While Buster Keaton was called The Great Stoneface, he actually was able to portray a wide range of nuanced emotion in his movies. Here is a love scene from The Cameraman (1928). Buster has just messed up his job interview for a movie newsreel company, but Marceline Day, one of the company’s employees, sees something special in him.
The Patty Duke Show overlapped The Beatles first coming to America and somehow she was part of that era for me. The television show which ran from 1963–1966 was perfectly tailored to Patty Duke’s acting talents, where she played two cousins, a demure Scottish girl, Kathy, and Patty, a swinging teen from Brooklyn Heights. A great supporting cast too, with William Schallert as the mildly acerbic father and Paul O’Keefe as her annoyingly nerdy younger brother.
Duke’s greatest role, however, was as Helen Keller in the stage and screen versions of William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker. Later on in her career she got to act in the play again, this time playing Annie Sullivan to Melissa Gilbert’s Helen.
Watching the opening titles again made me laugh when I saw the mirror sequence. Of course, that mirror bit had been done a number of times before, including most famously the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup (and I recently ran across the Chaplin short The Floorwalker where there is a kind of an ur-version of the routine) but what made me laugh was considering that the joke inherent in most mirror routines is that of two people acting as one; but in The Patty Duke Show it was one person in the mirror acting as two.
In a strange turn of irony, later in life, Patty Duke was diagnosed as bipolar, and she devoted much of her later years to mental health causes. But she was a really wonderful actor who died just this past March.
Here’s a series of four short membership promos that I wrote and produced for radio station WBAI. I performed them with Mary Murphy with whom I had previously done the Ambrose Bierce short stories. It was a lot of fun to do these, and I think you may enjoy them.
Blogger cairaguas has translated the Spanish into English. Visit the excellent blog page to find out more about the video and the political and historical context of ICE.
Eva pasando el trapo sobre la mesa, ahí está,
Cuidando que todo brille como una perla
Cuando llegue la patrona que no se vuelva a quejar.
No sea cosa que la acuse de ilegal.
Eva passing the rag over the table, there she is,
Taking care that everything shines like a pearl
(So) when the boss comes, she does not complain again.
Don’t let it be that she accuses her of being illegal.
José atiende los jardines; parecen de Disneyland.
Maneja una troca vieja sin la licencia.
No importa si fue taxista allá en su tierra natal;
Eso no cuenta para el Tío Sam.
Jose tends to the gardens; they look like they’re from Disneyland.
He drives an old truck without a license.
It does not matter if he was a taxi driver over in his home country;
That does not count for Uncle Sam.
————————————————————- El hielo anda suelto por esas calles.
Nunca se sabe cuando nos va a tocar.
Lloran, los niños lloran a la salida,
Lloran al ver que no llegará mamá.
ICE is loose over those streets.
We never know when we will be hit. [*alt. We never know when it will be our turn.]
They cry, the children cry at the doorway,
They cry when they see that their mother will not come back.
Uno se queda aquí.
Otro se queda allá.
Eso pasa por salir a trabajar.
One is left here.
Another is left there.
That’s what happens when you go out to work.
Martha llegó de niña y sueña con estudiar,
Pero se le hace difícil sin los papeles.
Se quedan con los laureles los que nacieron acá,
Pero ella nunca dejar de luchar.
Martha arrived as a girl and she dreams of studying,
But it is difficult for her without documents.
They keep all the prizes, the ones who were born over here,
But she never stops fighting. [*alt. But she never stops trying.]
Yesterday, radio station WBAI’s Arts Express program played my interview with Karl Marx. Well, not Karl Marx exactly, but with actor Jerry Levy who plays Marx in a new one-man play that Levy wrote called The Third Coming.
Click on the grey triangle above to hear Levy talk about Marx, anarchism, Howard Zinn, and how he prepared to act the role of a lifetime.
So, the 2016 Shakespeare Sonnet Slam last Friday was really enjoyable! It was a beautiful dry day, no rain at all, despite the weather forecast; and unlike last year when the temperature was really cold, it was warm and sunny. There was great variety in the performances, as always: a lovely sonnet performed in French, a high school group who came to watch and perform, a woman who performed with her young baby in her arms, a singer from the cast of the hit Broadway musical Something Rotten, old men, young women, and people I recognized from past years. The highlight for me was the wonderful actor Dana Ivey, who recited “Shall I compare thee,” just beautifully: still and strong and resonant as an oak tree.
