Search This Blog

Friday, May 31, 2013

Leave It To Beaver and Mrs. Cleaver

Today is the last day of May, which means that it also happens to be the last look back on sitcom mothers of the past.

And, for this edition, we're going to be taking a look at one of the best sitcom moms ever...well, according to quite a few people, that is.

It's hard to tell who exactly is the perfect sitcom mom, as we all have our own opinions on the subject. Some people might argue that it is Carol Brady, while others will argue that Roseanne is better. Some may like the mother from The Wonder Years, while others prefer the mother from Family Guy.

And, whilst no sitcom mother is absolutely one hundred per cent perfect, this one comes rather close.

Of course, once I reveal that today's sitcom mother was portrayed by the late Barbara Billingsley, then you've already figured out exactly who today's mother is.  But to say that Barbara had a real love for the role that made her famous was an understatement.  Not only did she play the role for "Leave it to Beaver"'s entire six year run, but she reprised the role on several occasions after that.

And, that role, as we all well know was that of June Evelyn Bronson Cleaver. 

Yes, when "Leave it to Beaver" first debuted on CBS, Barbara Billingsley was cast in the iconic role.  And, here's some interesting trivia regarding her casting.  Although the show didn't begin airing until October 1957, a pilot episode aired six months earlier in April 1957.  On that pilot, Barbara originated the role that made her a household name.

"Leave it to Beaver" was created by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher.  The plan was to have a television sitcom that featured a suburban family and dealing with the mischief and trouble that young boys could get themselves into.  The show was specifically designed to stand out from other similar shows like "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" in that rather than focus on the parents of the show, the main stars would be the children.  Originally, the show was going to be called "It's A Small World" (which coincidentally happened to be the title of the pilot episode).  The title was briefly changed to "Wally and The Beaver", and then was changed once more to become "Leave it to Beaver".

TRIVIA:  And, yes...the rumours you may have heard were true.  "Leave it to Beaver" was the very first television show to feature a toilet in a scene.  Kind of makes you wonder how people went to the bathroom before 1957, huh?

Anyway, you all know who the main characters of "Leave it to Beaver" are.  The star of the show was Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver, played by now 64-year-old Jerry Mathers.

(Mathers was just eight when he auditioned for the role, and in one of the auditions, he wore a Cub Scout uniform, and kind of rushed through the audition because he was anxious to get to the den meeting!)

Tony Dow was cast as eldest Cleaver boy, Wally, and initially Dow only went to the audition to support a friend of his who was auditioning for a different project.  But, when he decided to try out for the part and ended up getting it, he couldn't pass it up.  Dow, now 68, has since pursued a career in sculpting.

Hugh Beaumont was also cast as the role of Cleaver patriarch, Ward after he had worked with Mathers in a religious film (I know, I found that last piece of information quite interesting as I had no idea myself).  Beaumont stayed on the show the entire six year run, but died in May 1982 after suffering a heart attack.

And, then there was Barbara Billingsley, who prior to getting the role of June Cleaver worked as an actress on several B-movie roles.  And, looking back on it, I can't picture anyone else playing the role of June Cleaver but Barbara, can you?

And, cannot even compare Janine Turner's performance in the 1997 remake film.  There is absolutely no comparison.  Although, Billingsley was a good sport about it all, and did have a cameo role as Aunt Martha.

Now, I've done quite a bit of research in coming up with some interesting facts that make June Cleaver stand out when compared to the other sitcom moms that have appeared both before and after her heyday.  And, some of the information that I have dug up on June Cleaver has been very interesting.

And, no, she was not caught having an affair with a toothless prostitute, nor did she have to go on Maury Povich to find out if Ward really was the father of Beaver Cleaver.  This was the 1950s, after all, and the most scandalous thing that June probably did was wear white after Labour Day.

Anyway, did you know that in June's early life, it was widely under the assumption that June's family was more...shall we say...privileged than Ward's?  In one episode, June revealed that she was actually taught repeatedly how to do a proper curtsy in case she ever found herself courting a wealthy diplomat!

Instead, she ended up with commoner Ward Cleaver.

Well, okay, Ward wasn't exactly destitute.  But he did seem to come from a family who really understood the value of a dollar.  It was also shown in an episode that Ward convinced June to not buy an expensive opal ring.  He convinced her to go with a pair of galoshes instead!

(Hmmm...I bet if I had a wife, I'm sure that she'd love it if I bought her rainwear instead of a nice piece of jewelry.  And, I bet if I tried that, I would probably not stay married for much longer.)

But, that was the thing with June.  She very rarely got angry, or even raised her voice (well, except when Beaver gets his nice clothes all dirty or smuggles in insects into the house).  She was too much of a lady to yell, scream, curse, cry, or even sleep in the same bed as her husband.

I guess if there was really only one flaw to be found in June Cleaver, it was that she would be completely out of her element in 2013, as so much as changed over the years.  

In Leave it to Beaver, June Cleaver always dressed immaculately, and seemed to keep up with the latest fashion trends.  In 2013, let's just say that yoga pants and sweats seem to be the most popular mom trends.  I'd like to see June Cleaver squeeze into some skinny jeans now!

