For Sunday: Trixie Friganza does her “Bag O’ Tricks”

trixie friganza

My friend Apollonia told me about Trixie a long time ago, and I never forgot the name. Trixie (born Delia O’Callaghan in Grenola, Kansas) was a vaudevillian, a singer and comedienne and musician. She was a powerful supporter of women’s rights also: go read about her and it will make you proud. (Trixie was a nickname, which she kept because she always hated the name “Delia.” “Friganza” was her mother’s maiden name. When an interview asked her about the name, she said “I didn’t marry it,” and this was considered a borderline-scandalous thing to say. My goodness, how times have changed!)



This is Trixie’s one gift to later generations: a Vitaphone film recorded around 1930. The first few minutes are audio only; around halfway through, we get the full Trixie, complete with her solo on the double-bass.





Froggy the Gremlin

froggy the gremlin

A long time ago, back in the 1950s, there was a radio/TV show for kids sponsored by Buster Brown Shoes. It had characters like Midnight the Cat, who only ever said “Nice!”, and a mouse who played the piano.

Also it feature Froggy the Gremlin.

Froggy was invoked with the words, “Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy!” He always appeared with a big BOINGGG, with the words: “Hiya, kids! Hiya! Hiya!”

Froggy was an ugly little frog puppet who made people say and do stupid things against their will.


You will notice that Froggy the Gremlin is completely without remorse. He makes people do stupid things, and then he laughs at them, and then (once in a while) he makes believe that he meant something else, or that it wasn’t his fault.

You are never for a moment without a doubt that it was all Froggy’s doing.

Froggy is evil and relentless. He laughs at misfortune. He promises to be good, and he never makes good on his promise.

I think he may be my spirit animal.

One more:

Paula Deen deglazes herself on the “Today” show

Today - Season 62

Some emotions don’t have names in English – “Schadenfreude,” for example. Another, for which I know no word in any language, is sympathetic embarrassment: watching someone make a fool of him/herself, and becoming embarrassed on his/her behalf.

Watch this video of Paula Deen on Wednesday’s “Today” show with Matt Lauer, if you think you can endure it.

Here’s the story in brief: back in May, Paula was deposed in a case in which she and her brother were accused of sexual and racial harassment. She was asked if she’d ever used the N-word, and said, “Yes, of course.” She also said (under oath) that she was sure she’d said it more than once. (She later defended her use of the word in two ways: she was once held up by a black man, and she’d heard black people use the word among themselves.)

When the deposition became public, the Food Network and Smithfield Foods dropped her like a hot buttered potato with extra sour cream.

She apologized on video, not once but three times. Each apology is more excruciating than the last. They are the apologies of someone who’s angry at being caught, and who doesn’t understand exactly what she’s done wrong. In one, she begins by apologizing to Matt Lauer for cancelling her Friday appearance on “Today.” Yes indeed, Matt Lauer’s the offended party here!

She is deeply unrepentant, and deeply insincere. If you didn’t have the bottle to watch the video above (I don’t blame you for that), the most salient point is that she’s deeply hurt by all this, and all those liars, and all the evil people who are working  against her!

What liars? Who’s lying? People are reacting to her own statements. But she doesn’t get that.  “I is what I is,” she says at one point to Matt in the Wednesday-morning interview, as if that’s a justification for doing whatever the hell she likes.

Yes, Paula Deen. You is what you is. You is a not-very-bright person who doesn’t really feel for other people, and you really don’t care about hurting their feelings or offending them.

Late update: Wal-Mart and Caesars Entertainment (who have Paula Deen-themed buffets in four of their casinos) have dropped her, after seeing the Wednesday-morning interview.

(Listen, those of you who love her: Paula will be just fine. There are enough Paula Deen fans to keep her going, for a while, especially in the American South. Her nationwide operation may be a little – hm – cut back, but she’ll probably survive this.

(Her brother and her sons (who have linked their careers to hers) may be cooked, however.

(If so, however, I hope they’re cooked in deep fat and served with gravy, the way Paula would like.)

My lovely memories of Siena

My lovely memories of Siena.


Malou always takes such lovely pictures.

Three good things: refrigerator, DOMA, Proposition 8

refrigerator doma prop 8

My poor heart can’t stand it. Three good things happened in one day!



First of all: our old feeble refrigerator got replaced. I wrote a mild email to our landlords two nights ago about how the food in our freezer didn’t seem to be freezing properly, and the landlords replaced the fridge the very next day! And it’s lovely, and they’re lovely people over at the landlord’s office, and we love them and thank them.



Also: the lovely folks in the Supreme Court – five of them, anyway – believe that they should not overturn the California Supreme Court’s rejection of Proposition 8, and as a result, gay marriage is once again legal in the great state of California (as of July 25, 2013, at any rate).



This is nothing to me really, because I’m not a citizen of California. I’m delighted, however, for the gay people who married in California while it was legal, and who are legal again; I’m also delighted for the other gay Californians who can now line up for marriage licenses. And I’m delighted to see one more state added to the illustrious roster of states (including Little Rhody) which have legalized gay marriage.



The third good thing that happened today was this: DOMA – the Defense of Marriage Act – was found, in essence, unconstitutional.



This is key.



Partner and I have long debated the issue of marriage. We’ve lived together for fourteen years, which makes us married in the eyes of any deity who matters. Rhode Island legalized gay marriage a few months ago – hooray! But would it be of any advantage to us to get married? Not if the federal government doesn’t recognize it. It would have no tax advantages, or estate advantages.



But now, after the Supreme Court’s snappy 5-4 decision, it’s a different story.



Do I hear wedding bells?



Or is it just our new (and more efficient) refrigerator humming?


Grammar, social status, and success


I dislike people who are grammar purists, who quibble over “who” and “whom.” or over “that” and “which.” (This is mostly because I have trouble with these myself.)



