icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Reflections On Another Memorable Chautauqua Experience + TCM Tips

There is nothing like time spent at the Chautauqua Institution to recharge one's batteries and affirm one's belief in life and culture.


During the first week of August, I taught again my Baseball and American Culture class on the venerable lovely campus in far southwestern New York State near Jamestown, the site of the National Comedy Center and the Lucy-Desi Museum. (Lucille Ball grew up in nearby Celeron and I am happy to report that since 2016 a new and far better statue of Lucy has been erected.) 


My Chautauqua students as always ran the gamut of backgrounds: Houston Astro and Cleveland Indian fans. Devoted lovers of college baseball. A fellow who grew up in the same building where Carl Furillo lived when he starred for Brooklyn's Boys of Summer. A woman whose grandfather played for Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's and whose mother as an infant was held in the arms of Ty Cobb. 


My theme this year was that despite the Black Sox scandal, baseball remained dominant through the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, World War II and the first Cold War Years. 

By the 1950s, westward expansion of the major leagues was long overdue, but an enormous wound was inflicted on New York when Walter O'Malley engineered the shift of the Dodgers and Giants to Los Angeles and San Francisco. 


I continue to be amazed that WESLEY Branch Rickey never spoke at Chautauqua which was founded after the Civil War as a retreat for Methodist Sunday school teacher. I guess he was too busy building farm systems in three major league cities and doing volunteer work for his alma mater Ohio Wesleyan and his fraternity Delta Tau Delta.


I was able to do the next best thing - show my students "The Old Ball Game," a 45-minute documentary about baseball history narrated by Rickey in 1964 a year before his death. It's readily available on YouTube.


I was also pleased with the student response when I showed "Elmer the Great" (1933), the second of Joe E. Brown's baseball trilogy. Produced at the height of his fame in the 1930s,  

"Elmer" was Brown's favorite among the dozens of films he made in Hollywood.


No wonder. He gets to display his skills as a lefthanded-hitting second baseman that were good enough in his earlier days to attract pro scouts.


He brings a tenderness to Elmer Kane that is a needed balance to his other side, the egomaniacal athlete.  "Elmer" was based on Ring Lardner's "Hurry Kane" as was 1935's "Alibi Ike," the third of the baseball trilogy that had young Olivia deHavilland as Brown's love interest and Bill Frawley (the future Fred Mertz in "I Love Lucy") as Brown's manager. ("Fireman, Save My Child," the first in the trilogy, is now also available on DVD.) 


As far as seeing live baseball in the Chautauqua area, I missed by one day seeing the Jamestown Tarp Skunks in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League playoffs.  A huge crowd of 1400 saw the Skunks fall one run short of advancing to the final round but its first year of competition was a huge success. 


I didn't have easy access to television during my blissful week in Chautauqua, but I did follow at times on my computer the exploits of the plucky underdogs Team Israel and Team USA in the Olympics.  Though Team Israel won only one game in five, they fought valiantly and will savor the experience forever.  


It must be noted that the loss of their final game was excruciating.  International rules call for not one "ghost runner" in extra innings but TWO.  With runners on first and second in the bottom of the 10th against South Korea, a relief pitcher threw just two pitches, each one hitting a batter and thus ending Team israel's inspired run.


Team USA surprised the pundits by getting all the way to the final game against host Japan.  But in a score identical to the women's softball loss to the Japanese, 2-0, the Americans lost.  Again with nothing to be ashamed of.  


The Woerioles have plenty to be ashamed of but I won't go there. Too much to love about life in the dog days of August.  Wide-open race in NL East as Mets fall behind Braves and Phillies.  Second wild-card up for grabs as Padres falter and Reds fitfully make their move.


Yankees still very much alive despite gut-wrenching losses.  Games against the Red Sox starting Tu Aug 17 will be important. Oakland still with chance to catch Houston in AL West and holding second wild card at the moment. 


Can't stop talking about the Chautauqua experience so here's some more comments.  

The lecture and musical offerings were as always bountiful.


My favorite morning lecture was delivered by world-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal, a leader in his field, an entertaining lecturer, and the author of the current book, "Mama's Last Hug" and earlier "Chimpanzee Politics."


The Chautauqua Opera Company performed two memorable operas.  "Scalia and Ginsburg," Derrick Wang's witty and incisive one-hour creation, made its debut in 2013 when both late Supreme Court justices and opera lovers were able to attend.  


Mezzo-soprano Kelly Guerra as RBG and Chauncey Parker as Scalia inhabited their roles with aplomb. As did the crucial third character, Michael Colman as the Commentator.  I think the role was conceived as a homage to the ominous Commandant in Mozart's "Don Giovanni".


