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Baseball and TCM Movie Musings On The Eve of Birthday 78

I celebrate my 78th birthday tomorrow Saturday June 27th. I think I was born around 530p in the afternoon because my mother told me her water broke when she was listening to "Information Please" on the radio and she had to miss the end of the show. (No head sets or new media back in 1942).  

 

(Last blog I raved about "Woman of the Year" that came out in 1942 and opens with an "Information Please" show being broadcast.  Could I have remembered that from the womb?

Cue "Twilight Zone" music, please.)

 

I'm not big on numbers except for computing batting averages in my head. To think that all year I've been talking about riding on 77 Sunset Strip when actually I completed 77 years on this planet a year ago. 

 

(For younger readers, "77 Sunset Strip" was a hit ABC TV show of the 1950s, starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr,. son of the world-famed classical violinist, plaiying a detective, of course.  His assistant was Edd Byrnes playing richly-coiffed Kookie and teeny boppers screamed at him, "Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb!")

 
So this year I was actually spinning my records at 78 revolutions per minute, hoping that of course I stayed on the spindle and didn't careen sideways. I got through year 78 OK although I do continue to have some issues about losing my balance when walking and had some minor plumbing repair done in September.

 

I'm ready for whatever the "new normal" this year brings. I hope to be comfortably residing  at 79 Wistful Vista, home address of radio's legendary Fibber McGee and Molly, known in real life as Jim and Marian Jordan from Peoria, Illinois.  

 

As you probably know by now, there will be some semblance of a baseball season starting on either July 23 or 24. It will consist of 60 games with all of them in both leagues played regionally to minimize travel in a still-raging time of Covid-19.

 

So the Mets and Yankees will play their four division rivals 10 times each and their five cross-division rivals four times each. Details of the post-season are still being ironed out.  

 

To call the final matchup a "World Series" annoys me. But that is a minor criticism compared to the health risks to the players and the continuing distrust between owners and players. 

 

I hope there will be no serious injuries to rusty players who might over-exert themselves at the beginning of a short season.  I think I will watch some of the TV games more as a clinician than a fan.  

 

I still don't see leadership on either side of a sport that has declined in attendance the last few years and has a fan base whose average age is 57. It remains the most beautiful of sports, but the length of games and a now-boring routine of strikeouts-home runs-walks are serious problems.    

 

John Sherman is one owner who deserves great credit for agreeing to pay all his minor leaguers for 2020 even though there will likely be no minor league season.  Interestingly, Sherman is the newest owner on the block.

 

He was wise enough to listen to his general manager Dayton Moore who won a World Series in 2015 and knows the importance of minor league development. Unfortunately, MLB still wants to terminate a quarter of the minor league teams and the first of what I'm sure will be several lawsuits was filed last week to protest the short-sighted policy.

 

According to thorough reviews of all 30 owners in an Andrew Baggerly piece in the "Athletic" and a two-part Axios Sports study, Sherman is one of the least rich owners. Worth "only" a little over a billion dollars, made primarily in the hydrocarbon business.

 

John Sherman should not be confused with another less financially endowed owner, Bruce Sherman of the Marlins. This Sherman made a lot of his money buying newspapers and ultimately dissolving their companies. Derek Jeter has a slice of the team but not that much.  

  

I like Baggarly's trenchant phrase to describe most of the 30 men who own MLB franchises:  "Inheritance plus the magic of compound interest." It may be hard to believe, but guess which team's ownership group enjoys the most longevity in today's game? The Yankees. George Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973 and his younger son Hal, 51, is the managing partner. 

 

Another interesting tidbit in Baggerly's chronicle is that Phillies owner John Middleton traces the origins of his wealth to a cigar store that his ancestors founded in Philadelphia before the Civil War. A century and a half later, Middleton was the owner who before the 2019 season openly admitted to spending recklessly to sign free agents Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto.

 

Enough about the owners.  Nobody ever paid to see them, did they?  

