August 18, 1930: A Dog Walks into a Bar

The world of Disney (as opposed to Disney World) is “peopled” by a group of cartoon animals who walk on two legs, talk intelligibly and dress stylishly. Mickey came first. Then Minnie. Add Donald plutoDuck, Daisy Duck, and Goofy, and you have five of the characters known as the Sensational Six — the superstars of the Disney universe. The sixth character joined the group on August 18, 1930, with the release of the cartoon short Chain Gang. But he was different from the other five. He walked on all fours, barked and was completely naked. He was an animal animal.

Pluto was nameless in his debut vehicle. It wasn’t until a month later and a second appearance in The Picnic that he acquired the clever name Rover. In the cartoon, Rover belongs to Minnie Mouse who brings him along on a picnic with Mickey. In a Mitt Romney moment, Mickey ties the dog to the back of the car before driving off and dragging him behind. But when the poor pooch spots a couple of frolicking rabbits, he ends up dragging the car and its mouse occupants on a merry chase.

The following year, Rover returned as Mickey’s pet with the new name Pluto the Pup. The origin of that name is the subject of argument. It was back in 1930 that the now ex-planet Pluto was discovered. Was this the source of his name? Or were both planet and dog named after the Roman god of the underworld? And then there’s that other great mystery: If Pluto’s a dog and Goofy’s a dog, why is the latter anthropomorphic and the former not?  Walt remained mum.

 

 

 

 

 

Lady, I do not make up things. That is lies. Lies are not true. But the truth could be made up if you know how. And that’s the truth. ~ Lily Tomlin

August 15, 1935: Will Power

Cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor, Will Rogers was one of the world’s best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s and adored by the Will-Rogers-StampAmerican people. Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,” Rogers was born in 1879 to a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma). During his amazing career, he traveled around the world three times, wrote more than 4,000 nationally-syndicated newspaper columns, and starred in 71 movies (a majority of them silent ) and several Broadway productions. He was the top-paid Hollywood movie star at the time, and in 1934, was voted the most popular male actor in Hollywood.

     As a radio broadcaster and political commentator, he was the leading political wit of the Progressive Era.  He called politics “the best show in the world” and described Congress as the “national joke factory.”

     Rogers died on August 15, 1935, with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed in Alaska.

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

 

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There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

 

We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

 

When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.

 

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Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can’t buy enough to eat.

 

The best way to make a fire with two sticks is to make sure one of them is a match.

August 12, 1881: Ready When You Are, C.B.

Cecil B. DeMille was a larger-than-life filmmaker throughout the first half of the last century as well as God’s public relations director. Born in 1881 in Ashfield, Massachusetts, he went on to enter the world of theater as an actor, director and playwright.  He helped to establish Paramount Pictures and co-directed his first film, The Squaw Man, the first of over 70 films, in 1914. Through the years, he burnished his reputation with lavish biblical epics such as The King of Kings, Samson and Delilah, and The Ten Commandments.

     DeMille created the first movie to have a budget of more than $1 million, paving the way for his future epics “with a cast of thousands.” Although he was adept at directing thousands of extras, he had a bit of a problem with individual actors, becoming a tad tyrannical on the set.  When making redsea1927′s King of Kings, DeMille demanded that in order to preserve the film’s spiritual integrity, the actors all had to enter into contracts promising that they would not do anything “unbiblical” for five years — that included going to baseball games,  frequenting nightclubs and  driving sexy cars.

     He saw no reason his actors shouldn’t risk their lives for the good of the film.  Although Victor Mature was a superhero in Samson and Delilah, DeMille said he was “100% yellow” because he refused to wrestle a lion. Paulette Goddard lost future roles with the director by refusing to play with fire in Unconquered.

     And he loved spectacle – the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments, the toppling of the temple in Samson and Delilah, train wrecks in The Road to Yesterday, Union Pacific and The Greatest Show on Earth, and the destruction of a zeppelin in Madame Satan.

