Trying the Mantle of Star Trek On For Size

The previews for this Fall season’s new television shows have left me wondering if I’ll find enough shows to watch.  It’s no surprise that the networks are doing their best to relaunch old shows that really could have stayed locked up in the vault of tv past.  Even worse, the networks seem determined to neatly clone shows that have been middling successes in the past few years, and I’m already done with even trying to watch more unnecessary remakes and redos.  Not even Young Sheldon looks very interesting, but I’ll give it a few shows to find its footing.

Two shows are trying out for the newest version of Wagon Train in Space, swooping into space on the wings of giant metallic ships filled with the usual assortment of captains and shipmates.  The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery are the two new shows that are on missions to boldly go where James T. Kirk has gone before.

The Orville is mostly written by and stars Seth MacFarlane, the man responsible for Family Guy.  He plays the captain of a starship, but a captain who is at best inept and clearly only chosen to command a ship because there is nobody else.  His first officer is a woman who turns out to be the wife he recently divorced.  The rest of the crew is similar to almost any show set on a starship, but only similar: the dialog and actions of the crew (made up of an amazing supporting cast) are largely comedic in nature.  Watching the first episode was almost like watching an episode of the Family Guy as we got some drop-in antics separated by some plot.  The special effects were top-notch, and I thought the show had promise if it could figure out how to walk the line between serious science fiction and madcap humor.

The second episode gave me more hope for the show.  We still got some humor, including a number of quiet background pieces on the sets and throwaway lines full of inside jokes, but we actually got a semi-serious plot.  There was better character development.  There were more aliens.  The crew repeatedly disobeyed orders from on high (something Kirk was very consistently doing).  There was a problem that had to be solved, and it was solved by including a snarky kick at what I see as the worst type of shows television has ever created.  But as good as it was, it did not prepare us for the third episode.

One of the features of the original Star Trek that endeared us to it was the show’s ability to address contemporary problems that normally wouldn’t be allowed on network television by masking the problems in science fiction settings.  Episodes that dealt with racism and war and other political debates during the Viet Nam War and the Cultural upheaval of the late sixties snuck on the air and went mostly unnoticed by the folks who eventually shut down the Smothers Brothers for dealing with the same problems more directly.

In the third episode of The Orville, the crew deals with the problem of a crew member that insists on surgery for a sex change for a newborn infant.  While the episode continued to have some humorous banter from time to time, it went completely serious when dealing with whether the reassignment of sex should take place shortly after birth or only after the baby grew old enough to make the decision for itself.  Eventually, there is a trial and a surprise witness, but the show avoids the easy ending that we would expect from a comedy.  And along the way, we get stop-motion Rudolph and the episode ends with the best use of a stuffed animal in years.  Yes, there is still humor, but the episode also tosses some serious arguments into the mix.  The show is on Fox at first, but you can also watch it on Hulu, and it’s worth chasing down the first three episodes if you missed them for any reason.

Star Trek: Discovery?  Normally I would be there to watch the show, but after reading about it I changed my mind.  The show has had numerous problems; the original date for the show was January 2017, but problems pushed that back to September.  Sure, that’s annoying, but it’s an annoyance of a pinprick compared to the stunt CBS has pulled: the first show is on regular network television, but after that, the show will be locked behind a paywall!  If you want to watch the show you have to sign up for CBS All Access (which requires the internet) and pay either $6 a month for the opportunity to watch commercials or $10 a month if you want the show without commercials.  Since you must use the internet to watch the channel, you either have to buy and install extra equipment to view the internet on your television set or watch the show on your computer or (choke!) your phone.  Since I already watched nearly every show available on CBS Access back when they were first broadcast (including Star Trek on our magnificent 19-inch black and white television fifty years ago), I’m not interested in paying several dollars an episode to watch ST:D (wow, there’s a frightening abbreviation for the show!)  Sight unseen, the show gets zero stars.

While numerous musicians were involved in recording music for the Beatles (you didn’t really think they played all those string instruments on Yesterday, did you?), there was a lot of surprise around the radio station when the single Get Back came out and was credited to “The Beatles With Billy Preston.”  Nobody really knew if Billy was joining the group or simply sitting in for the single.  Eventually, Billy released a few records on the Beatles’ Apple Records label.  His most successful release was arguably an instrumental, Outta-Space, which nearly got to number 1 in the US and eventually won a Grammy Award.  He later did get to the top of the charts with Will It Go Round In Circles and Nothing From Nothing.  This video for Outta-Space has been synced with some pretty comedic dancing.