 

With no games to watch or listen to on radio, and already getting out of the habit of searching scores on my radio on the quarter-hour, my great companion has remained TCM.  And the Monday and Thursday evening "Jazz on Film" series throughout June didn't disappoint.

 

I misspelled director/photographer Gjon Mili's name in the last blog.  As host Eddie Muller says, Mili's 10-minute "Jammin' The Blues" (1944) is the best short introduction to jazz.  The effortless flip of drum sticks from Sid Catlett to Jo Jones in the middle of a blues number remains one of the most compelling moments in both jazz and film.

 

Papa Jo Jones had one of the great smiles in jazz and it was an elegant touch for "The End" to appear over his smiling face. 

 

While on the subject of my boo-boos, I was mistaken that Hoagy Carmichael's lovely song 'New Orleans" appeared in the movie of the same name that aired last night (June 25).  

"Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" was one of the featured tunes.

 

Although playing a maid in her only real full film role, Billie Holiday acted convincingly and sang of course with great conviction. Louis Armstrong was a strong presence in the film playing himself.  (He was called "Satchmo" in the film and it was a popular nickname but he much preferred to be called "Pops".) 

 

One of the enduring pleasures of TCM is that you can stumble into a film with no knowledge and be totally enraptured.  I knew nothing about Howard Hawks's  "I Was A Male War Bride" 1949.  If you can believe Cary Grant as a French army captain in post-WW II Germany, you will enjoy the belly laughs in this film.  Its satire of military bureaucracy is also quite telling. 

 

It was part of Ann Sheridan Tuesday nights in June, and it may be the best role ever for that spunky, alluring, and talented Texas who fought the Warner Studios for better roles, even once being suspended for a year.  She and Grant worked well with each other; he was a real trouper as the victim of most of the pranks.

 

The last Ann Sheridan night in June will be Monday June 30 at 8p  "City of Conquest" 1940, also starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart as a prize fighter willing to risk blindness to help his brother pay for his education.  Elia Kazan makes a rare appearance as actor.

 

Here are some tips for the first 10 days of July with Mondays being Tony Curtis Night.

On M July 6 at 1145p "The Vikings" is on in which I believe the man born Bernie Schwartz in Brooklyn says, "Yonder is the castle of my father."  Please correct me if I'm wrong.

 

The weekend of July 10-11 has some juicy double bills.

F July 10 8p John Ford's rare comedy, "The Whole Town's Talking" 1935 with Edward G. Robinson playing a mousy bank employee AND a gangster;  followed at 10p "Arrowsmith" 1931 adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' powerful novel.

 

Sa July 11 8p "Dr. Strangelove" 1964 followed at 10p by the earlier more light-hearted but still pertinent satire, "The Mouse That Roared".

 

That's all for now--please keep your cool both physically and politically and always  remember:  "Take it easy it but take it!"  

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

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TCM Jazz and Other Films Keep Me Grounded As Baseball Blows A Big Chance

I've always loved the adage, "Jazz, baseball and the Constitution are the greatest  achievements of American culture."  I first heard it from the gifted cultural historian/American Studies professor Gerald Early. 

 

No matter its origins, the important thing is the essential truth. All three institutions have endured attacks, most seriously the Constitution these days under our out-of-control President.

 

Let's make sure we are registered to vote in November and use our precious voting franchise. 

 

Meanwhile, the 30 franchises of Major League Baseball have missed a golden opportunity to return to the field by the Fourth of July.  It could have provided some semblance of normality in a country that is wracked by the virus epidemic, soaring unemployment, and police killings of unarmed black citizens.    

 

Instead, the owners under their commissioner Rob Manfred and the leaders of the Major League Baseball Players Association have trotted out their decades-old worn playbook of labor rhetoric. They cannot decide on payment to the players for what will obviously be a shortened season.

 

Manfred, who has been in baseball since the collusion cases against free agents in the 1980s, insists that he has the right to force a season upon the players.  It looks like he may invoke that draconian measure of barely fifty games and then expanded playoffs to satsify TV.   

