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Old Wreck, Wacky Book
This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.
I’m not sure how well known Joe Franklin was outside the New York City media bubble. He hosted a talk show on WOR Channel 9 — “The Joe Franklin Show” — that ran from the early ‘60s until the early ‘90s. It was a low budget affair that still managed to get everyone from Salvador Dali to the Beastie Boys. Franklin might be best known for his cameo in Ghostbusters; he’s the media figure who asks Dan Aykroyd “How is Elvis and have you seen him lately?”
Joe Franklin loved to say that he invented the concept of nostalgia when he worked in radio in the 1940s because he was the only deejay playing records from 20 years earlier. They called him the Young Wreck With The Old Records, and Franklin coupled that schtick with a non-threatening, nebbishy persona. He addresses his ineffectual image in the prologue of his 1995 memoir, Up Late With Joe Franklin, one of the strangest celebrity tell-alls in history.
Franklin asserts that he harbors no anger or bitterness, despite having been “double-crossed and triple-crossed and deceived” during his many years in the business. “I have no nasty streak in me. I’ve got no vindictiveness, no revenge, no rage.” Franklin then writes about the handful of critics who gave him truly awful reviews. They all disappeared, he says, thanks to an unsolicited “benefactor” working on his behalf. Franklin paints this mysterious figure, who phoned him numerous times to explain what was going on, as a Don Corleone type. Franklin is very proud that the mafia might have been rubbing people who didn’t like him.
“Remember when they were messing with Wayne Newton how things ended? Wayne had to go out there on his own, a lone man, and confront the people who were making fun of him. I’ve never had to do that.”
This proclamation is disproven several chapters later when Franklin talks about his lawsuit against Uncle Floyd, a tv personality even more obscure than himself. Floyd had a variety show on a UHF station out of Newark; Franklin was lampooned on that show as Joe Frankfurter. “I love satire — except he got very vulgar,” Franklin explains. “He had four guys on with yarmulkes and Jewish accents, me with a Jewish accent. He had ‘guests’ on my alleged show blowing snot into a glass.” Woody Allen of all people convinced Joe to go after Floyd. “Joe, you gotta do it. You gotta sue him. This guy is gonna hurt you.” Can you imagine that diseased worm actually giving a shit about Joe Franklin and Uncle Floyd?
Most of Up Late With Joe Franklin is devoted to the celebrity interactions Franklin’s lengthy career afforded him. For reference purposes, one assumes, a notable figure’s name is often printed in bold typeface above a corresponding one or two paragraph anecdote. So it’s easy to flip the book open and find the spot where Mae West talks about her enema regimen or the passage that details Louis Armstrong handing out business cards with a picture of himself on the toilet. Franklin was most enamored with meeting entertainers of the 1920s, so guys like Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson get several pages of stories and praise.
Another inspiration from that era whom Franklin got to know was Rudy Vallée. “People forget that in his heyday, in 1930 or 1931, Rudy Vallée was bigger than Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen and the Spin Doctors combined,” he enthuses with not a single drop of irony. When Vallee uncovered his wife’s secret plan to poison him so she could run off with her lover, why, “[that story] was bigger than World War I and II put together.” Vallée and Franklin became palsy enough to start watching old movies together in Franklin’s basement. Joe dishes up some dirt on this hero — Vallée was apparently so cheap he’d tip waiters with fountain pens.
Joe Franklin has no problem using words like “fuck” and “sexy” in his book (“I loved Joan Crawford [and] I was always intrigued by her big sexy mouth”). However, when describing sexual encounters, he can’t say anything specific beyond “biological urge” or “biological need.” Marilyn Monroe had “a strong biological urge” that Franklin couldn’t ignore when they worked together one night on a manuscript. If you have trouble believing America’s most famous blonde seduced Joe Franklin, wait until the next page when he reveals that Jayne Mansfield extended her “smoldering touch” to his diminutive frame. Then, on the page after that, it’s Veronica Lake who’s in heat. “She threw herself at me, but I always refrained.” Franklin says he respected Lake too much but he also implies she was too old when her severe biological needs arose.
Franklin was married to a woman named Lois for long time despite the fact that she loathed his career and liked to smack her husband around (she ruptured one of his ear drums during one fight). Divorce was out of the question; Franklin was afraid it would somehow leave him emotionally shattered. “I’m a creature of habit,” he shrugs.