Every year, as I get more familiar with the sonnets, I “hear” more of them, and enjoy them that much more. I also feel a kind of silly identification and solidarity with the people who are performing sonnets which I was assigned to in previous years.
I met my actor friend Eve there—she’s a slam recidivist as well—and we both agreed that it goes by so fast when you’re finally up there, that you have no idea what you’ve done. We both had the sensation that we had skipped multiple lines of the sonnet while we were reciting, but I think (I hope!) that was only a feeling.
When I’m up there, actually performing, I don’t try to think too hard about my analysis or preparation; that was homework, and I just have to trust that I’ve done it well. The one thing I’m focusing on in the moment of performance, the one thing that I’m holding onto for dear life, because otherwise stage fright would sweep me away, is to play my action, which I chose in this case to be, “to double my bonds of love with you.” That’s my lifeline.
We finished all 154 sonnets very quickly—started at one, over by four—so I walked over to Strawberry Fields where, of course, there was a young guy playing John Lennon songs on his guitar. Lots of tourists, and he was very accommodating, playing all of their favorite requests. He sang in a key that I could sing in, so I spent a while croaking out John Lennon songs with him, though I have to say that by the fifth rendition of “Imagine,” it was getting old.
We were spared from the rain the whole afternoon, everything looked green and luscious in Central Park, and I finished the day with a $4.00 Double Caramel ice cream pop from the ice cream vendor.
My recent post about Times Square, set me thinking about the film Midnight Cowboy. When it first came out, all the talk was of Dustin Hoffman whose turn as Ratso Rizzo was, of course, a classic characterization. After Hoffman’s scrubbed suburban college grad in The Graduate, it was a treat to see him do something diametrically opposed in Midnight Cowboy. But I think because of Hoffman’s flashy performance as Ratso, Jon Voight’s achievement in the film was somewhat overlooked. Voight looked like they had picked someone off the street from Texas and that was that. But how many knew that Voight was born and raised in Westchester County, NY? His transformation was just as impressive as Hoffman’s, only nobody realized it.
Above, you can see the devastating last scene in the movie, fading out with John Barry’s haunting theme written for the film.
The uncompromising performance artist Susana Ventura, better known as Penny Arcade has been stirring it up for the better part of four decades. She, along with figures like Charles Ludlam and Jeff Weiss were pioneers of the avant-garde scene on the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1970s and 1980s.
She’s still raising hell with her wit, energy, and courageous insights. Listen to her New Year’s Eve piece about Cupcakes and the Decline of New York City, and you’ll understand why she’s still very relevant today. The language at times is Not Suitable For Work.
Kevin Spacey is a marvelous film actor; what isn’t as well known is that he’s a first-class impressionist. Here he is with Inside the Actors Studio‘s James Lipton, and Spacey regales the audience with nine hilarious dead-on impressions:
My pick hit? Definitely Marlon! But they’re all great. Click on the video to play.
I’ll let the Smithsonian Folklife website describe this extraordinary five-minute performance:
“The mysterious art of bian lian or face-changing originated in Sichuan Opera, and has long been a closely guarded secret of Chinese performers. Hu Dongxiao of the Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe performed the most complex style of face-changing at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, switching between colored masks that represent different emotions in a dramatic story.”
Western magicians will smile at the breakaway fan used in the middle of the performance. As for the how of the instantaneous face-changing? No clue.
Click on the video to play; this one is best at full screen, which you can access by clicking on the lower right hand corner of the video.
A first artistic mentor can be like a first love. Everything seems new, extraordinary, larger than life. Your brain, body, soul, emotions are expanding so rapidly that you endow the other with superhuman powers, even if on looking back, you understand that what you had been exposed to were, perhaps, the usual lessons of life. Nonetheless, memories are formed and the lessons learned take on an importance that stay on, years later.