In Leave it to Beaver, June Cleaver manages to find a way to create a seven course breakfast menu and still keep her kitchen completely spotless.  My own mother couldn't even do that!  She always said that a messy kitchen was a badge of honour because it just went to show just how hard she worked.

In Leave it to Beaver, June Cleaver enjoys such riveting activities as needlepoint, cake decorating, and arranging tea roses.  In 2013, I don't even know anyone who does needlepoint, nor do I think many people even know what a tea rose is.  But, I do know quite a few cake decorators.

In Leave it to Beaver, June quite often got involved a little too much in the lives of her boys, even going as far as supervising Beaver's play dates with Eddie Haskell and Lumpy Rutherford (though to be fair, Eddie Haskell was a bully of sorts).  On a personal level, I don't think I would have quite appreciated my own mother butting in on my own playdates when I was a kid, although to her credit, she let us do our own thing most of the time.  And, to be fair, I never really did much that was spontaneous as a child, so she didn't really have anything to worry about.

And, I'm pretty sure that June Cleaver is the only mom that I ever saw wearing a full pearl necklace around her neck in every single scene.  She wore it while she was cooking.  She wore it while she was gardening.  She probably wore it to bed as she slept next to her husband's twin bed.  Heck, she probably even wore it while she went to use the toilet which shall never be spoken of!  Needless to say, none of the female members of my family ever loved a piece of jewelry enough to wear it at every opportunity, though I'll be the first to admit that one of my sisters has a shoe fetish.

But you know, for years, June Cleaver was considered to be one of the most iconic television moms.  And, I think it's a label that she deserved.  Oh, sure, her trademarks, quirks, and methods of running a household are horribly outdated by today's standards, but one thing remained clear.  She loved her family with all her heart, and she would do almost anything in the world to make her family happy.

And, this continued well into the 1980s when CBS aired a reunion movie called "Still the Beaver", as well as a revival show entitled "The New Leave it to Beaver", which to my surprise ran for four seasons between 1985 and 1989.  Although Hugh Beaumont had died prior to the reunion movie, the producers decided that rather than have June Cleaver remarry, that she would be seen living the life of a widow.  And, besides, it wasn't as if she was completely alone, as a now grown Beaver Cleaver and his two sons have moved in with her!

Even in adulthood, she was still taking care of her boys.  What a mom!

Sadly, Barbara Billingsley passed away in 2010 at the ripe old age of 94...and while her death was a sad day in the world of classic television, her portrayal of the near-perfect housewife and mother will always be remembered, and will always make her one of the greatest mothers in the world of situation comedy.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wake Up and Smell the Changes!

I still have a hard time believing that I have kept this blog going for two years. And, in order to keep this blog fresh and current, it's time for the annual list of changes. Don't worry. It won't be that many. Truth be told, I'm kind of feeling a little bit tired and sore today, so don't be too surprised if this blog entry is a little bit shorter than normal.

Oh, and because it's a Thursday Diary entry, I am going to be penning these changes in the format of a diary entry! And, you might see a few songs about change popping up every few paragraphs or so.

Oh, look. There's one up above!

May 30, 2013

Are you ready for some changes in the format of this blog?

Every time the anniversary of this blog rolls around, I always feel as though I want to celebrate that milestone. I mean, granted, this blog has only been around a couple of years, but I always loved anniversaries. It's a stepping stone in the path to great things. I still have this belief that writing is something that I am destined to do with my life, and that working retail has just been a simple stepping stone towards that path.

(Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. That stepping stone is like a freakin' boulder as I've been in retail eight and a half years now. I still have to dream, can't I?)

I think that's why I love the idea of blogging my thoughts to the world. These days now more than ever, people are venturing into the self-publishing route. And, I'll be the first to admit that while I never really saw myself as a published author in “book” format yet...the fact that I have come up with a way to record my thoughts every day for a two year period (keeping in mind that 2012 was a leap year on top of that)...kind of makes me one, doesn't it?

Now, if only I could find a way to make money out of my writing skills. I've gotten some ideas on how to do this with this blog, but that's an ongoing thing that I'm still researching. You don't have to worry about pop-up advertisements, or having to watch a commercial on allergy medication before you have to read a blog entry. I am committed to keeping this blog ad-free. And, besides, since I bring up a lot of pop culture references in this blog, I don't really think that it is right to profit off of other people's successes.

Now, if you recall, last year, the changes to the blog were almost all cosmetic. The colour scheme changed to the now current purple/yellow motif (which is staying the same), the logo was polished and made in a semi-professional manner (which again, is staying the same), and the theme days were mostly kept the same (I've had the same theme days going on since January 1, 2012).

This year, the changes will be not as drastic. I've tweaked the font around, and I've temporarily placed a special 2-year-anniversary banner atop the blog.

And, there's a couple of changes to the theme days that you should be made aware of.

Yes...wake up and smell the changes, because a couple of this blog's theme days will be completely flipped around.

First things first, here are the entries that will be sticking around for another year.

