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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nobody's Cause

This is normally the time of the week where I would go through my list of requests and choose one to feature in what is known as the All-Request Wednesday.

But here's the problem for this week. I actually didn't get any requests for this week at all. It's okay though. I knew looking ahead into the future that I would have some weeks that would be slower than others when it came to asking for requests, so I had to come up with a back-up plan in case I had a week where I had no requests.

And, well...I figure that if I didn't have any requests to honour for today for other people, I would instead do a request for myself. So today's request comes from Matthew T. of Ontario, Canada!!!

(Yeah, that didn't sound lame or weird, did it?)

Oh well.

Truth be told, I've been trying to find the right words to use in regards to something that has been weighing on my mind for a while. I hemmed and hawwed about this particular topic because I was kind of worried that if I talked about this subject, I might end up alienating some people, or hurting other people's feelings.

It's only now that I realize that the only person whose feelings I was hurting was me. And, I think that if I talk about what it is that is on my mind, it will hopefully help clear a few things up, and it might give me a better perspective on my life, and how I handle the people who happen to pass through it. Maybe by talking about my own experiences, it might help other people who are afraid to share how they feel speak out.

So, I suppose that for this week, you're going to have back-to-back diary entries. I just hope that you all are game for it.

July 31, 2013

It isn't very often that I do a diary entry on Wednesday. Normally I would be doing this the day after. But when the request well dries up, you do what you have to do. That's not to say that I haven't given up on requests. I love hearing ideas from my readers because I really want this blog to be all about them, and I want them to have a voice in what they want to see in this space.

However, I do admit that I'm a little glad that the requests were a little slow this week because it's given me a bit of a rare opportunity.

It gives me the opportunity to be one hundred per cent brutally honest about something that has always bugged me throughout my lifetime, and I haven't had the courage or the chance to address it...

...until now.

Before I begin though, I do wish to state a little bit of a disclaimer. For any of you who are regular readers of this column, I want to stress that these thoughts likely don't apply to you. After all, I have so much love and admiration for all of you out there reading this now because it shows me that I have the possibility to truly make what I do an actual career goal one day. Your continued support and interest in this blog has made me very humble, and I really appreciate it every time you read even just one of these entries.

I just wish that in my experiences through life, I could have that same level of support, compassion, and the occasional bit of constructive criticism if needed surrounding me in my real day-to-day existence as I do here on this blog.

That's not to say that the majority of people I deal with on a day-to-day basis are evil, callous, spiteful, and cruel. That's just silly talk, and it couldn't be further from the truth. I get along with mostly everyone...well...on an level of acquaintanceship that is.

And I suppose it goes back to my feelings on friendship. You've probably heard me mention this before, but I probably take friendship more seriously than the average person does. But that's only because in my own experience, finding friends has not always come easy. I'm an expert in finding acquaintances and casual relationships, yes. But when it comes to finding people who I can share my deepest, darkest, most intimate secrets with...that's been the challenge.

And part of the reason why this has been a challenge for me is because in past experiences, I have gotten burned by people who took advantage of me, or used my friendship against me in some manner. Even now, I still find myself falling into the same traps. I would get close to someone, and they would be nice to me back long enough for me to do something for them, and then once I “outlived my usefulness”, they'd ditch me and move on to the next patsy. Mind you, this is most certainly a very frustrating experience to go through, and one that I really don't want to lather, rinse, or repeat any time soon. But, in my 32 years of living, I've gotten better with trusting people. I'm still a smidgen bit cautious, but it's a learning process that we fine tune throughout our entire lives.

But there's one type of person out there in this world that I really absolutely have no use for, and it's hard for me to admit this because not only have I had former friends who have been guilty of this, but teachers and admittedly some family members have unknowingly done this.

What am I talking about?

I'm talking about people who choose to see me as a cause, or a pet project, rather than a friend. And, forgive me for my “not quite salty enough” language here, but people like that really piss me off.

I guess my dislike of people who do this dates all the way back to first grade, where I had a teacher who basically tried to change everything about me from showing me how to hold a pencil the “right” way to making sure that I was walking on my flat feet (despite the fact that it physically caused me pain to do so at that time). And the thing is that she didn't exactly do it in a way that really helped me. She shamed me, and humiliated me in front of the whole class, and for me, that was inexcusable. A teacher should not do that with any child. I needed a teacher who would teach me what a fraction was, or what the capital of Canada was, or how to draw a picture of a porcupine. I didn't need a teacher who made me feel worthless and less of a person because she tried to shame me into doing everything that she wanted in an effort to make me seem “normal”.

Lemme get one thing straight. One, you can't put a definition of the word “normal” on one specific person. Everyone has their own idea of what normal is. And when I was in the first grade, my normal was walking on my tiptoes. So, I didn't really appreciate the fact that a TEACHER was going out of her way to change my idea of normal as if she was competing on a game show. With the way she went about it, it was like she was going to win a quarter of a million dollars for making me “normal”. It was just absolutely petty and tacky on her part.

And, it set the tone for my relationships with people to come.

Truth be told, there's always a little sliver of doubt that lingers in my mind whenever I have the chance to meet and befriend new people. I'm the first to admit that I have great difficulty finding people that I can trust because I have had so many people come into my life who have mistaken my friendship for neediness. To some people, it almost appears that I'm one of those people featured in those “Feed the Children” commercials that you might see on television. They see me as a cause, rather than a person. They see me as someone who needs saving when a lot of the times, I'm not even aware that I had anything that needed to be saved.

It's very frustrating to deal with people like that, and honestly, I'm over it.

