December 30, 2001 · 10:00 PM PST ·
JUST REALIZED that, when I posted the piece below about the new DVD of The Princess Bride, I should have posted one of
these little links where you can go over to Amazon and buy a copy, with this site getting a teensy cut. Past experience suggests that enough of
you will do this for me to make a whopping ten bucks and — the economy being what it's been lately — that's not to be sneered upon.
Anyway, it's a terrific DVD and a terrific bargain and if you click here, you can get your very own copy of the thing. Or just
click there, then buy something else. I don't really care what you buy just as long as I get the commission.
JUST IN CASE I don't get back here tomorrow, I'd like to wish all my visitors a happy '02. Hell, I'll even go for a happy
year for those who don't click onto this site. I happen to think that economy I just mentioned is — and for a long time, has been —
much worse than the traditional indicators would seem to indicate. This is anecdotal, I know, but I certainly feel like folks are more uneasy
and depressed than what is measured by the Dow Jones or various "misery indices." In fact, I think a lot of the emotion surrounding the big
news items of the last few years — O.J., 9/11, the Florida recount, Mr. Condit, various Clinton scandals and pseudo-scandals, etc. —
flows from a general, excessive uneasiness that people have about their lives and futures. At the moment, a lot of folks seem to think that all
will be right with the world in every way if only Osama could be properly tortured and killed and maybe tortured some more after that. This is
not to suggest he probably doesn't deserve all that, but it ain't healthy for us to invest so much of ourselves in the elimination of one particular
demon. There will be plenty after he's toast.
I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions. I think that if you really and truly want to stop smoking or drinking or eating
Crisco, you can quit on August 9 or March 22. But there's also nothing wrong with everyone picking 1/1/02 as the date they began trying to keep
our problems in enough perspective to eliminate them. Cheers!
December 30, 2001 · 5:00 PM PST ·
IN THE LAST WEEK, I have thrice watched the new "Special Edition" DVD of the 1987 movie, The Princess Bride — once,
as one would normally watch, and once each listening to the audio commentaries of director Rob Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman. These
extra, narrative tracks do not convey a lot of extra insight. Reiner says, of about 90% of what transpires, "Here's one of my favorite scenes,"
and almost all the performances are "one of the best performances in the film." This is not to say we expect the director to say, "Boy, this
part was rotten" or "Boy, did this actor stink up my film." It's simple pride and etiquette at work and, anyway, I don't think there are any
poor scenes or performances in this, one of my favorite movies of the period.
Goldman's narration mostly seems to consist of talking of how much he hates to be on the set and hates most of what he's written.
I happen to like most of what he's written but I really like The Princess Bride — in book form, even more than the film. If you've
yet to experience both, I recommend them...though, for reasons I cannot quite articulate, I think I preferred the book when it was one of those
joyous, undiscovered treasures that no one had heard of until I told them. I also liked it better in the original hardback where its dual
narratives were printed in different colors — one in red, one in black — and where it felt more like a real book. In umpteen
paperback editions since, they put one narrative in standard Times Roman or whatever and the other in italics. My first copy — a
well-thumbed first edition, given to me long ago by a friend and still occasionally browsed — really felt like one of the old children's novel
that Goldman managed so well to ape. The paperbacks, being paperbacks, do not.
The audio tracks of the director and writer are in general agreement about darn near everything and, between the two of them and
several "Making of..." featurettes included on the DVD, we get to hear several anecdotes two and three times. Reiner and Goldman are in
greatest accord when they speak of how the studio, though it tried hard, never really knew how to market this film, and how it never became a true
"hit" until its home video release. The uncertainty is easy to understand as it is equal parts heroic and silly, especially with its hero
—played to perfection by Cary Elwes — flopping around like a corpse throughout most of the crucial, climactic scenes. Some aspects
of the script and art direction bend over backwards to avoid anachronism while others embrace it. The moment when Mandy Patinkin finally faces
Christopher Guest to avenge a death is still one of the most satisfying, cheer-the-moment scenes in any movie, even though its emotion seems oddly
out of kilter with, for example, Billy Crystal's Borscht Belt performance as Miracle Max. (If forced to point up a flaw, I would select him
— Mr. Crystal — as the one element that pulled me completely out of the picture. In their commentaries or other interviews, both
Reiner and Goldman spoke of wanting to cast unknowns in the leads because stars might have been too distracting. I don't think anything's as
distracting as sitting there throughout a pivotal scene thinking, "That's Billy Crystal and Carol Kane under all that make-up." But maybe
that's just me...)
