A LAUGH AND A SONG AND DANCE

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. –Sir Isaac Newton

Comedian Sid Caesar, in his autobiography, CAESAR’S HOURS, quotes the above and adds, “I too stand on the shoulders of giants. Nobody does anything alone.”

To me, to call Sid Caesar (born 9/8/22) a comedian is akin to calling Newton a physicist — accurate, yes, but hardly adequate. In a down-to-earth way, I might even say that what Newton was to gravity in the 1680s, Caesar was to levity in the 1950s. The bottom line is, I was in my teens then (the 1950s, not the 1680s), and still reasonably sentient at the time; thus I can bear witness to the comic genius that I, as a geezer, still see in Caesar.

And just who were those giants on whose shoulders Caesar stood? He tells us in his book: “I always wanted to be Charlie Chaplin. He was one of my earliest comedic heroes, along with Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and W.C. Fields. Most of their comedy came from their character. They each believed in what they did, and I believed them.”

Caesar was an up-and-coming comic performing mainly in the so-called Borscht Belt in New York’s Catskill Mountains when this opportunity arose in the infancy of network TV:

It was called YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, and what an innovative show it was. It premiered live on 2/25/50 with writers like Mel Brooks, Max Liebman (who also produced) and (later) Woody Allen. Said Caesar: “For nine years, I presided over what was arguably the best collection of comedy writers ever assembled in the history of television, and possibly in the history of the written word — unless you think the U.S. Constitution is funny.”

Add co-stars Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris, and the show was both a commercial and artistic success from Hour One. Here, they show you why:

Again quoting Caesar: “Until that time, the only big things on television were bowling, wrestling and Charlie Chan. [Max Liebman] wasn’t interested in the American public’s lowest common denominator. He wasn’t going to dumb down. His goal was that the quality of the show would drive its popularity and ultimately elevate taste.”

As Charlie Chan might say: Noble goal like chasing rainbow — beautiful while it lasts.

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Originally, I came to this post with the idea of making it a birthday (9/8/1896) tribute to Howard Dietz, one of my favorite lyricists, whose autobiography (titled DANCING IN THE DARK) I also commend. Then I learned that Sept. 8 is the birthday of Sid Caesar as well as Howard Dietz, and I thought I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN.

Hold on — it wouldn’t be right not to dance with the dude what brung me, so rather than ditch Dietz, I’ll sing his praises here too….starting with his first big hit (above), then an excerpt from early in the book, closing with a realization of the song which titles his story.

The following is quoted from the book’s forward by Alan Jay Lerner: As for that quality of life known as charm, I can only shrug sadly and chalk it up as another victim of that creeping nastiness called modern civilization. I think about the man whose reminiscences are contained in this book. They come to mind because of that special gift of charm that is so characteristic of his lyrics. Howard [Dietz]  is the Fred Astaire, the Chevalier, the Molnar, the Lubitsch of lyric writers.

Dancing in the dark
Till the tune ends
We’re dancing in the dark
And it soon ends
We’re waltzing in the wonder
Of why we’re here
Time hurries by we’re here
And gone

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HIGH FIVE FOR FIVE STARS

Each of the five days since my last post was the birthday of at least one iconic figure in music or film who left lasting memories for those who appreciate legacies in artistry. I could easily go overboard writing in depth about any of these mid-May arrivals, but maybe it’s best to lessen my losses by not overly testing readers’ patience (O me of little faith!):

May 11 — IRVING BERLIN (1888-1989). Perhaps the most prolific composer in American history, with an estimated 1,500 songs to his credit, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films (three of which were Astaire-Rogers musicals). Writing both words and music (relatively rare for his era), his hits include seasonal evergreens White Christmas and Easter Parade, as well as the red, white and blue God Bless America. His lyrics may lack the wit and sophistication of Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart, but there’s no denying the emotional appeal of such songs as….