I'm keeping the Tuesday Timeline feature in place. I think it's fun to go back in time to see what was going on in the world at any given moment in history, and I'll be the first to admit that I learn quite a lot from my Tuesday Timeline moments. Plus, the Tuesday Timeline is also a fairly well-received theme day as exhibited by all of you reading this blog. So, the Tuesday Timeline stays.

The Thursday Diary is also sticking around for the foreseeable future. After all, it was one of the only days in which I actually turned the blog personal, and shared with you some of my deepest secrets, my biggest regrets, and my hopes for the future. And, from what I can tell, you all seem to love this day as well, so who am I to get rid of it?

There are three days that I am also keeping on the schedule, but I will be tweaking them slightly.

You've already seen evidence of this in the Sunday Jukebox from last week, but let's just say that I will be keeping the topic up and running...but the song choices will become a little bit more personal. They're either going to be songs that have been a huge part of my life growing up, or they're going to be songs in which their lyrics or message will have some meaning to me...and maybe it will have some meaning for you too.

The Monday Matinee is also sticking around for now, but rather than have it being a garbage dump of trivia facts, I'm going to try and look at it through a different angle. Maybe we can learn some morals from the film itself, or maybe the film can act as a tribute to an actor or actress, or maybe it will be a personal memory associated with the film. Really, I'll come up with something to keep the Monday Matinee alive.

I'm also keeping the discussion for all things television on Fridays, but since we're now looking at talk shows, soap operas, reality television episodes, and other various television programs, instead of the day being known as TGIF, instead, the day will be known as What's On TV Friday Night? I figure that will cover all the bases.

So, this means that obviously, the Wednesday and Saturday theme days are going to be changing completely.

Now, initially, the Wednesday entries were known as the Wednesday Gift Shop, where I discussed books, games, toys, and other novelty items. And, Saturdays have included discussions on Saturday Morning Cartoons, educational programs, and other kid shows. But after coming to the conclusion that I am slowly but surely running out of topics to discuss, I have decided to combine the two theme days into one.

Saturdays will henceforth be known as the Saturday Smorgasbord. And since we have a whole bunch of topic ideas for the Saturday Smorgasbord, I will be designing it like this.

First Saturday of the month – Toy Discussions
Second Saturday of the month – Video Game Discussions
Third Saturday of the month – Cartoon Discussions
Fourth Saturday of the month – Book/Comic/Magazine Discussions

(On a month where we have five Saturdays, the last Saturday will be author's choice.)

So, since we have Saturdays up and running...that leaves us with Wednesdays. And, for what it's worth, I think I have come up with a way to make this blog as much your creation as it is mine.

And, that's why I have decided to make Wednesdays “All-Request”!

That's right! I'm letting YOU have the chance to control what you want to see in my blog. I love hearing suggestions from all of you on what topics I should write about, and some of them I have taken.

And, here's how you can take part.

If you don't know already, you can join the official Facebook page for this blog by clicking HERE. On that page, as well as my own personal page, every Tuesday, I will be posting a post asking for topic ideas. I will choose one at random, and write about that subject. If you want me to write about hockey, I'll do a hockey post! If you want me to write about bacon double cheeseburgers, I will do exactly that! If you want to me make a case against the wearing of bikini underwear, by gum, I'll do that too! Whatever you want, I'll write it! But you have to help a blogger out and give me the ideas! Sound good?

So, just to summarize, the new theme days are...


We've had two wonderful years together. Let's make year number three the best year yet!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Seeing Red Over Sun-Kissed/Sunburned Skin

I typically don't like repeating topics within the same month (well, aside from the Back to the Future trilogy entries that I worked on the last three Monday Matinees), but in this case, I'm going to have to in order to set up the story.

Above is a copy of Jughead With Archie Digest #88. It was one of the very first comic books that I remember reading in my childhood, and miraculously enough, it is still in fantastic condition. I would have gone into my bookshelf to scan the images that I needed to illustrate this point, but it's tucked all the way in the back of my bookshelf, and it would take me a lot of time to dig it out, so I'll just have to describe it to you.

Anyway, one of the reasons why that particular book stands out in my mind is the opening story. Traditionally speaking, almost every digest magazine has two new stories mixed in with some classic Archie comics from the last ten or twenty years prior. In almost all cases, the new stories at at the two bookends (or, the opening and closing stories). With me so far?

The first story in the book shows Jughead and Archie talking to each other while Archie is doing some watering in the garden. I want to say that Archie is wearing a bathing suit and a T-shirt, but I can't recall. At some point, Archie and Jughead decided to go to the beach, and Jughead and Archie get into a discussion on precautions that they could take to avoid excessive sun exposure. It's actually kind of a story that is similar to those Goofus and Gallant stories that you'd find in Highlights magazine. In Archie and Jughead's case, both of them knew that going outside without wearing sunscreen was not a good idea (keeping in mind that this story was illustrated at a time when the hole in the ozone layer was just discovered a couple of years earlier). So, both of them rubbed some sunscreen all over their bodies and played on the beach happily.

Reggie Mantle, on the other hand, didn't need sunscreen. He felt that wearing sunscreen was the wimpiest thing that one could do. So, he spent his day on the beach prancing around with girls in bikinis, himself wearing a rather skimpy Speedo.

