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Kids’ shows we miss
First off, for those who are wondering what happened to Five-link Friday, look for it, with a new name and regular day, on Monday, March 13, and regularly on Monday after that. Schedule change, nothing more.
I admit it, I've been avoiding writing here, because it's hard to follow mourning for Kirby , and as sad as the deaths of Dana Reeve and Gordon Parks are, I need to move on from obituaries and tributes for a while. I don't want this Weblog to be a sad place, as much as it can be communal and freeing to grieve in public.
Let's revisit a lighter topic I touched on before this string of entertainment deaths began. Remember when I mentioned that "The Best of The Electric Company" came out on DVD and of course I had to buy a copy? Many of you wrote in with happy memories of that great 1970s kids' show, and many of you also mentioned other kids' shows gone by. Here are some of your comments. When you mentioned another show, I tried to investigate whether or not I could find it on DVD. TVShowsonDVD.com is the best source for that info. They will even e-mail you when news about a particular show comes their way.
If you've got more to share about these shows, especially about the DVDs, do drop a line.
It was neat to see Zoom again after it disappeared (at least from my local PBS station when I was younger), and I’ve often hoped they would bring back EC.” --Lisa
Gael says: “Zoom” was another favorite of mine. Those striped shirts and the silly kid games that didn’t take any money or fancy parts, just a bunch of friends and some smarts! I have always remembered a weird little film that I thought was on “Zoom” about two English girls who had a whole little fantasy world of their own that involved hobby horses and their garden. Or at least that’s how I remember it, I may be mixing up shows here. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? Anyway, the original show ran from 1972-1979. “Zoom” was remade a few years ago with new kids but a lot of the same spirit. I don’t believe either the old or new shows are on DVD, but there are VHS tapes of the new version for sale on Amazon.com. Boston, Mass, 0-2-1-3-4!
‘THE BLOODHOUND GANG’
“In searching through the fog, I can remember a show/skit called the Bloodhound Gang but I don’t recall if that was part of the EC or not. Just wondering if it was on the DVD set.” --Dan
Gael says: I loved “The Bloodhound Gang,” but they weren’t on EC, they were a regular sketch on “3-2-1 Contact.” See below comment…
“What ever happened to “3-2-1 Contact”? Ah, the fond memories of many a Friday afternoon in fourth grade, when the teacher put in a tape so she could read for the rest of the afternoon.” --Julia
Gael says: “3-2-1 Contact! Is the secret! Is the moment! When everything happens!” Uh, I got carried away there. This great kids’ science show from the Children’s Television Workshop ran from 1980-1992. Reruns have been seen on Noggin. Fans of the show need to go to this site and check out various audio and video clips, including the “3-2-1” opening credits and the “Bloodhound Gang” song (“Whenever there’s trouble…we’re there on the double!”)
‘IN THE NEWS’
“All those 70’s memories are coming back ... especially ... with the retirement of one Christopher Glenn of CBS News ... the guy who voiced about 5,000 “In the News” segments which aired on Saturday mornings between the cartoons and Froot Loops ads.” --Dave
Gael says: Check out this Weblog to see what Glenn looked like. It’s nice to put a face with that solid, comfortable voice. Between his classy tones and whoever wrote his material, “In the News” never talked down to kids, yet it managed to make news somewhat simple and interesting at the same time.
‘SQUARE ONE TV’
“Have you hear anything about Square One coming out on DVD? That show was the only reason why I cared about math. Mathnet, Mathman, the skits were all cool, and the show was very 80s.” --T.S.
Gael says: Yep, I think of "Square One" as the math version of "3-2-1 Contact." It ran from 1987-1994, also from the Children's Television Workshop. Can't find any DVDs of that show, either, although a VHS tape was issued of "Mathnet: Tales of the Unnatural," which apparently originally aired as part of "Square One."
‘BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY’
“Now when are “Bill Nye the Science Guy” DVDs coming out?” --Karen
Gael says: Hmm, Amazon.com and other used-tape places have VHS tapes of “Bill Nye,” but I don’t know anything about a DVD release. Nothing on TVShowsonDVD.com either. Any readers know?
“Does anyone out there have any recall for a program seen in Minnesota in the late 60s that featured The Friendly Giant, Jerome the Giraffe, and some charming little creature with his captivating bookbag?” --William
Gael says: That just barely predates my Minnesota TV watching, but it looks like “The Friendly Giant” was also the name of the show, and it was Rusty the Rooster who lived in a bookbag. (My Minnesota kid’s show was “Lunch with Casey,” featuring Casey Jones and Roundhouse Rodney.)
