By Mike Shiloh

Catching Up

After a number of years of working two jobs to make ends meet and missing so many of the best (and worse) movies and TV series because there wasn’t enough time to sleep, I’ve now put that aside in favor of catching up on so much of the stuff I’ve missed, only I’m starting from scratch instead of where I left off in the early 2000s.

While other people are binging on whole TV series, I starting with history — there are so many wonderful and well-written movies that I missed out on, there’s no reason to overlook Hollywood’s classics from the ’20s through the end of the 20th Century is there?

So I’m still behind on Mad Men; since there’s now a little time for rummaging through the old flicks, I reached back to the obscure 1944 Rene Clair-directed fantasy, It Happened Tomorrow, about a newspaper writer who obtains a copy of tomorrow’s newspaper and goes off a reporting spree while letting it help him woo the girl he wants to marry. He also tries to win big at the horse races, knowing the winner ahead of time, to a unique what-will-be twist.

The movie is fast-moving, funny and clever in its twisting of the concept, and the young Dick Powell (a Hollywood wonder who began as a singer/actor in the 1930s, whose career lasted well into the 1960s) is charming in the lead, as is his girl played by the also-young Linda Darnell, the Dallas girl and WWII pinup favorite who went on to great fame in the classics A Letter to Three Wives and My Darling Clementine.

Edgar Kennedy is a standout as a police inspector, using all his mugging tricks from the Laurel and Hardy days, with Clair and Dudley Nichols getting the writing credit, based on a screenplay by Hugh Wedlock (wasn’t he head writer on Laugh-In in the ’60s?) and Howard Snyder, from a play by Lord Dunsany.

Because it was made during WWII it was set in the 1890s to make it pure escapism for what postwar journalists always called “war-weary crowds.” It just happens to be among the best fantasy-comedies of Hollywood’s “golden era.”

I left the film wondering just when the guys who created Early Edition saw the movie and decided to adapt the concept for the TV series.

Obviously I’m also getting around to more recent stuff, but if you’re a movie fan who’s also partial to mysteries and the fantastic, anywhere is a good place to start.

 

 

Combating Fake News

There’ve been a lot of articles about how to spot fake news ever since the guys in the political parties last year started emphasizing the danger of false reporting, especially on the Internet, and then journalists took up the cause with a vengeance because their revenue was slipping.

A new favorite of mine is this article from Stand Up Republic, titled “Combating #Fake News,” because it’s supposed to help you and me in spotting Bogus Bulletins, and one of the “tips” is to question anything you read from a source you’ve never heard of.

Have you ever heard of Stand Up Republic?

Since you haven’t, does that mean the points the writer makes are questionable?

In fact, the article was written by Evan McMullin, the ex-CIA man who made the long-shot stab at running for president last year, had a strong showing in Utah, but ultimately didn’t win any states.

Now does his article have more credibility in your mind?

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Saying a Tentative Goodbye to What’s Now An American Tradition: The Alt-Weekly

 

If you were among those who saw the rise of the alternative newspaper in major US cities, their decline and imminent fall is all the more sad, if only because they changed journalism in America.

Word from On High (The New York Times) is that  the venerable Village Voice in Manhattan is laying off 13 of its 17 union employees, and did so at the end of August. That the once-small publication had union employees at all (that began in 1977) was a sign of its one-time prosperity.

The celebrated author Norman Mailer was among those who started the leftist Village Voice in 1955 and it became the leader in what was called “alternative media,” a term that led to the current designation of alt-weeklies, which include dozens of papers from Boston to L.A.

In 2009 there were 135 of them; today there are 108, according to Pew Research Center.

The Boston Phoenix and The San Francisco Bay Guardian have closed up and a number of alt-weeklies are in big financial trouble now that advertising money is going online; the strategy now is for the weeklies to go online too, and stay there.

The Village Voice is shutting down its print edition after more than 60 years of sitting in stacks at newsstands across Manhattan next to the Daily News and Backstage.

New York memories bring back the days when many in show business would pick up the Voice along with Variety and the Post, if they had the money (New York showbiz was never a lucrative career for any but the few)  because in addition to sometimes shocking political and social news the Voice also covered off-Broadway and movies, as well as theater, music and nightclub scandals, rising clubs and comics along with the latest experiments and excesses of Greenwich Village.

The East Village Other came along in the ’60s with its considerably more vulgar style that went perfectly with the new “revolutionary” culture of rock and roll, there were other competitors that popped up often, and then out of San Francisco came Rolling Stone, which topped ém all — though in the end the Stone made its own way, within just a few issues rightfully if temporarily concentrating on the West Coast.

