June 21, 2002 · 1:30 AM PDT ·
THE REPRISE! group in Los Angeles stages short-run, stripped-down, no-frills (i.e., minimal sets and costumes) versions
of great Broadway musicals — usually three a year at the Freud Playhouse up at U.C.L.A.
and one slightly-bigger production at the Wadsworth Theater over on the grounds
of the Veterans Administration. I am just back from the sixth of eleven
performances of this year's "slightly-bigger" event at the Wadsworth — Follies, book by James Goldman, songs by Stephen
Sondheim. Yes, Follies again. It was not so long ago that I
saw the recent New York production done by Manhattan's Roundabout Theater Company.
That one was criticized by some for not being lavish enough
in its art direction and staging. The Reprise! version offers even less and, in some ways, less is more. Take away the staging tricks and
glitter and all you have left are the skills of the performers and their very formidable personal histories. That is more than enough to make
for a very enjoyable event.
For those who don't know: Follies in the story of the closing of a great theater and a last reunion therein of the showgirls who
once paraded across its stage. It is often cast with lead performers who have rich show biz histories themselves, making it a showpiece for the
great ladies of the stage who have been around a while. The cast for this Reprise! incarnation is most impressive and includes Carol Lawrence,
Carole Cook, Amanda McBroom, Stella Stevens, Mary Jo Catlett, Justine Johnson (who was in the original Broadway production in '71), Liz Torres and
Donna McKechnie. The male leads are Bob Gunton and Harry Groener — both of whom are incredible — while the two main female roles
are filled by Patty Duke and Vikki Carr.
The latter two choices were deemed controversial when announced — Ms. Duke because it was felt she couldn't sing; Ms. Carr,
because folks wondered if she could act. Apparently, the early performances were a bit awkward (these shows are always woefully
under-rehearsed) but tonight, both ladies proved the skeptics wrong. Patty Duke is still a helluvan actress and that makes up for any slight
deficiencies in her singing. Vikki Carr is still an amazing singer and I thought she was wonderful in the difficult role of Sally. And I
have to say just one more time how good the men were, especially Harry Groener. You want to know what a good song-and-dance man looks like on
stage? He looks like Harry Groener.
A tiny minority of folks left at intermission. There are rough edges in this kind of production — bobbled lines, missed
notes — and it seemed like a few people let that kind of thing get to them. Those of us who remained jumped to our feet at the end to
applaud a truly memorable, emotional production of a truly memorable, emotional show.
Although I almost wish a few more had left. The folks sitting directly behind us seemed unable to grasp that all their
favorite musical performers weren't up on the stage there. One man kept paging through his program book, asking over and over which of those
ladies on stage was Lainie Kazan (answer: none of them). His wife was equally certain that at least one of those women had to be Connie Francis
or maybe Connie Stevens. But maybe such mistakes add to the charm. Follies is about fantasy and nostalgia. Maybe it's
appropriate to let one's imagination run rampant at such an event.
June 20, 2002 · 12:30 PM PDT ·
FOX NEWS is reporting here that Cartoon Network
is reinstating Speedy Gonzales to its cartoon line-up. As we predicted here, they're citing online
petitions as one of the factors that prompted the decision.
IN A FEW DAYS, I'll be posting the list of panels (twelve of 'em) I'll be moderating at this year's Comic-Con International in
San Diego. However, I wanted to mention one thing that delights me; that our annual Cartoon Voice Actor Panel will be graced by the presence of
the legendary Gary Owens, along with other folks of amazing voice. You can also expect a Golden Age Panel, a Jack Kirby Tribute Panel, a
tribute to the late Dan DeCarlo, another Marvel Bullpen Reunion (including a tribute to John Buscema), panels celebrating the 50th anniversary of
Mad Magazine and the 20th of Groo the Wanderer,
and many others.
There will even be a couple that may look more like low-budget
(but fun) game shows. If you're thinking of going to the con and ain't got your hotel reservation yet, you may be
commuting quite a distance, as all the lodgings for some distance around seem to be booked. Hustle over to the convention's website — www.comic-con.org — for more info.
June 20, 2002 · 10:30 AM PDT ·
REGARDING the "Late Night Trifecta" mentioned below: Several e-mails this morn remind me that the three comedians not only all
told the same joke, they were all factually wrong. Southwest Airlines does not serve meals on their flights.
June 20, 2002 · 2:00 AM PDT ·
We hit the Late Night Trifecta last night! Jay Leno, David Letterman and Conan O'Brien all did the same joke, which
went roughly like this...