“In reference to the comments about the 70’s childrens program “The Electric Co.” What has happen to the show GiggleSnort Hotel? I know it’s no longer on air, but how can someone who like myself get copies of that series? I loved watching it as a kid...and now as a 32 year old grown kid I would love to have it now than ever before.” --Antonio
Gael says: Wow, a kids’ show from the 1970s that I completely missed. Sounds like it may have been for the Chicago market only? Short of coming up lucky on eBay, I’m not sure where you could find it unless the station that ran it does a retrospective.
‘AFTER SCHOOL SPECIALS’
Gael says: No one asked, but I’d like to point out that “After School Specials” have been coming out on DVD. In fact, there’s a small school-bus shaped box set you can buy that shows such stars as Melissa Sue Anderson and Rob Lowe in the bus windows, with Robert “Mike Brady” Reed driving. Warning: Don't make my mistake and buy the early years (1974-1975) if the shows you really want are the more soap-operay ones where Helen Hunt jumps out the window -- those came later.
Kirby Puckett remembered
I was all set to write a short tribute to Jack Wild , who died last week at 53, and to say how shocking it was that someone eternally fixed in our collective memories as a little boy could ever be in his 50s, much less ever die so young. But I hadn't quite got around to eulogizing the "Oliver!" and "H.R. Pufnstuf" star when another death came far too soon, and this one hit me even harder. Kirby Puckett , dead at 45. I know, he was an athlete, not an actor, and the sports section is already covering his loss, but this is the entertainment section, after all, and Kirby was nothing if not one of the best entertainers I ever saw.
I grew up with the Minnesota Twins, and I grew up dealing with the fact that they were awful. I remember when local boy Kent Hrbek joined the team in the early 1980s, and Sports Illustrated put him on the cover with the headline "Best of the Worst," highlighting him as a good young player on a horrendous team. Then Kirby came by in 1984 and it was as if Central Casting had sent him over to play "most unlikely major-leaguer ever." He was a round guy, not too tall, resembling the out-of-shape fans more than he did most other professional athletes. He grew up in Chicago's projects and worked on a Ford assembly line before playing pro baseball. How down-to-earth is that?
It is impossible to picture Kirby -- which is what every Minnesotan called him, no disrespect intended -- without picturing him smiling. He had seen poverty and real hard work, and he knew how glorious it was to be able to play his favorite game for a living. Every kid in the state loved him, and he seemed to love them back. We all knew someone with a dog, a cat, a hamster, a goldfish named Kirby. Kids honored him with the greatest thing they could, gifting his name to a family member, and he respected that honor by never giving up.
The Twins won the World Series in 1987, and in 1991, looked to be headed there again. I was a broke just-out-of college kid still living at home, but when it was announced that the team would be having a lottery for tickets, I took a chance. And unbelievably, for someone who's never been lucky in her life, I won tickets. And that's how my dear friend Ann and I were sitting in the stands at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for all of the Twins home Series games, including the marvelous, the impossible, the legendary Game 6. Oct. 26, 1991.
Baseball legend has it that, before the game, Kirby walked through the Twins' locker room and literally said "Jump on my back, boys, I'll carry you." It's not bragging if you can back it up. Which he went right out there and did. First, he soared up against the wall in the third inning to rob Atlanta Brave Ron Gant of a multi-base hit. The game went into extra innings. Ann and I buried our faces in our hands, destroyed our fingernails, hid behind our hair. The eleventh inning. Game six of the World Series. No matter how many times you see something like it on TV, you can't feel the adrenaline, can't share in the mass agony and hope and hysteria that swirls around you like the small of stale beer. And then Kirby was at bat, and all of Minnesota's gossamer hopes went with him.
From the minute he swung that bat, the ball was gone. The Star Tribune reported that the following ovation went on for ten solid minutes, but it seemed much longer to me. Minnesotans are reticent folks, calm and quiet and not given to hysteria. That Dome, that night, took all those stereotypes and smashed them, smashed them over the wall and into pulp smaller than snowflakes. Kirby was mobbed at home plate by his teammates and in the stands, complete strangers hugged and kissed and jumped and screamed. The Twins won the World Series the next night, but like the 1980 Olympic hockey game against the Russians, it was the second-to-the-last game that lives on forever, a pristine, golden memory, a "do you believe in miracles?" moment.