But when people can’t tell the difference between “to” and “too” and “two,” or between “their” and “they’re,” or “its” and “it’s,” I get a little riled up.



So I suppose I’m one of those damned grammar purists too.



I am on the Internet a lot, and I see the way people write. I know how spell-check works, and I am very forgiving as a result. But there’s no possible way that spell-check can change “their” into “they’re.”



Well, what’s the difference? Our ancestors didn’t worry much about spelling. Well, I say, they had an excuse to write phonetically. We, having gone to Modern Schools, don’t have that excuse.



This is exactly the point made by Michael Skapinker in a recent Financial Times article. We can speak however we wish, in any circumstance. But if we want a good job, or a position of responsibility, we need to be able to speak Proper English (with grammar rules and everything) upon command. We need to be able to write memos in it, and letters, and spell correctly.



Skapinker makes a couple of other good points too: grammar is a good mental exercise, rather like logic, and helps us speak and think more clearly. This is also a good argument for learning a foreign language: it makes you think about grammar in the abstract, with rules different from those you grew up with, and allows you to switch back and forth because it’s natural to do so.



(I knew merchants in the Tunis medina who were able to cajole and haggle in six languages. I was walking through the medina with a Hawaiian friend when someone yelled “Konichi-wa!” at us, and we both laughed. “That’s because of you,” I said. “They know a little Japanese. But I bet we’ll never hear Chinese.” And just as I said it, one of the local merchants yelled out: “Ni hou ma!” And we both laughed like hell.)



Language is a tool, and grammar is a tool. Learn them, and learn to use them cleverly, and they will take you a long way.


John Cazale

john cazale

John Cazale was an important actor who appeared in exactly five movies. You have almost certainly seen him in at least one or two of them.

To wit: he was in “The Conversation” with Gene Hackman, and in both “Godfather” and “Godfather II” (as poor doomed brother Fredo), and in “Dog Day Afternoon” (as sad-sack gunman Sal), and in “The Deer Hunter.” All five of these movies were nominated for Best Picture. Three of them won.

John Cazale was peculiar-looking, but strangely sweet, with a gigantic forehead. He was dying of cancer when he appeared in “Deer Hunter,” and the producers were thinking about replacing him, but Meryl Streep (who was his romantic partner at the time) threatened to leave the production herself if Cazale got booted.

And what would “The Deer Hunter” have been without John Cazale or Meryl Streep?

Strange how such a short career can make such a big impact. I mentioned him to someone recently, and she said: “Oh, he was amazing. He was in so many movies!”

“Only five,” I said.

“Only five?” she said, crestfallen. “It seems like he was in so many more!”

It does indeed.


The limestone cliffs of Etretat

The limestone cliffs of Etretat.

The great Durante


I’ve written before about the ephemerality of fame. How many of you remember Jinx Falkenberg, who was such a big star in her time? And, worse yet, how many of the “celebrities” that she wrote about in her autobiography are still remembered? Almost none. Here’s a great line from her book:  “Tex [Jinx’s husband] asked a whole group over to ‘21’ for dinner – the Jack Strauses, Joanne Sayres and Tony Bliss, Carl Whitmore, the Howard Twins.”



To this day, I have no idea who any of these people are. I salute them, and their ephemeral celebrity.



But sometimes a celebrity has more – ahem – memorability.



I was strolling down the biography aisle in the library the other day when I saw H. Allen Smith’s “Low Man on a Totem Pole.” My heart leapt up. I think I may have a copy of this great classic somewhere in the house, but it’s probably buried under layers and layers of other books. So I checked it out, to give it a twentieth read.



It has all the wonderful stuff I remember. It has the interview with Lupe Velez, the Mexican Spitfire, like so: “I am a wild prize-fighting fan. I go all the time. One night the last fight is on, and I see it is just a couple palookas – that means bums, no goods – so I say to myself why should I sit there and look at these palookas playing waltz with each other and I leave and go to the Clover Club. After that someone comes to my table and says I should not have left the fight because they start throwing pop bottles and almost kill Ruby Keeler.”



(I don’t care if you know who Ruby Keeler is or not. This line almost killed me with laughter.)



Smith also interviewed John Grimek and Steve Stanko, early Mr. Americas, who insisted that they liked girls, and that they weren’t musclebound, and could scratch their backs as much as they want.



Also, best of all: Smith interviewed Jimmy Durante.



Jimmy was a vaudeville comedian, who became a stage comedian, who became a movie comedian, who became a radio comedian, who became a television comedian. He worked and worked. I remember an interview he did, probably in the 1970s, when he said he intended to work until he died. And so he did.



He was very funny, and he had a big nose and a comical way of speaking. Here he is:





Jimmy Durante is immortal. He is even more immortal than immortal, because he’s in a Cole Porter song:



You’re a rose,

You’re Inferno’s Dante;

You’re the nose

Of the great Durante.



Here’s the song.






Go watch “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” with Monty Woolley and Ann Sheridan. Wait for Durante. He comes into the movie about halfway through. You can’t miss him. He’s wonderful.



Unlike poor Jinx Falkenberg, the great Durante will live forever.

He wH

For Sunday: the Beatles sing “Here, There, and Everywhere”

beatles here there everywhere

Everyone knows the big Beatles songs: “Hey Jude,” “All You Need Is Love,” “Help!”, “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” But there are literally dozens of smaller songs that are really just as good: three-minute masterpieces.



This, from their album “Revolver,” is one of those three-minute masterpieces. It’s a gentle ballad with a few soft French-horn notes late in the song, just for effect. The lyrics play with the words of the title back and forth: “here,” “there,” “everywhere.”



The result is one of those love songs that we’re still listening to fifty years later.







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