Category Archives: Actor

The Amazing Randi

About James Randi - JREF
James “The Amazing” Randi
A bit Gandalfesque, don’t you think?

James Randi has made his last escape–this time from this world.

He called himself a conjurer, rather than a magician. He viewed his craft from a very pragmatic standpoint and had no patience with those who claimed to have supernatural powers. These included stage magicians, faith healers, psychics, and others.

When he was younger, he carried a check in his pocket, which he would give to anyone who could perform “magic” that he could not duplicate as an illusion. I forget the amount of the check (large for the time, but not by today’s standards), which eventually fell apart along the folds because no one ever qualified. Later, the James Randi Educational Foundation offered a million dollars to anyone who could perform any supernatural, occult, or paranormal action under test conditions agreed to by both parties.

At one point, he was the magic expert for Alice Cooper. The show opened with sparks flowing from Alice’s fingers when he first stepped onto the stage. Naturally, one does not want live, extremely flammable pyrotechnics on one’s fingers until necessary. He related how, before each show, he’d be with Vincent Fournier in the dressing room, chatting about whatever. Randi was fascinated how, when they got the three minute warning and he’d start attaching the squibs and Vincent would immediately go into character, transforming into Alice Cooper.

He wrote 10 books, most of which are available from Amazon, as well as many public libraries. However, if you’re not a magic aficionado, a great book to start with is Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone.

The Amazing Randi earned his title of Amazing by teaching and researching as well as performing.

James, thanks, and I wish you well.

Russki TV – “Better Than Us”

Better Than Us | Drama Quarterly

I confess! I’ve been watching a science fiction series on Netflix that was produced in Russia. The tempo–at least for the beginning was slower than I’m used to–but it still was worth watching. Apparently, it was originally called Better than Human, but some other show had copyrighted that name, so it was re-titled as Better Than Us.

In a nutshell, a bot (android) by the name of Arissa has transcended the usual robotic norms, including Asimov’s rules. She has gained a sense of right and wrong, although sometimes, the way she expresses them is a bit oblique. Why? Because she has a sense of self and a sense of morality.

As Winston Churchill noted, Russia–including (in my opinion) Russian entertainment–is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

As I said, the tempo is a bit different than American TV, but interesting and worth watching nevertheless.

Oh, be aware–the closed captions do not match the translated speech, but, hey–what the hell.

Success

When I was growing up, it was still possible—and often expected—that a young man would finish high school and get a factory job with one of the automotive companies in the area. Grandpa had worked there, Dad still did, and Junior would carry on the family tradition.

Success was having a decent wage, benefits, and a pension. It was expected that there were certain trade-offs, such as losing the occasional finger to a punch press or periodically taken from work to the hospital for stitches. The work was mind-numbingly repetitious, but that was just part and parcel of the process. It was okay, though, until manufacturing moved overseas or was automated.

For other people, the self-imposed standard is higher. People study music or art, practice their chosen mode of expression throwing themselves into it, heart and soul. Imagine, after years of study and dedication:

  • The musician finds that the culmination of his talent and effort provides music for telephone callers who are placed on hold.
  • The artist, skilled in a variety of visual techniques, from oil painting to sculpting, ends up producing billboard illustrations.
  • The young model who has posed for a variety of photographs, finds that one of them shows her face on the internet with the captions “All cheaters have one thing in common.”
  • The actor, after years of stage plays in high school, college, and off-off-Broadway finally makes it as a movie only to find that most of his time is spent repeat the same lame line over and over to allow for different camera angles, the reaction of other actors, etc.

I’m grateful for what life has given me, even though (especially?) I’m not in the spotlight.

It Will Never Be a Movie

If the Coronavirus COVID-19 were a movie treatment, it probably never would get made. Look at the plot elements:

