Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Mark John Astolfi  aka "Stolf"
PO Box 2387 Teaticket, MA 02536

Born 6/20/51 Salem, MA
Raised Danvers, MA, high school DHS '69
College: BS philosophy, minor in math, MIT '73

WSLB et al, Ogdensburg NY 1974-2010
Morning DJ 36 years with same radio group upstate NY
       At various times also Commercial Copywriter, Program Director,
         Music Director, Production Manager, Operations Manager

WMSA Massena NY  2011-2012  Afternoon DJ and Production Manager

WSLB et al, Assistant Operations Manager, March 2012-present

Experience in recording, production, copywriting and promotion,
   news and sports reporting, computer automation, humor & satire

Wrote column Stolf's Oldies in "Fourth Coast Entertainment" 2007-2014

Published monthly joke service "Cozmik Debris" for 8 years in 1990s

audio samples...


Monday, March 18, 2013

What's In a Name? (4CE reprint Feb. 2013)

4ce Feb 2013   stolf's oldies

What's In a Name?

I was startled to read in a local newspaper's birth announcements that a boy had been born in Massena in early December and given the first name "Lucifer." I will not mention further details, out of curtesy…but certainly not out of any sense of privacy, since it was right there in the newspaper! But suffice to say, "Lucifer" is Latin, meaning "bringer of light," referring to the planet Venus, the Morning Star. Believe it or not, this name was not always associated with Satan…indeed, it is used only once in the Bible, taunting a fallen Babylonian King. 

What's more, as I understand it, only the King James Version uses this L-word…other versions say morning star, daystar, or other phrases. If you're interested, check Isaiah chapter 14. There is even a St. Lucifer, a bishop of Sardinia, and his church exists to this day in the city of Cagliari. Other Lucifers? There's an asteroid named Lucifer, discovered in 1964…and in Disney's "Cinderella," Lucifer is the Wicked Stepmother's dastardly cat.

Then there's the "Lil Abner" comic strip, where Pappy Yokum's full name is Lucifer Ornamental Yokum. Typical of Al Capp's "wicked" sense of humor, no? Mammy Yokum's real name is Pansy Hunks…and Daisy Mae's maiden name was Scragg…not to be confused with Wilma Flintstone who was a Slaghoople...or 
Morticia Addams, born a Frump.

Blondie Bumstead's maiden name was Boopadoop…sounds pretty ridiculous today, but it wasn't back in 1933 when she was a flapper, and married the son of railroad magnate J. Boiling Bumstead…ouch! On "The Honeymooners," Trixie Norton's maiden name is unknown, but her real first name is Thelma…yup, same as that of a relatively recent First Lady, Pat Nixon. If you were thinking of Lady Bird Johnson, her first name was Claudia. On "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Moshe/Maurice "Buddy" Sorrell's wife Pickles was born Fiona Conway…and like Trixie Norton, she was an ex-show girl. 

Now see if any of these names ring a bell: Jonas Grumby, Roy Hinkley, Thurston Howell the 3rd, and Eunice Wentworth. If I had given that last one's married name as Lovey Howell, and included Ginger Grant and Mary Ann Summers, you probably would have known you were on Gilligan's Island. The first 3 were the Skipper, the Professor, and the Millionaire. The show's creator Sherwood Schwartz said he always thought of Gilligan as a "Willie," but that name never made it onto the show, so it isn't "official."

Likewise, Peter Falk's Lt. Columbo never had a first name…while Jack Klugman's Quincy sort of did…in one episode, we see his business card and it reads "R. Quincy." Rudolph? Roderick? Rembrandt? Nobody knows. 

But speaking of "ringing a bell"…or "striking a familiar note"…the Ruby Begonia catch-phrase from "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in" was originally from the radio version of "Amos and Andy." And in the park bench sketches, Ante Johnson's dirty old man is named Tyrone F. Horneigh (pronounced horn-eye) while Ruth Buzzi is Gladys Ormphby. 

One great source of controversy is whether Barbara Felton's Agent 99 character on "Get Smart" had an actual name. Now over the course of 5 seasons, she used many aliases while on assignment. In the 3rd season episode "99 Loses Control," she accepts a marriage proposal from a wealthy suitor…who turns out to be a KAOS agent, naturally…and tells him her name is Susan Hilton. I remember watching this and thinking: Aha, so that's it! Trouble is, at the end, Max calls her "Susan" and she says: "It's 99, Max. Susan isn't my real name."

What makes "Susan Hilton" different from her other false names…and why many fans still argue in favor of it…is that Max really believes that's her name, and is miffed that she told someone else but not him. Now I know what you're thinking…what about the scene in the Season 4 episode where they get married…"Do you, so-and-so, take…" Conveniently, when her name is spoken, one of the guests coughs! And in fact, creator and writer Buck Henry said there was a running battle about whether her real name should be revealed…and he won, as it never was. 

Of course, on the subject of seldom mentioned "real names," you have to take things with a smidgeon of sodium chloride…because sometimes there are inconsistencies…like Mary Tyler Moore's maiden as Laura Petrie. It was originally Meeker, which was her married name at the time. When she divorced Dick Meeker, Laura's maiden name switched to Meehan…so it's a trivia question with 2 different answers. At least we know her best friend and neighbor was born Mildred Krumbermacher.

