complaints, Duggars, language

Stinkin’ heck!

Bill has to leave in a few days to work distantly for three weeks. Meanwhile, I’m a bit worried about Arran, who doesn’t seem like himself. This is the third year Bill has had an extended TDY at this time of year. It seems like every year, something causes angst. A couple of years ago, Arran had worms that were causing some similar symptoms that he’s experiencing now– gas, intermittent vomiting, and lethargy. He recently has had a mast cell tumor removed and sometimes they can cause stomach upset. Of course, he might also have worms. So, on top of everything else that has to be done before Bill leaves on Saturday, we have to get him to the vet for a checkup.

Meanwhile, I’ve been continuing to watch Growing Pains and I am convinced that at least one of the writers had a prejudice against overweight people. Not only were there many fat jokes directed at Tracey Gold’s character, Carol Seaver, but there were also a lot of fat jokes in general. For instance, yesterday, I was watching an episode in which Alan Thicke’s character was giving therapy to a guy whose wife had decided to go back to work and that was upsetting to him. He asks the guy what had changed in five years and the patient says, “She got fat.” Then, later in the episode, he says something about how she “waddled” home from work.

Another thing I noticed is that post Kirk Cameron’s conversion to Christianity (alliteration extraordinaire!), the word “hell” was used very seldom. Instead, they all say “heck”. I could probably turn it into a drinking game. “What the heck is this?” “What the heck is going on here!” “Heck no!” And all of the characters speak like this. They also all say “stinkin'” a lot. Indeed, there is a minor character named “Stinky Sullivan” who apparently farts a lot or wears dirty underwear. In real life, people wouldn’t all speak the same way like that, which makes me think the writers were getting a bit lazy. I mean, I could see someone say “stinkin'” as a habit, but an entire cast? One person must have been doing all of the writing or editing, or something.

And finally, Growing Pains was obviously ABC’s answer to NBC’s Family Ties. And Kirk Cameron was supposed to be their answer to Michael J. Fox, who gets mentioned a time or two on the show. However, instead of making Kirk’s character smart, like Fox’s Alex P. Keaton was, they make him a poor student. And instead of making Carol Seaver “dumb” like Justine Bateman’s “Mallory” was, they make her super smart. Ben, like Jennifer Keaton, is kind of lovable and offbeat. And then they had the bonus change of life baby, only on Family Ties, it was partly because Meredith Baxter was pregnant in real life. She had a boy, and Joanna Kerns’ character, Maggie Seaver, had a girl.

I realize I’m expending a lot of mental power on an 80s era sitcom. Growing Pains was a show I thought I didn’t like that much. I remember losing interest in it before it ended in 1992. I think I do prefer Family Ties for a lot of reasons. But it has been interesting to watch the show again. It’s better written than I remembered it, but not as well-written as Family Ties is. And all the misogynistic jokes about looks and weight are kind of disturbing, especially given that Tracey Gold did end up with a pretty serious eating disorder.

As is my habit, I’ll watch the rest of the episodes and move on to my next binge watching marathon. Hopefully, that will help while away the time I’ll be alone, worrying about Arran. He is about twelve now, so it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that he’s sick with something scary. On the other hand, he’s not been totally debilitated. He’s still eating, playing, sleeping, and taking walks, for instance. But his behavior is still a bit odd.

I’m pretty irritated that Bill has to go TDY, especially since Germany is supposedly in another wave of COVID-19. I will be completely alone, except for the dogs. In another era, I wouldn’t have minded so much, but the older I get, the more this kind of stuff bothers me. And I have to admit, I’m worried that Arran is not well.

And finally… I wrote yesterday about how Kendra Duggar was still pregnant. Well, it turns out she had her baby girl on February 19, 2021. The new baby is named Brooklyn Praise. I guess we should be glad she didn’t name her Saint or Psalm. However, when I think of the name “Praise”, it makes me think of this…

Yikes… it does look like fun!

The Duggars now have 20 grandchildren and half the kids aren’t married yet. That is one hell of a quiverfull of Republican fundies they’ve got there.

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movies, nostalgia

Unrelated actresses who could be sisters…

Time for another lighthearted non-sensical posting. A few weeks ago, I decided to watch the first season of St. Elsewhere. It was a hit show when I was growing up, but it was always on after my bedtime, so I never got into it when it was still on prime time.