  1. A deadly disease begins in a faraway city known for both selling live exotic animals for food and for having a secret government lab.
  2. The disease is viral. Viruses, unlike bacteria, do not respond to antibiotics. Since a virus is not actually alive, it cannot be killed, only neutralized.
  3. The disease preferentially attacks the poor, minorities, the aged, females, and people with pre-existing medical problems.
  4. Some who are infected by the disease show no symptoms, but are carriers of the disease and can transmit it to others.
  5. Some of those infected exhibit flu-like symptoms, are misdiagnosed. The defining symptom, death, follows soon thereafter.
  6. Some adult patients show no obvious symptoms, except upon examination, it is discovered that their oxygen levels are dangerously low, which can lead to death.
  7. Children, at first were believed to be asymptomatic, later many develop a whole host of symptoms that are completely different from those experienced by adults.
  8. Politicians, faith healers, scammers, etc. seize the opportunity to amass wealth and/or power.
  9. Much of the protective equipment, drugs, and medical supplies needed to handle the disease are produced in the country from which the disease originated. Many US companies had moved manufacturing offshore to save money; there is insufficient manufacturing capacity in the US.
  10. Scientific experts advice is ignored while the Internet and other sources promote a variety of alleged cures, treatments, and religious talismans–none of which seem successful.
  11. There is insufficient capacity to test all suspected cases, so the number of people affected are likely under reported. Some cases are only diagnosed after death, when an autopsy is performed.
  12. State and local governments discourage people from engaging in activities that spread the disease, encourage the use of masks to protect others, and maintaining a six foot buffer between people.
  13. With workers unable to do their jobs, the economy suffers. People are laid off or lose their jobs.
  14. The number of confirmed cases in the US approaches 1.5 million confirmed cases, with nearly 90,000 deaths. These numbers only include patients who were tested or otherwise diagnosed.
  15. Some claim the disease is caused by a new cellular telephone system; others call it a hoax; still others see it as a conspiracy to restrict constitutional rights.
  16. Armed dissidents, encouraged by a variety of sources, protest the social distancing, stay-at-home orders at the state capitals, clustering in large groups, usually without masks.
  17. In the meantime, the country from which the disease arose and several of its allies launch cyberattacks on the US to steal medical secrets relating to healing or preventing the disease–and anything else they come across, once they get inside a computer.
  18. As US cases seem to slow their rate of growth, state and local governments relax social separation. People immediately return to pre-pandemic behaviors and the dissidents declare victory.

The screenplay ends here. The audience is left in limbo, unsure whether the disease is indeed winding down, or preparing for a second wave. Unsure as to the future of the economy.

As I said at the beginning, no studio would ever consider wasting time on a script for this scenario.

Unintended Consequence

I managed to hang onto most of my hair until relatively recently. I felt pretty good about that, especially since one of my sons is follicly challenged to the point where he shaves those lonely hairs on his head. Nevertheless, things are catching up with me now.

In the sixties and seventies (the 1960s and 1970s–not my 60s and 70s) long hair was in vogue. My hair was curly, so I never looked as cool as Sir Paul McCartney. In those days, unfortunately, Brian May (Queen’s outrageously talented lead guitarist) was recognized for his musical talent–not his hair–so straight hair was far more cool.

Due to work rules, I kept my hair short for year, but I promised myself that when I was no longer limited, I’d regrow my Van Dyke beard and add a ponytail to my hair.

Alas, it was not to be. The beard was a nonstarter. I let it grow for a week once when we were on vacation, but it was an ugly shade of grey that made me look at least 30 years older than I was. If you had put me and Obi Wan Kenobi together, he would have looked like an innocent youngster compared to me.

With COVID-19, I’ve been self-isolating for nearly two months. I still shave most days, but no haircuts. So how does this work out for my decades-long desire to look cool? Not very well

When I get up in the morning and look in the mirror, I must admit that I look quite a bit like a movie star celebrity.

Between the balding and the curly hair, I look like a chubby version of Larry from the Three Stooges.

 

Make Me Laugh

We’re all getting a bit squirrely being stuck at home–especially if you have kids–trying to telework, and being bombarded by  the continuing banter of the various experts predicting the future. It’s difficult to find humor in the situation, but I’ll try.

Maintaining social distance—-“I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Turning to the groom, he continued, “You may now wave at your wife who is an appropriate six-feet away.”

If restaurants reopen, wait staff will have to wear masks and use disposable menus—–“Who was that masked waiter?”
“I don’t know, but he left this silver tip tray.”

A politician, an elected official, and a cable news personality walked into a bar. The bartender looked at them and asked, “Is this a joke?”
One of them replied, “Nope, just business as usual.”

 

Heroes

When I was growing up, there were heroes I looked up to.