But sometimes names are remembered and persist over time. In the same Sunday paper where I read about little Lucifer, there was a Beetle Bailey comic strip where we see his younger brother Chigger. The strip started in 1950 and I daresay Chigger has been seen or mentioned only a handful of times over the past 60-plus years. To go along with "Beetle," a chigger is a mite.

Then we have "clegg," another name for the horse-fly. And it's appropriate to mention it since this February marks the 49th anniversary of the Beatles first appearance on Ed Sullivan. But what's that have to do with Capt. Clegg, a fictional pirate in a series of books written in the early 20th century by Russell Thorndyke?

It goes back to 18th century England, where Christopher Syn is a student of divinity at Queens College, Oxford. His Spanish-born wife runs off to sea with his best friend…yikes!…and Syn takes off after them, eventually becoming a feared pirate, using the name Capt. Clegg. After a close call with the King's Navy, he decides to settle down as Vicar at Dymchurch-under-the-wall, in Kent, along the coast of the English Chanel…and in his spare time, leads a band of public-spirited smugglers as the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh.

This 3-part show was watched by many of us Baby Boomers on Walt Disney…thus we missed the Beatles, altho we sure did hear about them the next day! And if all of this Capt. Clegg business doesn't sound familiar, it's because Disney left all of it out of his version. In the original novels…plus the George Arliss 1936 movie "Dr. Syn," and the 1962 Hammer film "Night Creatures," with Christopher Lee as "Parson Blyss"...Capt. Clegg is a dark, ruthless character.

For example, when a large Cuban mulatto betrays him, Clegg has his tongue cut out and maroons him on an island…only to be recused by a British naval officer who's hot on the trail of Clegg, and who doesn't believe he's really buried at Dymchurch as a headstone there claims. Eventually, the mulatto recognizes Dr. Syn as Clegg and complications ensue…including Syn's death at the end, and his burial in Clegg's previously empty grave. A little strong for Disney, who toned it down and changed it around considerably. 

Another odd thing is that in the introductions to the 3 parts of the Scarecrow series, Walt Disney talks as if Dr. Syn were a real person. Yes, there were smugglers at that time, but they didn't play the benevolent Robin Hood role by any means…and yes, the area still holds Dr. Syn festivals, but that's because of the books and movies, not any historical figure. Welcome to Fantasyland…"Take the King's gold, share it among you!"…and rock on! 

Quickies... (4CE reprint Jan. 2013)

4ce jan 2013   stolf's oldies


Remember "quickies" from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In? Got some this month, a potpourri of strange and wondrous sidelights on Baby Boomer pop culture…

>>>  The Doors' bass-player…If you loved their records, and especially if you were forming your own rock group, you may have noticed that their lineup wasn't traditional: nobody played bass guitar. Keyboard player Ray Manzarek doubled up…playing an organ with his right hand, and the bass line with his left, using a small keyboard instrument from Fender called a Rhodes piano bass. It had 19 white keys and 13 black, covering 2 and a half octaves. And apart from Jim Morrison, these guys were stellar musicians…for example, "Light My Fire" started out as a folk song, and was converted into what was almost a bosa nova beat…why?…because musically they thought it sounded cool…and right they were.

>>>  Mad magazine…originally, in 1952, it was a comic book called "Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad." The stories were parodies of other comics, movies, and TV shows…stuff like "Superduperman," "Little Orphan Melvin," and "Howdy Doodit." In 1955, after 23 comic book issues, it was converted to the magazine format we all know and love. And it's still around, now published 6 times a year, just as it was originally, before going monthly in 1954…except now it costs $5.99…cheap!

>>>  Donkey Kong…why "donkey"? What's that got to do with a gorilla? In 1981, Nintendo was trying to license the Popeye characters for a video game. When that deal fell through, they assigned Shigeru Miyamoto the task of coming up with original characters. Donkey Kong was his version of Bluto…and he believed that "donkey" in English meant "stupid," so that Donkey Kong would be seen as "the stupid ape." Wrong…but delightfully so, and the goofy name stuck…even to the extent of becoming a breakfast cereal, remember?

>>>  Why are there 2 teams in the minor league American Hockey League with the same nickname…the Norfolk Admirals and the Milwaukee Admirals? Norfolk came first, at least as an AHL member, as an expansion team in 2000. The Milwaukee team dates from 1970, first as an amateur team, then a member of the U.S. Hockey League. They joined the International Hockey League in 1977, then the American Hockey League when the IHL folded in 2001. And it was simply decided that, given each team had a legitimate claim to the nickname, neither would have to change.

>>>  Another example of double nicknames would be the Canadian Football League with the Ottawa Rough Riders (which folded in 1996)…the "Eastern Riders"…and the Saskatchewan Roughriders or "Western Riders." The reason is: before a merger in 1958, the Eastern and Western divisions of the CFL were actually 2 separate leagues, that didn't play each other except for the Grey Cup. Also, the Hamilton Tiger-cats resulted from a merger of 2 older teams, the Hamilton Tigers and the Hamilton Wildcats. 