A lot of Up Late reads like Donald Trump tweets — self-aggrandizing, sometimes wounded, often nonsensical. Writing about Johnny Carson, Franklin brags, “Towards the end, when he did a thing with Christian Slater, he really gave me a big, big send-off. In his last six months he talked about me several times.” Eddie Murphy was on Franklin’s show once, but Franklin says “[Eddie] denies he ever made an appearance. That’s okay. He’ll live without me, and I’ll live without him.” Joe Franklin featured a young Garth Brooks on his show because he recognized this aspiring singer “had something special” even though “he was chubby [and] not especially sexy.”
Incredibly, Trump is one Big Apple fixture who doesn’t show up in this book, a volume that goes out of its way to clown former mayor Abe Beame and contains more than one reference to the Martha Washington Hotel. And aside from a singular photo with Dan Aykroyd, Franklin makes no reference to his appearance in Ghostbusters. Once you’ve satisfied Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, Slimer must seem like small potatoes.
She’s So Unusual
This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.
“By the way, if you listen to the very end of ‘She Bop,’ you’ll hear that Michael Jackson took the bass line and wrote ‘Bad’ from it. Right before he went in to record ‘Bad’ he sat behind me on an airplane with Emmanuel Lewis and he was listening to ‘She Bop.’ Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I’m very flattered by even the thought of that.”
This snippet from Cyndi Lauper’s eponymous 2012 memoir arrives in the midst of a lengthy passage about touring Romania in the early 21st Century. It’s not an isolated incident of narrative interruption. Turns out you can take the girl out of Queens but you can’t take the unpredictable tangent out of the New York storyteller. When Lauper mentions her home in Connecticut she confirms that it’s in the same area where that lady had her face ripped off by a chimp and she meditates on that for a few beats.
Michael Jackson isn’t the only superstar Lauper accuses of plagiarism in Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir. According to her, Bruce Springsteen lifted the template of her song “Sally’s Pigeons” for his Oscar and Grammy-winning effort “Streets of Philadelphia.” Lauper was less enthused with this theft and she has another Bruce anecdote where he acted coldly towards her at a party. Let’s get these two on “WTF” so they can hash it out.
Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir presents a familiar trajectory — hard scrabble upbringing, a years long “overnight” success, lonely times at the top, listening to 50 Cent while you drive your son to hockey practice. Lauper endured her share of abuse on the journey through celebrity, underscoring a real tenacity, and she’s candid regarding her own mistakes. The example springing to mind per the latter is, for lack of a better term, fucking insane: Lauper once referred to herself using the n word (with a hard “r”) during a record company meeting early in her career.
Lauper says she was referencing Yoko Ono’s controversial quote about women that employs the epithet and claims she “wasn’t sensitive” at that age to the “long history of abuse and slavery and horror” sewn into those six letters. I don’t buy the second half of this 70-year-old white woman’s defense but at least she’s not pretending she didn’t say the n word. And at no point does she use the “some of my best friends” crutch.
Did you know Cyndi Lauper had a recurring role on 1990s sitcom “Mad About You?” I didn’t. Lauper praises Paul Reiser as one of Hollywood’s true nice guys but says Helen Hunt was a little crazy with power. Specific examples are not provided, so the “Mad About You” historians have their work cut out for them.
The great Jancee Dunn co-authored Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir but, as noted, it doesn’t feel like much editorial work was applied. In addition to all the bizarre tributaries, the tone is inconsistent. Sometimes Lauper writes like a normal person and sometimes she lapses into the phonetic quack of a Bowery Boy. The latter is cute, though occasionally it obscures Lauper’s thesis on a given topic.
Was there friction between Lauper and Dunn? The copy of Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir I own is autographed by Lauper and when I received it the jacket was bent in such a way that Dunn’s photo was not visible. Let the conspiracy theories flow.
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“Faerie Tale Theatre,” Reviewed
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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generations
This article debuted in February on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were doing bad stuff.
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” was that rarest of things — a high quality tv show that actually made money, consistently and over a lengthy span of time. Seven seasons went by and figureheads could brag that “TNG” remained “extremely profitable.” They knew the ride couldn’t last forever, though, so the series concluded and the characters graduated to feature films. There was little wait for the “Trek” devoted; as soon as the masterpiece series finale “All Good Things…” wrapped production “TNG” began work on its theatrical debut, Star Trek: Generations. The movie was released just six months after “All Good Things…” aired in 1994.
