Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I'll take "Has It Come to This?" for $50, Art

As a kid I watched a lot of game shows. Couldn't get enough of 'em. "Concentration" with Hugh Downs. "Jeopardy!" with Art Fleming. "What's My Line?" with Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen and, of course, the urbane host, John Charles Daly. And many more. All of them entertaining shows featuring people -- hosts, celebrities and "civilian" contestants -- who were polite and upbeat and left you with a good feeling.

And for years now, Alex Trebek has been doing an excellent job on "Jeopardy!" Same with Meredith Vieira (and Regis before her) on "Millionaire." And Drew Carey comes across well, too.

But geez...

Here I am the other night watching a thing called "Duel." (To be fair, I could only get through the first half-hour.) Two contestants face off. A man and a woman. The woman had chosen the guy as her opponent and said she did so because he was from "the hood," and therefore, apparently, couldn't know very much. Well, that's a great start: Everyone loves to root for a snob.

Then she beats the guy, who reacts by putting his head down for an ungodly long time, making me almost wonder whether there was a bad edit in the tape and we didn't see the part where he was told his house had just burned to the ground and his family and pet dog were now toast. People who have been sentenced to death by a combination of hanging, drawing and quartering, electrocution and being fed through a Mixmaster have taken that news with more equanimity.

Aside from this, you have a set that is so garishly lit that you could get a headache by glancing at your TV screen from the rooftop of your uncle's house in the next county; you have a host who moves things along nicely but doesn't seem to be enjoying himself much, as if the show were being taped in his dentist's waiting room shortly before his root canal appointment; and you have me feeling very much like the very young Brandon de Wilde:

"John Charles! Come back, John Charles!"

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Christmas mystery

A couple of years ago, I wrote a holiday story titled "The Afternoon Before Christmas." It's only about 1,500 words -- the right length, I hope, for a quick read between wrapping presents and writing cards. I hope you'll enjoy it, and you can find it here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The six-guns of October

“While Pravda editorials attacked decadent Hollywood, Soviet leaders couldn't resist a good western. … Leonid Brezhnev ... had a crush on Chuck Connors, a B-movie actor who starred in a 1960s TV series, The Rifleman. At a party hosted by President Nixon, Connors presented a delighted Brezhnev with a pair of Colt .45 revolvers. The general secretary returned the favour by allowing the American series to be shown on Soviet TV."

-- Lucy Ash
The New Statesman

Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, was criticized recently after she appeared on NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” and said she knew nothing 
about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I suspect that Ms. Perino – and many other otherwise well-informed Americans -- are unaware of another, hitherto unrevealed, crisis that nearly brought down the United States of America.

I am referring, of course, to the Cuban Missive Crisis, as detailed in the following, recently released documents….


PRESIDENT KENNEDY: You’ll never believe what that guy did to me today!


KENNEDY: What guy?! Oh, for God’s sake, who do you think I mean, especially after these last two weeks? Pinky Lee? Just take a wild guess!


KENNEDY: Bingo. Good old Nikita. Isn’t enough that he has to scare the world to death – not to mention me – but now guess what he sends me in the mail? A chain letter!

RUSK: Chain letter?

KENNEDY: Yep! Can’t believe the guy! Says I have to make 10 copies and send them to 10 friends. Says Stalin got the same letter many years ago, ignored it, and had the runs for two straight weeks.

JOHNSON: Maybe it wasn’t the chain letter. Maybe it was some lousy borscht. I keep tellin’ those Russkies that Texas chili is so much more healthful.

RUSK: So what did you do, Mr. President?

KENNEDY: I told him to stick it – phrasing it in the most diplomatic of ways, of course…


Pause. A knock at the door.

MESSENGER: This just came in, sir.

JOHNSON: I’ll take it … hmm … well, Jack, you really went and did it this time.

KENNEDY: Did what?

JOHNSON: This cable says Khrushchev, in response to your “most diplomatic of ways,” has dispatched 5,000 typists to Cuba with the assignment to type as many copies of that letter as possible and mail them to the United States.