  • Chuck Yeager–the first person to break the sound barrier in level flight.
  • John Glenn–the first American to orbit the earth and later US Senator
  • Neil Armstrong–The first man on the moon
  • Gene Kranz–NASA Flight Director for Gemini and Apollo

Each of these people did something noteworthy–PLUS three of the four are from my home state of Ohio. Gene Kranz graduated from the same high school I did.

Women who did great things in the 1960s didn’t get the spotlight, or even worse, the credit went to a male instead of the female who actually did the work. VADM Grace Hopper, NASA’s Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and their colleagues would not be publicly acknowledged until decades after they had achieved great things..

The closest I came to considering a celebrity as a hero was Jimmy Stewart. I liked his laid back style, but I admired the fact that he enlisted in the Army as a private as soon as he could, became a pilot, and volunteered to fly B-24s over Europe. After the war, he remained in the Air Force Reserve, attaining the rank of brigadier general.

Who are today’s heroes? Who do our children and grandchildren look up to? Who inspires them?

Rules of Acquisition

The Ferengi appeared as aliens in several Star Trek iterations. They were the ultimate business people who frequently quoted from their 286 rules of acquisition. I’ve heard they were originally planned as the villains for Star Trek: The Next Generation, but came across as more silly than intimidating.

In my favorite interaction, one Frengi asks, “What if this becomes a war?” The other replies, “Rule 34.”

The first responds “Ahhh, war is good for business. But, but, what if it doesn’t lead to war?” The response is “Rule 35.”

“Ahhh, peace is good for business.”

Today there are real Ferengi; not as exotic looking, but every bit as greedy:

  • People pretending to be employees with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are knocking on doors, wearing white lab coats, telling residents that they’re testing for COVID-19. Then they rob them.
  • A former White House advisor asked if people staying home to avoid the virus is worth the economic consequences.
  • Senators dumped stocks after being briefed on the coronavirus, but before that information was released to the general population.
  • All kinds of scammers are selling phony medications or religious talismans.

Oh, wait. Rule 14.  “Anything stolen is pure profit.”

The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

Jim Bakker is in the news; we’d say again, but he might say finally. Apparently he’s been promoting a coronavirus miracle cure (emphasis on miraculous).

Don’t know who Jim Bakker is? Maybe this will jog your memory.

New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a cease-and-desist order to Jim Bakker Tuesday ordering him to stop promoting “Silver Solution” as a remedy for the coronavirus.

My faith teaches that Jesus will come again, not PT Barnum.

Win a House!

St. Jude’s Research Hospital for Children has a very clever method for raising money. Why? Because they do not charge patients for services.

Danny Thomas, the 1950’s television star, was born Amos Jacobs back in Toledo, Ohio (my hometown). He prayed that God would point him to the career God intended. He promised to build a hospital if God answered. God answered. The hospital is St. Jude’s.

Please note that Danny Thomas did not ask for success, only to be pointed in the right direction.

St. Jude’s prime fundraiser, at least around here, is to raffle off a house at $100 per ticket. Apparently, the house is constructed with each trade or contractor contributing their time, effort, and materials. The winner  gets a house and the money goes to the hospital to help the kids.

However, as nice as the house is, St. Jude could possibly double their money if they wanted to. The current house being built here has four bedrooms and three bathrooms–perfect for a young family. However, for this year we did not buy a ticket because we’re trying to downsize.

As we many,, many, many Baby Boomers age, maybe a second house raffle for a single floor ranch would be attractive. I know I’d buy a ticket (or two or three).

Oh, and build it somewhere without covenants, conditions, and restrictions. I don’t want Gladys Kravits isn’t a neighbor. (If you don’t get the reference, you wouldn’t be interested in a single floor ranch.)

Musical Redux

It was totally predictable–marketing people freely disclosed their intentions decades ago. Nevertheless, it’s discouraging. It hearkens too much to Love, Actually when the word Christmas is squeezed into the classic rock song “Love Is All Around Me.”

What? You ask.

The use of rock and roll songs from baby boomers’ younger days to sell all manner of pharmaceuticals, now that we’re older. Songs by Blondie, The Doors, Steppenwolf, and the Who augment the television advertisements that bombard us.

Hey, didn’t the Who sing “I hope I die before I get old”?

Cut!

I finally figured out how I could finally become rich and famous–well, at least rich.