>>>  Salem, Massachusetts…the town where I was born…was the 8th most populous city in the US in 1790, with close to 8,000 people. Bear in mind, #1 New York City had just 33 thousand…and #3 Boston a mere 18 thousand.  (Who was #2? If you said Philadelphia, you get the gold star.) Salem didn't fall out of the top 10 until the 1830 census. And not for  nothing, but in 1950, Ogdensburg had more people than Anaheim, California…16,166 versus 14,556. In the next decade of course, Anaheim's population would grow to over 100,000…thank you, Mr. Disney.

 >>>  And one thing that makes all Salemites wince is when they hear that witches were burned there. Burning was a medieval form of execution in Europe. Instead, 19 accused "witches," women and men both, were hung during the Witchcraft Hysteria in 1692. And one man died while being tortured, crushed by heavy stones…"pressed to death" as they recorded at the time. 

>>>  One of my favorite movie bloopers….in the Dirty Harry movie "Sudden Impact," Clint Eastwood has a pet bulldog. In some scenes it is clearly a male, in others, a female. A bulldog doesn't have a lot of hair, you see. If it had been a long-haired dog, well...oh, never mind…why am I explaining this to you? Sheesh.

>>>  1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9…10!…That psychedelic number counting animation on the early episodes of "Sesame Street" was voiced by none other than Grace Slick, lead singer of the Jefferson Airplane.

>>>  But did you know that Slick wasn't the group's original singer of the group? That was Signe Anderson. She was with them for a year, and sang on their first LP "The Jefferson Airplane Arrives" from 1966. She left the group to have a baby, and was replaced by Grace Slick, from the group the Great Society. "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" were songs the Great Society performed, and of course became hits when recorded by the Jefferson Airplane. 

>>>  Likewise Blood, Sweat and Tears…Al Kooper was the lead singer on their first LP, subsequently replaced by British-born Canadian David Clayton-Thomas. On their Greatest Hits collection, you can hear Kooper singing on "I Can't Quit Her." Alex Chilton of the Boxtops and Steven Stills were considered as replacements before Judy Collins recommended Clayton-Thomas. And the whole idea of a jazz-rock group with a prominent horn section? It came from their admiration of the Buckinghams' pop sound…just jazzier. 

>>>  Turkey and Russia…geography buffs recognize these as the 2 countries that are part of both Europe and Asia…but what country is in both Europe and Africa? That would be Spain. It claims as its sovereign territory 2 ports on the northern coast of Morocco…Ceuta and Melilla. They are not considered colonies, but an integral part of the Spanish state….and have been since the 1500s, long before Morocco gained independence from France. Morocco doesn't see it that way, but there you go. Such geographical oddities are known as "enclaves" and there are a lot more of them around the world than you'd think…um, which country am I in again?

>>>  Come to think of it…while it's not quite the same thing, there are 3 localities in the US that you cannot get to by land without first passing through Canada…they are "internationally discontiguous" as you might say. Can you find them? Rainy day fun for the whole family. 

>>>  Who is Ponsonby Britt? Watch an episode of "Rocky and Bullwinkle," "Hoppity Hooper," or "George of the Jungle," and you'll see his name in the credits as Executive Producer. Except there was no such person…it was just an inside joke by Jay Ward and his crew.

>>>  Who or what is Bibendum…nicknamed Bib? He is the tubular Michelin man, mascot of the tire company since 1894. His name comes from a quote from the ancient Roman poet Horace: "Nunc est bibendum"…meaning "Now is the time to drink." It refers to the Michelin tire's ability to perform in rainy weather, "drinking" the water from the road. 

>>>  Buddy Ebsen was Walt Disney's original choice to play Davy Crockett…until he saw Fess Parker, and Buddy was denoted to second banana George Russell. And Buddy was also slated to be the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz"…replaced by Ray Bolger when he was found to be allergic to the aluminum makeup. Back in Kansas, the Scarecrow was a farm-hand named Hunk…and oddly enough Ebsen would eventually play a Hunk…Hunking "Hunk" Marriner, sidekick on the 1958 TV series "Northwest Passage"…it had been Walter Brennan in the movie. BTW, Hunking is a British surname. Till next time, rocking on!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Merry Weirdmas! (4CE reprint Dec 2012)

4ce dec stolf's oldies

Merry Weirdmas!

There are literally thousands of offbeat Christmas records…"novelty records" they're collectively called. I'd like to recommend to you some of my favorites. If you're interested, all can be heard, as of this writing anyway, on YouTube…except for one. And we might as well start with it…

"Santa Fly"…by Martin Mull 1973  When you consider all the rarities, oddities, and atrocities you'll find on YouTube, you wonder how this one slipped through the cracks. Who else but Martin Mull would think of combining Santa Claus with the churning funk Blacksploitation soul sound of "Super Fly." But then, that was his job. Great opening: department store Santa asks the kid what he wants for Christmas, and he says "I wanna get DOWN!"

