By most account, he was a decent man. It seems like most of his political career was spent being a good soldier and getting promoted to higher office as a result. He was appointed to the office of being Minnesota’s attorney general. He was appointed to the U.S. Senate. He was selected to be run for vice president. In 1984, he ran for president and was the choice of party insiders. He still nearly lost the nomination to Gary Hart before then losing to Ronald Reagan in a historic landslide. Later, he was appointed to be ambassador to Japan and, in his final political race, he was selected by a committee to run for the Senate in 2002 after Paul Wellstone’s tragic death. (In retrospect, his defeat in that race was an indication of both the passing of the old political class and of how much politics was abut to change as America entered a new century.)
He outlived his 1984 running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, by nearly ten years. With his passing, there are now 5 former living Vice Presidents: Quayle, Gore, Cheney, Biden, and Pence. Biden is currently president. Pence appears to be making moves to run in 2024. In fact, of that group, Cheney is the only one who hasn’t ever run for President.
Walter Mondale, R.I.P.
Larry Flynt died yesterday. I was under the impression that he had died years ago but apparently not.
Probably the best thing that ever happened to Larry Flynt is that Woody Harrelson played him in The People vs. Larry Flynt. When most people talk about Larry Flynt, they’re not really talking about Flynt. Instead, they’re talking about Woody Harrelson-as-Larry-Flynt. Harrelson-as-Flynt was a charismatic ne’er-do-well who fought for the 1st amendment and who was redeemed by his love for Althea. The real Larry Flynt was a man with shady past and an extensive criminal record (including once attempting to shoot his own mother). He once argued that rape wasn’t a big deal and his daughters accused him of molesting them.
No one can deny that he was a successful publisher. He knew what men wanted to see and obviously, he knew how to promote himself. Unlike Hugh Hefner, he never pretended to be an intellectual. In 2003, Flynt reportedly purchased nude photographs of Jessica Lynch and then refused to publish them, saying that Lynch was a “good kid” who was being used as a pawn by the government. It’s hard to imagine either Hefner or Bob Guccione doing the same thing.
Today, the idea of people going to monthly magazines for their porn seems quaint. Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler — all of that’s moved to the internet. Would the internet be a different place today is Flynt had never been born? Probably not. If Larry Flynt hadn’t done it first, someone else would have. Sex sells.
Hearing that Kelly Preston died yesterday really hurts.
If you were growing up in the late 80s or the 90s, Kelly Preston was probably one of your first crushes. She was undeniably beautiful but she was also a good actress, though she never really got as many roles as she deserved. She was usually just cast as “the girlfriend” or occasionally “the wife.” She appeared in several romantic comedies as the bad girl who would inevitably tempt the film’s star away from the girl that he was meant to be with. There were only a few films — like Alexander Payne’s Citizen Ruth — where she really got to show what she could do. But even when she played a stereotypical role, she always did it with so much skill that you got the feeling that there was more going on beneath the surface. Even when she played a character who was meant to be unsympathetic, it was hard not to like her.
Her films were popular on HBO and Cinemax when I was growing up. Later on, I guess she was best known for being married to John Travolta. I read somewhere the she stepped back from acting so that she could raise their family. Even when she was in her 40s and her 50s, she still seemed came across as being just as youthful and energetic as she did in the films that she made when she was a teenager. I think her death has left us all feeling a little bit older today.
She will be missed.
Rest in peace, Carl Reiner.
Since today would have been the late George Carlin’s birthday, here he is on Baseball vs Football:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.