Tonight: A Black Lives Matter Burlesque Fundraiser

Posted in African American Interest, British Music Hall, BROOKLYN, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , , , , on February 20, 2017 by travsd

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Today, I Am a Muslim Too (Pix from Today’s Rally)

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, Protests with tags , , , , on February 19, 2017 by travsd

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Today was the “Day of Remembrance”, the 75th anniversary of the day FDR signed an executive order that resulted in the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII. I’m thinking it was no coincidence that this day was selected for the solidarity rally in NYC called “Today I Am a Muslim Too”. Trump’s Muslim ban and the greater anti-Muslim hysteria by him and his followers is a completely parallel phenomenon: an entire American minority group being punished, unconstitutionally and prejudiciously, for…nothing really. For being who they are rather than anything they, as individuals, did.

The location of the event seemed significant, too, to me, anyway. For it was held in Times Square, the site of a failed bombing attempt in 2010 by a Pakistani-American named Faisal Shahzad. It’s a point of pride with us New Yorkers. We are the ones on the front lines (domestically, anyway) in the War of Terror. We are the ones who have been hit, repeatedly and hard (and sometimes ineptly) by actual terrorist attacks. Yet it’s y’all out in East Bumfuck who are the ones who are losing your shit, giving into fear, relinquishing everything America stands for in the name of “security”. Ain’t no Muslims coming to blow up your gas station, Gomer! Although you might want to keep a real good eye on your meth-head cousin in the cargo pants who’s heading for the mall right now. Here in New York we have the Statue of Liberty to keep us honest, and no one’s going to make us out a liar. All are welcome here. One Pakistani guy tried to bomb Times Square. So what? I’ve probably crossed paths with 1,000 other Pakistanis in my time here. And you know what? They DIDN’T!  Not punishing people and depriving them of their rights based on who they are is America 101!

Around 10,000 people came out to the event today, which was organized by Russell Simmons, Imam Shamsi Ali, Rabbi Marc Schneier, Daisy Khan, Linda Sarsour, and others. It was launched by a performance of the National Anthem, and followed by multi-denominational prayers (Christian and Jewish in addition to Muslim), and — as this was a religious solidarity event — I saw lots and lots of church groups. Children and old people. Veterans. Know what I mean? SEE THE PHOTOS BELOW. So when the orange schmuck in the White House and all his Cro-Magnon followers go on about how an event like this “unpatriotic” and it’s a bunch of violent jihadis who want to destroy America, don’t listen to them. Better yet, respond in New York-ese: tell them go to fuck themselves.

The speakers platform was on the other side of this flag. The event was on the other side. I only got there about 15 minutes after the announced start time, and I had to stand so far back I couldn't hear half of the speakers.

The speakers platform was on the other side of this flag. The event was on the other side. I only got there about 15 minutes after the announced start time, and I had to stand so far back I couldn’t hear half of the speakers.

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This is looking behind me, to the north. When I got there, no one was behind me. Ten minutes later I looked back and all these were there.

 

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This one was touching; hard to read because the sunlight is shining through: “I love my Muslim Family and Friends”.

 

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I couldnt get far enough back to get the Ms on either side! The girls were spelling out M-U-S-L-I-M, of course

I couldnt get far enough back to get the Ms on either side! The girls were spelling out M-U-S-L-I-M, of course

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Boy, was this guy in the wrong place

Boy, was this guy in the wrong place

 

My friend Gabriele Schafer was also there. Her pix better capture the scale of it, I think:

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Onward! Tomorrow is Not My Presidents Day and another huge protest planned outside Trump Tower.

Tonight: Songs of Liberty and Justice

Posted in American Folk/ Country/ Western, Music, PLUGS with tags , , , on February 19, 2017 by travsd

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The Many Roles of Melvin Allan, I Mean, Allan Melvin

Posted in Sit Coms, Television with tags , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of tv character actor and voice-over artist Allan Melvin (1923-2008). Don’t shout out just yet where you know him from — the odds are quite good that you know him from more than you are remembering where you know him from.

After attending Columbia University and fighting in World War Two, Melvin won first place on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (he was skilled at impressions, among other things.) His break was a role in the original Broadway production of Stalag 17 (1951-1952), which lead to his getting cast as Henshaw on Sgt. Bilko (1955-1959) with Phil Silvers:

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Then he was the voice of Sgt. Snorkle on the short-lived 1963 Beetle Bailey cartoon show (and wrote two episodes!):

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He provided the voice of Magilla Gorilla on various Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows from 1963 through 1994. Can you match the voice with the visage?