By now, most of you know that I am single. And, admittedly, a lot of the reason why I am still single is largely due to the trust issues that I have with people. This is something that I have readily admitted to in the past, and happily, I'm finding a way to open up my heart to people once more. But that being said, I don't really like the fact that I have had to deal with people who claim that the reason why I am single is due to the fact that I have some sort of personality disorder, or some sort of brain disorder, and sending me links to various support groups for people who have autism (and yes, there have been people who have done this to me). That's not cool. Friends don't do that to people. Friends may offer constructive criticism on how to dress to impress, or friends may set you up on a blind date, or friends might have some suggestions on how to up your game in the romance department. Friends should never suggest that your lack of romance is due to a chemical imbalance, or something similar. That's just uncalled for.

Oh, and to the former friend who kept talking down to me as if I were still a child and suggesting that I had some unresolved “growing pains” holding me down....what the hell were you thinking with a comment like that? Seriously, F-you. You telling me that is incredibly rude and thoughtless, and I thought that I would have expected better from you in that regard. You're supposed to build people up, not tear them down. Oh well...lesson learned, I suppose. The hard way, mind you, but lesson learned. You tried to change me by shaming me, and making me feel worse about myself...and had I been a little bit more weaker, you might have succeeded in changing me for all the wrong reasons. Fortunately, that didn't happen.

I guess somewhere along the way, I grew tired of people who were trying to bring me down to their level. And, I grew sick of keeping friends who weren't really “friends”.

Again, I have nothing against constructive criticism. It's when people try to change me as a way to make themselves feel better that I get really upset and angry. And, that's why I wanted to write about this today. I get the impression that I have some people in my life who see me as nothing more than a cause. I feel that there are some people in this world who want to do their best to change me and sculpt me and mould me into someone else just because. The unfortunate thing (and I am sure that some of you can relate to this) is that once they succeed in their changes, they don't often stick around very long after that. And, that can be damaging to anybody's psyche.  

I hate to use the television show "Saved By The Bell" as an example, but there's one episode that I can think of that demonstrates my point.  In one episode, the gang start up a teen line where Zack tries to help a girl named Melissa.  Against the teen line rules, Zack sets up a date with Melissa only to discover that she is paraplegic and needs a wheelchair to get around.  Despite Melissa's insistence that she is getting through life just fine, Zack sees it differently.  Things come to an end at the charity wheelchair basketball game where Zack kind of embarrasses Melissa for being the only one of the group to have to be in a wheelchair.  When Melissa refuses to speak to him after that, one of Zack's friends tells him that maybe she wanted to be his friend, and not his cause.  Even Melissa told Zack that even though she couldn't do some things, she could still do more than he thought, and that he shouldn't treat her as if she were broken.  I think Zack soon learned his lesson, and things were cool between them again.

So, I guess the lesson that I have to share in this blog entry is that nobody wants to be seen as a cause. However, everyone needs a friend who will treat them as such.  I hate it when people treat me as if I am broken because I haven't had the same experiences that everyone else had, or because I have something about myself that I can't change.

Okay, rant over for today.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 30, 1963

It's the second last day of July, and also the last Tuesday Timeline of the month of July, so I thought that for this edition, I would spotlight a person who eventually became a huge star and whose most successful role lasted ten years. But the road in which she took to get to that point was filled with potholes, close calls, and disappointments. Nevertheless, her story is one that should be told, and this is the place where we're going to do it.

For now, let's take a look at what else happened in the world on this, the thirtieth day of July.

762 – Baghdad, Iraq is founded by caliph Al-Mansur

1502 – Explorer Christopher Columbus lands at Guanaja in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras during his second voyage

1608 – Samuel de Champlain shoots and kills two Iroquois chiefs at Ticonderoga, setting the tone for relations between the French and the Iroquois for the next century

1629 – Ten thousand people are killed during an earthquake in Naples, Italy

1729 – The city of Baltimore, Maryland is founded

1871 – The Staten Island ferry Westfield suffers a boiler explosion, which kills 85 people

1916 – Actor Dick Wilson (born Riccardo DiGuglielmo) is born – he portrayed Mr. Whipple in close to five hundred commercials for Charmin

1930 – Uruguay wins the first FIFA World Cup in Montevideo

1932 – Walt Disney's “Flowers and Trees” premieres, the first cartoon short to use Technicolor

1945 – 883 people lose their lives as the USS Indianapolis is sunk by Japanese submarine I-58 during World War II

1956 - “In God We Trust” is adopted as the official motto of the United States of America

1962 – The Trans-Canada Highway is opened to the public

1965 – Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Social Security Act of 1965 which establishes Medicare and Medicaid

1974 – Richard Nixon releases subpoenaed White House recordings after being ordered to do so by the Supreme Court of the United States

1975 – The disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa from a restaurant parking lot in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan – he is never seen or heard from alive again

1989 – Bull rider Lane Frost is killed in an accident at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo at the age of 25

1990 – George Steinbrenner is forced by Fay Vincent to resign as principal partner of the New York Yankees for hiring Howie Spira to “get dirt” on Dave Winfield

2006 - “Top of the Pops” airs its final episode after forty-two years

2012 – Author Maeve Binchy succumbs to a short illness in Dublin, Ireland, at the age of 72

Now for the celebrity birthdays. We have a lot of them today, so I won't waste much time. A very happy birthday to Sid Krofft, Edd Byrnes, Bud Selig, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Anka, William Atherton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Otis Taylor, Frank Stallone, Ken Olin, Delta Burke, Anita Hill, Richard Burgi, Kate Bush, Neal McCoy, Laurence Fishburne, Alton Brown, Vivica A. Fox, Terry Crews, Simon Baker, Dean Edwards, Tom Green, Christine Taylor, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Hilary Swank, Graham Nicholls, Misty May-Treanor, Jaime Pressly, Gabrielle Christian, Sam Saunders, Coco Sumner, Hannah Cockroft, and Joey Mead.

(Whew, I'm exhausted! July 30 must be a big day for Hollywood births!)