You could really get a feel for the swift changes in New York — and US — culture from the VV.

Among the favorites of us kids who like the Voice were the movie reviews and the advertisements.  You could get away with thumbing through the pages at a newsstand — if the cigar-munching proprietor was busy — and seeing the odd lifestyle ads in the ’50s and ’60s, the outrageous ads for Warhol films in the late ’60s and the sometimes salacious ads for foreign movies added to the ever more far-out ad styles of the ’70s and ’80s. The Voice — and for a while The Other — was always a must, long before there was Must See TV.

A number of the alt-weeklies in the ’60s and ’70s took on what I viewed as a Soviet-inspired style with headlines like “(Get) High (in) School,” about high school activities in the Bronx, or headlines like “Workers Are Rising Up Angry!” about the labor movement. In the communistic style of the times, people were always “rising up” (except the rich bourgeois, of course, they weren’t able to rise) and were always “speaking out” (perhaps because of socially-imposed gags, which were now ripped out because they were “angry”) and were always “coming together” at least in the alt headlines.

But as of the 1980s, local TV news began using a similar language (“an indicted cop speaks out tonight at 11!”) and newspapers slowly intensified their coverage of protests and demonstrations, which were once treated like the carnival just came to town.

The alt-weeklies always had an eye for protest marches and their coverage somehow seeped into the mainstream so that now hardly a day goes by in a big city that marches aren’t front page news.

Newspaper movie reviews were at one time treated in a similar fashion to critiques of art shows, but the alt-weeklies pioneered the movie review from regular people, reviews where you’ve never heard of the columnist, who calls portions of the film “putrid”and even summed up the flick as “a two-hour time suck, that sucked.” It was enough to make Vincent Canby and Roger Ebert cringe, but we, the readers, got the message.  Often, movies suck and it helps us save our money not to be taken in by suck-y flicks.

But most of all it was the muckraking, the at times over-the-top political reporting of the alt-press that brought back a kind of yellow journalism style that had gone out of favor since the 1930s. Writers were digging into the Lindsay administration in New York and finding corruption or at least hypocrisy, and then local alt-writers were doing the same in cities across our fair land.

The  writers’ point of view was usually framed with an attempt at truth-to-power, adding in a little radical left politics with an eye toward the proletariat and the young reader who will tolerate slogans and catchphrases.

And of course the papers in the ’60s and ’70s always celebrated the freedom to use language coarser than the major dailies down the street, with “fuck” the leading verb and “shit” the leading adjective. I remember a short-lived Houston alt-weekly that carried, on a story about city hall, the headline, “Fuck This Shit!,” below which was a byline and a copyright notice.

You can’t make this stuff up, except that the staffs of the alts did make up this lowbrow style of  — should we call it journalism? — writing and it spread like wildfire across the nation, until as with all things, it seems, people just got tired of it or they grew up.

Some of those writers went on to greater things, like Rolling Stone or gentler weeklies like The Austin Sun, but many of them remained radical writers trying to interest America in an anti-capitalist future, while the cartoonists made the best of it.

In fact, it was the cartoonists like R. Crumb who started at the alt-weeklies and ended up with a fan base numbering in the millions and collections that are still available today.

So are the alt-weeklies dying or just declining?  The Village Voice hard copies will be no more, but then major newspapers are cutting back, farming the hard copies out to printers out of town or sometimes out of state, and even the big publishers are more and more going online.

The Local Independent Online News Publishers  recently reported 19 new members in 15 states, for a total of 160 members.

As Poynter points out, “there’s a difference between declining and dead, though one does lead to the other.”

“There are more print publications in Knoxville now than there were 20 years ago, Neely said on Poynter.

“And both Ashevile and Chattanooga… smaller cities … still have alt-weeklies. The Mercury is still online and people are volunteering stories, including Neely, but they’re not getting paid for it anymore.

“It has been frankly alarming to see what is happening to our peers in much bigger cities,” said Sarah Fenske, editor of St. Louis’ Riverfront Times. “Seeing the Village Voice decide to go digital-only, it’s like you feel the grim reaper’s hand on your neck,” she said on Poynter.

Or maybe we’ve just come full-circle; the style, point of view and substance — if not the outrageous advertising — of the old alt-weeklies have been absorbed by some major dailies, and the increase in ad-supported papers in the ’80s and ’90s make people today unwilling to pay for a weekly.

