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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30, 1969

Welcome to the last day of April 2013, and welcome to the last Tuesday Timeline of the month!

If you're living in Canada, and still have not yet filed your tax return for this month...WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!? It's due today!

But, if you've already done your taxes and/or are not Canadian, you can kick off your shoes and sit back with a nice cup of tea, or a glass of Hawaiian Punch, if you will, and enjoy another look back through time.

Actually, I have a confession for all of you. I did have this very topic planned for the Sunday Jukebox for Sunday, April 28, but when George Jones passed away recently, I decided to do a spotlight on him instead. But when I did my research for the original topic, it happened to be linked to today's date, so I thought...why not use it for the Tuesday Timeline entry!

I tell you, life has a funny way of working out, doesn't it?

So, you're probably figuring out that this week's Tuesday Timeline is music themed. But that's all that I'm going to say for now. We still have to get through other happenings that are going on today!

Celebrating a birthday on the final day of April are Cloris Leachman, Willie Nelson, Burt Young, Bobby Vee, Leslie Grantham, Perry King, Merrill Osmond, Jane Campion, Paul Gross, Stephen Harper, Isiah Thomas, Michael Waltrip, Barrington Levy, Adrian Pasdar, Jeff Timmons, Johnny Galecki, Kunal Nayyar, and Kirsten Dunst.

And on the last day of April, here are some of the events that took place throughout history.

1492 – Spain gives Christopher Columbus his commission of exploration

1789 – George Washington takes the oath of office in New York City to become the first elected President of the United States of America

1803 – The United States buys the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million, in an event known as “The Louisiana Purchase”

1812 – Louisiana becomes the 18th state of the United States of America, nine years after the Louisiana Purchase

1900 – Casey Jones is killed in a train accident in Vaughn, Mississippi

1927 – The first footprints left behind at Grauman's Chinese Theater are made by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks

1938 - “Porky's Hare Hunt” debuts in movie theaters, which includes an early prototype of Bugs Bunny

1945 – Adolf Hitler and his wife commit suicide to avoid capture by the Red Army

1957 – Elvis Presley records the single, “Jailhouse Rock”

1963 – The Bristol Bus Boycott was held in Bristol, United Kingdom to protest racial discrimination

1975 – Saigon falls as the Vietnam War comes to an end after nearly two decades

1983 – The “father of modern Chicago blues”, Muddy Waters, passes away at the age of 70

1993 – Tennis star Monica Seles is stabbed by an obsessed fan during a quarterfinal match of the Citizen Cup

2004 – Michael Jackson is arraigned on charges of child molestation, pleading not guilty to ten counts

So, what day in history are we going back to this year?

April 30, 1969.

1969 was a rather turbulent year in history. Obviously I wasn't around then (I was born a dozen years later), but from what I have heard from people who have lived through that year, it was a year of great protest. With the Vietnam War in full swing, millions of people all over the world were bombarded with images of pain and suffering, and having to say goodbye to loved ones far too soon. Many people questioned why the United States had gotten involved in fighting in the Vietnam War, and they demanded that their voices be heard.

Hence the “Make Love, Not War” movement.

During 1969, there were lots of protests in major cities, speaking out against the Vietnam War. There were sit-ins, marches, and perhaps one of the most vibrant, well-publicized events occurred in August of 1969, when the Woodstock music festival was held.

Actually, come to think of it, music was a huge part of the protest movement back in 1969. And today's featured song was one of those songs that did exactly that.

On April 30, 1969, this song was certified gold, and what made it stand out was that it was a medley of two songs that could be found in a musical that was released two years earlier.

Have you ever heard of a musical known as “Hair”? It debuted in the fall of 1967, and was a rock musical penned by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. Gail MacDermot provided the music.

The story of “Hair” surrounds a young man by the name of Claude and his hippie friends. Claude has fallen in love with the hippie philosophy of making love and not war, and all he wants to do is continue to live his bohemian lifestyle in New York City, while turning his back on the “squares” who want them to serve in the military or get jobs to become better people.

And for Claude, he is found in a rather sticky situation. He has to choose between resisting the Vietnam War draft, as his hippie friends have done, or pleasing his parents and conservative America by donning the soldier duds and going off to war.

I should note that “Hair” was dripping with controversy, given the nudity, profanity, and irreverence of the American flag. At the same time, I have seen the movie adaptation of “Hair”, and found it to be absolutely fantastic.

Heck, you know what? Had I lived during the 1960s, I likely would have become one of those hippies...well, in spirit anyway. I don't think I would look very good in tie-dyed garments.

