Sunday, November 27, 2011



Fleischer-palooza!


There is a wealth of previously hard to see Flesicher shorts on youtube. Enjoy with the knowledge there are some politically incorrect gags and depictions sprinkled among these shorts.




I had seen another version of this short that had clearly been censored. Myron Waldman told me there had been trouble with this Screen Song.












The Mills Brothers were fantastic and this is one of my favorite Screen Songs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two recent events have propelled the subject for this blog post, although I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time.

I recently interviewed and wrote about my friend Jen Schwartz who recently released a new album. Jen and I had a discussion about the business side of being an independent musician today and the challenge of actually getting building an audience. Go here to learn more about Jen's new music.

I also recently spoke at the Center for Cartoon Studies about the history and motivation behind adapting comic books and strips to another medium. After the class, several students approached me and for another half hour we spoke about the difficulties in getting new comics to potential markets.

In the comic book fields this is nothing new. When I worked at Kevin Eastman’s publishing company, Tundra, in the early 1990s doing marketing and public relations, I quickly realized that in the comics industry the big question was whether or not you were trying to appeal to the reader to buy the book or to the shop to stock the book.

Back then though there were several distributors serving the direct sales market – comic book shops and subscriptions services – and all of them were willing, in the light of the out of left field success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to consider independent product.

Now there is essentially one distributor undergoing financial problems and unwilling to accept independent titles.

Comics and music share some marketing characteristics. Within these two pop culture genres, it was certainly possible for an independent to gain exposure and shelf space, but that chance has dwindled.

Consider that there used to be enough independent retailers in both categories who could be approached to take a chance. Consider there used to be enough music radio stations that were programmed locally that a band could approach directly with a record.

Consider as well there used to be magazines that served a common points for fans of a particular type of pop culture and the stories and the reviews they ran could help elevate an artist.

The glaring irony is that while digital technology has made the creation of comics, music and film music much more easier, the Web has not ensured easy access to an audience.

The Web is narrowcasting to an extreme. While a creator can launch a site, tie it into Facebook and Twitter one still has to find it. If you do not have a lot of name recognition, how do you get people to it?

I think we have to think as much old school as new school.

For new comics creators, there is no replacement at this point for actually working conventions, handing out some sort of freebie with your Web and social media info and hawking your wares. Make sure that every other independent has copies of your books and info. Form collaborations to lower the costs of tables and trade table space.

What the independent comics scene needs at this point is a monthly comics reader, not unlike the Utne Reader, only for new comics. Screw comic book shop distribution for this publication. It needs to be in bookstores and magazines shops to reach the readers who would like this material but would never take the time to find it for themselves in a comic book shop.

Select ten or so new comics people and run their stuff over the course of a year. Don’t run a serial unless it is completely finished. Keep it back and white and print the thing as a tabloid newspaper to save costs.

Like any magazine, though, it would have to make its money on advertising, which means the comics reflect a “Big Bang” lifestyle – the whole nerd/geek chic thing with ads for shoes, t-shirts, energy drinks, etc.

What my musician friend Jen is doing is using the Web and social media in a wise and aggressive manner, but she, too, is old school. She is forming a band and will get gigs to help sell CDs and spread the word on her music.

This, by the way, is exactly how rockers back in the ‘50s and ‘60s sold records and built their careers.

The Web is a wonderful way to distribute content, but only if people know the content is there to start.

If was advising someone today, I would stress the importance of having a web site, a Facebook account and a Twitter feed. But I would also tell them they have to have a business card, an elevator pitch and be willing to sell their content; work a table at a convention, seek publicity about themselves in newspapers and stage events that could attract the eye of an audience and television coverage.

Hey, you know I am for hire.

I think people are beginning to grasp that as “virtual” as people believe they are, the market conditions today compel people to realize that nothing can truly replace old-fashioned one-on-one personal contact.

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, November 07, 2011

DVD reviews!




The Troll Hunter


While the way that writer/director André Øvredal tells his story — in the found-footage format similar to “The Last Broadcast” and “The Blair Witch Project” — is not new, the story he tells is new.

A group of university students in Norway is trying to do a video production on the spate of recent illegal killings of bears. The government-approved hunters point the young video crew in the direction of a mysterious loner named Hans (Otto Jespersen) who lives in a very funky looking — and smelling — trailer.

They follow him up into the woods and witness for themselves what this guy really kills: trolls.

It seems that trolls as big as four-story houses are real and the Norwegian government has managed to set up a preserve for them. When these monsters break out of their area, Hans the troll hunter is called in to kill them or drive them back where they belong.

This is a deep dark secret and Hans’ boss is responsible for creating cover stories for the media to explain the damage done by the trolls.

At first, Hans tries to get rid of the students, but then he decides to let them tag along to the horror of his boss.

“The Troll Hunter” manages to be funny at times and then can quickly shift to frightening. A great example of this style is when the group is trapped in an abandoned mine that is the home of a group of trolls. They must endure being holed up — literally — with their way blocked by a flatulent sleeping troll. The humor turns to horror when one of the students panics and the trolls attack.

I love originality in movies and “The Troll Hunter” is one of the most interesting new films I’ve seen in a long time.

The version that is now available is dubbed, although I watched a subtitled DVD because I enjoy hearing the real voices of the actors.

A ton of television


I find it fascinating the way people watch television programs these days: on their computer through a number of different websites, recorded from their cable systems, streamed through Netflix, on demand from their cable systems and on DVD.

Is anyone actually watching television in the old school manner?

There are now dozens and dozens of series making their way onto DVD and I’ve written about quite of number of them so far. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve received a small pile of them.

So, let’s do a lightening round of comments.

I realize that sex sells, but I couldn’t imagine that “Holly’s World, The Complete Seasons One and Two” and “Kendra, Seasons Two and Three” would really make it to the tops of the sales charts.

The initial appeal of these two women was due to their status as Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends — whatever that really means — but now we get to see how they fare outside the walls of the mansion.

Take them away from the geezer in the pajamas and they are a lot less interesting. Ho hum.

My problem is I find both of them boring. Holly Madison is starring in a Las Vegas burlesque show – OK, she has to work, big deal! Kendra Baskett is married and a mother, as are many people.

The History Channel does have two of my favorite reality shows: “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers” and each show is out in a new season compilation.

What I like about each program is that I enjoy rummaging around tag sales and flea markets myself, looking for some odd artifact and here are folks who do this for a living. I learn a lot from the shows and even tolerate the drama between the various participants that is supposed to add some entertainment value. I could easily do without Chumlee, the “comic relief” of “Pawn Stars.”

“Top Shot Reloaded” is essentially a kind of sports show for The History Channel. Here we have a group of world-class marksmen — and women — who are challenged each week as they try to work their way to a $100,000 prize. If target shooting is an interest, this show is well worth watching.

Now a real television show to savor on DVD is Denis Leary’s magnum opus of “Rescue Me,” with the sixth season now available.

I like Leary’s work a lot and thought the series he created that preceded this one, “The Job,” was brilliant. “The Job” only lasted one season, though, and Leary has had far better luck with his hard-edged comic approach with “Rescue Me.”

In “The Job,” Leary was a troubled cop and here he is a New York City firefighter who is battling considerable person demons.

Because of the many characters and intersecting storylines, I’d recommend seeing previous seasons first just to catch up, but “Rescue Me” is superior television.


The Honeymooners Lost Episodes 1951 to 1957


When comedian Jackie Gleason performed the first “Honeymooners” sketch in 1951 as part of a weekly show “The Cavalcade of Stars,” I’m sure few people would have predicted the kind of the success Ralph and Alice Kramden would enjoy 60 years later.

Yet in 2011, it’s clear to see the comic genius of Gleason, his cast and writers. Today when so many sitcoms rely on gimmicks or staid formulas, “The Honeymooners” have remained fresh with characters that are believable and funny.