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Then he found himself back on another service comedy, as a semi-regular on Gomer Pyle USMC (1964-1969), playing Charlie Hacker, Sgt. Carter’s rival:

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In 1969 he provided the voice of Drooper (the lion) on The Banana Splits:

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Next he was Sam the Butcher on The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), which I’ll just bet is his best known character nowadays:

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And also he was Barney Hefner on All in the Family (1971-1979) and Archie Bunker’s Place (1979-1983).

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This must be some kind of record for being a series regular, right? (I ask rhetorically, I’m uninterested in learning the factual truth about who the record holder might be). And we haven’t even gotten to all the shows on which he (or his voice) did frequent guest shots (The Flintstones, The Andy Griffith Show, Love American Style), and dozens more. And all the tv commericials.

He just had the perfect face and voice — “ordinary” is what they used to call it, but that’s wrong, because actually his persona was far more memorable than so many so-called “leading man” types.  If you’re bland and forgettable, isn’t that ordinary? Anyway, you know his face and voice. You should know his name: Melvin Allan — I mean, Allan Melvin.

Why You MUST See “Paradise Alley”

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of stage and screen Renaissance man Hugo Haas (1901-1968). Haas is an intriguing cinematic figure whom I am only just now discovering for myself, and the process is giving me great joy.

Of German-Jewish parentage he was born in the city of Brno, the capital of Moravia, which was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire at the time of his birth, but was incorporated into the new nation of Czechoslovakia after the First World War. Haas became a star of Prague’s National Theatre, and by the 1920s he became a popular film actor as well. In the mid-30s he expanded his reach, also become a successful film director. His biggest hit while still based in his native country was Skeleton on Horseback (1937) an adaptation of a play by Karel Capek, best known to many of our readers no doubt as the author of R.U.R. 

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Like so many others, Haas was displaced by the Nazi takeover of Czechoslavakia (1938-1939). It took several years for him to make his way to Hollywood, where he begins to show up as a character actor by 1944. He was successful as such for several years, in films like The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947), The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) and King Solomon’s Mine (1950).

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But unlike many refugee film directors from France and Germany whom one might rate as his peers, Haas was unable to get a foothold with the major studios as a director. Nothing daunted, at a time when such risk-taking was rare, he poured his income from acting into his own independent films which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in himself, a series of seedy, gritty, sensationalist noir melodramas with titles like Pickup (1951), One Girl’s Confession (1953), and Bait (1954). The films were not highly-rated by the critics, but netted enough profit to keep him going as long as demand for B movies remained.

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By 1959, That B movie market had dried up, and he seemed to be at the end of the line. There seems to be some awareness of that in his last film Paradise Alley (completed 1959, released 1962). Much like Shakespeare’s The Tempest, it is a highly self-reflexive work, a kind of valedictory statement. And it has the kind of mix of intellectual pretension and seedy poverty row folk-art non sequitur that graces such wide-ranging films as Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin (1955), Roger Corman’s Bucket of Blood (1959), and Utopia (1951) starring Laurel and Hardy.

Haas plays a once-famous German silent-film director named Mr. Agnus (Latin for “Lamb”, i.e. Christ), who moves into a slum neighborhood which evokes everything from Elmer Rice’s Street Scene to Dead End to the then-current West Side Story. Like the latter, it has a Romeo and Juliet thing going, with the star-crossed lovers played by former Miss Universe Carol Morris and Don Sullivan, star of such epics as The Giant Gila Monster (1959) and Teenage Zombies (1959). The neighborhood is a seething cauldron of sex, hatred and violence. A gang of not-so-juvenile delinquents, all of whom seem to be about 47 years old, run around; one of them is played by Duke Mitchell, who’d co-starred in Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla seven years earlier, but is ignominiously overshadowed by bigger stars in this film.

Amazingly, Paradise Alley does have a large number of well-known names in the cast, although at the time the film was made, most of them were either former stars or would only later come to have cults of fans in retrospect. And this really fuels the down-at-the-heels Hollywood magic of this film in a manner that recalls Sunset Boulevard. Morris’s parents are played by comedian Billy Gilbert and former silent star Corinne Griffith. Sullivan’s mother (and Gilbert’s enemy) is played by none other than Margaret Hamilton. Familiar character actress Almira Sessions is the landlady. Noir sexpot Marie Windsor is the provocative burlesque dancer just across the way. Silent comedian Chester Conklin, in one of his last roles, plays a retired Hollywood camera man; character actor Pat Goldin, best known from Jiggs and Maggie comedies, plays another retired film professional.