"I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus"…by Brenda Lee 1956  There are many sub-genres of what I call anti-Christmas records…I Hate Santa, Santa Hates Me, Christmas Bums Me Out, etc. The most intense of these is the Violence Against Santa category. Surprisingly popular…but then as Gramps would say, if everybody liked the same thing, they'd all be after your Grandmother…no kidding. Included in this group are a good dozen different songs about Santa getting stuck in the chimney…usually he's rescued in time for Christmas, but, horrifically enough, not always. Now in this one, Little Miss Dynamite does explain why she plans to assault St. Nick, and it's all in a good cause, I guess. It's one of her earliest recordings, she's only 11, but the talent and energy that would propel her to stardom is definitely on display. Compare with...

"Are My Ears on Straight?"…by Gayla Peevey 1953  This tyke from Oklahoma was very popular as a kid singer, especially Christmas records and a few others, including some for Easter. As she grew older, she tried to translate that into an adult career, with no success…although her "Robot Man" from 1960, recorded under the name of Jamie Horton, is a goofy treat. Her biggest Yuletide triumph is "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas." I always wondered if it was legit…or just a Dr. Demento-type hoax, as the line "…and give him [the hippo] his massage" sounded a bit, um, odd to me. But it was for real, and was even used by an Oklahoma City zoo in a campaign to raise money to buy one. "Are My Ears on Straight?" is from the point of view of a doll that was broken, taken to the repair shop, and hopes she'll be fixed in time for Christmas morning. A charming little record, although who in the world would even think of such an idea for a song? Luckily, someone.

"I Fell Out of a Christmas Tree"…by Little Rita Faye 1953  Here's another moppet, with nowhere near the panache nor pipes of Gayla. No, she wasn't climbing the tree…that's how she was born on December 25th: "I slipped off the highest limb and tumbled to the floor / No one was there to pick me up, my folks were all next door." Stork? Cabbage patch? Who needs 'em? The lyrics are as quirky as the concept…and why it never become a Christmastime standard is a mystery to me…ho ho ho. As Rita Faye, no longer "Little," she tried to crack the teen market in 1962 with "Salt and Pepper," a "Mashed Potatoes" answer song…what, no paprika?

"Can You Fix the Way I Talk For Christmas"…by Joe Pesci 1968   Then we have grown-ups pretending to be kids. Yes, this is THE Joe Pesci, calling himself Joe Ritchie, from the LP "Little Joe Sure Can Sing"…well, no he can't, actually. Once he was famous, it was re-released as a 45 under his real name. The label also credits Frank Vincent…he's the voice of Santa...Joe's lifelong acting buddy, who played Billy "Shine Box" Batts in "Goodfellas," and  Phil Leotardo on "The Sopranos." The song is a take on Porky Pig, about a little boy who wants to stop stuttering for Christmas…big surprise, at the end of the song he does. Even in these politically correct days, you can still get away with that if it's done with good-natured humor…Sylvester Swine's hilarious "Blue Christmas" for example. But Joe's routine here is mechanical and listless…and extremely unfunny. Still, a "before they were stars" classic if ever there was one. 

"Santa Got Lost in Texas"…by Michael Landon 1963  Speaking of Little Joes…from what seemed like a good idea at the time, a Christmas LP by the cast of "Bonanza." It's a jolly record, done in a rousing sing-along style. Jeff Carson recorded a version in 1995, but the original is the best. And yes, Landon was Jewish, born Eugene Orowitz on Hallowe'en, 1936…but Joseph Cartwright wasn't, get it? Mazel tov, pard'ner.  

"Donde Este Santa Claus?" by Augie Rios 1958  Another non-PC selection, trending towards the Speedy Gonzales/Frito Bandidto archetype, as was typical of the Fifties. But it's just another cute little kid singing, it's in English except for the question in the title, and you know how on "Santa Claus and His Old Lady" Cheech starts out  with:: "Ma-ma-masita, donde este Santa Cleese…da vato wit da bony knees...he comin' down da street wit no choos on his feet…"? He's just trying to do a version of this song…see, you learned something. And before you ask, "vato" is Mexican slang for "man" or "dude," man.

"Outer Space Santa" by Lawrence Welk 1958  The decade of 1950s was the Golden Age of Christmas novelty records, especially the 3 year span from 1957-59…after all, it gave us the Chipmunks! Especially popular were songs about satellites, sputniks, flying saucers, and men from Mars. Tunes like "Santa Meets the Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley, "They Shined Up Rudolph's Nose" by Johnny Horton, "Capt. Santa Claus and his Reindeer Space Patrol" by Bobby Helms, and tons more. This one features the Lennon Sisters, delightfully low-tech retro sound effects, and incongruent lyrics like: "Outer Space Santa, shining up the stars / Outer Space helpers, packing them in jars." Jars of stars? Huh? Hey, don't worry about it…it's spacey!

"Father Christmas" by the Kinks 1977…Here's another Violence Against Santa number…one of the few hard-rock Christmas songs that really works. Ruffians are attacking Santa for giving toys to "all the little rich boys." Is there nothing Ray Davies couldn't do…apparently not.  

"Little Mary Christmas" by Roger Christian 1962…Don't get me wrong…the Weirdmas songs I've mentioned are quite entertaining and I enjoy listening to them…but this final one is an exception. You have to hear it once to believe it, but then never again. Roger Christian was a car-crazy Los Angeles DJ who wrote lyrics for the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, many others. But this is a rather creepy Yuletide misstep. See, Little Mary is a physically challenged orphan, and Roger's dour recitation sets us up for an even bigger tragedy, but it's all a narrative trick, and we get a happy ending after all..but who needs it? It's smarmy and unsettling all at the same time, and Roger's tone of voice is almost menacing. This used to be hard to find, but it's now on a CD Christmas collection assembled by John Waters, of "Hairspray" fame.