Generations didn’t need any gimmicks tying it to the previous dynasty of Trek cinema, but they insisted on two big ones anyway. The film begins 78 years in the past where we witness the death of Captain James T. Kirk as he heroically rescues the Enterprise-B from a mysterious and lethal anomaly. That same anomaly, known in universe as the Nexus, brings Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard together at the end of Generations. Together they must thwart an evil scientist named Saron who is trying to bend the Nexus to his whims at the expense of several nearby planets.
It’s explained that if a person manages to get inside the Nexus it will allow them to experience their dream life. That’s what Saron wants, and Picard, whose emotions are brittle in Generations following personal tragedy, will eventually find himself seduced by what the realm might provide. This has all the makings of a classic Star Trek, and a lot of it is quite entertaining, but Generations has trouble striking the right cinematic tone. Like an oversized coat, some of it fits and some of it is lost to exaggeration.
Director David Carson had never helmed a feature film prior to Generations and he only made a handful afterwards. Yes, the scale gets away from him at times and the movie’s lighting is periodically insane, but Carson deserves credit where it’s due. He gives Klingon antagonists the Duras sisters a compelling sendoff. That sequence is perfect and will make you holler whatever the Klingon word is for “oh snap!”
So what does William Shatner’s rug look like in Star Trek: Generations? It’s pretty good. A fine rug to wear the day you die. And through all that running around and all those fisticuffs, it never slips once, boldly staying where real hair used to grow before.
GB: Afterlife Trailer Reaction
Cinematographer László Kovács purposely shot the original Ghostbusters like a drama, avoiding the bright tones that usually signal comedy, so every element would feel credible. This is why the movie’s frights are so frightening and why so many people today view Ghostbusters not as a comedy but as a supernatural adventure with a handful of jokes.
The marketing for forthcoming third chapter Ghostbusters: Afterlife is playing to that crowd by emphasizing a solemn cadence. A new trailer debuted last week that reiterates the narrative threads we’ve been given about wayward teenagers slowly unearthing the truth about what is now an unspoken legend of yore, the Ghostbusters. It’s very Force Awakens. Well, why not? The Force Awakens made $2 billion worldwide in 2015, revitalizing Star Wars after a generation in the weeds. Not a bad template to copy.
Whatever Ghostbusters: Afterlife actually is (laugh riot? creep show? rural youth dramedy with paranormal elements?) the commercials make it look interesting. I’d like to see it. My enthusiasm is tempered by the fact Afterlife has become an avatar for our impatience with COVID.
Experts were saying pretty early on that even in the best of circumstances the pandemic might last until 2025. Everyone else wanted to measure this crisis in monthly increments. Afterlife’s release has been delayed three times in the past year and a half. The filmmakers insist it must be experienced on the big screen. Of course; a strictly theatrical release generates the most profit. Will life “return to normal” by November? Skimming headlines about the Delta variant and all the children who are getting sick now because half the country still believes wearing a mask and getting vaccinated is a matter of personal liberty, I’d say no.
Maybe if everything had shut down last year until our daily COVID infection and death rates dropped down to zero, we would have seen Ghostbusters: Afterlife already. Can you imagine a world where we’re already intimately familiar with Muncher?
These Things Are Real
Well, here’s some news.
Lyons Press has contracted me to write a book about the long, storied history of the Ghostbusters films. All of ’em — the old ones, the new ones, the ones they never even made. It probably won’t be published until 2021. Friends of the blog know I tried to get this off the ground a few years ago. The fact that it’s a reality now…well, my back teeth are swimming in excitement. I can’t wait for everyone to read it.
Speaking of junk you can read, I do a zine now about bizarre tv. It’s called Idiot Time and you can subscribe for the low low price of just two dollars a month at patreon.com/idiot_time. Seven issues so far. The most recent is a tribute to Ted Knight. Hi, guy.
Also, I live in Texas now. The grocery stores are enormous.
Unsolicited Bartokomousin’ Across Eight Seasons Of “Perfect Strangers”
– Hulu recently added “Perfect Strangers” to its streaming stable; my first question after spinning the episode wheel for about a week straight is, since Bronson Pinchot’s Balki is just a sanitized version of the brief but memorable role he plays in Beverly Hills Cop, do you think “Perfect Strangers” ever tried to get Eddie Murphy to make a guest appearance? Also, do you think anyone from Beverly Hills Cop chagrins Bronson Pinchot for spinning this character into television, even though legend tells us Pinchot himself improvised it while filming Beverly Hills Cop? Do you think they ever asked Judge Reinhold to be on “Perfect Strangers?”
