Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Newscast With Tony Curtis

Another Hollywood great just passed on. Actor Tony Curtis has died at the age of 85, leaving behind more than 100 films where he'll always be the textbook definition of a movie star, handsome and dashing.

My brush with his greatness wasn't even a brush. I got to watch him through a glass window as he appeared live on the set of KOLD News 13 at 5:00 in February 2000. He was in town after a Tucson family won him for a day as part of a Turner Classic Movies contest.

"Guess who you get to interview today?" I told Barbara Grijalva, as I was producing the newscast. "Tony Curtis!"

I can't remember if she was a bit puzzled or awed by it. I was pretty nervous myself, being only on the job for a couple of months and not wanting to blow a big event. Curtis' handler also had a loose schedule, meaning they knew he was to appear on the 5:00 news, but he could very well walk into the building at 5:05 -- which he did.

During a commercial break, we sat him next to Barbara, who went on to painlessly quiz him on his visit to Tucson and his career at this point while I sat in the control room and made sure the director ran clips of his movies while he talked. Curtis, true to form, was the absolute gentleman, the guy I loved watching in The Great Race, Operation Petticoat and The Greatest Show On Earth, although people will always say "he was best remembered for his role in Some Like It Hot."

Curtis ended the interview unexpectedly and yet politely by getting up off the set, thanking Barbara while he took off his microphone. He walked off into the newsroom, probably shaking a few hands along the way. The Hollywood legend also left my anchor a parting gift: a sketch on the back of a notebook of a cat watching a fish in a bowl, demonstrating his blossoming artistic side.

The next day, he rode in the famous Tucson Rodeo Parade and enjoyed a whirlwind tour of the Old Pueblo. If he came back here before he died, I never knew about it, but I wished I could've told him just once, "I loved you as The Great Leslie."

Political Football

Congress just took off for recess with a stack of unfinished business, as your elected officials decided to avoid giving their November opponents any more fodder for campaign ads. "They couldn't even pass a budget!" screams the headline in the Drudge Report.

To some it's slacking. To others it's basic time management. Why waste hours of debate on things that could be radically altered or DOA after the midterms? In football, punting is not only an admission you can't keep a drive alive but also a tactic designed to set your opponent back. If Congress does indeed turn over to a Republican majority, the budget will now be their problem, along with all those other items on the list.

Then there's punting because you don't know how to score, don't want to score, are afraid to score, or think you're playing tennis. Here in FrancisPage's hometown of Tucson, the city and the board in charge of downtown redevelopment have been tossing a hotel project back and forth like a hand grenade. Nobody wants to greenlight would could be another expensive boondoggle. Nobody wants to kill another Rio Nuevo development and add another failure to an embarrassing list of misfires going back a decade. I remember a chiropractor in the Rio Grande Valley used to drive a van around with a model of a human spine on top. Many somebody could rent that and park it in front of City Hall as a friendly suggestion.

On the election day ballot, you will see 10 state propositions, nine of which were put there by lawmakers. To be sure, your Grand Canyon State congresspeople had no choice to put some of their actions to a public vote. Please don't punt on these.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The John & Rodney Show With Guest Stars David & Jerry

A few thoughts that crossed my synapses during tonight's Arizona senatorial debate:
  • Will Democratic contender Rodney Glassman's Chuck The Painter be the next Joe The Plumber? More importantly, will anybody track down Chuck?

  • Libertarian David Nolan has a lot of ideas I agree with on limited government. Too bad his party believes in legalizing dope and doesn't believe in political advertising.

  • Jerry Joslyn of the Green Party claims his flat tax proposal will reduce unemployment 20 to 30 percent. I gather that's 20 to 30 percent of the 10 percent figure we're dancing around right now. That only takes the jobless rate to about 7 percent, so he's relying on other things, like reducing inefficiencies and a clean energy program to get the number down into the 5 percent figure. Normally, a lot of people would use tax breaks to stimulate growth, but those wouldn't be around anymore. Good luck getting rid of all those deductions for the rest of us. I expect to see a flat tax about the same time Fidel Castro announces he was just kidding about that whole revolution thing.

  • Did I hear this right? David Nolan compares taxation to theft. Going down the road with that analogy, I don't think our police, firefighters, schools and military would appreciate being an accessory to larceny.

  • John McCain is taking Rodney Glassman's sideswipes in stride. All along you can see him thinking, "Enjoy the moment Rodney. I'm still kicking your tail in the polls."

  • If Glassman loses the election, he's got a great television hosting job out there. Aside from one mis-speak, he has the smoothest delivery of the four.

  • A quick primer on the candidates' border security plans --
    Rodney Glassman: more agents, more drones, more legal immigrant workers
    Jerry Joslyn: just tax 'em all
    David Nolan: just legalize dope
    John McCain: er, are we talking version 1.0 or 2.0?