KENNEDY: So? Who cares?

RUSK: Mr. President, with all due respect, I don’t think you appreciate the gravity of this situation. Our intelligence has in the past informed us that Soviet typists are among the fastest in the world.

JOHNSON: I know that for a fact – not a hunter and pecker among them.

RUSK: So even if each typist types only 20 copies each, that amounts to 100,000 copies flooding the U.S. mail system.

KENNEDY: So? We’ll threaten to retaliate, match them letter for letter and flood THEIR system.

RUSK: There might be a problem with that, sir.

KENNEDY: What do you mean?

JOHNSON: What Mr. Pussyfooter is trying to say is that in addition to the thousands and thousands of retaliatory letters we’d be sending, you have to remember all the numb nuts here who’ll be responding to the letters THEY get from Cuba.

RUSK: It would put us at risk of MPD.


RUSK: Mutual Postal Destruction.

KENNEDY: Hmm.... Maybe we could threaten them with our missiles again. Then again, we just did that. Might be overkill. Hey – overkill – I made a funny! That Kennedy wit strikes again!

JOHNSON (Clearing his throat): If I might pose a suggestion, sirs… In my days on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I learned something very interesting about the Soviets.

KENNEDY: And what’s that?

JOHNSON: They LOVE our westerns. One of my sources from those days even told me that this guy they got, Brezhnev, has a thing for this guy Chuck Connors.

KENNEDY: That TV guy? So what?

JOHNSON: So this: I propose a show of force. We get people like Jim Arness, that guy who used to be on Wanted: Dead or Alive – Steve McQueen – those guys from Bonanza, and, last but not least, Duke Wayne. We tell the Soviets that unless they back down, all these guys will be headed for the Kremlin with six-guns a-blazin’….

KENNEDY: Yeah, just might work. After all, what’ve we got to lose, aside from at least a huge chunk of Western civilization?

RUSK: I see one problem, sir. A rather ticklish situation.

KENNEDY: One of those pesky matters of diplomacy?

RUSK: In a way, sir. More specifically, I mean the problem of billing. From what I’ve heard of McQueen, he’s going to want top billing.

JOHNSON: That little pipsqueak? No way the Duke’s gonna stand for that!

KENNEDY: The solution is simple. Get Wasserman at MCA, tell him what we’re doing, tell him to explain it to everyone, and tell him to tell them that the billing’s going to be in alphabetical order.

JOHNSON: Alphabetical order? Hmm. … Arness, Blocker, Connors, Greene, Landon, Roberts … why, that would put the Duke dead last!

KENNEDY: Yes – but with emphasis. Like this: “So and so, so and so, Pernell Roberts … and JOHN WAYNE!” Ellipses! All caps! Exclamation point! Two exclamation points! Or would that be (chuckle) overkill again?

RUSK: You’ve done it again, sir.


RUSK: It’s official, sir – they’ve backed down.

KENNEDY: What did I tell you? Old Nikita blinked again! He keeps blinkin’ like that, they’re gonna send him to an eye specialist in Siberia. Neat idea, Lyndon. I never knew that about the Russians and our westerns. They’ve always been that way?

JOHNSON: Pretty near. (Lowers voice.) I’m not supposed to know this, and I’ll deny it if either of you repeat it, but do you remember when Leon Trotsky got icepicked to death in Mexico back in ’40? Well, among his personal effects…

RUSK: Yes?

JOHNSON: Was a document. His official certification….

KENNEDY: Yes, come on, Lyndon, you big tease!

JOHNSON: … as a charter member of the Hopalong Cassidy Fan Club.

KENNEDY: Wow! Shazam!

RUSK: One never knows.

KENNEDY: I’m really shocked by that! I mean, from all I’ve read and heard about him, I always figured Trotsky as more of a Gene Autry guy.

RUSK: One never knows.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

For the well-dressed heavy breather

A commercial for a chain of men's clothing stores is advertising a deal in which a guy can get a