Friday, March 26, 2010

The twilight of all-night radio: goodbye to "The Joey Reynolds Show"

An era in New York radio is about to end. The last refuge for old-fashioned entertainment on a commercial NYC station will disappear next Friday, April 2nd, when the Joey Reynolds Show is taken off WOR-AM, so we can have yet another outta town syndicated program running in the late evening hours.

Joey’s show is impossible to describe if you haven’t heard it, but let me make a vague attempt: it’s a four-hour talk show that runs from 1:00-5:00 a.m. (it was five hours long until recently) five nights a week, featuring an eclectic mix of guests (no phone calls!) that ranges from serious authors who’ve written tomes about dire subjects to, well, the “naked clown” depicted above. About two years ago I had some situations that had me down, and I can say without qualification that Joey’s presence on the radio dial late at night talking to cabaret singers, show-biz one-offs (like the clown or this “Miss Liberty” lady who wore her Statue of Liberty outfit, on the radio!), and, most importantly, old and classic comedians, was an instant pick-me-up. It was and is, simply, put old-fashioned entertainment that could be put down as corny (as was done in this snarky New York Times article). That it is sometimes, but this kind of unique, personality-driven radio needs to be preserved in this era of “telescoped,” scarily formulaic celebrity culture.

The Reynolds show is both a talk show and a radio variety program, where guests display their talents and occasionally wander off on glorious verbal tangents. Joey presides over it all with a chuckle in his voice that disappears only when the specter of politics comes up — the only time I haven’t enjoyed the program are when fringe Right-Wing authors speak in an uncontested fashion (whereas those on the Left usually are grilled summarily). That said, Joey has been surprisingly liberal on certain issues, especially in light of the fact that the station he’s on has gone from being a home of radio giants like Jean Shepherd and Bob and Ray to showcasing the hate speech of Glenn Beck and the now thankfully eclipsed bile-meister Michael Savage.

But, back to the variety: Joey presides over themed hours that range from the “Italian hour” (where one could hear master-actor Ben Gazzara in the company of Joe Piscopo and the hour’s staple, a Little Italy restaurateur and character actor nicknamed Cha-Cha) to the “gay hour” (where disco is played and quite a few penis jokes are made) to the gloriously shticky “Jewish hour,” wherein joke-machine Mickey Freeman holds forth, and the names of great entertainers (including Reynolds' friend, the recently departed Funhouse interview subject Soupy Sales) are mentioned with the reverence they deserve.

Sometimes, the singers are top-flight talents, sometimes they aren’t someone you’d pay to see — no matter, Joey moves the whole caravan onward, and who knows what the hell will be around the corner after the hourly newscast. It sometimes may seem like the radio cousin of the old Joe Franklin TV show, but there’s a greater intimacy about radio that Reynolds exploits to its fullest. He is indeed talking to the listener, not at him/her, and the eclectic guest roster is a joy in an era when the only, only, only radio talk shows worth hearing are on listener-sponsored NPR stations that strike me as oddly antiseptic. I doubt I would have ever rediscovered the fast and smart comedy of Chris Rush on Terry Gross' terrific but oh-so-very-staid "Fresh Air". (Great clips of Chris on Joey can be found here).

Reynolds’ five-decade career in radio has been pretty amazing — from his hometown in Buffalo, N.Y., to stints in numerous cities, including Syracuse, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Detroit, Miami, Albany, and Wheeling, W.V. And, oh yeah, he was brought to WNBC-AM in 1986 to replace Howard Stern when he was pitched off the station long, long ago. Here is a rare recording of Joey at his Top 40 radio frantic best, on WKBW in Buffalo way back in ’64. And here are some equally rare airchecks, including the full version of the Reynolds theme song done by the Four Seasons.

Not many of the videos on YouTube convey the conviviality of the Reynolds show, but a few give a vague impression of it. There’s this visual recording of the “gay hour”:

And this bit of behind-the-scenes footage for the “Jewish hour,” which will be sorely missed when the show leaves us on April 2nd:

Two of the greatest icons to appear on the Reynolds show died last year. One was, as previously noted, Soupy; the other was the legendary Les Paul, who holds forth on Joey here:

The best resource for hearing Joey’s brand of classic radio talk is on the WOR site for the next week, an extensive archive of hours from his show going back to 2006. The archive doesn’t include the themed hours, but it contains many of the interviews that define the show, including Les and Soupy, frequent guest (and 95-year-old stand-up icon) Professor Irwin Corey, Ronnie Spector, Tommy James, Keely Smith, Pat Cooper, Tommy Smothers, Frank Gorshin, Tommy Chong, Larry King, Joe Frankin, and Funhouse deity Steve Allen.