(Which, according to this blogger is one article of men's clothing that I would never wear.)

But, anyway, I'm sure you all know how the story goes. Archie and Jughead end up without any damage done to their epidermis whatsoever. But after a woman accidentally slaps Reggie in the back, he winces in pain in a dramatic fashion before turning a sickly shade of rose. Despite the fact that he was basically out in the sun for hours on end without even so much as using sunscreen, he is still completely clueless about how harmful the sun's rays could get, and is absolutely dumbfounded over how something like that could have happened.

Cue a scene of all the bikini-clad women that Reggie was just playing frisbee with chanting...


And, at the end of the story, Jughead adds “and you should too”.

Now, I suppose you're wondering why I have chosen this comic book tale to open up my discussion. Well, it's very simple. It has to do with today's blog topic.

Sun protection.

I mean, let's face it. All of us these days need it.

I will say this. I'd rather get a tan the old-fashioned way by going outside for a few hours rather than book an appointment at a tanning salon any day of the week. I don't really like tanning beds much at all, and I am in firm support of banning them for everyone under the age of eighteen. But, regardless of whether you tan in a bed, or tan on a beach towel on a sandy shore, you still have to take protection from the sun very seriously.

As someone who works a job that is mostly outdoors now (where each of my shifts last at least seven and a half hours), I definitely have to make sure that I take care of my skin whenever possible. In fact, I'm going to post my daily routine for protecting myself from the sun, just so I can give off the impression that I am no Reggie Mantle and that I do take the effects of excessive sunlight exposure on the skin quite seriously.

First, I always make sure that I have sunscreen on me at all times. And, I know that a lot of news sources these days are reporting that you don't need to have a sunscreen that has an SPF higher than 40, but I always use at least a 50 SPF. When I was younger, I burned something fierce, and joked that I needed a sunscreen that had an SPF of 10,000! But, I have noticed that the stuff that I use is fine. It does what it is supposed to do, and that's all that matters. Believe me, I know all about blistering sunburns. I acquired quite a few of them in my early childhood that were skin-peeling awfulness. After you experience a couple of them, you definitely don't want to experience another one. And, I also have learned that applying it only once a day is not exactly the way you want to go unless you're going to be outside for 30 minutes or an hour. Myself? I usually reapply sunscreen during breaks and my lunch hour. That way, I'll be well protected from the elements.

Another thing that I mostly do is wear a hat that has some sort of protection. I know that those Tilley hats that look like the hat that Inspector Gadget wears are probably the best ones to wear, and I used to own one, but I cannot find it for the life of me. So, instead, I use a baseball cap. Not quite the protection that could be used, but it's fine as long as I remember to apply sunscreen on the back of my neck. Though, admittedly sometimes I don't wear a hat if it appears to be an overcast, cool day, and when the clouds go away and heat up the ground below, I end up paying for my little slip-up. But, it happens to us all. No need to stress over it.

And, of course, the whole idea of applying sunscreen on a scorching hot day is just one of the many things that one can do in order to stay safe in the summer heat. In fact, I want to tell you a story from the days in which I did store standards for my job. It was the day before Canada Day (July 1), and I was out in the hot sun for several hours without drinking any liquids whatsoever.

Big mistake on my part.

Heat stroke is very serious stuff. As someone who has suffered from heat stroke related incidents in my childhood, I know how hard it can be to experience that discomfort. So, you know what I started doing? I used to smuggle a thermos filled with ice cold water inside the shopping cart collecting machine so that I could stay hydrated at all times. And, the best part was that the thermos was the same exact colour as the shopping carts at the time, so I didn't have to worry about getting “busted” so to speak. And, even if I did get caught with a thermos filled with water, I think that they would have understood.

That's why I'm always constantly drinking water on the job when I work the Garden Centre. If I didn't drink water out there, I'd likely be passed out in the compound lying in between the cedar mulch and peat moss. So, yes, hydration is very important to me, and I make sure that I keep a bottle of water on my person at all times while I am working outside.

Just one more thing that I want to make clear as I close this blog post on sun safety. I am one of those people who has a naturally ruddy complexion. When I get a lot of sun exposure, it's typical for me to get a reddish glow in my skin. But then it fades completely to a tan brown colour. It comes from my father's side of the family. Did you know that when my father gets a lot of colour, his skin gets incredibly dark? It's true. Mine does the exact same thing. I can see why some people might mistake it as being a burn, but I would know if it is. I am the best judge of my own body, and I know what a sunburn feels like. I've always had that ruddy complexion whether I am in extreme heat or extreme cold. It has nothing to do with high blood pressure (it was normal the last time I had mine checked), and it also has nothing to do with any skin diseases. That's just the way that I was born.

It certainly doesn't mean that I don't practice sun safety. I wouldn't be writing an entire blog post on how important it is if I didn't. Nor does it mean that I don't take care of myself outside. I may have a slip-up every now and again, but everyone does. I would say that I actually do a good job keeping safe against the elements. It may not look like I do, but there's only so much one can do with a naturally ruddy complexion.