It may be a long time before we see a major daily newspaper run a headline saying “Union Minions Are Rising Up Angry!”and we may never see “Fuck This Shit!” in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but there are a lot of people who are right of the political center who wouldn’t be surprised if we did.

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But What If It’s True?

It is true that Russia did not hack the computers belonging to the Democratic National Convention in mid-June or July 5th during the 2016 election as many including my colleagues in the news media have claimed — quite the contrary, the computers were hacked by a DNC insider.

That’s not my contention, that’s the basis of a report in The Nation that’s unlike most of the major news stories you and I have seen over the past year about the Russia scandal, because this report is backed up by on-the-record, named sources — “qualified experts working independently of one another” — who have closely looked at the leaked DNC emails and found that the download metadata has been tampered with, and the data itself was downloaded at a much faster speed than any Internet connection can support.

Because it was downloaded onto a thumbdrive or something similar, not over a low-speed Internet connection by a Russian hacker in Romania, writer Patrick Lawrence says. Remember, The Nation is a left-of-center web magazine, not some right-wing conspiracy site.

If the conclusions of  this report from The Nation are true, it’s a turning point in the entire Russian-conspiracy-to-tilt-the-2016-election paradigm.

Just thought you might like to read it.

Also: You may notice that there are far too many people writing opinion pieces on the web who won’t get to the point until several (sometimes many) paragraphs into the piece. The New York Times‘ Bret Stephens has some tips for making op-eds more readable.

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Shock Jocks In the Afterlife

I was once privileged to work with one of the most creative radio comedy teams in America.  Both of them have passed on now, but that doesn’t stop those of us who loved them and their work from thinking about them every day.  But thinking about them and talking about them are of course two different things.

That’s where The JoyRide Show comes in.

Stevens and Pruett were already legendary when they began their highly successful and long-running morning show on KLOL-FM in Houston, having already worked as a team under the brand name Hudson and Harrigan at KILT-FM back in the 1970s.  Both stations were extremely hot in their time; KLOL was the top rock station in Houston, KILT was at one time or another the number one station in town.

I was working next door at KTRH-AM (all-news and talk, “a world of news every 30 minutes”) when I began doing commercials for the Mark Stevens and Jim Pruett Show.

Mark Stevens once called me “the funniest newsman I’ve ever heard.” Believe me, that’s a compliment.

(How does a news anchor/reporter end up doing commercials for a shock jock show?  Hey, it irrelevant right now and I’ll try to cover that some other time.)

S&P and their crew were among the funniest people I’ve ever worked with (a pantheon that includes Sam Kinnison, Bret Butler, Bill Hicks, Fred Greenlee, Steve Garfinkel, Chuck Shramek, Bruce Maness and various other standups, comic actors and geniuses of varying degrees.

There are examples of the Stevens and Pruett form of morning radio comedy on YouTube, so you can decide if their brand of humor suits you, but I guarantee you when the microphone was turned off things got even funnier than when it was on. That’s what I loved.

Growing up watching The Dick Van Dyke Show it was one of my dreams to work somewhere where the people were funny every day, and I found it with these guys and their crew, Brian Shannon, Laurie Kendrick, Locke Siebenhausen and many others.

Mark Stevens died in 2012, Jim Pruett died in 2016, but some of the crew got together to talk with Stevens and Pruett in the afterlife on the JoyRide Show, a program that speaks with those who have passed on.

Kerrie and Tiffanie are the hosts and they bring in guests who want a “weekly exploration of all things spiritual, energy, healing, personal growth, with positive, uplifting and encouraging topics,” and on the occasion of May 2nd, 2017, had a little kind of seance to reach out into the comedy cosmos to speak with Stevens and Pruett.

Click here to see how it went when Shannon, Stevens and Pruett ramrod and boss Pat Fant, S&P promoter Doug Harris and medium Emanuelle McIntosh tuned in “The Radio Gawds” as S&P styled themselves.

I wish I coulda been there, and of course so many of us miss the “Gawds” there has been a new wave of nostalgia for the great days of rock radio nationwide and in Houston (and in other markets by syndication, including Dallas, I believe) these guys ruled.

The JoyRide show is great fun and while you’re there look into the other programs Kerrie and Tiffanie have done.

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The US Goods Retail Market Is In Decline

 

The chart below from The Wall St. Journal looks bad for clothiers and other retailers and yet it’s worse today than the chart actually indicates because another year has gone by (market values have not yet been updated) with once-great stores like Sears and JCPenney dropping in value even more, according to market analysts.