I always liked the theme song for St. Elsewhere. It’s so quintessentially 80s… and I really miss the 80s. The theme was composed by Dave Grusin. I recognize him because he worked with James Taylor when they did his 2004 Christmas album for Hallmark. James later released a Christmas album that had most of the songs from the Hallmark album, along with a couple more. I can’t believe how fast the years have flown by since the 80s. I wouldn’t want to repeat my youth, but there are times when I miss those simpler, more carefree times. They didn’t seem simple when they were happening, but compared to now, they really were.

Anyway, as I was watching that St. Elsewhere, I noticed that one of the actresses looked familiar. Barbara Whinnery, who played the quirky, sex-obsessed pathologist Dr. Cathy Martin, reminded me so much of Lisa Pelikan, another actress I’d seen in the 80s era made for TV film, The Best Little Girl in the World. I would have sworn they were sisters.

Wow…. looking at those two screenshots from IMDB, I can really see how much alike they look. I looked up Barbara first. She was born July 1, 1953 in Berkeley, California.

Then I looked up Lisa. Much to my amazement, Lisa was also born in Berkeley, California… a year later. Her birthday is July 12, 1954. I wonder if they’ve ever met. It’s crazy that they look so much alike and were born a year apart in the same city… and they are even in the same profession!

I’m sitting here watching The Best Little Girl in the World, a 1981 made for TV movie based on Steven Levenkron’s 1978 novel of the same name. It stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Lisa Pelikan, as well as Eva Marie Saint and Charles Durning. Lisa was about 27 or 28 when she did that movie, but she plays, Gail, the older teenaged sister to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, Casey Powell. In the movie, Gail gets pregnant after having sex with some guy she doesn’t want to marry, which causes conflict with their dad.

In the novel, the characters’ names are different, and there’s also an older brother named Greg. Casey is Francesca Dietrich and Gail’s character is called Susanna. I think, anyway. It’s been years since I read that book. I was pretty fascinated by it when I was a teenager. I probably would have been fascinated by St. Elsewhere, too.

This film aired in 1981. I didn’t see it until many years later, when it was shown on a now long defunct cable TV station called Odyssey. I think they showed a lot of religious programming.

I just now got to the point in The Best Little Girl in the World at which Casey meets her therapist, Clay Orlovsky (Sandy Sherman in the book). He asks her what he can “do” for her. I remember my own therapist, also a middle aged man at the time, asked me a similar question when I came to him because I was tired of being depressed and anxious and felt like I was about to go off the deep end. I remember my situation seeming really serious at the time… and it probably was, since I regularly fantasized about offing myself. That was in 1998, which really seems like it wasn’t too long ago! Fortunately, I eventually got over that level of depression and no longer feel quite so desperate. My former therapist is now a friend. The guy who played Clay Orlovsky in The Best Little Girl in the World was also in The Exorcist. He’s been dead for years.

The film is set in California, while the book was set in New York City, which is where Steven Levenkron practices. He is the same therapist who famously treated Karen Carpenter, mainly due to the success of his book. I have read most of Levenkron’s books– he’s written a lot of them. He also wrote a sequel to The Best Little Girl in the World. The book was called Kessa, after the nickname Francesca gives herself. I was eager to read the sequel, but it was pretty poorly done, and I only read it once. If I recall correctly, there were continuity issues and he didn’t even spell Susanna the same way (Suzanna). I doubt it was edited properly.

I remember being so curious about the sequel, Kessa, that I bought a copy of it off of Amazon Marketplace for an obscene amount of money. Boy, talk about a sequel truly being worse than the original. I think it was reissued a few years later because Levenkron wrote another book called The Luckiest Girl in the World, which was about self-injury. A made for TV movie was made based on that novel, too. It was called Secret Cutting (alternative title was Painful Secrets), and it was pretty bad. Rhea Perlman played a therapist, and I remember Sean Young played the unappealing mother character to a driven figure skater named Dawn, who cuts herself on purpose.

Loosely based on the novel. I like Rhea Perlman better in comedies.

I know things have to progress, but I kind of miss movies of the week. I kind of miss the days when it was a thrill to have more than three or four TV stations to choose from, and you got your news once or twice a day instead of all day. I miss having face to face relationships with people and knowing them personally, rather than just virtually. It’s crazy how much life has evolved since the 80s. Even the hospital scenes in The Best Little Girl in the World are kind of quaint. A lot has changed since those days.

