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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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Salutes to Laurent Durvernay-Tardif, Fred Willard, Trey Mancini + Watching 1980s Games & Upcoming TCM Highlights

In a normal baseball season, June swoons are a fate teams want to avoid.  Let's hope that we as a nation don't swoon into the worst kind of cultural and maybe actual civil war.

 

I like to accentuate the positive so here's a huge shout-out to Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.  The only doctor in the NFL and fresh from a Super Bowl triumph, Laurent is currently on duty serving COVID-19 patients at a hospital outside Montreal.  

 

I learned many fascinating things about Duvernay-Tardif during an incisive report by Andrea Kremer in the current installment of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel". He is the only McGill of Montreal university graduate ever to play in the NFL. His parents once took him and his sister out of grade school for a year to sail the world. 

 
Here's another inspiring story. Comic actor Fred Willard passed away last week at the age of 86.  I first loved him playing an Ed McMahon-style sidekick to Martin Mull's Barth Gimble on "Fernwood 2-Night," the successor to "Mary Hartman Mary Hartman" on early 1970s TV. 

 
Willard later won great acclaim for his roles in SUCH hilarious satirical films as "A Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show" where he played a memorable Joe Garagiola-style dog show announcer.  He and Martin Mull later played a gay couple on"Rosanne" and at the end of his life Williard had a recurring role as a grandfather on "American Family".

 
But according to Richard Sandomir in the New York Times obit, Fred Willard said that his "greatest achievement" was "teaching his daughter how to catch a fly ball."  Willard himself played baseball at VMI and also on military teams in Florida.  

 
I want to wish continuing speedy recovery to the Orioles Trey Mancini who is recovering from colon cancer surgery and will miss the entire 2020 season (whether or not it is played). 

It turns out that Trey's father is a surgeon who had the same operation when he was 58.

 
Trey, the only consistent offensive threat on a depleted Baltimore roster, is not yet 28. 

He has already become a team leader on the Orioles and a fan favorite.  

 
In a heartfelt piece he wrote for the Players Tribune,  Mancini thanked the scout Kirk Fredriksson who had become a passionate supporter of him when he was playing for Holyoke  in a New England collegiate summer league.  

 

Thanks to Fredriksson's advocacy, the Orioles made Mancini their 8th round pick in the 2013 amateur draft. Rare is the player of any generation who has publicly praised the scout who signed him. Just another reason to wish Trey Mancini the speediest of recoveries.

 
As of this posting at the beginning of June, I don't know if major league baseball will return this year. It doesn't look like deal-makers exist on either side of the owner-player divide.

I don't think it has helped that all the meetings have been held on Zoom.

 
Though I miss the daily flow of games and news of games, I have found some enjoyment watching old games on MLBTV.  Like most of the pine tar game between the Yankees and Royals at Yankee Stadium on the cloudy Sunday afternoon of July 24, 1983. 

 
I had forgotten how wonderfully wacky was Phil Rizzuto's on-air presence.  There he was, plugging a friend's restaurant and another friend's birthday while bantering with sidekick Frank Messer. 

 
When Messer used the word "perpendicular" to describe how one hitter had dived across the plate to protect a base runner on a hit-and-run play, Rizzuto acted impressed.  "Very good, Messer, . . . not that I know what it means."

 
Was also revealing to hear both Phil and Frank berate Steve Balboni for lack of production.  He was a rookie on the 1983 Yankees but he never could relax in NYC. 

 

He was traded to Kansas City the following year and had a good career with the Royals. On their 1985 world champions, he played first base all season and belted 36 HRs with 88 RBI and went 8-for-25 in the World Series.

 

This game is most remembered for George Brett's epic rant when his three-run home run in the top of the 9th was voided by rookie plate umpire Tim McClelland.  Billy Martin convinced the ump that Brett had used too much pine tar on his bat.

 

The Yankees' win was voided soon thereafter by American League president Lee MacPhail who argued that the rule was being interpreted too legalistically. Watching the whole game made me remember that Royals starter Bud Black pitched very well - Black is now the Colorado Rockies manager.

 
I also remembered important details when watching the famous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The smooth delivery and intelligence of Vince Scully was a joy to experience again.  The game is of course known as the Bill Buckner Game, but in any dramatic close game there are a raft of earlier plays that are just as important.    

 
It was an elimination game for the Mets who fell behind early to the Red Sox 2-0. Southpaw starter Bob Ojeda had come up with Boston and he was highly motivated to beat his old team. He kept the Mets in the game. 

 

Boston's Roger Clemens was in a good form and no hit the Mets for four innings but he used a lot of pitches.  In 1986, pitch counts were not yet in vogue. Though Clemens gave up the lead in the 5th, he stayed in through the 7th, throwing about 135 pitches and getting out of jams in both the 6th and 7th innings.

 
Another lesson learned from Game 6 was how vital a role Mookie Wilson played.  Not known for his arm, he still threw out Jim Rice at home plate to keep the Red Sox lead at one run in the 8th inning.  

 
We all remember Bill Buckner's error on Mookie Wilson's grounder that gave the Mets the win, but let's not forget the previous 9 pitches that Mookie battled against reliever Bob Stanley.  


The mastery of Vin Scully was evident throughout the broadcast, not least at the very end when the camera showed a shell-shocked Red Sox team leaving the field. Scully said, "If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth a million."  

 

Before I forget, TCM throughout June will be featuring "Jazz in Film" every Monday and Thursday night. Late on Th June 4 (actually early Fri June 5) "High Society" with Louis Armstrong in a prominent role will be shown.

 

And I'm really looking forward to Monday night June 8 at 8p Sammy Davis Jr. stars in the rarely seen "A Man Called Adam" (1966).  Davis Jr was one of the greatest entertainers in American history and I'm eager to see how he plays a jazz trumpeter (with music provided by Nat Adderley, Cannonball's brother).  

 

That's all for now.  Always remember, now more than ever, "Take it easy but take it!" 

 

    

 

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