Friday, September 18, 2009

Deceased Artistes for September 2009: "...on the waters of oblivion..."

I’ll state straight at the outset that my only interest in Patrick Swayze ever is that he starred in the godawful but wonderfully amusing Roadhouse, where Ben Gazarra says he fucked guys like him in prison (which I misremembered as “I fucked guys tougher than you in prison,” which I think that has that extra “touch” of refinement….). In any case, numerous show biz folks have died in the last week besides the one who danced in a dirty way.

Firstly, Larry Gelbart, the comedy writer who was part of one of the best writing teams ever on any TV comedy show, the group that penned the sketches on Your Show of Shows and its follow-up, Caesar’s Hour. I regularly watched M*A*S*H as a kid and greatly enjoyed the initial years, for which Gelbart was the chief writer; I can’t revisit the show now because it jumped the shark so severely — most likely at the moment that Gelbart and supporting cast members started to take a hike — that it became unwatchable.

His later career is made up of things that are funny, but in a pleasant, non-hysterical way (I know, I know, I’ve just infuriated some fans of Tootsie, a film that is fun but, christ, can it indeed be rewatched like a prime piece of Mel or Woody?). He scripted, among others, Blame It On Rio, Movie Movie, and the beyond-unnecessary remake of Bedazzled. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum has gone down in history as one of the great Broadway farces; sadly, the movie has moments but doesn’t hang together, despite the awesomeness of its cast. Well, anyway, what was the finest inclusion in Gelbart’s obit? That his father, a noted Hollywood barber, got him his first big-time job by bragging about his son to Danny Thomas, one of his customers. Thomas asked to see some of the kid’s jokes, and thereafter Larry worked for not only the future “Daddy” (who has one of the most fun H’wood urban legends linked to his name), but also Bob Hope, Jack Paar, Eddie Cantor, Jack Carson (not Johnny), and Joan Davis, and then the great Sid.

The next big show-biz death that occurred this very week, post-Swayze-guy was Henry Gibson. Gibson was a mild-mannered comedian who delivered poems (pronounced “po-em”) on Laugh-In when it was at its peak. He performs one of these little numbers on a Dick Van Dyke Show episode — and interestingly enough, he kept it around long enough so that it became a lyric for his turn as the Roy Acuff-inspired character in Altman’s perfect Nashville. Although he later had some nice plum supporting parts in dramas and comedies — I think he was rather marvelously cast as Teller’s dad (as in “Penn and…”) in the cable Bull Durham knock-off Long Gone with the awesome Virginia Madsen — Gibson was indeed given his best film roles by Altman. Before Nashville, he escaped his wimpy comic persona in The Long Goodbye as the doctor rehabbing ultra-macho novelist Sterling Hayden (and smacking him around at one point).

Here’s Gibson doing his shtick on Laugh-In:

Also checkin’ out this week was Paul Burke, TV actor and stalwart lead emeritus. The most interesting story in his obit is the one about how in 1990 he was acquitted of “racketeering” charges, along with Harry Connick Sr. He later claimed this harmed his ability to get roles in Hollywood, but his salad days were definitely in the Sixties, when he appeared in pics like Valley of the Dolls. A typical bit of Burke’s TV work is this scene from 12 O’Clock High, a series from 1964-67:

Burke’s best-known starring role was, of course, in the unforgettable Naked City TV series from 1960-1963 as police detective Adam Flint. He played the very embodiment of an honest lawman, as the city around him swirled in mists of noir behavior. Here he is with a “troubled” young man, played by Richard Jordan.

I plan on devoting a whole blog post to Jim Carroll, so I will honor Mary Travers’ passing by pointing the way to some lesser-known songs done by her and Messrs. Yarrow and Stookey. The most interesting tidbit in her obituary wasn’t the fact that PP&M were a “fabricated” folk trio — that fact doesn't much matter when one considers their beautiful harmonizing, wonderful catalogue of hits, and years of performing at benefits and significant political events. The nice bit of trivia was that she was perhaps the only folkie in Greenwich Village at that time to make it big who actually had lived in that part of NYC for her whole life. Her voice was indeed gorgeous, and so, music maestro, please! First the haunting “Early Morning Rain” by Gordon Lightfoot:

Okay, ONE hit, “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane,” which is pretty much her tune:

One of my faves as a kid, a hit that nobody plays anymore because it’s wonderfully, gloriously dated. “I Dig Rock ’n’ Roll Music,” as performed on The Jonathan Winters Show:

A forgotten Dylan cover by PP&M, “Too Much of Nothing,” as performed on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Another tune I can’t get out of my head, and the lyrics are classic Dylan, in that I have absolutely no idea what they mean (“Say hello to Valerie/Say hello to Marianne/Send them all my salary/On the waters of oblivion…”).

And there is no better way to close out than the rousing “Day is Done,” from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour:

1 comment:

mfaust said...

Can't say I was really a big fan of PP&M, but those are all great songs, especially "Day Is Done," a tune that will now be stuck in my brain for the next week. (1969, the year of white folk singin' gospel!) You have to love a recording where anything you sing during the chorus fits.