Is This the Future Of Your Mall?

The second indoor mall in Indiana was right here in Nowhere, Indiana…er, Anderson Indiana.  Mounds Mall was the first mall ever opened by Simon Property Group.  The mall opened in 1965, just two years after a mall opened in Evansville (and yes, I lived there for a few years, too).  I moved to Anderson in about 2000, and at the time the mall was still thriving.  The mall had a Sears, a Pennys, a CD store, a cafeteria, a bookstore, two jewelry stores, a national haircut store, and a few outbuildings that included a Texas Roadhouse and not one, but two movie theaters.  The mall was busy most of the time with customers wandering around the hallways, and routinely had special events.

Our mall is now a shadow of its former self.  Part of the reason is the racetrack that’s halfway between the mall and the interstate – or, more accurately, the slot machines now set up in something that is inaccurately referred to as a casino.  A lot of construction has taken place between the racetrack and the interstate, and many stores have moved in that direction.

Pennys left a few years ago, and after the large space sat empty for a bit, a new movie theater was built in its place.

Our Sears closed; it was far from the only Sears to go away.  That space is now opened from time to time to use as an anchor for something advertised as “an indoor garage sale.”

The CD store closed up years ago.  A small portion of that store was walled off and still opens to one of the major aisles in the mall.  An accounting service is located there.  The mall offered to rent us the remaining space for our comic and game store the last time we moved.  Due to time pressures (we had less than ten days to move), the mall’s ban on backpacks (how would gamers cope?), and a large number of changes that were necessary to the space we decided to move to a strip center across the street.

There was another space that we considered moving into at the mall.  It had been home to a large flea market-type store that sold mostly used items such as furniture and collectibles.  After that store moved back towards Indianapolis, the space sat empty for awhile, but the mall didn’t want to rent us that space (perhaps because we weren’t upscale enough or didn’t want to be open during all the mall hours).  It was home to a clothing store for a short time and is once again sitting empty.

The cafeteria has been gone for a few years.  I still miss it since there is nowhere else in town where I can quickly get a vegetable plate for lunch.  The large area that housed the cafeteria is mostly empty, but a corner of the large space is now used as a work area for what appears to be a real estate firm of some sort (one that doesn’t seem to be open for business with the public).

One outside movie theater is now a church, and the other is gathering dust and slowly crumbling.

Texas Roadhouse moved to be closer to the interstate, and the building now is vacant and lifeless.

Any sign of new books is long gone (thanks, Amazon).  We do still have one used bookstore.  Books are usually just $1 to $2, and the store is operated by volunteers.  The store sells mostly books that have been donated or traded in and uses the money to support the Madison County Literacy Coalition.

One jewelry store moved closer to the interstate, and the other just closed.  Both of those spaces are now home to two merchants who initially showed up for the indoor garage sales and have since moved in on a more permanent basis.

The national haircut place left a year or so ago, and some independent folks took moved it.  A few months later a second haircut place opened up as well.  Sadly, now they are both gone, and empty chairs are all that’s left.

All but two of the shops in the food court are once again empty after hosting a series of startups.  There are still people who come to the mall just to buy pizza.

At least a half dozen spaces and kiosks are not being used at all right now.  So what is left in the mall?  Here’s a rundown:

  • The one large anchor that remains from the start is Elder-Beerman, a store that seems to specialize in expensive clothing that is perpetually rotating on sale and perfume that is never on sale.  The chain was bought by Won-Ton in 2005 and rebranded to Carson’s in 2012 with no changes to its merchandise.  At least that gives me a place to buy perfume for Bevie when a birthday or Christmas looms.
  • Dr. Tavel, a glasses store that accepts most insurance.
  • Garfield’s Restaurant and Pub, a restaurant that is franchised as part of a small chain.  Lately, it seems to be a lot less busy than in the past.
  • Two national sport shoe chains, Finish Line and Hibbert Sports.
  • A Bath and Body Works.
  • Nirvana, a store that sells specialty t-shirts, dresses, incense, and other stuff that’s in the back that I’ve never gotten far enough into the store to see.
  • Maurices, a national chain store (over 900 locations!) that sells women’s clothing.
  • Claire’s, a store that sells kid’s jewelry and collectibles and ear piercings.
  • Squeeze Play, which sells sports collectibles (not cards) and whatever collectibles Ty is making now that Beenie Babies are done.
  • LA Nails (because apparently there weren’t enough Nail stores in town already!)
  • Beautiful Eyes, a store that does eyebrows and facial threading.
  • Hotheads, a store that sells Peppers and Hot Sauce.
  • A karate training center.
  • A young kids recreation room filled with air-filled plastic climbing and slides fixtures (perfect for birthday parties).
  • Seals Furniture (an independent furniture store).
  • WHBU is an AM radio station that can broadcasts live from the mall (although they don’t seem to be there often anymore).