  • McCain references 2,000 bodies found in the Arizona desert over the past decade. Notice he didn't use the word "headless."

  • Glassman: "Arizonans know the definition of insanity -- doing the same things over and over again, and expecting a different result." I'll let you make up a punchline.

  • Do Libertarians ever consider the social and safety implications of people legally stoned?

  • Glassman says he knows how to talk to people and return phone calls and emails. Good luck handling the onslaught he would face as senator. That's not even counting the hate mail.

  • Nolan to Glassman: where are your specifics? Nolan to McCain: where are your guts?

  • Tonight's homework assignment from David Nolan: read Senate Bill 3081. Maybe I will. Or maybe I won't, just like a real congressman.

Celtic Cowboys And Western Wranglers

The development took a 'lil longer than we reckoned, and the Pony Express was a 'lil slow, but we finally have these daguerreotypes from the Tucson Barn Dance to show ya'll, and we tip our hats to the folks at We Make History fer puttin' it on!

Each one of these were taken by Mr. Cynecki, and they came with some words on the back from our friend Christopher the Missouri River boatman.

That's me with the lady I've invited to the dance, Madame Noire. A kindly lady said that shirt I'm wearin' reminded her matched her family's tartan! I reckon that makes me a Celtic cowboy, or boatman anyhow.

This is the Colonel, leadin' us in the opening procession. It's done just the way those old colonials did it, you know, those fellas with the triangular hats. Anyhow, he wound us all the way around the barn like a cottonmouth through the tall grass.

Don't ya just love what my friend Madame is wearin'? It don't matter what occasion she's going to, she always dresses like the fine lady that she is.

That smile could be seen clear from Kansas City to St. Louis. She'll dance any dance with me, even a Virginia Reel, even though she tells me it wears her out. Madame is too kind to me.

They called me out! During this one dance, the Colonel asked all the gents to step forward an' bow, and I stepped forward and bowed like I was one of those old colonials.

Why jus' tip your hat when you can wave it at someone pretty across the hall?

Madame and I enjoy a little promenade around a great big ring. You notice she has that smile again?

I got to do my gentlemanly duty and promenade some other ladies, too! Aw shucks, the photographer wasn't able to get her face.

Madame and I got to do several waltzes together. I reckon she might have been in the mood for somethin' a little fancier, like one of those colonials again, but we just enjoyed slow dancin' and sharin' some kind words.

I just had to show you this! All these cowboys are chargin' for the ladies shoes! They pick one up and match it to whoever's gonna be their next dancin' partner. It's like Cinderella, only none of these pretty gals turns into a pumpkin after midnight.

We're not sure whether the rest of the photographs Christopher sent were lost in an attack by the Cochise, but we hear tell you can see more daguerreotypes here.

NEXT: It Is A Truth, Universally Acknowledged...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Reel That Set!

Partners, I've saved the best for last.

We can't have a Tucson Barn Dance without a Virginia Reel.

So let's get to it!

And one more, for my Colonial friends:

See ya'll there!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Trading Slippers For Boots

As we get close to the Tucson Barn Dance, we wonder, what would happen if you mashed up ballet and hoedown?

The Colorado Ballet answers that question:

And, so does the American Ballet Theater:

R.I.P. Edwin Newman

Former NBC News correspondent Edwin Newman has passed away, that cantankerous guardian of proper English. He was the kind of newsman who would never use the words "de-plane" or "go missing." I remember him appearing on The Tonight Show complaining about the term "head butt." He compared it to saying "foot kick" or "fist punch."

I also read in the Washington Post where he once dismissed a Today show guest for a wisecrack:
Mr. Newman's most memorable appearance on "Today" came in 1971, when he banished comedian George Jessel from the studio. In a rambling interview, the 73-year-old Jessel likened The Washington Post and New York Times to Pravda, the official Soviet newspaper.

"You are a guest here," a steely Mr. Newman told Jessel. "It is not the kind of thing one tosses off. One does not accuse newspapers of being Communist, which you have just done."
When he came back on the air, Mr. Newman said television had a responsibility to uphold "certain standards of conduct."

"It didn't seem to me we have any obligation to allow people to come on to traduce the reputations of anyone they want," he said, "to abuse people they don't like."
If that happened today on Today, Newman could have found himself tossed off.

So it's with irony I remember him anchoring news updates before a studio audience on the 1980 daytime version of The David Letterman Show or mock newscasts on TV series.

You would think he would've dodged allegations of selling out in his retirement. Apparently that phrase wasn't in his lexicon.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hoedown Throwdown

The Tucson Barn Dance will be filled with a lot of old favorites, but I'm not sure you'll see this. Someone took "Dueling Banjos" and made it into a dance.

Have a look:

Too tough fer ya? Maybe you can learn from the French:

Merci beaucoup!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Celtic Cowboys?