Visit here before it’s gone forever.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Happy Pesach: Bob Dylan performs "Hava Nagila"

You can never have too much Bob Dylan craziness, and man, as one digs into the Bob’s "back pages" of public appearances one finds a whole lot o’ craziness. Keeping in mind that Passover season is upon us, I offer the following clip some dedicated soul uploaded to YouTube featuring Dylan in his famed appearance on the 1988 Chabad telethon, which basically brought the telethon a whole lotta attention, and was the center revelation in Harry Shearer’s famous piece on the ’thon in Spy magazine.

Watch this one and preserve it via one of the keepvid sites (I recommend the Firefox download “helper”), because the authorized Chabad account has no trace of Bob and the folks from the telethon may remove this at any time they please.

The bonus for those of us who enjoy the work of a certain character actor who has recently been in public view as a patriarch on the HBO series Big Love is that while Dylan plays harmonica and his son-in-law Peter Himmelman sings, none other than Harry Dean Stanton plays guitar on this number. It’s a keeper:

A man with damned fine hair: Deceased Artiste Robert Culp

This week’s show-biz casualty, Robert Culp, was a great looking guy who, like Peter Graves, was a perfect TV personality. He had the good looks, the charisma, and did not melt into character parts all that well — he was always himself, and that is an advantage on a weekly TV series.

Of course, he’s best known for this work on I Spy and the far lesser but well-remembered The Greatest American Hero. From the beginning of his career to the end (he died this week at 79), he made more appearances on TV than in film, but he did make one really solid crime thriller as a film director, Hickey & Boggs (1972), costarring he and his old TV costar Bill Cosby. The film is not represented at all on YouTube, and I don’t have the time to digitize a piece of it (it used to run regularly on late night Ch. 7 here in NYC), but it is a surprisingly good crime pic.

So no Hickey and Boggs clips can be found on the Net, but you can view one of Culp’s more interesting TV movies in its entirety. Why? Because it was created by Gene Roddenberry, that’s why. And so, if you have the time I urge you to check out the pretty decent (and somewhat kinky — always knew the creator of the greenskinned dancing girl and the Girl with the Silver Bra was a little kinky) 1977 telefilm Spectre starring Culp, John Hurt, Gig Young, and Mrs. Roddenberry (Nurse Chapel to you), Majel Barrett:

And let us not forget the most notable theatrical film Culp starred in. He was the husband, and erstwhile “swapper” of the super-adorable Natalie Wood, in Paul Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). Here is the extremely Sixties finale of the film, right after the couples figure out you can’t swing with someone you’re friends with (I don’t believe in “spoiler alerts” for films everybody should’ve seen already). It is the kind of conclusion that Hollywood producers would’ve only allowed at the turn of the Sixties:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A special moment: Deceased Artiste Alex Chilton meets Zacherle, and several dancing chicks

I will leave it to other blogs to pay tribute to the totality of Alex Chilton’s career, as I will confess I only really know his work with Big Star and the Box Tops (which is timeless, timeless pop). I definitely say hail and farewell, though, and acknowledge his contribution as, among many other things, the first producer of the Cramps and this mind-bending appearance he and the Box Tops made on Zacherle’s “Disc-o-Teen” in 1967. The poster, “321Alucard” (who has no other similar videos up), should be thanked profusely:

This Deceased Ariste Tribute Will Self-Destruct in 5 Seconds: Peter Graves

Peter Graves was a constant presence in the movies and TV from the Fifties onward. Although he probably was very few people’s idea of a “favorite actor,” he kept himself employed and was a perfectly fine host for items like Biography on the network that useta actually have Arts and Entertainment on it.

Graves stolid deadpan-heroic presence was best sent up by the man himself in Airplane!, where he formed a sort of Holy Quartet of Sincere Old Movie Actors with Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and Leslie Nielsen. However, of that group, Graves was more of a TV star than a movie deity — sure, he was in dozens of movies, including masterpieces like Night of the Hunter and (key role for him) Stalag 17, but he was and forever will be known as a TV star, thanks to Mission: Impossible, several earlier Westerns (like Fury (seen above right), and Biography.

I draw your attention to one of Graves’ cooler movie appearances, as the good-guy lead in the shitkicker that was known as Bayou (1957) and Poor White Trash. Here he’s forced to fight the villain of the piece, the ever-awesome Timothy Carey as an angry Cajun. These were the days when men fought with hatchets in graveyards.

