Jerry Stiller, R.I.P.

I was sorry to learn that Jerry Stiller died yesterday.  I guess most people my age probably know him best as Frank Costanza on Seinfeld.  (I never watched The King of Queens, though I know he had a lot of fans from his role on that show as well.)  We’ll always remember Jerry Stiller explaining how Festivus came to be and for shouting “Serenity Now!” whenever the world got to be too much for him.  Jerry Stiller could even make the simple act of shouting funny.

Long before he played Frank, Jerry was best-known as the husband and the comedy partner of Anne Meara.  (Their son, of course, is Ben Stiller.) Here are two of Stiller & Meara’s routines, one from the Ed Sullivan Show and one from the Johnny Carson show:

And finally, from Seinfeld, here is the Story of Festivus:

Lockdown Journal: 4-1-20

I guess it’s time to face the fact that this site is going to pretty much be a quarantine journal for the foreseeable future.  As much as I would like to write about other things, everything is dominated by COVID-19 right now.  I remember that, for years after 9-11, it was rare that anything happened that was not, in some way, compared to that terrible day in September.  It will probably be the same with COVID-19.

I feel like I aged several years over the month of March.  April probably won’t be much better.  By the time this is over, I’ll probably feel like I’m old enough to start collection social security.

It’s going to be tough.  There’s no point in pretending otherwise.  I’m lucky enough to be sheltering-in-place with people who I love but I have family all over this country and I worry every day about them.  I’m hoping that being able to write out my thoughts here online will help.  I realize that these thoughts will probably only be read by a handful of people but that’s not a problem.  Right now, I don’t need a big audience.  I just need a place to vent.

Finally, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne died today from the COVID-19.  Among the songs he wrote was the title song for That Thing You Do, which I still consider to be one of the best rock and roll films of the 90s.  Today, let’s end things with a little music:

Terry Jones, RIP

I just heard the incredibly sad news that Terry Jones has died.  Jones, who was one of the founders of Monty Python and a respected medieval scholar, was 77 years old.  It was announced three years ago that Jones was suffering from a rare form of dementia so his death was not unexpected but it still hurts.

When I was a kid and I was watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus for the first time, I initially did not fully appreciated Terry Jones.  I liked him because I liked every member of Monty Python and every British comedy fan grows up wishing that they could have been a member of the group.  (My favorite was Eric Idle.)  But it was sometimes easy to overlook  Terry Jones’s performance on the show because his characters were rarely as flamboyant as some of the other ones.  He was never as grumpy as John Cleese nor was he as sarcastic as Eric Idle.  Michael Palin (who was Jones’s writing partner long before the two of them become members of Monty Python) cornered the market on both unctuous hosts and passive aggressive countermen.  Meanwhile, Graham Chapman played most of the upright authority figures and Terry Gilliam provided animation.  Terry Jones, meanwhile, often played screeching women and bobbies who said, “What’s all this then?”

It was only as I got older and I came to better appreciate the hard work that goes into being funny that I came to appreciate Terry Jones and his ability to always nail the perfect reaction to whatever lunacy was occurring around him.  It was also as I got older that I started to learn about the origins of Monty Python and what went on behind the scenes.  I learned that Terry Jones was a key player.  Along with writing some of Monty Python‘s most memorable material, he also directed or co-directed their films.  On the sets of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life, Jones provided the structure that kept those films from just devolving into a collection of skits.

Unlike the other members of Monty Python, Terry Jones never really went out of his way to establish an acting career outside of the group.  Instead, he wrote screenplays and serious books on both medieval history and Geoffrey Chaucer.  Appropriately, for a member of the troupe that changed the face of comedy, Jones often challenged the conventional views of history.  Terry Jones was the only man in Britain brave enough to defend the Barbarians.

On the last day of the ninth grade, my English teacher, Mr. Davis, rewarded us for our hard work by showing us what he said was the funniest scene in film history.  The scene that he showed us came from the Terry Jones-directed Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and it featured Jones giving a literally explosive performance as Mr. Creosote.

