The Mr. Nice Guy Show Blog

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My thoughts on what's goin' on in the world,

just like years ago on the radio.

Friday, January 28, 2005

And Then There Were Three

Meet the latest columnist (some would say "prostitute") to take money from the feds. Also note the highly ironic title of his column.

I wonder how much we'd have to pay him to dress up like a clown, stand on his head and sing a medley of show tunes in front of the Washington Monument.



In a couple of weeks, I'll be celebrating a very special anniversary: it was exactly 20 years ago that I bought my first microwave oven [which I still have and use daily, by the way], and then drove about a half a mile, to another part of the north side of Syracuse, and met Linda.

For about three years to follow, fuzzy Linda was the woman of my dreams.

She was 20 at the time, I was 28, the perfect age difference. She was slim with a ton of 80's style dirty blonde hair, beautiful skin, nice smile, half Italian, half Hungarian, with the charm and earthiness of a girl who grew up in the Lyncourt section of Syracuse and struggled to gradute from Cicero-North Syracuse High School, probably because partying her brains out was much more important.

Linda was also a stripper.

Okay, an "exotic dancer."
If it comes up in temple or some other place, I call her a "waitress."

What can I say? She was absolutely beautiful. As psychologist Warren Farrell has said, "Female beauty is the world's most potent drug." My friends all laughed at me, but for a long time, I'd stop in to the Alpine, have a slightly overpriced drink, buy one for Linda and we'd talk. It was all "dream-time," I know, but maybe it was worth something.

One evening, she was dancing at a bachelor party and had nobody to accompany her and be her bodyguard. She asked me. Yeah, me, all 5'4" of imposing Yid-dom. As she drove like a maniac to the party, we talked uncomfortably, my first-ever time "out" with her. Of course it all went nowhere. She had a boyfriend all along, and when she abruptly broke up with him, and I stopped going to the bar, I soon saw her wedding announcement in the newspaper.

Toward the end of our relationship, she began looking skranky. Too much time on the tanning bed, too much time dancing for strangers and justifying it by relegating all of us "customers" to sub-human status.

Strip joints are one of the few places in this world where everyone thinks everyone else is an idiot.

Now I'm 47, about to turn 48. Linda's 40.
I wonder what she's up to, how she's doing, how she looks. Wide, mother of several kids, divorced a few times? Wealthy, living in the lap (insert "lap" jokes here) of luxury?

I'll probably have no way of knowing. SHe's not the kind of person you can "Google."

I hope she's doing okay and maybe even thinking of me once in a great while.

She was so pretty.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

What the FCC Doesn't Consider Smut

Broadcasters are a little touchy these days, after last year's "Nipplegate" and the ridiculous fining of Howard Stern and others.

Even during the last days of Michael Powell's rule as FCC Chairman, some sanity still prevailed as 36 complaints raised by the conservative Parents Television Council were thrown out.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Hi-Tech Funhouse

I changed my mind and bought an mp3 player. Creative MuVo Micro N200, 512MB. Excellent, glorious, wonderful product. Holds about 17 hours of music in wma format, line-in so I can record from other sources, and also a microphone, all about the size of a pack of Tic-Tacs. Documentation is terrible, digital and in print, but the sound is great. $129 at Circuit City, a company I don't especially like doing business with, but they had it and I didn't feel like waiting for the mail.

I don't know why, but Google has a sensational photo management program, Picasa, that's absolutely free. Imports from digital cameras, adjusts contrast, straightens, crops and a lot more. Comparable to Photoshop Elements, but not $99 bucks.



Monday, January 24, 2005

Johnny Carson

It was the early 1960s. Maybe I was six or seven years old, visiting a cousin's house, where grandma and grandpa lived upstairs. I was spending the night or maybe just there really late for some reason.

Usually this cousin was a big, loud boor, who took delight in talking about sports and repeatedly choking me, three years his junior. He's mellowed a lot since then, almost laughably so, but we still have difficulty communicating and rarely speak.

On this one particular nite, he said "Y'gotta see this show on TV. It's hilarious," or something to that effect.

He was right.
It was The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

I became an instant fan.
Carson was the master, the standard, the model for anyone who wanted to entertain people. In my brief, unremarkable career in radio, I probably tried to emulate him more than anyone else. He was sophisticated, worldly, charming, yet down-to-earth, the all-American guy, with a sincere - yet sometimes naughty, devilish - smile. The best of everything.

And funny.
In delivering the words of writers who he'd hire on 13-week contracts and had to keep producing or go....and in using his own stuff.

My favourite lines...
During a Greyhound bus strike, he said drivers
main gripes were salaries...and the fact that
they had to go to work downtown, near the bus station.
Brilliant, with perfect timing.
He waxed philosophical at the holiday season:
"Thanksgiving is the one time of year when people
travel from all over the country to be with their families,
only to realize that once a year is much too often."

