Friday, August 29, 2014

With Twitter Abuzz About Keys of Bees, 'Twas Time to Channel Stevie and McCartney

This scientific fact has recently been making the rounds on Twitter: Bees normally buzz in the key of A, but when theyre tired, they buzz in the key of E.

No, I neither own a piano nor play the piano—but that didnt stop me from tickling the Ebony and Ivories about this bee-musing fact and writing a song that goes a little this:

Every bee that I can see
Buzz together in the very same key
Side by side in their hive or swarming, oh lord, theyre after me

We all know that bees bring the news in Sacramento
There is good and bad in every bee
Some are humble, some will bumble
But they wont bother us if we mind our own beeswax, thats a fact

Every queen in Ulees apiary
Could breed drones for a ten-pound beard of bees
Side by side in their hive or swarming, oh lord, theyre after me

We all know that bees buzz in A less their lids are low
There is sweet nectar in every bee
Some make honey, some cause you fright
E is the key when bees dont have the might to take flight

Every bee has got no knees
Its a phrase that was made up falsely
If Sting got stung, the beed die and hed cry profusely
John Belushi was killer singing Im a King Bee

Every bee that I can see
Buzzing together in harmony
Ruth Buzzi so funny
As angry Gladys Ormphby
Ruth Buzzi socked it to me
When whacking dirty, old Arte


(Image of Bumblebee Man copyright Fox Broadcasting; image of John Belushi copyright NBC.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

If Only Clubber Lang Had Taken on Pyongyang...

Im watching a M*A*S*H episode from 1981. Thankfully, MeTV runs restored versions of M*A*S*H that include scenes, or parts of scenes, long ago hacked out by greedier broadcasters squeezing episodes for every last second of commercials. Some of these scenes likely have not been shown for decades—I certainly dont recall a lot of them despite being a M*A*S*H aficionado since the mid-70s. 

Tonight, it was Episode 223, “Give ‘Em Hell, Hawkeye,” in which Capt. Pierce, fed up with year-long peace talks that have achieved nothing, pens a letter to President Truman, narrating it in voice-over as he writes. And as Hawkeye writes his letter, he refers to Harry—in newly restored dialogue—as “Mr. T.”

Now, the actual Mr. T, Laurence Tureaud, took that name in the late 1970s, but he was, by and large, anonymous until appearing as “Clubber Lang” in Rocky III, which debuted over Memorial Day weekend in 1982.

So, clearly, Hawkeye using the name “Mr. T” in an episode filmed nearly a year earlier is unrelated to the yet-to-be celebrity of Mr. T.*

But I can’t help wondering: if Mr. T had only become a Hollywood name a matter of months earlier, he could have actually portrayed President Truman in that M*A*S*H episode (M*A*S*H already had a long history of employing young, ascendant actors in guest roles). I see the episode as a two-parter, in which President Truman, “Mr. T,” responds to Hawkeye with a letter of his own—and, as did Hawkeye, narrating his reply in voice-over as he writers it...perhaps over a montage of his training regimen in the Oval Office, such as jumping rope, using a speed bag, or whatever else passed for hardcore cardio training in the early 1950s. 

Dear Capt. Pierce,
Thank you for your letter pleading for me to end this police action. However, you don’t seem to understand politics. One doesn’t back down from international threats to peace. South Korea was attacked. Attacked! You get it? If that little man, Kim Il-sung, don’t wanna come to the peace table, then I’ll come to him. The United States is ranked No. 1. ONE! That means we’re the best. But that bum has been taking the easy matches, sneak-attacking its peaceful neighbor. I’m telling you and everybody else at the 4077th: the United States will fight North Korea anywhere, anytime, for nothing. No, I don’t hate Kim Il-sung…but I pity the fool, and we will destroy any man who tries to take what we got.  

In closing, my prediction for the war: pain. 

Yours sincerely, 
President T

With aggressiveness that would’ve made Gen. Douglas MacArthur look like a Salvation Army bell ringer and accountability that would’ve left Harry S. Truman resembling a shriveling buck-passer, Mr. T might well have provided a ratings spike and seriocomic possibilities encouraging the stable of M*A*S*H writers to continue for several more seasons—perhaps even long enough to necessitate a romance between Hot Lips Houlihan and SSgt. Rizzo that would have perfectly encapsulated the lunacy of war...not to mention paved the way for either the best or the worst spin-off in television history.

*Far predating this M*A*S*H episode, a Welcome Back, Kotter spin-off called Mr. T and Tina briefly ran on ABC in 1976, but the show was so short-lived and obscure that not even its star, Pat Morita, remembered it. Perhaps if he’d come up with the “Crane” a decade earlier…

(Image from M*A*S*H copyright CBS.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

We All Lifted a Yellow Submarine...