It seems our English and Australian friends are hankerin' for a hoedown, as evidenced by this clip from an instructional DVD:

Surely I can't be the only one who thinks he's watching Scottish Country Dance instead of Country Dance -- sans kilts.

But y'all don't worry yourselves. In central London, they're in the saddle:

Notice that Confederate flag in the background. The redcoats have gone rebel!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Arches Away

Your humble dancing master is hurling himself 150 years into the future this week -- that 150 years being measured from 1750, of course... or further.

Line dances are a might bit different now, and with some odd but interesting twists.

How many arches can one have in a dance? Let's find out:

Now here's something you might see at the Tucson Barn Dance: ducking for oysters and digging for clams.

Another look at it, from above:

Swing your partner! Watch your head!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kick Up Your Heels!

Well now, the Tucson Barn Dance is coming right up.

So let's get our week-long pre-dance tribute going with some folks from St. Mary's School doing some variant of the Heel & Toe polka, I believe:

Whew... I'm out of breath.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Show Me Your Moves, Good Sir!

Dearest Dancing Gentlemen, read and heed: British researchers tell us the way you move will determine your success in finding a mate.

After showing ladies motion-captured computer models of men dancing, researchers found movement of the hands is a big turn-on. I'll tell that to the next dancing master who disparages those who hold their free hands high while twirling about. Affections are not only admired, it seems they're an essential part of the ritual!

Let me be clear with my intentions, though, dear friends. Your humble servant does not dance to find a mate.

"But do you flirt?"

I would prefer to call it honouring the ladies. Yes, I know I bow low to them like I'm showing reverence to Queen Elizabeth, but that is -- if I may use the vernacular -- simply how I roll.

"Heh, I'd like to see you take over the floor like Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever!"

That has actually happened a couple of times, and both times I was wearing a kilt. Unfortunately, the research doesn't tell us what the ladies think of a prancing lad in plaid.

"Those colonial dances are so boring; all they do is walk around each other."

Obviously you've never danced any reels.

"Aren't you just a little too old-fashioned for today's women?"

I dunno, but they seem to admire a gentleman with nice stockinged calves.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reel To Reel: The American

Make Gun, Will Travel

Going Rate: Worth full price admission.
Starring: George Clooney
Rated: R
Red Flags: Spurts of gun violence, nudity, 1 1/2 sex scenes, mild language

You wouldn't think a film would leave you sympathizing with a shadowy assassin, which is exactly what The American does. This is an action movie that got the art-house treatment, and it's an engaging thriller, even if it does plod at times.

Jack (Clooney) is an expert killer and gunmaker whose last job in Sweden has gone sideways, leaving him to hide out in Italy. Yet while there, he takes an offer to build a compact high-powered rifle. We gather it's for some sort of assassination job, but who? We watch Jack crafting this weapon with loving care, as if it's the only thing in his life he can trust without having to look over his shoulder.

The film absorbed me into Jack's isolation and uneasy existence. Every person who looked at him left me wondering if he or she was a killer or informant, including the scene where Jack first encounters Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli). Benedetto serves as Jack's repressed morality, and he can tell his friend -- who claims to be a photographer -- is hiding something. Yet the clergyman himself is separated from his son who works as a shady mechanic. Jack also falls in love with a local lady of the evening, drawing him into the kind of relationship he has not been able to have for risk of his life.

Jack, I should note, loves butterflies. They fly nearly anywhere they want and migrate with nary any danger. They're too beautiful to swat. Perhaps Jack is longing for that life.

The American is not your conventional hired-assassin film; it has too much going for it on an emotional level with its brooding tension and minimalist style of dialogue. Other films of this genre have the action and the girls and maybe the bedroom romps, but they don't have the feeling of loneliness. The Beatles sang, "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," and that seems to be Jack's only sure source of pleasure.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Awkward Pause Or "Me Moment?"

Governor Jan Brewer's much-discussed bit of political dead air left me with a decidedly different impression. First, let's watch the clip:

Now, here are the statements leading up to the pregnant pause:

"It's great to be here with Larry, Barry, and Terry, and thank you all for watching us tonight. I have, uh... done so much, and I just cannot believe we have changed everything since I became your governor in the last 600 days. Arizona has been brought back from its abyss. We have cut the budget, we have balance the budget, and we are moving forward. We have done everything we could possibly do...."

That's where Governor Brewer halts, smiles a little wider, exhales and finally says, "We have, uh, did what was right for Arizona."

Some people see this as a brain freeze, and having had many of those, I can sympathize 100 percent. However, I think this is better explained as a moment where Governor Brewer was so wrapped up in admiration of her record that she experienced an overpowering instance of self-exultation. She had an extreme moment of Zen, and it left her speechless.

I've seen others in similar moments, but they were talking about the achievements or actions of their children, their co-workers, their friends, or what GOD has done for them. Somewhere in here we have a lesson on humility, but I think you can figure it out.