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"Learning To Keep The Bank Open At Night" & Other Thoughts for the Early New Year (updated)

The great Boston Celtic guard Sam Jones passed away on December 30 in Wilmington NC at the age of 88.  The Basketball Hall of Famer was part of the Celtic dynasty that won eight NBA titles in a row (1959-1966) - Yankee and Montreal Canadien fans, eat your heart out.


Sam's use of the backboard on his angled jump shots was something to behold even if you grew up a Knicks fan.  


Watching Wisconsin beat Iowa last week, Big Ten Network color commentator Stephen Bardo turned a phrase I had never heard when he praised a Badger's similar shot as "learning to keep the bank open late at night."  


A tip of the cap to Bardo, the former U of Illinois star who has the best qualities of a commentator - enthusiasm and clarity.


So far in this early Big Ten season, Wisconsin is surprising all the pundits who picked the Badgers for 10th in the conference race.  In the Alice in Wonderland world we are living in, the Big Ten has fourteen teams. Teaching basic arithmetic to a youngster these days must be quite a challenge.


There is nothing, I repeat nothing, like when one of your sports teams surprises the "experts" and gives hope for a real competitive season.  Wisconsin didn't need me on Monday January 3rd when they spanked Purdue, ranked #3 in the country, on the road.  


I went instead to hear at the Met Opera (in a fully-masked 2/3 filled house) Massenet's lovely little opera "La Cenerentola".   Based on the Cinderella legend created in the 16th century, the music was written in 1899 but paid homage in many sections to 18th century Baroque music.  


On Thursday night Jan 6th, I was back home to watch on the tube the Badgers control Iowa to move to 3-1 in the conference.  All five starters scored in double figures, led by the breakout sophomore Johnny Davis from Lacrosse WI.  


A wiry guard-forward listed at 6' 4", Davis is the son of Mark Davis, a 13-year former pro who played one year in the NBA.   Johnny's twin brother Jordan is a substitute guard for the Badgers who are now 13-2 and 4-1 in the Big Ten after beating Maryland on the road, 70-69.  


The Badgers blew a 21-point lead but rallied to beat the Terps.  Junior forward Tyler Wahl had a career night with 21 points and his usual defensive tenacity.  Up this Thursday Jan 13 is a rematch with Ohio State who handily beat Wisconsin in Columbus two weeks ago.


The Big Ten schedule is quite a grinder, but fun to watch. Especially when the "experts" dismiss you as also-rans.


Back here in the big city, virus concerns forced cancellation of Columbia women's matchups with Princeton and Penn. They will be re-scheduled soon. 


The Columbia men blew a big halftime lead at Princeton on Friday night but held on to the

lead on Saturday against a Penn team that doesn't seem to be as potent as usual.  Nonetheless, a win is a win and we'll see if my first alma mater can string a few victories

together for rest of season. 


As expected, there is nothing new on the baseball lockout front.  No negotiations are

scheduled and probably won't be until the end of the month. 


The Super Bowl is Feb 13 and spring training camps are supposed to be open the next day.  


Cutting down on the minor leagues, flirting with shortening spring training, and a

general disdain for baseball's traditions is not my idea of how to grow the game - a favorite shibboleth of both MLB and the MLB players association.  


In a sports industry that is part of a very competitive marketplace, pro baseball could find

itself before long as just a niche enterprise.      


Nobody is listening to me so let's turn to the solace of some old movies.  For early risers or night owls or VCR recorders, Mon Jan 17 at 6AM EDT, TCM shows "The World, The Flesh, and The Devil" (1959). 


Harry Belafonte stars as a miner in Pennsylvania working underground when a nuclear bomb wipes out most of the world. Harold J. Marzorati's photography of an empty Manhattan as Belafonte drives into it and starts walking around is particularly stunning.


Belafonte finds a survivor in Inger Stevens who is certainly someone to live for.   Another survivor comes along, Mel Ferrer, and the inevitable triangle develops.  


Ranald MacDougall (1915-1973) wrote the screen play and directed this arresting

film.  He earlier was a screenwriter on "Mildred Pierce" (1945) and "The Breaking Point" (1951), John Garfield's last film for Warner Brothers that came out just as he was being Red-baited.


1959 was quite a year for Belafonte and his production company HarBel.  His "Odds Against Tomorrow," sometimes called the last Noir film of the classic period, came out that year.


Back here in the East, the Jan-Febs have started with a vengeance.  No huge snow

storms yet in NYC but cold weather pretty common. 


Connecting to increasing sunlight is one of my ways of dealing with frigid temps. Dreams of spring training - the best time of the year in halcyon days - may have to be put on back burner.   


Once again the main advice is Take It Easy but Take It, and especially nowadays:

Stay positive, test negative.    



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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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