May 12 — KATHERINE HEPBURN (1907-2003). In the Golden Era of Hollywood, was there ever a more successful, fiercely independent woman than Katherine Hepburn?  Successful? It’s hard to argue against receiving a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress, and being named the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema by the American Film Institute. Independent? Her own words say it all:

“I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to, and I’ve made enough money to support myself, and ain’t afraid of being alone.” (Hard as it may be to imagine the Bryn Mawr-educated Hepburn uttering “ain’t,” I ain’t about to correct her quote.)

“We are taught you must …. never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change, you’re the one who has got to change.”

“As one goes through life, one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.”

“Life gets harder the smarter you get, the more you know.”

“Politicians remain professional because the voters remain amateur.”

NOTE: For my ode to another May 12 bundle of joy, see my post of May 12, 2015.

May 13 — ARTHUR SULLIVAN (1842-1900). Can’t place the name? How about Arthur Sullivan of GILBERT AND SULLIVAN fame? Who doesn’t enjoy their great comic operas such as THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, THE MIKADO and H.M.S. PINAFORE — the latter of which I have loved since When I was a Lad:

May 14 — SIDNEY BECHET (1897-1959). This is a name you almost certainly can’t place unless you’re a classic jazz fan….but if you are such a fan, you know him as a major figure in jazz annals since his recording debut in 1923. New Orleans born, he spent the last decade of his life in France, where he died on the same day — May 14 — that he was born. Here he is on soprano sax in a 1950s recording from the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s magical MIDNIGHT IN PARIS:

May 15 — JOSEPH COTTON (1905-1994). I have previously mentioned Joseph Cotton in regard to his co-starring role (with Orson Welles and Alida Valli) in one of my favorite films, THE THIRD MAN. He first met Welles in 1934, beginning a life-long friendship and on-and-off association with Welles in numerous plays, radio dramas and films, as well as co-starring with Katherine Hepburn in the 1939 Broadway play THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. But it is in his role as Holly Martens in THE THIRD MAN that he stands alone (literally so, in the end), and I can think of no more fitting way to end this post than with that indelible closing scene from the film (to the tune of Anton Karas’ Third Man Theme):

ALLEY BABBLE AND THE FORTY THEMES

As we have noted, out of the cacophony and babble of pre-WWI Tin Pan Alley came the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age (not to mention Prohibition, 1920-33). If any one song could be said to capture the pulse (and become the anthem) of this dynamic cultural shift, it has to be George Gershwin’s RHAPSODY IN BLUE, written in 1924 and heard (in part) here at the outset of Woody Allen’s paean of a movie to a place called MANHATTAN:

RHAPSODY IN BLUE was commissioned by band leader Paul Whiteman and introduced to the world by his orchestra (with Gershwin himself at the piano) at NYC’s Aeolian Hall on Feb. 12, 1924. It subsequently served as Whiteman’s theme song — theme songs being a virtual prerequisite for big bands and dance bands of the 1930s. One ‘whiff’ of a familiar opening theme song immediately identified a band to radio listeners, and set the stage for a band’s performances at ballrooms, dance halls and other venues wherever they played.

There were literally hundreds of bands big and small, sweet and swing, hot and not, in the decade leading up to WW II. Of these, I’ll list 40 whose theme songs were (in my opinion) well chosen or well known, followed by your match-the-band-with-the-theme-song quiz (just kidding; that would be like s’posin’* I could match today’s artists with their hit songs — forgeddabouddit!). So just rest easy and enjoy the clips of a few selections from the list.

Louis Armstrong — WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH
Gus Arnheim — SWEET AND LOVELY
Count Basie — ONE O’CLOCK JUMP
Bunny Berrigan — I CAN’T GET STARTED
Lou Breese — BREEZIN’ ALONG WITH THE BREEZE
Willie Bryant — IT’S OVER BECAUSE WE’RE THROUGH
Billy Butterfield — WHAT’S NEW?
Cab Calloway — MINNIE THE MOOCHER
Benny Carter — MELANCHOLY LULLABY
Tommy Dorsey — I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU
Sonny Dunham — MEMORIES OF YOU

