Groundbreaking TV with Tom Snyder

When many of the younger people around me heard that TV host Tom Snyder had died they looked at me with a totally blank stare. They had absolutely no idea who he was or what he meant to the evolution of television into what we’re watching today.

Tom Snyder was a pioneer in late night talk shows. Not that talk hadn’t been done before but Snyder broke new ground.

It was the 70’s  & early 80’s when a man in a polyester suit who chain smoked brought on people who I want to hear from. I was a punker in the late 70’s and anything that broadcast TV in the US would have on that would highlight my type of music I would watch. ( I still have fond memories of a ABC 20/20 show that highlighted the birth of New Wave.)

The Late Late Show was  edgy and funny and driven by Snyder’s nervous tics which were captured hilariously by Dan Aykroyd in the early years of Saturday Night Live. Snyder was confrontational. His combative interview with Johnny Rotten remains one of TV’s greats. It was the interview that my friends talked about for years. Go find it on Youtube – you will be entertained.

I stayed up late to see Iggy Pop, Wendy O. William’s of the Plasmatics, the first TV appearance of Weird Al,  the last TV interview with John Lennon, and the first US interview with U2.

It was ground breaking TV and I loved every minute of it thanks to Tom Snyder’s remarks. Here is a few of my favorite moments:

 With mass murderer Charles Manson:

Snyder: “Were you happy when you found out you weren’t going to go to the gas chamber, Charlie?”
Manson: “Uh, I knew I wasn’t going to go to the gas chamber, ’cause I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

With film director Steven Spielberg:

Snyder: “Do you believe in UFOs?”
Spielberg: “I’m a want-to-believer. I’m really anxious to have an experience myself so I can come on a show like yours and say ‘I believe in UFOs.’”

With singer John Lennon in 1981, in the former Beatles’ last interview:

Snyder: “What got you into this?”
Lennon: “You know you went to see those movies with Elvis or somebody in it when we were still in Liverpool, and you’d see everyone would be waiting to see it, and I’d be waiting there too, and they’d all scream when he came on the screen, so I thought, ‘That’s a good job.’”

With Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, in a 1980 interview, about a new company ( Public Image Ltd.)  he set up:

Snyder: “I’ve wanted to talk about it, and I’ve made five passes at it, and I’m not getting anywhere.”
Rotten: I’ve studied your history on this. Come on, prompt, do your business, humor us.”

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Death plays chess with Ingmar Bergman, Death Wins

Being a Woody Allen film fan, I can say I saw spoofs of Ingmar Bergman films before I was able to actually see one of this brilliant directors works.

For 30 years and more, Seventh SealIngmar Bergman, the dominant Swedish artist in cinema and theatre, brought to his work an intensely personal vision, shot through with pain and pessimism and charting the breakdown of human relationships with a piercing insight. He was a visionary and used film like many artists use a canvas to portray their talent.

Bergman has taken his Final Taxi at the age of 89.

His films usually deal with existential questions of mortality, loneliness, and faith; they also tend to be direct and not overtly stylized. Persona, one of Bergman’s most famous films, is unusual among Bergman’s work in being both existentialist and avant-garde.

Bergman usually wrote his own scripts, thinking about them for months or years before starting the actual process of writing, which he viewed as somewhat tedious. His earlier films are carefully structured, and are either based on his plays or written in collaboration with other authors. Bergman stated that in his later works, when on occasion his actors would want to do things differently from his own intentions, he would let them, noting that the results were often “disastrous” when he did not do so.

Bergman developed a personal “repertory company” of Swedish actors whom he repeatedly cast in his films, including Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson, Erland Josephson, the late Ingrid Thulin, and Gunnar Björnstrand, each of whom appeared in at least five Bergman features. Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann was the last to join this group (in the 1966 film Persona), and ultimately became most closely associated with Bergman, both artistically and personally. They had a daughter together, Linn Ullmann (b. 1966).

Bergman began working with Sven Nykvist, his cinematographer, in 1953. The two of them developed and maintained a working relationship of sufficient rapport to allow Bergman not to worry about the composition of a shot until the day before it was filmed. On the morning of the shoot, he would briefly speak to Nykvist about the mood and composition he hoped for, and then leave Nykvist to work without interruption or comment until post-production discussion of the next day’s work.

