Thursday, July 24, 2014

Even Big Budgets Couldn’t Save Musicals

In 1969 with Kent State, the Vietnam War and the cultural revolution, TCF released the 1964 musical hit “Hello Dolly” with a miscast lead and an inept director.  Anyone surprised that it flopped?  Young movie audiences were still grooving on “The Graduate” and “Wild in the Streets.”  Matthew Kennedy provides a history of movie musicals from 1960 to present day in “Roadshow: the fall of film musicals in the 1960s.”  Roadshow movies were a big city 70mm phenomena with tickets $4.50 and a souvenir program for sale in the lobby.   “Around the World in 80 Days” was  the only roadshow I remember in Spokane and Boise certainly was not a roadshow venue. 
Kennedy argues that the big studios had numerous roadshow failures because of inattention to details of casting and production.  When I was a Idaho Statesman reporter, my office mate Ken Burrows covered filming of “Paint Your Wagon” in nearby Baker, Ore.  This was a very expensive stinker with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, but a big deal for the Treasure Valley of Idaho and Oregon.   
Kennedy credits “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Sound of Music” as being among the winners.  The loser list is too long but includes “Star!”, “Dr. Doolittle” and “Hello, Dolly,” all from TCF which had to sell properties to raise cash and stay afloat.  The British got it right with “Oliver!” although Kennedy dismisses this movie even though it was commercially successful.  American International Pictures, with its beach musicals and horror movies, made money while the big boys hemorrhaged cash.  

Kennedy omitted “Across the Universe” and “Xanadu” in his discussion of movie musicals and these are two of my favorites.  With multiplex movie theaters today hungry for patrons, apparently the 3-D novelty is over, which is reminiscent of what became of big budget musicals in the 1960s.  Art houses are an alternative but often are not centrally located and are in areas with few parking possibilities.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Amidst the regal splendor of Big Sur, beat novelist Jack Kerouac has an alcohol induced nervous breakdown in the 2013 movie “Big Sur” based on the Kerouac novel of the same name.  Kerouac is a conflicted tortured soul with feelings for Neal and Caroline Cassady.  Kate Bosworth plays Billie who is having affairs with both Jack and Neal.   Book store owner Lawrence Ferenghetti advises Jack that his problem is drinking red wine whereas he should stick with the white.  Jack is very much a pathetic mess here in his ‘40s and not enjoying the notoriety of “On the Road.”  If you are into the Beat Generation and all things Jack, this is for you (on DVD.)  The scenery is superb on the northern California coast.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


MINNEAPOLIS — What do I know about napkin etiquette lunching with ladies today at the turn of the century Woman’s Club (singular)?  Apparently, leave it on the chair when you excuse yourself to go to the buffet table.  We were guests of Margaret and Tom today for lunch at the club and a field trip to the Lakewood Cemetery on the shores of Lake Calhoun where Sen. Wellstone and Vice President Humphrey rest.  This was a choice marketing opportunity for Lakewood’s Mr. Joyboy who narrated an hour long slide show and conducted the bus tour of the grounds.  Most of us were long in tooth matrons contemplating the world beyond so we were prime prospects for Lakewood so we were treated to the grand mausoleum and the historic art deco chapel.  Joyboy nixed the notion that Uncle Charlie’s ashes go on the mantel but should rest in the mausoleum.  Lakewood is contemplating full service with a funeral home on the grounds.  Bowing to the technologically chic, they now have wifi on the grounds so there’s no need to show up for a funeral.  Get a friend to Skype the proceedings and watch it on your phone or computer without ever leaving home.  If any of this reminds you of Forest Lawn and “The Loved One,” we are on the same page.  