Kirby's life started out difficult and it ended that way. Glaucoma drove him out of the game early, he and his wife divorced, he was found not guilty of some ugly charges when a woman claimed he grabbed her at a local restaurant. But he will be remembered not for that, but for his magical smile, that positive attitude, for how he retired from the game with utter and complete grace, saying "Tomorrow's never promised."
It wasn't promised to my friend Ann, either. My World Series seatmate died four years after we laughed and cried and danced in the streets around the Dome together. Out of nowhere, she suffered a pulmonary embolism at just 28. Tomorrow wasn't promised her, either.
It's not baseball season yet, and I'm more than a thousand miles from Minnesota. I haven't seen my friend Ann in ten years, and never will see her again in this life. But I'm thinking back to that fall week, 15 years ago. I'm thinking back to whatever fateful twist directed some unseen Twins' employee's hand to pluck my name at random to win a chance to buy World Series tickets. In my mind I'm seeing that ball soar, and hearing that ovation that rang out as if it would never, ever end. And I'm thinking back to not just Kirby, but to Jack Wild again, and his show's theme song's opening lyric now stuck in my mind: "Once upon a summertime, just a dream from yesterday."
Readers remember Knotts, McGavin, more
I wrote about the loss of Don Knotts, Darren McGavin, and Octavia E. Butler, but turns out that death has been even busier than I thought. Today brought the news of the death of "McCloud" and "Gunsmoke" star Dennis Weaver , and readers wrote in to also mention the recent deaths of actor Richard Bright and pianist Anthony Burger. If deaths come in threes, as is so often said, we've had a double dose of bad news this weekend. Here are some of your thoughts.
“I heard the author of a new book about celebrities being interviewed on the radio a few years back on a local station in El Paso. I didn't catch the name of the book or the author's name (I apologize) but it really struck a chord with me. The book being promoted was about the author's encounter with celebrities which he had rated on a scale of 1 to 10; his opinion of how personable, likeable or nice the celebrity is. He bashed several, said some were ok but he only gave out one perfect 10 and that was to Don Knotts.” --Jeff
“My brother has been carrying a single bullet in his shirt since news of demise Barney reached us. Forever classy, funny and poised, our Barney. Ya know what they should teach in our schools today? A little bit of Mayberry and a dash of Beaver Cleaver. We will miss Barney, long live the deputy!” --Rick
“Truly the entertainment world has lost some gems this weekend. I have found myself drawn into watching Don Knotts as Mr. Limpet and the shaky character in "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" every time it is played on TV. I introduced my children to these characters and others Mr. Knotts portrayed every chance I got, knowing that they too would walk away with a smile on their faces. Though I am not as familiar with some of the works of Darren McGavin and Dennis Weaver, I do enjoy laughing every year at the "old man's" fight with the turkey stealing dogs and the BEAUTIFUL lamp gracing the front window.” --Teresa
“Oh, the passing of Darren McGavin...How painful that news was to me personally. Kolchak was a one-of-a-kind good-hearted goof that really got scared doing what he needed to do. I loved that we knew the truth, and he never gave up trying to convince diehard dis-believers. A Christmas Story was his "role delicious", and all of us will remember him as amalgams of all of our dads, uncles, and grandfathers. I'm sorry I never sent him a fan letter telling him how much I liked him.” --Diana
“This past Christmas we were opening gifts with "A Christmas Story" playing on TV. I received two presents from my daughter. I was holding one in a small unwrapped box in one hand. In the other hand I had a small glass ornament. I said "This is 'FRAGILE'" (using the appropriate Italian pronunciation of the word) while I was putting it up and in a safe place. Little did I know that the unwrapped box in my other hand contained another Christmas ornament - a small version of the Leg Lamp. We all had a great laugh. Thank you Mr. McGavin.” --Dave
“Without "The Night Stalker", we'd never have gotten "The X-files" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". McGavin, we'll miss ya.” --Sol
"We also lost Dennis Weaver. Who could forget McCloud? Perhaps the news of his passing had not reached you before you wrote this. I hope you will mention him, he was really a great actor." --Billie
OCTAVIA E. BUTLER
“You should try Octavia Butler's work. She was a terrific writer. Her two-part Parable work (Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talen) was the best novel and sequel I have ever read. Butler's short stories and novella (Clay's Ark) were the greatest Library find ever!” --Terry
“Richard Bright died recently. No where could I find a picture of him to see if I could place him. However, I have watched many movies that said he was in. How about a picture so we can know who he was?” --Anonymous
[Editor's Note: Here's a not-so-great photo of Bright in "Marathon Man", here's a better one of him in "Godfather III" (on far right).]