One of the film regarded as one of his great early works and help to launch his fame was Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). This is an elegant comedy of manners set in the 19th century, it seems to embrace all aspects of love – from earthy passion, through adultery to marriage – depicted through seven characters whose lives interlock on one of those endlessly bright Swedish summer nights.

Most people, myself included, consider his masterpiece to be The Seventh Seal (Swedish: Det sjunde inseglet) is an existential 1957 Swedish film about the journey of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) across a plague-ridden landscape. Its best-known scene features the knight playing chess with the personification of Death, his life resting on the outcome of the game. The title is a reference to the passage from the Book of Revelation used both at the very start of the film, and again towards the end, beginning with the words “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Revelation 8:1). The film won the jury prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.

In the next 10 years, Ingmar Bergman made Wild Strawberries, The Silence, The Virgin Spring, and Through a Glass Darkly, the last two of which won best foreign language film.

In the ’70s, Ingmar Bergman went on to make the acclaimed Cries and Whispers, Scenes From a Marriage, and The Magic Flute. In 1984, Ingmar Bergman made what many consider his masterpiece, certainly his most personal film, Fanny and Alexander. Bergman even claimed that it would be his grand finale as a filmmaker. The film, which can be found in three and five hour versions, won four Oscars in 1984 including best foreign language film. Ingmar Bergman, in classic fashion, unplugged his phone and didn’t even attend the ceremony.

I will have to agree with the obituary in the New York Times that took note of the fact that critics regarded Bergman as “one of THE directors — the others being Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa — who dominated the world of serious film making in the second half of the 20th century.”

Cat Predicts Deaths At Hospice

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My daughter has had over 62 surgeries and everytime she comes home our cat seems to know she needs that extra attention. It is funny how animals have a hidden knowledge of when someone needs that special care.

Now I have found out about Oscar the cat. He seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.
”He doesn’t make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
”Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one,” said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.
The 2-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third- floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.
After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He’d sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.
Dosa said Oscar seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. ”This is not a cat that’s friendly to people,” he said.
Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill
She was convinced of Oscar’s talent when he made his 13th correct call. While observing one patient, Teno said she noticed the woman wasn’t eating, was breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often mean death is near.
Oscar wouldn’t stay inside the room though, so Teno thought his streak was broken. Instead, it turned out the doctor’s prediction was roughly 10 hours too early. Sure enough, during the patient’s final two hours, nurses told Teno that Oscar joined the woman at her bedside.
Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don’t know he’s there, so patients aren’t aware he’s a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.

No one’s certain if Oscar’s behavior is scientifically significant or points to a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him.
Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has read Dosa’s article, said the only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the living and dying.
If Oscar really is a furry grim reaper, it’s also possible his behavior could be driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying person, Dodman said.
Nursing home staffers aren’t concerned with explaining Oscar, so long as he gives families a better chance at saying goodbye to the dying.
Oscar recently received a wall plaque publicly commending his ”compassionate hospice care.”

Weekly Tabloid Abducted By Elvis Zombies From Outer Space

Does anyone remember why we are at war with Iraq? If you don’t it was revealed to possess a time tunnel capable of facilitating time travel. Even though the regular media called it a weapon of mass destruction – many of us knew the real reason for the war.

If you never knew that was the reason then you never read the Weekly World News.  It is only “real’ place to get your true news.

How many times have you stood in line at the check at the market and read thru that black and white tabloid? The cover always got your attention with at catchy phase and a odd picture to go along with it.
The Weekly World News has ran stories that George W. Bush was openly campaigning to become the next Pope, that Hillary Clinton  has adopted an alien baby, or that mermaids were found off the US coast.
Most articles are about alien abductions, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Elvis, and time travel.

Semi-regular stories follow the progress of Bat Boy, the half-bat, half-boy superhero; and P’lod, an extraterrestrial who became involved in Earth politics and had an affair with Hillary Clinton. Other recurring themes include the oncoming great depression or apocalypse, and newly found lost prophecies.

Weekly World News, the tabloid that for 28 years is to meet the Final Taxi at the end of the month. Its publisher said it will be maintaining only a Web presence. The tabloid’s publisher, American Media Inc., issued a brief statement that announced the Aug. 27 issue would be Weekly World News’ last after a few weeks of reprints. It called the closure necessary “due to the challenges in the retail and wholesale magazine marketplace that have impacted the newsstand.”