And speaking of what I was just speaking of: Here's something that's kinda odd. Both Reiner and Goldman talk of Billy Crystal as
having beefed up his role as Max with ad-libs like the following...
Sonny, true love is the greatest thing in the world. Except for a nice MLT, a mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the
mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe. They're so perky, I love that.
Funny stuff...but here's the thing. I just copied that dialogue from the 1995 volume, William Goldman: Four Screenplays
from Applause Books. It and all the dialogue that was added by the actors or improvised on the set have been put down in the published
In his intro to the book, Goldman writes of the difficulty of deciding which draft of a screenplay to put into a collection of this
sort and says that while other scripts therein contain scenes that were cut or changed, "The Princess Bride is pretty close to the finished
film." This is apparently because someone — probably not Goldman, himself — typed all the new dialogue into the script, perhaps
after filming was complete, and Goldman chose to print one of those drafts. I wish he hadn't. We buy or rent or go see the movie to
experience the collaborative work. When I read a William Goldman screenplay, I'd prefer to just read the writings of William Goldman.
I'VE BEEN a little busy with deadlines lately and what time I've been able to spend on this site has gone to tech stuff, fixing
HTML errors and such. In gratitude though for the tips you folks are sending in (thank you, thank you), I'm going to try updating things more
In the meantime, if you feel like surfing, here are some more websites for funny men...
December 29, 2001 · 4:30 AM PST ·
AND, SPEAKING OF STAN LEE, is there no end to his achievements? According to this article in The New York Times, Stan is "the creator of heroes like
Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and Batman." This is about as accurate as that paper's coverage of Wen Ho Lee. Do they do this with
everyone or just with guys named "Lee?" And what the hell am I doing up at 4:30, anyway? Good night.
December 28, 2001 · 7:00 PM PST ·
IT'S ONLY 7:00 so I still have time to wish a happy day o'
birth to the man who once referred to me in his Bullpen Bulletins as "a young,
zingy, with-it guy." This was in 1970 and I figure Stan Lee got one out of
three right. As the "young" part has gone away, I've tried to compensate
by becoming zingier but to no avail. How, you may be asking, does one go
about become zingier? Easy: Try to take after Stan, who — at age
however-old-he-may-be — remains charming and witty and much-admired.
And though some recent business reversals no doubt made "Smilin' Stan" scowl for a while there, no one blames him and his Legend status remains unblemished. As it should
be. I've had the honor of knowing him since '70 and working with him on a few occasions...and he is truly as super as any character he ever
wrote. And almost as powerful.
December 27, 2001 · 6:00 PM PST ·
OVER ON HIS fine, must-visit website, Cartoon Research, my pal
Jerry Beck has some comments about the state of the animation business. On the whole, I agree with him but I have one area of polite
disagreement that I thought might be worth mentioning. First, for those of you too lazy to click over there, here are some excerpts from
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1986, the animation industry was pretty dead. In Hollywood, animation work at DIC,
Hanna-Barbera, Marvel, and Filmation was seasonal. Most of my artist friends worked for six months, then waited, unemployed, for six months until
more work could be had...the only TV outlet for new animation was CBS, NBC and ABC on Saturday morning.
In 1986 we had three networks who programmed 4 hours of kid-vid (mainly animation) - Today we have three conglomerates: Disney/ABC -
Cartoon Network/ Kids WB -Viacom /Nickelodeon /CBS. Each one of these operates at least two 24 hour-a-day kids cable networks entirely reliant
on kids programming, in addition to weekend broadcast program blocks.
Now then: I concur with his thesis that we now have better, more varied animation being done. I'm not sure I agree that life is
any better for the journeyman animation artist, and I base this in large part on talking to a lot of them at recent holiday gatherings. During
the network days, a small number of buyers controlled the market and, yes, much of it was seasonal. But it was also rather predictable: Each
year, you knew that between around January and August, X number of hours of new animation would be produced in L.A. to feed ABC, CBS and NBC, and
artists could plan their lives accordingly. The talent pool was rather constant in size because the available work was rather constant.