For the younger people reading this column, Gleason has been a moderately successful comic on stage and in a handful of movies, who found his true medium — television. He created many characters on his long-running show, but his most enduring was Ralph Kramden, a bus driver who lives with his wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn.

Ralph is desperately insecure and constantly jumps to conclusions. He is always seeking ways to hit it big and yearns to be a big shot. Alice has got the common sense in the family and is more than Ralph’s equal when he goes on one of his frequent tirades.

Ralph’s best friend, Ed Norton (Art Carney), lives with his wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph) in the same building. Norton is a comic original — a combination of child-like innocence and wise savvy.

I was shocked at just how well developed the characters were in the very first skit. Gleason and his first Alice (Pert Kelton) had their roles down cold and were immediately believable as they fought over whether or not Ralph was going down to the deli to pick up a loaf of bread.

This is character driven comedy at its finest, and this DVD collection brings together on 15 discs all of “The Honeymooners” skits known to exist, with the exception of the 39 half-hour episodes Gleason produced as a stand-alone show in 1955 television season.

At the time Gleason produced his first skit, sitcoms were more likely to feature a knowing wife and a clueless husband. The difference is that in “The Honeymooners,” the husband was prone to rage and the wife dished it out as well as he did. People may have fought like that in real life, but characters on television did not.

By the end of the first episode, though, it was clear these two people truly loved each other, despite their failings.

This humanity made Ralph and Alice seem very real to audiences, then as well as now.

This collection also features an informative booklet on the history of the show and a great collection of extras, including two parodies of “The Honeymooners,” one starring Jack Benny in the Gleason role and the other featuring Peter Lorre as Ralph.

If you have a “Honeymooner” fan in your family, this should be high up on your holiday gift list.




The Captains


William Shatner started out as a serious actor on the stage in his native Canada. He became well known to American audiences in the 1950s and ‘60s with frequent guest-starring roles on television, movie appearances and starring roles on Broadway.

Then he accepted the role of Captain Kirk on the original “Star Trek” and his life changed.

For more than 40 years — during which Shatner has seen additional success in show business as well as being the object of adoration for millions of “Star Trek” fans — the actor has apparently nursed an unresolved issue over being identified as Kirk. Apparently he can’t reconcile the “serious” nature of his early career and the promise it had with his post-“Star Trek” life.

To try to deal with this nagging conflict, the actor interviewed every other actor who has appeared as the star — and commanding officers — of a “Star Trek” series or movie to see how playing the part changed them. Shatner spoke with Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bacula, Avery Brooks, Chris Pine and Sir Patrick Stewart.

That’s the subject of “The Captains,” the new documentary written and directed by Shatner. This production seemed to be an extension of the interview shows Shatner has done in the last several years.

As a fan, I found the interviews, with the exception of the one with Brooks, pretty interesting. Mulgrew is very candid in first admitting she really had no idea who Shatner was when she starred in her “Star Trek” series and said her children have never forgiven her for accepting the job, as the brutal work schedule kept her away for years of their childhood.

Stewart spoke earnestly about making the transition between being a renowned Shakespearean actor to a starship captain, while Bacula spoke about how much Shatner had been an influence on him.

Brooks doesn’t address any of the issues brought forth in the other interviews and instead spouts off some strained philosophical blather while seated at a piano. I wondered if he was pulling Shatner’s leg. Of course, I’ve long wondered if Shatner’s wacky self-indulgent and ironic public personality is a well-played parody itself.

At the end, Shatner came to grips with his alter ego – no surprise. In the hands of a lesser egomaniac or eccentric, this film would come across as a huge vanity project. With Shatner at the helm, though, it’s oddly endearing at times.

Die-hard “Star Trek” fans will need to see “The Captains.”





Wrecked

I never saw “The Pianist,” mainly because I no longer watch films by director Roman Polanski as I have a moral dilemma about supporting the work of a pedophile. So, I missed the performance that earned Adrien Brody an Oscar for best male performance.

Since then, I have watched a number of his films, and aside from the remake of “King Kong” in which he was terribly miscast, he has impressed me.

What is also significant is his willingness to do work such as the vastly entertaining “Predators” and the envelope pushing “Splice” that other Academy Award winners would avoid.

Certainly, this new film on DVD falls into that category. It’s a low budget thriller that is essentially a one-man show for Brody.

Brody plays an unnamed man who wakes up finding himself in the front seat of a car that has crashed into a deep-forested ravine. He is injured. He has a gun. There is another passenger in the car who is dead.

He has no memory of what has happened.

Brody’s character must first extricate himself from the wreck and he discovers he has a severely injured leg. He also discovers a backpack filled with money in the car’s trunk.

He still doesn’t know what happened, but there is enough charge left in the car’s battery to hear a radio broadcast and a news report about a bank robbery. A name he eventually recognizes as his own is mentioned.

This film teases the audience in the best way. We don’t know the story and since the character has suffered from a concussion, we don’t know what is real and what is imagined.

This film is a first feature-length effort for director Michael Greenspan and he does well setting up the confusion and terror felt by the man. Christopher Dodd’s screenplay kept me involved and guessing.

And Brody turns in a great performance as a person trying to survive and to recall what event put him in this situation.

For a solid and different thriller, try “Wrecked.”

The Trip


I love British comedy and what little I’ve seen of Brit comic superstar Steve Coogan he is capable of being pretty funny.

This film has a premise that undermines the limited laughs it presents and will be a challenge for American audiences. Context in humor is everything.

Coogan plays a version of himself — an aging comic superstar beset with numerous insecurities — who is asked by a British magazine to tour the north of England and eat in upscale restaurants for an article.

Coogan wants to take his American girlfriend on the trip, but she is back in the United States. Instead he chooses friend and fellow comedian Rob Brydon. Brydon is happily married and is satisfied with his career.

Coogan can’t stand that Brydon is happy and views Brydon as a sidekick rather than star — a view Brydon doesn’t share. The two men alternate between arguing with one another, competing with impersonations and improvising bits as they drive from one eatery to another. Some of these scenes are funny and some fell flat because they referenced British entertainment figures I didn’t know.

The film plays with the professional and personal reputations of both performers. Brydon’s version of himself is quite likable, while Coogan is the epitome of a vain superstar. The fact they are playing versions of themselves is a bit precious.

I had to research Coogan on the Internet to understand the parody of himself he was presenting.

Director Michael Winter-bottom presented the film as a fictional narrative despite the fact the subject is supposed to be more of a semi-fake documentary. The playing with formats added greater confusion for me.

The few laughs the film generated — my wife noted I laughed five times — didn’t justify the time it took to watch it.


© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, November 03, 2011

RIP Richard Gordon







Haunted Strangler

This is a difficult piece to write as the journalist in me is trying arrange the facts in a logical sequence, but the memories are spilling out of my head in a haphazard way. On one hand I want to write an entertaining piece about my friend Richard Gordon. On the other, I want to cry.

Other than my father, there have been two men I’ve known who’ve made a profound and positive impression on me: the late animator and artist Myron Waldman and movie producer Richard Gordon, who passed away at the age of 85 on Nov.1.

Richard – or Dick to his friends – was the almost last of the independent producers of low-budget horror and science fiction films who rose to prominence in the 1950s. His only contemporary who is still alive is Roger Corman. Like Corman, Dick never really retired and maintained an office from which he made deals to keep his films and the ones he represented on television and on home video.

Although he refused to upgrade to a computer – he steadfastly stuck to his electric typewriter, telephone and fax machine for his business – he sold licenses to put several of his films on the AMC website.


First Man into Space

I met Dick at a Cinefest in Syracuse NY in either 1984 or ’85. A friend of mine at the time had been corresponding with his older brother Alex – also a film producer – who was also at the three-day film festival and he convinced a group of us that we should make the four-hour drive to Syracuse to meet Alex.