The Weekly World News  has had it fun except for when they published startling photographs on the front page of executed serial killer Ted Bundy on the autopsy table. Electrode burns on Bundy’s shaved head with his fixed and dilated pupils staring into space could clearly be seen in the photographs. Surprised officials in Florida vowed to catch the person responsible. Eventually, a low-level employee of the Florida Medical Examiners office was arrested and charged with taking and selling the photographs.

When I first got married we did the things newlyweds do like buying grocery together. We got a kick out of some of the front pages in the WWN, like a lumberjack making Bigfoot his love slave, and would buy an issue for fun. It made good bathroom reading.
One thing is for certain, Americans’ waits in supermarket checkouts will forever be changed with losing that black and white tabloid.

PODCAST: Charles Lane -The Face Is Familiar

DIRECT DOWNLOAD: Charles Lane

Charles Lane, the prolific character actor whose name was little known but whose crotchety persona and roles in hundreds of films made him recognizable to generations of moviegoers took his Final Taxi at 102.

Lane, whose career spanned more than 60 years, appeared in such film classics as “It‘s a Wonderful Life,” “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Primrose Path.” He also had a recurring role as the scheming railroad man Homer Bedloe on the 1960s TV sitcom “Petticoat Junction” and appeared often on “I Love Lucy.”

Mr. Lane’s voice was heard in Disney’s 1970 animated feature “The AristoCats.” He was an admiral in “The Winds of War” TV miniseries and appeared in the movie “Murphy’s Romance” with Sally Field in 1986.

He also acted in TV episodes of “Soap,””The Flying Nun,” “Bewitched” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” and showed up on “L.A. Law,” “St. Elsewhere” and “Lou Grant.”

Mr. Lane had small parts in “The Music Man,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “The Carpetbaggers,” among his many films. His acting résumé included roles as a judge, gambler, priest, bank examiner, military officer, customs and immigration official and Western lawman.

Star Trek dwarf buried at home 33 years after death.

At 6 PM every night in the mid-70’s before the primetime shows came on, our local TV channel would air the syndicated “Star Trek.” I would make sure my homework was done so I could watch these older shows of Captain Kirk and Spock. The next day we would gather at school and talk about this series that was new to us. I can still, with ease, form my hand into the Vulcan sign for “Live Long and Prosper.” It is almost second nature for people my age isn’t it?

On of my favorite episodes was “Plato’s Stepchildren” which was first broadcast November 22, 1968. It is popularly cited as the first example of an inter-racial kiss on US television (between Kirk and Uhura). But we felt a kinship for one of the character on this episode, as a little person, whose name was Alexander, was pushed around by the Platonians who wears clothing reminiscent of Earth’s Ancient Greece and have special powers to make others do their bidding.Micheal Dunn

The dwarf in the role of Alexander was Michael Dunn. The renowned actor and piano prodigy, who stood 3 feet, 10 inches in height, has finally been laid to rest near his home in Oklahoma. What is most bizarre is that Dunn died 33 years ago.

Remains of Dunn, who was born Gary Neil Miller, were reburied at Sunset Memorial Park last week close to graves of his mother and father, Fred & Jewell Miller.

Before his death in London in 1973, Dunn was nominated for a Tony Award (for his role in the play, “Ballad of a Sad Cafe”) and his career took off. Encouraged by actor Roddy McDowall, Dunn and actress Phoebe Dorin formed a slightly bizarre but popular New York song-and-comedy nightclub act, which eventually led to their being cast on TV’s “The Wild Wild West” (1965) as evil Dr. Loveless and his assistant, Antoinette. For this role he was nominated for a Emmy award. He played in episodes of “Bonanza,” “Night Gallery,” “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” and many other TV shows during the 60’s & 70s. He was nominated for an Academy award for his role as narrator in the 1965 movie, “Ship of Fools.”

Dunn’s mother told the family that one day when the boy was 3, he walked up to her and said, “Momma, I can read.” The mother told him, “Sure you can, Gary.” then the boy “picked up the paper and started reading to her.” Tests showed the boy’s IQ to be 178. After the family moved to Michigan when he was about 2, Dunn won the state spelling bee three times in a row, once finishing as national runner-up in the finals in Washington.