Two additional notes:

  • For about a week, the music in the mall was missing in action.  The explanation was a problem with the satellite.  It was a huge relief when the music returned because the mall felt even more lifeless with the silence in the hallways.
  • 7 is the new 9.  One of the reasons we decided against moving into the mall was the difficulty of staying open during mall hours.  A lot of the current stores now feel that same pain, and a number of the shops now close at 7 pm instead of 9 pm.

While it may seem like the mall is falling on hard times, the management of the mall is actually doing an excellent job.  While they face the same loss of major anchors that all malls are coping with, they have managed to bring in some small local businesses that are in tiny niches that give them a chance at survival.  The mall also continues to schedule events at least weekly as well as the Easter Bunny, Santa, and other photo opportunities.  There isn’t much anybody can do about the commercial flight to the Internet, but at least our mall is still almost full – even if it’s not full of customers.  As Duncan Sheik might put it, the mall is .

Why Sept 01 Was Important to Taylor Swift…and How I Got There 30 Years Earlier

Taylor Swift’s first single, Tim McGraw, came out in late 2006 and I was not particularly impressed.  The single only dented the top 40 charts but did manage to reach #6 on the Country charts.  Her second single was a different story: Teardrops On My Guitar did impress me.  I showed the video to Beverly and told her that Taylor had the potential to be a major star.  As my daughter Claire used to put it, everybody else in the family felt I was musically challenged so Bevie just nodded and went back to working on her crossword puzzle (Bevie prefers alternative rock and jazz and jazz-rock fusion and pretty much anything that she thinks is so much cooler than the Pop and Country that I like to listen to).

Taylor’s first album went on to produce five top ten Country hits but it would be another two years before her career really exploded.

September 01, 2006 was Taylor’s first appearance singing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.  The original Grand Ole Opry was Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, and in 1974 the new and improved Grand Ole Opry was opened at Opryland.  The Grand Ole Opry broadcast live radio shows featuring Country music starting in 1925, and it’s hard to imagine that Taylor didn’t grow up in Nashville dreaming of the day she might finally perform there.  It looks like she only got to perform her first single that first time; her first album didn’t come out until over a month later.

While I may not have been there to hear her perform, I knew what it was like to perform on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry: I sang at a concert there about 30 years earlier.

Through most of the seventies, I lived in Nashville and worked for the company that owned WSM and the Grand Ole Opry and Opryland (National Life and Accident Insurance Company).  In addition to the Grand Ole Opry shows, the new Opry House presented a constant stream of concerts by almost any musical act you can think of and a great deal of other live shows.  Back in the early sixties, a group named the Lettermen had a string of hits.  They only had one top ten record on the Hot 100, but they made it to the top ten on the Adult Contemporary charts at least 16 times.  Various versions of the group have spent over fifty years performing on the concert circuit, initially on the campus circuit and more recently on the oldies circuit (including periodic visits to Branson).  At least one of the original members has been with the group continuously, although for one song I took his place!

Kathy (my first wife) and I usually spent Saturday nights playing Mahjong with Rick and Cathy Maurer.  When a Lettermen concert was announced for the Opry House, Rick and I decided to get tickets so the four of us could go together.  I picked up tickets immediately, and somehow we got tickets in the center of the first row (that was back when mere mortals could simply walk up to the ticket office and buy great tickets; don’t try this now, kids).

