Saturday, December 30, 2017


In his book, “The Boys in the Boat,” Daniel J. Brown references Spokane’s historic amusement park on the river, Natatorium, in the early 1920s.  “They could take in entertainment … as dazzling as the new Loof carousel,” Brown wrote.  I had fond memories of the Nat where our congregation held picnics and I got nauseous on the merry go round.
It was that carousel that was scheduled to be dismantled in 1964 that I wrote about in a byline United Press International feature that was distributed to newspapers camera-ready.
I interviewed the park’s owner, Lloyd Vogel, who was inebriated at the time. (He reaked of booze.)  Natatorium had lost its commercial viability and historic preservation wasn’t discussed.  So the park was for sale and the historic merry go round would be lost.  
Years later the park was converted into a mobile home community, but the dance hall remained on the site. The carousel was moved to a park adjoining the river in downtown Spokane for the world’s fair and I rode it more than 10 years ago.

I left Spokane for Coast Guard boot camp before the feature was distributed and never knew if it appeared in newspapers.  The Loof merry-go-round is comparable to the one on the Santa Monica pier.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Unions, Politics, Stan Freberg and more.

Congressional candidate Adam Jennings on Saturday afternoon at the Eden Prairie Library said he favors Medicare for everyone, a $15 minimum wage and collective bargaining.
Three women opposed to unions, a deaf man without a hearing aid and four others met with Jennings but the discussion got bogged down by a wedge issue, labor unions.  “My husband dislikes unions,” said one and another said “my brother in law is against them.”  
I sprang to the unions’ defense but later realized I had strayed down a familiar road where we argue and then Erik Paulsen wins another term through our inertia.
Had I to do it over I would have said to Jennings:  “I will attend the caucus on Feb. 6 and hope to be elected a delegate to the district DFL convention where I will support you so your name appears on the primary ballot.”
Didn’t do that.  Sorry Adam.
Jennings supports progressive causes although he works for Mortenson Construction/real estate.  He serves on the city council of Tonka Bay, in upscale suburban Minneapolis.  I got a lesson in grass roots democracy that was disturbing. 
Our humanistic Jewish congregation enjoyed latkas, salads and rich deserts Saturday night at our annual Chanukah party held at the Wellstone Neighborhood House Center in St. Paul.  Small children performed.  I left early and indigestion kept me up that night.
Forties musical comedy divas Deana Durbin and Alice Faye, shortly before they retired, appeared in crime movies that are worth viewing. 
 “Christmas Holiday” has little to do with a winter festival but finds Ms. Durbin coupled with a criminal character played by dancer Gene Kelly.  She is memorable as a torch singer in this Universal movie directed by Robert Sidomak. Seeing Kelly in this movie I concluded that he would have been the one to play Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls,” not Brando.
Ms. Faye doesn’t sing a note in “Fallen Angel” where she falls for a drifter (Dana Andrews) with a questonable past.  Faye was the reining queen at TCF and Andrews had a voice that could melt butter.  Directed by Otto Preminger, the movie features Linda Darnell as a bad girl and she is super.  Faye never appeared in a starring role in a movie again after “Fallen Angel.”  See these two movies together.

“Doolittle” is quite exotic and is reminiscent of my favorite that I saw as a teen, “Around the World.”  Both in Todd AO.  The bluray is the only way to see the ’67 version.
Where do they find a two-headed llama?  Antony Newley is massively talented but his stage play “The Smell of the Crowd, the Road of Grease Paint” has more memorable tunes.
I assume that TCF hoped to capitalize on the success of another British musical, “Oliver.”  Doolittle is featured in a book on 4 big movies from the 60s and was released at the time of riots in the streets over the war.  Despite negatives reviews, the movie was a success. 
Nathanael West’s novels are just the ticket for these gray gloomy cold Minnesota days.  I just finished “Miss Lonelyhearts” which doesn’t end on a sweet note.
I didn’t know it in 1963 but when I worked at KNBC I stood in the shadow of greatness with Cecil Brown, famous World War II reporter for CBS and Mutual radio networks.
Brown did news analysis on Ch. 4 and he wasn’t accesible to a lowly clerical like myself.  The other news analyst at KNBC then was Elmer Peterson.  
Reed W. Smith has written a Brown biography published by McFarland. 

Some one should bar actors from appearing on talk shows to promote their latest movie.  Timothy was hyper, Armie was reserved and I was uncomfortable as Neal Patrick Harris, Ellen and a dorky MTV asked them about “Call Me by Your Name.”  Skip the You Tube interviews and see the movie playing now at the Uptown.
About 20 of us from Or Emet “celebrated” Christmas Monday night at  the mega Asian buffet Super Moon in St. Louis Park.  Thanks to Dan and Naomi this was a succesful outing.
Relatively healthy was the Mongolian barbecue if you went light on the sauces which I did.  No one was interested in the NFL game on the big screen TV.  The enormity of Super Moon is incredible. I am not a fan of Asian buffets but this one is decent.