As it so happens, today's blog subject also happens to be someone who is celebrating a birthday. And it happens to be a really big birthday at that.

She was born fifty years ago today, on July 30, 1963.

Our subject has done a lot during her entire career. She's been a friend to one and all, she attended a high school reunion, she's not a therapist but plays one on television, and she helps other famous faces find out who they think they are! Sounds like a real well-rounded woman, don't you think?

Of course, that's what has happened to her over the last twenty years. Prior to that, she struggled to be heard in an industry that could be cold and unfeeling. Regardless of which, she persevered, and after being turned down for gigs, or miscast for others, eventually received her big break in 1993 – the year before she was cast in the role that would make her one of the six highest-paid and critically acclaimed “Friends” that ever existed in the world of situation comedies.

This is the story of Lisa Valerie Kudrow, who turns fifty years old today.

She was born on July 30, 1963 in Los Angeles, California, the youngest of three children born to a physician father and a travel agent mother. And growing up in Tarzana, California, Lisa certainly proved that she had brains. After graduating from Taft High School in 1981, Kudrow studied at Vassar College, earning her BA in Biology. Her original intent was to follow in her father's footsteps to do some research on what caused headaches, and how they could be cured. For eight years, Kudrow worked on her father's staff, actually earning a research credit for Kudrow's father's study on the comparative likelihood of left-handed individuals developing cluster headaches.

TRIVIA: Whereas some stars in Hollywood remain coy on whether or not they have had plastic surgery done, Lisa readily admits that when she was sixteen years old, she underwent a rhinoplasty in an effort to reduce the size of her nose.

Now here's the thing with Lisa. In between doing research and studying biology in school, she had a second love. She was always interested in the world of acting and drama, but wasn't exactly sure how she could break into the industry. In fact, it wasn't until her older brother introduced her to a friend of his that she began to entertain the possibility of working as an actress.

That friend? Jon Lovitz.

Acting on the suggestion of Lovitz, Lisa Kudrow tried out for and joined the cast of the improv troupe “The Groundlings” in the 1980s. She was also the only female member of the “Transformers Comedy Troupe”. And one of her first roles was in an episode of “Cheers”, where she played Emily in the 1989 episode “Two Girls for Every Boyd”.

But as Lisa Kudrow began her career in Hollywood, every single project that she had signed onto just didn't work out at all. Just take a look at some of the career prospects in which she had high hopes for, but just didn't pan out.

In 1990, she tried out for the cast of Saturday Night Live, and was a very strong contender for joining the cast for the 1990/1991 television season. But when it came down to the producers, they decided that they liked Julia “It's Pat” Sweeney just a little bit more, and Kudrow was turned down for the show.

(Although Kudrow would return to the program six years later to guest host.)

She starred in two pilots during 1989 and 1990. One was NBC's “Just Temporary”, and the other was ABC's “Close Encounters”. Unfortunately for Kudrow, neither one was picked up for a full season.

Believe it or not, Lisa Kudrow was initially cast for the role of Roz Doyle in the television series “Frasier”, which debuted in September 1993. But when Lisa felt as though she wasn't exactly working out in the role, her part was replaced by Peri Gilpin.

Also in the 1990s, Kudrow had a three episode gig on the Bob Newhart series “Bob”, which ran on CBS between 1992 and 1993. Ironically enough, Lisa Kudrow also guest-starred on the infamous “Newhart” finale, which aired in May 1990. However, that series was cancelled before any further appearances could be made.

So, after several failed attempts at making it big in Hollywood, Lisa Kudrow was beginning to get very frustrated. By the time that she had won a recurring part on the NBC sitcom “Mad About You” in 1993 as Ursula Buffay, a waitress who is so self-absorbed and self-centered that she is not very well-liked, I imagine that Lisa was worried that this gig would only last a few months like all the others.

Well, not only did this particular job help get Lisa Kudrow's name on “Maps of the Stars” all over, but it was actually this role on “Mad About You” that helped propel her onto another show that became an even bigger pop culture phenomenon than “Mad About You”.

You see, while Kudrow was filming the first season of “Mad About You”, David Crane and Marta Kauffman were in the planning stages of their own sitcom set to air on NBC.

That sitcom was “Friends”.

One of the roles on “Friends” was an eccentric type going by the name of Phoebe. Several actresses auditioned for the role of Phoebe when the show was doing their casting in early 1994. Kathy Griffin, Jane Lynch, and Megan Mullally all auditioned for the role of Phoebe, but ultimately none of them were given the part.

They were all beat out by Lisa Kudrow.

Turns out that the producers were impressed by Kudrow. They were fans of “Mad About You”, and they loved her performance as Ursula Buffay. In fact, the producers came up with an idea to tie the two shows together by making Phoebe a Buffay. By having Phoebe as Ursula's identical, but nicer twin sister, they could have a connection between two NBC shows, which they hoped would create a buzz for both shows.

It seemed to work. “Friends” became a huge hit and millions of viewers tuned in every Thursday night to catch up on the adventures of Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Ross, Joey, and Phoebe. And, Phoebe was one of those characters who stood out in a huge way. Phoebe had an interesting background. Her father abandoned her family when Phoebe was very young, claimed that her mother was a drug dealer, and she lived in extreme poverty during her childhood years. She ended up living on the streets by the time she was fifteen, and had some rather interesting experiences while struggling to survive, including getting stabbed by a police officer, making sombreros in a factory, and mugging a little boy named Ross Gellar for his comic book!

Eventually, Phoebe did get off the streets, answering a roommate ad that was posted by Monica Gellar, and the two became good friends, which set the stage for Phoebe befriending the other four friends.

Now, I don't really want to make this blog entry all about Phoebe, so I'll just post three or four highlights of Lisa Kudrow's talent on “Friends”.