As usual at concerts, I sat there and sang along with each song, probably matching the singers word for word.  After a few songs, Tony Butala came down into the audience with a microphone and invited several people to sing a few words from various songs.  There was lots of nervous laughter and off-key entertainment, and then he got to me.  He asked me to sing I Can’t Help Falling In Love, a song that was a big hit for Elvis.  At first, he simply held the mike in front of me, and then he handed me the mike and had me stand up and walk along to sing to several of the people in the front row.  Finally, I was instructed to get up on stage!  Tony sat down next to Kathy, and one of the other Lettermen handed me a Letterman jacket to put on, and we continued to sing the entire rest of the song.

I was a little surprised on the stage because unless the house lights were on you couldn’t see past the first few rows.  No wonder Tony picked on me – I was one of the few people he could see in the audience, and he got to sit in the audience with his arm around Kathy (who was smiling and laughing excitedly).

If you’ve almost anything I’ve ever written, you probably won’t be surprised that I couldn’t help clowning around while we sang.  Without missing a note, I somehow managed to spend time:

  • searching the pockets of the jacket to see if they were empty.
  • kidding the singer on the right when one of us started singing in the wrong key (I swear it wasn’t me, it had to be that would-be professional!)
  • holding one of the final notes for about forever until one of them slapped me on the back to break me out of the note.
  • joking about being paid scale to sing (Tony mumbled something about fish in response).

After I finished and the applause faded, the house lights came up and Tony wandered further back into the audience and found a woman with the voice of an angel and let her sing a song.  Great fun, but I hardly noticed anything the rest of the night. Iit was a once in a lifetime event for me – for a brief moment in time I was almost a rock star.

Taylor?  She probably gets to sing at the Opry any time she wants to now.  If I ever see her live I’ll probably hope she sits down with her guitar and no other backup and sings Teardrops On My Guitar.  Even if she doesn’t the crowd will probably love the show.

Why You Need A Badge At A Convention

Want to hear an apocryphal story that’s actually a true story?  I’ve got one that deals with badges.

Back when Science Fiction conventions were small, or later when Comic Book conventions were one large room full of people selling comic books, badges weren’t necessary.  Either everybody knew everybody or membership only covered going into the dealers’ room and wandering around.  For Science Fiction conventions badges were already necessary by the late-sixties, but some comic book shows still don’t require them.

Any show with multiple rooms probably requires badges because otherwise a lot of people won’t pay to get in.  The ever-increasing costs of running a convention made it necessary to add the expense of creating badges for everybody.  The rarity and expense of badges at some shows (I’m looking at you, San Diego!) have led to some enhancements on the badges, such as bar codes.  Some conventions now even require photo ids to be carried at all times so the convention can scan the badge and compare the info to the photo id and confiscate the badge if it’s being “shared” by more than one person.  It appears that in modern times we do need our stinking badges.

Since the purpose of a badge is to “encourage” attendees to actually pay to get into the rooms, conventions found it necessary to have guards posted at the doors to some of the rooms.  Which rooms are guarded varies by convention, but you can usually count on the dealers’ room and the main programming room to have guards on duty most of the time.

The 1986 World Science Fiction Convention was held in Atlanta.  It’s tradition at WorldCons that the only people getting in for free are the guests of honor (the main guest at Confederation was Ray Bradbury) and maybe the toastmaster.  Everybody else is running around with a badge to prove they belong there.  The convention sprawled through two hotels since neither one of them was large enough for the convention, and that made checking badges more important than usual.  It was common in Southern conventions at the time that I was on the con committee with the assignment of overseeing gaming (role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and some board games).  As to be expected, I didn’t have guards posted to “protect” the integrity of the gaming area.

My wife at the time, Kathy, was left with little to do during most of the convention.  She didn’t read much science fiction or fantasy so the panels weren’t of much interest to her. I sent her to the Gophers room where she volunteered to help out.  Somehow she got assigned to help guard one of the entrances to the dealers’ room, and she was given a chair and told to make sure that everybody who tried to come into the room had a badge.

An elderly gray-haired gentleman with prominent dark horn-rimmed glasses but no badge came up to the entrance and started to enter, and Kathy jumped up to defend the convention’s honor.  She informed the man that he needed a badge to enter the room, and there were gasps of horror from his companions – it was the convention’s guest of honor, Ray Bradbury.  There was much confusion as the entourage did their best to override the poor distressed guard, but Ray laughed and gave her a hug.  He told her it was okay, that she was just doing her job.

The story spread around like wildfire, and two of my friends who were dealers that sold round badges with witty sayings on them (Scott and Jane Dennis) made a special badge for Kathy.  The badge simply said, “Bradbury Schmadbury, you still need a badge!”

Kathy seemed to have a good time at the convention in spite of that unfortunate run-in with Fandom royalty.  She rode back home on the airplane fighting tears and clutching a single rose that somebody gave her.  Our marriage didn’t last too much longer after that, but the breakup had nothing to do with Kathy blocking access to the dealers’ room.  At least I don’t think it did.

I’ve since heard the story retold numerous times by people who weren’t there and didn’t even know Kathy and certainly didn’t know my part in the drama.  The stories they tell are like a game of telephone: there might be a kernel of truth in their version, but it usually wasn’t close to the actual events.  It leaves me very suspicious of history books written decades later that aren’t first-person contemporaneous accounts of events.

For one of the most influential bands of the sixties, Cream had remarkably little impact on Top 40 radio.  Sunshine of Your Love and White Room both reached the top ten, but after that, it was all downhill.  Crossroads only got up to 17, and their last single to get into the Hot 100 only made it up to #65.  That single was appropriately (and accidentally) named Badge.

Is Something Missing In Your Home?

Something not around when you look for it?  Blame Millennials.

I’m talking about soap.  Oh, it’s not that Millenials don’t want to get clean, they just don’t seem to like bars of soap.

My earliest memories of soap and shampoo go back to bath time as a kid.  Probably every household at that time had Johnson and Johnson’s baby shampoo because of their No More Tears claim.  The claim turned out to be a valid one!  Their baby shampoo was introduced in 1953 and has dominated sales of baby shampoos ever since.  That product was made with some alternative to tranditional soap and has controlled over 75% of the baby shampoo sales and since 1959 the phrase No More Tears has been trademarked.

Bars of soap are a different story.  Our bathtubs had the soap my mother preferred, a slightly perfumed pink bar of soap from Camay.  That all changed, however, the year I was old enough to go off to camp.

The latter half of the fifties we lived in Syosset, a small village near the north shore of Long Island that bordered the Nassau-Suffolk county line about half-way across the island.  Parksville, New York was located off route 17 in upstate New York, just south of the Catskill mountains (and not too far from Woodstock!)  Camp Townsend was on Hunter Lake, just a few miles north of Parksville.  The camp was owned and operated by a Presbyterian church in Middletown, a larger town less than an hour south.  For the princely sum of $40 or $45 a week kids could spend two to six weeks at the camp.  The camp had been around since the 1930s and was used primarily by members of the Middletown church who sent about 40-60 kids there each Summer (although it appears that the camp was used on weekends and some special occasions as well).  Somehow one or more kids from Syosset went to the camp in 1955, and they had such a good time that word spread in the village.  In just a few short years an influx of campers from Syosset started attending the camp, swelling the short-term population to nearly 100 campers.

It was primitive.  Campers stayed in cabins that had a single line of electricity for a light bulb on the ceiling, but the cabins were hardly sealed.  Water didn’t get inside when it rained, but instead of windows, there were a few four-foot panels that opened up and could be held in place by two by fours attached to the posts between the panels.  There was running water for a fountain near the camp director’s cabin and in the dining hall, but no toilets.  We had two large, enclosed latrines instead of toilets (one on the girls’ side of the camp and a second one behind the boys’ cabins).  Once or twice a week a local farmer came and emptied out the latrines (just like in the movie Woodstock).

There were no showers.  Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for ripe smelly campers? Fortunately, the camp had a solution for that problem: soap swims.  In spite of some pretty cold mornings (the camp was close to the mountains), we had one or two required swims and two more optional general swims each day.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the required swims were special: they were soap swims.  Each camper had to bring a bar of soap down to the lake and wash off.  I’m pretty sure that practice would lead to panic in the streets now (think of the environment!), but the small number of campers probably had little impact on a lake that size.  There is one potential problem with a soap swim: most soap sinks in water.  The camp did their best to make sure campers only brought one kind of soap with them: Ivory Soap.

Proctor and Gamble always advertised Ivory Soap as being 99 and 44/100ths percent pure, and I had always assumed that was the reason it floated.  Not true!  It turns out that the company figured out how to make floating soap back in 1863, and it started selling the floating soap to consumers in 1879.  The trick was to cook up the soap and mix air bubbles into the batter before it hardens.  This made the soap lighter than water, and also makes it fun to cook Ivory Soap in a microwave.

Requiring Ivory soap allowed the camp to avoid the misery of searching the bottom of the lake for misplaced bars of soap.  It had an additional effect on me.  For the first time when I took a bath, I didn’t come out smelling perfumy.  From that moment on I somehow associated Ivory soap with being clean, and was careful to take my precious bar of soap home with me when camp ended.  It took some whining, but my mother eventually started keeping floating soap in our bathrooms.  It probably helped that the soap floated during bath time; Camay sank like a rock, and that meant searching under the soap suds to find it.  Oh, I didn’t mention how easily you could create a bubble bath by simply holding soap under the water while the filling up the tub?

Bathrooms back then also had bars of soap next to the sink for washing hands, a ritual that preceded meals.  Not so much anymore.  I’m not sure when it started, but slowly public bathrooms replaced bars of soap with dispensers that produce liquid soap on demand.  Perhaps it was because it was cheaper or perhaps because it stopped people from stealing bars of soap, but we’ve reached the point where the only bars of soap that are left are in the homes of old people: Millenials apparently consider used soap to be covered with germs, and they don’t want to touch used soap.

While this may seem almost laughable to older folks, I can remember times when I went into gas station bathrooms and one look at the dirty, dingy soap prevented me from washing up so I can sympathize with their point of view.

It’s not just Millenials anymore – both of our bathrooms at home now have liquid or foam soap dispensers (thanks, Bevie).  We do, however, still have bars of soap in the shower, but we are nearly in the minority now.  In a recent year, sales of bars of soap were down 2.2% while sales of liquid soap were up over 10%.  64% of the population still uses bars soap, but the number of households with bars of soap dropped nearly 5% last year!

The news is even sadder for Ivory soap – sales of my favorite floating soap now make up barely 5% of bar soap sales.  Dove, a soap that like baby shampoo is made from ingredients different from traditional soap )and that also contains one-quarter cleansing cream), now controls over 21% of the bar soap market, and the next few brands are all deodorant soaps of one sort or another.  Camay has nearly disappeared from store shelves and is now sold primarily online, controlling barely 2% of the bar soap market.

It isn’t time to hoard bars of soap yet, but we are getting closer.  Back in 1961 liquid soap wasn’t even a thing yet, and the Jarmels reached #12 with their one and only chart record, A Little Bit Of Soap.

How Jerry Lewis Helped Andy Kaufman Become a Star

Jerry Lewis started his career with what was (at the time) an unusual act.  He would set up a record player on stage and lip sync to records.  The act depended on physical comedy with Jerry making faces and over-exaggerated movements.  He started doing that act as a teenager in the early forties and was struggling to create a successful comedy act in small clubs.  Here’s a clip of him doing that on television in 1951 on the Colgate Comedy Hour.

Dean Martin, meanwhile, was appearing at similar small clubs singing and wasn’t doing much better than Jerry.  The two teamed up and did a poor job their first night together, but the second night they came up with an idea for an act: Dean would sing on stage and Jerry would bumble around in the audience, pretending to be an incompetent waiter.  Well, maybe pretending.  The audience ate it up, and in no time at all, they were ad-libbing and improvising and singing and playing in large clubs.  And movies.  And on television.  They attracted crowds outside their hotel the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again until Elvis or the Beatles came to town.  And then they couldn’t stand each other’s company and the duo split and didn’t even speak to each other for over 20 years.

Dean went on to surprise everybody by having a brilliant career in movies and tv and more than a few hit records.  Jerry surprised nobody by having a career in movies but turned out to be what many (especially the French) considered a brilliant director.

What many don’t realize is how their record career started.  We’ll get back to that.

Andy Kaufman was not in any way a traditional comedian.  He was doing performance art before the term was even created.  It is difficult, even now, to get people to agree on when he was acting, when he was serious, and when he was simply out of control.  His appearances on Fridays, his wrestling career, and his apparent injuries on the Letterman all provide evidence for arguing any side of the debate over his intentions at any time.  One thing is clear, however: his breakthrough came on Saturday Night Live.  It was there most of us first saw him set up a record player, put on the Mighty Mouse song, and lip sync to “Here I come to save the day!”  Yes, his initial act was swiped from Jerry Lewis!  Feel free to argue about whether Andy researched Jerry’s act before he did it himself.

I grew up on Long Island in the mid-fifties, and we at the time we had an advantage most of the rest of the country envied: our television antennas could pick up channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9,11, and 13 while most towns had only 2 or 3 or maybe 4 channels.  In 1956 one of the non-network channels broadcast a local telethon where Jerry Lewis did his best to raise money to fight muscular dystrophy.

There was a large number of local television channels in the 1950s in New York.  Combine that with the small number of network programs and it meant that a lot of movies and early television show reruns were on all the time.  I was probably familiar with many of the early Martin and Lewis movies as a result and recognized Jerry Lewis immediately.

After watching him whine for hours, my best friend Jimmy and I went around the neighborhood and collected about $12 by going door to door and asking people for money to help Jerry.  The show was broadcast only in New York, and it didn’t raise a massive amount of money, but it did raise enough that the next year they did it again.  That time I got a special cup and a letter in the mail from Jerry asking for our help again.  Jimmy and I and my younger brother Jon went around the neighborhood collecting money again early Sunday morning, and two memories stand out:

  • After a half hour or so we forgot what we were collecting the money for.  We racked our brains and walked up and down the sidewalk until we finally remembered.
  • When we were about finished with the blocks around us, we came to a house where a woman got very angry with us!  It turned out that she had been at church while we were busy collecting money.  She had also gotten a letter from Jerry and had planned to go around the neighborhood after lunch.  We had spoiled her day and cost Jerry money by collecting money first.  After that, we just went home.

In those early years, the telethons featured a lot of old vaudeville performers most viewers barely recognized, but as time went on a lot of current acts showed up as well.

One act, in particular, stands out.  At least once an hour the tot board that recorded the total money pledged and collected would be updated, and Jerry usually announced the new number as it was shown.  Chubby Checker had a major dance hit with the Twist, and quite often an announcer would remind the audience that Chubby would be there to sing later.  When a new total failed to get the cheers Jerry wanted, he reannounced the total not as a zillion dollars, but as a zillion Chubby Checkers.  The crowd screamed.

In 1966 the telethons became an annual national broadcast, and Jerry went on to raise billions of dollars to help fund treatments for muscular dystrophy.  And then the organization decided it didn’t need Jerry anymore.  The telethons don’t seem to be around now.

I’ve been to countless movies through the years and I’ve often had to wait in long lines to get into to some of the hot new movies.  I can remember any number of times where I had to wander around nearly full theaters looking for a place to sit.  I can only identify one time where my mother dropped my brothers and me at a movie theater and we didn’t get in: Jerry Lewis in Visitor to a Small Planet in 1960.  Getting in touch with my mother and convincing her to drive back for us was a challenge in pre-cell phone days.

Dean and Jerry even got their own comic book from DC comics, The Adventures of Dean Martin And Jerry Lewis from 1952 to 1957.  After the duo broke up that comic was canceled, but The Adventures of Jerry Lewis took its place and continued until 1971.

Back in 1925, At least five different orchestras recorded the song That Certain Party.  It was a fox trot that usually started as an instrumental and then went into mild comedy lyrics.  The Ted Lewis Orchestra had the biggest hit with the record, reaching #8 in whatever passed for charts in 1926.  The song was revived and taken into the top 10 in the Summer of 1948 by Benny Strong, and also covered that year by several others at the same time.  Doris Day even did a duet version with Buddy Clark.  Dean had been singing for years but hadn’t yet recorded any successful records.  The real surprise?  His first chart single was a duet with Jerry, not a solo hit!  Their cover of That Certain Party in November 1948 was typical of their act.  Dean singing with Jerry being Jerry, and in spite of leaving out some of the comic lyrics and adding some strange mumbling from Jerry, the record managed to sneak up to number 22 on the charts for a week.

Dean went on to have several number 1 hits and a top 20 record each year for over a decade, but Jerry only got onto the record charts one more time.  Al Jolson had a number one hit with Rockabye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody in 1918, and when Jerry performed the song live in 1956 the audience response in Las Vegas was solid.  Jerry went on to record his own version of the song and managed to hit #10 on the charts shortly thereafter.  His son, Gary, had a number of hit records on his own in the sixties, and even did a parody version of Time Stands Still that sounded a lot like Jerry.

Have Some Help With Life’s Problems!

Rewriting modern life’s little atrocities one rant at a time…

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