Alan Rickman – More Than Just Snape

I really hate how the media sometimes summarize someone’s life in a few words.king-louis

Many times they will look at an incredible actor and only see a few of the more popular roles he played and miss the greater body of work. They are doing that now with Alan Rickman.

Actor Alan Rickman took his Final Taxi at age 69 because of cancer. He has done so many wonderful films that have touched our lives but the news mostly focuses on the franchises, Harry Potter and Die Hard.

I first took notice of Rickman as an actor in the movie “Truly, Madly, Deeply” in 1990. This was two years after Die Hard. In it he plays Jamie, a dead musician so in love that death cannot keep him apart from his lover. It was kind of a thinking man’s “Ghost.”

 

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One of my daughter’s favorite Rickman films is Ang Lee’s ” Sense and Sensibility” from 1995. This adaption of Jane Austin’s book has Rickman playing Colonel Brandon as a rich and worthy suitor for Marianne, played by Kate Winslet. This would not be the only time Winslet and Richman worked together. In 2015 Rickman directed ” A Little Chaos” with her as his lead ( He gives a great portrayal of King Louis XIV.)

Many fans will remember his role in 1999’s Galaxy Quest. Playing Alexander Dane, a Shakespearean actor who had found himself trapped and most fondly remembered for an alien on a silly sci-fi TV show. He did not hide the fact he hated it and we all thought it was hilarious as it echoed reality with a great spoof of Star Trek’s Spock. ( “By Grabnar’s Hammer!” )

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I will always remember Rickman’s voice. It conveyed a wide range – from dripping sarcasm to great comic pomposity. He proved that in one of my favorite roles as Marvin the paranoid robot in 2005’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. With a brain as big as a Volkswagen, Marvin was utterly depressed by having to hanging out with other life forms that were less intelligent than him. Rickman was actually one of the best at that kind of deadpan comic delivery. He used his voice only again in 2010’s Alice In Wonderland as the Blue Caterpillar a role that he repeated for the 2016 sequel.

There are so many other great films by Rickman you should see- The Cohen Brother’s “Gambit,” “Bottle Shock” Lee Daniel’s “The Butler” and “Something The Lord Made”. Alan Rickman will be missed for many reasons — his dry wit, incredible English humor, and most importantly for his ability to completely capture our attention on the big screen with his incredible performances. ..and that unforgettable voice.

 

 

 

Edited by Lesa Rosato Burson

Rock and Roll’s Chameleon – David Bowie

Ziggy Stardust. Halloween Jack. The Thin White Duke. Thomas Jerome Newton. Aladdin Sane. Major Jack Celliers. The Cracked Actor. The Elephant Man. The Goblin King. These are just some of the many faces of David Bowie. Bowie was a chameleon of an artist – always changing his looks, his musical style and his outlook on life.

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I was awoken on Monday morning January 11th 2016 by a text from my youngest son telling me that David Bowie had taken his Final Taxi because of cancer. He knew what Bowie’s music meant to me. How the music Bowie made took me through difficult times – growing up an oddball in a small Southern town to surviving heart surgery. It seemed like whenever I felt like an alien, David Bowie understood and had already put the feeling into words.

Being a pre- teen in the early 1970’s I was stuck somewhere in the middle of the 60’s hippy movement and punk rock scene of the late 70’s. David Bowie was making rock music that was mainstream enough to get airplay but strange enough to be interesting.

David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in London in 1947. He changed his name to Bowie as to not to be confused with The Monkees’ lead singer Davy Jones. The first song I remember hearing on early FM radio was Bowie’s “Space Oddity” which introduced the recurring character Major Tom. It was his striking androgynous looks as well as the music from “Ziggy Stardust” that launched Bowie as leader of the early 1970s glam rock era. The stuttering rock sound of “Changes” gave way to the disco soul of “Fame,” co-written with The Beatles’ John Lennon. Other collaborators included Freddie Mercury, Marc Bolan, Brian Eno, Trent Reznor and Pat Methany but his closest partner in music would have to be Iggy Pop. Together Pop and Bowie molded a new direction for each other as well as helping each other out of their respective drug addictions.iggybowie-624-1360253656

Bowie had some of his biggest successes in the early 1980s with the “Let’s Dance,” an LP that took the world by storm with pop hits and MTV music videos. My wife, Lesa, worked at Captial records at the time and she recalls the huge promotion campaign for the record.

