Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy Days and The Godfather Aren't Apollonias and Oranges

Although Happy Days' original theme song was Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” the producers eventually commissioned for Season 3 a new theme—yielding the Pratt & McClain “Sunday, Monday, Happy Days” theme that we all know.

Keeping that in mind, let’s take a step back and consider for a moment that Happy Days premiered in the wake of The Godfather—and while the eagerly awaited Godfather II was being filmed.

Now, I’m not saying that Happy Days was a shameless prime-time knock-off of The Godfather, but I am saying that undeniable similarities exist between the Cunninghams and the Corleones: Howard (“Mr. C”) heads his family with the protectiveness, if not brute vigilance, of Don Vito. Marion, like Mama Corleone, is the loyal wife, mother, and cook.

And although The Fonz—lending ethnic provenance as “Arthur Fonzarelli”—Potsie, and Ralph Malph are not blood members of the Cunningham family, for all intents and purposes within the parameters of the show, they, along with Richie, serve as the four brothers. The hotheaded, impulsive, womanizing Fonzie is a dead ringer for Sonny; dim-witted Potsie aptly reflects Fredo; brainy Ralph Malph wouldn’t be far removed from Tom Hagen had the all-business consigliere possessed a sense of humor (or at least a pair of springy-eyeball glasses); and the shrewd, All-American Richie, of course, fills the role of war-hero Michael.

Joanie rounds out the family similarly to Connie Corleone, even marrying The Fonz’s cousin, Chachi—as Connie wed Carlo, who, similar to Chachi, was introduced to his future bride through Fonzie’s cinematic “progenitor,” Sonny.

Furthermore, could Arnold and Al be more brazen clones of Tessio and Clemenza? Savvy restaurateur Arnold, like Tessio, clearly is the smarter of the two, whereas Al displays Clemenza’s girth and love of food.

Extending beyond the family, Richie Cunningham’s history with women closely mimics that of Michael Corleone: Although a violent end is not implied, Richie’s first girlfriend, Gloria, passes quickly through his life, appearing in five early episodes before departing—somewhat akin to Michael’s brief, star-crossed marriage to Apollonia Vitelli. Later, Richie weds Lori Beth, who, in her prim-and-proper WASPiness, echoes Michael’s second wife, Kay Adams and, like Kay, knows nothing of Richie’s former life with Gloria.

And perhaps the producers threw in for good measure that—even though they’re not analogous characters—Potsie, like Johnny Fontane, made his bones with a microphone.

Finally, eldest son Chuck Cunningham isn’t exactly a replica of the traitorous Paulie Gatto, but it’s no stretch to believe that the mysteriously vanished Chuck ended up slumped over a steering wheel somewhere in the marshes of Milwaukee. (After all, orange—the color of Richie’s hair—is the Italian symbol of death, and Chuck went missing not long after being in the presence of his younger brother’s hair...)

Hell, Cunningham even sounds something like an Anglicized version of Corleone

With this less-than-coincidental—and very lucrative—family model in place, Executive Producer Garry Marshall should have further capitalized on the Godfather films’ popularity through the show’s new theme song, especially because The Godfather II was largely set, like Happy Days, in the nostalgia-filled 1950s. This could best have been accomplished by having Truett Platt or Jerry McClain—whichever is performing the lead vocal in “Happy Days”—sing the lyric as how Michael’s new Sicilian bride, Apollonia, recited the days of the week in The Godfather. Or better yet—hire Simonetta Stefanelli, herself, to sing the theme in her adorably fractured English...

Mon-day, Tues-day, Happy Days
Thurs-day, Wednes-day, Happy Days
Fri-day, Sun-day, Sa-tur-day, Happy Days
The car explodes
That’s the way it goes
Fabrizio meant it for you!