Southwest Airlines has announced that they're going to begin charging overweight passengers for two seats. The overweight
passengers were upset until they realized it means two meals.
It happens quite often that two of the three happen onto the same topical joke. This is the first time I can recall all three
doing one. (And, no, no one stole it from anyone else. No one ever steals jokes like that, especially on the same night.)
June 20, 2002 · 1:00 AM PDT ·
ANYBODY BUT ME bothered by those new Denny's TV commercials featuring The Muppets? It's not that the characters are doing
commercials. It's not even that someone other than Frank Oz is doing the voice of Miss Piggy. It's that Miss Piggy is ordering and
enjoying Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast — which includes two slices of bacon and two links of sausage! Aren't those, like, her
relatives? Shouldn't Miss Piggy have been reacting in horror to the cuisine? As I recall, The Muppet Movie was all about Kermit
refusing to do TV commercials for a chain of restaurants that served frogs' legs. Where did that independent, selfless spirit go?
June 20, 2002 · 12:00 AM PDT ·
ONE OF THE MOST talented people I know is an actor-comedian-inventor-silly person named Chuck McCann. Once upon a time, he
and Soupy Sales were a one-two parlay on New York television, making for a seamless bloc of hip kids' shows. Later on, he appeared in films and
on TV and did cartoon voices and...well, I can't begin to tell you all that Chuck has done. Here's a link to his listing in the Internet Movie Database, which itemizes about a tenth of it. (By the
way: Ignore the credits they have for him as a film editor. Those rightly belong to the other Chuck McCann. Completely different
As you can see, even without cutting film, this Chuck McCann has an awesome list of credits. And one of the things that impresses
me about Chuck is that he's done everything, met everyone, etc. A year or three ago at a party, we were chatting and somehow, Edgar Bergen's
name came up in the conversation. Chuck works puppets and knows everybody so it didn't surprise me that Chuck knew him and had worked with
him. But even I was amazed when Chuck said, "Did you know I once did the voice of Mortimer Snerd for him while he was working the dummy?"
No, I didn't know...
Chuck went on to explain that it was on an episode of the game show, I've Got A Secret. Bergen was the celebrity guest
— with Mr. Snerd on his knee — and his secret was, "I'm not speaking for Mortimer...I have another ventriloquist under the desk."
Sure enough, Chuck was hidden uncomfortably down by the feet of Bergen and Garry Moore, and he copied Mortimer's voice. Bergen worked the
controls and — here's the part I love — moved his lips a little to complete the illusion. The panel never guessed it.
I believed Chuck when he told me this. Still, I was impressed to see it the other night when Game Show Network re-ran that
ancient (6/14/61) episode. It was just as Chuck described — his imitation of Snerd was flawless — and the whole spot was
delightful. I couldn't wait to call Chuck the next morning and tell him I'd seen it.
"It was on?" he gasped. No one had told him. I saved it for him, of course, and we're getting together for lunch next week
so I can give him a copy.
But that's not why I recounted all this. I just think it's great that things like this have been saved. Chuck thought he'd
never see that episode again; assumed it was lost forever, as so much fine work has been lost. With eight zillion cable channels out there, why
do they all have to be rerunning Dude, Where's My Car? Why can't we have more stations rooting around in old film vaults, preserving and
sharing treasures of the past? I'm amazed how few old TV shows are available on my satellite dish beyond the biggies like M*A*S*H and
I Love Lucy. When is someone going to start The Old Sitcom Network? Or The Cop Show Channel? Why can't I tune in one of my
thousand channels and see The Defenders? Or Car 54? Or even Bilko, for God's sake?
Sorry. There's no answer to this. I'm just venting.
By the way: Game Show Network is closing in on the end of their supply of What's My Line? episodes. The last one (probably
the actual last episode, featuring John Daly as the Mystery Guest) will air at the end of this month. It'll be replaced on the schedule by old
installments of To Tell the Truth.
June 19, 2002 · 1:15 AM PDT ·
I HAVE ANOTHER THEORY. It's that many old TV shows have been secretly refilmed to make them cheap-looking and less
entertaining. I formulated this notion a few years ago when I caught a couple of vintage reruns of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. I just
know this series didn't look that chintzy and wasn't as silly when it first aired. Using doubles of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum — or
perhaps employing sophisticated computer imagery — someone has managed to drain the entertainment value of them.