"As the 'Cosi' Crumbles," the debut opera, is a humorous examination of what standard opera would look like if the voices were shifted. Although I was disappointed that the beautiful trio, "May the Winds Be Gentle," from Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte," was not part of the production, I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of singers getting the chance singing arias written for different voices.  


The selections from "Madame Butterfly" were particularly moving. Burly stentorian baritone Yazid Gray's rendition of "Cara Nome" from "Rigoletto" was memorable. A bluesy back beat in the final measures added to the fun and frolic.  


After singing Scalia, Chauncey Parker directed "Cosi Crumbles". Kelly Guerra and Michael Colman were again in the cast along with spectacular soprano Chasiti Lashay, tenor Jared Esquerra and baritone Yazid Gray.  


Overall director Cara Consilvio has put together an impressive staff. Steven Osgood conducted both operas and gave informative introductions. The original music for "Cosi Crumbles" was created by Jasmine Barnes, Sage Bond, and Frances Pollock.


Pollock's seven-minute piece, "God is Dead, Schoenberg Is Dead, But Love Will Come," was premiered with the excellent Chautauqua Orchestra conducted by Rossen Milanov on Thursday night August 5.  She mixes effectively mournful strains composed during the height of the pandemic with fragments of "Smile," the song created by Charlie Chaplin for his classic 1936 film "Modern Times."   


Before I close, here are some tips for TCM viewing in the weeks while Eddie Muller's Noir Alley is off for "Summer of Stars" programming. He returns on Sep 5 - see below. 


There are not many films with sports themes remaining in August but bearing mention are:

W Aug 18 530p "The Natural" (1984) based on the Bernard Malamud story with Robert Redford, Kim Basinger and Glenn Close.


Sa Aug 21 2p "Woman of the Year" (1942), the first Tracy-Hepburn collaboration with Spencer as a sportswriter and Katherine as world-traveling journalist (inspired by Dorothy Thompson)


For Noir devotees and esp. Gloria Grahame fans, catch this binge-fest!

Tu Aug 17 4p "Odds Against Tomorrow" (1959, set on location in NYC and Hudson NY)

6p "Human Desire" (1954 with Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, dir. by Fritz Lang)

8p "The Big Heat" (1953 with G.Ford, Jocelyn Brando - Marlon's sister -, dir. by Lang)

10p "In A Lonely Place" (1950, Bogart as temperamental writer, Frank Lovejoy/Jeff Donnell as his friends, Grahame in key substantial role as Bogie's girlfriend - dir. by Nicholas Ray).


Su Aug 22 1245p "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957) twists galore in this classic based on Agatha Christie story and directed by Billy Wilder.  With Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, that suave sinister character actor Henry Daniell, and others. 


8p "Blood and Sand" (1941) T. Power returns and has to deal with Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth - it's a hard job but someone had to do it.  Dir. Reuben Mamoulian of NY stage.


M Aug 23 12:15a  Power again as a carnival performer in "Nightmare Alley" (1947)

945a "At The Circus" (1939) the Marx Brothers in not one of their best but Eve Arden is in it


W Aug 25  Jane Wyman Day has 4p Hitchcock's "Stage Fright" (1958)

8p "Johnny Belinda" (1948) Wyman's Oscar


Tu Aug 26 10p "The Mating Game" (1959) with Debbie Reynolds and Tony Randall.  Probably Paul Douglas's last film. He had signed for Wilder's "Apartment" but died and Fred MacMurray got the role as the louse. 


F Aug 27 215a  "Night Song" (1947) Dana Andrews as blind concert pianist, Merle Oberon pretends to be blind to get close to him.  Hoagy Carmichael/Artur Rubinstein perform.


Sa Aug 28  late 1960s shoot-em-ups for the Vietnam era starring Lee Marvin and others

8p "Point Blank" dir. John Boorman with Angie Dickinson and post-Bat Guano Keenan Wynn

10p "The Professionals" dir. Richard Brooks


Sun Aug 29  3:45p  Hitchcock's "Gaslight" with I. Bergman/G. Peck/Ch. Boyer

6p "Casblanca" (1943)


M Aug 30 James Cagney Day incl. 12N "Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935) with cast of

stars including Mickey Rooney as Puck, Olivia DeHavilland, and Joe E Brown stealing show as Flute

4p "White Heat" (1949) the post-World War II Cagney gangster.  In prison dining scene look for Jim Thorpe as an extra.


Tu Aug 31 8p "Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) - still hard not to cry and sigh at this one 

Th Sep 2 8p "The Comic" Carl Reiner directs Dick Van Dyke, Michele Lee, Mickey Rooney


Su Sep 5 12M, repeated at 10A - return of Noir Alley - Robert Preston in "Cloudburst" (1952)


That's all for now.  As always, take it easy but take it, and please: 


Post a comment

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 tcm.com 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!

Post a comment