(Images of The Godfather copyright Paramount Pictures; images of Happy Days copyright ABC.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I Couldn't Have Curbed My Enthusiasm for the Stare-down of the Century (Make That Centuries)

As re-reported yesterday by Mental Floss, two grandsons of John Tyler, 10th President of the United States (1841-1845), are, amazingly, living. Tyler, who became president upon William Henry Harrison’s death one month into his term, was born in 1790. It seems impossible that a man born so far back in American history that, as a boy, he likely wore a tricorn hat and colonial breeches every day of the year rather than only on Halloween could have grandchildren who aren’t themselves long dead. Of course, neither of these grandchildren ever knew President Tyler, who died in 1862, but the fact that three generations of the Tyler family currently span 224 years is mind-boggling.

Tyler, a more randy president than even John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton, fathered 15 children by two wives. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, his fourth son by his second wife, was born in 1853, when Tyler was 63 years old. (Tyler later begat two more sons, finally zipping up at age 70.)

Lyon Gardiner Tyler, who eventually became President of the College of William and Mary, inherited his father’s aversion to birth control, siring three children with each of his two wives, the latter three conceived when he was in his seventies. Both Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. (born 1925), and Harrison Tyler (born 1928) are still with us, making them living links to an inconceivably remote past.

Mental Floss first broke this incredible story in January 2012—which is a damn shame because it would have fit wonderfully into a Season 2 subplot of Curb Your Enthusiasm, filmed in 2001.

In Episode 15, “The Thong,” Larry David, at the request of Rob Reiner, reluctantly agrees to be the prize in a lunch auction to benefit Groat’s syndrome (which—let’s be clear—has nothing to do with former Pittsburgh Pirate Dick Groat). Larry eventually sits down to lunch with a man named John Tyler (played by Tom McGowan), who paid $4,000 for the honor of sharing a meal with Larry. This John Tyler not only is no relation to the president, but is completely dismissive of sharing his name. Determined to provide John Tyler with an entertaining and affable experience, Larry, grasping for conversational ideas, even serenades his lunch guest with a Marilyn Monroe–esque Happy birthday, Mr. President John Tyler

Now, Tom McGowan played the increasingly annoyed Ordinary John Tyler admirably, and the scene conjures a lot of laughs. However, it might have worked even better had McGowan’s role instead been played by one of John Tyler’s two surviving grandsons (who, at the time of filming, were only in their mid-seventies). Of course, it would have been pointless to have Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., or Harrison Tyler play an unrelated man who happens to possess the name “John Tyler.” But had one of the grandsons played himself, upon Larry’s discovery of his lineage, there’s no way that Larry—a keen student of history both in the show and in real life—would ever have believed that the grandson of an antebellum president could still be alive—thus yielding the absolutely ultimate Larry David stare-down as he tries to determine whether the man sitting across from him is telling the truth about being the grandson of the long-deceased President Tyler.

A Larry David stare-down a century and a half in the making—that would have been pretty…pretty…pretty…pretty good.

(Images of Larry David and Tom McGowan copyright HBO.) 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sochi's a Little Roachy: The IOC's Black Sea Blunder

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games hasn’t yet begun—and already it’s an international fiasco bathed in the agony of defeat. Despite more than $50 billion spent in preparation for the world spotlight, myriad accounts of shockingly unprepared hotels and facilities are being tweeted out of the Russian city. But should we really be shocked by this? Russia—either under Soviet control or whatever grade of “free” government presently exists—has always possessed a toothpick-sculpture infrastructure overseen by cold, out-of-touch codgers who have never given a damn about their people’s quality of life.

Complaints and cries for help regarding no running water, stray dogs walking through hotels, hotel rooms not even finished construction, lack of heating, no Internet access, nonfunctioning elevators, and a multitude of other modern-age nightmares are racing out of Sochi.  

Stacy St. Clair tweeted the photo above of the horrifying state of tap water in her hotel. Guests were warned, “Do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.”

Whether it’s doorknobs that fall off upon touch, uncovered manholes, or, according to Greg Wyshynski, trash bins left in bathroom stalls with instructions posted to dispose of used toilet paper in them rather than flush it down the toilet, Russia clearly remains somewhere between a second- and third-world nation.

And all of this on top of the intended state discrimination against gay athletes...