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These last two provide the engine for the film’s rather slight action. Haas (his name is a stand-in for Jesus, recall) gets it into his head to bring peace to the slums by pretending to make a film with Conklin and Goldin, casting everyone in the neighborhood, and making them say nice things to each other. (An oddly Catholic impulse I felt, in its formal ritualism leading to grace, though Haas was Jewish).  Further, there is no film in the camera, giving the entire charade an existential slant not unlike we get in the plays of Jean Genet.

In the end, a real Hollywood film producer played by William Schallert gets wind of the project, and decides to make a real film, and that’s where we get into some heady territory. Not only has peace been achieved, but the poor people of the ‘hood will now be on the payroll merely for existing. Is this communism? Utopia? Heaven? Then it gets trippier, when much like the Monkees movie Head, the last few moments of the film become a replay of the film’s first few moments, including theme song and credits: the film is a film of a film of a film of a film in an endless feedback loop.

I don’t want to oversell the film’s technical brilliance. Its aspirations are great, but so are its limitations. The dialogue is frequently bad, almost Ed Wood level in its inexplicable refusal to move the plot forward. Haas’s lines are often simply strange and clunky; after all English was Haas’s third language (at least). Directorially, the pace is often slow, stilted, and full of dead air, with no sense of urgency or narrative momentum. Though the cast is well known, most of them were character actors accustomed only to small parts. Ironically Paradise Alley may have given them the largest, most dramatically challenging roles of their careers, and many of them seem stretched beyond their abilities. And then there’s the fact that Haas seems incapable of refraining from weird, inappropriately sexual jokes and moments, including a gratuitous near-rape scene in the film’s opening minutes. Also I’m not sure, I have to watch it again, but I think one of the female characters is inexplicably played by a man in drag. All of this goes to explain why the film wasn’t released for nearly three years after it was made, and why it continues to be so rare today.

But it is now one of my favorite films. Paradise Alley somehow manages to incorporate nearly everything I love in the world into an exceedingly strange and cosmic fruit salad. Watch it here. 

Today’s General Strike Solidarity Rally in NYC

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, Protests with tags , , , on February 17, 2017 by travsd

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Theoretically today was a day of a general strike, which normally means a day when no one works or buys anything or conducts any business, but looking around the busy city I got the feeling there was precious little inactivity. But there was a rally at Washington Square Park with a couple thousand people. Wearing my critic’s hat, the event felt like a bit of a missed opportunity, particularly in the wake of the President’s deranged press conference yesterday and the thousand scandals bouncing around out there. The main problem was the lack of a decent P.A. Some guys spoke into a weak bullhorn but no one could hear them and they gave up…which translated into a lack of an organized, focused program.  It was less galvanizing than such events can often be. When some people started chanting “This is what Democracy looks like!” I found myself saying, “You got THAT right!”

But it wasn’t a waste of time, by any means — people rallied and chanted and talked and bonded. Appropriately we gathered near the statue of the great Italian freedom fighter Giuseppe Garbaldi: 

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My old pal the public historian Kathleen Hulser was there! I've learned a lot from this lady. It was kind of perfect running her next to the statue of Garibaldi.

My old pal the public historian Kathleen Hulser was there! I’ve learned a lot from this lady. It was kind of perfect running into her next to the statue of Garibaldi.

 

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It’s hard to make the fluorescent yellow writing out, but this flag has the verbatim language Trump used when he did his off-camera pussy brag

 

Protest merch salesmen. I'll lay dollars to donuts that NYC has a higher percentage of these guys at its rallies than other cities do.

Protest merch salesmen. I’ll lay dollars to donuts that NYC has a higher percentage of these guys at its rallies than other cities do.

Across the street from the park I came across this bus. At first I thought there’d be trouble from pro-Trump people…but it turned out to be some kind of satirical art project, which the details below made clear:

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Tomorrow: Granny’s Blue-Mers at Freddy’s

Posted in BROOKLYN, Contemporary Variety with tags , , on February 17, 2017 by travsd

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