Appreciation: Jody McCrea

jody mccrea

Disney is making a Beach Party movie, along the lines of their “High School Musical” movies. To wit: two modern teenagers get thrown back to the early 1960s, into a beach-party setting, and everything goes wrong.

Personally I’m glad they’re reviving the beach-party franchise. The 1960s beach movies were superb, in their way: Frankie and Annette, and Harvey Lembeck, and the Himalayan Suspension Technique, and from time to time people like Luciana Paluzzi and Dwayne Hickman and Don Rickles.

But I mourn the loss of the original beach kids. I mourned Annette Funicello’s passing a few months ago in this blog. And now, very late, I’ve discovered that another member of the Beach Party cadre left us some years ago: Jody McCrea.

Jody was the son of handsome / beefy actor Joel McCrea and actress Frances Dee. He was a nice-looking man who very much took after his father. Take a look at these photos of the two of them:


joel mccrea comparison jody mccrea comparison

In the Beach Party movies, he played a character named “Deadhead,” and sometimes “Bonehead.” He was the designated dummy. He was big and adorable and stupid. In one of the beach party movies, he finds a mermaid (naturally, none of his friends believes him), and they fall in love!

He was a bodybuilder, as you can probably tell from the above pics. He was well over six feet tall, as was his father. (Jody seldom took his shirt off. Partner said: “Well, naturally he didn’t take off his shirt. He would have make Frankie Avalon look pathetic.”)

He made a few more movies after the beach fad died, but mostly left show business after the 1960s. He became a rancher in New Mexico, where he died of a heart attack in 2009.

I didn’t know of his death until the other day, when Apollonia and I began researching him.

I was so sorry.

Annette’s dead, and Bonehead too.

They were the spirit of youth to us, back in the mid-1960s. Knowing that they’re dead is very depressing for us older folks.

It means that we might die too.

Unless we can figure out a way out of it.

Vintage drinking glasses

mad men glasses jpg

The TV series “Mad Men” has absorbed Partner and me for about a year now. We’re all caught up through Season Six. Each season covers a year of the 1960s (more or less), so we’re up to the end of 1968. We’ve seen the assassination of two Kennedys, the murder of Martin Luther King, the Love Generation, et cetera.

The show’s writing is excellent, as is the acting (by people like Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss and John Slattery and Robert Morse).

But, as with a lot of series set in the past, it’s possible to watch this show for the clothes and the sets and the accessories.

Bugles, for example. When I saw a minor character eating Bugles, I remembered when Bugles were new (in the mid-1960s), and I was amused and charmed, and astonished at the writers’ acumen at knowing that the product was introduced (with great fanfare) in the mid-1960s.

Also: in “Mad Men,” everyone drinks all the time. We see the drinking accessories: really darling glasses, clear glass with silver rims.

My parents had glasses just like them, with a big “W” monogram on them, in silver, naturally. I loved those glasses.

They recently showed up on a cutesy website: replicas of the “silver-rimmed Mad Men drinking glasses,” $25 for two (not including shipping).

Aha, I thinks, and went to eBay, and found two cute authentic Dorothy Thorpe roly-poly drinking glasses for $18 (including shipping).

They arrived the other day. They are perfect. They make me happy when I look at them, and they make a nice tinkling sound when I put ice cubes in them.

And they remind me of my childhood.

So, for your drink: will you have brown or clear?

Fedora versus trilby

fedora vs trilby

One wet evening in Paris last October, I impulsively bought a jaunty little hat to protect my pointed little head from the rain. It cost, I think, seven or eight euro.

Three-quarters of a year later, I still wear it, almost every day. I adore it. It’s a nice daily reminder of our time in France, and I am foolish enough to think I look cute in it.

Then I saw this on Tumblr:


fedora trilby 01 fedora 02


fedora 03 fedora 04 fedora 05

Strike me dead! I’m wearing a damned trilby.

So hipsters are turning on themselves now. A trilby won’t do; evidently you’d better wear a fedora (so long as you’re wearing a suit, or if you’re Humphrey Bogart or Frank Sinatra, or if you’re Indiana Jones, or a really cool hipster).

How does the cool fedora differ from the uncool trilby? Fedoras are bigger. The fedora has a higher crown than the trilby, and a wider brim. The trilby’s brim is generally turned down in front.  Both are named after women, by the way.  “Fedora” – the Russian “Theodora” – was the title character of a Sardou play of the late 1800s; “Trilby” was the name of a novel by George du Maurier (featuring the evil hypnotist Svengali). When “Trilby” was dramatized in the early 1900s, the lead actress wore a smart little hat with the brim snapped down in front.

Anyway: the disagreements of hipsters are endless. What are we supposed to wear?

I don’t care. In fact, I have never cared. I don’t care if I look like hell. I like bright colors, and comfortable clothes.

And I like my little hat.

And I think “trilby” is a cute name for a hat.

And I think I’m pretty cute too:

ljw 2012

For Sunday: Bette Midler sings “Mister Rockefeller”

bette midler rockefeller

The Divine Miss M sang this back in the 1980s, on her album “Songs for the New Depression.”