The following story came to my mind today, of a day many years ago that made a large impact on me. It didn’t even directly involve me, but it was something I witnessed. I had just performed a scene in my college acting class with my scene partner, a talented young woman named Dena. We had a wonderful teacher, Lloyd Richards, not only an excellent acting teacher, but one of the finest teachers I have ever had for any subject. Dena was a very good actor, probably the most accomplished in the class, but on this day, after class, she was very upset about something. She went up to Lloyd, and she was obviously a little shaken and embarrassed, and said to him, “I had this awful dream last night. I dreamt that I was having a big argument with you, and I was telling you that every thing that you’ve ever taught us about acting was completely and utterly wrong.”
And Lloyd, whose physical manifestation was similar to a plump Buddha, with great repose and a Cheshire Cat grin, replied, “Congratulations, Dena. You’ve just passed the class.”
Click on the video above for more of Lloyd Richards and Chekhov’s advice.
Every year the gracious David Kenney, who hosts the WBAI radio program Everything Old is New Again (WBAI 99.5 FM NYC and WBAI.org, Sunday nights, 9-11pm), produces a smashing cabaret fundraiser for the station. Last year, the amazing Liz Callaway sang her version of My Grown-Up Christmas List and knocked it out of the park. You can hear her every-word-counts performance by clicking on the grey triangle above.
And if you want to hear the performances of the wonderful line-up of guests that David has for this year’s fundraiser, including Julie Budd and Mark Nadler, tune into his show this week and next.
Last week I posted a top 30 list of favorite under-the-radar posts. Those posts were all pieces that I had had some hand in creating. Today I’m listing my favorite under-the-radar posts of the past year that were other people’s creations including cartoons, comedy clips, and music.
Through a strange turn of events last year, I found myself, for a few months, occasionally in the company of a fairly well-known professional magician. Now it’s true that keeping company with this convivial fellow usually meant keeping up with him at the neighborhood bar. For the sake of convenience, let’s call the magician Peter. I haven’t seen Peter for a long time since then, unfortunately, but he was quite a raconteur, and here is one of the best stories he told me.
Peter had a small role in the Batman blockbuster movie in which Jack Nicholson played The Joker. Every day on the set, Nicholson would bum cigarettes from him. Peter gladly gave up his cigarettes, happy to have the opportunity to talk to Nicholson. But as this mooching of cigarettes went on day after day, Peter, no mean moocher himself, started to get ticked off. Finally he couldn’t stand it anymore, and he blew up at Nicholson, saying, “Here you are, an extraordinarily wealthy man, yet everyday you come to bum cigarettes off me! How can you look yourself in the mirror everyday, and keep doing that?”
And Nicholson, perfectly calm, looked Peter straight in the eye, and flashed that killer smile of his. Slowly, killer smile still intact, he said, in his most Joker-like voice:
“It’s Good To Be Jack.”
PS Here’s a little postscript to the story (disclaimer: it’s quite possible that either my memory or Peter’s memory is hazy on the details of this part, but for the sake of the story, we’ll ignore that). As the filming continued, Nicholson kept on bumming cigarettes from Peter, and Peter, ever so reluctantly, kept on giving them to him. At the end of the shoot, however, Nicholson walked over to Peter and handed him a bag. Peter, puzzled, opened it: in the bag, were several cartons of cigarettes, and an engraved gold-plated cigarette lighter.
When I started this blog exactly one year ago, 365 consecutive posts ago, I never thought that it would bring the fun and opportunities that I’ve experienced over the past year. I started it mainly as an exercise and a way to document for myself where my life was going. But I’ve met so many nice people and enjoyed myself in so many ways directly due to this blog.
So I want to thank all of you who have ever visited this site for your support. It’s really gratifying to think that there are others who have some of the same strange interests that I do, and that I’m not just writing into the wind.
To celebrate, I’m listing my favorite posts from the last year. They may not all have garnered a lot of hits, but I think you’ll enjoy catching up with them. Sometimes people don’t have the time at first to read a long essay, follow the links, or listen to an audio clip when it’s first posted, so now is the time to sit back, relax, and catch up with what you’ve missed. Here, grouped by category, but in no particular order otherwise, are my top 30 favorite interviews, stories, poems, essays, and photos of the past year.