Anyway, the musical “Hair” is the source for the gold selling single, receiving that certification exactly 44 years ago today.

ARTIST: The 5th Dimension
SONG: Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In
ALBUM: The Age of Aquarius
DATE RELEASED: March 8, 1969

TRIVIA: This was the very first medley to top the Billboard charts.

The song not only did very well on the pop charts, but in other venues as well. It won two Grammy Awards in 1970 for “Record of the Year”, and “Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group”. That's mighty impressive, given that it was only one of two songs by the group to peak at the top spot (the other song was “Wedding Bell Blues”, which was also released in 1969).

The 5th Dimension was made up of Florence LaRue, Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis Jr., LaMonte McLemore, and Ron Townson, and the lyrics for the song were – at best description – a little bit whimsical, even trippy. They were based on the astrological belief that the world would enter an era known as the “Age of Aquarius”, which would bathe the world in light, love, and humanity. We'd know when we were in the “Age of Aquarius” when the planet Jupiter aligns with Mars. And, it was initially believed that the transition would take place at the end of the 20th century or the beginning of the 21st century.

It appears as though they were off by a few years, as I remember the period between 1999 and 2002 being filled with school shootings, terrorist attacks, and economic turmoil. But, hey, I suppose not all predictions could be accurate.

(In case you're wondering, astrologists have pinpointed that this alignment could happen anytime between 2062 and 2680. So, I'm either going to be really, really old when we enter the “Age of Aquarius”, or I'm going to be compost. Either way, I won't be able to truly appreciate it.)

At any rate, the song was a huge hit in 1969, and was one of the key songs that served as the official soundtrack of the anti-war movement.

A song that was certified gold on April 30, 1969.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Bug's Life

Before I go on with today's blog entry, I wanted to update you all on one of the recent changes in my life. That change of course, is shifting from the dairy department to the garden centre area of the store.

As I type this, it will have been one whole week since I moved over there, and I think I have a general grasp over what my duties are, and what is expected of me.

I'm not going to lie to you. Garden Centre is a lot more physically demanding than working in the dairy department. Lifting several pounds of dirt is much harder than stocking a shelf filled with milk. And, I'll be honest with you. When it comes to throwing a tarp over all of the hanging flower baskets, herbs and spices, and other plants that could be killed off on a really cold night, half the battle is figuring out how to get the tarp unfolded! And, then to cover every flower in the outside area, it takes about an hour to get everything finished. It can be a tough job.

And, you know something? I'm liking it a lot!

Because with all of the hard work that comes from working in the garden centre comes a lot of perks and rewards.

Reward #1: When the weather is really lovely and the sun is shining down, it's absolutely perfect. And, even if it rains, we get provided rainwear to protect us from the elements. And, even if it goes up to ninety degrees outside, we are allowed to drink as much water as we want. If one is prepared for the weather, the job is great.

Reward #2: Being able to work alongside such natural beauty. One of the jobs I did a couple of days ago was hanging the floral baskets and trying to condense flower racks so that I didn't have many to bring inside, and I was amazed at how something so small could have such bright and vivid colours. Even the scents of the flowers were nice and sweet (and this is coming from someone who has allergies to pollen). Keep in mind that when I started in the garden centre, I had absolutely no knowledge of gardening and flowers and trees. I'm not quite an expert yet. Far from it. But for now, thanks to the care instructions that come included with most plants, I'm sort of learning as I go along. I don't know if the right terminology is “faking it until you make it”, though. More like, taking limited information and expanding it in your own words.

Yeah, I like that better.

And, Reward #3: 99.9% of the customers I have dealt with over the past week have been in fantastic moods! And, when the people around me are in a great mood, it inspires me to be in a great mood! You can usually pick me out in the garden centre as I'm the guy wearing the black baseball cap, throwing 50 bags of dirt in a pick-up truck with a smile on my face and a farmer's tan.

Of course, the sun could be making me delirious. But, in a good way!

But there are some hazards involving the garden centre area that I must deal with too. I wouldn't dare risk lifting a six-piece patio set or a 300 pound barbecue into the back of a truck by myself. I always have to smear sunscreen on my arms, cheeks, nose, and back of my neck at least three times a day, because if I don't I'd look like a broiled lobster in a matter of hours.

And, then there's the bugs.

I'll be perfectly frank. I wasn't always a bug lover. In particular with bugs that bit or stung. Large spiders, wasps, and hornets are not my friends. I have never liked yellowjackets since I accidentally stepped on one and it stung me in between the toes. Even praying mantises and dragonflies can freak me out if I'm not expecting them to be there.