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the Russkies failed to manufacture enough medals and eventually will just give each medal-winner a bottle of vodka. Hell, I’m betting the Opening Ceremony will be delayed because Vladimir Putin is using the Olympic torch to restart the Kremlin’s pilot light...

It’s no understatement to say that the International Olympic Committee miscalculated gravely in granting Sochi the 2014 Games. The IOC would have done far better to select Xochitl (pronounced So-cheet), the fine Mexican restaurant on 2nd Street in Old City Philadelphia. Xochitl has an excellent cuisine and bar, commodes that can handle toilet paper, and even though looking into a glass of Philadelphia tap water might as well be peering into the eyepiece of a microscope, at least Xochitl’s doesn’t make you wonder if Howard Hughes has taken up residence in the kitchen…

And I don’t even want to think what culinary horrors with which those poor unfortunates are being tortured in Sochi—especially when they can be enjoying a succulent spicy brisket taco and a blood orange margarita by candlelight.

Okay, a restaurant self-described as “cozy” might be a little more cramped than a city of 350,000, but having patronized Xochitl on several occasions, I can tell you firsthand that its wait staff are likely far more cordial than, and their service far superior to, anything those unlucky guests currently are enduring in Russia’s largest resort town. In fact, considering all the negative press emanating from Russia over the last few days, Sochi isn’t so much a resort town as a last-resort town.

Once again, the world has erred by not first consulting me…

(Photo of Xochitl sign copyright Michael T. Regan.)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sailing the Specious Seas of Cheese: A Theorem Wrapped in a Riddle Inside an Enigma

I wasn’t too bad at theorems in high school geometry. (Okay, I got a C, but that was the result of being totally preoccupied with the circumference of Lisa S.’s fabulous freshman breasts.) It’s been thirty years since then, but I’m gonna take a crack at a theorem here…

Theorem. Walter Matthau (as Sen. Russell Long) in JFK: “That dog don’t hunt...”

Sound bite of “Chop Top” in Primus’s “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”: “Dog will hunt!”

Proof. Walter Matthau was not a fan of Primus (Matthau ≠ Primus).


As additional support, I offer that, to my knowledge, after Matthau died in 2000, not a single Primus album was found among his music collection.

Interestingly, each part of this theorem was released to the public in 1991—the Primus single preceding Oliver Stone’s film by approximately seven months. Of course, principal shooting for JFK took place much earlier than the film’s release, so both Matthau and Primus were creating their moments at roughly the same time. Considering that “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” garnered a fair amount of radio play—reaching #23 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart—it’s a little surprising that Walter Matthau did not take to Primus. After all, aside from Primus’s unique brand of idiosyncratic funk-metal that surely would electrify even a 71-year-old Brooklynite such as Matthau, “Jerry”—who “wrapped himself around a telephone pole”—meets a fate very similar to Lee Bowers, the railroad worker who witnessed suspicious happenings on the Grassy Knoll and died in a single-car accident on an empty road in Midlothian, Texas. It is Bowers’ testimony during the Warren Commission proceedings that helps convince Jim Garrison of a conspiracy in President Kennedy’s assassination, and, in fact, that scene with Bowers occurs in JFK only minutes after Matthau’s brief portrayal of Sen. Long and utterance of “That dog don’t hunt…”

So even had Matthau gotten up to leave the premiere and go home after his appearance half an hour into the film—which I’m betting he did—the aged Matthau likely didn’t make it out the theater door before the aforementioned Lee Bowers segment caught his attention. Okay, it’s possible that Matthau wasn’t a regular listener of the radio stations playing Primus’s new single at that time, but according to Variety’s archives, Primus was mentioned in no fewer than nine issues of that most famous of trade papers in 1991—so Matthau surely was at least aware of the band, thus making a tenuous connection in his mind between the song and the film highly probable. It’s baffling why such a fresh and dynamic sound as Primus wasn’t Walter Matthau’s cup of tea—perhaps he was still attached to those tiresome hair bands of the late ‘80s—but why Walter Matthau didn’t enjoy Primus is irrelevant mathematically. As their aforementioned statements show, Matthau and Primus were clearly at odds philosophically, as well as regards canine behavior; thus, my theorem is airtight.