     Gloria Swanson immortalized DeMille in a movie he didn’t direct, Sunset Boulevard, with the frequently repeated line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Give me any two pages of the Bible and I’ll give you a picture.  — Cecil B. DeMille

August 1, 1953: Don’t Take Your Guns to Town

In 1953, a new type of western hit the movie screens. Moviegoers were looking for something more complex than the head-em-off-at-the pass, white hat/black hat fare that Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers had been dishing out through the forties. They felt more sophisticated and shaneworldly, and they wanted their cowboys to be more sophisticated and worldly as well (even though most cowboys never strayed beyond Montana).

A gun-toting drifter with only one name rides down out of the rugged Teton Mountains into a fertile valley where a family of homesteaders – a man and wife, and their only son — eke out a living.  Shane as played by Alan Ladd is conflicted, a basically good man who lives by his gun, anxious to give up his wandering and get a normal life. Well, that’s fine, but the local cattle baron and his thug Jack Palance aren’t about to let that happen. At the end of the movie, Shane realizes he can’t escape his past, and in a great cinematic moment, rides off wounded (mortally?) past the gravestones on Cemetery Hill, and out of town, into the sunrise, with the young boy calling after him: “Come back, Shane!”

Gary Cooper gave us another nuanced hero during the early 1950s in the masterful High Noon.

And if you want to talk nuanced, there’s John Wayne:

“Never apologize, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.”

“Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”

“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”

Or maybe not.

July 29, 1887: Naughty Nomads and Singing Sots

Born in 1887, Sigmund Romberg moved to the United States in 1909 and, after a short resume builder in a pencil factory (as a sharpener?), found work as a pianist.  An instrument here, an instrument there, and pretty soon he had his own orchestra. He published a few songs that caught the attention of the Shubert brothers, who in 1914 hired him to write music for their Broadway shows. Next day on his dressing room, they hung a star.

Career off and running, he wrote his best-known operettas, The Student Prince in 1924, The Desert Song in 1926, and The New Moon in 1928.

The Student Prince was the most successful of Romberg’s works, the longest-running Broadway show of the 1920s at 608 performances, even longer than the classic Show Boat.  The “Drinking Song,” with its rousing chorus, was especially popular in 1924, with Prohibition is full swing:

Drink! Drink!
  Let the toast start!
  May young hearts never part!
  Drink! Drink! Drink!
  Let every true lover salute his sweetheart!
  Let's drink!

The Mario Lanza version from the 1954 movie remains popular with imbibers everywhere.

The Desert Song (with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein) is your typical superhero-adopts-mild-mannered disguise-to-keep-his true-identity-secret saga much like Zorro and Superman but with better music and no phone booths. The Red Shadow loves a beautiful and spirited girl, who loves his hero persona but not his wimpy side.  Will true love win out over hero worship? After much sophisticated music, lust in the dust and naughty humor, we learn the answer, especially in a lavish 1929 film production of the operetta – but only until the 1940s when it became illegal to view or exhibit the 1929 film in the United States because the folks in charge feared the naughty bits would morally harm us.

A second feature version was made in 1943, which had our hero fighting the Nazis, and a third version with Kathryn Grayson and Gordon MacRae in 1953 was about as squeaky clean as you can get.  Thank god for censors.

I drink to make other people more interesting. ― Ernest Hemingway

July 22, 1959: The Moon Is Alive with the Sound of Music

Plan 9 From Outer Space is not the worst picture ever made. It’s probably not even the worst film to premier on July 22, 1959. The film has been featured in countless retrospectives, Turner Classic Movies, and documentaries. It’s been adapted for the stage, in comic books and computer games. It’s music has been featured on a CD. It’s been colorized!Plan_9_Alternative_poster

     And, of course, it was obviously the model for NASA’s grand hoax ten years later, the so-called moon landing and moonwalk.  Rumor has it that NASA even gave its charade the code name Plan 10 from Outer Space. Yet  even with all those scientists working on it, they couldn’t get the string holding up the Apollo spacecraft just right.  Nor did they include a single Bela Lugosi walk-on – his emerging dramatically from a crater would have been the perfect touch.