We did that and met Alex and Dick, who were amazingly gracious gentlemen. One of our group, an ardent Bela Lugosi fan, knew that Alex and Dick befriended Lugosi and that Alex had written a Lugosi vehicle for Ed Wood, “Bride of the Monster.” The fan asked Alex who was a better actor: Lugosi or Boris Karloff, and I saw the first instance of Alex’s skillful diplomacy as he somehow dodged giving a potentially disappointing answer.

I interviewed Alex for a radio show I was hosting at the time and made arrangement to meet Dick in his office in New York City for an interview. Again, he was the epitome of an English gentleman and we became friends.

Dick and Alex were movie fans down to their DNA. As kids in their native England they were the heads, respectively of the country’s Buster Crabbe fan club and Gene Autry fan club. Alex eventually worked for Autry in several capacities. Dick had an over-sized portrait of Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless from Crabbe’s Flash Gordon serials that Dick received as a boy. It was personally inscribed to him.

World War II interrupted their plans – both were in the British military – and the brothers came to the United States in 1947 to pursue a career in film. Dick once told me that his father urged him to go if that it was what he wanted to do.

Dick and Alex were among the first filmmakers who were movie fans. They were probably the first fan boys who made that leap to be successful participants.


Island of Terror


They both sought to make movies with people they admired and subjects that interested them as fans. Alex was the first producer to cast his films with his own favorite actors – something long before Quinton Tarantino ever did.

Dick and Alex both had a razor sharp memory when it came movies. Dick could recount not only details about a film he saw as a kid, but could tell you where he saw it. His taste in movies was quite broad. Fluent in German, Dick was very knowledgeable in German cinema from the silent period through the present. On the other hand, if you had a B-western to give him, he would welcome that with a smile.

I would always visit Dick every time I was in New York and he was there. He was a very active traveler for many years and he liked to go on tours of foreign counties, always some place new, but if he was in-town, we would get together for lunch or dinner.

The annual Cinefest, though, was the chance to spend greater time with him and to watch movies together. He could be quite critical of the varied offerings at the festival, which specialized in American and British films from the silent era through 1950. I never saw him walk out of a film, but he could certainly roast something he didn’t like.

Over an often-mediocre meal at the hotel dining room at the festival, Alex and Dick would tell stories about their films. I wish I had recorded them. For instance, both men were fairly critical of the movie “Ed Wood,” as Alex had been an intimate of the notorious director and Dick knew Lugosi very well. They strenuously objected to the scene in which Lugosi called Karloff a “cocksucker.” They said Lugosi would have never used such language.

Dick was never a name-dropper, but as he spoke he would continually surprise me. I never knew he had tried to set up a film deal for legendary director Fritz Lang. He told me how Lang had introduced himself to Dick’s secretary as “Dr. Mabuse,” the super-villain he had created for several memorable films.


Fiend Without a Face

I was also a little shocked that William Burroughs had offered Dick the screen rights to his notoriously un-filmable novel “Naked Lunch.” Dick met the author through theater owner and director Antony Balch with whom Dick made two movies, “Horror Hospital” and “Bizarre.”

One of the best dinners was the one time my wife Mary came to Cinefest. We dined with Dick and two of his directors, Norman J. Warren who helmed “Inseminoid” and Radley Metzger who made “The Cat and The Canary.” They all showered Mary with attention and performed a bit of roast on each other.

I once asked Dick why he had never attempted to license merchandise for any of his films. There had been some novelizations of his movies in paperback, but I thought he was missing the boat with the horror craze of the 1980s and ‘90s. He looked at me and said, “Why don’t you do it?”

I had fun and a little success. I still have the life-sized “Fiend Without a Face” brain monster that one guy made each of us as a prototype.


The Cat and the Canary


Dick’s last venture as a filmmaker was his acquisition of a short – a ghost story from 1953 called “Return to Glennascaul” – featuring Orson Welles. Dick filmed a new introduction for the film with director Peter Bogdanovich and managed to get it out on video.

He really wanted to see a new version of “Fiend,” which was best remembered film and several people wrote script and took out options. The “fiend” did appear, however, in the film “Loony Tunes: Back in Action,” thanks to director Joe Dante.

At one point there was a hint that a publisher might be interested in a novel based on the film. Steve Bissette and I came up with an outline for a sort of a sequel and Dick was appalled. We had one scene in which the brain monsters were gathered in the woods around a campfire with the one human they had taken a collective liking to!

So, we tried again. I worked on the second draft and tried to solve some problems set up in the film that modern audiences just wouldn’t accept. I remember very proudly that Dick was extremely pleased with it. The intended publisher was no longer interested apparently in such projects and the book quickly faded away. In a way, I didn’t care. The one audience I truly cared about pleasing was happy with what I had done.


Tower of Evil


Why was Dick’s career so long? I think that one thing that contributed to it was an economy of scale. Richard never expressed an interest in having a studio or producing multiple movies at a time. Each film received a lot of attention from him.

Dick’s career extended years beyond his being an active producer because he had the foresight to ask for the return of the rights of his films once the initial theatrical release was completed.

I would call or visit Dick and he would tell me how he had sold films to a German DVD distributor or how he managed to get his movies onto French television. His sole complaint in later years was that younger show business executives had no idea who Boris Karloff was, much less the stars of his other films.


Corridors of Blood

The appeal of Dick’s films could be seen in their almost constant availability on home video. When one license was up, he successfully sought another. The esteemed Criterion Collection was among the licensees and the company released a boxed set of three of Dick’s films and one produced by his brother Alex.

I had asked Dick several times to write a book about him and Alex. He always turned me down partly because he was really a very private person and partly, as he told me, he didn’t want to produce a book that would have stories that were hurtful to people.

Months prior to his death, Richard collaborated on a book on his career with Tom Weaver, who was not only a friend but had interviewed him many times. I’m glad was able to get him to speak about his career and I need to buy the book myself. The last time I saw him, Dick had told me not to do so as he would have a copy for me. Go here for more info.


Inseminoid


I saw Dick in June this year. He had been in the hospital with heart problems and he was a little frail. I was concerned, but glad to see him. He wanted to have dinner with me and asked if it was acceptable if I would come with another friend of his. Naturally, I said yes.

We took a cab to Greenwich Village to a French restaurant that was opposite from the French restaurant that was our destination, Dick explained it was his habit – and he was a creature of habit – to go to the first establishment to have a drink at the bar. He loved Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry and he said the place was one of the few bars in the city that still served it.

I drank a bourbon, and we then had a great meal at the restaurant where Dick had been dining once a month or so since the late 1950s.

We took a cab back to mid-town and walked Dick to his apartment.

This weekend I would like to reserve some time on the couch and watch some of his movies. And perhaps have a little sherry in his memory.

Thanks Dick.





© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, September 27, 2011





I love the Kids in the Hall and looked forward to speaking with these two guys. I wasn't disappointed.

It’s not the easiest thing to laugh and take notes and that was the primary challenge in speaking with Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson, two of the members of the legendary comedy troupe, The Kids in the Hall.

This reporter recently conducted two separate telephone interviews with the comedians and actors and that was a blessing. If they had been on the line at the same time, I would have been unable to take clear notes.

At the same time both men were refreshingly candid about a career in show business.

McDonald and Thompson will be appearing together in a stand-up act with new material at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee on Oct. 7.

On the show, McDonald played a number of either crazy or naïve women as well as his unforgettable role as “King of Empty Promises,” while Thompson broke new comedy ground with his monologues as Buddy Cole.

“The Kids in the Hall” television series ran from 1988 to 1995 and has been re-run since as well as collected recently on DVD. Since then, both men have been busy with a variety of projects and appearances as well as taking part in several reunion projects with fellow “Kids” Mark McKinney, Bruce McCullough and Dave Foley, the most recent being “Death Comes to Town” in 2008.