On a related note, I am currently developing a corollary concerning Jack Lemmon's attitude toward Sonic Youth.

(Images from JFK copyright Warner Bros.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Opportunity Knocked on a Door That Shouldn't Have Been There

Jack Torrance’s “Heeerrreee’s Johnny!” head-poke through an ax-split door in 1978's The Shining is one of the iconic images in modern cinema and certainly the most identifiable on-screen moment of Jack Nicholson’s long and lauded career. But this classic scene would have been even better had the doorway instead been covered by a multi-colored curtain just like the one that Johnny Carson pawed through every weeknight at the start of The Tonight Show.

Many homes in the 1970s featured doorways adorned with tapestry dividers or hanging beads instead of doors, and the psychotic Jack Torrance popping his head through a vertically striped curtain of orange, pink, brown, beige, gold, and two shades of blue would have truly added cinematic provenance to this frighteningly comic moment.

True, Nicholson ad-libbed this legendary line, but once such a great idea was out of the bag, there’s no reason that Stanley Kubrick—notorious in Hollywood for shooting excessive takes—couldn’t have had an intern run out to a local linen store, order a replica Tonight Show curtain, and instructed Nicholson to redo the scene with the proper prop.

Frankly, I’m more than a little surprised that Kubrick—one of the most visionary filmmakers ever to step behind a camera and a renowned obsessive for detail—overlooked this opportunity.

Then again, Kubrick did have the good sense to cast Shelley Duvall rather than Robert Duvall as Jack Torrance’s wife, Wendy...

(Image from The Shining copyright Warner Brothers; image from The Tonight Show copyright NBC.)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Teddy Spoke Softly...But Carried a Bic Pen

Letters to Kermit, a collection of many dozens of handwritten and typed correspondences from the desk of Theodore Roosevelt between 1896 and 1918, was first published in 1946. It is a candid and revealing look into the heart and mind of the twenty-sixth President of the United States, both before, during, and after his nearly eight years in office. And I think this little-known literary gem authored by one of the dynamic figures of the twentieth century deserves an excerpt:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Not Winning the Oscar Must've Made Baldini a Grouch

It's well known that both Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro won the Academy Award for portraying Vito Corleone—the only instance of two actors winning an Oscar for the same role.

But what about Oreste Baldini, who played the nine-year-old Vito at the beginning of The Godfather II? I wonder if he’s bitter that he didn’t win an Oscar for his portrayal of Vito. Sure, Baldini was on-screen for only a few scenes...yet he showed fine range, shifting effortlessly from weak, dumb-witted native to weak, dumb-witted immigrant. And if that weren’t enough to convince Academy voters, Baldini was the only “Vito” to sing (while quarantined on Ellis Island)—something neither Brando nor De Niro dared do…or likely even possessed the acting chops to do.

My guess is that the now-51-year-old Baldini seethes in anger and jealousy every minute of his life since the evening Art Carney and De Niro walked off with the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor honors, respectively, in April 1975. And although Baldini has enjoyed a busy career dubbing Hollywood dialogue into his native tongue for Italian cinema, television, animation, and even video games, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if bilious ire occasionally flares into his on-screen translations.    

Had I been an Italian citizen taking in a film at the Nuovo Olimpia on the Via in Lucina in downtown Rome on a bygone Saturday evening, I would hardly be shocked if, right in the middle of Ed Wood, Johnny Depp ranted Art Carney può andare al diavalo, che non-talento hack!

Or even a purple-rhino'ed Edward Norton inexplicably yelling De Niro ha rubato la mia Oscar, che bastardi! Baldini ha la voce di un angelo! in the midst of singing ditties of support to methadone addicts in Death to Smoochy.

I might even have felt such sympathy for the slighted Baldini that I wouldn’t have demanded my money back from the theater manager… 

(Image from The Godfather II copyright Paramount Pictures.)