February 28, 2003 · 1:00 PM PST ·
BILJO WHITE, who passed away last week, was one of the pioneers of comic book fandom both in terms of history — in 1964,
he first published Batmania — and the creation of amateur comics. He drew many such strips but his most famous was The Eye, a
freakish crimefighter with an eyeball for a head, far weirder than any evil-doer he vanquished. By day, White was a hero in his own right
— a fireman in Columbia, MO — and one with a lifelong interest in comics. He actually purchased Batman #1 off the racks in
1940 and amazingly, his mother didn't throw it out. In fact, he amassed a truly splendid collection of comics with the emphasis on the Caped
Crusader. The comics also inspired William J. White to take up drawing.
Sadly, in the mid-fifties when he journeyed to New York and sought employment at DC Comics, the experience was discouraging enough to
un-inspire him — at least on comics as a profession. Thereafter, he did them only for fun, and it showed. I never had the
pleasure of meeting the man they called "Cap'n Biljo," but I followed and enjoyed his work.
For more on Biljo White, check out Bill Schelly's excellent article on him done for Alter Ego.
February 27, 2003 · 7:00 PM PST ·
A LOT OF ARTICLES like this one and this one are attempting to discuss why Phil Donahue's MSNBC talk show was
cancelled. They all seem to be analyzing it in terms of whether or not (a) there's a market for liberal viewpoints and/or (b)
whether MSNBC was just plain afraid to have an anti-war advocate on the air if and when we start leveling Iraq.
All those points may be valid but no one seems to be noting that all the shows on MSNBC either get cancelled or, like Hardball With
Chris Matthews, certainly have the ratings to justify termination. If Donahue was axed because the audience isn't there for a
liberal talk show host, what was the reason for dropping Alan Keyes Is Making Sense, apart from the fact that he so rarely did?
They also seem to be ignoring the simple possibility — which dawned on me, first time I saw it — that Donahue's show wasn't
all that good. I like the guy but I don't like the 9-minute questions which involve attacking the guest's position three times and apologizing
twice before allowing him to reply, then cutting him off to go to commercial. Once in a while, Phil connected — but I always found better
things to do than waiting for that to happen.
There may be no market for a liberal political talk show, I don't know. But there are certainly plenty of other reasons for the
failure of Phil Donahue's show, starting with the fact that it was on a channel that no one ever watches. Perhaps Michael Savage and Jesse
Ventura will fare better, but that will have more to do with theatrics than politics.
JUST CHANGED a line in the piece below about Mr. Rogers. I originally wrote he was on TV for 22 years. Actually, I
meant to write that his best-known series was on for 22 years, which is what some obits say — but it turns out that's not accurate,
either. Fred Rogers did his first TV shows around '51 or '52 and did his last episode in 2001 — an amazing achievement. Thanks to
Mark Thorson for keeping me honest.
February 27, 2003 · 10:30 AM PST ·
THE ONE THING I can tell you about Mr. Rogers is that he was the real deal. Unlike some celebrities who have a wholesome,
kindly image on camera and then go home and slap their offspring, Fred Rogers was the same gentle, soft-spoken man on and off. I never found
his show particularly watchable but, of course, it wasn't meant for me — or you, if you were older than about six. Obviously, since he
was on TV for some 50 years, he managed to connect with his intended audience, and that longevity is all the more impressive when you consider how it
was done: Without lights and explosions and special effects or anything of the sort. He did it without ever altering his act...because it
wasn't an act.
I met him once, very briefly, but it was long enough to see this. Groping for something to say other than the obvious, I recalled
that the first time I was up for an Emmy Award — for Best Writing on a Children's Program — the statuette had gone instead to Fred
Rogers. Waiting to be introduced to him a few years later, I was all prepped to say something theoretically funny about how he'd beaten me
out...but he proved to be disarmingly polite and personable. The man didn't know me from Big Bird but he shook my hand and looked me right in
the eye and made sure he understood the pronunciation of my name (no easy feat) and...well, my sarcastic side just froze up. He was just so
stunningly nice that I was instantly afraid to make some remark he might not have understood; that he might have taken as anything even vaguely
hostile. Mr. Rogers was not humorless but you could tell he treated everyone and everything they said with utter and literal reverence.
Moments later, I watched as he met some children and spoke to them with the same total commitment of dignity and attention he was giving to the
adults around him. Some of those adults — this was at a seminar of broadcasting executives — could have meant a lot to his career
and bank account, but that didn't matter. Everyone got treated the same, which is to say with respect and importance. He said to
everyone, "It's a pleasure to meet you," and he seemed to really feel that way.
Like I said, I never warmed to his show. But I sure like the fact that someone like that could have a show — and that he
could succeed for so long, just being himself.
