, but his nephew. And John has seen more productions of Cabaret than anyone I've ever met. He knows the show inside and out. And when I sent him this video, he was blown away. Whether or not it was his "favorite" performance -- he's probably seen too many to have a single favorite -- he said it seemed as close to who 'Sally Bowles' was supposed to be than any performance he's seen. High praise.
The performance won't be for everyone. It's very edgy, to the point of almost uncomfortable. (The still image on the video below should give you some idea...) But it's hard not to admire the visceral chances that Jane Horrocks takes with her interpretation. And I suspect that for most people -- even if it's not a "favorite" and easily accessible performance – it will be enjoyed, appreciated and remembered.
So, here -- introduced by Alan Cumming at his utterly sleaziest best -- is Jane Horrocks singing and throwing every ounce of herself into the title song, "Cabaret."
As readers of these pages know, I love the Smothers Brothers. In fact, one of the very first record albums I owned as a kid was the Smothers Brothers’ own first album, live At The Purple Onion. This is a very good report about them today on, of all places, CBS which famously fired them in 1969. (Though it’s less remembered that CBS re-hired them for another variety show in 1988.) This piece comes from CBS Sunday Morning that was aired this past Sunday – it’s an update of a story they ran last year, which I posted at the time.
Yesterday, when embedding the latest Naked Lunch podcast -- in which hosts Phil Rosenthal and David Wild talk about both being in the Writers Guild, their time walking on the current picket line and how their careers in writing got them to this point -- I mentioned that this especially resonated with me because I'd met Rosenthal during the 2007-8 WGA strike in the picket line at Fox Studios.
As I noted, Everybody Loves Raymond was on the air at the time, and one of the several columns I was writing for the WGA website was called "E-mail Interviews." I would email a set of core questions about writing to the person being interviewed -- occasionally expanding with a few questions more specific to the writer. (My reasoning for keeping the questions largely the same was that 1) it was about the process of writing, and those basic questions didn't change, 2) it wasn't the questions that were important, but rather how each individual writer answered about how they wrote. And perhaps more importantly, 3) being on the editorial board for the then-new WGA website, I wanted to build content and so was writing three columns, all of which were volunteer, and it just made things oh-so much easier...) The writers could then respond at their own pace when they had the time, and send their answers back along with a page from one of their scripts, ideally with edit notes written on it, and a photo.
What I recall is how gracious Phil was when asked to participate, despite having been accosted on the picket line, and also how entertaining his E-mail Interview answers were. Both qualities that subsequently became apparent in his documentary series, Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix. (For the record, it began life on PBS as I'll Have What Phil's Having.)
I've tracked down the interview, and here it is. Originally posted in 2008, as best as I can recall.
Edited by Robert J. Elisberg
Phil Rosenthal is the creator and executive producer of the series, Everyone Loves Raymond. He began his career as a staff writer on the series, A Family for Joe, which starred Robert Mitchum (a show for which Rosenthal self-effacingly quotes NBC president Brandon Tartikoff saying, “It should be cut up into guitar picks".)
He followed this with Baby Talk and The Man in the Family, both created/developed by ed. weinberger. Alan Kirschenbaum's Down the Shore came next, followed by three seasons on Coach.
In addition to his TV work, Rosenthal was also director and co-writer of the now-famous "The Final Days" comedy short film which starred President Bill Clinton, made for the 2000 White House Correspondent's dinner. It can be seen online here.
>WGA: Were there any movies, TV shows or books that first got you interested in
PR: My earliest influences were The Honeymooners and The Jackie Gleason Show.
Gleason and Art Carney got me interested in comedy at about age 4, and I wanted
to do what they did. That was the same year Mary Poppins came out, and I
wanted to marry Julie Andrews. When I was 15, I saw Jaws and was knocked out
by the power a movie could have. Other sitcoms I loved growing up were Dick
Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, All In The Family, The Odd Couple, Taxi,
and Soap. I was acting in Neil Simon plays from age 14, and when I saw Woody
Allen's Love and Death at 16, I wanted to be him. When I saw Annie Hall the
next year, and saw all the trouble he had with women, I realized I was him.
>WGA: When you write, how do you generally work?
PR: When writing alone, I like bed. I've got a Mac Powerbook, and one of those
little desktops-over-a-beanbag things from restoration hardware.
>WGA: Is there a specific time you prefer to write?
PR: I feel a little less like an old man in the morning.
>WGA: Do you have any specific kind of music playing or prefer silence?
PR: Quiet is nice.
>WGA: Are you a good procrastinator?
PR: The best. I'm the world's laziest workaholic.
>WGA: What sort of characters interest you?
PR: Believable ones. I love outrageous characters, but I still want to believe
we're on earth.
>WGA: What about stories?
PR: The same. And a good structure. Nothing substitutes for a good beginning, middle
and end. And it should maybe be about something that someone gives a shit about.
>WGA: How do you work through parts of a script where you hit a roadblock in the
PR: I would love to know of some tricks. If you have the luxury of time, forget
about it for today, or this week, even. go get something to eat and see a
movie. If it's got to be done today, what else can you do? I find that if I
just start putting something, anything down, it helps. Because then at least
you're working off of something instead of nothing. And nobody needs to see the
>WGA: What are the additional challenges (or advantages, for that matter) in doing a television show based on the life and works of the star of your show?
PR: In first talking to Ray (Romano), he told me about his life, just in the way of getting
to know someone. But, the more he told me about his actual life, the more I realized that this was the show. And what I didn't know about the personalities of his family, I filled in with my own. but obviously it was a blessing that Ray had such a screwed up life.
>WGA: What is your best experience as a writer?
PR: Working with my friends on "Raymond". We laugh like idiots every single day. I'm in love with them.
>WGA: Was there any particular writer who acted as a sort of mentor to you?
PR: My mentor in sitcoms was actually younger than me – Alan Kirschenbaum. We went to high school together, were in the school plays together. He became a writer
first, and then, while I was a struggling actor, he showed up at my apartment in NY during the writers strike of '88 with one of those new fancy "word processors" (about the size of an oven), and we wrote a screenplay. The following year, I moved out to L.A., hooked up with a writing partner (Oliver Goldstick), and Alan taught me the basic, essential structure of a sitcom in about 15 minutes over a terrible seafood lunch.
The best advice we ever got was from ed. weinberger, who said, "do the show you want to do, because in the end, they're gonna cancel you anyway".
>WGA: Why do you write?
PR: Because I couldn't stomach being an actor.
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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