     And there you have the main argument – can any film featuring Bela Lugosi be the worst film ever made.  No way.   Lugosi has several scenes in Plan 9, even though he was dead and buried with a stake through his heart when the film was produced.  And narration by the Amazing Criswell. Had Criswell narrated the moon landing many more people would have believed in it.

     Some naysayers fault the film’s dialogue. “Can your heart stand the shocking facts about grave robbers from outer space?” Is that anywhere near as bad as “Doe, a deer, a female deer?”  Plan 9 from Outer Space is not the worst film ever made. The Sound of Music is.

Or the Mound of Susic as the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, born July 22, 1844, might have called it.  The Reverend gave his name to that bit of word play known as a spoonerism. For example:

“Give three cheers for our queer old dean.”

“Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?”

“The Lord is a shoving leopard.”

 

July 21, 1865: All Hat and No Cattle

We all know from movies, pulp fiction and other pop culture that the streets of the Old West were littered with the remnant losers of showdowns that took place practically on the hour. gunslingTwo steel-jawed gunslingers coolly staring at each other, contemplating who would draw first and, more importantly, who would draw fastest. Conspiracy theorists are quick to point out that most gun battles took place between drunks who only managed to hit their adversaries because they were standing a foot away — or it they were at a distance, were most likely hiding behind a handy horse or schoolmarm and aiming at somebody’s back.

True, but there was a sort of Code of the West based on the gentlemanly European tradition of dueling in which opponents behaved with good breeding before attempting to kill one another. The Code of the West required that a person resort to a six-gun on the city streets only in matters of major import such as the defense of one’s honor or life, and only if the opponent was also armed. If the Code were followed, a gunslinger could pretty much kill another gunslinger without fear of punishment.

On July 21, 1865, Springfield, Missouri, saw just such a classic showdown. Wild Bill Hickok had a reputation as a real hotshot with a gun, so it is a bit surprising that a former Union soldier agreed to a showdown after an argument with Wild Bill over a card game or the upcoming Presidential election or something.

Armed with sodas and popcorn, a huge crowd of onlookers watched as the two men approached each other from the far ends of the long street. When the two men were still way beyond field goal territory, the challenger drew and fired wildly in Hickok’s direction. Ever cool, Hickok, drew his own revolver, took careful aim, and put a bullet through his opponent’s chest.

Having been true to the Code, Hickok remained a free man. Unfortunately, several years later, Wild Bill was done in by someone not so fastidious about playing by the rules. A young gunslinger with absolutely no sense of gallantry shot him in the back of the head while he played cards.

When my time comes, just skin me and put me up there on Trigger, just as though nothing had ever changed. — Roy Rogers

July 3, 1954: Whoops, There Goes the First Prop

In 1954, a gaggle of Hollywood VIPs boarded a DC-4 airliner headed from Hawaii to California. Their troubled flight made a bit of film history — in Cinemascope, no less. The High and the Mighty premiered on July 3, 1954, with a roster of stars that included Claire Trevor, Robert Stack, Laraine Day, Phil Harris, and shepherding them through the sky, John Wayne.

Introducing the scenario that would be used so successfully by the Airport movies of the 1970s as well as countless other disaster movies, the film details the lives and interactions of the passengers and crew when calamity strikes the flight. Calamity comes in the form of a ‘whoops there goes the first prop’ moment and another, followed by a nasty engine fire. Co-pilot Wayne leaps to the fore and (spoiler alert) guides the plane to its destination. And what happened to the pilot, you ask. The pilot, played by Robert Stack goes all squishy and useless (probably because Wayne produced the film and Stack didn’t).