(NOTE: The triplets that Phoebe are holding are not Phoebe's. She acted as a surrogate for her brother.)

As you know, “Friends” lasted a total of ten seasons on the air from 1994-2004. And, that period helped Kudrow become a huge star, and critically acclaimed actress. Throughout her time on “Friends” and beyond, Kudrow was nominated for a total of twelve Screen Actors Guild awards (winning twice in 1996 and 2000), and nine Emmy Awards (winning once in 1998).

And it was during her time on “Friends” that Lisa Kudrow began getting offered roles in movies, which she filmed in between seasons of the show. She played the ditzy Michele Weinberger in the 1997 film “Romy and Michele's High School Reunion”, she received critical acclaim for her roles in 1998's “The Opposite of Sex” and 1999's “Analyze This”, and she voiced the character of Anya the bear in “Dr. Doolittle 2”.

Mind you, not every film project that Lisa Kudrow was involved in turned to gold, and nothing she could do could give “Lucky Numbers” and “Marci X” rave reviews. But hey, at this stage in her life, I think Lisa was just happy to have constant work as an actress, and to Kudrow's credit, she worked her magic in just about everything she did.

Even after “Friends” wrapped up, Lisa still continued to get prime acting gigs. Her short-lived series “The Comeback” earned her three Primetime Emmy Award nominations despite the fact that it only aired thirteen episodes before getting canned, and her latest project, “Web Therapy”, which has aired since 2008 has gotten Kudrow noticed in the online community as well, earning her a couple of Webby Awards for her portrayal of therapist Fiona Wallace.

And, beginning in 2010, Lisa Kudrow took on what could be considered her most rewarding project yet. She started up the television series “Who Do You Think You Are”, which showed the journeys of several Hollywood stars going into their own family backgrounds and uncovering long buried secrets, reuniting with family members that they never knew existed.

One of the subjects of the television show was Kudrow herself, and in this clip from the show, she learned about the ultimate fate of her great-grandmother, who was murdered during the Holocaust.

The show aired on NBC for three seasons, ending its run in 2012. Luckily, the show was picked up by TLC for the 2013 season, and is currently airing new episodes. Once again, the series was critically acclaimed, and once again, Lisa Kudrow was recognized with award nominations for the program. Seriously, take a look at this show. It's quite an interesting show.

So, as we conclude this look back on Lisa Kudrow, we have to ask ourselves...who is Lisa Kudrow?

Well, she's a woman who was surrounded by brilliance and who is beautiful and intelligent. She's a woman who struggled at first with the entertainment industry, and yet persevered to be on one of the most successful sitcoms of all time. She's a woman who developed a film career on top of that, and thrived in many of the movies she starred in (and those that flopped, she still had fun making). She's even managed to have success in the world of reality television and online television.

That's Lisa Kudrow for you. A woman who never gave up on her dream and finally achieved it. I am honoured to wish Lisa Kudrow a happy 50th birthday.

Monday, July 29, 2013

National Lampoon's Vacation

My childhood memories were for the most part good (well, aside from the whole school thing). I remember doing so many things and having so much fun when I was younger. I used to love going to the library. I enjoyed spending time at the home of my grandparents. When I was staying with my grandparents for a while, nothing gave me greater pleasure than walking down to the convenience store just across the railroad tracks and buying a comic book or a handful of penny candies.

(Yes, back in 1985, some candy still cost only a penny. And here we are 28 years later, and pennies are now as extinct – or at the very least endangered – as the penny candy itself.)

I still have fond memories of things that I used to do during my summer vacations when I was younger. Going to the carnival was one of those “must-do” things. Swimming at the local beach was also something that I had to do at least once or twice. Having water balloon wars was especially something that I looked forward to when the mercury in the thermometer topped thirty degrees Celsius. And, who knew that a simple garden hose could provide so much relief in the hot, scorching sunshine?

I even went to a summer camp program held at several of the local playgrounds in the area for six years straight, which was a lot of fun. I made a lot of friends, I played a lot of games, and I think I ate a LOT of food.

(Seriously, every week, we would have some sort of food-related event, whether it was a Hawaiian luau, or a make your own ice cream sundae party, or sampling different foods from around the world. Who needed to eat lunch?)

Yes, my childhood memories of summer were absolutely fantastic, and I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. However, there is always one thing that I didn't get a chance to do during any of the summers that I have lived through (even as an adult) that everyone else I knew did.

I've never gone on a real, honest vacation with my family.

I will make a confession though. 80% of the reason why my family never went on vacations during the summer break was finance related. I've talked about this before, but my family did not have much disposable income to work with. There were many times in which they had NO income to work with. Penny pinching and cutting back was just a way of life during my childhood. Sure, my parents made sure that we had food on the table and clothing on our backs, and to their credit they did an amazing job at stretching a dollar most days.

Still, as a young boy I couldn't help but feel small pangs of jealousy eating away at me whenever the following September rolled around and the teacher always asked us all what we did on our summer vacations. Many of the kids in my class would talk about all of the exciting adventures that they had during their summer holidays. They talked about meeting Cinderella and Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. They talked about going surfing on Myrtle Beach. They talked about seeing a Broadway play in New York City. I think one kid even went to London, England for a couple of weeks one year. And hearing their stories made me feel sad and ashamed in a way. Sad because my classmates got to experience all of these new places and I didn't, and ashamed because the highlight of my summer experience was going on a boat tour leaving from Gananoque (a small town just down the road from my hometown). Certainly taking a day trip around the 1000 Islands of the St. Lawrence River was nothing compared to riding around in a double decker bus around Piccadilly Circus.