I certainly wouldn't fault anyone for getting a nasty sunburn every now and again. Maybe they forgot the sunscreen one day...or maybe, like me, they have a naturally ruddy complexion too. I certainly wouldn't point it out to them and chastise them for having a burn. I don't know the situation behind it, and it's not up to me to judge.

I certainly don't think it's very nice to make light of a person who has had the misfortune of getting a sunburn. I definitely don't think it's very nice to make everyone in the room aware of the fact that a person's skin colour is redder than what they perceive as being normal. 

And, I certainly don't think that it's very professional or courteous to point out a person's sun-kissed skin to everybody in the room and kick off an impromptu sun protection intervention in a public space like say, a cafeteria, hallway, or break room where you are basically observed under a microscope for your entire lunch hour and having to try and constantly explain that your skin is not burned, that it is merely a side-effect of having a naturally rosy complexion. Because not only does it make that person's free time less enjoyable for kind of makes that person feel like the village idiot - especially someone who does take sun safety quite seriously - who is tired of explaining to people who obviously don't know better than to talk with someone in a more respectful manner.  And, sometimes, it hurts the person's feelings, which if they already do suffer a nasty burn can make the situation even more embarrassing.

In the end, they are people, not circus sideshows. And, regardless of whether the intentions behind the concern are good, I still think that respect plays a huge part in that.

Just some food for thought though.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May 28, 1998

Hello, everyone! And, welcome to our retrospective on this, the twenty-eighth day of May in another edition of the Tuesday Timeline!

So, let's not waste any time, shall we?

To begin our look back on all events from May 28, we are going to start off with celebrity birthdays. I want to wish Paul Hebert, Carroll Baker, Rudolph Giuliani, Gladys Knight, Billy Vera, Patch Adams, John Fogerty, Townsend Coleman, Michelle Collins, Roland Gift (Fine Young Cannibals), James Michael Tyler, Christa Miller, Phil Vassar, Kylie Minogue, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Alicia Minshew, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Alexa Davalos, Colbie Caillat, Carey Mulligan, and Jaslene Gonzalez a very happy birthday today!

And, for special events that took place on May 28, we have the following...

1588 – The Spanish Armada set sail from Lisbon, Portugal towards the English Channel

1830 – Andrew Jackson signs the Indian Removal Act, relocating Native Americans

1871 – The Paris Commune falls

1892 – The Sierra Club is organized by John Muir in San Francisco, California

1908 – Ian Lancaster Fleming, author of the James Bond spy novels, is born in Mayfair, London, England

1934 – Annette, Cecile, Emilie, Marie, and Yvonne Dionne are born near Callander, Ontario, making them the first set of quintuplets to survive infancy (as of 2013, only Annette and Cecile are still living)

1937 – The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is opened to the public by President Roosevelt

1944 – Canadian folk singer Rita MacNeil is born on Cape Breton Island

1951 – The Goon Show is broadcast over the BBC for the first time

1952 – Women in Greece are granted the right to vote

1977 – A fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky kills 165

1993 – Eritrea and Monaco join the United Nations

1995 – An earthquake measuring 7.6 strikes the Russian town of Neftegorsk, killing over two thousand people

2012 – The discovery of “Flame” - a malware program targeting computer systems in the Middle East is announced

For today's blog entry, we're going to be flashing back in time to an event which saddened a lot of people. I know that looking back on it, I took the passing of this gifted comedian quite hard, as a lot of my childhood memories were deeply linked with this man and his talent.

Fifteen years ago today, on May 28, 1998, this man died in a senseless and tragic manner, with many people wondering why his death had to happen in the first place.

This is the story of Phil Hartman. A man so incredibly gifted in the world of comedy and who had a bright future in the entertainment industry...whose life was taken far too short by the one person who few seemed to believe could ever hurt him in that way.

Phil was born Philip Edward Hartmann on September 24, 1948 in Brantford, Ontario, Canada (at some point in his career, he lost an “N” from his last name). He was the fourth of eight children born to Rupert and Doris Hartmann, and by Phil's own admission, he was always trying to seek out attention. I suppose being smack-dab in the middle of the birth order in a really large family, it made sense for Phil to seek out attention wherever he could find it. The Hartmanns moved to the state of Connecticut when Phil was just ten years old (Phil himself would be granted American citizenship in 1990), and by the time Phil entered high school, the family settled in the West Coast, where Phil was voted “Class Clown” of Westchester High School in Los Angeles.

Now, here's something that you probably didn't know. When Phil Hartman was first starting out in his career, he initially didn't go into acting right away. One of Phil's first loves was music, and he spent some time working as a roadie for a rock band before earning a degree in graphic design in the mid-1970s. And, keeping his love of rock music alive, some of his first jobs in graphic design included designing album covers for Poco and America, and designing the logo that Crosby, Stills & Nash used. Here's one of the album covers below that Phil Hartman designed as a twenty-something young professional!

Not bad, huh?

It wasn't until the late 1970s that Phil decided to try his hand at acting. His first appearance was as one of the men looking for a love connection on “The Dating Game”, but unfortunately for Phil, his date stood him up.

It was also right around this time that Phil began to attend comedy classes run by California based improv group, “The Groundlings”. He impulsively jumped on stage and joined the cast during one of their performances, and by 1979, he had climbed the ranks to become one of the comedy troupes biggest stars.