Have a great Christmas…and as I like to remind folks this time of year…as well as at Easter and Thanksgiving too…don't forget to eat something! Keep your strength up…so you can rock on!

Mini-Series Mini-History: The Sequel (4CE reprint Nov 2012)

4ce nov stolf's oldies

Mini-Series Mini-History: The Sequel

Last month we asked, what was the first TV miniseries? My answer was The Blue Knight (11/13/1973). It was shown on 4 consecutive nights…but if the episode length of 1-hour disqualifies it in your mind, then the answer would be…

QB VII (4/29/1974)…It's overwrought hoopla certainly dwarfed "The Blue Knight"…getting the full cover treatment from TV Guide, plus a long feature article…the one accompanying "The Blue Knight" was about creator Joseph Wambaugh, not the show. But it was broadcast over 2 consecutive nights, episodes of 3 and 3½ hours. If that means it was really a 2-part movie and not a true miniseries, then the answer is… 

Rich Man, Poor Man (2/1/1976)…The first pair of 2-hour episodes shown back-to-back Sunday/Monday, then for the next 7 Mondays, some 1 hour, some 2 hours, for a total of 9 episodes and 13 hours, spread over a month and a half. And early on, the weekly format was the miniseries format of choice, until it was eclipsed by the consecutive night format. But if that is a disqualification, then we must move on to…

Roots (1/23/1977)…12 hours, 8 consecutive nights, meets all the tests, no? And indeed it is most often cited as the “first.” But perhaps you are a TV maven who knows everything, and you have a different esoteric choice. I’m certainly open-minded, so let’s review 4 more candidates, starting with…

Vanished…NBC 1971…Again, based on a best-selling novel and with an all-star cast, lead by Richard Widmark…and it was a “first”…the first 2-part made-for-TV movie ever, airing for 2 hours on March 8th, concluding with 2 more hours the next night. Granted, the term miniseries hadn't been invented yet, but it all comes down to the question of whether a 2-part movie is a miniseries. After all, "QB VII" was a 2-part movie in its premiere broadcast…then shown over 3 consecutive nights a year later…and to further muddy the water, "The Blue Knight" was rerun in 1975 over 2 nights instead of its original 4. When "The Godfather" debuted on TV in November of 1974, it was shown over 2 nights, oddly Saturday and Monday! Of course, 3 years later, it would be re-edited with "The Godfather Part 2," shown over 4 consecutive nights, and was considered at the time every bit a miniseries as "Roots" and "Washington: Behind Closed Doors," which was the second blockbuster 12-hour consecutive night miniseries, on ABC in November of 1977.

And how do we classify "Jesus of Nazareth" from March of 1977? It had just 2 parts, each of about 3 hours and 15 minutes…but it was broadcast not on consecutive nights, but on 2 consecutive Sundays. So does "Vanished" get grandfathered in or not? It’s up to you…some people today do refer to it as a miniseries. Turner Classic Movies is more cautious…they call it the "first long-form TV movie…which paved the way for subsequent miniseries." 

 The Forsyte Saga…PBS 1969…So far, we've been provincial about it and excluded British shows, even when broadcast on American television. But how do they fit into the miniseries mix? The first thing you must understand is the terminology. For example, we call "The Man from U.N.C.L.E" a series…they call it a programme, because to them "series" means something else…we would say UNCLE ran for 4 seasons, while they would say it had 4 series. In the UK, an open-ended programme could have anywhere from 10 to 40 episodes in a series. But going back even to the 1950s, they also had what could be called a "short form" or "limited" programme, which, like a miniseries, told one story with a beginning and an end, and was planned for a definite number of installments…they call this a "serial." One example was the science fiction adventures of Dr. Quatermass…these consisted of 3 series, broadcast in 1953, 1955, and 1958…each story was told in 6 weekly episodes.

So a British serial sounds a lot like an American miniseries. Still, where do you draw the line? You probably wouldn't consider "The Prisoner" a miniseries…but Patrick McGoohan planned it for just 7 episodes, while his network wanted 26 episodes, and a deal in the works with CBS called for 36. He managed to crank out 17, airing in England starting in September of 1967, and in the US in June of 1968. Still, despite an opening episode that sets up the mystery, and a closing episode that resolves it, each hour really is a self-contained story, albeit with limited references to what's gone on before.

Which brings us to "The Forsyte Saga," a serial consisting of 26 1-hour episodes, based on the novels by John Galsworthy, which debuted in the UK in January of 1967. That might seem long for a miniseries, but don't forget "Centennial"…first shown on CBS as 12 weekly episodes in 1978-79, sometimes on Sunday, sometimes on Saturday, either 2 or 3 hours each night, for a total of 26 hours. Then repeated on TBS in 1984 as a sort-of consecutive night miniseries, with the12 episodes spread out over 17 days, skipping Fridays and Saturdays. 