And it wasn't my parents fault. They did all they could to make sure that we had a roof over our heads. I'm sure that if they could, they would have done everything in their power for us to have some wonderful vacations. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Now back in those days, I was a little bit angry that I didn't get to have the same experiences as my classmates did. But as I grew older, that anger subsided. If anything, I think that I felt bad that my parents never really had the chance to go on a vacation themselves. I don't even think they even had a honeymoon when they got married.

Of course, nowadays my family often joke about what it might have been like had we had the money and the time to plan a real family vacation and we now all have come to the same consensus.

If we went on a family vacation, none of us would be alive to tell the tale. We literally would have murdered each other on the way to our destination.

I mean, think about it. Almost every “perfect” vacation has its hiccups along the way. And in many ways, those hiccups actually make a vacation even more memorable. And looking back on it, I don't know if I would have necessarily enjoyed going on a week-long vacation with my family because I know that we more than likely would have gotten into some intense fights, and we would have had more than a meltdown or two occur, and in all likelihood, one of us would have wandered too far from the rest of the family and would have gotten lost.

(And yes, I'll admit that I would have been the one to have gotten lost.)

I almost certainly would think that if my family had chartered an R/V for a cross-country trip from Vancouver, British Columbia to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, we would have a experience.

Why I bet it would be almost similar to the family who starred in today's Monday Matinee. In fact, this was the very movie that helped me realize that maybe missing out on going on a real family vacation in my childhood wasn't such a bad thing after all.

I mean, just ask the Griswold family.

The Griswold family, of course, being the main characters of the 1983 film “National Lampoon's Vacation”, a movie based on a short story that writer John Hughes had published inside National Lampoon Magazine, which was based on a fictionalized account of a family vacation to Disneyland in 1958, when Hughes was eight years old.

(And, yes, this is the same John Hughes who was responsible for “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”, “Ferris Bueller's Day Off”, and “Home Alone”.)

The film was directed by Harold Ramis, and when it was released on July 29, 1983 (exactly thirty years ago today, might I add), it made a grand total of $61,399,552 at the box office, which for 1983 standards was a huge success.

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo played the roles of Clark and Ellen Griswold (both Chase and D'Angelo would play the same roles in all but one of the subsequent “Vacation” movies), a couple from Chicago, Illinois who want to spend more time with their children Rusty and Audrey.

TRIVIA: In this movie, Rusty is played by Anthony Michael Hall, and Audrey is played by Dana Barron. In each of the sequels, the kids were recast. In actuality, the reason why the kids were recast for the second sequel – 1985's European Vacation – was because Hall had already committed himself to shooting “Weird Science”, and was unable to return to the sequel.

The plan for the vacation was supposed to be a simple one. Take the kids to a place called Walley World. Not THAT Walley World.

I mean a huge, fun, and exciting amusement park in the heart of Los Angeles (which looks almost similar to Disneyland right down to the owner of the theme park Roy Walley (Eddie Bracken) looking almost like a hybrid of Walt Disney and Roy Disney.

At first the family is looking forward to the vacation and the kids are more than excited to go on the rides and attractions once they arrive at the park which is dubbed “America's Favorite Family Fun Park”. But almost immediately a conflict arises in how the family plans on getting there. Since the theme park is all the way in California, Ellen suggests booking a flight from Chicago, but Clark puts the ixnay on the ightflay. Why would he waste money on a set of airplane tickets when he could rent a sportswagon for a cross-country trip on the highways of America? It was a win-win situation as far as Clark was concerned. He could see the sights of America while having a once-in-a-lifetime bonding experience. What could possibly go wrong?


And, this. (And, yes, that is supermodel Christie Brinkley dancing near the Ferrari.)

We can't have a Vacation movie without an appearance from Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid).

And...well...this rather unfortunate incident which features Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca)...a rather “lively” gal.

And when they finally arrive at the park? Well...let's just say that it didn't exactly end the way that the Griswold family hoped that it would.

Now that's all that I will reveal about the plot of National Lampoon's Vacation. I figure that the movie clips were worth more than a thousand words anyway, and besides, the ending is such that you really kind of have to see it to believe it. Let's just say that when Clark finds out that the theme park is shut down for repairs, he goes even more postal than...well...the guy from that video game “Postal”.

So, since today marks the thirtieth anniversary of this film, shall I share with you some behind the scenes trivia for this movie? There's quite a lot of it to share!

1 - Fleetwood Mac singer Lindsey Buckingham composed the theme song for this movie, “Holiday Road”. It didn't exactly do that great on the charts though, only peaking at #82 in 1983. Still, it remains a cult classic – much like the film itself.

2 – The setting for Walley World was actually Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California.

3 – The childhood pictures of Audrey hanging on the wall of the Griswold's living room were actual shots of Dana Barron that were taken while she made commercials.

4 – Dana Barron would later achieve minor success after joining the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 in 1992 as recurring character Nikki, who had a relationship with Brandon Walsh.

5 – Although the Walley World amusement park was fictional, a real life Walley World water park was opened up in London, Ontario, Canada a few years after the film was shot!

6 – Did you ever notice that Anthony Michael Hall seemed to grow three inches taller than Beverly D'Angelo at the very end of the film? There's a reason for that. The film's original ending kind of flopped with test audiences, so a new one was shot four months after principal filming ended – during which time Hall experienced a major growth spurt.

7 – Anthony Michael Hall would later join the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in 1985 at the age of just seventeen...the same show that his on-screen father, Chevy Chase starred in a decade earlier.

8 – Harold Ramis makes a cameo appearance as a police officer towards the end of the film.

9 – Harold Ramis' daughter Violet plays the role of Daisy Mabel – Cousin Eddie's tongueless daughter.

10 – Imogene Coca nearly turned down the part of Aunt Edna because she felt the character was too mean. She changed her mind, and ended up being one of the stars of the whole movie!

11 – The original ending was somewhat reused in parts of the 1989 film “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation”. And, no, I won't reveal what the original ending is supposed to be, because I never spoil endings...real or fictional.