February 27, 2003 · 2:30 AM PST ·
WE'VE BEEN experiencing some technical difficulties with this site — not my fault, but I apologize to those of you who had
trouble getting in here over the last twelve hours. It's being fixed.
I'm swamped, but here's a link to a new
column by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame.
February 26, 2003 · 1:30 AM PST ·
OVER AT the website for Turner Classic Movies, they're
always posting some great clip that you can view online. Right this moment — it will change soon — they're offering us "So You Want
To Be A Gambler," a Joe McDoakes short starring George O'Hanlon (whose name they insist on spelling wrong). Depending on which browser you're
around. For that matter, there are a lot of great clips on their multimedia page and on their trailers page. (If those links don't work, go to their main page and use
the drop-down menus at the top.)
On the latter page, there are many treasures including a trailer for the real movie of The Music Man with Robert Preston
delivering some special promotional lyrics to the opening of "76 Trombones." I believe there was a longer version in the original trailer but
even this much is a fine treat. Here's a link
that may work or you may have to root about. It's great to see Mr. Preston in his signature role. If you saw the Matthew Broderick
version and would like to catch The Music Man as God intended it to be seen — filmed in America with people who fit the roles —
Turner Classic Movies is running the movie March 3, or you can order the DVD by clicking here. Preston is wonderful and mesmerizing, Shirley Jones is
wonderful and pregnant, and everyone else is just plain wonderful.
February 25, 2003 · 7:30 PM PST ·
THE LATEST THING the TV schedulers are doing to screw with those of us who TiVo: The NBC network broadcasts of Saturday
Night Live are now officially 91 minutes long — from 11:30 PM to 1:01 AM. This was done deliberately to foul up my Season Pass for
the To Tell the Truth reruns on Game Show Network that start (in my time zone) at 1:00 AM.
February 25, 2003 · 12:30 AM PST ·
IF ANY opinion in the comic strip world approaches unanimity, it's that Walt Kelly was a great cartoonist and that Pogo
was a great comic strip. Those who know it love it. Those who don't know would love it if only they knew it. Even as a small kid,
too unseasoned to understand every word of its unique dialect, I could tell it was funny. You just look at it and you can see it's full of
funny characters with funny expressions and funny postures, so I just assumed that if I could ever understand everything those funny characters were
saying, it too would be funny. Well, it was. It was also profound and insightful and even, at times, poetic. Walter Crawford Kelly
was not only a cartoonist, he was a poet. And a song writer. And even a singer of his own silly songs.
He proved this with a 1956 book and record album, Songs of the Pogo, both filled with wonderful tunes, some of which he
sings. Want to hear a sample? If you have Windows Media Player installed, click here and you'll hear Mr. Kelly himself vocalizing "Go-Go Pogo" in its
two-minute entirety. Then click here and go to the website of
Parasol Records, where you can purchase — for a paltry twelve bucks — the new CD reissue of Songs of the Pogo, complete with
previously-unreleased Pogo tracks, including rehearsal sessions, and some of Kelly's other records that weren't included on the album.
I've played my copy of the LP record over and over and over. Now, I get to play the CD over and over and over. You will,
February 24, 2003 · 12:30 PM PST ·
THE FUNNIEST thing I've seen on the web lately is
this. If you think you get an error message, look again.
February 24, 2003 · 12:00 PM PST ·
POSTING HERE may be light for the next day or three, but I wanted to link to this article about the Death Penalty. If
you're interested in the topic, this one's well worth a read.
ALSO: Over at Cartoon Research, Jerry Beck is giving away 16mm
prints of those rotten Popeye cartoons made in the sixties. They're free, but if I were you, I'd hold out for a better deal. Within three
weeks, Jerry will be paying people to take them. A much better deal is this link he provides today. It's to a wonderful site that displays advertising
artwork done by Theodore "Dr. Seuss" Geisel. Good stuff, and it's also free.
February 23, 2003 · 3:30 PM PST ·
THIS COMING WEEK, the PBS series Great Performances is airing Kiss Me, Kate — a taping of the London company
of the revival that opened in New York in 2000. I enjoyed this version all three times I saw it — twice in New York, once in L.A.
The touring company that hit Los Angeles featured Rachel York, who was in the London production (and is in what PBS is airing) and who is fabulous in
this and everything she does. You can find out all about this broadcast and even view online clips here.
February 23, 2003 · 2:00 AM PST ·
THEY'VE JUST RELEASED the complete third (and for my money, best) season of the M*A*S*H TV show on DVD. This is the
year that ends with Henry Blake getting on that helicopter and sailing off into sitcom history and oblivion at the same time. You can purchase
this splendid collection from the Amazon folks by clicking here. And while you're at it, feel free to order the first season and the second season. These DVDs come with an option to turn off
the laugh track, for which we have Great Britain to thank. Unlike CBS, the British TV broadcasters wanted to run the show without any
artificial guffaws, so Twentieth-Century Fox never did a composite audio track. On their master copies, they kept the laughs on separate
channels so they could strike off prints with or without. "Without" is much better.