I started thinking the same kind of monkeying had been done to David Frost's 1977 interviews with Richard Nixon. I watched them
when they first aired and I watched the first two hours again the other night on the Discovery Civilization Channel. Something, one can't help
but think, has changed. Maybe it's CGI animation or maybe they found David Frye and got him to redo Nixon's role...but I don't recall our 37th
president being that rotten a liar. He's really terrible. My recollection is that while Frost landed some solid punches, Nixon held his
own for much of it and made some solid points on his behalf with regard to Watergate and its allied scandals.
I could then understand how his supporters could have believed him...something I cannot fathom after the other night. He seems
nakedly insincere and his tactic for diverting questions is in full view and utterly ineffective. I never liked or trusted the man but I
thought he was a better fibber than this.
Perhaps the tapes (Frost's tapes, that is) have indeed been altered. The shows now airing have been recut to include material
that was previously unused. Still, I find it hard to believe they cut out Nixon's better moments for this version, or that they omitted his
worst, the first time around. I find it more credible to believe that in the quarter-century since, we've endured so many lying, weasely
politicians up-close and personal on the cable channels, the art form of political misdirection has had to advance. They've had to improve on
what Nixon did, and his skills of misdirection are no longer State of the Art. I wonder if people who once supported him watched these shows
this week and said, "I can't believe I voted for this guy."
June 18, 2002 · 5:00 PM PDT ·
I HAVE A THEORY that God watches the monologues of the late night TV comedians and, every so often, he decides they're weak in
subject matter. It's like, "Hmm...Dave and Jay don't have much to talk about. I'd better give them something." If the material is
really weak, he'll have a Congressman or even a President caught in a sex scandal. If it's only so-so, he'll arrange something that offers less
opportunity for jokes, like the President choking on a pretzel or Michael Jackson getting in trouble again.
And then, about once a week, he'll see that there's one news item that's so silly — so fraught with possibilities for humor
— that it's good for at least 20 monologue jokes per comedian. Here's this week's. Watch and see if any of them can resist this.
(It's the first item...the one about the bras.)
June 18, 2002 · 2:15 AM PDT ·
JUST NOTICED: If you don't want to wait 'til next Monday to see Triumph the Insult Comic Dog abuse Star Wars fans, the
complete video — it's ten and a half minutes, by the way — has been posted to several websites. You can try this link or this link or this link or even this link. One of those oughta work, at least for the next day or two.
June 17, 2002 · 9:30 PM PDT ·
I REALLY ENJOY Late Night With Conan O'Brien. At times, I think it's the smartest, funniest show on TV. I
feel this at other times about other shows but Conan's often takes the lead, especially when the hand of Robert Smigel is in evidence. Smigel
is a writer and occasional performer who contributes in many ways, one of them being Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Recently, America's rudest
hand puppet did a segment that was, like most of what he does, hysterical if one could get past its fundamental cruelty. Triumph went to a
Manhattan movie house where dedicated Star Wars fans were camped out to see the new release and "he" (Smigel, via the puppet) interviewed and
unmercifully ridiculed them.
It was very, very nasty but — I'm almost ashamed to admit — very, very funny. And this is an early TiVO ALERT
(bwoop-bwoop) that the episode reruns next Monday night, June 24. It's so funny they put it at the beginning of the show, spinning off
from O'Brien's opening monologue.
Actually, since Conan starts at 12:35 in the morning in most time zones, this episode technically airs on Tuesday A.M.. This is a
concept that seems to have eluded the makers of TiVos and VCRs that allow you to program a Monday-Friday recording pattern. Late Night
is actually on Tuesday through Saturday, as are all sorts of shows that air early in the morn. You'd think they'd add this recording option,
I COULDN'T HELP IT. I purchased and devoured John Dean's on-line e-book about Deep Throat (the informant, not the porn
film) that is currently being hawked over at www.salon.com. Dean originally announced he
would reveal on June 17, the name of the secret source within the Nixon administration who abetted Woodward and Bernstein in their research.
When he said this, he intended to finger a man named Jonathan Rose who worked under Nixon, and who would have been Dean's third (at least)
identification of the mysterious snitch. He previously named Earl Silbert and Alexander Haig, then backed off on both. On the way to
those public announcements, he briefly believed it was Al Wong and several others.
This time, after he'd committed to a revelation on 6/17 but before it could happen, his target denied it, threatened to sue and
convinced Dean he was wrong. Stuck with the deadline and a book without a pay-off, Dean went ahead and, in this version, he proudly boasts that
he has winnowed it down to several candidates and that one of them is absolutely, definitely, positively Deep Throat. Maybe.