Stack, incidently, showed up in a 1980 film that brought the air disaster genre to its illogical conclusion. In Airplane he stays on terra firma trying to talk an experienced pilot through a landing: “Striker, listen, and you listen close: flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes”.

Composer Dimitri Tiomkin won an Academy Award for his original score of The High and the Mighty.  The title song was nominated for an award but did not win.

Miami Wit

Dave Barry, born July 3, 1947, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and humorist who wrote a nationally syndicated column for The Miami Herald from 1983 to 2005. He has also written numerous books of humor.

• The word user is the word used by the computer professional when they mean idiot.

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• If you were to open up a baby’s head – and I am not for a moment suggesting that you should – you would find nothing but an enormous drool gland.

• Although golf was originally restricted to wealthy, overweight Protestants, today it’s open to anybody who owns hideous clothing.

• Scientists now believe that the primary biological function of breasts is to make males stupid.

• Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly 73 percent of all accidents involving falling objects.

• Dogs feel very strongly that they should always go with you in the car, in case the need should arise for them to bark violently at nothing right in your ear.

• The simple truth is that balding African-American men look cool when they shave their heads, whereas balding white men look like giant thumbs.

• Thus the metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimeter bullet.

June 28, 1926: It’s Good To Be the King

“Humor keeps the elderly rolling along, singing a song. When you laugh, its an involuntary explosion of the lungs. The lungs need to replenish themselves with oxygen. So you laugh, you breathe, the blood runs, and everything is circulating. If you don’t laugh, you’ll die.”

     Mel Brooks, born June 28, 1926, has kept the world rolling along since he broke into the entertainment business in early TV. Director, screenwriter, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor 01f/26/arve/g2659/024and producer, he is best known for his comic film farces and parodies.

     He began his career as a stand-up comic and writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows then teamed up with fellow writer Carl Reiner, as The 2000 Year Old Man. In the 70s he became one of the most successful film directors, producing such comedy classics as Blazing Saddles, The Producers, Young Frankenstein (numbers 6, 11 and 13 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 comedy films of all-time), The Twelve Chairs, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World, Part I, Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The musical adaptation of his first film, The Producers, became a smash hit on Broadway. Brooks is one of the few entertainers with the distinction of having won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award.

A true funny man, no joke was ever beneath him.

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Well, it got so that every piss-ant prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out the Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille. It got pretty gritty. I started to hear the word “draw” in my sleep. Then one day, I was just walking down the street when I heard a voice behind me say, “Reach for it, mister!” I spun around… and there I was, face to face with a six-year old kid. Well, I just threw my guns down and walked away. Little bastard shot me in the ass. So I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle… and I’ve been there ever since.

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Paul Revere was anti-semitic! Yelling all through the night, the Yiddish are coming the Yiddish are coming!

Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him.

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June 18, 1913: They Call It Sam’s Song

Violinist, meat-packer, usher, tinsmith, elevator operator, and lyricist, Sammy Cahn (no relation to Kublai or Genghis) penned his first lyrics at the age of 16 – “Like Niagara Falls, I’m cahnFalling for You,” not one of his most notable successes. But he kept writing them, giving up those other professions, until he got it right, and got it right again, and again.

     Over the course of his career, Cahn was nominated for 23 Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, an Emmy and a Grammy. In 1988, the Sammy Awards, for movie songs and scores, were created in his honor.

With Jimmy Van Heusen, Cahn wrote so many songs for Frank Sinatra that the two were almost considered to be his personal songwriters. Oscar winners “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “All the Way,” and “High Hopes” were all introduced in films by Sinatra.  Add “Love and Marriage,”  “The Tender Trap,” “My Kind of Town,” “Come Fly with Me” and a host of others.

     The pair also won an Oscar for “Call Me Irresponsible” and received nominations for “Pocketful of Miracles,” “The Second Time Around,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Cahn and Jule Styne added nominations for “I’ll Walk Alone,” “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” and “It’s Magic.”

Cahn was born on June 18, 1913, and died in 1993.