McDonald, for instance, has made a mark as a voice actor in animated productions that include “Invader Zim,” “Lilo and Stitch” and “Catscratch.” He likes it, even though he has no creative power.

“It’s tiring,” he explained. “I scream all day because my characters always fall a lot.”

He noted with a little apprehension that he met a voice actor who “did me better than me.”

McDonald recently made the move from Los Angeles to Winnipeg, Canada, because of a new relationship. He explained he initially made the move from Canada because “I have to go out and keep reminding people about me; reminding them about the Kids in the Hall and ask them for money.”

Performing in the reunion tours with the rest of the group “seemed like old times,” he said.

The Kids in the Hall were often noted for their performance in female roles and the steps they took to look like women. Playing in drag today, means “certainly a lot more makeup,” McDonald said.

One of the aspects of “The Kids in the Hall” television show that continues to impress is the edgy innovative quality of the writing. McDonald said the members used to write the television shows by bringing ideas together to McCullough’s apartment and acting them out over and over. Since then with the advent of the personal computer, the team has broken up into smaller writing groups.

He said that the “hardest thing” the group ever wrote was their feature film “Brain Candy.”

“We couldn’t turn a page [in the script] until everyone agreed,” McDonald remembered.

He said each of the tours featured new material and that while in the writing process it seemed like “no time had passed.”

McCullough was in charge of the most recent “Kids” production, the mini-series “Death Comes to Town” and McDonald said the problem the “Kids” has always had is writing longer pieces than skits.

McDonald is new to stand-up but enjoys it and is happy to be on the road with his friend.

“Kevin and I are such good friends,” Thompson said. Neither man wanted to tour alone and the two decided to make a two-year commitment to a stand-up gig.

McDonald said that although part of his stand-up show is scripted, there is also room for improvisation. Thompson explained the two men do a separate set and then come together for a set.

If you’re hoping to see a reprise of well-known characters or skits, you won’t find them at this show, Thompson said.

He said at the beginning of the tour, they tried to do some of their well-known characters, but “we dumped them.”

“It’s easier [to do the tour] without a bag of wigs,” he said.

Thompson was one of the first openly gay performers on television and his signature character was Buddy Cole, the acerbic barfly always holding a martini and ready with a piercing remark.

Cole was Thompson’s stand-up voice for years and Thompson envisioned bringing Cole back as the star of a new show in which Buddy is undertaking a tour of Africa and the Middle East.

Thompson, along with “Kids” writer Paul Bellini, even wrote a Buddy Cole book titled “Buddy Babylon: The Autobiography of Buddy Cole.”

One can tell there is more than a little of Cole in Thompson. When I opened the interview with the admission I’m a big fan of the “Kids,” he said that would make things easier.

“The last [interviewer] was a petulant a*****e and he stayed one through the interview,” he said.

Thompson has also been busy since the “Kids” left the airwaves. He’s had prominent roles in television series such as “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Providence,” as well as other shows.

He said he is “thrilled” to be on stage and performing stand-up, nothing that much of the material is about his life.

“Stand-up is so pure,” he said. “It’s just you and a mic. You’re like a gunslinger.”

Although he improvises on stage, he sticks to the material he developed and said with a hearty laugh, “The show is filthy — really, really dirty.”

Thompson is also honest about the tour and about the nature of show business and in a moment of candor, he said he needs the money from the stand-up tour.

“I’ve not had the most illustrious post-“Kids” career,” he said. He views himself as a comic actor and writer who would be “very, very happy with different character roles.”

He noted, that unlike shows such as ”Saturday Night Live,” there was no “break-out” member of the troupe, with the possible exception of Foley, who landed the starring role on “News Radio.”

He said that McKinney and McCullough gravitated to “behind the camera.”

Thompson had been vocal in the past about the depiction of gays on television and in film and the straight actors who get the parts. He said things have “come a million miles” since he raged against how Tom Hanks played a gay man dieing of AIDS in the film “Philadelphia.”

He said he watched the sitcom “Glee” and was amazed by the gay character on it.

“I’m more philosophical about that now,” he said. “I kind of forgive.”

He said one observer wrote of “The Kids” that watching them performing one could tell that they loved one another.

“That’s the secret,” he said. “The Kids in the Hall, that’s our secret — a ‘bromance.’”

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, September 19, 2011




With comedians, you never quite know what to expect in an interview. I've conducted conversations with comics that was all about their shtick and some who acted like they never cracked a smile.

I didn't know what to expect from Tom Green, a polarizing talent if there ever was one. I think that either you're a fan of what he is best known for– outrageous, in-your-face confrontational prank humor – or you're not. I admire the guy for staking out a piece of comic turf that relatively few have.

It turns out that Green is an articulate sincere guy, who is serious about his stand-up career.


If you think of outrageous when you think of comedian Tom Green, you would be right. Green came to prominence with a program on MTV that emphasized a willingness to do almost anything to himself or his sidekicks for laughs — or shock.

Talking to Green reveals another side to the guy willing to put live mice in his mouth for an audience’s amusement. He’s a performer who is very serious about developing his stand-up act.

Green spoke to Reminder Publications last week. He will be appearing at the Hu Ke Lau on Oct. 1 in Chicopee.

MTV picked Green up for his first show in 1999, after the performer had starred and produced his own show for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, which was based on his long-running homemade show seen on cable access.

The success of the first MTV show led to subsequent shows and specials on the network as well as a string of movies, including the infamous “Freddy Got Fingered,” which was Green directed and co-wrote.

Having started performing stand-up at age 15, Green has returned to the comedy format and has been touring for the past two years.

“I always wanted to do it again,” he said of stand-up. Green stopped performing when he started his cable access television show.

He added he enjoys the writing process of developing jokes and stories.

“The real fun I have is crafting a joke with a lot of structure, but make them look unstructured,” he explained.

Green does improvise on stage as well and uses stand-up for the expression of opinions on social issues.

After working on mainstream television and movies, Green appreciates the one-man quality of stand-up.

“What I love about stand-up is the complete freedom. There are no rules there,” he said.

“With the television shows, we were challenging ourselves to smash the rules each week into smithereens,” Green said.

Green was raised in the culture of skateboard and said that was the inspiration for the crazy physical stunts seen on his show. When asked if his show inspired MTV’s “Jackass,” he said, “People ask me that [all the] time. I tell them to drawn their own conclusion.”

While Green doesn’t think MTV copied him, he said he has been told by “Jackass” cast members such as Steve O that they were inspired by him.

Green’s success also led to movie roles in a number of films as well as his star turn in “Freddy Got Fingered,” a film that is now considered a cult film.

He said that acting in someone else’s film “takes a lot on pressure off” him and he “doesn’t necessarily have to always do everything.”

He currently has several film ideas in development, including one he calls “Insane Prank Movie.”

Green has the reputation of pushing boundaries and he did that with his Internet-based talk and variety show that ran from 2006 to this year. Green was a pioneer in using the Internet as a way to broadcast a television show, which he jokingly called “Web-o-Vision.”

He said he enjoyed the show and would do it again, despite the fact that he made just enough money on the show to cover the costs.

“It was a fairly elaborate show,” he noted, which was broadcast weeknights over Livestream and then archived.

“I’ve always been aware of technology and curious how to apply it to make funny comedy,” Green said.

He stopped the production of the show to go on tour and devote himself to stand-up. Green recently did a 12-day appearance as part of the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was well received.

One unidentified reviewer wrote on www.edinburghspotlight.com, “His insanely genius ‘shock humour’ is what helped Tom shoot to fame and it’s something he fortunately hasn’t let go of. Loosely based on the story of his life, Tom doesn’t hold back. He’s incredibly open and honest about elements of his past making the show much more than just hilarious antics.”