He was 5 years old when he knew he’d be a dwarf but was determined not to let it stop him or make him dependent. He graduated from Detroit Redford High School in 1951, where he had been active in many school activities, including the student council and was captain of the cheerleading team. He was an editor of his college newspaper, and received his degree in 1956. He’d supported himself during school by singing at local bars, and knew by graduation that he wanted to be an actor. “Frankly”, he told a reporter, “I knew there wouldn’t be too much competition for roles. There are a great many professional midgets, but there aren’t too many dwarfs who can act.” Waiting for his big break, he found employment as a sports reporter, a hotel detective, and a missionary.

He was a gifted pianist, although he didn’t care much about pursuing that ability, relatives said. But it was the talent that was obvious from his earliest youth, his singing voice, which would lead to his career as an entertainer.

After appearing in several TV shows and movies, Dunn was in England to play the role of Birgito in the production of “The Abdication,” when he died Aug. 30, 1973. According to a news report, officials said Dunn reported his leg was injured in his hotel room, and he telephoned for help. When help arrived, they found the actor dead. The general consensus is that he died of heart failure. Although family members think something strange there went on. Dunn’s mother received a telegram shortly before his death that said, “I’m OK. The cops are looking.”

Dunn’s body was brought back to the states and was buried in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where his parents were getting ready to move. A couple of years ago, during a visit to Dunn’s grave there, relatives decided it was time to bring him home to Oklahoma.

“His headstone was 3 inches below the surface of the ground,” a relative said. “It had dirt all over it, no flowers or anything like that.” “I just didn’t want him to end up in Florida where no family could visit him and we couldn’t look after the grave.”

For the entertainment that Michael Dunn gave us, he was a big man, all 3 feet, 10 inches of him.

The face is familiar but not the name: Charles Lane

I was floored when I found out that character actor Charles Lane had taken the Final Taxi this week. Not because of his death but that he had lived so long. He as 102. He was the oldest living actor in the US. ( The oldest actor is Dutch actor Johannes Heesters who is 103 and only did 80 productions) Actor Charles Lane

I remember seeing him as a boy and thinking he was old then.

Lane’s lean frame and stern features were familiar to millions of movie and television fans, most of whom, it is safe to say, never knew his name. He was in over 800 productions in his 60 years in show business.

Lane was born Charles Levison on Jan. 26, 1905, in San Francisco and started his work life in the insurance business. In 1928, he joined the company at the Pasadena Playhouse, which was known for training actors for the movies. If you listen to this week’s Final Taxi podcast you will hear that Kerwin Mathews was ‘discovered’ there as well.

Lane made his film debut as a hotel desk clerk in “Smart Money” (1931) with Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney.
He went on to act in films such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (a newsman), “It’s a Wonderful Life” (the rent collector), “You Can’t Take It With You” (an IRS agent), “No Time for Sergeants” (the draft board driver) and hundreds of others in which he played shopkeepers, professors, judges, bureaucrats, doctors, “a guy at the bar,” policemen and salesmen. In the 1930s alone, he appeared in 161 films, sometimes moving from set to set to deliver a few lines in each of several movies in one day.

Starting in the early 1950s, Lane also appeared on dozens of TV shows, including “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.” Perhaps most famously, he appeared in classic episodes of “I Love Lucy,” playing several characters who all seemed to have in common a stunned if comical lack of patience for the bumbling Lucy. He said it was on this show that he perfected the crusty skinflint.

Throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Lane could be seen on “Perry Mason,” “Dennis the Menace,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Bewitched,” “Get Smart,” “The Flying Nun,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Lou Grant” and many other shows. In the 1970s, he had running parts on “The Beverly Hillbillies” as Foster Phinney and in “Soap” as Judge Anthony Petrillo. In the 1960s, audiences got to know him as Homer Bedloe, a scheming trouble-shooter for the railroad in “Petticoat Junction.”

Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” said that although Lane played “a gruff, arrogant kind of guy” there and in dozens of other roles, “That was not him at all, that was a character.”

In 2005, when friends and industry admirers gathered to celebrate his 100th birthday at a TV Land special event, he accepted their plaudits from a wheelchair and declared, “If you’re interested, I’m still available.”

Oh, to have that kind of energy when I am that age and to be seen by as many people has Charles Lane has been seen by.

A person like Charles Lane is the reason I created the Final Taxi podcast.