That being said, I'm not one who would go around killing these insects either. After all, they are a huge part of the ecosystem of our planet. I might not like them very much, but they all have their place in the world.

Besides, we don't know exactly what kind of a life bugs have. All we can do is speculate just exactly what they do in a given day.

(Because let's face it...a lot of insects usually don't live past 24 hours.)

And, that's exactly what this blog is all about. We're going to take a closer look with the magnifying glass and microscope at the Pixar film, “A Bug's Life”.

One thing that I will say about this film is that it had a lot of star power attached to it. Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Brad Garrett, Hayden Panettiere, David Hyde Pierce, Richard Kind, John Ratzenberger, Bonnie Hunt, Denis Leary, and the late Madeline Kahn, Phyllis Diller, Jonathan Harris, and Joe Ranft all had prominent voice roles in the movie, which was released in November 1998 to great reviews and a box office take home total of $363 million.

And, the film's plot is a rather interesting one because it shows insects like grasshoppers, ants, ladybugs, and fleas living their lives in almost the same way that humans would.

The central protagonist is a little ant by the name of Flik (Foley). He lives in a colony of ants, but he's not one to follow along with the crowd. Flik would rather march to the beat of his own drum, taking solace in his inventions. The colony is run by Princess Atta (Dreyfus) and her mother, the Queen (Diller), and the other ants in the colony show a lot of indifference towards Flik because he is so different.

I guess one could consider Flik the so-called “uncool” student in his class of peers. Maybe that's why I can sympathize with him.

In fact, if you want to take the high school analogy even further, you could say that the group of grasshoppers that terrorize the ants in “A Bug's Life” could be compared to that group of juvenile delinquents your mother warned you to stay away from...the group of kids who always got what they wanted no matter how much fear and pain they inflicted onto the general public.

Anyway, the army of grasshoppers were lead by the evil Hopper (Spacey), and the ants were forced to provide the grasshoppers with an offering of food every year. Unfortunately, one of Flik's inventions destroys the entire food supply for the grasshoppers, which angers Hopper. Hopper demands that the ants provide double the order to make up for the food that Flik accidentally ruined. The other ants are absolutely furious at Flik, and when the grasshoppers give the ants an extension on their deadline, the other ants convince Flik that if he really wanted to help, he would go out and assemble an army of “warrior bugs” to fight off the grasshoppers.

Desperate to get the approval of the ants, and gullible enough to believe their lies, Flik sets out to find some allies, while the rest of the ants scramble to put together the massive order for the grasshoppers.

What ends up happening is that Flik stumbles upon a group of insect circus performers, fired by their ringmaster, P.T. Flea (Ratzenberger). The circus troupe is made up of...

Slim (Pierce) – a stick insect clown
Heimlich (Ranft) – a caterpillar clown
Francis (Leary) – a ladybug clown
Major Manny (Harris) – a praying mantis magician
Gypsy (Kahn) – a gypsy moth
Rosie (Hunt) – a black widow spider
Tuck and Roll (Mike McShane) – two flea acrobats
Dim (Garrett) – a rhinoceros beetle

Now, here's the thing. Both Flik and the circus performers meet each other in a case of double mistaken identity. The circus performers believe that Flik is a talent agent who will help them bounce back from rock bottom...and Flik is mistakenly believing that these bugs are the warrior bugs that he has been sent to bring back to Ant Island to fight against Hopper and his goons.

Along the way, the group saves little Princess Dot (Panettiere) from a bird attack, and gain entry into the colony as a result of this act of bravery. In the meantime, Flik comes up with a possible invention idea to scare Hopper away from the colony once and for all.

But what happens when the lies are exposed? What happens when the ants fail to provide the adequate food sources needed to satisfy Hopper and his goons? And, will Flik ever get the respect he wants from a colony of ants who have dismissed him as being a screw-up?

Well, don't look at me! I don't reveal film endings! But I can offer up some more trivia for you. Have a look.

1 – This film was one of Madeline Khan's last film projects. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer the same year that she was recording her voice for “A Bug's Life” and passed away in December 1999 at the age of 57.

2 – When Flik takes a trip to “the big city” where he meets up with the circus troupe, take a look at the names written on the boxes. Those names are some of the children of the film's writers.

3 – Another interesting point to note about one of the boxes. On the side of a cookie box, the nutrition fact sign shows that each cookie contains 92 GRAMS of protein!