Duke Ellington — TAKE THE ‘A’ TRAIN
Skinnay Ennis — GOT A DATE WITH AN ANGEL
Ted Fio Rito — RIO RITA
Benny Goodman — LET’S DANCE
Glen Gray — SMOKE RINGS
Johnny Green — HELLO, MY LOVER, GOODBYE
Bobby Hackett — EMBRACEABLE YOU

George Hall — LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND
Lionel Hampton — FLYIN’ HOME
Coleman Hawkins — BODY AND SOUL
Ina Ray Hutton — GOTTA HAVE YOUR LOVE
Jack Hylton — SHE SHALL HAVE MUSIC
Harry James — CIRIBIRIBIN
Art Jarrett — EVERYTHING’S BEEN DONE BEFORE
Isham Jones — YOU’RE JUST A DREAM COME TRUE
Dick Jurgens — DAY DREAMS COME TRUE AT NIGHT
Ted Lewis — WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME
Little Jack Little — LITTLE BY LITTLE
Guy Lombardo — AULD LANG SYNE
Wingy Manone — ISLE OF CAPRI
Johnny Messner — CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS
Eddie Miller — LAZY MOOD (sung here by Johnny Mercer with Eddie Miller’s band)

Glenn Miller — MOONLIGHT SERENADE
Lucky Millender — RIDE, RED, RIDE
Vaughn Monroe — RACING WITH THE MOON
Leo Reisman — WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?
Buddy Rogers — MY BUDDY
Jack Teagarden — I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES
Fred Waring — SLEEP

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* S’POSIN’ was a 1929 hit song; it is, of course, a ‘traction (contraction) of SUPPOSING

 

ROMANCE WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY

To a romantic girl, all roads lead to Romeo. –Evan Esar

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August is ROMANCE AWARENESS MONTH. I’m not sure why a month is needed to raise awareness of romance (a week, or even a day, seems more than sufficient to awaken all but the most world-weary of libidos)….however, if it must take a month, I suppose August will do as well as any other. But then who needs Valentine’s Day  — enough is enough!

That may sound tantamount to telling Cupid to take a hike, but before you Romeos and Juliets go Roman off in a huff, be aware I have nothing against romance so long as it doesn’t get out of hand….which, as it happens, makes the title of my previous post (DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD) appear as if I’d simultaneously had today’s post in mind. Alas, I am not that far-sighted, but as a killer of two birds with one stone, and as a preview of coming attractions, I must admit the title was prescient (and I assure you that the two birds killed weren’t lovebirds).

Anyway, what can I say about romance that hasn’t already been intimated by many others? Not much, I’m happy to say, because it comports with my creative energy level in these dog days of August. Therefore, I shall turn to those others who have already waxed eloquent about puppy love and the like, and relieve myself of further arduous cogitation:

Love is the emotion that a woman always feels for a poodle, and sometimes for a man. –George Jean Nathan

Romance has been elegantly defined as the offspring of fiction and love. –Disraeli

Marriage is a romance in which the heroine dies in the first chapter. –Cecelia Egan

This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, Doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. The doc says, Well, why don’t you turn him in? And the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. I guess that’s how I feel about relationships. They’re totally irrational, crazy and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs. –Woody Allen

Love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties. –Jules Renard

The realist always falls in love with a girl he has grown up with, the romanticist with a girl from “off somewhere.” –Robert Frost

Fools rush in where bachelors fear to wed. –Evan Esar

Men always want to be a woman’s first love. That is their clumsy vanity. Women have a more subtle instinct: what they like is to be a man’s last romance. –Oscar Wilde

By the time you swear you’re his, shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is infinite, undying —
Lady, make a note of this: One of you is lying.

–Dorothy Parker

Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy. –Henry Kissinger

In as much as we began this romantic excursion with several punning allusions to Rome, it seems fitting to close with scenes from one of my favorite films, the Audrey Hepburn-Gregory Peck romantic comedy, ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953):

LAZY DAY

This post marks the second mile, as the frog jumps (or as the crow flies, if you’re a traditionalist), on my post-every-five-days trial run, and already the timetable is beginning to seem unnatural and formulaic — not unlike having sex on a rigid schedule, instead of spontaneously (although there is something to be said for libidinal regularity, if you can keep it up).