– the chemistry between Pinchot’s affable, earnest Balki and Mark Linn-Baker’s cynical, beleaguered Cousin Larry is often utterly crackerjack; when the writing plays to their strengths the laughs flow like water and you can see how this goddamn thing ran for eight seasons; this is probably how “Perfect Strangers” survived so many supporting cast hiccups (the actress who plays Twinkacetti’s wife in the first two seasons returns in the third as an unrelated newspaper gossip columnist; very confusing if you’re watching “PS” totally out of order on a Tuesday night, face deep in kung pow chicken)
– yes, there is an episode of this program in which Balki is accidentally hypnotized into believing he is Elvis Presley the night before his tax audit; this is in season four, so it is plausible by this point that Balki might be paying some kind of income tax on his earnings from the newspaper’s mail room
– yes, there is an episode of this program in which Larry brings home 58 live turkeys just a few days before Thanksgiving because he’s convinced he can make a buck off last minute shoppers; there’s nothing funnier than imagining Larry and Balki succumbing to the will of 58 live turkeys in their kitchen and living room, and imagine it is what you have to do—the budget apparently only allotted for two to three birds at a time
– yes, there’s an episode where Balki claims to have met and befriended Carl Lewis after a showing of Benji: The Hunted; Balki’s enthusiasm for this film is very endearing
– over the course of “Perfect Strangers” Larry and Balki meet, awkwardly date, and fall in sitcom love with their upstairs neighbors, Jennifer and Mary Ann (their partners respectively); these parallel romances remains chaste for the most part, even when they all wind up living together, although every once in a while something truly ribald slips by—like the time Balki admits Mary Ann really knows how to “toss his salad”; this occurs in a much later season when all the Friday night heat was ostensibly on Urkel
– people forget “Family Matters,” the show which begat Urkel, is a spinoff of “Perfect Strangers” (before she was mother to Laura and Eddie, wife to Carl, Harriet Winslow was elevator operator to Larry and Balki at their newspaper job); though he pops up on several other ABC TGIF entries of this era, Urkel never came to pay his respects to the cousins, which is fucking nuts because “Perfect Strangers” is the only TGIF show that takes place in the same city as “Family Matters”; even stranger, Mark Linn-Baker crossed over to “Family Matters” in one of its later seasons, but not as Larry, as some other guy
– the episode where Balki takes on the persona of hip hop star Fresh Young Balki B is less incredible than memory; the several minute applause break I recalled for the introduction of Larry as MC Cousin does not occur
– in the seventh season the King of Mypos (Balki’s fictitious homeland) comes to visit and of course dies unexpectedly; this turns into a Weekend at Bernie’s type deal but you’ll be more amused by how many times the dead guy thinks he’s off camera and starts moving his face around
– the final season of “Perfect Strangers” is inexplicably only six episodes, but don’t worry, they cram in pregnancy, a sporting good store, a Myposian death curse, a game show, and a two parter in a hot air balloon
– the only reason they should reboot this show is so we can learn if Bronson and Mark can still execute the Dance of Joy; it was foretold they would not be able to at this advanced age in the season three episode “Future Shock”; surely this is one of the top betting pools in Vegas
Unsolicited Harry T. Stonein’ On “Night Court” Season One
– whenever anyone starts talking about how this program gets strange in its later years, remind them the first episode produced after the pilot consists of guest star Michael J. Fox arguing with Santa Claus until the judge literally smothers him in a hug
– “Night Court” is the 1980s sitcom that took an actor best known for playing a Boston area con man and had him play a New York judge so virtuous they had to balance his morality with a wacky persona (this guy isn’t all nobility; he plays with chattering teeth and whoopee cushions at his bench!); it’s possible Harry Anderson’s “Cheers” character Harry The Hat and Judge Harry Stone are the same individual, a dual personality torn between two cities and two very different codes of honor; then again, no other characters from “Cheers” ever materialize on “Night Court,” and “Cheers” had a crossover with every other fuckin’ show on NBC at some point (even “St. Elsewhere”); don’t worry, a shared universe exists between “Night Court” and one other Must See TV sitcom—the Paul Reiser vehicle “My Two Dads”
– in this first season, Paula Kelly plays savvy public defender Liz Williams, a perfect adversary for John Larroquette’s ego-driven prosecutor Dan Fielding; unfortunately, they don’t give Kelly enough to do and these end up being her only 13 episodes; Karen Austin chews more as clerk Lana Wagner, trying her best to parse Judge Harry’s odd mechanisms while stemming what might be an eruption of attraction on her part; Austin is fun and charismatic in this role but she also did not make it to round two (she was cut loose by “Night Court” producers after developing Bell’s palsy); it’s disappointing these talents were shortchanged but the good news is they had careers long before and after these legal hijinks (and Austin quickly recovered from her malady)
– “Night Court” takes place in New York City thirty years ago but they dress all the bums and lowlifes who wander in and out of the gallery like they’re in a train yard seventy years ago; it’s like the classic hobo review and follies
– Yakov Smirnoff guest stars in one of these episodes; somehow he makes it all the way through without saying, “What a country!”