It’s still relevant.







Microbes, probiotics, and prebiotics


Some time ago, Michael Pollan had an article in the New York Times Magazine about the cohabitation of microbes and human beings. It turns out that each one of us is a huge colony of cells, some of them specifically human, but the majority foreign to us. We contain more single-celled microbes than human cells, believe it or not.

But we coexist with those microbes. They live in us, and on us, and have done so for a very long time, and we have found ways of coexisting that are beneficial to all. Some microbes help to regulate our digestion; others regulate our immune systems; and so on.

Example: Helicobacter pylori. H. pylori was discovered several decades ago to be the main cause of stomach ulcers. Before this discovery, ulcers were one of those things you just suffered with, like arthritis. After the discovery, a quick course of specific antibiotics cured ulcers double-quick.

Except that it turns out that it’s more complicated than that. H. pylori helps regulate stomach acid when we’re younger; when we’re older, it causes ulcers. This (Pollan speculates) may be on purpose: maybe the body and the bacteria are collaborating to kill us, to move us off the stage so that younger and stronger people can take over.



H. pylori has been largely eradicated now. Is this a good thing? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Pollan also takes on the issue of probiotics. Can we tend our gut flora as if it were a kitchen garden? Perhaps. We already do it with yogurt, and pickles, and sauerkraut, and all kinds of things. But now you can buy foods with “beneficial” microbes, which will colonize your stomach and intestines and make you unbelievably healthy.

Then there are “prebiotics.” These are foods that serve as quick-start fuel for microbial populations.

I tried one of these a few years ago.

Evidently I have a very lively microbial population in my gut. Giving it a little extra food was like giving Hitler the A-bomb.

I will never eat anything labeled “prebiotic” again.

I love my internal microbial population, but I don’t want them to take over completely.

Old men reading the news

old men yelling

CBS is the network of the elderly, especially on Sunday mornings. All of the correspondents on “CBS Sunday Morning” speak slowly and carefully, so we old codgers can understand them as we gradually awaken. The host of the show is the charming (but elderly) Charles Osgood, who’s eighty years old as of this moment.

And the show is followed by CBS’s “Face the Nation,” hosted by Bob Schieffer, who’s a comparatively youthful seventy-six years old.

One Sunday morning last spring, Schieffer opened the show with something like this: “Flooding! Snow in the Northeast! What’s with the weather?”

It’s a perfectly valid question, with a plethora of answers, all of them interesting. But it was his tone – his shrill old-man querulous tone – that made it almost funny. He seemed to be saying: What’s this? And why haven’t we heard about this before?


Well, we’ve heard about it approximately a thousand times. I first heard about it in the 1970s in high school, when the first Earth Day was celebrated. I even spent a few pennies then to buy an Earth Day decal, the money for which was supposed to go to some good ecological cause.

But here we are. The atmospheric CO2 level has gone to 400 parts per million, the highest level in three million years. This will have definite consequences on the climate.

And yet Bob Schieffer, who’s possible more than three million years old, wants to know what’s going on!

I’m on the verge of being an old man myself. But even I know more than Bob Schieffer seems to know.

The climate is changing.

Grab your hats and head for the exits, ladies and gentlemen. The future isn’t going to be very nice.

I’m only sorry that the old men on the Sunday-morning television programs aren’t preparing you for this.

Skunk hour

skunk hour

The Providence area is full of wildlife. I wrote about fisher cats not long ago, nasty weaselly things prowling down by the riverside. Foxes are being seen this summer all over the East Side (though I haven’t seen one yet, and I would love to, because I think they’re cute). Bunnies are everywhere. Ditto big ugly garbage-eating raccoons. Ditto possums, one of which hissed at me a few years ago when I passed it on the street.



And then there are skunks.



They’re always smaller than I think they’re going to be, like kittens. Their colors are lovely. But they’re alarming, for obvious reasons, or maybe just for one very obvious reason.



I can usually smell them when they’re in the neighborhood. Either I’m especially sensitive to their scent, or my rural upbringing makes me more aware of them. (Our old family dog back in the 1960s got sprayed more than once, and I can still hear him whining and crying in my mind.)



I was coming out of the local market one recent evening. It’s only about two blocks away from our apartment, and I have my choice of two routes home: a dull route that goes straight down the avenue, and another much more interesting sidewalk that winds up the hillside and is surrounded by shrubbery. I usually choose the winding sidewalk for the sake of aesthetics (even though I know that robbers and muggers are probably waiting among the shrubs to jump me), and so I did the other night.



But a young skinny guy was coming down the walk toward me, jabbering at me. I thought (charitably) that he was speaking on his Bluetooth, but then he approached me with an earnest look on his face. “There’s a skunk up there!” he exclaimed. “At the top of the path! He’s looking very – territorial!”



“Which way was he facing?” I said. “Toward you, or away from you?”



“Toward me,” he said. “But he wasn’t moving, and he had a determined look on his face.”



That was enough for me. I thanked Mr. Skinny Bicycle for saving me from a fate worse than death, and went home via the dull safe route.



Here are the last four stanzas of Robert Lowell’s great poem, “Skunk Hour”:



One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind’s not right.