If you like this blog, the one single way you can best help spread the word is to please click on the Facebook or Twitter share buttons at the bottom of each post each time you see something that you enjoy. It’s incredible what a difference it makes in the number of views a particular post gets, and it gives me encouragement. Again thanks for a great year, and Music will be back tomorrow!
I’m looking at all these books on my bookshelves, and wondering about how they have followed me all these years. There are other books, too, books I once thought indispensable which are now sitting in a basement, books that have now not been touched in over two decades. I always thought I would have them. They are still there, as far as I know.
There were more, the books that I grew up with, before my marriage, that I stored in my parents’ house. When my parents remodeled the house, they packed them up, and eventually the boxes of books were moved to the garage. Years later, they told us they were selling the house. We went to the garage to scavenge and sort through the books, eagerly anticipating the reunion of old acquaintances, but on opening the boxes it became clear that there would be no homecoming for these books—they were filled with mold, little bugs, covers were stained, pages were crumbling. I left my friends behind.
When I was in my twenties, I would move from apartment to apartment, roommate to roommate, as one does at that age, and I’d always leave something behind—an old coat in the closet, a sweater in some bottom drawer, a throw rug underneath a piece of furniture. But never, never, ever did I leave behind so much as one book, they traveled with me, as if they were my children.
I remember once in those days, when I was a college student, walking along Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan, near where I lived. I saw a pile of books on the sidewalk, and they stopped me. They looked interesting—the sort that appealed to a geek like me—vintage mathematics books, some science, some history. Never too proud when it came to books, I rummaged through them until I saw the nameplates inside them; I was stopped in my tracks when I realized that they were the books of the professor who had just died in my girlfriend’s apartment house. I didn’t know then, you see, that that’s what happens. It’s not like the books get adopted by the ASPCA. When all is said and done, the contents of the apartment gets dumped once the family has gone through the belongings, while the rest ends up on the sidewalk waiting for the garbage truck. At the time, this was a horrible revelation to me. That a person’s life—for what else, I thought, could you call the books that a person has owned?—would just be dumped on the sidewalk unceremoniously when he or she dies, was just too sad for me to contemplate.
So I look around at all my books now, and I wonder how many of them are going to get dumped on the street when I go. I’ve got a fair amount of magic-related items that, let’s face it, nobody normal is going to want. I’m in generally good health, but I’m at the age where I’m wondering what to do about this. I suppose they could be sold for some money for my family, but the truth is, my wife and surviving relatives wouldn’t know what to do with them, nor would they know how to evaluate and value each item. And yet I think it would be a shame were they to end up on the street or in the dump. So what I’m thinking about now is, to whom could I give them before I go? I guess this is a morbid thought, but if there’s anything that gets me going, it’s the thought of my limited time on this planet. It’s probably the thing that has kept me at the writing keyboard these past few years—knowing that if I don’t do it now, it’s not likely to get done later. And if I don’t figure out now what to do with these books, they’ll end up on the sidewalk. So I’m trying to get to know some young magicians who one day might appreciate such a collection.
The Players, Shakespeare said, are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time. What is it that we who are the brief chroniclers do in this brief time? Artists hope that what they’ve made is forever, or at least has a lasting impact. It never seems consciously that what I do is a fight against the dying of the light, but the closer I get, the more I understand. Do not ask for whom the sanitation worker comes. S/he comes for thee.
Death of a Salesman is an American classic. In this new production by the New Yiddish Rep of New York City, Arthur Miller’s play achieves further resonance by being performed entirely in Yiddish, with English supertitles projected onstage. The Yiddish locates the play squarely in the world of the immigrant, and Willy Loman is no longer just the universal white collar worker with a shoe shine and a smile; he is also the universal immigrant, charged to teach the values of his adopted land to his second generation children, with all the urgency that that mission requires.
The supertitles are unobtrusive, and non-Yiddish speaking audiences will understand every single word. The intimate theater space highlights the dramatic tensions in the play. This is a very good production of a very powerful play. Click on the gray triangle above to hear my complete review broadcast on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI.
Update: You can hear my interview with the director of the cast, Moshe Yassur, and actor Avi Hoffman, by clicking here.