– call me a cynic but it’s difficult to believe these people are all so chummy after hours; if someone had abandoned a baby with one of the bailiffs at the O.J. trial would Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran, and Judge Ito have gone over to the bailiff’s house to help out?
– generally the humor of “Night Court” is timeless but every once in a while the writers slip in the topical, like a Pia Zadora reference (1984 audiences were very ready to laugh at her expense)
– as a wee tyke I’d watch this program and dream about visiting a New York City municipal court; in 2011 I got to live my fantasy after receiving a citation for being in Prospect Park after sundown; to my dismay, it was nothing like on the tv—the judge did not do any magic tricks, the attorneys did not crack any jokes, and overall the experience was vaguely depressing; based on this I am wary of befriending any sheep herders from Mypos
– if “Night Court” was just John Larroquette and Richard Moll’s bailiff Bull Shannon trading insults for thirty minutes each week it still probably could have lasted for nine seasons (the dudes is funny)
– excuse my dissidence but it is frankly disgusting that the “Night Court” theme song has not become our country’s national anthem
Unsolicited Dougie Jonesin’ On “Twin Peaks: The Return”
SPOILER ALERT: there might be spoilers in this.
– the nightmare never really ends, time is anything it wants to be, reality may be actively working against you; these are the sentiments I take away from season three of “Twin Peaks,” an eighteen hour tapestry that’s as frustrating as it is arresting and interesting; if you agree life is more about the journey than the destination, hop in, because we might end up at the DMV
– ask me why the original “Twin Peaks” strikes a chord with so many viewers and I’ll theorize it lies in the even braiding of various fascinating strands: the inherent kitsch of Anytown, U.S.A., the seamy underbelly of Anytown, U.S.A., the Pacific Northwest’s foggy weirdness, a police procedural, and a bevy of legitimately intriguing townies; “Peaks ’17” skews that balance as scores of principle characters and their stories are pushed aside for jaunts with new cast members, lengthy views into unsettling paranormal screen savers, or bizarre non-moments; the art to be found in the sequence where Robert Forster makes a 15 minute Skype call in real time is the lack of art
– David Lynch is critic-proof, of course; perhaps the only way his fans would cry foul is if he’d done anything conventional for the new “Twin Peaks”; that said, the decision to bury our hero, Agent Dale Cooper, in a doppelgänger story line wherein he is not himself at all for the majority of the season while relegating our other beloved icon Audrey Horne to a handful of similarly out-of-character sequences comes across in some ways as cruel (especially if this is in fact the last “Peaks” ever, as Lynch has suggested); it feels like maybe we’re being punished for enjoying these people too much
– don’t worry, we spent plenty of time with Lucy and Andy; you’ll be happy to know they’ve somehow become even stupider
– the game is afoot from the first episode, after a character declares that very unpopular “Peaks” staple James Hurley has “always been cool”; David Lynch has seen your “fuck James Hurley” memes
– when fans say “Twin Peaks: The Return” is unlike anything on television, they’re correct; it trusts its audience implicitly, assuming from them a specific brand of loyalty and intelligence; also, many of the aforementioned journeys into unexplained realms are uniquely hypnotic; the program may vex you but it’s rarely boring to look at, even when a guy is just sweeping a floor
– the remark has been made that, thanks to his role in this, Jim is now the Belushi with the more revered body of work; this is only because season three of “Twin Peaks” is longer than all of John Belushi’s films combined
– the final two episodes introduce a few wonderful and brilliantly conclusive ideas, only to pull them back and present something else; Lynch is as Lynch does, and that itself may be the true point of this coffee soaked exercise
– there are some wigs in this thing, hoo boy; Spirit Halloween shoulda been thanked in the credits; to be fair, I don’t know how to make a wig (I also don’t know how to make prestige television)
– at eighteen hours you’d think they would have found room to throw in Bill Pullman wailin’ on a saxophone but no such luck; at least we get (the) Nine Inch Nails and Edward Louis Vedder Severson