12 – The film was voted by Premiere as one of the 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time in 2006.

13 – The only film in the National Lampoon's Vacation series to be rated R.

14 – Director Harold Ramis stated on the DVD commentary of the film that the scene in which the Griswolds get lost in a St. Louis ghetto was one of the most politically incorrect scenes he has ever filmed in his lifetime, and that if he could go back in time, he would not have let it air the way it did.

15 – The scenes at the amusement park were not at all fun for the cast members. Three-quarters of them ended up getting violently ill. In Dana Barron's case, she had to take motion sickness pills in order to get through them.

16 – Audrey was supposed to be younger than Rusty, but in actuality, Dana Barron was born in 1966, while Hall wasn't born until 1968.

17 – Both Chase and D'Angelo recreated their roles in a 2010 Super Bowl commercial.

18 – This was the feature film debut of actress Jane Krakowski. Shortly after filming this movie, she landed a job on the soap opera “Search for Tomorrow”, but is probably best known for her role on the FOX series “Ally McBeal”.

And, that's our look back on "National Lampoon's Vacation"...a movie that almost made me feel happy that I didn't get a chance to go on a family vacation.  After all, it could have ended up like the Griswold's!

Still though...although I can't go back in time and change things...I wonder what it would have been like if I could have had that chance.  

One thing is for sure.  It's something that I want to rectify.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Saturday In The Park

The summer is already in full swing, and by my last count, we still have plenty of summer days left on our calendar. There's still plenty of time to kick back with a nice cool beverage by the pool side, applying suntan lotion all over yourself (perhaps the nice coconut scented Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen with 60 SPF that I usually use on the hottest days of the year), and enjoy such summer activities like swimming, volleyball on the beach, barbecuing, and frisbee throwing...

...or, you could be like me and not have any vacation time until September and spend the entire summer working for a living.

But no...I'm not bitter about that. Much. I just have to keep telling myself that September is technically a month that is more summer than fall and that it will still be lovely weather the week I do go on vacation, and that I'll still manage to enjoy having some time off even though it's at the tail end of the summer months...

...yeah, I'm not convincing you, am I? I'm not even convincing MYSELF here!

Oh least there's one thing that I can have going for me. I have downloaded onto my iPod what I believe to be some of the most quintessential songs necessary for anybody's summer soundtrack. And, for the rest of the summer, I plan on sharing some of these songs with all of you in this and every Sunday Jukebox until the official end of summer 2013, which this year will be on a Sunday (September 22).

I figure that if I do this, then at least I'll be able to partially enjoy some of the summer through music. And, hey, it may give all of you reading this some ideas of songs to play at your own summer celebrations.

So, let's get right into it with today's summer favourite.

First, I'll give you a little bit of a personal story in regards to this song. It happens to be a song that I heard a lot in my childhood. Back in the days of the 1980s, my mom would always have our local radio station turned on whether she was listening to it in the kitchen while she was baking cookies, or in the car radio driving all over town. The radio station at that time was an AM radio station (it switched over to FM radio in either the late 1990s or early 2000s), and as far back as I could remember, kids my age used to make fun of it.

Let's face it. AM radio had its place in history, but by the 1980s, it was becoming incredibly old-fashioned and inconvenient. The sound quality of AM radio was poor compared to the crisp, stereo sound of FM radio. You practically had to strain your ears to be able to listen to some songs. It just couldn't compare to the radio station that my peers and I preferred to listen to (which at the time was Ogdensburg's PAC 93).

And this brings me to my next point. The reason that my classmates and I tuned into PAC 93 during our formative years was because it was the one radio station that played music from the Top 40 charts. I don't even think that the radio station played anything that was recorded before 1979. It had the biggest hits, it had the coolest disc jockeys, it even had Casey Kasem on weekends!

Our local AM radio station seemed to only have twenty-five albums at its disposal. And more often than not, they played music that predated even myself. Lots of 1970s soft rock, 1980s adult contemporary and even some...shudder...disco. It was fine for people like my parents and elder siblings who grew up listening to that type of music, but as a nine year old kid, I was more content listening to MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, R.E.M., Paula Abdul, Madonna, and Duran Duran.

(Quite the eclectic mix, huh?)

However, once in a while the local radio station would pull out a few gems from their limited record collection. Songs that I would actually like listening to. Granted, the sound quality was still terrible, but again, it was AM radio.

This particular song happens to be forty-one years old this month, and it was recorded by a band that has gone through some major changes in members and style over its forty-six year history.

Can you believe it? The band's been together forty-six years! The only band I know that has lasted longer is “The Rolling Stones”, and half the time, I find myself finding it hard to believe that Mick Jagger turned seventy years old two days ago!

Anyway, this particular song was recorded on America's 195th birthday – July 4, 1971. This band was set to record their latest album in New York City right around that time, and to pass the time in New York, one of the band members took a tour around Central Park, which at the time was filled with people celebrating America's birthday. And according to him, the park had it all. From buskers to steel drum players to singers to dancers, it inspired this man to jot down a few lyrics based on what he had seen. When he returned to the hotel where the rest of the band were staying, he talked the other members into putting the lyrics to music.

That song became the band's highest charting single at that time, and helped the band's album reach the top spot on the Billboard 200 album list.

So, given that Robert Lamm came up with the inspiration behind the song that peaked at #3 on the charts in the summer of 1972, it was only appropriate that Lamm be the lead vocalist for the following single.

ARTIST: Chicago
SONG: Saturday In The Park
ALBUM: Chicago V
DATE RELEASED: July 10, 1972

So, at the time that this single was released, the album “Chicago V” was actually the band's fourth studio album. Confused? Don't be. The live album that the band released in 1971 “Chicago at Carnegie Hall” could also be considered “Chicago IV”. You see, that was the thing with Chicago. Almost all of their albums had the same name...Chicago. The only way to tell which album was which was by the Roman numeral that followed afterward. In total, Chicago has released a total of thirty-four albums...