I also loved David Bowie as an actor. I could not wait to see “The Man Who Feel To Earth” when it was released. I don’t know how I did it but I got in to see it even though it was rated “X” and I was 15. (This film is very tame by today’s standard and was X because of pubic hair being seen.) In it Bowie plays Thomas Newton, an alien trapped on Earth trying to get home to his family. This spoke to those of us who felt like we were all aliens too, in a world of Legionnaires’ disease ,Tomahawk cruise missiles and Gerald Ford politics.

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The ‘cracked actor’ emerged again in several films including ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ playing Major Jack ‘Strafer’ Celliers and as the goth vampire John Blaylock in ‘The Hunger,’ both from 1983.  It was 1986’s Labyrinth that struck a chord with most people as Bowie was both actor and singer in the family musical. Playing Jareth- The Goblin King Bowie wrote and sang most of the music for the film.

He also had film roles including historical figures Nicolas Testla, Andy Warhol and Pontius Pilate.

Returning to music it is fitting that David Bowie’s last single, Lazarus, was a ‘parting gift’ for fans – a skillfully craftedfinale. The producer of his new CD Blackstar confirms David Bowie had planned his poignant final message, with videos and lyrics show how he approached his death- as a work of art.

As a friend of mine posted on Facebook, ” Rock and roll used to be for outsiders, rebellion against the mainstream.. he(Bowie) helped embrace alienation. That meant you were more accepting of the different. Rock isn’t like that anymore. It’s heartbreaking. Bowie’s gone and we’ll never see a combination of rebellion, innovation and art like that again...”

David Bowie was 69.

The generation before me asked “Where were you when JFK died?” Will Bowie’s death be as poignant to my generation?

 

 

 

Thanks to Marlesa Burson for editing this and to Marjorie Boykin for the quote.

Rocky & Bullwinkle Creator, Alex Anderson, Takes Final Taxi

One year we almost forgot Halloween. I was not even in first grade yet so the peer pressure of what costume to wear had not even crossed my mind. My mother was too busy trying to sell a house and having a sick mother to think about instead of getting us kids a costume. Suddenly it was October 31st and we remembered that it was Halloween. We rushed to the local Big B Drugs or Eckerds Pharmacy only to be disappointed with what was left.

The choices came in those plastic masks that just covered your face and were formed into a Saturday morning cartoon character or the cheap latex masks that were so over the top in the horror department that no one wanted them. My mother opted for the plastic mask that year with the matching garbage bag you wore over your clothes. This always had the cartoon character’s body on it.

My brother was Rocky the Flying Squirrel and I was Bullwinkle J Moose. The mask was a little over sized, I remember the elastic band that secured to the mask by metal staples inside the mask,that would always pull my hair and scratch the side of my face. What torture a child endured for a Bit-o-Honey or a vanilla Toostie Roll. By the end of the night my antlers were mangled by having them slammed into the car door every time I closed it.

I do remember I got quite a lot of candy that year. I was fonder of Rocky and Bullwinkle after that Halloween. I watched them more often after that and once they started reruns when I was older I got the adult comedy that was in the show as well.
Rocky and Bullwinkle ran as a new show from 1959 to 1964 on ABC them moved to NBC. It has been running in syndication ever since. At one time it was the highest rated daytime network program.

The characters of Rocky & Bullwinkle were, created by Alex Anderson Jr., Anderson has died at the age of 90.

In an interview in 1991 with the San Francisco Chronicle, Anderson said that he had worked with his uncle Paul Terry of Terrytoons, on the cartoon Mighty Mouse. He didn’t understand the mechanics of how a mouse flew or, for that matter, how Superman flew. Since flying squirrels do fly that gave him the mantle of superness without having to stretch the truth. Thus Rocky the Flying Squirrel evolved. With Bullwinkle, Anderson saw something majestic about moose: “They’re macho, but they have a comic aspect, with that schnozzola of theirs. There are a few creatures just begging to be caricatured.”

Anderson is credited with developing the first cartoon series created for TV, Crusader Rabbit.

He also create another well know cartoon about a dim-witted Canadian Mountie called Dudley Do-Right. In 1999 this was turned into a live-action film starring Brendan Fraser as Do-Right .

It was Alex Anderson’s Bullwinkle creation that helped save my Halloween many years ago, but by the end of the night my costume had taken it own ” final taxi.”

Art Clokey- The man who created Gumby

Over the last week I was able to watch an episode of “Lost” in Blu-ray on a HD TV. You could see in some scenes the fake plants or sets as it was so clear. It reminded me of my early days in religious television.