I miss not having to worry about having an orange idiot in the White House. I miss not knowing about COVID-19. I miss never having had exposure to an abusive narcissistic asshole like Bill’s ex wife. But, at least I can take heart in knowing that I have survived every challenge I’ve faced so far, right? On the other hand, what’s so scary about COVID-19 is that it’s wiping people out so quickly. I’ve read so many stories of people who are here today, gone tomorrow… or here today and healthy and very sick a week later. It makes a problem like anorexia nervosa as it’s presented in an 80s era movie of the week seem trivial, even though I know it’s not.

It’s kind of fun to watch this old movie from 1981. It’s so dramatic. And it seems so simple compared to now. This is not to downplay the seriousness of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa. That is a very serious problem. But the way the subject is presented in the film makes it seem so much more “weighty” than it is compared to other issues that are affecting everyone.

Don’t Lisa and Barbara look like sisters? Amazing. I would almost think they were the same person.

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book reviews

A review of Inside Fame on Television: A Behind-the-Scenes History, by Michael A. Hoey…

Lately, I’ve been overdosing on 80s era television. I don’t know why I do this so often, especially since I didn’t have the greatest childhood. A lot of people enjoy being nostalgic. I think our memories have a way of softening the realities of the past.

One of my favorite memories from the 1980s was my devotion to the TV show, Fame, an hour long program about the students and faculty at the fictional “School of the Arts” in New York City. Based on the 1980 movie of the same name, Fame premiered in 1982 on NBC. I was in the fourth grade. After two years on NBC, the show was canceled, even though it won awards and was critically acclaimed. However, even though NBC passed on Fame after two years, it was popular enough that the producers brought it back in syndication, where it continued for another four years, finally ending in 1987.

Ahhh… music to my ears. This is an extended version of the TV show’s theme, sung by Erica Gimpel. The song was made famous by Irene Cara.

Although the “School of the Arts” doesn’t exist, the story was based on a couple of real life high schools for talented students in New York City. And because the show was about kids who wanted fame, it had a lot of singing and dancing in it. I think I liked the singing and dancing the most when I was a kid, but as I got older, I appreciated the stories more, particularly in the superior early seasons. Anyone who watches the later seasons of Fame will understand what I mean. It truly did jump the shark in a big way with some ridiculous plot lines and musical numbers!

Michael A. Hoey, author of Inside Fame on Television: A Behind-the-Scenes History, worked on the television version of Fame for five of the six years it aired. I happened to discover his book about a week ago. I was bored and doing some random Googling when I came across an excerpt of his book. Based on what I read on Google, I decided to purchase the Kindle edition, even though there were a couple of reviews that indicated that I might not enjoy it. I have a pretty high tolerance for bad writing, though… it’s definitely higher than my tolerance for bad singing, which I’m sad to say, was occasionally an issue on Fame. Seems like that show focused more on dancers than singers.

Anyway, Hoey has written a fairly comprehensive account of what went on behind the scenes on Fame. Some of what he wrote surprised me, and some stuff wasn’t at all a surprise. For instance, he writes that actor Billy Hufsey was a bit of a legend in his own mind, much like his character, Christopher Donlon was. That doesn’t surprise me. But then he shared a rather off color anecdote about why Mr. Hufsey didn’t want to wear a “dance belt”. The anecdote was funny, but then, I like off-color humor. I also had to look up “dance belt”, because not coming from the dance world, I didn’t know what it was or what it looked like. I guess I can see why some guys don’t like to wear them, even though they probably keep the family jewels safe and the audience’s sense of modesty safer.

For the most part, I thought Hoey’s book about Fame was interesting and well-written; however, there were quite a few instances in which an editor’s help would have been beneficial. For example, there was a character named Jesse Velazquez on that show. He was played by the very talented Jesse Borrego. On at least one occasion, Jesse’s name is spelled “Jessie”. Similar minor errors appear throughout the book. Same thing with Carol Mayo Jenkins, whose name is sometimes spelled “Carole” or the last name, Jenkins, is left off. These are minor but annoying glitches that a round with an editor would have helped clear from the manuscript.

Another thing I noticed was that Hoey wrote this book as if he was writing to friends. Sometimes he let his personal opinions about the actors and musicians come through in a surprisingly nasty way. He clearly wasn’t a fan of Janet Jackson’s. She was briefly on Fame during the third season and it was pretty clear that she wasn’t a good fit for the show, for whatever reason. I have read Janet Jackson’s thoughts on Fame, too, and she wrote that it was an awful time for her. Hoey writes that Janet Jackson was very rude to him and others and, at one point, he writes that “she performs when her health allows, but she’ll never be as big of a star as Madonna is”. Madonna, by the way, also auditioned for Fame and was passed over. I thought Hoey’s comments about Jackson were kind of mean-spirited and inappropriate, not to mention untrue. Janet Jackson isn’t as hot as she was in the 80s and 90s, but I would certainly never imply that she didn’t make it big. She definitely did.