...or I guess that should be XXXIV albums.

Now, over those thirty-four albums, the line-up of Chicago changed more often than most people changed their underpants, so it could be very hard to determine which band member played on which album. Fortunately, I have the list of all seven band members who were a part of the Chicago V album, and by association, “Saturday In The Park”.

You already know that Robert Lamm sang the vocals and played keyboards on the single. Now meet the other members of the band during 1972. They were...

Terry Kath – guitar, vocals
Peter Cetera – bass, vocals
Lee Loughnane – trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion, vocals
James Pankow – trombone, percussion
Walter Parazaider – woodwinds, percussion
Danny Seraphine – drums, congas, antique bells

You know, that's quite an assortment of musical instruments and talent. And, speaking of talent, there's a couple of pieces of trivia that I want to share in regards to this song.

First, Peter Cetera's voice can be heard in the background of “Saturday In The Park”. And secondly, the real all-star of Chicago V was Robert Lamm. Not only did he provide lead vocals and write “Saturday In The Park”, but he wrote eight of the ten tracks listed on the Chicago V album!

To Chicago's credit, the whole Chicago V album was absolutely amazing. I think it's probably one of their most successful albums, and it happens to be one that has some of the band's best works. And, it was recorded at a time in which the band was gelling well together both professionally and personally. Who knew that just five and a half years after this single was released that Terry Kath would accidentally kill himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound just days before he turned thirty-two?

Saturday In The Park” was, I think, one of the songs that helped showcase the band at its very best. And, how could you not be in a great mood after hearing this song? One of the reasons I loved listening to the song as a child was because it sounded so happy and carefree...the way that some of our most memorable summers should be. And, it was a very positive song with a very positive message which some might not get until the very last verse.

The first third of the song talks about a man walking through the park on what he thought was the fourth of July.

TRIVIA: It wasn't. The fourth of July fell on a Sunday in 1971, which was the day that Robert Lamm strolled through Central Park which inspired the song. However, the following Saturday was July 10...which was exactly one year before the single was released onto radio!

But the sights that he saw while he was waiting for Saturday to come were very pleasant. Who doesn't love the sounds of people talking and laughing? And who didn't love going up to the man selling ice cream, wanting to purchase a popsicle or a fudgsicle? It takes me back to the days in which my grandmother and grandfather were still alive and the ice cream wagon used to drive by their house. I don't know how much ice cream I bought from that man, but I estimate that I probably helped him put a down payment on a house.

Heh...just kidding.

TRIVIA: You know in the first verse where Robert Lamm sings about that man selling ice cream singing Italian songs? Well, in the actual lyrics for the song, that lyric is represented by a question mark! You see, the Italian lyrics were completely improvised on the spot. The first part of the Italian lyric is “Eh Cumpari”, and then a bunch of nonsensical Italian words following suit. I would imagine that if someone from Italy were hearing this song for the first time, they'd be a hundred shades of confused!

It's not until we get to hear the second and third verses that the bigger picture opens up.

The song itself is filled with fantastic images, and every time I hear this song I can picture all of it as if I were walking through the park and gazing at all the people having fun. I could picture the man singing in the park with his guitar with his desire to change the world through music. I could see everyone laughing in the park. I could see the people coming together to celebrate the love and the freedom and the happiness that they felt in that park on that fourth of July. And, it comes down to this rhetorical question.

Why can't every day be like that?

Why can't we all come together and celebrate love instead of tearing each other apart to feed the hate? Why can't we all just celebrate life and all the day-to-day joys that can come from simply living?

Well, according to Chicago, they've been waiting for a long time for that day. In fact, I think a lot of us have been waiting for a long time for a day in which we can all just let loose and have fun enjoying what life has to offer without worry or fear.

I think almost all of us are waiting for that day to come.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Justin, Jay-Jay, and the Juvenile Dinkent

Okay, so for this week's edition of the Saturday Smorgasbord, I will be doing a feature on either a book series, a comic book, or a magazine. And, since it has been a while since I featured a children's book in this space, I thought that there would be no time like the present to feature a book that was specifically targeted for the preteen market.

The problem was that I had difficulty narrowing down my choices. You see, I read so many books as a kid that I have a difficult time keeping track of all the ones that I remembered reading. There were so many times in which I probably read the same book dozens and dozens of times and not even realized it. But I didn't care. If the story was decent and had a good plot with a little bit of humour mixed in, I would happily read and re-read it.

Such is the case of today's book spotlight. We're going back to the year 1986 for this children's book, as that was the year it was first published, however my first experience with this book dates back well over twenty years ago.

The year was 1990. Or, was it 1991? I can't remember now. But I do know that it was during the fourth grade, as Mrs. Moore was the teacher at the time. And, I was in fourth grade during the 1990/1991 school year.

Elementary school was a rather interesting time for me. There were some moments that I could have done without. The embarrassing gym class memories, the nasty kids who used to beat me up in the schoolyard, math class...yeah, all those things I could do without.

But one fond memory I have of Mrs. Moore's fourth grade class was the breaks that we would have in between learning. You see, Mrs. Moore was the type of teacher who liked to read us stories, and she always had great taste in books. And she read the books with so much energy and passion that it kept the class captivated the whole time, and we were looking forward to the next chapter.

Believe me, that was very important to me. My first grade teacher had a really bad habit of killing every story that came into her contact with her lacklustre delivery. She even made Dr. Seuss books sound about as appealing as getting a tooth removed at the dentist.