To new readers of my blog, my day job is working at a large religious TV network. When I first started there I was worried of people being ‘stuck-up’ and lacking any humor. I was proven wrong by the engineering staff. They would pull a few tricks on guests to get them to lighten up and laugh. One thing that they did was to put the department’s mascot on every set they worked on. If you look at the older shows you will see a small Gumby toy in at least one camera shot. He would be in a flower, a window or a bookcase. It is funny looking at the archives and seeing Gumby everywhere.

It was really sad news for me when I heard that Gumby’s creator Art Clokey had taken his Final Taxi over the weekend.

For those who don’t know Gumby, he is a stop-action cartoon character made out of green clay. The bendable figure was the subject of a 233 animated shorts that ran for over 35 years. Clokey created Gumby in the 1950’s and he was first seen on “The Howdy Doody Show” on TV. NBC picked it up as a regular series in 1957.

Gumby was seen most of the time with his sidekick, an orange horse called Pokey. Other recurring characters were Prickle, a yellow dragon, Goo, a flying blue mermaid, his parents and his sister Minga. Others times you might meet Denali (a mastodon), Tilly (a hen), or Gumby’s enemy’s The Blockheads.

After the success of Gumby, Clokey’s was approached by the Lutheran Church in America to do an animated series for them. It was called Davey and Goliath. Clokey used the same stop action clay animation to create Davey Hansen and his “talking” dog Goliath who learned about the love of God through everyday occurrences. The series was sweet and not overly pushy about religion.

Clokey fell on hard financial times after the series ended and it looked like Gumby would be forgotten forever until a 1980’s “Saturday Night Live” skit brought him back. In it comedian Eddie Murphy dressed in a Gumby costume and becomes a crude and angry cigar smoking Gumby. It was a hit and he became a recurring character on the show. The line “I’m Gumby, damnitt” became a catch phase and everyone wanted to know who Gumby was.

The cartoon made a comeback and “Gumby the Movie” did well. Soon you could find Gumby shirts, candy, toys and stickers. My kids fell in love with Gumby and would even pretend to be each of their favorite characters. I loved the comic book that was written by “Mystery Men” and “Flaming Carrot” creator Bob Burden.

During his later years Art Clokey became an active environmentalist. Green was always his favorite color.

Jeff Burson – The Final Taxi

You Can’t Do That on Television Actor – Les Lye

One of trademarks of Nickelodeon, the children television network, is green slime. Does anyone remember why?

It all started with a little show called “You Can’t Do That on Television.” The program started in 1979 for a Canadian television station but was picked up by Nickelodeon in 1981. It ran on the network till 1994. Whenever anyone during the show said the words “I don’t know” a bucket of green goo would pour over their head. It soon became a popular skit and was a staple on the children’s program. So slime was born.

The Many Faces of Les Lye

The Many Faces of Les Lye

I enjoyed watching the show not for the slime but for the sense of humor that was in all the skits. “You Can’t Do That on Television” reminded me of a kid’s version of Monty Python at times.

It was not just the comedy writing but the actors who were in the cast of regulars on the show. One of the adult cast members was Les Lye who played everything from a tyrannical schoolteacher to a bumbling football coach. It is Les Lye who has taken his Final Taxi.

Many may remember Lye’s most popular character Ross, the studio director, who gave bad advice to the child actors. He had a trademark clipboard and studio headset and was featured on the show’s opening credits. Another character was the dirty and disgusting burger chef named Barth whose catch phrase was “I heard that!”

Lye started working in television in 1958 and moved to children’s programming in 1961. His show “Uncle Willy and Floyd” lasted for 22 years on Canadian TV. It was there that he met a young actress and singer who he would bring back later on “You Can’t Do That on Television”, Alanis Morissette.

In 2003, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Alliance of Canadian Cinema. Les Lye was 84.

A 1930’s Child Star – Marcia Mae Jones

One of the favorite movies for my daughter when she was little was the Shirley Temple films. She would watch them over and over. She has always loved classic movies and it was something her and her grandmother shared since it was my mother who got her into watching those movies.

My mother remembered going to the movies as a little girl and watching them and even had a Shirley Temple doll that she loved. Marcia Mae Jones

In a lot of those movies Shirley played opposite a little girl who was either her rival or her friend.
That actress was Marcia Mae Jones, a rider in the Final Taxi at age 83.