4 – Dave Foley may have won the role of Flik...but he actually tried out for the role of Slim initially.

5 – Ashley Tisdale of “High School Musical” fame tried out for the role of Dot.

6 – Hayden Panettiere was just eight years old when she won the role of Dot, and she was already working a second job at the time. She did double duty between “A Bug's Life” and playing Lizzie Spaulding on “Guiding Light”.

7 – “A Bug's Life” was unique in that it had five different cover designs when it was first released on home video in 1999. The five cover stars were Flik, Heimlich, Francis, Dot, and Hopper.

8 – The film is a retelling of Aesop's fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper”.

9 – The film was the first wholly digital transfer of a feature film to a digital playback medium.

10 – A similar named film, “Antz” was released right around this time, and it caused a bit of a public war of words between Pixar and Dreamworks as a result, and left behind feelings of hostility between Steve Jobs and Jeffrey Katzenberg. By the end of it all, although both films did well at the box office, “A Bug's Life” sold more tickets than “Antz”.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

George Jones (1931-2013)

I think that I've mentioned this before, but I was never really a big fan of country music. In fact, I think I am the only one in my entire family who doesn't go out of their way to listen to it. My parents always had it turned on in their car radio, and my grandparents listened to nothing but country music, but I much preferred rock, pop, and Top 40.

(Well, Top 40 prior to the 2000s, anyway.)

I know that back in September 2012, I attempted to do some features on country music artists. I devoted the whole month of Sunday Jukebox entries to the sweethearts of country music. If I remember correctly, I did spotlights on The Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride, Taylor Swift, and Reba McEntire.

Well, today, I've decided to do my blog entry on someone who many might consider to have been the grandfather of country music. He was a real legend in his own right, releasing fourteen number one hits on the country chart, received several awards, and released a whopping sixty albums during his near sixty year career.

Sadly, on April 26, 2013, the country music genre lost its biggest presence, as George Jones entered into rest at the age of 81.

This blog entry is going to be a challenge for me to write because obviously I don't listen to much country music. So, having to write an entry on someone who was such a huge figure in a genre I rarely listened to is tough. But, what can I say? I love a challenge, and it wouldn't be much of a pop culture themed blog if I didn't report on current events, now would it?

I've debated on how to present this blog for a day and a half now, and I think the best way to do this is to give a brief bio, followed by some notable events that he was involved in. Believe me, there is definitely no shortage.

George Glenn Jones was born in Saratoga, Texas on September 12, 1931. He was one of seven children, born to George Washington Jones and Clara Patterson Jones. At the age of seven, he heard country music for the first time and fell in love with it. He received the gift of a guitar two years later, and began making extra money busking on street corners with a guitar and a song for anyone who wanted to hear him.

By the time he was sixteen, George relocated to Jasper, Texas, where in addition to singing and playing for a local radio station, he had a chance encounter with Hank Williams in 1949, where Jones claimed that Williams had given him some sage advice.

Stop singing like Roy Acuff, and start singing as yourself!”

(Well, all right, perhaps I shouldn't have quoted that as it isn't what Williams actually told Jones...but I'd hazard a guess that it was presented in a similar fashion.)

By 19, he had gotten married briefly to a woman named Dorothy Bonvillion and fathered a child with her before divorcing her before the child's birth. A year later, he enlisted in the United States Marines during the early beginnings of the Korean War, having been stationed in California during his three year stint.

And in 1954, George Jones began pursuing a career in country music, having signed a record deal with Starday Records. He released his first hit in 1954, the very same year he married his second wife, Shirley Corley. One year later, he enjoyed his very first charting single on the country music charts with “Why Baby Why”. That single peaked at #4, but it certainly wasn't the only hit he had...nor would it be the last we would hear from him.

In fact, over the course of his 81 years on this planet, there have been a lot of stories, a lot of rumours, and I have decided to take the opportunity to clarify some of these stories. If anything, he has lived a rather interesting life.

In fact, why don't I do this next part like a true/false quiz? I'll do a statement, and reveal whether it is true or false. Are you ready? Here we go!

01 - George Jones was once married to another country music superstar.

ANSWER: True. Tammy Wynette was Jones' third wife. The couple tied the knot in 1969, and divorced in 1975. Funnily enough, Wynette released “Stand By Your Man” in 1968, a year before marrying Jones.

02 – George Jones was married a grand total of three times.

ANSWER: False. George actually had four wives. The fourth Mrs. George Jones is Nancy Sepulvado. The couple celebrated their thirtieth wedding anniversary just one month ago, in March 2013.