Wednesday, July 02, 2014


MINNEAPOLIS — It was SRO last night at the Guthrie and I was in the nose bleed section but what a night!  Tyler Michaels stole the show with “On the Street Where You Live” on a bicycle no less.  The ‘60s movie of the same name suffers by comparison to the Guthrie effort here which features leads who actually sing (unlike Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn.)  And who didn’t have a MFL LP in 1956?  Here’s mine that I bought at Newberry’s in Spokane.  The movie is based on the 1938 RKO/Rank movie “Pygmalion” which is excellent.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bizarre "It's All Happening" Exploits Brit 60s Pop Scene

For a hilarious look at the pre-Beetle pop music scene in England, have a gander at the British 1963 film “It’s All Happening” with teen idol Tommy Steele.  The “Boy on the Beach” number is quite campy and the last half-hour features several bizarre musical acts that must have been popular in Great Britain at the time.  In the U.S., we had “Rock Around the Clock,” which was also a mashup of pop music acts and an annoying plot.  The rock/pop exploitation genre has produced some wonderfully bad stuff from the 50s and 60s.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


MINNEAPOLIS — A panel of experts today at the University of Minnesota agreed that the ruling related to First Amendment press freedom, New York Times v. Sullivan, should stand although a petition has been filed with the court to over rule it.
They spoke at an event at the Humphrey School honoring the legacy of the late Donald M. Gillmor, Silha professor emeritus of journalism law.  (He was my advisor in Graduate School where my emphasis was Mass Media as a Social Institution with emphasis on urban affairs.  My star papers were on urban renewal in St. Paul.)
The panel heard a timely query from a law school student:  “Everyone is a journalist with social media on the internet.  They share without thinking.  What can be done about it?" The moderator said it can’t be controlled.
Among those attending the event was Gary Gilson, who taught a UofM OLLI class on television and was a producer at public TV stations in Los Angeles and Minneapolis.
Lunch was in the Humphrey Forum which engulfs you in a huge all things Hubert H. Humphrey collage.  I got a chance to chat briefly with Carol Lacey, whose byline I recognized from years gone by at the Pioneer Press.  In the ‘70s and ’80s when reporters had interesting timely beats, Lacey was the emerging women’s movement reporter.  She covered the 1976 Year of the Women events and now is an associate professor in individualized studies at Metro State University, St. Paul.  Read more about Lacey at:  

Thursday, April 17, 2014


MINNEAPOLIS — About 350 people braved the cold and sleet to attend the annual Passover Sedar and feast at St. Joan of Arc Church in south Minneapolis last night.  The event combines many familiar elements of a traditional seder with some Christian ritual at the end.  Peace, brotherhood and let’s celebrate spring if it ever happens were the themes.  It’s definitely “sedar light” and somewhat raucous when held in this cavernous gymnasium.
I was introduced to the Rev. Fr. Jim Debracy as at the “Jewish” guy and after the event he wanted my evaluation which of course was positive.  Debracy impressed me with his 1980s stay in Jerusalem where he studied scripture and was recruited off the street to join a Saturday morning service at a local synagogue.  He was happy to do it.  Last night Debracy sported the embroidered yamicah that he bought in the Holy Land.
Joan of Arc is as progressive as the Catholics get in the Northland and those I met were a friendly lot.  Also attending was Lisa, who is Jewish and a student with me in the UofM OLLI classes.
Much traditional Jewish music added to the merriment which included the ritual folk dance that we all know accompanied by the accordion player from the Gashaus restaurant.   “Let My People Go,” which will be reprised Saturday for the Or Emet Jewish Humanist Sedar, was part of the group sing- along.  To recognize the inclusion of gays and lesbians at Joan of Arc, orange slices were on the tables and this will be part of Or Emet’s Sedar as well at First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis.
I would like to think that the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof” has sparked Christian awareness of Jewish traditions, particularly with anthems like “Tradition” and “To Life.”  So it was no coincidence that last week a conservative Christian congregation in suburban Seattle had a successful run with “Fiddler” and it was a hit here at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater and Edina High School in recent months.  It brings a message that we like to hear repeatedly.