Marcia will be remembered for many movies and TV roles but the one that I will not forget is when she played the crippled girl Clara Sesemann in 1937’s Heidi. In it Shirley Temple is Heidi and is sent to be Clara’s companion in Frankfurt but misses her grandpa in the mountains. I am surprised what a good actor this little girl was especially in the scene where she is struggling to walk while getting out of the wheelchair and leaning on Shirley.

Another film that shows the kind of child actress Marcia was is These Three (1936) and based on Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour. It is a drama set in an all-girls boarding school run by two women, and an angry student runs away from the school and to avoid being sent back she tells her grandmother that the two headmistresses are having a lesbian affair. The accusation proceeds to destroy the women’s careers, relationships and lives. In this version the lesbian affair is changed to the women having an affair with the same man. Marcia plays Rosalie, a girl who is bullied and threatens by the angry student. to such an extent that cinema goers were horrified at the intensity of the cruel treatment, and Marcia’s pitiful face was etched on their hearts.

Marcia Mae Jones started acting in films at age 2 and she was proud of the fact that she was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild at age 6. Although she never achieved the stardom of Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney, Jones played important roles in such films as “The Garden of Allah,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Champ.”

In an interview Jones remembers ‘The Little Princess’ (1939) with Shirley again. “They made a double of the outfits we wore so that if the scene wasn’t right we could change into the spare set quickly. Shirley has to throw ashes over me. I play a mean girl. The ashes were made out of corn flakes and flour. Horrible stuff. Shirley dumped the ashes on me, and then she went out the door and then when the director, Walter Lang, said, ‘Cut,’ she came back in and looked at me and went over to him and said, ‘Can we do that again?’ I wanted to kill her and run, but that’s with a child’s eye view. I was a mean girl in that film, and I didn’t like it at all, having played the nice girl in Heidi. I felt as if I were on the outside looking in. But Shirley’s mother did request me for The Little Princess despite me receiving as much fan mail as Shirley for Heidi.”

Jones played teenage roles in such films as “Let’s Go Collegiate” and “Secrets of a Co-Ed.” As a grown-up, she acted in television sitcoms and in Westerns such as “Wild Bill Hickock ,” “The Cisco Kid” and “The Life of Riley” and many of the Buster Keaton series. She did Peyton Place, Burns and Allen, The Joan Davis Show, and wound up on General Hospital. She did Mr.Ed, My Three Sons, Gomer Pyle and the short-lived Saturday morning show about Captain Marvel, Shazam!

Marcia Mae Jones had an acting career spanning 47 years and her last major film appearance was in 1973’s “The Way We Were.”

Nursery rhymes are dying off

 When I was child my mom would sing all kind of songs to me. Some were gospel or folk songs she grew up with and others were nursery rhymes. I can still hear her singing “Hush little baby don’t say a word, Daddy’s gonna buy you a mockingbird..”

I did my share of taking care of the babies when we had them.  I would let my wife sleep while I got up for the night time feeding. After the burping I would hum various Beatle songs, mostly the song “Flying” from the Magical Mystery Tour LP.

It seems I am not the only one because a new survey says nursery rhymes are in danger of dying out. It is because parents are singing pop songs to their children instead and I am guilty of that.

It suggests 40% of parents with young children cannot recite a single rhyme all the way through.

Of the rhymes people did know, most popular were Jack and Jill (19%), Humpty Dumpty (17%) and Ring Around the Roses (12%).

Three quarters of parents surveyed agreed singing to young children was a good way to help them to learn to read.

But 44% of parents said they were singing pop songs and TV theme tunes instead.

Ian Davidson, of the pollster MyVoice, which questioned 1,200 parents for the survey, said that the nursery rhyme was falling victim to market forces.

“It all seems to be to do with choice and relevance. Twenty years ago there were 100 different breakfast cereals to choose from, now there are 300. The old brands such as Kellogg’s Cornflakes remain, but there will also be many other options.

“It’s the same with nursery rhymes. They will never die out among a core of people, but they are facing more competition in popular culture and they no longer have a clear field any more.”

But Janine Spencer, a developmental psychologist at Brunel University, lamented the decline of the nursery rhyme, which she said was of enormous educational value.

“Not only are nursery rhymes an important historical part of our culture, but by singing them to young children you can help speed up the development of their communication, memory, language and reading skills,” she said.

So I guess we should go back to scaring the hell out of our kids by singing ‘ Rock – a – by Baby’ – the sadistic song about a baby falling out of a tree limb crib and plummeting to the ground.