Farewell, Mr. Phelps.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Goodbye, Love: Deceased Artiste Ron Lundy

Ron Lundy was a NYC "metro area" institution, having worked for years at WABC-AM and later WCBS-FM; he died this week on Monday at the age of 75. I was an intermittent listener to the former as a kid, and a devout lister to the latter (before its playlist shrank, omitted the Fifties, and began to dote on the less-likeable cheez that is the Eighties). Thus, I pay tribute to this perennially cheery voice, heard to best extent in John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy. Joe Buck knows he's in New York when he hears Lundy's customary greeting, "Hello, love!" (or was that "luv" -- does it matter?). Here's a fan video saluting the film that starts off with this moment:

Lundy's voice comes in at the 3:42-minute mark to this wonderfully Seventies University of Iowa student film entitled "Statue of Liberation":

And, finally, the man himself, from a day on the air on WCBS-FM. I love that fuckin' echo (and the 1959 music)! What a great voice to have heard in the mornin'....

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Legends That the Oscars Didn't Care to Honor on TV: Bacall, Willis, and Corman

So another annual dose of TV tedium has come and gone. What I find most interesting about the Oscars, and I find the same with “theme articles” that talk about today’s most successful movies, is that the movie industry’s Prime Directive is to convince us as often as possible that (old saw) “movies are better than ever!” In fact, we’ve gotten back to the Fifties so much that the biggest, newest invention is 3D, which came in when television hit the scene for real, and the studios were panicked no one would ever go to the movies again.

Thus, last weekend we got another Oscarcast that tried its utmost to convince us that the handful of decent Hollywood productions last year were as good as the masterpieces of old, the classics made overseas, and those hundreds of films that never received Oscars but are now acknowledged as the finest movies ever made. To keep folks tuned in, the show was streamlined — but still ran over three and a half hours, because they introduced five new Best Picture nominees (talk about hubris — or is that chutzpah?).

Thus, we didn’t hear the nominated songs, and the obituary tribute was pretty much insulting to all involved — not only to those who weren’t included (I like how a brouhaha is made over Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur, as if they were major motion-picture talents — gimme some Maurice Jarre and Arnold Stang, fellas!). The fact that over five minutes of the show was devoted to a tribute to John Hughes (who, as I noted here, only made like three good movies) and no more than ten seconds — more like five in most cases — was given to the rest of the filmmakers, performers, and writers who died, was an insult in general. More than likely, the film clips from Hughes' pictures were considered good for the demographic watching the Oscars, and those that might be channel-surfing around on a Sunday night.

In any case, the show’s most shameful event was not snubbing Farrah (although, if you’re gonna mention her movie career, do you feature a scene from Myra Breckenridge?), but that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided that we no longer need to see the honorary Lifetime Achievement awards on the show proper. In this case, we were told about a ceremony at which studio executive John Calley, incredibly influential cinematographer Gordon Willis, Lauren Bacall, and an absolute god of low-budget moviemaking, Roger Corman, received Lifetime Achievement awards.

I could go on and on about how pathetic it is that the producers of the program try to make a connection between the “great” films of today and the classics of yesteryear... and then don’t honor those who receive Lifetime Achievement awards on air. But it’s pointless to go on at length, since the show is always badly timed, badly produced (mainly because they focus their attention on ridiculous stagebound stuff, which is not the forte of moviemakers), and remarkably unfunny (does anyone really think Bruce Vilanch is a scream, outside of the Oscar producers?).

I guess I wasn’t paying attention when the program was on (can you imagine that?), but the presentation to the four Lifetime honorees wasn’t made a day before the Oscars, a week, or even a month. It was made five fucking months before the program! Here is an L.A. Times article from a few days before it happened, which was, for the record, November 14, 2009.

It turns out that the missing presentations and acceptances are up on the official Oscars site, but they are not embeddable here. Instead, I link you to Jeff Bridges presenting to Gordon Willis, Anjelica Huston presenting to Lauren Bacall, and Jonathan Demme presenting to Roger Corman. The Oscar producers should be ashamed of themselves for “hiding” these honors.

Woody Allen Boxes a Kangaroo on a TV variety show

Yes, the title pretty much says it all. Woody hosted the TV show Hippodrome in 1966 (the show aired on CBS in the U.S. on July 19 and on ITV in the U.K. on October 13, 1966). His fancy footwork no doubt comes from a youth spent watching silent comedy. I thought some of the stunts he did on I’ve Got a Secret were goofy, but this one pretty much tops ’em all.

My thanks to friend Rich Brown, producer of AOL’s off-the-wall
“Asylum” video series for discovering this one. It’s not indexed under Woody’s name, so it ain’t exactly out there in the open (and the version that is indeed indexed under his name is a poor b&w copy).