 

I really wonder whether MLB will ever recover its once-hallowed place in our country. Attendance was sinking before the three enormous social crises erupted.

 

Even before the crises, Manfred had tried to impose the reduction of more than a quarter of minor league baseball's 160 franchises. Under his deputy with the eerily appropriate name of Morgan Sword, it looks like MLB will get its way by default because there will be no minor league season in 2020.

 

Like so much of America these days, it is a sad situation in baseball, made sadder by the wounds being self-inflcted. 

 

So I'm finding solace these days in Turner Classic Movies (TCM), especially its salute to Jazz in Film every Monday and Thursday night in June. 

 

I was pleasantly surprised this past Monday night to see Eddie Muller, the host of the indispensable "Noir Alley" series on TCM (Sat night at 12M and repeated Sun 10A), as guest host. To comment on the films "A Man Called Adam" (1966) starring Sammy Davis Jr. with Cicely Tyson, and Kirk Douglas in "Young Man with a Horn" (1950), Muller invited the talented and accessible pianist Monty Alexander to join.   

 

There were worthy and memorable moments in both films. As Hollywood creations they couldn't be totally convincing, of course.  But the Jamaican-born Alexander, who still occasionally comes into the New York jazz club Birdland, had much to say and talked about "glad-i-tude" for making music.   

 

 I am posting this too late for most of you to catch tonight Th June 11 two classic bio-pics, "The Glenn Miller Story" at 8p (with Jimmy Stewart) and "The Gene Krupa Story" at 10p (with Sal Mineo).  

 

And for you night owls at midnight, there will be al rare Benny Goodman film "Sweet and Low Down" (1943), not to be confused with the Woody Allen film with Sean Penn with the same name. 

 

Mark down Mon June 15 on your calendars. At 8p one of the great noir films with a score by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, "Odds Against Tomorrow" (1959).  

 

"Odds" is a very timely film because it is about a bank robbery where two of the gang, Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan, don't like each other for racial reasons.  (Off-camera they became great friends and were active in the civil rights movement of the time.) 

 

At 10p on June 15, "Farewell My Lovely" (1975) with Robert Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling.

And at midnight Ida Lupino stars as a singer in "The Man I Love" (1946). 

 

I haven't abandoned sports. On Su Jun 14 TCM presents two outstanding movies that use track and field to make profound points about society:  8p Oscar-winning "Chariots of Fire" followed at 10p by "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner."

 

I can't say enough about the value of repeated watching of good movies. Here's a sample of what I've seen lately on TCM. 

 

**"Woman in the Window" 1944 film directed by German exile Fritz Lang. Edward G. Robinson plays a psychology professor at "Gotham" U. who begins the film lecturing his students on murder, unjustified and justified.

 

As he heads to a faculty lounge he passes by an alluring painting of a woman in the window of a storefront. The fellows in his club, including Raymond Massey as a big shot lawyer, talk about how they'd love to meet that woman.  

 

When he leaves the club, Edward G. again walks by the painting and voila! who's there in the shadows but Joan Bennett "the woman in the window".  Since Edward G's wife has taken the kids to the country, he goes out for a drink with Joan and you can kinda guess the rest.

The murder is justified but it is a murder and there are complications. 

 
**John Garfield in "Pride of the Marines" (1945) and the evergreen "Best Years of Our Lives" (1946).  They were both shown on Memorial Day and they brought to life the sacrifices that World War II soldiers endured - Garfield's blindness and the loss of Harold Russell's hands.  Russell, not an actor but who performed memorably, remains the only person ever to win two Oscars for the same movie. 

 

His girl friend Wilma was played in her debut by Cathy O'Donnell who later would shine in the 1948 "They Drive By Night" with Farley Granger (later remade as "Thieves Like Us" by Robert Altman).  O'Donnell wound up marrying director William Wyler's older brother, who was 24 years older than Cathy.  The marriage lasted though they died within months of each other in the late 1960s.  

 

I hope you get a chance to see some of these films one day and also the jazz films this month.

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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