He wrote for Red Skelton. When TV writers went on strike [in the 1980s?], after several rounds of reruns, Carson lost patience, came back on the air and wrote the entire monologues himself. And they were good.

He wasn't perfect.
in his book, King of the Night, Laurence Leamer described Carson as an angry drunk and one who probably was involved in domestic violence in at least his first of four marriages.

Still, y'just couldn't get mad at the guy. Even for deserting us after 1992. I always hoped for at least one annual special...or just one, period. But we never got it. It's a shame.

Tom Shales does a nice job of explaining it all below.
Columnist Aaron Barnhart put it even simpler, not an overstatement, Johnny Carson was "the greatest entertainer the medium of television ever produced."

Despite the flaws and peculiarities, Carson made us smile through some of the strangest times in our history. I think, at heart, he was a good person.
"May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing."

Carson's best act was himself
Late-night king genuinely enjoyed entertaining

By Tom Shales
The Washington Post
Updated: 11:42 a.m. ET Jan. 24, 2005

We've had 13 years to get over saying a painful goodbye to Johnny Carson. Now we have to start all over again. Even though he stayed almost completely out of the public eye since stepping down as host of "The Tonight Show," this time the pain is much worse.

There is absolutely no chance Johnny will come back now, even for an instant. Early Sunday morning, the great comedy star, who became known as "the king of late night" for his amazing longevity and class, died, at 79, of emphysema. On his last show, he expressed sorrow that his son Rick, victim of a car crash, couldn't be there with the rest of his family to make it a "perfect evening."

"But I guess life does what it's supposed to do," he said, "and you accept it and move on."

Still, it's awfully hard to accept the loss of a man who was like a next-door neighbor to 20 million people, dropping by to end the day with a few laughs, even when there seemed so little in the world to laugh about, always agreeable and always at his most ingratiating. Johnny Carson always managed to find something to amuse us, usually something deflating the pompous and the self-important — two faults of which he was never guilty himself.

"And so it has come to this," he told us on his last "Tonight" show ever. "I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something that I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it." That speaks to part of what made Carson so magnetic and infectious, what made him such a pleasure to have in the house: We didn't watch the show, we watched him, and in addition to being entertained by him, we enjoyed watching him be entertained by others.

His delight at the discovery of some newfound comic talent — he and his staff probably discovered more of that than anyone else in the history of show business — was palpable; he'd laugh so hard that his chair would almost roll out from under him. When Bette Midler sang a farewell "One for My Baby" to him on the penultimate show, a camera caught Midler in the foreground singing and Johnny in the background sniffing tearfully, and we felt not like intruders on a private moment but like close friends who'd been invited to share it.

Carson has been called an Everyman figure, but that would be fitting only if every man were hilarious. He not only had brilliant timing and a lightning-quick mind for ad libs, he had a unique talent for turning bum jokes into gold. If a punch line elicited silence or groans from the studio audience, Carson would make a funny crack about how bad the joke was, or pull down the overhead microphone and say into it, "Attention Kmart shoppers" or, in the darkest hours, break into a soft-shoe dance with Doc Severinsen leading the band in "Tea for Two."

Ed McMahon, Carson's longtime announcer, seemed to laugh with particular gusto at these demonstrations of desperation. Sometimes Carson grew philosophical about the strange enjoyment people got from the clunkers and from seeing him squirm.

"It's like I'm up on a ledge and the crowd below is yelling, 'Jump! Jump!' " he said.

'A star and a gentleman'
"He was the best," David Letterman declared in a statement yesterday from St. Bart's, where he and his family are vacationing. He called Carson "a star and a gentleman" and said there wasn't a night when he didn't ask himself how "Johnny" would have done something.

Peter Lassally, a close friend of Carson's who'd joined the show as a producer in 1970, was shocked and despondent at Carson's death, especially since Carson had been having such a joyful retirement. "After he left the show, he became so much more open and gentle," Lassally recalled from his home in Malibu. "He was so much sweeter and relaxed, and it was so much fun to be with him."

Speaking often by phone in addition to sharing occasional nights out, Lassally said, he and Carson would "talk about how terrible the world situation was — politics, books, things in the news. He was always interested in the world outside of show business. He would also call when he was watching a really bad television show, especially something live, and he'd ask if I was watching it too. If I wasn't, I'd turn it on, and we'd laugh hysterically just at how bad it was. He never failed to call when something was really, really awful."

Carson didn't miss doing "The Tonight Show," but he may have missed doing the monologue. It was Lassally who revealed just last week that Carson would occasionally write a joke about some item in the news and send it off to Letterman, and that those jokes would sometimes end up in Letterman's monologue. He'd been doing this for more than a year, Lassally said yesterday. Carson found Letterman "strange" but always liked him and would have preferred that Letterman, not Jay Leno, succeed him at the "Tonight Show" desk.