03 – George Jones was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1998.

ANSWER: False. Although George DID get the honour, it wasn't until a decade later, in 2008.

04 – One of the last awards that George Jones won was a Lifetime Achievement Award.

ANSWER: True. George Jones was honoured with the award at the 2012 Grammy Awards ceremony, presented to him by his long-time friend Merle Haggard.

05 – George Jones had at least two nicknames when he was in his prime.

ANSWER: True. He was affectionately known as “The Possum” due to his facial features kind of resembling a possum. He was also given the nickname of “No-Show Jones”, and unfortunately, that nickname was given to him under less than flattering circumstances. He was dubbed that following his failure to show up for concert gigs due to being under the influence of drugs and alcohol. And, this kind of leads to the next statement...

06 – George Jones was once so determined to get alcohol one day that he decided to drive to the liquor store on a ride-on lawn mower.

ANSWER: Believe it or not, this was one hundred per cent true! This would be around the time that George was married to his second wife. By that time, his addiction to alcohol had been firmly established, and his wife hid all the keys to every car to prevent him from driving to the liquor store. Of course, she neglected to hide the key to the lawn mower, and a determined George took the lawn mower to the liquor store EIGHT MILES AWAY!

07 – George Jones was in the middle of his farewell tour when he passed away.

ANSWER: Sadly, this was also true. In fact, I do believe that he was scheduled to perform in Watertown, New York (which isn't too far away from where I live) later this summer. The tour was announced in the summer of 2012, and would have lasted until November 2013, in which Jones would retire to spend time with his family.

But as we all know, that sadly didn't pan out. On the eighteenth of April, Jones was hospitalized in Nashville, Tennessee with abnormal blood pressure and a high fever. Eight days later, he was dead of acute hypoxia, with the world not realizing that his farewell tour would be his last ever.

So, to close this tribute to George Jones of his biggest hits.

ARTIST: George Jones
SONG: She Thinks I Still Care
ALBUM: The New Favorites From George Jones
DATE RELEASED: Spring 1962

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Mighty Hercules

This week's topic is going to be a fun one because the subject is on a show that I have not seen in years. I just don't really know just how many of you will know the subject. The show is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, and I only remember watching it when I was a very young boy. Back in those days, cartoons would air almost non-stop on Saturday afternoons, and one particular channel would mix the newest cartoons with old-school shows our parents grew up watching.

That channel was Global. But, then again, I must have told you this before. Probably ad nauseum. But was one of my favourite channels to watch as a kid (and to be fair, I watch it quite a lot as an adult too).

Anyway, there was one television cartoon that aired for years and years on Global in the afternoon block. And, when I was a kid, I mistakenly believed that it was a brand new show, as it hadn't aired on any other networks. It wasn't until the title screen came on, and I saw that there was a date stamped in Roman Numerals on the very bottom. When I was really small, I couldn't figure out what those letters meant until I began school. Once I figured out what the Roman Numeral for MCMLXIII meant, I was stunned to realize that the show first aired in 1963! Eighteen years before I was born!

It was a rather interesting show at that, because the show was based upon a heroic character found in Greek mythology. He was a person who could pick up a boulder weighing thousands of tons with the greatest of ease. He could pick up a rock and squeeze it into a fine powder. He could battle foes with valiance and strength, and always found a way to come up on top.

There was just one catch. In order for his powers to work, he had to have a particular piece of that he was given in the very first episode of the series, which aired on September 1, 1963.

I think most of you know where this is going now, so I'll just play the theme song for this cartoon right now.

INTERESTING TRIVIA: The iconic theme song for “The Mighty Hercules” was Johnny Nash, who you might know as the singer of this classic early 1970s hit single.

The Mighty Hercules” was just one of those shows that I was absolutely glued to back in the day. I honestly don't know what it was about the show, but I had to watch it. And, the show was unique in that it didn't screen just one 22-minute episode. Instead it was similar in format to “The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show”, in which a series of five-minute episodes were squeezed into a half-hour.

How the show began was like this. Hercules ends up competing in some ancient competition involving wrestling and a footrace. He comes up the victor against his friend, Theseus. For winning the competition, Zeus (that's the legendary God of lightning and thunder, for those of you who don't know) grants Hercules anything he wants.

The possibilities were endless. He could have a castle in the sky above Mount Olympus, he could have all the riches in the world, he could have his own personal brothel...

...well, okay, this was a kids show. Eighty-six the brothel.