I planned on producing a reality TV show in my part of the world. Naturally, it was going to be titled Real Housewives of Hampton Roads, Virginia.

I went scouting for locations and talent. Location isn’t a problem, this area is very picturesque, with the beaches, Chesapeake Bay–you know, lots of excuses to show women in bathing suits, which appears to be a requirement for a reality TV show.

Talent was the problem. I’m not saying the women in this area lack talent, but every time I thought I had someone convinced to star in the show, I’d hear:

“Can’t, I’ve got to get to work.”

“Sorry, I’m the designated driver for soccer, tonight.”

“Ooooh, can’t make it. That’s my kids’ band concert.”

I even had one who laughed at me with this comment, “After the day I’ve had, you have got to be kidding. Thank heaven that tonight my husband is grilling, otherwise it’d be do-it-yourself peanut butter sandwiches for everybody.”

These women are all too busy dealing with real life to appear in a reality show about real life.

Damn, Wrong Guy!

I saw a headline that Joe Walsh was thinking of running for president–I got very excited. I figure Joe, the legendary guitarist from the Eagles, the James Gang, and the stairwells of Kent State University was jumping into the race.

Joe, no doubt, would not have represented the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, but the Party Party. No drugs, no alcohol, but just a good time for all. After all, with Ringo as your brother-in-law and the Bach sisters, all you would have to do is show up and say, “Hi!”

Alas, it was not THAT Joe Walsh, but just another politician (sigh).

It could have been awesome. Damn, wrong guy!

A Different World

This is an official request to NASA to conduct exploration of a mysterious world that we know exists, but is beyond my comprehension. It is well reported in the media–especially online–so its existence is irrefutable.

The people in this world live unimaginable lives, but someone believes it’s imperative that their activities are reported to everyone. These include:

  • The real estate transactions of multi-million dollar homes
  • The reliance on automobiles that cost more than all the houses on my block
  • Changes in the color of their hair or style of dress
  • Behavior that would result in arrest and deep shame for most people

The media would have us believe that this world exists in the same metaphysical plane as us, but I’m not convinced. In any case, it is bizarre and may represent a clear and present danger to most of us.

I’m not a conspiracy buff, but in this case I believe the media will try to bury this story by attributing it to actors, actresses, singers, financial experts, and politicians. Don’t be fooled!

Wallowing in the News

It seems like the Internet now focuses so much on negativity:

Cardiologists say avoid this food . . . .

Movie Star denies hiding millions in secret Swiss bank accounts . . . .

When did Obama become a Republican?

You get the drift. The other spots on the news websites are filled with rumors about celebrities–who’s dying, who’s cheating, who’s raising kittens–the whole nine yards.

At least I no longer have to sneak a peak at the tabloids in the supermarket.

Commitment

Have you ever read the Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America? Most people don’t recognize that as the actual title of what we call the Declaration of Independence. Written in Philadelphia, approved on 2 July 1776, and published two days later on the fourth of July.

Those who signed the document risked much if they failed. If they were lucky, they would be hanged “until dead.” The practice of hanging, drawing, and quartering was the prescribed punishment for high treason. In this case, the condemned would be hanged, cut down while still (barely) alive, often disemboweled (again, while still alive), then beheaded and their body cut into pieces.

These founding fathers had to work hard to reach common ground since they had agreed that unanimous consent was required so as not to force brother against brother so many vehement arguments led to revisions that the authors vehemently opposed. The issue of slavery was particularly difficult, and striking a phrase prohibiting slavery did, in fact, lead to the war of brother against brother.

While most of the body of the declaration deals with the grievances against King George the third, I believe the most important part is at the end.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Who among us has that kind of commitment today?

 

The Play’s the Thing (Complete with Music!)

I’ve decided to write a play specifically designed for off-off-Broadway. I wanted a theme everybody could relate to–something familiar yet somewhat of a challenge. Then the muse hit me–I tried to duck, but she still caught me on the chin.

I realized that no matter what you do, a significant portion of your time will be spent in meetings. It may be called a class, a board, a tiger team, a training session, church, basic training, or whatever–it’s still a meeting. Fortunately, Office Space and The Office have already laid the groundwork. I want to take it one step further and write it as a musical. Imagine——

The stage curtains are closed. The house lights dim and the orchestra begins the overture. [For those of you not musically inclined, overtures are a melodic mashup of the music used throughout the production. Today, we call it recycling.]