Hoey also writes about actress/singer Loretta Chandler, noting that she has a “magnificent voice” and reminds him of Jennifer Hudson. But then, when describing an energetic dance number Loretta did as her character, Dusty Tyler, he points out the “she’s not a small person (putting it politely)”– that’s exactly what he wrote– which I thought was kind of rude. It’s true that Loretta Chandler is what the Germans would call zaftig, but I thought Hoey’s added comment “(putting it politely)” was unnecessarily mean and more than a bit rude.

Hoey writes that Cynthia Gibb didn’t seem to have that “sparkle” that some of the other players on that show had, then notes that she went on to work a lot after she was on Fame. She even played Karen Carpenter on the 1989 made for TV movie, The Karen Carpenter Story, and she was in a few big screen movies in the 1980s, including Youngblood with Rob Lowe. Hoey incorrectly describes Cindy Gibb’s all of movies as “made for TV”, but the truth is, she did do a few actual motion pictures that were in movie theaters. I got the sense that he relied a lot on his memory for this book which, I’m sad to say, isn’t always perfectly accurate. It would have been better if he’d double checked some things.

This book includes a lot of information about the writers, producers, and directors of Fame. That information may or may not be of interest to all readers. I am glad Hoey included some information about the powers that be, as it gave me some insight as to how the show worked. However, I don’t think most people who would want to read this book are looking for an exhaustive blow by blow of the behind the scenes people. A lot of people want to know about the people who starred on the show. Personally, I think Hoey included a pretty good amount of info on the players, but I see some reviewers on Amazon note that they got bored by all of the discussion about the producers and directors.

There are some photos included in this book, which aren’t as effective on Kindle as they probably are in the print version. I found myself looking on YouTube to find some of the episodes and clips Hoey mentions, which was fun for me. I especially got a kick out of watching Debbie Allen doing a dance number with her husband, Norm Nixon, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers and, according to Hoey, is NOT a dancer. They did some pretty good editing for this clip.

If you watch the distant shots, you can see that there’s a different guy doing the fancy footwork.

I liked that Hoey mentioned a lot of episodes and musical numbers. He also included some information about how Fame was once sold as a thirty minute show, forcing editors to remove plot lines and musical numbers so that it would fit in time slots. Needless to say, the thirty minute versions did not go over well at all. I happened to see a few of them back in the day and was glad to see them scrapped.

Hoey writes a bit about Michael Cerveris, who played Ian Ware, a British guitar player in the latter episodes of the show. I actually got to meet Mr. Cerveris once. In 1994, when I was a college senior at what was then Longwood College (it’s now Longwood University), I went on spring tour with the college’s auditioned choir, Camerata Singers. We did this tour every spring to recruit new talent. At the end of the week, we’d go to New York City for a couple of days and catch a Broadway show. That year, I saw Tommy, and Michael Cerveris had the lead role. Michael Cerveris is from West Virginia and he was friends with the acting teacher at Longwood, Pam Arkin (who I believe has since retired– I remember she first came to Longwood when I was a sophomore, back in 1991). Anyway, a few theater folks who were also in Cams sent a note backstage and we got to meet Michael Cerveris. I remembered him from Fame, but he’s now a successful Broadway performer. I tagged along with the theater gang because I was the only one with a camera. Below is a shot of me circa 1994, complete with 90s hair…

And yes, that is Michael Cerveris… that hair of mine is killing me!

Overall, I enjoyed reading Inside Fame on Television: A Behind-the-Scenes History. While I wouldn’t give it a five star rating, I do think it’s a good read for those who enjoyed watching Fame. I know I wasn’t the only one who loved that show. I miss TV shows that took me to a different place and forced me to suspend disbelief. Fame had some really good, hard hitting, well written episodes in the early years, but it did later become a pretty cheesy plot driven show, instead of the character driven show it once was. It probably went on longer than it should have, but even the crappy later episodes are guilty pleasures for me. And it’s always a treat to watch the super talented but sadly departed Gene Anthony Ray dance, or listen to Nia Peeples sing as she dances. This book makes me want to watch more Fame clips on YouTube, or even revisit the first two seasons of the show, which I managed to download from Apple TV. If you liked the show too, maybe Michael Hoey’s book would be good reading for you.

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