Lassally revealed the secret about the jokes because he was trying to get inquiring TV columnists off the topic of Carson's health, not wanting to discuss it any more than necessary. The National Enquirer had splashed a story about Carson being rushed to the hospital on its front page, and the tabloid is usually accurate when dealing with stories of celebrity illness. Lassally hadn't heard from Carson for three weeks, he said yesterday, and Carson's voice hadn't sounded very healthy on the phone — high-pitched and raspy.

Carson was a heavy smoker for years, and when he started as "Tonight" host, with the show still originating from NBC Studios in New York, smoke was always wafting up from an ashtray on his desk. He eventually tried to avoid taking puffs while on camera, and — chided by such guests as Tony Randall — finally gave up smoking altogether. But permanent damage may have been done.

Throwback to another era
Hundreds and hundreds of guests passed through "The Tonight Show" talking to Johnny over those 30 years, most of them plugging movies or TV shows or books. Carson made it all entertaining with his sharp wit and self-deprecating humor. There were also regular scripted comedy segments in which Carson would wear a costume and play a wacky character, a kind of throwback to the vaudeville era and to showbiz as Carson — though hardly any of today's stars — remembered it.

He would don a wig and dress and be irreverent "Aunt Blabby," a character with more than a passing resemblance to Jonathan Winters as "Maude Frickert." When Carl Sagan was a popular figure, Carson — an astronomy buff himself — would do a dead-on Sagan impression, always talking about "billions and billions" of these or those in the solar system. To deliver the news of the future, Carson would turn himself into "Zontar Rather," and to divine questions without ever having seen the answers (because, as straight man McMahon explained, they had been kept in "a mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnalls' porch since noon today"), Carson plopped a turban on his head and became "Carnac the Magnificent."

Answer: Sis boom bah. Question: What is the sound of a sheep exploding?

These and other bits — Art Fern, the hammy commercial pitchman who kept interrupting the afternoon movie on an unnamed local TV station — usually followed the monologue, which was the jewel in the turban for the show. Carson's best interviews, meanwhile, were not necessarily with movie or TV stars so much as the ones he did with small children and very old people, whom Carson always seemed to find awesome.

Kids were great because they weren't intimidated by cameras and lights. Little Zachary La Voy, a fledgling actor, kept peeking at himself in a monitor during a 1989 show now available on home video. Carson: "How do you think you look?" Little boy: "Cute!" Carson erupted in laughter.

He also very dependably got laughs from segments featuring wild animals brought to the studio by zoologists and other experts. Once when a leopard in a cage suddenly growled and swiped at Carson, Carson ran all the way across the studio floor and jumped into the arms of McMahon.

The show was almost always a joy to watch because Carson almost always took great joy in doing it.

Didn't want to look pathetic
Carson turned down all entreaties — and there were dozens — to come out of retirement for one show, one little sketch, one brief appearance. Except for a tiny appearance on Letterman's CBS show, Carson stayed away. During a 1993 interview, he revealed one of the main reasons for remaining out of the public eye: Bob Hope. Carson thought Hope seemed sad continuing to make appearances on television, even if only to stand up and wave, as he waded further and further into his nineties and grew increasingly infirm. Carson did not want to look pathetic, nor come across as someone who refused to leave the stage even though the hour had clearly come.

The tabloids occasionally printed sneaky photographs of Carson on his boat or walking in Malibu and appearing to be less trim and buoyant than he always was on "The Tonight Show." But for the most part, the prevailing image that Carson left us was of a man still full of vitality, mischief, irreverence and incomparable charm — a man who still seemed boyish even as he crossed the boundary into his seventies.

"I hope when I find something I want to do and think you would like, I can come back," Carson said in his final remarks that last night. Faithful fans knew he was bluffing even then, and that it was unlikely he would ever return. Now it is official, though his image will always be available through one form of electronic legerdemain or another.

It can never be the same as when the multicolored curtains parted, the band played Johnny's theme (which he wrote with Paul Anka) and McMahon did his trademark "Heeeeeere's Johnny."

His death received almost marathon coverage on some of the news channels yesterday as though he had been a head of state. In a way, he was. New comedians couldn't really be popular until Carson had officially christened them with appearances on his show — perhaps even including a few accolades from the master himself, or an invitation to sit down and chat on the couch.

When an especially celebrated person dies, it is often called the end of an era. But Johnny Carson's era didn't end yesterday; it ended many years earlier. One way or another, it's gone.

And yet there are times when you are watching a movie made in the past three decades and you hear a Carson show or his familiar theme music in the background, and suddenly you perk up, do a double take, and think maybe he never left and he'll be on again tonight after all.

When he left, Johnny said he would like to relive all 30 years over again. If only we could. If only we could.


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