So, I just turned on the TV and caught the last ten minutes of The Three Stooges in Orbit (1962), a film I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. And in that brief span, several elements immediately jumped out as closely presaging subsequent films—to the point that I wondered more than just fancifully if this predictably insipid film filled with recycled jokes and made on the cheap for a very over-the-hill comedy troupe could actually have been the source of certain concepts used in later, higher-profile works.

Look at the propeller-powered flying submarine stolen by the Martians (above). Is this not practically a real-life, full-scale model of the Beatles’ yellow submarine depicted in the 1968 animated feature film? The Three Stooges in Orbit predated Yellow Submarine by six years—yet looking at the similarities in concept and design, it’s not hard to suppose that the director of the Beatles’ film, George Dunning, was a Three Stooges fan who caught their movie upon its theatrical release,* perhaps even screening it privately six years later for the crew of animators to give them a definitive sense of the artistic style he wanted.

* In 1962, Beatlemania hadn’t yet swept England, so Dunning, a Canadian expatriate who had yet to become associated with the Beatles, likely was walking around London with little to do and thus had plenty of free time to see the new Three Stooges film.

Moments later in the film, Professor Danforth, played by long-time quasi-Stooge, Emil Sitka, displays an animated television segment of the Stooges dancing to stock, early 60s pop music. This is perhaps even stronger proof that George Dunning and his crew lifted ideas from this Three Stooges film. As you can see, that’s impressively sophisticated animation for 1962—and it appears very much the progenitor to the dazzling animation of Yellow Submarine. Granted, the Stooges weren’t as limber as the girl dancing to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” but their particular brand of fat, elderly elegance must have made a lasting impression on Dunning.

Okay, this weakest incarnation of the Three Stooges is no “Fab Four,” but consider the cumulative work of Moe, Larry, Curly, and the criminally underrated Shemp—that’s a four as fab as John, Paul, George, and Ringo, for sure.†

† Continuing the numbers game, the Three Stooges and the Beatles each counted six participating members among their ranks: the aforementioned four in each group, plus, of course, latter-day Stooges Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita as well as Beatles’ castoffs Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best.

Furthermore, the Three Stooges went into widespread television syndication in 1958, introducing them to a new generation—the Beatles’ generation. With the future Beatles all in their highly impressionable teens at that time, it’s a good bet the lads watched and enjoyed the Stooges’ tomfoolery—especially the angry, young man of the fledgling group, John Lennon, who probably would have appreciated them most. I can easily see the Stooges’ violent tendencies having rubbed off on the volatile Lennon. (The Three Stooges was actually removed from syndication for a time in the 1960s when mothers complained that their children were emulating the Stooges’ dangerous antics.) Now, I’m not saying that a few episodes of Moe bullying Larry, Curly, and Shemp led to Lennon kicking original bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, in the head—as has occasionally been alleged in the cause of Sutcliffe’s untimely death—but I am saying that an irate John likely was not above rapidly fluttering his hand in front of Sutcliffe’s entranced gaze, then snapping it down briskly, causing Sutcliffe’s head to do the same. Whether that facilitated Sutcliffe’s fatal cerebral hemorrhage, no one will ever know—but it sure looks like a lot of stress on the brain…

As an aside, yes, the Beatles’ animated TV series (which the Fabs had nothing to do with production-wise) debuted a month before The New Three Stooges cartoon in autumn 1965. However, the Three Stooges’ animated series included numerous live-action segments, so it’s highly probable that The New Three Stooges began development before the Beatles cartoon, although there may not have been enough time to permit cross-pollination specifically between the two shows.

Having presented all of this evidence, it cannot be overlooked that any discussion concerning the Three Stooges’ influence on the Beatles begins with the fact that Moe was wearing a Beatles’ haircut before any of the lads were born; thus, the Fab Four owe their most defining physical characteristic to Moe Howard.

But I’m not positing that The Three Stooges in Orbit was a creative well from which only the Beatles drew ideas. Far from it. Though meant to look comic, the Martians in this film actually appear disturbingly grotesque—even more so when the viewer subconsciously realizes that they strongly resemble the horrifying Grendel in the 2007 CGI version of Beowulf—or rather, that Grendel strongly resembles them. One wouldn’t think that the creators of a faithful and brutally explicit retelling of a violent Dark Age tale would look to a Three Stooges film for creative inspiration, but compare the Martians’ distended skulls, heavy eyebrow ridges, and lacertilian digits to Grendel and try to deny a connection…

Of course, Moe Howard—by several accounts, well-read in his youth and possessor of two months of high school study—may, himself, have based the Stooges’ brand of aggressive comedy on the original Beowulf

And as game-changing as was the granddaddy of all science fiction films, Star Wars,  it’s glaringly obvious from where in his movie-going youth George Lucas later pilfered the concept of the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star...

(Images from The Three Stooges in Orbit copyright Columbia Pictures; images from Yellow Submarine copyright United Artists; image from Beowulf copyright Paramount Pictures.)