A car radio bleats,
“Love, O careless Love. . . .” I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat. . . .
I myself am hell;
nobody’s here–


only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.


I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air–
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.


Appreciation: Aldo Ray

aldo ray

You know I have a weakness for beefy actors like Dana Andrews and Victor Mature and (more recently) Channing Tatum and Cam Gigandet. They appeal to me on a deeply hormonal level.

Here’s one I sometimes forget, until I see one of his movies: Aldo Ray.



Aldo was an Italian-American, born Aldo Da Re. His brother wanted to be an actor, so Aldo drove him to an audition; the casting director took one look at Aldo, with his football-player body and nice squint and gravelly voice, and cast him instead. (Imagine how his brother felt!)

Aldo played lots of soldiers, and a few nice guys (catch him in “The Marrying Kind” with Judy Holliday), and some tragic/romantic characters (as in “God’s Little Acre”). Later, in the 1960s and 1970s, he took whatever roles came along. He was diagnosed with cancer in the 1980s, and took any acting jobs that came along in order to pay for his health care; according to Wikipedia, he got dumped by the Screen Actors’ Guild when they discovered he was acting in non-union productions (including at least one porn film).

Aldo, in his prime, is a pleasure to watch. He’s a physical marvel: thick-bodied and strong, with a big chest and thick neck. There’s a scene in “God’s Little Acre” when he suddenly appears shirtless, just standing there, waiting for his old girlfriend to respond to him, and I always squeal with pleasure when I see it.

There’s a wonderful interview with Aldo on, from 1991. The interviewer holds nothing back, and neither does Aldo (who’s going through chemotherapy at the time). We meet his family, and everything. He’s funny and unrepentant and natural.

It’s a pity he’s gone.

Here’s the scene I mentioned: a bare-chested Aldo interacting with Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, for god’s sake!) in “God’s Little Acre.”

Prepare to squeal.



Paula Deen, racism, and social change

"Elizabethtown" New York Premiere - Inside Arrivals

Back when Barack Obama was first elected President of the United States in 2008, some of us felt pretty good about ourselves. Racial prejudice was over and done with, and we were living in the New Jerusalem.



But, presciently, a New York Times commentator at that time (I think Charles Blow) told us not to be so sure of ourselves. I wish I could find his exact quote. I paraphrase: “American racism is coming to an end, but it’s not dead yet. It’s going to become more concentrated, like sea-salt crystallizing as seawater evaporates.”



This image has come back to me over and over again over the past five years.



Most recently, Paula Deen, whom you would have thought would have been smarter, has shown herself to be a racist idiot of the crystallized-seawater variety. In recent depositions, she spoke defiantly about using the n-word in casual conversation. She defended herself by explaining that she was once held up by a black man.



Well, Paula, then that’s okay! We forgive you! Use racial epithets as much as you want!




Paula has asked for forgiveness via Internet video three times over the past few weeks. She is often tearful, which clearly demonstrates that she’s the victim here.



The great revelation here, for me, was doing research for this blog. I learned that there are a lot of people here in the USA who don’t like black people, and who use the Internet freely!



Man alive.



Have you seen this commercial?:



It’s a cute little girl asking her (white) mother if Cheerios are good for your heart. Mom says yes. Little girl runs into the living room and dumps a bunch of Cheerios on her (black) father’s chest.



Now go on line, look up the video (use search terms “interracial Cheerios”), and see what comes up.



Filthy and vile.



Now how about this commercial?:



Now go on the net and read the comments (search terms “International Delight bouncer”). You won’t need to go far to find something really atrocious. Imagine: a white woman admiring a black man’s body!



I won’t tell you the names of the websites I found these on. If you do the same searches I did, you’ll find the same kind of comments.



I was disgusted by them.



But – you know what? – go look for them. I want you to be disgusted too.



It’ll do you good.



It’ll show you, more forcefully than I can tell you, the kind of world we live in, and what we’re up against.



Famous on the Internet

fame on the internet

There is a website called Klout, which tells you how influential you are on the Internet, on a scale from zero to 100. Only a few people have ever achieved a perfect score, and then they fall away again. I believe they give you a 15 or a 20 just for signing up, but then they monitor your Internet presence – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, other social media, blogs, et cetera – and make your score more precise.



Some examples:



Justin Bieber’s a 93, or he was the other day. The Boston Bruins have the same score: 93. The New York Yankees have a 95.



Among my friends: one of my acquaintances (a former Brown student) has a score in the mid-60s. Partner has a pitiful 12. Two of my other friends are in the 20s.



I am currently a 37.



What does this mean?



Well, I consider that my score is pretty good for someone who has less than a hundred Facebook friends (it’s in the sixties, actually). Partner has less than twenty Facebook friends.



I love asking my student assistants how many Facebook friends they have. Invariably they have hundreds. One, a serious young man who’s going to be a junior next fall, has over 500; one of his classmates, a girl, has over 900; two recent graduates (I mentioned one of them above) have more than a thousand.



What does any of this mean?



It means: you can be famous on the Internet, if you know what you’re doing.



Just be careful.


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