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Flea market treasures

One of my true summer and fall pleasures is the Hadley Flea Market, an outdoor collection of dealers located on Route 47. Mary and I have been going there for years and almost always find something either for us or for a friend.

Because of the horrendous summer we've had, we took only the second trip to the flea market of the season today, but it proved to be a great haul for us. We each found books, a couple of things that will be Christmas presents and I discovered the following post cards.



This is an arcade card, a photo printed on card stock the same size as a postcard that was given our as a prize or sold at carnivals and penny arcades. This one features Tom Tyler and Frankie Darro (w) from the silent western "The Desert Pirate."



Okay Springfield residents, this is what the corner of State and Chestnut Streets looked like at the turn of the 20th Century. You see the church where the museum parking lost is now located and the former library building that was moved into the Quadrangle to allow the construction of the present central library.



This next shot is looking down Main Street. The building with the onion dome in the foreground is at the corner of Main and Bridge streets.



This "skyscraper" was the home of "Good Housekeeping" magazine and Phelps Publishing.




© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, August 29, 2011



Sen. Lieberman



The tornado victim



The esteemed panel

All photos by Patrick Dobbs


Ah, so close and yet so far away.

Last week I had the honor of being part of a panel discussion at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, Conn. – a truly impressive interactive science museum. The museum has a new exhibit called “Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters” and the discussion was on the theme “Are We Ready for Nature Unleashed?”

I was asked because the museum personnel wanted a survivor of the tornado in the group and had been steered to the stories I’ve written by a friend of mine. I joined a panel that included the state’s deputy commissioner of emergency services and public protection, a vice president of Connecticut Light and Power, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official and the chief operating officer for the Connecticut and Rhode Island American Red Cross.

The star of the show, though, was Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

I thought it would be interesting to ask Lieberman two things: does he really support the idea of cutting Social Security in order to strengthen a defense strategy against terrorists as reported and does he agree with what Mitt Romney proposed about eliminating FEMA and allowing states to respond to disasters without federal help.

I didn’t get the opportunity to pose either question and Lieberman framed his remarks around being prepared for national security threats rather than natural events.

He did ask the audience if they would contact their members of Congress to get entitlements under control.

He offered no message about tax reform or questioning whether or not the war in Afghanistan is worth the lives and money it is costing.

The discussion was a worthy one with all of us contributing to it, but the journalist in me was yearning to be allowed to talk.

I thought it was interesting that a week later we are hit by a huge hurricane. What's next? A plague of locusts?

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, August 26, 2011

Magical Mystery Tour

This has not been a good year so far and, in response to the stress, my wife and I have made plans for a number of little trips. This weekend with the boys was one of them and included no strips clubs and very little drinking! And only one seegar! We were good geezers.

Instead it was a mini-tour of some new England oddities, stuff that fascinates me! Here in still, movie and print is some of what we experienced.




In top photo, author and researcher Loren Colen in his museum. In bottom photo, I meet Big Foot, or a reasonable facsimile. Both photos copyright by Joseph A. Citro and used by permission.

This is what I wrote about the museum. It was a pleasure to speak with Loren Coleman who is a hell of a nice guy, besides researching a topic that is a huge interest of mine.

PORTLAND, MAINE – It may take you a little more than a tank of gas to drive from Western Massachusetts to the International Museum of Cryptozoology and back, but if you are interested in topics such as Big Foot, lake monsters and unknown cats, among other creatures of controversy, the expense is well worth it.

The museum has the ultimate interactive feature: its founder Loren Coleman, a world-renowned expert on cryptozoology, is on hand most of the time to personally answer questions from visitors.

“Cryptozoology” is the study of hidden animals and the proponents of the research point out that such creatures as the giant squid, mountain gorilla and okapi were once thought of as mythical. Coleman has used the coelacanth, the living “fossil fish” long though extinct until a live specimen was caught in 1938, as the symbol of his museum.

Coleman is no wide-eyed fanatic with an aluminum foil hat. He has a graduate degree in psychiatric social work and worked in that field for years. He has written numerous books and has regularly appeared on such television shows as “In search of …” and “Monsterquest,” among many others.

Originally, the prolific author and researcher had the museum in his home, but the demand to see it was so great he decided to move it to its present location in 2009. In turn, the response has been great enough that Coleman will be moving it around the corner from its present location at 661 Congress St. to larger quarters.

The museum is an amazingly dense collection of artifacts that range from original plaster castings of Big Foot footprints to photos of lake monsters and unknown sea creatures to items depicting efforts to defraud the public such as the a reproduction of a Big Foot mask used in 2008 to earn a group of grifters money for the sale of a fake Big Foot carcass.

Where else could you see a sample of hair from a yeti?

There is an amazing undated photo of a group of Marines with a large unidentified sea creature that will leave you wondering just what it was. A digital frame displays a slide show of lake monster photos, including the famous photo of “Champ,” the lake monster of Lake Champlain.

Another digital screen runs a loop of the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film of Big Foot striding through a California forest. Coleman dispute the more recent claims that the much-studied film was faked.

The recent report of a motorist in Connecticut killing a mountain lion – an animal long extinct from New England – is an example of a less exotic “cryptid.” Although there have been reports for years of people spotting mountain lions where they shouldn’t be, Coleman noted the official explanation was that this mountain lion shared DNA with big cats from South Dakota. Rather than say that mountain lions had returned to New England, wildlife officials claimed the animal had walked 1,500 miles.

Mountain lion generally have a range of 100 miles. To admit that mountain lions have returned would trigger their classification as an endangered species, Coleman said which could affect issues such as commercial development.

Coleman explained to Reminder Publications the museum attracts 5,000 visitors a year and that most are curious tourists who have heard about the attraction. About 30 percent are “cryptonuts,” while about 10 percent are skeptics who come to challenge Coleman.

That the museum has plenty of examples of attempted hoaxes is acknowledgment that Coleman applies great scrutiny to reports about unknown animals.

Ironically, in the age of digital technology that should make documenting sightings of unknown animals more plentiful, presenting fake photos and videos have become easier, Coleman said.

He also noted that just because a person’s cell phone has a camera doesn’t mean there would be more photos of Big Foot and big cats. Besides the fear and astonishment a sighting can inspire, it still takes time for a person to take a phone out of a pocket or purse.

But if you do get a good shot of the inexplicable, Coleman might be interested.

For more information on International Museum of Cryptozoology, go here.




Monday, August 08, 2011

Fed up

I was going to blog about Dave Sharpe. Go ahead, Google “Dave Sharpe stuntman.” He was frickin’ amazing.

But my hands have a mind of their own.

Lord, these politics is killing me. I just want to escape. Let’s watch a movie. Let’s go out to my favorite watering hole. Let’s smoke a seegar on the front stoop and talk trash.

I can’t convey the depths of my despair about the idiots who are bringing this country down the road to an even deeper depression.

I feel like I’m a broken record. I write in editorials and on Facebook that we need jobs. We need terms limits. We need to reverse the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to be considered as “people.” Outlaw lobbyist who buy votes on behalf of their clients. We have to get out of the toxic trade agreements that are killing American manufacturing.

But instead too many people prattle on as if the rich are going to save the country. Don’t raise their taxes! They create jobs. No, they don’t. The companies they own create jobs – overseas so the rich can get even richer.

This country was built on entrepreneurs who got their hands dirty developing inventions, providing services or building something. The potential is still there, but the odds are longer and longer every day for success. It’s not government regulation. It’s the way the marketplace is controlled.

The middle class and working poor people who support the Tea Party and the Republicans think the rich will provide solutions. They might as well be sucking a gas pipe. Supporting these people will strip you of your ability for collective bargaining and tear away any sort of safety net.

Is there waste in government? Damn straight. Are both parties to blame? Absolutely. Have too many Democrats drunk that corporate Kool-Aid? I’m afraid so.

But the beauty part of all of these discussions is how the powers that be keep the groundlings bickering among themselves about stuff that scarcely matters.

