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Columbia Women/Wisconsin Men Cagers Keep On Winning + TCM To Feature Joe E. Brown Films Weds. in March

The turning of the calendar to March is always a great sign that winter is edging into spring. This coming early Sunday morning March 8 at 2A also marks the return of Daylight Saving Time.   


Our winter in NYC has been virtually snow-free and I don't believe we will escape Old Man Winter entirely.  I'm sorry for the people in the ski and winter sports industry who are having hard times economically, but as someone in his upper 70s I don't miss one bit the hazards of slipping on ice. 

I'm happy to report that my favorite basketball teams, the Columbia women and the Wisconsin men, continued their winning ways this past weekend and start March each with six game winning streaks. The Lions have made for the first time the four-team Ivy League Tournament that will be play at Harvard Fri and Sat March 13-14.

Columbia will have to deal with the absence of star sophomore Sienna Durr who broke her foot in action at Harvard on Friday.  But winning is a fever that is not easily abated. Congrats again to coach Megan Griffith and her staff and players that have been a delight to watch in 2019-20.

Wisconsin was picked for no better than sixth in pre-season polls and has never been nationally ranked at all this year. They now have a chance to win the regular season Big Ten title.  They are still vulnerable to quicker teams but their will to win has been wonderful to watch. 


Here's a shout-out to one of my favorite cable stations, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), for saluting the great comedian-actor-baseball lover Joe E. Brown with an array of his films every Wednesday in March.   All times below are Eastern.

The series starts on WED MAR 4 with a 8p showing of "Circus Clown" (1934), a semi-autobiographical film because Brown started his career as a circus acrobat before he was even a teenager. Part of a family that worked hard without earning much money, he liked to say he's the only person who ever ran away from home to join the circus with his parents' permission.

For night owls later that night, check out one of his first Hollywood films, "On With The Show" (1929 at 130A) followed by "Sally" (1930) at 330A. Originally a Broadway musical, "Sally" features one of Jerome Kern's great ballads, "Look For The Silver Lining". 

In many ways that song summed up Joe E Brown's outlook on life.  As did the title of his autobiography, "Laughter Is A Wonderful Thing" (1956 as told to Ralph Hancock).  


"Laughter" was published by the then-prominent sports publisher A. S. Barnes in NYC.  It's not surprising that Brown chose Barnes as his publisher because he was an excellent all-around athlete who performed all his movie stunts and was a huge fan of all sports. 


He genuinely believed that the rise of his son Joe L. Brown to the general managership of the Pittsburgh Pirates - replacing Branch Rickey after the 1955 season -  to be the greatest achievement of anyone in his family. 

Joe E. accumulated one of the most comprehensive collections of sports memorabilia. He called it "His Room of Love" in his LA mansion, but unfortunately much of it was lost in two southern California forest fires. 

TCM's tribute to Joe E. Brown on WED MAR 11 will be of special interest to baseball fans.  Starting at 8PM, Brown's baseball trilogy will be shown back-to-back-to-back. 

It begins with "Fireman Save My Child" (1932), inspired in part by one of Brown's favorite players the eccentric brilliant southpaw Edward "Rube" Waddell.  (Brown always wanted to devote a whole film to Waddell's story but never could get the funding.) 

At 915, Joe E's favorite of all his films, "Elmer the Great" (1933), will air.  Warner Brothers execs doubted Ring Lardner's story could work on the screen, but when Brown made such a success of it in Los Angeles-area dinner theatre, the film was made. 


At 945, "Alibi Ike" based loosely on another Lardner story will air.  It features 19-year-old Olivia DeHavilland as Joe E.'s girl friend in one of her debut performances that year.  Fans of "I Love Lucy" will recognize William Frawley as Brown's manager.


If you want to binge on March 11 into early Thursday morning March 12, there is at 130, "Six-Day Bike Ride" (1934) with Brown's frequent second/third banana Frank McHugh. 

The swimming film "You Said A Mouthful" (1932) follows at 245. Ginger Rogers has a prominent role before she rocketed to fame in the "Gold Diggers" movies of Busby Berkeley and then as Fred Astaire's dancing partner. 

And if you want to stay up all night - or get up early - at 515A there is "Eleven Men and A Girl" (1930), a football movie that to me is a lineal descendant of the Marx Brothers' "Horse Feathers" of a couple of years later. 

There will be lesser Brown films on Wed March 18 but I'm curious to see "The Daring Young Man" (1942) where Brown is a Nazi hunter.  It will be on sometime after 11PM. "Earthworm Tractors" (1936), one of Brown's last popular hits, is listed at 930, but the current TCM listing has two films listed at 8PM and that can't be right.  I hope the website at makes a correction soon.


Wed March 25 will be the final night of the Brown extravaganza, opening with the never-grows-old "Some Like It Hot" (1959) at 8PM.  


At 1015, the rarely seen "Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935), directed by Max Reinhardt with the assistance of William Dieterle, will be shown.  It features Olivia DeHavilland in her second of her two films in her debut year. 


Brown as Flute the bellows worker basically steals the film from such stars as James Cagney and young Mickey Rooney, even ad-libbing on Shakespeare at one point. (Wes Gehring's Joe E. Brown book has been an invaluable source for me.)  

While I'm giving TCM listings, might as well tell you that on March 29 at 1015PM the classic "Pride of the Yankees" (1942) will air with Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth as himself, and the wonderful Teresa Wright as Eleanor Twitchell Gehrig.


Wright was not a baseball fan until late in her life when she befriended Gehrig's splendid biographer Ray Robinson and she was became a regular visitor to the Yankees during their last dynasty starting in the late 90s.