Hercules, though, was not considered to be a selfish man. His request was quite simple, as far as he was concerned. He wanted to go to Earth to fight against injustice and evil. There was just one problem. If he did go down to Earth, he would lose his godly powers and become a mere mortal.

Which some people might see as a GOOD thing, but I digress.

Nevertheless, Zeus does not go back on his word (I imagine if he did, and this were modern times, Hercules could sue Zeus for breach of contract, in which Zeus would french fry Hercules' behind in retaliation with a big bolt of lightning). He crafts a ring that Hercules can use to keep his powers while on Earth.

Of course, Hercules has his allies on Earth who fight alongside him, who fall in love with him, or are just there to provide moral support.

And, well, I'll be honest with you. While there were some characters who I enjoyed watching, there were also some characters that annoyed me greatly.

Let's start with Helena. She's a beautiful young lady with blonde hair and a pink toga, who also happens to be the love interest of Hercules. We also have Timon, a young man from the kingdom of Caledon, as well as Dodonis, with his crystal rock of seeing, which warn Hercules of the dangers that he could face in Caledon.

But, as I said before, there were some characters who just irked me. Let's start with Tewt, a satyr who happens to lack the vocal ability needed to communicate with instead of using his voice, he used his flute. It was a nice gag for a little while, but after the twelfth episode, I just wanted to grab his flute and stomp on it.

And, don't even get me started on that annoying centaur known as Newton! He HAD to be the one to repeat EVERY FREAKING THING HE SAYS TWICE. Again, the first episode, that was kind of cute. But by episode three, I wanted Hercules to “accidentally” drop a boulder on top of him.

DISCLAIMER: I am definitely not a man who promotes violence, and I would never suggest that anyone drop a boulder on anyone. But, if you have ever watched Newton on “The Mighty Hercules”, you would understand why I find him grating enough to entertain that possibility.

And, what cartoon wouldn't be complete without the antagonists mixed in with the protagonists? After all, “The Mighty Hercules” would be kind of boring if Hercules was always happy.

Anyway, the main bad guy was a purple cloaked bearded man named Daedelus (almost all of the names of the characters were taken from actual figures in Greek mythology), and his main goal in life was to cause havoc in Caledon by using his evil wizard powers.

Daedelus didn't just act alone though. Like Hercules had his own allies, so did Daedelus. One of them was Wilhelmina, a sea witch, who kind of physically resembled Helena...if Helena were a chain smoker that wore drab clothing and hadn't washed her hair in about fifteen years.

We also had Murtis, a man who proved to be quite the formidable opponent for Hercules, as Murtis would be rendered invincible whenever he wore the Mask of Vulcan.

(Which was basically nothing more than a metal bucket with eye holes, but hey, we're supposed to believe that makes a person invincible. We were kids, what did we know, right?

Anyway, I think that what we should do to close this entry off is watch a couple of episodes of the series, just so I can jog your memory a bit. Just a couple of notes about the one entitled “Helena's Birthday”. One, I'm surprised that they had gift boxes and ribbons back in the days of ancient Greece. And, secondly, if it's Helena's birthday, why would Newton sing a song about Hercules?

Silly centaur.

DAEDELUS PASSES WIND (looking back on it, that is an unfortunate title!)

Hold on...I think I hear something...


Friday, April 26, 2013

All Saints - A Special Across The Pond Blog

I think that for today's edition of this blog, I'm going to resurrect a former theme day that I used a couple of years ago. As much as I enjoy planning ahead with the blog and trying new things, sometimes it's good to look back at the past and borrow ideas from it.

What I have come up with is a spotlight on a show that was not seen at all in North America, but did insanely well in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

I don't know how many of you were following this blog back in the summer of 2011, but back in those days, Wednesdays were devoted to something completely different. Most of you following this blog currently know Wednesdays as the day where I feature books, magazines, toys, and games.

But back in 2011, Wednesdays were devoted to looking at pop culture around the world. I called it “Across the Pond and Beyond”. And, it was in this space that I featured topics on media from all over the globe. Past subjects included EastEnders, Coronation Street, Paddington Bear, Takeshi's Castle, Home and Away, Neighbours, and many many more.

The reason why I decided to give up the theme at the beginning of 2012 was simple. I was running out of topics to choose from, and I decided to put the column on hiatus for the time being. It was a decision that I briefly regretted because of all the blog topics that I enjoyed the most, it was the Across the Pond ones. For one, I loved having the opportunity to share television shows, movies, musical acts, and other miscellaneous things that not a lot of people have even heard about, let alone experienced. To be able to share these gems with a larger audience is fantastic.