Corporations with agendas own the national media and the whole left-right argument no longer applies. Corporations are essentially countries. The only political agenda is to gain power and money in the short term.

What can we do? More than what we are doing now. Pick an issue and become obsessive. Mine is keeping local. Want to build jobs? Buy local. Keep your money out of the hands of national chains as much as you can afford. We need to go back to growing as much food as we can locally and regionally. We need to look at our own area and see what is how potential for surviving on our own. We need to rebuild our economy locally as well as nationally.

We need kick the sumbitches out of office locally who aren’t being progressive, who cling to the old ways of graft and getting along.

Anyway, I need some relief. I’m not going to get it from Congress. The networks aren’t going to have the guts to tell the real story.

I’m going to watch a little Dave Sharpe. Damn, he was great in “Spy Smasher.

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© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Haven't posted in a while, so I'll do a quick one collecting the more recent DVD reviews. This summer has been so disjointed between increasing stress-filled work, the tornado and a virus that has diminished my hearing. Blogging has taken a back seat.



It’s July and at this time 35 years ago, the drive-in theaters would have been in the middle of their season. Remember The Airline, The Red Rock? The Park Way? Can you hum the jingle played on the commercial for the snack bar? Did you watch the countdown clock as it noted the time to the next feature?

Variety, the bible of show business, called them “ozoners;” parents of teens called them “passion pits;” and families on a budget saw them as an inexpensive night out for a carload of kids.

From a business point of view, drive-ins were largely owned by independent showmen who understood that to draw crowds to their theaters, they had to offer audiences something they couldn’t experience either in standard theaters or on television. It’s no wonder those owners were willing to take chances on independently made films, foreign movies and low budget productions that had the elements that would draw audiences: action, adventure, sex and horror.

These showmen knew they had to package these films creatively and did so in double-bills, triple bills and “from dawn to dusk” shows.

Home video killed these theaters as renting a movie to watch at home proved to be even cheaper than popping the family into the station wagon and heading for the drive-in. At least staying at home meant there was no fear of driving away with the speaker still on your door.

This week’s films would be highly suitable for a drive-in double bill.

REC2



Several years ago, when attending the Rock and Shock show in Worcester, “REC” was the film many people was buzzing about. The Spanish horror film was told through the camera of a video crew that was following a group of firefighters as they responded to a call in a large apartment building in Barcelona.

Inside that building, which was quickly cordoned off by the government, was a group of zombie like creatures who aggressively attacked the crew. The last image of the film showed the reporter being dragged away from the camera by a particularly awful creature.

The sequel, “REC2” has just been released on DVD and continues the story 15 minutes from the conclusion of the first film. Now, a group of SWAT police officers are told they must accompany an official from the Ministry of Health inside the building to assess the situation.

What they don’t know is the man is not a health official, but a priest and the zombies are not your garden variety walking dead, but instead are demonically possessed.

That’s the only spoiler you will get from me about this very-well directed film that punches your buttons on a variety of levels. Running around a claustrophobic dark old building is bad enough without being attacked periodically by ravenous demons, but then directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza pile on more surprises.

While not a gore film, this movie is indeed moist at times – a warning for the squeamish.

The DVD is presented in its original Spanish with well-crafted subtitles. It has an extensive “making of” feature as well.

This is a kick-ass film and has an ending that will leaving you slack jawed.

Insidious


“Insidious” is a film I wanted to see in theaters, but instead my wife and I took our goddaughter to see “Hop.” Thanks goodness for DVD!

James Wan is noted for being the director for the first “SAW” film, but that film and this one are quite far apart in theme and treatment. “Insidious” is about a family that is struggling with a tragedy: one of the children, Dalton, has fallen into a coma that baffles his doctors.

With the coma comes an increased level of what appears to be a disturbing amount of paranormal activity at the family’s home. A move to a new home does quell the aggressive sightings.

When an investigator is called in, her interpretation shocks the parents. It’s not the houses that are haunted; it’s their son.

This is not a gore film at all. Wan and writer Leigh Whannell created a realistic state of sadness and dread and their shocks are frequently as simple — but effective — as a face at a window. They prove that severed body parts are not necessary to give audiences the shivers they expect.

With several major plot twists, “Insidious” delivers the kind of thrills I certainly seek from a horror film. It would be right at home at a drive-in.

Omnibus

When I was a kid, “Omnibus” was exactly the kind of television that I avoided. Give me “The Lone Ranger” or “Soupy Sales” any day of the week.

But what do kids know?

I still like “The Lone Ranger” and “Soupy Sales” — what do adults know? — but watching the new two disc set of some of the best segments of this long-running series made me realize even more what a lazy, cheap and terrible medium mainstream television has become.

“Omnibus” ran on all three commercial networks during its long run in from 1952 to 1961. It was underwritten by the Ford Foundation, but supported with commercial advertisers. The show featured a wide selection of documentary films, performances and interviews. It was smart TV that didn’t come across as snooty.

This set features some great episodes. Host Alistair Cooke introduced and participated in many of the segments and the DVD includes Cooke interviewing author and cartoonist James Thurber. The collection also features several of the pieces focusing on classical music and conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.

One of my favorite segments is one in which Dr. Seuss — Springfield’s own Theodor Geisel — hosts a talk about how he would design a science museum for children. The piece is funny and Geisel was charming as he spoke about a terrible science museum in “South Anthrax” that was dominated by dust and dead things. His recommendations were based on the then-new Boston Museum of Science.

I also enjoyed a filmed essay of the “night people” of New York City, the people who work at night and the people who stay out for the city’s diverse nightlife.

“Omnibus” was the type of show that in some ways was set up like a magazine. If one segment wasn’t appealing, wait a moment and another would be of interest.

Much of the show was produced live and it was broadcast before the advent of videotape. The quality of the images — taken from 16 mm films — is acceptable. The set comes with a booklet that adds additional background to the segments presented in the collection.

This is the type of television I wish we still had today.

The Girls Next Door: Season Six

Oh, where do I start? I would personally love to sit and talk with Hugh Hefner about a wide variety of topics — classic films, cartoonists, the publishing industry — but the subject of why a guy in his 80’s would want to “date” women in their 20’s wouldn’t come up — really.

The fact that Hefner is actually one of the most influential men in popular culture in the latter half of the 20th century has been over-shadowed by his successful attempt to re-energize the Playboy brand by allowing a “reality” series to portray a version of his life in which he is squiring about women young enough to be his granddaughters.

For a guy to be willing to allow his life to be shown as a freak show might be seen as sad to some and to others a testament of his willingness to promote his business.

In any event, this edition of the television series will undoubtedly not sell very well as it features a new cast of “girlfriends,” including the one who stood Hef up at the altar. Who wants to see a slow motion car wreck? We all know the tragic ending.

Who knows if there will be another series, as it will depend on the now 85 year-old publisher wants to assemble a new group of bubbleheads willing to pretend they like the old man enough to be his “girl.”

And this, my friends, is what television has become.

Just Go With It

I’m not a big fan of Adam Sandler or farces or the source material of this new romantic comedy, but I did find myself actually enjoying the comic’s new film, “Just Go With It.”

This new film directed by Sandler’s regular collaborator Dennis Duggan, has good pacing, some great gags, casting surprises and a genuine heart about it.

Sandler plays Danny, a successful and basically nice plastic surgeon, whose bad brush with marriage has caused him to use a ruse with women: he claims he is in a bad marriage. The scheme to meet and bed women has worked well for 20 years but backfired when a young woman, Palmer (played by Brooklyn Decker) he has met objects strongly to the idea that he is married.

Danny must now convince his girlfriend that he has a bad marriage and must find someone to act out that role. His long-time nurse in his practice, Katherine, played by Jennifer Aniston, reluctantly agrees to help him out. All goes smoothly until her children are accidentally mentioned and a new layer of lies must be installed.