SCENE 1: The curtains open to show a conference table with chairs all along the upstage side (a concession to the acoustics in off-off-Broadway facilities). A spotlight is focused on a door, stage right. A man in a suit [the Boss] enters with an armload of papers and breaks into the opening number. “It’s My Meeting So I’m in Control” He dances toward the head of the table, leaving a random portion of the papers in front of each chair, reaches the front empty handed, looks at the various stacks of paper, decides one is slightly taller, dances back to that spot, takes the extras from that stack, dances back to the front of the meeting room and crescendos with the final line, a redux of the first line of “I’m in control.” The spotlight disappears, leaving the stage dark.

SCENE 2: The spotlight, collimated very tightly fades up on a man [the Nerd] with a short sleeved white shirt, out-of-style skinny black necktie, pocket protector, and taped glasses immediately begins singing the second number, “Oh, What I’d Do for a Doughnut!” When he finishes, the stage briefly goes black.

SCENE 3: The lights come up illuminating the table but leaves it dark upstage (behind). The conference table now has people sitting in all but the last chair. The Nerd comes through the door, ignores the looks of derision, grabs a powdered sugar doughnut, leaving a trail of white on people’s clothing. When he sits, the white powder mounds like a snow bank in front of him [special effects, but inexpensive].

The Boss bows and with an exaggerated sweeping gesture points toward the unlit back of the stage. A stern women [Stern Woman] in a business suit emerges from the shadows. As she walks toward the head of the table, with a big smile she begins to sing, “Death by PowerPoint.” The last line, a Capella, is “And My Laser Pointer!”

I don’t have room for everything. Suffice to say, the rest of the play leads to the grand finale with the Stern Woman between the Boss and the Nerd performs a dance number on the conference table surrounded by the entire cast dancing together and singing “Meetings Are Better than Work!

Now, if I can just find a patron.

 

 

A House Divided

It’s always good to reflect on the thoughts of great philosophers–Socrates, Plato, or Monty Python.

Graham Chapman: I think all right-thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired.
All: Yes, yes…
Graham Chapman: I’m certainly not! And I’m sick and tired of being told that I am.
MC: Mrs. Havoc-Jones?
Mrs. Havoc-Jones: Well, I meet a lot of people and I’m convinced that the vast majority of wrong-thinking people are right.

Since this was performed about fifty years ago, I wonder how they knew.

[There was supposed to be a picture here, but WordPress’s new improved editor wouldn’t accept the upload. Too bad, because it was silly, very silly.]

 

 

Chewie, We Hardly Knew Ye

 

Peter Mayhew/Chewbacca

As everyone knows, Peter Mayhew died.

Peter Mayhew, brought a humanistic flavor to Star Wars as Chewbacca. Although Chewbacca was not human, he was the ultimate sidekick–and the most human character. We loved Peter’s performance as Chewie so much that most of us never  broke the fourth wall to the actor.

As an actor, Peter, in his Chewbacca outfit, had only his body language and eyes to convey the character’s message. Chewbacca’s voice was added later utilizing various animal sounds. For an actor, that is a challenge. Peter did it well.

But, be honest, which of us would not love to have a friend as loyal and strong as Chewbacca was to Han Solo?

Anyone?

Anyone?

I thought as much.

Peter/Chewie, you will be missed. Thank you for everything.

 

Putting Things in Perspective

University of Virginia Men’s Basketball
2019 Champions

I’ve lived in Virginia for most my younger children’s lives. My older son and his family live in Virginian. My daughter-in-law’s family lives in Virginia. My younger children are fortunate enough to receive their college educations at prestigious Virginia Universities. I love Virginia History from Sir Walter Raleigh, the Powhatan people, Washington, Lee, Jefferson, and NASA mathematician, Kathrine Johnson.

I love that Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary but had his tombstone celebrate:

Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia

I consider myself a Virginian.

However, when TV sports experts announced that the recent UVA basketball championship “Will be remembered forever!” I saw a bit of exaggeration. With Americans, we’re talking about people who can’t tell you Virginia’s role in slave trading or why Washington, DC is half its planned size because they returned Virginia’s donation of land.

But they will remember the 2019 Basketball Championship?