And, secondly, these days I am finding more television shows being made overseas are a lot better in quality and storytelling than some of the programs made in my own country or the United States. I'll be the first one to admit that I actually got hooked on EastEnders when it began airing on our PBS affiliate, and I was once so addicted to the show “Home and Away” that I began watching the episodes online as people posted them from Australia.

And, in the case of this featured television series, I stumbled upon it purely by accident while I was doing research for another blog topic. It happened to be a complete episode of the series, and I sat down and watched it. To my surprise, I enjoyed it so much that I ended up watching a whole half a season of it that same day! And, then I watched the rest of the episodes over a two week period!

And, this is surprising for me because I normally can't stand hospital dramas.

I know that ER aired on television for fifteen years, but I think that I have only watched maybe an episode and a half of it. I know it was wildly popular, but there was something about it that made me not want to watch it. The same deal would likely be said about St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope, and Presidio Med.

(That last one being a brief drama that starred Dana Delany and Blythe Danner that was cancelled after one year.)

But this hospital drama was a bit different. It was set in a Sydney, Australia hospital, and it featured a staff of doctors and nurses that worked in Ward 17. Now, Ward 17 was a ward that was affectionately known as the “garbage ward”. In actuality, it was the ward that was used for the overflow of patients whenever there wasn't a bed available in the various other wings of the hospital. This caused the staff of Ward 17 to always have unexpected days and nights, as none of them knew just what they would be getting themselves into. The patients could be unpredictable, and even violent, and yet the staff always treated them with dignity and respect...well, most of the time.

This is the television series known as “All Saints”.

All Saints” might not have run as long as ER (the show debuted in February 1998 and ran until October 2009 on Australia's Seven Network), but during its twelve season run, it was ranked within the Top 10 most watched programs in Australia. It is Australia's longest running medical drama series, and third longest running prime time series overall.

Part of the reason why “All Saints” performed so well was because of the talented cast who starred within the show. Despite the huge cast turnover throughout the years (only one original cast member stayed on the entire series), the show still had warmth, and very rarely excluded anyone.

Now, initially, the program was meant to be a starring vehicle for Australian actress Georgie Parker (who ironically enough starred in another Australian medical drama, “A Country Practice” from 1990-1992)...and the character that Georgie played on the television series is kind of a nice little play on words, given the title of the show.

All Saints” refers to the name of the hospital where the series takes place. And, the character that Georgie Parker plays, Therese Sullivan, is the Nursing Unit Manager of Ward 17.

Terri, though, has another interesting aspect to her personality. When the series began, she was a nun!

In fact, a lot of the early episodes of “All Saints” depicted the struggle that Terri went through trying to balance a career in medicine with the commitment of sisterhood. As the series progressed, we began to understand why Terri had joined the convent in the first place. It wasn't because she felt a need to serve as a nun out of duty or was because she was trying to forget a relationship that she had with someone a decade earlier that did not have a happy ending. And, for the first season, everything was fine...

...until the door to the past was blown wide open when Dr. Mitch Stevens (Erik Thomson) waltzed right back into Terri's life to become the hospital's newest physician. Needless to say, the reunion between Terri and Mitch was awkward because she was still in love with Mitch. Terri began to detach herself from the convent, eventually leaving. And, she did spend a little bit of time dating other people. But, still...she always wanted to have a life with Mitch, and by the time she realized this, Mitch had already found love with somebody else, even fathering a child with the other woman, leaving Terri visibly devastated.

But then Mitch's wife began to lose her marbles just a smidgen, and began to make Terri's life a living misery, and Mitch decided that enough was enough. He left his wife to be with Terri, and he and Terri were supposed to spend the rest of their lives together...until Mitch died of a brain tumour.

Such is the life of a medical drama...there's always someone who ends up dying on the show. Just ask Stephanie Markham (Kirrily White), Sean Everleigh (Chris Vance), and Erica Templeton (Jolene Anderson).

Oh...wait. You can't. They were all killed off the series. Oh bother.

Of course, Terri and Mitch weren't the only main characters of “All Saints”...which is good, considering that both of them were gone by season eight, and the show ran for twelve years. By the end of the series, the main characters were...

...Frank Campion (John Howard), the tough-as-nails head of the emergency department who makes his patients top priority and pushes his staff relentlessly to make sure that the patients get the best care possible.