But it all made me realize what it is I find interesting about the search for Woodstein's famed tattletale; it's that it's a mystery
that probably has an answer. The reporters swear that there was a Deep Throat and that, when the person dies or releases them from their pledge
of confidentiality, they will name him. Having read dozens of articles and books in which learned men have analyzed the data and concluded that
D.T. is definitely this guy or that guy, I think I'm less interested in the right answer than I am in who was wrong, and why.
Years ago, I spent many wasted hours/days/weeks/etc. reading up about the Kennedy assassination and watching as intelligent and wise
individuals came logically and assuredly to wildly different conclusions. Some of these folks were well-credentialed educators or experienced
journalists — i,e., the kinds of people from whom we learn so much of what we "know" — and many penned essays that seemed to make
absolute sense; that, taken in standalone fashion, seemed to nail down precisely how many dozens of shooters were on that grassy knoll or scurrying
about in Oswald masks. You could almost become convinced by some of them, but for the fact that there were other, equally-credible works that
came to totally different conclusions. (I especially loved the authors — and there were several — who came to finite, irrefutable
conclusions about who killed J.F.K. and how it was done...and later authored other books saying it was someone else using a different plan. And
they would defend both books to the death, even though if A was right, B was wrong and vice-versa.)
But they could get away with that to a great extent because we were long past the stage when any assassination theory would or could
ever be proven. Today, if you came up with movie film of the shooter actually pulling the trigger, most folks would just say, "Aah, coming to
light so late, it's gotta be fake," and press on with their old conspiracy theories. I believe a lot of those who've written about the Kennedy
killing have done so in full confidence that, no matter what silly thing they write, they'll never be proven wrong.
It's not quite that way with the Deep Throat Mystery. Someday, I like to believe, Bernstein and Woodward will single out the
guy. And while a number of folks will loudly claim they're lying, no matter who they name, most of the world will probably accept it as final,
especially if nothing about the person contradicts anything they said in the book of All the President's Men. I'm interested in what all
the wrong guessers will then say. How did all those smart people get it so wrong?
John Dean is an extremely smart man. I can't vouch for his ethics, especially back in his Nixonian days, but one of the reasons
that administration went bye-bye was that Dean was a terrific witness. When he testified, Republicans were poised to find the teensiest
discrepancy in his testimony and use it to smear and discredit him. If he'd said Nixon drank tea and it was actually coffee, you'd have had
Howard Baker decrying, "If a man can't tell the difference between tea and coffee, we cannot take his word for anything, so I demand that his
testimony be totally disregarded." That Dean was so letter-perfect accurate — that he didn't make even the microscopic errors that any
honest witness might make — is one of the reasons Gerald Ford got to be prez.
So here's this guy who knows Washington — at least during the Nixon era — as well as anyone. He's very smart.
He's a lawyer. And he keeps being wrong about who Deep Throat was. After all the names he's tossed out, he may still be wrong.
Dozens of others, equally savvy, have been wrong...and if anyone turns out to be right, it may only be via the stopped-clock principle. In the
long run, I don't think it matters much who Deep Throat was, unless it turns out to be someone like Henry Kissinger. I just think it's great
that, for once, a public controversy is actually going to turn out to have a right answer.
June 17, 2002 · 2:00 AM PDT ·
HIGH ON THE LIST of Things Which Probably Didn't Need Doing, we find the notion of Neil Simon rewriting and updating The Odd
Couple. The play, originally done on Broadway in 1965, may well be the most-performed comedy of the 20th century with a good shot at a
repeat in this one. If Mr. Simon had passed away and someone else suggested a new version was in order, we'd stone the guy to death.
Nevertheless, this evening, I took in a performance of Oscar and Felix: A New Look at the Odd Couple, which opens this coming week in
Press reports said that Simon had rewritten 75% or more of the play. I didn't keep score but it felt more like 50% and I found
myself wondering if, in the rehearsal period, some lines didn't get rolled back to their '65 versions. For what it's worth, I felt that all the
old stuff worked well...or will, once John Larroquette (who's playing Oscar) and Joe Regalbuto (as the other one) do more performances and find more
ways to work the material. Tonight, there were occasional moments when they seemed to be struggling to even remember it all — which,
again, got me to wondering if rewrites weren't still in progress. If so, they'd better hurry: The official opening is this Wednesday.