In any event, PBS (then called NET) took a chance and imported "The Forsyte Saga" in November of 1969, running it weekly, and it was a huge success. This lead to what might be called a "miniseries series," and that would be "Masterpiece Theatre," which gobbled up the many British historical serials produced in the wake of "The Forsyte Saga," starting with "The First Churchills" in January of 1971. But perhaps you don't want to count Public TV…it's just too different, with no commercials and all…in that case, let's try…

The Six Wives of Henry VIII…CBS 1971…Originally broadcast in UK, 6 weekly 1-hour episodes, starting in January of 1970… then in the US, again weekly, beginning August 13, 1971. Miniseries or not? I report, you decide. I’m sticking with "The Blue Knight." But as you can see, it all hinges on the definition of miniseries. Remember "Primal Man"? Very cool show…4 1-hour episodes spread out over a year and a half, the first in December of 1973. You could call it a series of specials…not really that much different from the Peanuts specials that were similarly spaced out…yet at the time, it was called a miniseries. Or consider the initial run of "Dallas"…5 weekly episodes in April of 1978. Today we might call that a "limited run preview," since it was intended to introduce the first full season debuting in the Fall…but back in the day, it was a miniseries. So if we stretch the definition to the breaking point, we get…

Davy Crockett…ABC 1954-55…Yes, some people call that a miniseries…Wikipedia sure does…and as one blogger put it when Fess Parker died in 2010: “His death brings to mind the miniseries that made him a star…” But betwixt and between all the qualifications and quibbles, I can definitely say IT WAS NOT! 5 1-hour episodes, each a self-contained story, spread out over a full year’s time, and broadcast as part of the anthology series "Disneyland," the forerunner of "Wonderful World of Color." True, it was accompanied by miniseries-level hype, one of the first TV shows to explode into a full-blown fad…and I reckon it sold more merchandise than "Shogun" or "Winds of War"…I mean, were there "Roots" Hallowe'en costumes? I don't think so.  Lunch boxes maybe, I just don't remember. But there you have it…good night, good luck, and keep rockin'!

Mini-History of the Mini-Series (4CE reprint Oct 2012)

Stolf's Oldies October

Mini-History of the Mini-Series

What was the first mini-series on TV? If there were ever a case of “depends on how you look at it,” this is it. You'll often hear that it was "Roots," but several other candidates are also mentioned. How come? Isn't the first, THE FIRST? No, because back in the day, 3 different formats...and inevitable variations...were considered "mini-series." 

Consecutive Night Mini-series…A traditional “see you next week” series continues season after season as long as viewers watch it and it’s profitable to produce. A mini-series is more like a movie or a one-shot “special” in that it has a definite story to tell with a beginning and an end. Here, the episodes aired on consecutive nights…1, 2, or all 3 hours of prime time. To me this is the essential innovation of the mini-series genre…you didn't have to wait 7 days to see what happens.  

Weekly Mini-series…This resembles an ordinary series, in that the installments are aired once a week…but when it’s over, it’s over. There were variations…the first 2 or last 2 episodes may have been on back-to-back nights, for greater impact. But again, this is how it was planned…it was not dependent on viewership for it to continue. I know of no mini-series of any kind that “stopped” in the middle due to poor ratings.

2-Part Movie…Which is to say, a “made-for-TV” movie which is split into 2 parts, and is broadcast on 2 consecutive nights. Unusually long theatrical movies were shown on TV over 2 nights as well. Would you say that really isn't a mini-series...because only 2 nights in a row isn't much of a "series"? Trouble is, from the very beginning of the mini-series phenomenon, and then even more so as the genre became popular, 2-part movies WERE called mini-series, which is why there are several candidates for “first.” Let's sort them out…

(1)  The Blue Knight…NBC 1973…aired on 4 consecutive nights, Tuesday thru Friday beginning November 13…each episode one hour, at 10PM. An adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh’s novel of the same name, starring William Holden as the world-weary veteran cop on the beat, Bumper Morgan…it was made possible by Wambaugh’s success with the anthology series "Police Story." It spawned a short-lived regular series 2 years later with George Kennedy. Lorimar, the production company that made it, considers it to this day the first mini-series and so do that's my answer: THE BLUE KNIGHT!

TV Guide’s Fall Preview issue that year (9/8/73) described it as a “miniseries of 4 one-hour dramas.” This is the first time I am aware of them using the term...but they also mentioned a “6 hour miniseries”…that would eventually air 5 months after "The Blue Knight"…and that was…

(2)  QB VII…ABC 1974…ran for 3 hours on Monday April 29, and for an unprecedented 3 and a half hours the following night. Besides You-Know-What, this is the one most often cited as the first. But it's tricky, because technically "QB VII" was a 2-part movie! Again, based on a best-selling novel…and there are several reasons why it certainly might be considered the first, despite "The Blue Knight" being chronologically first. It established the idea of each part being longer than the typical dramatic series' one hour. More importantly, it was promoted as an EVENT. Yes, "The Blue Knight" was obviously innovative in its 4-night format, but here’s what TV Guide said in the extensive article that ran the week of "QB VII"…

“The most ambitious, longest, and certainly the most expensive single movie project yet produced for television…a mammoth commitment by ABC…a sizable risk…everyone involved seems to possess a sense of pioneering, of participating in a very special dramatic venture.” 