On Tues March 31 TCM will devote its daytime hours entirely to baseball films.  One is so rare that I've never heard of it: "They Learned About Women" (1930) airs at 9A.  It's about baseball vaudevillians who are doing very well "until love gets in the way," according to the TCM guide.


More familar films follow including at 1030A "The Stratton Story" (1949) with Jimmy Stewart as the big league pitcher who injures his leg in a hunting accident.


Then at 1230 "The Winning Team" (1952) with Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander with Doris Day as his wife - not as bad as you might think.


At 230 "The Babe Ruth Story" (1948) with William Bendix miscast as the Babe and so bad that it is memorable. Charles Bickford as Brother Matthias, Babe's mentor at the reformatory, never changes costume though 40 years have elapsed.


At 445p Jackie Robinson plays himself in "The Jackie Robinson Story" (1950)

And the tribune to the Grand Old Game ends with "Take Me Out To the Ball Game"

(1949) a Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra romp.


Which reminds me that Richard Greenberg's "Take Me Out" is being revived this month off Broadway.  The story of a gay baseball player is uneven and too melodramatic,  but it has some beautiful writing.  One character's speech on how baseball is better than democracy is exceptionally pertinent. 


Well, that's all for now.  I'm off to the NINE baseball magazine conference in Phoenix this week.  Will be back soon with word of that enjoyable and usually penetrating delving into the culture of my favorite sport (still favorite despite the current mismanagement). 


Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!

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Now That The TV Show Known As The Winter Meetings Is Over

Did anyone really expect that there would be another labor shutdown in baseball? Hey, man, this is the 21st century - the age of labor peace in baseball is upon us after the bitter battles of the last century ultimately cancelled the World Series of 1994.

Remember the old line? The warring sides of owners Reinsdorf, Selig & Company versus Fehr, Orza, and The Living Specter of Marvin Miller did something that neither World Wars I or II could do - cancel a World Series.

That was then, and this is happily now where the new Basic Agreement signed on the eve of the Winter Meetings assures more peace through the 2020 season.

This is not to say that the baseball business has no problems. Poor attendance and poor stadiums in Oakland and Tampa Bay remain very serious issues.

The rumor is that MLB would love to return to Montreal and maybe even enter Mexico City. There are reportedly billions of dollars in Portland, Oregon - including some from the Nike treasury - salivating over the prospect of obtaining the Athletics.
Yet no decision is imminent.

For his role in labor peace and pushing for expanding playoffs and its resultant TV
bonanza, retired commissioner Bud Selig was elected to Cooperstown's Hall of Fame during the Winter Meetings.

I think Bud's plusses obviously and justifiably outweighed the minuses of his role in the collusion against free agents in the 1980s and his looking the other way during the rampant invasion of PEDs in the 1990s.

As for the actual player transactions at the meetings, held for the first time at the new National Harbor casino resort outside Washington D.C. the consensus is that the
Red Sox bolstered their starting pitching staff by trading for Chris Sale, the outstanding left-hander of the White Sox.

I wonder though if his temperament off the mound could be an issue when he makes his home in the pressure-filled confines of Fenway Park.

Remember that Sale is the fellow who was in the middle of a revolt of the White Sox last spring training when team management banned first baseman-DH Adam Laroche from bringing his teenaged son into the clubhouse.

Laroche, who clearly was on the downside of his career, suddenly retired rather than face that indignity. Last I heard he and his son were doing plenty of hunting and fishing.

Sale was also the fellow who was so distressed at wearing a retro uniform last season that he cut up not only his own uni but some of his teammates’ jerseys, too. Sale reportedly said that he only wants to win and this new-old uniform was just a sign that the team was more interested in marketing than winning.

For this act of childish insubordination, Sale got slapped on the wrist and suspended for only one game. We’ll see how this volatile temperament plays out in Boston. He undoubtedly has great talent, is young, and has a team-favorable contract.

But I always shy away from predictions in December. Let the countless number of "analytic" rags/websites proclaim that because the Orioles did nothing except add a couple of minor league outfielders, they will finish 10 games under .500 in 2017.

We haven’t even turned the calendar year and doomsday is already predicted for the Birds. Just like last year when the Birds finished 16 games over .500

Now if I were running the team, I’d have extended brilliant closer Zach Britton before 2016 and started to buy out some of Manny Machado’s arbitration years. In case you haven’t noticed, fans have no control over these things. So we wait and hope.

Meanwhile I am keeping my rooting chops in shape by following both basketball teams of my two alma maters, the Wisconsin Badgers and the Columbia Lions. Trending up right now are the men of Madison and the women of Morningside Heights.

The Columbia women, under rookie coach Megan Griffith (a former Lion player and Princeton assistant), are 7-2 with a do-it-all star forward in junior Camille Zimmerman.

The expected-to-do-well male Badgers are 9-2 with a heavily senior squad. They have many great stories as well as great players.

Senior guard Bronson Koenig has become very visible as a role model for the Ho-Chunk tribe of native Americans. His lineage comes from his mother's side.
Senior forward Nigel Hayes has supported many of the causes associated with "Black Lives Matter" activists.

In a fascinating pure basketball story, sophomore center Ethan Happ, a first cousin of Toronto Blue Jay southpaw J. Happ, is a potent inside force on both sides of the court. But it remains to be seen if he EVER attempts a basket from outside the paint!

Ivy League and Big Ten seasons don’t begin until after Christmas but watch this space for more news. I maintain hopes that Columbia men and Wisconsin women with new coaches and young teams show progress, too.

And always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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