At any rate, a palpable angst is creeping over me, as if I’m a character in a Woody Allen film, torn between conflicted and competing neuroses. Not exactly the optimum scenario for a writer of my non compos mentis….or for a Casanova wannabe, for that matter.

Be that as it may or may not be, now is not the time to dwell on second thoughts, ere this noble experiment hath run its allotted August course. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their…. Oops! Wrong speech!

Anyway, as you’ll recall from my August 5 post, August 10 is LAZY DAY, so my duty today is clear: punt, get out of the way, and let Lazy have its day….and then some:

P.S. Although Kermit the Frog said time’s fun when you’re having flies, he probably never had to eat crow flies….and he’s too slow to catch horseflies.

HERE A QUOTE, THERE A QUOTE

Now and again, when I come across a quotation I particularly like, I bookmark it or write it down to save for possible use in a future post. Over time, I’ve accumulated a considerable cache of said quotes, which has me feeling somewhat like the poor soul beneath this 1837 tombstone in Thermon, Maryland:

Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.

So here I am with a quoter’s worth of quotes which I have yet to use, and probably never will, as things stand. To coin a phrase, my quotations situation has come to a dead end. They’ve no place to go. I’ve reached the now-or-never point — use ’em or lose ’em. Thus, the reason for this post: it’s full speed ahead, and let the quotes (the first of which defines an atheist in a way I’d not heard of) fall where they may:

The atheist does not say ‘there is no God,’ but says ‘I know not what you mean by God; I am without idea of God’; the word ‘God’ is to me a sound conveying no clear or distinct affirmation. The Bible God I deny; the Christian God I disbelieve in; but I am not rash enough to say there is no God as long as you tell me you are unprepared to define God for me. -Charles Bradlaugh

He who is not aware of his ignorance will only be misled by his knowledge. -Richard Whatley

Moral systems are devised not to make life difficult, not to forbid pleasure, but to protect human beings from other human beings. -Andrew Greeley

Allright, forget it. We’ll play in your ballpark. -Spencer Tracy (Clarence Darrow) to Fredric March (Wm. Jennings Bryan) when the Bible (but not Darwin’s ORIGIN OF SPECIES) is admitted as evidence in the film based on the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, INHERIT THE WIND.

It seems to me that organized creeds are collections of words around a wish. -Zora Hurston

Any physical cause [of the universe] is by definition part of the universe to be explained. Thus any purely scientific explanation of [it’s] existence is doomed to be circular. Even if it starts from something very minimal – a cosmic egg, a tiny bit of quantum vacuum, a singularity – it still starts with something, not nothing. -Jim Holt

“GOD” is most accurately defined as the personification of ignorance, representing everything we do not yet understand. -Kenneth Marsalek

On the sixth day, God created man. On the seventh day, man returned the favor. -Unknown

I don’t believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear. -Woody Allen

Well, humor is the great thing, the saving thing, after all. -Mark Twain

 

 

CAN’T GO WRONG WITH WRIGHT

After coming across the right-on Wright quote I used in my last post, I did a search for more and found that the first was no fluke. There’s no shortage of equally great stuff where that came from, which allows me not only to give Steven Wright his just due,  but to do a fun post without doing most of the work. That works for me every time.

It seems he and I have a lot in common. Like me, Wright was raised Catholic, digs George Carlin & Woody Allen, thinks existential thoughts, and falls readily asleep while sitting. He does stand-up comedy, I do stand-up urinalogy. Here’s a sample of him doing his thing, followed by more Wright quotes:

Whenever I think of the past, it brings back so many memories.

If you tell a joke in the forest, but nobody laughs, was it a joke?

I installed a skylight in my apartment….the people who live above me are furious!

There was a power outage at a department store yesterday. Twenty people were trapped on the escalators.

I bought some batteries, but they weren’t included.

What’s another word for Thesaurus?

I think it’s wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly.

There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.

My friend has a baby. I’m recording all the noises he makes so later I can ask him what he meant.

I intend to live forever. So far, so good.