It’s hard to read such commentary, and not sense a “first” in there somewhere. But notice that now they're calling it a “movie,” and nowhere in the article or in ABC’s advertising was the word “mini-series” used. In fact, the full-page ad touts it as an “Electrifying World Premiere,” exactly what they'd call movies, theatrical and made-for-TV alike. "The Blue Knight" was successful, and praised by critics, but it had nowhere near the build-up or the impact…and "QB VII" got the full TV Guide cover to itself the week it was on..."The Blue Knight" did not. "QB VII"  proved the concept, and its success told the industry you could spend lots of money…and lots of time…on one story, and that lead to…

(3)  Roots…ABC 1977…aired for 8 consecutive nights, Sunday thru Sunday beginning January 23…some nights for 2 hours, other nights for just 1, for a total of 12 hours, doubling the length of "QB VII."  Most commonly cited as “the first mini-series.” And a blockbuster is was, one of the few mini-series to have a sequel, the 14-hour "Roots: The Next Generation" 2 years later. Unprecedented publicity and advertising…this time a full 2-page spread in TV Guide.

"Roots" is thus remembered as the mini-series that burst the genre wide open…and that would continue to be the hottest programming format for the next 2 decades. Certainly "Roots" deserves to be “first” in some sense, altho not technically first as we have seen. But here’s a curious thing: "Roots" was broadcast over 2 ½ years after "QB VII"…so what was happening in the meantime? And that’s why I had to divide “mini-series” into 3 distinct formats, because of…

(4)  Rich Man, Poor Man…ABC 1976…9 episodes, beginning Sunday February 1st for 2 hours, 2 hours the next day, Monday, then continuing for 7 more consecutive Mondays, each one hour, except the final 2, which were 2 hours long, for a total of 13 hours, spread over a month and a half. And there’s the dilemma in defining “mini-series”…at the beginning, they really hadn’t settled on the format: consecutive nights or once a week?

The trouble with calling "RM, PM" the first mini-series is that several other weeklies preceded it…"Moses the Lawgiver" on CBS, 1-hour episodes for 6 weeks…and Judd Hirsch in "The Law" on NBC, one hour, then one hour the next week, then skipping a week, then finishing with a 3rd hour. But do these qualify, with no segments longer than 60 minutes?  The format was in a state of flux…and get this: when "QB VII" was re-run a year after its initial broadcast, it was spread out over 3 consecutive nights instead of the original NOW it was a mini-series, and no longer a 2-part movie??

Yet while it seems that "RM, PM" can't really be the first, at the time it was indeed considered the trendsetter…TV Guide’s Fall Preview (9/18/76) called it exactly that, listing the many mini-series that were being developed in its wake, including "Roots." And the fact remains, in 1975 and 1976, apart from the "QB VII" re-run, there were NO consecutive night mini-series. So there is a case to be made..."RM, PM" was also one of the few to merit a sequel, again a weekly...and it is considered to this day one of the best of the breed. 

And altho the term “mini-series”…or "miniseries" without the hyphen…surfaced in 1973, it was not used exclusively…”multi-part production” and “multi-parter” were common. And really, “mini-series” was from the beginning just too mundane for the network hype machine…they were often termed “Novels for Television." But those who love to quibble and nitpick sometimes suggest 4 other possibilities for the "first mini-series"...we'll reminisce about those and weigh their qualifications next month...till then, rock on!

Monday, October 15, 2012

On the Road with Cool Daddy (4CE reprint Sept 2012)

On the Road with Ask Cool Daddy

Dear Cool Daddy: I know that the auto industry took a 42 month "vacation" from domestic production during World War II. Which auto makers active at the start of the pre-war shutdown didn't emerge for the post-war boom?

The answer, oddly enough, is none…every auto maker active when the freeze began on January 1, 1942 came back to life when it was lifted on July 1, 1945. These were the Big Three…General Motors, Ford and Chrysler…and the Middle Five…Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, Packard, and Willys-Overland. Even the diminutive Crosley compact, introduced in 1939, continued until 1952. And Checker, making cabs since 1922, survived until 1982.

As Baby Boomers growing up in the '50s and '60s, our dads, uncles, and grandfathers regaled us with the glories of extinct makes from the past. In the first 3 decades of the 20th century, hundreds of auto companies came and went…it was tough to compete with the Ford Model T, which would eventually lay claim to literally half the cars on the road. Thus the "shake out" had pretty much been completed by the time the stock market crashed and the Great Depression hit in 1929. There were less than 30 car companies left, and those below the Middle Five folded fast, even though most had existed for over 20 years.

Erskine, Kissel, and Moon ended production in 1930. Jordan, Gardner, Durant and Dupont were gone after 1931. Essex folded after 1932, Peerless and Marmon after 1933, Franklin after 1934. The second half of the decade saw the demise of Auburn, Cord, Cunningham, Duesenberg, Pierce Arrow, Reo, and Stutz. Hupmobile and Cadillac's LaSalle gave up the ghost in 1940, as did Graham-Page. Its assets were sold to to Kaiser-Frazer in 1947, which in turn merged with Willys as Kaiser-Jeep in 1963, bought out by AMC in 1970…the last of the Middle Five still standing.