Dr. Charlotte Beaumont (Tammy Macintosh), is second in command of the emergency department, and was introduced into the series in season five. She has had a rather interesting backstory. In a story that was similar to Terri's, Charlotte was married to a man named Vincent (Christopher Gabardi), and left him for another woman! That relationship had fizzled by the time Charlotte joined “All Saints”, but interestingly enough, Dr. Vincent Hughes joined the staff of “All Saints”, and unlike the reunion between Terri and Mitch, theirs was a little...shall we say...happier.

Charlotte and Vincent reaffirmed their friendship and stayed close. But Charlotte's time in “All Saints” was not an easy ride. She had a one-night-stand with a doctor (who at the time was having a romance with Terri), got pregnant from it, was run over by a hit-and-run driver, and lost the baby. And, in the sixth season finale when a crazed gunman began shooting people in the hospital, Charlotte tried to calm him down. Below is that confrontation, but I warn you...the scenes below are not suitable for young children.

And, that's part of the reason why I think I liked “All Saints” better than most medical dramas out there. Because the broadcast rules are slightly more lax in Australia than they are in the United States, “All Saints” could get away with a lot more stuff than ER ever could. This meant controversial storylines and more colourful language. Hell, in one episode, John Howard's character of Frank Campion dropped the F-bomb in one of his lines!

It certainly offered up a grittier approach, making the drama very realistic. The make-up department was especially fantastic on the series, as all of the injuries that people sustained on the series looked very much real!

The show also tackled some rather serious issues over the years. Nelson Curtis (Paul Tassone) struggled with the demons of alcohol addiction throughout the whole time he appeared on the series. He relapsed several times, and after his fiancee was murdered, he left All Saints fearful over possibly hurting someone else because he couldn't control himself. A similar story was told with Sterlo McCormack (Henry Nixon), who became addicted to painkillers and drugs following being shot in the season six finale.

The show also tackled the subject of racism when Jessica Singleton (Natalie Saleeba) was forced to confront her biggest fears after having to deal with a patient who was a white surpremacist.

Jared Levine (Ben Tari) began as a nurse with a privileged background, and was mostly a supporting character. But when he was sexually violated in an attack, and Charlotte caught him trying to cure a disease he contracted as a result of the attack, Jared found it difficult to keep it together. Watch below, keeping in mind that again, this is not meant for younger viewers.

And, then there's Von...

Von Ryan (Judith McGrath) is the only character to last the entire run of the series, and during the twelve years that she was on the show, her character was more or less the same. She does not take too kindly to drama, whining, or laziness, but if you ever needed someone in your corner, she was definitely the one that you really wanted on your side.

The show also tackled the subject of suicide...only in the case of “All Saints”, the issue was brought up off screen, as one of the members of the cast took his own life in the summer of 2008.

Actor Mark Priestley played the role of Dan Goldman, a nurse with a winning personality who became interested in a career in nursing due to his attraction to blood and gore. On the show, Dan was destined for a happy ending as he had gotten married to his on-screen love, Erica Templeton. The episode aired on August 26, 2008.

One day later, Mark Priestley was found dead.

On August 27, 2008, Priestley's body was found on an awning at the Swissotel in Sydney, Australia. He had checked into the hotel that day under a different name, and jumped from a window of the hotel several stories up that afternoon. It was later revealed that Priestley had been suffering from depression for several years, having gone for treatment to ease the symptoms prior to his death.

He died just a few days after he turned 32.

Mark's character of Dan Goldman continued to air well into November 2008, as Priestly had taped several episodes of the series before he passed away. In a rather eerie manner, the final storyline that Dan was involved in dealt with the tragic murder of his wife, Erica, and presumably his last scene showed the police giving him the terrible news.

The show was retooled three different times during its run. For the first six and a half years, the show was set at Ward 17, but because of a slip in the ratings caused by the departure of Thomson's Mitch Stevens, the show was retooled and the action shifted to the emergency department. Then at the beginning of the show's twelfth and final season, the show included the medical response unit in its storylines.

Here's the shocking part. “All Saints” benefited from these changes. Ratings improved on both stints. In fact, “All Saints” was still getting decent ratings at the time of its cancellation. Unfortunately, running a show like “All Saints” was a huge cost to Seven Network, and Seven made the decision to put their backing on the comedy-drama series “Packed to the Rafters”...ironically enough starring Erik Thompson!

So, the final episode of “All Saints” aired on October 27, 2009, appropriately enough with Von Ryan retiring from her position.

So, that's my look back on “All Saints”...a show that really should have aired in North America. Take my word for it, if you can get past the Australian accents and have a strong stomach for gore and swear words, you'll love this one!