Some of what's new is merely updates or extensions of old lines. Felix, for instance, no longer sends a suicide telegram.
Now, it's a suicide e-mail. Oscar still offers the poker players their choice of green sandwiches and brown sandwiches but now the line is
followed by one of them explaining he eats brown meat because, "My doctor told me to give up red meat." (Don't worry. I'm not giving away
any more punchlines.) A lot of it, I thought, was different but not better and about this, I have mixed feelings. Changing one funny line
to another funny line is a plus, in that we've all heard the old ones eight zillion times. It's a minus in that we liked a lot of the old
ones. I did, anyway. I sat there for much of the performance thinking, "That's not the next line..." Perhaps, if you don't know the
play by heart, this won't bother you.
Other changes: The British Pigeon Sisters have morphed into the Hispanic Costazuela Sisters (Maria Conchita Alonso and Alex Meneses),
inheriting a lot of malaprops from the male Hispanic flight attendants who filled that function in Simon's earlier, "female version" of The Odd
Couple. The new ladies are very funny in a Jose Jiminez way, though somewhat more cartoony. Other parts of the text deal a fraction
more openly — and unnecessarily, I thought — with the notion that there's something a bit homosexual about two men living together,
acting a teensy bit like each others' wives. The closing moments, with Oscar and Felix making up after their big spat, are more serious, deeper
and — I thought — vastly less effective. If this version has a life beyond the Geffen Playhouse, I'm betting a lot of this changes
I didn't like either Larroquette or Regalbuto in the first scene but warmed to them as the evening progressed, possibly because they
were improving. I don't think either is ideally cast (Larroquette would probably make a better Felix) but they hit long stretches where they
were as good as any Oscar/Felix combo I've seen...and I've seen a lot of them. Peter Bonerz, by the way, directed and seems to have done a fine
In spite of all my reservations and quibbling, much about this play is bulletproof and a lot of the new lines are quite funny...so I
had a very good time. On the other hand, I think I would probably have had just as good a time if they'd done the old text with no update.
June 16, 2002 · 12:30 PM PDT ·
112 YEARS AGO TODAY, Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born in Ulverston, England. He eventually became a performer in British
music hall revues, joined a troupe that toured America, decided to stay, changed his name to "Stan Laurel" and teamed up with a man named Oliver
Norvell Hardy. Your mileage may vary but I don't think any movie film has ever been exposed that contained more delight than the cinema antics
of Laurel and Hardy. There is something about seeing them that always makes me feel good. Part of it is that they played charming,
fascinating individuals, but part of it is just that they did what they did so well. One of their film editors — a gent named Martin
Bolger, who lived down the street from my folks' house — once said to me that nothing got into their films by accident. They may have
played two clueless babes but they always knew precisely what they were doing...and they did it just about as well as it could be done. Happy
birthday, Mr. Laurel. Wherever you are.
June 16, 2002 · 12:30 AM PDT ·
EVERYONE WHO EVER avidly read comic books has a couple of issues in their past that made a big impression on them; that linger
forever in the memory like a favored childhood toy. They may not be the best comics ever done but they hit you at just the right moment with
ideas and imagery that were at least new to you. Just like a guy never forgets his first girl (or vice-versa), you never quite forget your
first favorite comic book. I wrote about two "first favorites" over in
NOTES from me.
FOR JUST SHY of nine years, my longtime buddy Ken Gale has been broadcasting 'Nuff Said — America's only regular
radio program devoted to comic books — over station WBAI in New York. He's played host to everyone who's anyone in the field, and even a
few of us who fall under the category of "anyone who's everyone." But no longer. Recently, the station reshuffled its line-up and
'Nuff Said was suddenly nowhere to be heard.
This may change. The station, which is listener-supported — has received a number of complaints, though they could use
more. Ken has the particulars over on his new (change your bookmarks) website for the show, which is at www.comicbookradioshow.com. While you're there, listen to some on-line audio of recent broadcasts and
browse Ken's terrific guest list. You will, like me, hope he gets this thing back on the air somewhere soon.
is the forthcoming collection of Evanier's POV columns coming out in late July from TwoMorrows Publishing. I write silly promotional copy in this book, then I mention that it will
contain superb drawings by Sergio Aragonés and terrific articles about reading, creating and collecting comic books. Then you make a
point of buying a copy of the thing when it comes out. See how easy this works?
Click here to read the previous NEWS FROM ME