Dear Cool Daddy: I don't ever remember seeing a "pink Cadillac" back in the day…was there really such a thing?

Pink Cadillacs are associated with the 1950s, when everything about autos was the most flamboyant. For example, Aretha Franklin's 1985 song "Freeway of Love" mentions a pink Cadillac, and the drawing on the 45 picture sleeve is a pink convertible, altho not a production model…it's the LeMans dream car from 1953, a full-size 2-seater. In the black-and-white music video, her 1957 Seville hardtop turns pink with a white top at the very end. But if you examine factory paint-chip charts, you won't find the bright, gaudy, in-your-face PINK pink we're talking about. 

Closest are subdued hues like "Mountain Laurel" from 1956-57, and 1959's "Wood Rose"…what today might be called "dusty mauve." Salmon/Coral/Peach was also available some years. But Cadillac colors were always on the conservative side, especially compared to the wild shades everybody else was offering...and those snazzy 2-tone and 3-tone combinations.

The mystique of the Pink Cadillac started with Elvis...he owned 2...repainted by a neighbor in a color they nicknamed "Elvis Rose"...note: NOT pink! The first was a 1954 model, totaled when the brake linings caught fire. The second was the famous 1955 Series 60 that's still on display at Graceland. It originally had a black top, but was repainted white to match the first one around the time Elvis had it reupholstered. 

He does mention a pink Cadillac in his early recording, "Baby, Let's Play House." When he returned from the service, Elvis gave the 1955 to a buddy, in favor of a 1961 Coupe deVille, white with a pink roof. Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cosmetics gave Pinkillacs to her top salesmen beginning in 1969, painted "Mountain Laurel Blush" at the dealership to match her compact cases. But despite no eye-popping pink on the official Cadillac pallet, its fame compelled Lincoln to respond in the form of an over-the-top 1956 lavender…what they called "Wisteria"…not to mention a pinker "Amethyst" and a peachy "Island Coral." Shield your eyes...

Dear Cool Daddy: I've noticed that Andy Griffith as Sheriff  Taylor is always driving the latest model Ford...can you date the episodes by the model year of the squad car?

Only approximately…that's because they started filming for the new fall season in the summer, too soon for the new model year. So the first half of a season contained the previous year's model, then the new patrol car generally debuted in the spring. Thus, a 1960 Ford could indicate the 1959-60 TV season (an episode shown in the spring of 1960) or one from the 1960-61 season (originally aired in the fall of 1960.)

As was mentioned each week in the closing credits, Ford provided vehicles for the show. That's why you'll see all those Thunderbirds, Mustangs, old Fords, new Fords, and that groovy Mercury Comet with the slanty tail-lights that pops up in episode after episode, year in and year out. The squad car was generally a Ford Galaxie, sometimes a base model Ford Custom. But the citizens of Mayberry certainly saw to it that their lawman always had the newest ride!

Dear Cool Daddy: I heard that Jan & Dean's "Dead Man's Curve" was a about a real place, and a crash by Mel Blanc, the Man of a Thousand Voices. Hit or myth?

Mostly hit. Jan Berry wrote the music and DJ Roger Christian wrote the lyrics for the imaginary race between Jan's Sting Ray and Roger's Jaguar XKE. The route runs west thru Los Angeles along Sunset Blvd...besides the legendary Schwab's drugstore, where Lana Turner was supposedly discovered, they mention real cross-streets...Vine St, Crescent Heights Blvd, La Brea Ave, and North Doheny Drive. The only discrepancy is: "He passed me at Doheny and I started to swerve / But I pulled her up and there we were at Dead Man's Curve." This downhill right-hand curve...just past Whittier Drive, north of the UCLA campus…is actually a good 4 miles west of Doheny Drive…that had to be one long "swerve"!

Roger Christian originally wanted the race to end in a tie, but Jan thought it would be cooler for one of them to spinout. By the time the song came out in March of 1964, the roadway had been repaired and was no longer as dangerous…the trouble was a bow to the outside that would force cars into the oncoming lane if they were coming down the hill too fast…especially treacherous at night. 

The song was indeed inspired by what happened to Mel Blanc on January 24, 1961…but he wasn't racing anyone…he was coming uphill the other way, east into Los Angeles, when he was hit head-on by a college student, who suffered only minor scratches. Mel almost died from his injuries, and had to take a hiatus from recording Barney Rubble's voice for "The Flintstones." That's why for several episodes, it sounds like somebody else doing the voice...because it is…Hanna-Barbera's jack-of-all-trades Daws Butler. 

At the time of the accident, it was reported that there had been 6 fatalities there in the past year...other sources say 23 accidents and 3 fatalities in 2 years. But almost losing Mel spurred the DPW into action. BTW, there are 2 versions of the song. The original on the "Drag City" LP says "my frenched tail-lights," and lacks the skidding and crashing sound effects. The more familiar 45 version says "my 6 tail-lights"…yes, Sting Rays had 2 on each side, but it was a common custom trick to add a third, mimicking the triple tail-lights on the big Impalas. Till next time, pleasant motoring…and rock on!