And, I bet you didn't know that Phil Hartman was also responsible for helping create one of the most quintessential characters of the 1980s! While he was in The Groundlings, he crossed paths with Paul Reubens. Together, they created the persona of Pee-Wee Herman, who as you know was the character that helped Paul Reubens rise up in the ranks of stardom.

(Well, before his arrest in 1991 for lewd conduct, that is.)

But, even so, I gotta give Phil Hartman a lot of credit. Pee-Wee's Playhouse was one of my all-time favourite shows growing up (and I still have a soft spot for it as an adult), and Phil even appeared on several episodes of Pee-Wee's Playhouse as Captain Carl. He even wrote the screenplay for the 1985 film “Pee-Wee's Big Adventure”, and did a cameo for that very film. Unfortunately, creative differences between Hartman and Reubens caused that partnership to split up, and Hartman was left to pursue other opportunities. But, at least the experience and success that Hartman experienced with the commitment to the Pee-Wee Herman projects secured the belief that he wanted to continue his work in show business.

A lot of Phil's success came from doing voice over work for commercials and animated series. Unbeknownst to me, he voiced the role of Henry Mitchell in what was one of my favourite cartoons to watch as a kid, “Dennis the Menace”. He also did voice roles for “The Smurfs”, “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo”, and of course “The Simpsons”.

Why, you might remember Phil Hartman as the man who voiced Lionel Hutz, Lyle Lanley, and Troy McClure during the first nine seasons of the show! I know I certainly do!

But, I would think that the one show that helped secure Phil Hartman's star power was his commitment to NBC's Saturday Night Live. Phil stayed on that program for eight years between 1986 and 1994, and over his eight years there, he was responsible for creating some of the most memorable characters that Saturday Night Live has ever featured. I just only wish I had some video clips to link here, but SNL clips are a rarity to find online.

But some of the characterizations that I remember Phil Hartman for the most was his near perfect impersonation of Bill Clinton. But, that wasn't the only one. He perfected impersonations of Ed McMahon, Phil Donahue, Frank Sinatra, and even Barbara Bush! As for original characters, well, how about Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, or Eugene, the Anal-Retentive Chef.

And, Hartman's reputation on the set of Saturday Night Live was impeccable, according to several cast members who had the good fortune of working with Hartman while he was on the show. Jan Hooks, for example, credited Hartman with helping her overcome her stage fright. Adam Sandler constantly referred to Hartman as the glue that held all of them together. Even show creator Lorne Michaels said nothing but positive comments about Hartman, who he said gave everything he had to everyone else, and expected very little in return.

Maybe that's one of the reasons why Hartman was so loved by fans all over the world. I know Phil Hartman was always one of my personal favourite cast members of Saturday Night Live (and yes, I was allowed to stay up late and watch it when I was eleven and twelve, so I do remember him).

One of Phil's final projects was the sitcom, NewsRadio, which debuted in 1995, one year after he left Saturday Night Live. He played the role of Bill McNeil, which Hartman described as himself without the ethics and character. And, although the show was never really a ratings winner, he did make enough of an impression for the show to be renewed for four seasons. And, he also did guest spots on other sitcoms as well, including a reunion with Jan Hooks on the set of NBC's “3rd Rock from the Sun”.

That's why I still can't understand how tragically it all ended in the early morning hours of May 28, 1998.

At that time, Phil Hartman was married to his third wife, Brynn. The couple had met on a blind date right around the time that Phil had gotten hired to join the cast of Saturday Night Live, and they had gotten married a year later, in 1987. On the surface, the marriage between Phil and Brynn seemed perfect, and they had two children together, Sean and Birgen.

However, the marriage itself was also plagued with problems. It was widely speculated that Brynn was resentful of Hartman's success, and that Hartman was getting more and more annoyed with Brynn's constant using of drugs and alcohol. Despite this, neither side wanted a divorce. Hartman did his best to try and get Brynn acting roles, and he even considered early retirement in an effort to keep the marriage going. But, little did either Phil or Brynn realize that both of them were on a collision course with their eternal fate...and by the end of May 28, 1998, neither one would be alive to tell the tale.

Things seemed normal on the evening of May 27, 1998. That night, Brynn Hartman went out to dinner with a friend at Encino, California's Buca di Beppo, and was described as being in good spirits that night. But by the time she had arrived back home, that mood seemed to disappear. She and Phil reportedly got into a heated argument, with Phil threatening to leave her once and for all if she didn't seek help for her drug addiction. It would end up being the last conversation either of them would have.

Shortly before 3:00am on May 28, 1998, Brynn entered Phil's bedroom where he lay asleep, armed with a handgun. She then proceeded to shoot her husband three times – twice in the head, once in the side – before fleeing to her friend, Ron Douglas' home. At the time of the murder, she was reportedly under the influence of cocaine.

Once arriving at Douglas' home, she confessed to killing Phil, although he didn't quite believe her at first. But when Douglas followed Brynn back to the Hartman house, he went upstairs to the bedroom where the crime had taken place, and he called 911 three and a half hours after the shooting.

