November 8, 2001
SOMEONE — are you reading this, Leonard? — oughta write a book called something like Flawed Masterpieces, all
about films that came thisclose to being great. As good an example as any was a movie I found myself watching on satellite-via-TiVo this AM
— The Comic, a 1969 comedy/tragedy written by Aaron Ruben and Carl Reiner and directed by the latter. In it, Dick Van Dyke plays
an arrogant, unsympathetic silent comedian named Billy Bright, whose story combines elements from the lives of Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton, with a
wee bit of Harry Langdon tossed in. Mickey Rooney plays his sidekick and some of the scenes from Billy's later life (like the talk show
appearance depicted above) actually play out like Mr. Rooney's last few decades. Wouldn't surprise me at all if Mssrs. Van Dyke, Reiner and
Ruben were well aware they were basing scenes on Rooney while he performed in the film, oblivious to this.
The film has a stellar cast that included Michele Lee, Cornel Wilde, Pert Kelton and Nina Wayne, among others. The best joke
belonged to a character actor named Ed Peck who managed to turn up at one time or another in every situation comedy of the sixties, and quite a few
movies. He usually played some serious authority figure — a general or a cop — who turns out to be a cross-dresser or who gets a
pie in the face. In The Comic, it was a pie. (One memorable exception: On an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, he played
Buddy Sorrell's rabbi...but in another episode, he played a serious Army Captain who revealed that, deep down, he wanted to be a choreographer.
That was the typical Ed Peck role.) He passed away in '92 and since then, Hollywood has lacked a good actor who can play an intense,
all-business F.B.I. agent who later turns up in drag.
Those of you who are into Cartoon Voices or Industrial-Strength Trivia take note of the following: Paul Frees can be heard dubbing at
least four parts in the film, and June Foray dubs one or two lines for the little boy playing Billy Bright's son. Also, the venerable Silent
Movie Theatre (subject of this article) is the backdrop for one poignant scene.
That The Comic was not a hit, I can well understand. I seem to recall it playing less than one week in the first-run
theaters of Westwood. I think I saw it on a Friday, recommended it to a friend on Saturday and when he tried to go the following Tuesday, it
had been replaced by something else. The hero is unlikable in many of the wrong ways and the narrative places him pretty much in free-fall with
few surprises en route to his inevitable end. Van Dyke is superb in the comedy scenes; not quite as wonderful when made-up, at times
unconvincingly, as an old man. Still, enough treasures abound to make it all well worth an occasional viewing.
THE MORNING OF November 7, 2000, the Gannett News Service carried the following handicap of one of the most eagerly-watched
The Hillary Rodham Clinton-Rick Lazio Senate race, which most polls show will be close, follows the tradition of tight races in the
Less than 24 hours later, Ms. Clinton defeated Mr. Lazio 56%-44%. In other words, the vote wasn't close. We use the
word "landslide" to describe closer elections.
I think it's important to remember things like that when we watch political discussions these days. I keep seeing predictions
about what will happen in the next presidential election (3 years from now) or even when Hillary's up for re-election (5 years from now)...and not
only predictions but confident, can't miss predictions: Bush can't lose, Bush can't possibly win, Hillary has no chance...
As Tom Snyder used to say on The Tomorrow Show, "You wonder what goes through their minds." We don't, at this moment, know
if Hillary Clinton will run again, who her opponent might be, what shape the country will be in then, what she may or may not have accomplished in
the next five years, et cetera. But folks who, 24 hours before her last election, were sure she'd lose are now insisting that their projections
for the next one should be taken seriously.