Getting back to the topic at hand, I was introduced to this book by Mrs. Moore. It was already in her collection of books, and she decided to read us this story in between math and humanities classes to break up the routine a little bit. From the very beginning of this book, my entire class was hooked on the story, and I personally found the book very entertaining. I found it so entertaining that when it was offered in the Scholastic Book Club one year, I ordered it, and read it so much that the cover actually fell off.

Here's a tip for all of you out there. If you're ever in a used book store, don't dismiss those books that have dog eared pages and battered covers. They were probably previously owned by someone who really loved the book. In fact, the majority of the books that I absolutely loved as a kid ended up in terrible condition after reading and re-reading them several hundred times.

So, what book could possibly be so good that I had to read it over and over again?

It was this one.

Justin, Jay-Jay, and the Juvenile Dinkent.

And, yes, there's a reason why I italicized the word “dinkent”. A couple, actually.

First, the word “dinkent” is supposed to be the word “delinquent”. The reason why author Paul Kropp chose this word was because it was how one of the main characters pronounced the word delinquent (the character being kindergarten or grade one aged).

And, secondly, it is that word that prompted a title change for this book in the mid-1990s, as some parents felt that the word “dinkent” was inappropriate for young children. Because as we all know, the “Helen Lovejoys” of the world know exactly what's best for young children.

Needless to say, the book can also be found under the less threatening title Fast Times With Fred. But, just for the sake of argument, we're going to use the original title. I find it more fun.

So, here's the story.

The setting is typical suburbia America, and in the middle of the neighbourhood, we have a typical middle-class family. There's a mother, a father, and their two children. There's Justin, a kindergarten/grade one aged kid (I used to know what their ages were, but it's been a while since I last read the book), who is about as optimistic as they come. He finds joy in anything and everything, is very adventurous, and always says what is on his mind...regardless of whether the word is pronounced correctly or not. And, there's Jason, who is approximately five years older than Justin, and is a lot more “mature” than Justin. He saves his money, does his chores, and always talks down to people who he thinks don't measure up to him on a level of intelligence.

Truth be told, Jason kind of annoyed me in the book.

One last thing I should note. Jason is referred to in the book as Jay-Jay, as Justin can't say the word Jason yet.

The book begins with Justin and Jason's parents struggling to find a regular babysitter for the two boys. Despite Jason's assertions that he is old enough to look after Justin and make sure that he doesn't end up dead by the end of the night, his parents won't have any of that. The problem is that the father's idea of who they should hire doesn't exactly sit well with the mother. The father teaches at a high school where one of his students is a sixteen-year-old boy named Fred, who has gotten involved with the wrong crowd, and has gotten into trouble. Justin and Jason's father thinks that by giving Fred a chance to look after the boys, it may give him some much needed responsibility and maturity needed to get out of trouble and stay out of trouble.

Despite the mom's objections, Fred becomes the babysitter of Justin and Jason for a trial period. And, after taking one look at Fred with his oversized clothing, gawky appearance, and unkempt style, Jason was appalled, Justin was thrilled, and Jason and Justin's mother wanted to run upstairs and lock the door, fearing that Fred was going to come and rob the place.

Nevertheless, Justin and Jason's father is still willing to give Fred a chance, so the adventures of Justin, Jay-Jay, and the Juvenile “Dinkent” begin.

And, boy oh boy, do Justin and Jason get thrown into Fred's world in a big way.

It all starts with Fred's truck, which Justin happily points out “smells like poo”. Apparently Fred holds down a job of transporting manure in the back of his truck, which has seeped out of the bags and onto the truck's cab. Justin didn't care too much, but Jason looked like he wanted to be sick.

Then Justin gets hungry and wants to have french fries from McDonald's and a Ronald McDonald vacuum cleaner thrown in for good measure. Fred is totally against going to McDonald's, claiming that Ronald McDonald is demented, but Justin didn't care how “dented” Ronald McDonald was. He wanted food. Jason meanwhile was very frustrated, as he had to finance the trip to McDonald's. Of course, that trip to McDonald's ended up being a disaster as an old face from Fred's past comes back to haunt him, and Fred, Justin, and Jason are forced to flee the fast food joint in fear...AFTER Jason already paid for the meal.

Their second attempt to grab a bite to eat didn't end much better, with Fred pretending to pass out at the restaurant in an effort to avoid paying for the meal (hmmm...maybe Mother was right about Fred after all).

Finally, Fred decided to take Justin and Jason to his house, where Fred promised to put his culinary skills to good use by making them homemade french fries and onion rings. And, it's here that we learn just how bad a hand Fred was dealt. He lives in a house that appeared as if a gentle breeze could knock it down, and Fred talked about having to live with his older brother, who really didn't have much love for him. The scenes at Fred's house certainly made Jason learn a little more compassion, and he actually began to understand why Fred was the way he was, and he started to treat Fred with a little more respect – in spite of the fact that “Fred's Fries” tasted like onions, and Fred's hatred of the Brady Bunch.

However, an incident happens to Fred that causes him to re-evaluate everything he ever believed about himself. It involves a razor, Fred's eyebrows, and the mysterious man from Fred's past that Fred was terrified of at McDonald's. And, by the end of the book, there's one final confrontation between Fred and this man...and poor Justin and Jason happen to bear witness to the whole thing.

But don't worry...the ending of the book is quite satisfying. Fred realizes that he can't live the way he is living anymore, and makes changes to help him get out of the hole that he initially dug himself into. But I think that Justin and Jason learned a little bit about themselves just based on spending so much time with Fred.

At any rate, it's a great story that I recommend to people. It's got a great message, some humour, and really showcases the changes that the characters all go through. And, considering that there were two additional books created that feature Justin, Jay-Jay, and the Juvenile “Dinkent”, I would say that Fred ended up doing quite well for himself.

(Well, I can only make that assumption, since I haven't read the sequel books.)