Shortly after returning back to the Hartman household, Brynn locked herself in a bathroom and took her own life, shooting herself once in the head.

Phil Hartman was only 49 years old at the time of his death. And, Hollywood mourned his tragic death. As someone who was a huge fan of his, I took his death quite hard. I never got the chance to meet him, but I felt like I knew him from all of the hard work he did while he was still alive. And, certainly his co-stars and people who knew him felt the same way. Whether he was doing his Troy McClure voice for “The Simpsons”, playing Bill Clinton on “Saturday Night Live”, or making people laugh on “NewsRadio”, he brought the very best of himself to every part he played. In my opinion, Phil Hartman truly did have star power, but was so humble that he rarely showed it. He never seemed like he had an ego, and it seemed like it would be easy to approach him on the street and say hello.

Immediately following Hartman's death, “The Simpsons” retired all of the characters that Hartman voiced, because they knew that nobody could ever replace his voice or the love and passion that he put into that job. “NewsRadio” wrote Hartman's character out of the series and attempted to bring the show forward by bringing in Hartman's long-time friend Jon Lovitz onto the series. And, it was initially planned for Hartman to have a role in Matt Groening's other animated series “Futurama”, with Hartman voicing the character of Zapp Branigan. But with Hartman's death, longtime voice artist Billy West was given the role instead, with West purposely trying to imitate Hartman's voice as a tribute to the late actor.

And, while I'm thinking of it, the show “Futurama” also did something else to honour their fallen friend. You all know that the main character of the show was a pizza delivery boy named Fry, right? Well, Fry's real name is Phillip J. Fry, with Groening naming the character in Phil's memory.

And, Phil's name will forever be linked with Canada's Walk of Fame, getting a posthumous star in 2012 for his contributions to the entertainment industry.

It seems hard to believe that Phil Hartman would be nearly 65 years old if he were still alive. But, even though his life was taken before his time on May 28, 1998, his legacy will forever live on...and he will forever remain one of my all-time favourite performers.

Thanks for the memories, Phil...and may you be at peace.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Back to the Future - Part III

Two weeks ago, the Monday Matinee took a look at “Back to the Future”, a film in which a teenager goes back in time to the year 1955, to try his best to reunite his parents before he ceases to exist.

One week ago, the Monday Matinee took a look at “Back to the Future: Part II”, a film in which that same teenager goes forward in time to the year 2015, where he tries to save his future children from getting involved in serious criminal activity, while trying to restore the past timeline that an enemy of the family has screwed up.

We may as well conclude the last Monday Matinee in May with the final piece of the puzzle...the trilogy that changed how the world looked at time travel forever.

Back To The Future: Part III” was the last film of the series, and here's an interesting piece of trivia for all of you. Did you know that “Back To The Future: Part III” was filmed just a couple of weeks after production wrapped on the second film? Poor Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd must have been absolutely exhausted!

All that work seemed to pay off. The film was released on May 25, 1990 – almost exactly six months after the second film was released – and it garnered more positive praise than the second film. It's still not as good as the original film as far as this blogger is concerned, but on its own, it's a good standalone film, and it wraps up the series quite nicely.

All right, so to kick off the third film, we start at the same exact spot where the second film left off. When the film left off, Marty destroyed the sports almanac he purchased in 2015 that caused all the trouble in the second film, and he had successfully restored the 1955 Hill Valley and the 1985 Hill Valley back to the timeline that was established in the first movie.

Confused yet? I'll try to clarify.

Marty and Doc are initially celebrating the fact that once again, they have saved the past, present, and future of Hill Valley, and are preparing to hop back in the DeLorean time machine back to 1985 Hill Valley. Unfortunately, the weather in Hill Valley 1955 is not very good on this particular day, and when lightning strikes the DeLorean, Doc ends up disappearing with the DeLorean, leaving Marty stuck in 1955. At first, all seems lost, until a courier delivers Marty a telegram to Marty that had the date of 1885 stamped on it. The telegram is from Doc, who reveals that he has become trapped in the year 1885 and that he needs help.

At first, Marty is confused over what he should do, and who he can get to help him. But then he remembers that 1955 Doc is still in Hill Valley at this time, and when he meets up with him, the two of them use the information within the telegram to locate and restore the DeLorean so they could go to 1885 to rescue 1985 Doc.

Again, I ask...are we confused yet?

Anyway, the quest to go back in time to 1885 is kicked up a notch when Marty happens to discover a shocking fact in Hill Valley's cemetery...a tombstone with Doc's name that has an end-date that is six days after the telegram that Doc sent. Further research showed that Doc was murdered by Biff Tannen's great-grandfather Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Time is of the essence, as Marty travels back in time to 1885 to try and save Doc from his doom.

The date that Marty arrives in is September 2, 1885, a time in which Hill Valley, California is a town that one might see in the Old West. It also happens to be a time in which the United States Cavalry is in pursuit of the Indians, adding to the danger aspect.