The complications really pile up, though, on a trip to Hawaii where Danny, Katherine and her kids must all play their roles.

What makes this film so different than its source material, the 1970 comedy “Cactus Flower,” is that Danny is a decent guy and Palmer isn’t a ditz. In the original film, the Walter Matthau character was a nasty womanizer and Goldie Hawn’s character wasn’t too appealing either.

What really makes this work, though, is the chemistry between Sandler and Aniston. They actually seemed to be enjoying their roles together.

The film’s other surprise is two accomplished comic performances by Nicole Kidman and rocker Dave Matthews.

While no comic masterpiece, “Just Go With It,” is a light fun comedy, perfect for summer viewing.

Battle Los Angeles

I didn’t see the Tom Cruse remake of “The War of the Worlds” — George Pal’s original take on the H. G. Wells book still works fine for me — but this science fiction war film seems to be a great updating of the material, even if it isn’t an official remake.

Although an epic subject — the world is invaded by alien war machines and soldiers — director Jonathan Liebesman and writer Christopher Bertolini keep the focus on a small group of Marines in Los Angeles charged with a specific mission.

By keeping the story small, the audience can identify with the Marines and the group of civilians they are attempting to rescue. This approach works well and the science fiction parts of the story are made more realistic this way.

Liebesman brings the grittiness and horror of war to the film, which plays most of the time as a well-directed combat movie.

Aaron Eckhart leads an ensemble cast — that includes Longmeadow native Bridget Moynahan — as the war-hardened vet who is the sergeant in command of the Marine unit. Eckhart is an accomplished performer who seems at ease with both comic and dramatic parts.

Although this film may not present anything groundbreaking for either the war or science fiction genres, it is a piece of expertly assembled entertainment.

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Saturday, July 02, 2011

So when does the reporter become past of the story? When a U.S. senator is touring his neighborhood and a news colleague needs a quick example of a resident hit by the tornado. As usual, the dean of Western Massachusetts reporters, I use that title with respect, did his typical fine job. Thanks Ray!

See my crushed car right here!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

As some people might remember – old people – I was a radio talk show host on the late WREB in Holyoke in the pre-Limbaugh era. It was a time in the industry when local hosts prevailed and there were few national syndicated shows, if any. The dismantling of the Fairness Doctrine helped ensure the rise of the syndicated show, which was often offered free to station in exchange for advertising time, and the demise of the local host.

I loved being on the air as I am a ham at heart and would do it again if offered a job with a realistic salary. From 1982 to 1987, I earned $5 and hour as a talk host and was paid .75 for each live endorsement I did.

The salad days!

I love going to the New Media Seminar presented by the bible of the business, Talkers Magazine and bask in the glory of radio. People often wonder why I am there and I have to explain I'm a writer from the area where Talkers is published.

Every year I enjoy the Talk Rumble and for the last few years I've been posting video from it. Here is a part of this year's combat.

Sunday, June 26, 2011



I shot some tornado footage and finally had the time to edit the shots together.

Saturday, June 18, 2011



Back in the 1980s when I was a radio talk show host over WREB, I interviewed a fair number of celebs including Elvira Mistress of the Dark. That was the problem. I was interviewing Elvira, the fictional character rather than Cassandra Peterson the talented actress who created the role.

The result was a very awkward exchange in which I was attempting to do improv comedy with someone who had been trained at The Groundlings along side with Phil Hartman and Paul Ruebens.

At least I got a great station i.d. from her.

The interview didn't stop me, though, from enjoying her show and her two feature films.

A couple of weeks ago I received the opportunity to interview her once more and she was great. At the end of the talk, I told her about our previous conversation and she explained that at the time she wanted to do what Ruebens had been doing – stay in character (he was constantly Pee Wee Herman) during interviews and public appearances.

She has since decided to discontinue that practice and for me that's great as I'd much rather speak to Peterson.


Before "Mystery Science Theater 3000," before "Riff Tax," before "Cinema Titanic," Cassandra Peterson was making fun of movies as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

She told Reminder Publications in contrast to the members of those other comic groups she had "two big things working for me [dramatic pause] — my personality and my talent."

"I'm the queen of subtlety," she said with a laugh.

Peterson has brought her show "Movie Macabre" back to television in syndication — WTIC runs it at 2 a.m. Friday and Sundays at 1 a.m. — and two of the new shows are now on DVD.

Each DVD has a double feature. The first is "Night of the Living Dead" with "I Eat Your Skin" — which Peterson quickly noted has nothing to do with eating someone's skin — while the second has Sir Christopher Lee's last appearance as Dracula in "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" paired with "The Werewolf of Washington."

The new shows are funny and clever with Elvira not only poking fun at the movies — of the four only "Night of the Living Dead" is really any good — but also setting up comic bits.

Peterson, an actress who was a member of the famed Los Angeles-based improvisational troupe, The Groundlings, auditioned to be a local horror film host on a TV station in 1981. Her success in the regional market led to a syndication deal where "Movie Macabre" was seen all over the country.

Her character took on a life of its own and became a cottage industry inspiring two movies, many guest appearances on television shows and a lot of merchandise. Although she has done other roles than Elvira, Peterson is at peace with the character that took over her career.

"I was very angry," she said with a laugh. "I wanted to do Shakespeare in the Park."

She said she did have some reservations in the beginning, but realized as she landed roles on pilots for television shows she had a decision to make: work all season long in a show being paid the minimum union scale or work in October and make a year's worth of money.

Peterson owns the rights to the character and controls what she does with it.

"It's like running a company and I'm the CEO," she explained.

The down side is that because a show business corporation doesn't own her character, Elvira doesn't have the support that other characters receive.

Peterson said she "wades" through horror films in the public domain to select ones she thinks have potential for the show. Then she and her writing partner Ted Biaselli watch the film over and over — as many as four or five times — to come up with a theme for the Elvira segments and the "pop-ins" in which Elvira appears at the corner of the screen with a quip as the film is running.

She said her training in improvisational humor helps her with the writing.

She has made 20 shows for syndication and six more that will be DVD exclusives.

Peterson continues to make public appearances at various pop culture conventions and is impressed with the stories her fans tell her.

She recalled that people have come up to her teary-eyed because they watched her show as a child with a now departed parent. Many young women have told her they saw Elvira as a strong powerful woman and she was a role model.

Other fans have recalled how they had one of her posters up in their room.

"I think I helped them through puberty," she laughed.

Considering this has become a career for her, it is lucky for her own sanity that she is actually a horror movie fan.

"Totally, totally," she said. "I wouldn't have gone to the audition if I hadn't."

She quickly noted she likes "the old bad ones that are unintentionally funny," and isn't a fan of the new breed of slasher movies.

Peterson said that as a child her favorite film was the Vincent Price classic "House on Haunted Hill" and she loved the movies Price made with director Roger Corman based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

She said that while other girls were interested in playing with Barbie, she was assembling plastic monster models.

"I was a pretty odd girl, but it paid off," she said.

To learn more about her show and the DVDs, log onto elvira.com or become her friend on her Facebook page at Elvira Mistress of the Dark (Official).

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Yes, we were lucky






Our new to us car was crushed.

It was supposed to be a typical Wednesday evening – no big deal.

I arrived home around 4:15 p.m. to prepare supper for my in-laws. We bring it to them most Wednesdays and my wife visits them while I cover the Chicopee School Committee.

While I put some meatballs in the microwave I looked out through our back porch. It was raining a bit and I wondered which, if any, of our cats were outside. I had heard there was a threat of a tornado, which I immediately discounted. The storm was intensifying and I thought, “I’ve never seen a thunderstorm like this.”

That’s because it wasn’t just a thunderstorm.

