Diana Rigg died this week. A fine actress, the clip above shows her in a few of her famous roles.
But my favorite thing that Diana Rigg ever did as an artist was to write a book called No Turn Unstoned: The Worst Ever Theatrical Reviews. Stung by unkind reviews that she had received over the years, to cheer herself up, Rigg compiled a book of horrendous reviews that other celebrated actors had received over the years. If you can get a hold of a copy, it’s a fun read.
This one is strictly for the Monk nerds. If you’re not a fan, I’m afraid it won’t mean much. But if you are familiar with the show–then I think you’ll be delighted and may LOL a few times as I did. My favorite part: the dishwasher.
There aren’t many television shows that I watch, but come Thursdays, you’re likely to find me sitting, watching hour after hour of Monk re-runs that are thoughtfully played from 11am-8pm, non-stop, each Thursday on one of my local TV stations.
The premise of the show, that of a detective with severe OCD doesn’t necessarily sound very appealing, but the writing for the show is really strong, and the way the cast, especially Tony Shalhoub, wrings comedy, mystery and pathos out of each episode is always enjoyable for me to watch.
This one is longish, but fun. William Buckley was a conservative who hosted a PBS show called Firing Line. He was fairly erudite, and on his show he was usually able to intellectually intimidate his debate opponents. But when he had on Noam Chomsky, Buckley was definitely outclassed, and it ‘s fun to watch the two of them parrying, with Buckley clearly in over his head. To Buckley’s credit, he allowed Chomsky onto mainstream television, something that broadcasters then and now were and are loath to do.
In 1969, CBS television fired the Smothers Brothers from their high-rated comedy variety show for being too outspoken against the Vietnam War. Among other things, they had on blacklisted guest Pete Seeger who sang “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy,” an anti-war song about a captain who orders his men into a bog despite the obvious senselessness of the command.
The guest on the October 13, 1953 edition of What’s My Line (exactly 65 years ago) had just celebrated her 69th birthday. Unlike other more recent occupants of her job, she had never been a high-fashion model, served on the boards of exploitative corporations, nor killed her friend by running a stop sign at 50 mph. Nevertheless, she managed.
Winchell -MahoneyTime was an after-school television show must back in the day for youngsters. I wanted desperately to be a ventriloquist. I remember this exact episode and how funny I thought it was. The ingenious Paul Winchell was the vent, who among other ventures, went on to create the voice of Tygger in the Disney Pooh animated movies. He also got himself a patent for the invention of one of the first prototypes of an artificial human heart.
I don’t know if this makes any sense to anyone under 60, but I found this SCTV send-up of a small-town Lawrence Welk-type polka music television show hilariously true to form. John Candy and Eugene Levy lead the proceedings.
While I’m not much of a fan of Ellen DeGeneres’s present talk show, this clip of her first performance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show is a wonderful example of just how smart and funny she was as a stand-up.
This particular 1956 episode of the once popular television quiz show features a contestant with a very surprising secret. Bonus points if you can also identify the names of the four panelists and the host.
The once popular radio and television comedian Jack Benny welcomes some unlikely guests to his TV show, the folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary. They prove that you can make a folk song out of anything—even stingy Jack’s home town of Waukegan.
Johnny Carson had a lot of great long-running character bits on The Tonight Show, but my favorite was “Carnac the Magnificent.” The premise, of course, was that the great mystic seer from the East would divine the contents of a hermetically sealed envelope.
Some of Carson’s jokes are very topical and don’t land anymore (two Leon Spinks jokes?), but the audience knew the format and eagerly responded. In my opinion, Ed McMahon earned his keep here as a terrific straight man in this routine. Now you, too, can partake of the wisdom of the great mystic seer by clicking on the video above.
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.