In fact, almost immediately after arriving in 1885, the fuel line is damaged, and Marty is forced to park the car in a nearby cave and walk the rest of the way to Hill Valley. Now, this does lead to some interesting encounters. Marty ends up meeting his own great-grandparents, Seamus and Maggie McFly (played by Fox and Lea Thompson). As well, he also meets up with Buford and his cronies, which almost ends with Marty getting himself hanged! Luckily, Doc manages to save Marty from Buford, and he agrees with Marty that maybe it would be a good thing if Doc came back to 1985 with Marty after all.

But, how would they manage to do that with a DeLorean that has no gasoline? It's not as if there are any convenient Texaco stations in 1885 Hill Valley, and even if Doc and Marty got the entire population of Hill Valley to push the DeLorean, it still wouldn't reach the 88 miles per hour required to propel them an entire century into the future. They were basically cowboys without a horse.

Doc comes up with an idea to use a locomotive to push the DeLorean to the speed needed to get back home, and when Marty and Doc do some scientific investigation, they find themselves saving the life of a woman named Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen), whose horse-drawn carriage goes out of control. And, it is this situation that causes Doc Brown to develop a love interest for the first time in the entire trilogy!

It's just a shame that the romantic encounter had to wait until the last film of the series, but hey...better late than never, right?

Now, without revealing how the trilogy ends too much, I'll reveal some cryptic clues that will not spoil it for those of you who have not seen the last part of the Back To The Future trilogy. Those of you who have...well, you can just ignore it.

I can tell you that the fax that Marty's girlfriend snatched from 2015 Hill Valley plays a minor role in the third film's conclusion.

I can tell you that the love story between Clara and Doc does not exactly run smoothly through the last half of the film, but you will be ultimately satisfied by the way this love story is resolved.

I can tell you that Marty McFly is left in a situation where he has to fight against Buford and his goons...only this time, he takes what he has learned in that battle to help fix future events.

And, on that note, I can also tell you the following pieces of trivia that are associated with the making of this film. Would you like to hear some of them? I bet you do.

01 – The DeLorean that was used for the filming of the third film was suspended from the ceiling of the Planet Hollywood location in Honolulu, Hawaii for many years.

02 – If you have a keen eye for detail, you might notice that in 1885, the Hill Valley newspaper editor is a man by the name of M.R. Gale. This is a hidden joke, as M.R. Gale refers to the screenwriter of the trilogy, Michael Robert Gale (credited as Bob Gale).

03 – Everyone knows that the catchphrases that Marty and Doc speak throughout the trilogy are “Yeah, this is heavy”, and “Great Scott” respectively. In this film, the two characters say each other's catchphrases!

04 – Mary Steenburgen was the producer's only choice for the role of Clara, but Steenburgen was reluctant to make a commitment to the film. Her children – being huge fans of Back to the Future – convinced her to take the part.

05 – The town that acted as the setting for 1885 Hill Valley, California was destroyed by fire in 1996...ironically enough by a lightning strike!

06 – The film was the first one to use Universal's 75th anniversary logo.

07 – The film has several references to Clint Eastwood (which made sense, since Clint Eastwood starred in several films set in the Old West). When he was asked by the producers of the film to use his name in some of the film's dialogue, he wasted no time in granting it, stating that he was flattered to have his name mentioned in the film.

08 – There's a scene in the third film where Marty McFly narrowly escapes being lynched by Buford Tannen. What we didn't know was that during the film, Michael J. Fox got into a mishap and accidentally almost hanged himself! Luckily, he was saved, but he was knocked unconscious for a few minutes.

09 – The role of Mayor Hubert was originally planned for former President Ronald Reagan, but Reagan turned it down. The part went to Hugh Gillin instead.

10 – Michael J. Fox had to take time out of filming for several weeks due to the death of his father, as well as the birth of his son, Sam.

11 – ZZ Top played the town band in the film, and during a take, one of the cameras broke. While the camera was being fixed, Fox requested a song, which the band played. This prompted other crew members to give the band requests as well, which turned into a near two-hour concert. Amusingly, Robert Zemeckis kept a secret...the camera had been fixed within the first half hour, but he stayed silent, as people were enjoying the concert too much for him to step in and shut it down!

12 – The steam locomotive used in the film was actually a model that was released in 1896...eleven years after the film was set. To camouflage this, the train was repainted to make it look like an 1885 model.

13 – Thomas F. Wilson performed his own horse riding stunts in the movie, as well as doing the lasso trick at the beginning of the 1885 scenes.

14 – In all three films, Marty McFly is knocked out cold, and when he comes to, Lea Thompson's character is always present.

15 – Look closely at the embroidery on Marty's western outfit. Doesn't it look like the symbol for atomic energy to you?

16 – In the movie, Christopher Lloyd shares an on-screen kiss with Mary Steenburgen...the ONLY ONE HE HAS EVER HAD THROUGH HIS ENTIRE CAREER!!!

17 – Seamus McFly was originally supposed to be played by Crispin Glover...but he chose not to come back to film the two sequels.

18 – In all three films, Thomas F. Wilson's character always ends up covered in manure. I wonder if he got a bonus for agreeing to that condition?

And, that concludes our look back on the Back to the Future trilogy. Hope you enjoyed the trip back through time over the last three weeks. And, remember. The future can only be controlled by what you do while you're living in the present...and as much as you might want to, you can't change the past.