The winds quickly picked up to a level I’d only seen on televised news reports. The color of the sky was a shade of green. When a huge tree came crashing down from my neighbor’s yard, I knew this was no ordinary thunderstorm.

I watched the winds selectively snatch the cable for the television, phone and Internet from the side of the house and pull it.

I walked from the kitchen to the dining room with the porch door flapping crazily in the background. The noise of the wind was deafening. Having most of my windows open meant they were saved from being blown out by the difference in pressure, but it also meant the winds came into my house to do damage.

The winds popped out the window screens. It pushed a glass jar off the mantle, which broke on the floor. Debris from leaves to pieces of insulation in the wind was deposited almost everywhere.

The cliché of the tornado seeming to take forever to pass while in reality only lasting several minutes was true in this case. When it was over, I was in a daze.

I looked out my front door. The tree that shaded our living room had been uprooted and it laid length-wise down the top of my relatively new car. A large piece of roof decking from someone’s house was mixed in with the tree. Another tree near the driveway was snapped into two pieces, which hung together.

The debris around my car blocked Spruce Street and two other downed trees covered the intersection with Hawthorne Street.

The trees in our backyard, which provided shade for the house, were all destroyed. A spruce tree was snapped close to its base. Two maple trees were shredded. There were broken limbs, roofing material and glass everywhere.

My back porch was structurally intact but most of the windows were destroyed and part of the siding near the roof was gone. A quick look around the house showed that storm windows had been broken but the regular windows seemed OK.

I was startled to realize that our power was still on. The underground cables that bring us electricity in this neighborhood are notorious for having problems, either on the hottest night of summer or the coldest day of winter.

This time, though, the technology came through for us.

I called my wife and told her what had happened. She had watched the funnel cloud travel through the area from her office on State Street. She told her co-workers she knew it was in her neighborhood.

I went back to the front door and looked out. People are starting to come out of their homes. One woman was screaming the name of a child, whom she eventually found unharmed. Neighbors started going from home to home asking each other if they were OK.

A group of people started removing the tree limbs from my car with the intent to clear the street. Rain forced us to stop. When the rains stopped, more people with axes and chainsaws came back. I was able to move my car up onto the sidewalk and Spruce Street was now somewhat clear.

My wife and I have lived in this neighborhood since 1990 and have never seen people coming together in the fashion as they did that night.

A young woman walked down the street trembling and clearly distressed. She can’t get past the debris and we told her to walk up on our yard, but be careful of the boards with nails.

My wife, who had arrived home, talked with her. She lives in Sixteen Acres, but she has family here and she needs to check on them.

As the afternoon pushed on, we were visited by two police officers who were checking every home. They told us there was considerable destruction in the South End.

As dusk fell, the sky was still an odd color. One young woman declared breathlessly at one point she has heard another tornado is coming. I dreaded the thought of going through this a second time, fearing we wouldn’t be as lucky as we were a few hours before.

Fortunately, another tornado didn’t come; only rain fell.

I took a short walk down to Central Street and saw in the dusk homes with no roofs and another one, recently renovated, that was practically destroyed.

We sat on our front porch, watching lightening strikes in the distance and listening to a steady soundtrack of sirens and passing helicopters. People waked down the street asking us if we were OK.

Later than night, I watched the news conference on our television that still has an antenna. I turned it off near midnight but had a difficult time sleeping. A team of firefighters awoke me between 3 and 4 a.m. to make sure we were all right.

The next morning, I drove my wife to work. What should be a five-minute trip was lengthened due to the traffic. Central Street was closed and Florence Street became the detour. Our tiny Spruce Street – barely wide enough at times for two cars – was suddenly elevated as a main drag.

Being a journalist, I couldn’t stay at home. I got my notebooks and camera and set out walking. What I saw are things I’ve never seen in person before.

House after house had suffered damage from stripped off roofs to complete destruction. On Hancock Street I walked past the Elias Brookings Museum Magnet School. There were some children gathered there and a guy wearing a hardhat told them there would be no more school here.

Looking at the damages, I thought, he may be more correct than he really knows.

School personnel were going in and out of the building. Its windows were all blown out and there was one second-floor classroom that is completely open to the elements.

Across the street, one house had most of its front walk sheared off, giving it the exposed view of a dollhouse. Next door, another brick building was without its roof.

I met, by accident, Ward Three City Councilor Melvin Edwards, who lives in the neighborhood. Like me, his home suffered minimal damage, but we shared a worry for this area as a whole.

There had finally been some forward development in this working class, working poor neighborhood. In the Central Street corridor, the long abandoned Spruce Manor Nursing Home – a major problem – had been demolished and there are now new single-family homes being built.

As we walked up Central Street, the destruction was breathtaking. I now realize how incredibly lucky we were. Only a fluke in topography or barometric pressure kept the tornado from ripping apart our home as it did so many others.

I took photos and shot some video. Edwards and I went to Beech Street where nearly every home had been damaged including one that was lifted off its foundation.

The police had blocked Central Street as workers tried to deal with a brick apartment building that was crumbling apart.
CNN had a crew on Beech Street. The videographer told me no matter how many times he has seen scenes such as this one he can’t get used to it.

I also met a reporter from WCBS radio in New York City. He left the city at 5:30 a.m. that morning to report on the tornado, which has been his fourth one in the Northeast.

As the morning progressed there were a growing number of people driving and walking through the area holding video cameras and taking still photos. As I sat on my front steps I watched this conga line of gawkers as they drove slowly, many with one hand on the wheel and another aiming a video camera.

I felt like sharing a gesture with them.

I realized this was a historical event and people want to see it, but this shouldn’t be some sort of perverse tourist attraction.

Crews of workers came through the area in the afternoon sawing down fallen trees to make sure streets and fire hydrants are clear. A pick-up truck rolled through with a woman standing on the back bumper asking everyone if they needed water. Children sat in the truck bed handing out bottles.

At suppertime, my wife and I took a walk. What appeared to be insurance adjusters were walking throughout the neighborhood with clipboards and cameras.

As we headed home we saw two men trying to loosen a piece of metal siding from its perch in branches. They were successful and laughed, although looked a little sheepish when they saw us. They loaded the metal into their pickup, which was already nearly full.

Vultures, I thought. It didn’t take them long at all.

Although the process of getting a new car and the overwhelming chore of cleaning up tons of tree debris numbs us, my wife and I know we were very lucky. Many people were not. And this neighborhood may take several years to fully recover.

One more shot of our car followed by homes very close to us that were hit by the storm.



Saturday, May 14, 2011



ADVENTURES IN MEDIA, EPISODE 213:

My career in media has almost always included an interactive element. I certainly had that as a radio talk show host back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and I've had that for the past 11 years working at Reminder Publications.

Even when people are calling me names and expressing pretty hateful thoughts about me, I hold close to my happy place that this is the nature of political discourse in America and really has always been so. Newspapers in the 18th and 19th century were far more harsh than even the worse Murdoch tab today – as difficult as that may be.

My mail at WREB included a cut and paste job in which my face was photocopied on top of the "Asshole of the Month" column that used to run in "Hustler." Whoever sent it put some thought in that piece of hate mail.

It's interesting how some people are reassured by hate and seek its comfort over trying to either understand some other opinion or agree that this country was founded on varying ideas.

Today, I get a fair number of letters to the editor and over the years I've learned that some people write to react to something I've written, some people simply need to voice their opinion on an issue and some just need to write – anything

The graphic above is my all time favorite letter, written to me by John Skok who used write almost every week. I'm afraid that Mr. Skok has probably passed on by now and I enjoyed his musings.

This one, though, was simply way out of the box and, yes, I printed it.

"Has anyone noticed as I have that some bathroom tissues (toilet paper rolls) are less wide than they used to be? If the companies are going to make the paper tissue less wider than now we are in big trouble. Oh, well, back to the depression era when we used crumpled newspaper ot leaves. What a way to recycle paper."

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs