My Breakfast with Blassie [1983)

Just when you’re ready to give up.

Maybe something miraculous will happen.

The only kind of humor which can defeat the world order.

You want disorder?

No, we want a new world order.

But not THE New World Order.

A different world order.

An absolutely genius film with Andy Kaufman.

And Freddie Blassie.

A magical moment with Lynne Margulies.

Kinda like Donald Trump having breakfast with…

I don’t know.

No.

There’s no way to really capture this dynamic.

Bob Zmuda delivers the knockout blow.

A humor unlike any other.

Just Andy.  And Blassie.

Two celebrities.

Kayfabe?

I don’t know.  It’s really hard to tell.

Which means art.

The only fakery worth pursuing.

Infinite possibilities.  Water flowing up a staircase.

Yeah scripted.

Ostensibly not.

And what elements were left open?

Because wrestlers are great actors.

But not necessarily the other way around.

When a miracle comes.

Goddam it.

 

-PD

Taxi “Come as You Aren’t” [1978)

We tend to think the small things don’t matter.

A 30 minute TV show.

25 minus commercials.

[22 by the 1990s…a few more ads jabbed in and substance sucked out]

A television show.

But it does matter.

I’ve neglected my journey through the world of Taxi for far too long.

And coming back to it I was greeted by a delightful episode dominated by the ravishing Marilu Henner.

Again we find Judd Hirsch’s character Alex as a sort of amateur psychologist for his friends at the taxi company.

Hirsch is the one everyone comes to for advice.

Not having watched the show for awhile, I could have sworn he had a mustache.

I mean, come on…it was 1978.

The whole vibe of Alex (Hirsch) is “guy with mustache”…not in a 21st-century hipster way, but in a Bread way…soft rock…working man.

[alas, no stache]

But back to Marilu Henner.  She really owns this episode.

Andy Kaufman has a few priceless lines, but Henner is the center of attention.

As with other Taxi episodes, Hirsch is the moral compass (more or less).

It’s a very unpretentious brand of ethics.

It’s from a time when America was younger.

Each episode ends with an “Aww…” moment.

But don’t get me wrong.

The situations are believable.

It’s not realism, but it’s generally plausible.

The point of the show, however, is to make people feel good.

To make people feel better.

Is it entertainment?

Sure.

But it’s also, in its own way, a brand of homespun philosophy.

Every show is a little slice of optimism amidst the cruel world.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 15 [1976)

Starring Jill Clayburgh!!!  Who???

Yeah, kinda like the Jimmy Hoffa Memorial (?) High School.

This is one of those episodes which reminds me that I know a lot more about music than I do about anything else.

Leon Redbone I knew.  Had a record of his as a kid.  The one with “Sheik of Araby” on it.

But back to Jill Clayburgh.

Twice nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.  Ok, see…this brings up my claim to be a film critic.

It’s kinda, “Fake it till you make it.”  I know I’m not a realll film critic, but I take pride in what I do.  I’m an amateur.  It’s a passion.  I’m always seeking to learn.

Well, here’s a great opportunity.

The two films for which she got an Oscar nod?  An Unmarried Woman (this goes back to the play on words I was discussing in an earlier piece…the French word for woman [femme] being the same as the French word for wife [femme]…hence the wordplay of Godard’s Une Femme est une femme [not to mention Une Femme mariée]) and Starting Over.

Please excuse the momentous interpolation.

That is, An Unmarried Woman and Starting Over.  Those career highlights were ahead of Ms. Clayburgh when she hosted Saturday Night Live in 1976.

The auteurs in question were, respectively, Paul Mazursky and Alan J. Pakula (the latter having a surname which is, perhaps, the only conceivable rhyme with Dracula [not counting Blacula]).

Ok, so…apparently this is going to take a lot of parentheses and brackets.

For all of you conspiracy theorists (I usually fall into that category), Clayburgh starred in a 1970 Broadway musical about the Rothschilds (!) called, appropriately, The Rothschilds.  The libretto was by Sherman Yellen.  No easibly-identified relation to Janet.

The end of 1976 would see her in Silver Streak with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

One further C.V. note:  Clayburgh won (in a tie with Isabelle Huppert) Best Actress at Cannes for An Unmarried Woman.

Ok, so that’s who she is.  A charming lady.  I had no idea who she was.  I’m an idiot 🙂

Sadly, Ms. Clayburgh passed away in 2010 after a 20-year battle with leukemia.

Well, she was pretty great in this episode!  And I must say…SNL once again reached a new height in intelligent writing with this installment.

One really senses that the writers were toying with the censors.  It was dangerous.  It’s impressively counterculture.

One of the funniest skits is Clayburgh as guidance counselor Jill Carson (a fictional personage).  She is the overly-optimistic crusader for social justice.  It is quite a complex, multi-staged piece.  John Belushi plays a delinquent whom Carson (Clayburgh) is attempting to rescue from “squalor”.

The opening sequence of the show, however, really sets the tone for what’s to follow.  Chevy Chase shows up in Lorne Michaels’ office insistent that the pratfalls and “newsman” stuff should be retired.  Chase’s subsequent weave through the studio audience is really priceless.  The comedy is just so damned smart!

Speaking of which, we finally get my hero Andy Kaufman back.  [On the hero worship scale he’s nowhere approaching Jean-Luc Godard (for me), but he’s definitely the comedic actor who (along with Peter Sellers) most got into my head.]

Well, Kaufman here does another lip-sync piece with immaculately-memorized dialogue.  The song is “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and the special part is Andy in a cowboy hat directing the traffic of four audience participants.  It is a sweet piece, and yet it still shows off Andy’s genius as resplendent and unique.

Leon Redbone is really fantastic in his two songs…particularly the first (“Ain’t Misbehavin'”) where he conjures the “me and the radio” loneliness at the heart of a usually-raucous song.

One of the weirdest sequences is a visit by The Idlers (a singing group of the United States Coast Guard Academy).  The show’s producer (Michaels) and writers take the opportunity to remind the viewing audience that dolphins are definitely smarter than The Warren Commission.  No doubt!

It’s a strange, bold sequence.  Chase’s Weekend Update is similarly racy (particularly the bit about the Mattel anatomically-correct male dolls…in white and black…the former $6 and the latter $26.95 or something).  Good god…

Most necessary was the political prodding.  Michaels begins the show with a photo of Nixon on his desk.  By Weekend Update, it is the People’s Republic of China which is pardoning Nixon for Watergate (and Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, of course).

But I must admit my ignorance once again.  I had no idea Gary Weis’ (sp?) film featured William Wegman (!)…  The dog should have given it away.  Duh!

Well, anyway…thanks to Wikipedia for a generally informative blurb about this episode (though I have expanded upon that information quite a bit).

The running series Great Moments In Herstory punctuate this episode at various intervals.  Particularly risqué is the Sigmund Freud (Dan Aykroyd) and daughter Anna (Laraine Newman) dream interpretation featuring a titillating banana.  A later episode highlights Indira Gandhi and father Jawaharlal Nehru.  It is a bit of a clunker…

Walter Williams’ famous Mr. Bill debuted on this episode as part of the solicited home movies from viewers.  Williams and Mr. Bill would become a significant part of the show in the coming years.

Once again, this episode is not to be missed.  It was an essential step for a show on the rise.

 

-PD

 

 

 

Taxi “Bobby’s Acting Career” [1978)

The trademark of these early Taxi episodes is tragicomedy.

We get a laugh, but something makes us think.

It should come as no surprise that artists are naturally inclined to tell their own stories.

Put another way, artists are quite comfortable describing the artist life.

And that is essentially what we have here.

Bobby (Jeff Conaway) is approaching a self-imposed impasse.

Hollywood or bust!  [Or in this case, Broadway or bust.]

Three years.

Reminds me of David Bowie’s haunting “Five Years” (the lead track from the Ziggy Stardust album).

That’s all we’ve got.

For Bobby, it’s three years.

Well, I have to say that it’s one of those plotlines that really got to me.

I can really relate.

I never set quite a quantified limit for myself, but by a similar mechanism I have found myself in my current situation.

Bobby wants to be an actor.  I wanted to be a musician.

I spent about 10 years getting to the professional level.

After four years, my dreams came crashing down around me (to quote Danny DeVito’s line from this episode).

Yeah, so I started anew.  Business school.  Wow, what a change!

But there’s something else about this episode.

Bobby’s last day.

He’s waiting for a call.  He gets turned down.

He auditions for a commercial.  He gets turned down.

Till the very end, Bobby is out hustling to beat the deadline.

And in the end he is surrounded by his friends.

The phone has to ring before midnight.

He needs that validation.  That outside validation.  That unequivocal measure of progress.  Being paid to do what he loves.

And so the group sits around the phone.  Each imploring it to “Ring!  Ring!” (while Latka chimes in with an urgent “Blop!  Blop!”).

Andy Kaufman doesn’t get much of a chance to shine here, but that’s alright:  this was Jeff Conaway’s episode.

Mr. Conaway is no longer with us.  But you know what?  He made it!  He was on Taxi.  Here I am all these years later watching this show with rapt attention.

But back to that artist’s life.

To quote Tom Petty, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

Yeah.  It reminds me of one of the greatest books I ever read:  Waiting Period by Hubert Selby, Jr.

If you were reading yesterday, you know that I made a decision to seek help for my depression.

But there were no appointments available today.

Fortunately I go tomorrow.

Funny how that is a cause of anxiety.

I’m scared.

Well, anyway…

I hope to be back with you all soon.

Keep your dreams!  Dream baby dream!

 

-PD

Taxi “Blind Date” [1978)

Thanks to Hulu and CBS (and probably some overly-precious writer somewhere) I wasn’t able to see episode two of Taxi, so I had to skip to episode three.

This one really is a curveball from the pilot.  The overriding theme here is obesity.

Judd Hirsh is wonderful as always, but this episode really benefits from the acting talents of Suzanne Kent.  Kent plays the role of Alex’s (Hirsch) blind date.

Hirsch and Kent really have a magic in this episode which is touching.

On a lighter note, Andy Kaufman really starts to take off in this episode (as in blast off).

We start by hearing Andy sing a song in his mysterious Eurasian language.

Later, Latka (Kaufman) shows off some of the singularly offensive gestures of his mystery culture in an argument with Danny DeVito.

What is great about Taxi is that the scriptwriting is matched by formidable acting talents (particularly Kaufman and Hirsch).  It’s no wonder that America fell in love with this show.  This is entertainment firing on all cylinders.

 

-PD

Taxi “Like Father, Like Daughter” [1978)

For those of us who, like me, can’t get enough of Andy Kaufman there is (mercifully) Taxi.

In my readings about Andy it came to my attention that Kaufman didn’t particularly like being on the show.

I can see where he was coming from (I think).  The show must have felt awfully restrictive for such a vast personality like him.

But this is where America at large got to know Andy Kaufman.  Taxi.  And so we shall start (or continue) here.

Andy’s appearances on Saturday Night Live (from its very inception) were inspiring performances which predated his new steady gig as Latka Gravas on Taxi by about three years.

But let’s let everyone get into the act here.

Judd Hirsch:  What a presence!  This guy…  You just immediately like him.  He’s unassuming.  He has a kind face–kind mannerisms.  And so he is, somewhat like Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld, the focal point of the show.  Kaufman might be the star for weirdos like me, but Hirsch was no doubt the star for the masses.  What an impressive acting job in this the pilot episode!

Danny DeVito:  Still going strong…the little man in the cage was a classic in his day.  What vigor!  What vitriol!  Yeah, it gave the nation (America) a little taste of New York City life.  Five-feet-tall in platform shoes and he doesn’t take attitude from anyone.  What a scrapper!  What an actor!!

Marilu Henner:  She doesn’t get a chance to do very much acting in the pilot, but I must say:  what a beauty!!!  I had forgotten.  It had never crossed my mind.  In retrospect, she is a revelation.  Kudos to casting for finding such a star!!!  [It should be pointed out that her character is named Elaine (a name picked up later for Seinfeld‘s main female role).]

Tony Danza:  Hey!  Ho!!!  But seriously, really a great role for Danza.  The stereotype would be lifted by the television show Friends later on for their character Joey (played by Matt LeBlanc).  Watch Taxi for the original article.

Jeff Conaway:  The late Mr. Conaway was perfect as Bobby Wheeler.  His “magical” phone call to Sir Laurence Olivier is priceless!!  Conaway helps set the era with his open-chested polyester (?) shirt.  He almost looks like Peter Frampton in this opening episode.

Those were the major players in this pilot episode.  AND we can’t forget the stunning Talia Balsam (who plays Alex’s daughter).

But the real focus is Latka.  For me.  That’s the real focus.

Latka doesn’t have a lot of lines, but he has at least one classic bit:  his effort to flirt with Marilu Henner.

Latka’s pickup line is simply, “Bed?”

Not bad from a guy learning English out of a Berlitz travel guide.

And so our dear little hero Mr. Gravas struggles with some phrases about chambermaids and such.  Fortunately Alex (Judd Hirsch) is helping him with English.  Useful phrases like, “Hold on a minute while I use the can.”  [Or something like that.]

And so we must thank the creators of Taxi for getting Kaufman on the show.  Thank you to James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis, and Ed. Weinberger.  Thank you gentlemen for seeing the talent in Andy Kaufman and giving him a chance to have a lasting body of work.

Or as Andy would say, “Tank you veddy much.”

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 4 [1975)

Ah, the great Nordic beauty Candice Bergen.

The first female host in SNL history (four episodes in).

This is quite a good episode.

But we start off with the first wholehearted attempt at Gerald Ford klutz (clumsy) humor with Chevy Chase.

Yes, before there was the fumbling, bumbling, broken banjo known as George W. Bush, there was Gerald Ford.

The humor had been leaning this way since the start of the season.

And finally Chevy got to do a proper piece (the start to the show, no less).

We also get the Landshark skit in this era of Spielberg-induced panic.

We must remember that Jaws had come out that summer (a few months prior to this show).

But the overwhelming star of this episode was undoubtedly Andy Kaufman (again).

It is the Foreign Man character (which was parlayed into his Taxi success as Latka).

Andy is a revelation here.  Yes, you need to be a little sick in the head to do comedy like Andy Kaufman.

The whole point, I think, was in how much he could get away with.

It was the game.

How far could he push it.

And so Foreign Man almost starts crying.  It is a miracle moment in television.

All great practical jokers (foremost among them Orson Welles) had this ability to suspend disbelief, but Kaufman was doing it live…out on a limb.

An excursion on a wobbly rail (to quote Cecil Taylor).

And so Candice  was right when she introduced Andy as a genius.

Goddamn…

What could follow that?!?

Well, sadly Esther Phillips starts off with a fast number.

Esther was the musical guest.

A fine singing voice, but the most annoying, lingering vibrato I’ve ever heard…like a WWI fighter plane…a machine-gun at the end of every phrase.

She was, no doubt, imitating the Billie Holiday of Lady in Satin (that last, great album of drugged-out soul).

But the problem is that the Billie Holiday vibrato doesn’t work on fast songs.

Yet, Esther uses it anyway.

And so Esther’s first number comes off as a head-tilting performance art oddity equal to Andy Kaufman (only I don’t think she knew it).

But all sins are forgiven later when Esther does a ballad.

Ahh…that’s the right repertoire.

Albert Brooks regresses to the mean with his film in this episode (a mashup of possible bullpen shows for NBC…including the awful-in-all-ways Black Vet).

All in all, this is a fine show.  Aykroyd is great.  Belushi is great.

In fact, the most touching scene is a talk between Gilda Radner and Candice Bergen about femininity/feminism.

Gilda Radner was such a beautiful person…such soul!

What a show!!!

 

-PD

 

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 3 [1975)

From the musical smörgåsbord of episode 2 to the absolute lack of musical guests in episode 3…SNL was a work in progress.  Even the name, Saturday Night, had yet to add the “Live”.

We do, however, get some music thanks to a few unlikely candidates.  The first is host Rob Reiner.  It’s almost as if Rob were goofing on Tony Clifton (in retrospect).  Yes, a pretty decent lounge act by Reiner gives us a swing version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” with Howard Shore and his band backing up.  [Not exactly Arturo Toscanini, Studio 8H’s famous former inhabitant, but pretty competent stuff from Shore.]

John Belushi tops Reiner with an impersonation of Joe Cocker.  It’s really pretty outstanding!

Also in the musical, or dance, category are The Lockers (as in poppin’ and lockin’).  Formed in part by Toni Basil (who would go on to have a hit with “Mickey” in 1982), The Lockers bring that inimitable breakdancing which one might witness (even to this day) on subway cars in New York City.  It really is an astounding art!

And finally, the musical stand-ins are rounded out by one of my heroes Andy Kaufman doing a lip-sync of a very difficult, dialogue-peppered “Pop Goes the Weasel” recording (Roud Folk Song Index number 5249).

Though she appears only a small amount, Penny Marshall adds to the night’s fun festivities (she was Reiner’s wife).

“The Bees,” a running gag through the first three shows, finally score some points as Belushi gives a soliloquy while his slinky antennae list to and fro.  Quite a genius juxtaposition!

We must remember that Al Franken was one of the original writers.

“The Land of Gorch” Muppet sketches continue (a bit I quite like).

But the real highlight of this episode is Albert Brooks’ film on heart surgery (as much as I hate to admit it).  Brooks’ first two contributions to this series were painfully lackluster, but then he pulls the rabbit out of the hat with quite a jaw-dropping bit of humor.

All in all, these episodes are a joy to watch.  What an American treasure!

 

-PD

 

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 1 [1975)

This is more like it.  Man…talk about some good, old days.

George Carlin.  What a sharp, intelligent man.  With his scruffy beard and baby-blue turtleneck.  Except someone has cut off the neck.  Or it’s tucked in.  And then that charcoal suit…(with a vest?)…like he just popped over to Goodwill a few minutes before the show.

The best bit is about baseball in relation to football.  Brilliant standup!

But really we must thank Lorne “Bud” Michaels for pulling this all together.  [watch the end credits and you’ll get the “Bud”]

John Belushi is classic in the first ever sketch as an immigrant learning English by way of ludicrous examples (wolverines, etc.).

But the best bit of all is Andy Kaufman reaching the performance art height of Joseph Beuys in the Mighty Mouse sketch.  It is timeless.  It is watching genius at work.  It is the best television ever.

Billy Preston rocks it will a killer band (bellbottoms and groove), but the surprise is how well Janis Ian’s performances have aged.  What a presence!

There’s some Jim Henson.  Some weird Muppets.

And it’s political.  Carlin is pretty scathing.  It was a different era.

God bless America!  This is when we rocked!!!

 

-PD