“This is our country and we must fight to keep it so. If America is ever again to be great, it can only be through the triumph of the revolutionary middle class.  We must destroy the Bolshevik labor unions!   We must purge our country of all the alien elements and ideas that now infest her!  America for Americans!  Back to the principles of Andy Jackson and Abe LIncoln….” (followed by a call for “Storm Troopers.”)
This scary talk is not from a Trump speach but it’s the demogogue “Mr. Whipple” speaking in Nathanael West’s 1936 novel “A Cool Million.”
Wall Street interests were as much involved in whipping up anti-labor sentiment as a wedge issue dividing the working class in the 1930s as they are today.  
This was evident in the recent meeting congressional candidate Adam Jennings held where the effort to unseat Paulsen was displaced by anti-union talk.

Long before “Mad Men,” comedy writer Stan Freberg was making fun of Madison Avenue cliches (Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it) on his sustaining CBS radio show.  He got his start in LA on the kiddie show, “Time for Beanie.”

I was a big fan of Freberg on radio in 1958 as the networks were phasing out programing in the face of TV.  In recent years I scored highlights from his shows on an audio casette I found at a library sale.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Holiday Movies

“Hans Christian Anderson” (Goldwyn/RKO) and “The Red Shoes” (Rank) offer incredible escapism with ballet, surreal sets and amazing technicolor.  See them together and you’ll forget about the wild fires and the Franken debacle.  
Definitely “holiday” movies!

Department stores were devine palaces and hemlines were closer to the ground in the holiday movies that I adore, including “Bundle of Joy” (1956) and “Holiday Affair” (1949).
It’s a cinderella story in BOJ where the character played by Debbie Reynolds falls for the jazz singer department store prince played by Eddie Fisher (real life husband and wife.)  The music is enjoyable and the RKO Scope and Technicolor are supreme.
“Holiday Affair” is a deeper look at the post war funk where a war widowed mom played by Janet Leigh struggles to survive as a department store “shopper/snoop.”  She has to choose between officious lawyer played by Wendell Corey or the Robert Mitchum sexy drifter/sales clerk.  Gordon Gebhert steals the movie as the toothless kid and now, in real life, teaches at Columbia University.  He later appeared as the teenage Audie Murphy in “To Hell and Back.”
BOJ got bad reviews and HA was a box office flop, but both of these RKO gems enjoy a December resurgence on Turner Classic Movies.


The lowly reporter falls for the handsome European prince who is not all he seems in the Netflix new movie “Christmas Prince.”  Hasn’t this story been told repeatedly.  Ho hum. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Christmas 2017; Day of the Locust, Spider Baby, Tuba concert

ST PAUL — Several of us from a nearby condo high rise crowded into Central Methodist Sunday night for their annual tuba concert.  It was crowded and hot.  A dotty matron led the 151 tuba players in what was assumed to be renditions of popular Christmas carols.  This is a Minnesota tradition, like tater tot casserole.

The campy 60s horror film “Spider Baby” has received recognition far beyond it’s worth.  It should be a dollar store item but instead is on Blu ray with a “panel discussion.”  The later is better than the movie with one of the actors, Quentin Redeker either drunk or high on drugs.  He’s got a great story about Lon Chaney Jr. or Mantan Moreland, but he just can’t remember it.  Producer, director and writer Jack Hill seemed sane, but he claims that actress Carol Omar thought the movie was Oscar worthy.  Yah, right!

Getting there was half the fun in the dark, but the company was great in Wilder Community, St. Paul, for Gene Johnson and LInda’s annual party.  The food was great and I reconnected with Debbie Ringham and Brian and more.  Thanks so much for the gift, a 1955 magazine advert for the Chrysler Imperial in color!

Eventually the library will have “The Old Dark House” but I couldn’t wait so I got the Bluray from with my initial screening last night.  
It’s the movie that gave old houses a bad name with Karloff as the grotesque host.
Eva Moore is fantastic as the nasty hag Miss Femm and there’s a nod to religion and the class struggle.  The movie is directed by James Whale (Bride of Frankenstein) and features several British actors including Charles Laughton. 
Previously only poor video renditions from Kino and TCM have been available but heroic efforts to find the negative and lavendar print at Universal Pictures resulted in the Bluray from the Cohen Collection.  Classic Images magazine of November 2017 issue covers the release of the 4K Bluray restoration.
The journey of the Ackos family in Greece during the Holocaust is remembered in the short documentary “In the Shadow of the Acropolis” which was developed by an Ackos descendant Laura Zelle, director of Tolerance Minnesota.
She spoke Sunday morning at a meeting or Or Emet Humanist Jewish Congregation at the Jewish Community Center. 
Tolerance Minnesota is partnering with the Smithsonian Institute Southern Poverty Law Center and more to educate people about bias, hate and prejudice through faith communities nationally.  Laura Zelle, Minneapolis, is the director of Tolerance Minnesota of the Jeiwsh Community Relations Council.


Quite relevant to today’s headlines about middle class disenfranchment is the 1937 novel by Nathanael West, “The Day of the Locust,” which was made into a movie in 1975.  The movie is equally disturbing.  The story focuses on Los Angeles in the 1930s where a prostitute, movie studio artist, dwarf, dying vaudeville performer and a horrific child come together in desperation and loneliness.  It also includes a closeted gay character called “Homer Simpson” played by Donald Sutherland in the movie.