The interesting thing is that, in the above-quoted Gannett story (which you can read by clicking here, though it isn't necessary), they say that the polls in the
Clinton/Lazio race vary to show Hillary with anywhere from a 2% to 12% edge. To me, this translates to "could be close, could be a rout," but
no one is ever paid to write that the polls are meaningless, and the author of this story started with the premise that elections in New York are
Well, maybe they are. The one the other night was pretty close — and, significantly, the pollsters didn't think so until
just a few days before voting. I'm just real skeptical about any samplings more than about a week prior to an election. Most people think
they're worthless...and I think they're a lot less valuable than that even. And I'm really sick of folks wasting bandwidth and insulting my
eminently-insultable intelligence by saying that certain elections far in the future are definitely going to go their way. Do a search for
"Bush 2004" and see how many people are trying to convince everyone that it's already decided. Once upon a time, and a lot closer to Election
Day, his pop was a shoo-in for that second term.
I mean, can't we declare some kind of cyberspace moratorium on handicapping the 2004 presidential election until we at least have some
clue who'll be running? Call me crazy but I have a feeling that might affect the outcome. At least a little.
Also, I have the following comment on the New York mayor's race: I get a couple of New York TV channels and both those men should be
deeply ashamed of the commercials they ran. In fact, no one who would allow such swill belongs in public office.
A FINE comic book/strip artist named Gray Morrow died on 11/6, reportedly taking his own life after months of despondency over
months of illness. Morrow was a true gentleman and a fine illustrator who got into comics a few months too late to be part of the legendary
crew at EC Comics. They almost certainly would have hired him because he fit in well with their tradition. He later distinguished himself
as both interior artist and cover painter when Creepy and Eerie started up, reuniting most of the EC craftsmen. Later on, he did
work for DC and Marvel, and had recently been drawing the Tarzan newspaper strip.
Morrow was one of those artists — and sadly, there a number in this category — who are universally admired but often
unhired. Editors who thought his work was beautiful often feared it was too realistic and well-crafted to sell comics. Of course, the
books done by most of the artists they do think are commercial aren't selling either...but the biz is often lean in logic once it decides something
won't sell, and Gray remained a great, untapped resource. I didn't know him well enough to say, "I'll miss him" but I'll sure miss his
NATHAN LANE has been missing performances of The Producers in New York due to a throat problem. A polyp, they
say. Anyway, last I heard, he's back but not doing matinees. When he's out, my pal Brad Oscar plays Bialystock instead of Franz Liebkind,
and someone else plays the Nazi playwright. I haven't seen Brad in the role but if I weren't swamped with work, I'd hop on a plane and go back
just to catch him. Everyone who has seen him says that he's terrific.
SPEAKING OF terrific musical comedy-type performers: My friend Shelly Goldstein will be doing her one-lady show — with the
inimitable Scott Harlan at the piano — at the Gardenia in Hollywood, the evening of Wednesday, November 21. Shelly spends way too much of
her time these days writing top TV shows and not nearly enough singing funny and poignant tunes in front of paying customers. You can reserve
to be a paying customer (it's ten bucks) by calling the club at (323) 467-7444.
I MENTIONED IT here before but one of the most amazing things I ever saw on television occurred on two episodes of the game
show, Press Your Luck in 1984. Briefly, an unemployed electrician named Michael Larsen figured out how to "beat" the game board and,
instead of walking off with $10,000-$20,000 like most winners, took the show for $110,237. CBS was humiliated and didn't rerun the two episodes
on which he did this and they were also skipped a few years ago when USA Network reran the series.
Well, Game Show Network is now rerunning Press Your Luck, two per day. In fact, they're currently running the episodes
that lead up to the Larsen sweep. Word is, they're going to skip over Larsen's appearance when they get to where it would run in sequence (some
time next week) and run them instead as part of a big, heavily-ballyhooed promotion later this month, probably during a marathon they've announced
for part of the Thanksgiving weekend. If I hear when they're going to air, I'll announce them here...but I'd like to suggest that you keep an
eye open for news and also that you catch a few "normal" episodes of Press Your Luck. It's a fun show most of the time, and you'll
appreciate the Larsen episodes all the more if you're conversant with the program's slightly-complicated rules. I'll also post some of the
That is all for now.
Click here to read the previous NEWS FROM ME