But forget about that; let's discuss that DVD cover. Maybe my memory is failing but wasn't McLean Stevenson a lot taller
than Gary Burghoff? Wasn't that part of the charm of those two men working together? For that matter, wouldn't the cover scene be funnier
if the two guys were back-to-back but their backs didn't line up? And while we're at it, might not the cover be more appealing if Mr.
Burghoff's head weren't so obviously pasted onto someone else's body? (Matter of fact, it wouldn't surprise me if that's a woman's body.)
Add to this the fact that the entire pose is out of character for Henry Blake and Radar, as well as the mood of the series, and you have to wonder
what — if anything — was going through the brain of whoever designed this sucker. They should have put him on that helicopter.
WHY HASN'T there been more outcry over this? From a recent issue of the Washington Post...
That most lamentable duct tape suggestion last week by a Homeland Security official — which drove countless panicked citizens
out to buy the product — has been widely derided as useless and pretty crazy. But maybe not so crazy. Turns out that nearly half
— 46 percent to be precise — of the duct tape sold in this country is manufactured by a company in Avon, Ohio. And the founder of
that company, that would be Jack Kahl, gave how much to the Republican National Committee and other GOP committees in the 2000 election cycle?
Would that be more than $100,000?
For the full story, click here.
IN 1950, the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes debuted on Broadway and the tradition of the Gypsy Robe was born. A
chorus boy named Bill Bradley (presumably no relation to the basketball player-turned-Senator) started it, creating a "lucky robe" from a dressing
gown donated by the one of the chorus girls. Since Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a hit, Bradley wanted to transfer some of that good
fortune on to friends in the choruses of other new shows. He passed the robe on to a friend in the next show to open on Broadway, which was
Call Me Madam. It was another hit — possibly because of Ethel Merman and a terrific score, but more likely due to that robe.
Since then, with few exceptions, the superstition has persisted for the Broadway openings of shows with a line of "gypsies"
(i.e., a singing-dancing chorus). Opening night, everyone gathers on stage an hour before curtain and a robe is presented by a
representative of the last show to open. There are all sorts of rules and rituals, and the Gypsy Robe has a glorious history which you can read
HAVE YOU ALWAYS dreamed of having lunch with Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island? Well, there's still time to get a bid
in for this auction. It's a
private harbor cruise with the lovely Dawn Wells, complete with sumptuous buffet and autographed photos, and it's for a good cause. As I write
this, it's up to eight hundred bucks.
FOR THOSE OF YOU keeping score in The Great Disney-Pooh Battle, the Mouse just lost another inning. Here are the bloody details.
THE RIO SUITES HOTEL in Las Vegas is one of my favorite places to stay, and it's trying something new and amazingly
controversial. In the past, its cocktail waitresses were hired mainly for their ability to look cute in the skimpy server outfits.
Beginning soon, they will not be "cocktail waitresses" at all. They will be "bevertainers" (someone actually invented that word) who will not
only serve watery drinks to gamblers but will sing and dance and put on little musical numbers from time to time. This idea — detailed here — could be kinda fun, but it's
already upsetting casino patrons for whom the whole point of gambling is to have a voluptuous lady with her top or bottom protruding bring you a free
Bloody Mary. They fear the bevertainers will be selected for their singing instead of their measurements, and will be too busy performing to
protrude. (Hey, folks — it's just one hotel out of around a hundred. Go somewhere else to see women in humiliating outfits.)
February 22, 2003 · 9:00 AM PST ·
AN ARTICLE that used to be posted on this site detailed my lustings for the barbecue served in the once-vast chain of Love's
Barbecue Restaurants. It caused many fans of their cuisine to write me, if only to seek out a soulmate and share recollections of the great
A mere handful of Love's Restaurants remain, none of them convenient to me. The one in Indonesia is especially hard to get
to. So for a time, a nice gent at the Love's company has been selling me cases of their sauce, which I use in my feeble attempts at
cooking. Better than nothing.
I must not have been the only person interested in this because they are now selling bottles of Love's Barbecue Sauce on their website. A nice U.P.S. man brought me my latest crate of twelve this afternoon.
Knowing that some folks are militant about barbecue sauces, I am only recommending this to those of you already familiar with the taste of
Love's. Their sauce is sweet and mild, and may not titillate your senses the way it delights mine.