Friday, March 5, 2010

No Limits: Deceased Artiste Jamie Gillis

In a week when people are getting ready to honor folks who make scarily formulaic films as a matter of course, it makes sense to salute those who will not be honored at the godawful Oscars. And I’d be positively stunned if they included the likes of Jamie Gillis in their dead-folk montage (which was presented in a tacky, awful fashion last year). Gillis died on February 19th at the age of 66 after having made (by someone’s count) 470 porn films, which includes features, loops, starring roles, and guest-starring appearances (I remember thinking he was the sleaziest MFer I’d ever seen in a one-off scene playing a handyman named “Mr. Luigi” who has a good time with schoolgirl Traci Lords).

Born Jamey Ira Gurman in 1943, Gillis graduated from Columbia University in 1970 and famously worked as both a mime and a cabbie while awaiting his big break in show business, which oddly came by way of The Village Voice. He answered an ad in the paper in ’71 and began appearing in loops. He was one of the few noted male porn stars of the very busy post-Deep Throat Seventies, and was game to try anything on screen — again, my own memories of Gillis movies seen included him engaging in golden showers in one of the so-called “couples” porn movies (I think it was Roommates).

He also was a bisexual (fun fact: he was in the first all-male 3D porn film, Manhole) who in interviews would fondly recall the Continental Baths and freaked out straight male moviegoers by getting blown by Zebedy Colt (now there’s a guy you can tell stories about) in the otherwise “couples”-friendly Story of Joanna by Gerard Damiano. According to one well-researched tribute, he also masterminded a series of videos called “Walking Toilet Seat” (oh yeah, it’s what you think). And since we’re on the weirder side of things, we can’t forget Shaun Costello’s damaged homage to Taxi Driver, called Water Power, about a man who rapes and gives forced enemas to his victims. It looks like it has awesome footage of Times Square, and has been praised by Quentin Tarantino (which is more than you needed to know about “QT,” ain’t it?). This blog has a clean sequence from it posted of Gillis walking down 42nd St. Here is a fan’s “DJ mix” montage from the film (all scenes clean, this is on Puritannical YouTube!) which shows Gillis in full Travis Bickle mode:

Gillis’ obits were certainly lively, with the most interesting story being that he would act in live sex shows in Times Square — one gets the impression that there wasn’t a lot he turned down — and would recite Shakespeare soliloquies he remembered to give the shows “socially redeeming value.” He is also commemorated on various porn-history sites for a video he did called On the Prowl which supposedly started the “gonzo porn” subgenre. Gillis found a game woman, and drove her around San Francisco’s North Beach, looking for guys from the public who were willing to fuck her. This was in 1989, so it was in the post-AIDS era, but as the Nineties “gangbang” events proved, people are always willing to be sexual adventurers, even if it’s ill-advised.

The strangest thing about Gillis is that he did the extreme fetish weirdness — and even continued appearing in porn when he was in his 50s — and yet he was in several of the most “prestigious” porn titles, including films made by Radley Metzger (under his “Henry Paris” hardcore pseudonym) and Joe Sarno. He exhibited acting ability at various times in his porn career, but then he also could be quite the ham and downright unpleasant to watch (which works in the scarier flicks like Costello’s niche enema biz, but mainstream porn doesn’t usually include a “dark” figure like Gillis — or at least hasn't since the Seventies). In any case, he was certainly an icon in the business of filmed pornography, which is now entirely dead, except to the aficionados who keep it alive via old VHS tapes and DVD reissues.

In closing, a few Gillis clips. Here he is being interviewed with Shauna Grant (Colleen Applegate), the tragic porn star who seems to be in a sleaze sandwich here, as she is interviewed by her then-manager, Bobby Hollander:

A scene from the aforementioned Story of Joanna (1975). Yes, it’s pretty corny stuff, but this stuff was a refreshing change in porn theaters — actors attempting to act! A plot! Dialogue even!

The opening of an edited (read: sexless) version of Anthony Spinelli’s The Seduction of Lyn Carter (1974)

For those who would like to see Jamie doing what he did best,
click here for a totally graphic hardcore clip (you've been warned!) of him getting blown by his onetime real-life lover Serena. The two were supposedly known as the “S&M couple” in porn circles, but this clip is straightforward sex.

And my own upload of a trailer showing Gillis in a classier porn flick, this one softcore. He is the male lead in Joe Sarno’s Abigail Leslie is Back in Town, and gets to utter the memorably campy line of dialogue that you hear here first:

An excellent tribute to Gillis can be found at the Penetrating Insights
blogspot. The tribute is okay for browsing at work or school, but the links are not!