With thanks to both Mr. Davis and Terry Jones:

Terry Jones, Rest in Peace.

Neil Peart, R.I.P.

I was sorry, today, to learn of the death of Rush’s drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart.  I had heard that he was sick but it was still a shock to learn that he had passed away on January 7th.

I would be lying if I said I was a huge Rush fan, though I appreciated the fact that they were, from a political and philosophical standpoint, more interesting than many of the other bands of their era.  However, when I was in college, my best friend Jay absolutely loved Rush.  I spent the entire summer of 2003 hanging out at Jay’s house and, whenever I hear anything by Rush, my mind immediately flashes back to those days.  Rush provided the soundtrack for one of the best summers of my life and for that I’m thankful.

Neil Peart, R.I.P.

Buck Henry, R.I.P.

I just heard that Buck Henry died tonight of a heart attack.  He was 89 years old.

It’s hard to know where to start with Buck Henry.  He did a little bit of everything.  He started out as a comedian in the 50s, appearing on talk shows and claiming to be G. Clifford Prout, the president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA).  SINA was an organization dedicated to clothing animals in order to prevent their “indecency.”  Buck Henry’s delivery was so deadpan that many people thought he actually was G. Clifford Prout and a some even tried to send him donations to help out his cause.  (The donations were always returned.)

Henry went on to work extensively in both television and film.  He wrote the script for The Graduate and played the helpful hotel clerk.  He co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks.  With Warren Beatty, he co-directed Heaven Can Wait and received an Oscar nomination.  In Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, he had a rare serious role as the gay patent lawyer who helps alien Thomas Jerome Newton set up his corporation and who ultimately gets tossed out of a window by government agents.

During the first few season of Saturday Night Live, Buck Henry hosted a total of ten times.  By many, he was considered to be an unofficial member of the cast.  He was a frequent foil to John Belushi’s samurai character.  Henry’s button-down persona provided the perfect contrast to Belushi’s frenetic performance.  During the October 30th, 1976 episode, Henry was accidentally struck by Belushi’s katana and he ended up with a deep cut on his forehead.  Henry not only continued the skit but he also hosted the rest of the show with a bandage on his forehead.  All of the other members of the cast put bandages on their foreheads as a show of solidarity.

Buck Henry kept working into the new century, appearing on shows like Will and Grace, The Daily Show, and 30 Rock.  He will be missed.

Buck Henry, R.I.P.

The Kid Stayed In The Picture: Robert Evans, R.I.P.

Robert Evans was a true Hollywood character and I think that, if he hadn’t existed, someone would have had to have created him.  He went from selling clothes to starring in B-movies to producing blockbusters.  He made and lost and remade a fortune while marrying one of the most beautiful women in the world, Ali MacGraw.  Among his friends were Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Henry Kissinger, and Robert Towne.  Among his enemies was occasionally Francis Ford Coppola, who never would have directed The Godfather if not for Evans’s insistence that he be given the job.  Dustin Hoffman was nominated for an Oscar for playing Evans in Wag The Dog.  In Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind, Geoffrey Land played “Max David,” a studio executive who was obviously meant to be Evans.

Bob Evans’s lows were almost as intense as his highs.  Forced out of his position at Paramount, Evans went independent and produced Chinatown.  Evans married Ali MacGraw, just to lose her to Steve McQueen.  He was arrested for cocaine possession and then went on to produce one of the great pop cultural moments of the 80s, the anti-drug tv special, Get High On Yourself.  He lost a fortune on The Cotton Club but made a comeback in the 90s.

In 1994, He also wrote on the greatest Hollywood memoirs of all time, The Kid Stays In The Picture.  Written in Evans’s trademark mix of cynicism and sentiment, The Kid Stays In The Picture tells a warts-and-all story of fast times and big talent in Hollywood.  With both the book and a subsequent documentary of the same name, Robert Evans let the world know who he was and that he wasn’t going to apologize for a damn thing.

Robert Evans died on Saturday, in Beverly Hills.  He was 89 years old and with his passing, an amazing story of Hollywood comes to a close.

Rest in Peace, Bob Evans.