The current situation seems to me much less predictable, as witness the on-again, off-again nature of production at studios like Nick
and WB TV Animation where they seem to have no particular pattern to the production of new programming. One day, they will decide that new
shows aren't a good investment; that reruns are vastly more cost-efficient. That's when we see, as we've seen often lately, mass layoffs that
annihilate what had been a thriving studio. Six months or a year later, someone will decide that they need a new show for competitive or
merchandising reasons and, suddenly, they'll be starting all over, trying to reconstruct some sort of studio operation. It's an enormously
inefficient system and one that also nukes any feeling that a writer or artist may have that he or she has a future with some company. (I am
all for creative folks not submerging their identities and becoming too trusting of their current employers, but it's also tough to thrive in an
environment where everyone is expecting layoffs at any moment.)
As I said, I base this on a lot of conversations at Christmas parties. The folks who fall into the category of "the last to be
laid off" all seem to be functioning with an attitude of, "If it doesn't happen today, it'll happen tomorrow." No one seems too confident that
their studio will still be investing in new product once the current project, whatever it is, is completed. I find this uncertainty to be less
healthy than what artists had to endure back in 1986.
For years, one of the ways the animation studios could get by without paying residuals and rerun fees to most of the creative personnel
was due to the continuity of work. It was like, "No, we're not going to pay you when your work is rerun but you'll have steady income from the
next show we do and the one after." Now that this pattern is broken...now that so much of the industry is geared towards creating a "library"
that can be rerun repeatedly in lieu of new production...it is less excusable that writers and artists are usually not compensated for reruns.
Such payments are, I believe, inevitable...but there may be, at least in some quarters, a long and bloody battle to make that the norm. When
that happens — or when studios plan far enough ahead so that they're willing to offer long-term contracts to their key creators — then
I'll believe the business is truly better off than it was in '86.
December 27, 2001 · 4:00 AM PST ·
THIS ISN'T PARTICULARLY timely but I just came across this terrific photo, taken at a televised Friars' Roast of Jack Benny that
ran on the Kraft Music Hall TV show in (I'm guessing) 1970. It was definitely before Johnny Carson moved The Tonight Show to
Burbank, which he did in 1972. The folks depicted — just in case anyone's puzzled — are, left to right: Carson, Alan King, Ed
Sullivan, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, Benny, George Burns and Milton Berle. It is perhaps significant of something that the only one of these men
who is still performing is Alan King, who was recently seen on Comedy Central's airing of the Friars' Roast of Hugh Hefner.
The photo reminds me of one of the funniest ad-libs I ever heard on a TV show...and it was also, perhaps, the last time anyone ever did
a "surprise walk-on" on a talk show that the host didn't know about in advance. I suspect Mssrs. Leno and Letterman would fire their entire
staffs if anything ever happened for which they did not have adequate preparation, including a few pre-scripted lines. It's a shame since one
of the great appeals of the talk show was, once upon a time, the spontaneity and the joy of seeing witty men working without a net.
The line I loved was uttered by David Steinberg. He was guest-hosting The Tonight Show that evening while Mr. Carson was
elsewhere in the building (Rockefeller Center in New York) taping the above roast.
So what happened was that Steinberg was interviewing some guest and, all of a sudden, Milton Berle walked out on stage —
absolutely unannounced and apparently a complete surprise to Steinberg. The audience, of course, went berserk. Berle ousted the guest
from the guest chair, sat down and said a few words before George Burns walked out. Again, the audience went nuts.
Burns displaced Berle in the chair next to the desk and muttered a few words. Then, suddenly, Jack Benny walked out. The
audience was cheering and howling with glee, and I thought they couldn't get any more excited.
Then Johnny Carson walked out from the wings.
That's right: Johnny Carson did a surprise walk-on on The Tonight Show. I have never heard an audience get as excited, as
utterly apoplectic as they did at that moment. Finally, the ruckus died down and Carson — now seated in the guest chair — explained
how they could only stay a minute since they were on a break from taping The Kraft Music Hall. For some odd reason, Steinberg
"What are you laughing at?" Johnny asked him.
Steinberg grinned and replied, "I was just thinking about how wonderful the rest of this show's going to go after you all leave."
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