Their site also proclaims that they will soon be selling Love's Beans mail order. The minute they do, I'll buy a supply and let
you know if they're as good as they were in the restaurants. I almost hope they aren't, because this could get expensive.
JIM HILL is a very smart, perceptive guy...and as regular visitors to this site know, I don't throw around such compliments
easily. No, you have to write a real positive review of something I wrote in order to warrant such reciprocity. But as it happens, Jim's
website proves my point. He has a lot of savvy, informative essays there, primarily about various aspects of the monolith known as
Disney. There are some good pieces about the politics of managing the theme parks. There's a great article about Walt's relationship with
Richard Nixon. Oh, yeah — and there's a rave about this site and my much-touted book, Comic Books and Other Necessities of Life. But don't
dwell on that. Browse all over jimhillmedia.com — a fun place to be.
February 22, 2003 · 1:30 AM PST ·
JUST SPENT an hour browsing a spectacular website called
Yesterland, which amasses photos and facts about things that used to be at Disneyland but ain't there no more. If that kind of thing sounds
interesting to you, you'll spend at least an hour of your life there. It's as much fun as a trip to Disneyland, and you don't have to wait in
very long lines, spend nineteen bucks for a cheeseburger or risk getting trampled by a dwarf.
I THOUGHT the first episode of Bill Maher's new HBO show was terrific. It was funny, some genuine issues were discussed,
and it held my attention for the entire hour, which neither Jay nor Dave have done for a long time. I am, however, skeptical that it will do
well. There's always been something dislikeable about Maher. He's very smart and he makes me laugh but I wouldn't want to hang around the
guy. That side of him was held somewhat in check on Politically Incorrect but now that he's free to ratchet up his mean side, I can't
imagine America wanting to spend a lot of time with him, either. You have to really work to have Ann Coulter on your show and still come off as
the angriest person on the premises. I hope I'm wrong, and that Real Time With Bill Maher will be on for a real long time. I don't
like him but I like watching him.
February 21, 2003 · 4:30 PM PST ·
WHAT HAS Sergio Aragonés been doing lately? Well, today he had lunch at the Magic Castle with Len Wein, Marv
Wolfman, Geoff Johns, and me. Then he went to the art supply shop to buy some erasers. Then he stopped at a market to get some
cheese. Oh — and with a little help from his demon Webmaster (m.e.) he finally got some content on his website, www.sergioaragones.com. Go visit the world's fastest (and probably most-honored) cartoonist in his new
Internet habitat. If nothing else, check out the "Ask Sergio" page where he'll be answering important queries. In the months to come,
there'll be even more goodies there.
MY FRIEND Vince Waldron (whose website on classic situation
comedies you should also visit) suggests I tell you that the Preston Blair books on animation are still in print.
How to Animate Film
Cartoons and Cartoon
Animation are the two main ones. They feature wonderful artwork which you'll recognize, not only because some of it appeared in classic
cartoons, but because beginning cartoonists are always copying from these books. I can't tell you how many times I've seen the drawing of the
cute pig in ads, murals, amateur comic strips, etc. The books also explain the principles of animation in clear, easy-to-understand
Cartoon Animation (The
Collector's Series) is a fancier compilation of material from both books. I'm not sure if it contains anything that isn't in the other
two, but it may. The Blair books have been packaged and repackaged so many times that I've lost track of what's in what edition, and my copies
of the first two are very old, anyway.
Among animators and cartoonists of a certain generation, these volumes are sacred. Very few folks who got into the business
— or just messed around with the art form — weren't inspired by what Mr. Blair committed to paper. Even in the era of computer
animation, there's still much to be learned from him.
February 21, 2003 · 10:30 AM PST ·
THERE HAVE BEEN many books on how to animate, most of which aren't all that helpful. For the basics of the kind of
animation that involves pencils and a lot of paper, no one has ever beaten the Preston Blair books — a couple of slim, low-priced volumes
prepared many decades ago for a series sold in art stores. Mr. Blair was a great animator who worked for Disney (on Fantasia) and for
Tex Avery at MGM. Here's a link to a website that lets you study some of his lessons
on-line — including viewable animations.
THOSE SELFLESS folks at Disney are giving away a free download of a vintage Mickey Mouse cartoon for the PC. The
catch? You have to register for their site, and the cartoon will only play until March 7. If you want to do this anyway, here's the link.
THE EPISODE of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? with the call to Bob Ingersoll got bumped. Seems the producers
decided to rearrange the airdates so that they could get a million-dollar win on during an important ratings period. The one where Bob's friend
called him is now scheduled to air March 4. Final answer.
HERE'S A PLUG for my new book. It won't be out for a few more months but I figured I might as well start hectoring you
now. Consider yourself hectored to purchase...
Click here to read the previous NEWS FROM ME