“This weekend certainly was very sad. But, it started for me on Wednesday evening when I found out that Anthony Burger, a well known piano player in the Christian community, collapsed while at the piano and died of an apparent massive heart attack. The Bill Gaither Homecoming family and his large fan base are in shock because Anthony was only 44! Anthony had overcome adversity as a child when he was severely burned and his parents were told he would never have full movement in his hands. Yet, he became this virtuoso on the piano and ministered so many people in his short life.” --Lynne
“My brother an early boomer commented when George Harrison died that "The wings are falling off his generation" and while I am 11 years younger and recall childhood memories of Barney and Darrin McGavin I guess I can sadly say the wings are falling off my childhood.” --Steve
“Oh how fortunate we are to have been the recipients of their work. Perhaps the days of bumbling but honest policemen and winners of major leg lamp awards are gone, not in vogue anymore, but I hope not. We need them now.” --R
“The loss of Don Knotts and Darren McGavin are especially sad. Especially because with those two gentlemen, even when they were younger, you didn't read about drug problems or gun carrying or rape or arrogance or..., as we do with today stars. Today’s stars are immature, poorly managed and could careless about their image. To them, a bad image is a good image. Those gentlemen were like the old time athletes. Hand the ball back to the ref after a score. I will miss them.” --Jim
“Most of us knew a Barney Fife rather than an Eliot Ness and connected with a Karl Kolchak rather than a Woodward or a Bernstein. It was a connection that made me, in some way, think that I could succeed even though I was often doltish and rumpled. You can have your Tom Cruises and Arnold Schwarzeneggers, give me your character actors like Knotts and McGavin to truly make those movies alive.” --Donovan
“Death has been busy this week. First to hear on the passings of both Don Knotts and Darren McGavin, now to hear that both Octavia E. Butler and Dennis Weaver has passed. I'm still dealing with the passing of Coretta Scott King. Heaven is going to be a crowded place with these icons gone. Yet their legacies will live forever.” --Sanford
Sad weekend in entertainment
The bad news started pouring in Friday afternoon, when it was announced that Sheryl Crow had undergone surgery for breast cancer . Then on Saturday, word that both Don Knotts and Darren McGavin had died. And on Sunday, this Weblog, found via Metafilter, announced that science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler has passed away. While I haven't read any of her work, the science-fiction and literary communities are mourning her so eloquently it makes me want to check into her books.
Entertainment is often a wonderful beat to cover. It can be fun, and inspiring, and occasionally roll-your-eyes ridiculous. But any journalism beat has its tough days, its sad side, when someone who's touched and changed their little corner of the world leaves us, or, in Crow's case, must cope with a serious illness. Those days are hard to get through. We may not have met these artists, but their work touched us, and their passing reminds us how transitory life is.
Don Knotts' loss is probably the most far-reaching, if only because Knotts managed to play some many memorable roles, the kind that have written themselves into the memory disks of our minds. His role as Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show," where he excelled so at playing the doltish, lovable deputy that the very name "Barney Fife" became a derisive term for real bumbling small-town cops.
Maybe you loved him as Mr. Limpet, or Les Calhoun, or Turkey Lurkey. Maybe you have fond memories of "The Apple Dumpling Gang," or "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" or "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken." Heck, even the names of Knotts' movies were funny. I know in addition to Barney, I'll always remember him as the googly eyed, wonderfully tackily dressed Mr. Ralph Furley on "Three's Company." A coffeehouse I used to visit in Minneapolis even had a hyper-caffeinated drink named in his honor, the Furley Freak.
Darren McGavin may not have quite the name recognition as Knotts, but I still remember discovering his 1970s horror-mystery show, "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," and feeling like I'd found a private little treasure. He was so perfectly rumpled and dogged, and frustratingly, could never convince his editor of all the supernatural creatures that raged through his life.
He went on to star as Mike Hammer and take on other roles, but he perhaps earned more attention for a movie role, when he played Ralphie's Old Man in the classic "A Christmas Story." His role there will live on for as long as we have Christmas, as long as people have fathers with crazy ideas and good hearts, and as long as someone, somewhere, is buying a leg lamp.
Want to send your thoughts on any of this weekend's sad news? Drop me a line.