Is it really true that people are willing to order clothes from online retailers like Amazon without trying on those clothes first?  We all have anecdotes in which we ordered something online that arrived that was damaged, didn’t fit, weren’t what we thought they were or trigger a later Buyer’s Remorse.

[Source: @carlquintanilla, @tveskov, @dgelles]

Is it possible that brick-and-mortar retail is heading toward the stocking solely of items that must be obtained very quickly or are tempting as point-of-sale impulse buys or require an intimate fitting or constitute an emergency purchase? Wal-Mart and Target fit the bill (as does Walgreens and CVX to an extent), but with the rise of Amazon, it’s not clear exactly what to market in filling those needs.

And is it possible that the American infatuation with Amazon and it’s mail order process (even when the company uses drones for delivery nationwide) is something of a drawn-out fad? The long-term online-purchase effect ripples through consumer demographics, with the most Internet savvy people buying into Amazon, Pandora, NetFlix and even the vast YouTube inventory first, followed by older generations, the less web savvy consumer, people with less money to spend online and those simply wary of putting up a credit card online. We haven’t moved yet through all the demographics.

One thing is striking: It appears American consumers are growing less loyal to retail brands, especially in shopping habits, with some marketing research indicating that younger shoppers don’t feel much loyalty at all. Credit card branding still works and is a potent tool for sales, especially for the younger consumer, but sadly for institutions like Sears, JCPenney and even Macy’s the days when those retail brands were, as they say in marketing, “top of mind” appear to be waning.

For those of us who remember happy rituals of shopping for shiny, new clothes for the coming school year at the big Penney’s on the mall, these are sadder times.

 

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State Books

It is fair to say that every state in America has a well-known book associated with it, even if you have to go back decades.  It’s up to new writers to craft anew the quintessential novels about our state experiences, but as of now Business Insider has put together a dazzling list of books associated with each state — great if you love books.

The 1950s Revolutionary Road may not capture the spirit of Connecticut today and The Shining may bring a little embarrassment to Colorado as perhaps its most well-known literary companion, but as an Americana list, the Business Insider Famous Book That Takes Place In Every State page is great fun.

 

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Real Estate Madness: Could Jed Clampett Afford His Mansion Today?

 

 

For anyone who remembers the semi-classic TV series The Beverly Hillbillies it’s probably common knowledge that the mansion in which the Clampett family lived was actually a studio set — probably less well known is the studio itself, the General Service and Hollywood Center studios (two names, same location) at 1040 N. Las Palmas Avenue in the heart of old Hollywood, right down Highland Ave. from the Chinese Theater.

That’s where Martin Ransohoff’s independent Filmways Co. contracted to shoot the series, which mostly took place at the Clampett mansion, their bank, assorted offices and general indoor locations. (Filmways was a big company, incidentally, back in the 1960s and produced The Addams Family, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction and Cagney and Lacy — all hit series that live on in reruns today — before selling out to Orion in 1982.)

The series was produced and often written by Paul Henning, who had a kind of genius for double entendres (see The Bob Cummings Show — Love That Bob on YouTube — for some great examples).

There were outdoor locations used on the series over the years but none more famous than the mansion Jed Clampett bought as part of the series premise: He struck oil on his land (in the Ozarks?) and at the urging of family (including Cousin Pearl, played by the sparkling character actress Bea Benederet) bought a mansion among the rich folks of Beverly Hills, among the most exclusive properties in America, but they kept their country accents, attitudes and values.

Well, the real live mansion filmed for use on the series, built in 1933 and now called “The Chartwell,” as Bloomberg says, is up for sale — and the price is a hefty $350 million dollars.

And Bloomberg’s Matt Gross did the math: The Clampetts were supposed to be among the super-rich — their $25 million to $100 million in 1962 (when the series began) is “equivalent to $200 million to $800 million in 2017, so if the oil company that purchased his swamp was generous, then yes, Chartwell could be his. (Although spending nearly half of one’s net worth on a giant estate that will require constant upkeep and staffing seems unwise, even for a hillbilly.) But given the current depressed price of oil, down nearly 50 percent from 2013–14, I’m guessing Chartwell would be out of his budget.

 

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Abandoned

There’s something compelling, mysterious and haunting about abandoned buildings. We see them everywhere yet often we don’t know. There must be hundreds of thousands of abandoned homes in America alone, maybe millions. I once tried counting them along state highway 58 between Barstow and Bakersfield, California, but I gave up after a few miles. Some are rotting and fallen, some remain with a hint of their past dignity but all are left with nothing.

How often have some of us passed what were once the homesteads of families trying to stay ahead of bill collectors, raise children, repair leaks and make dinner — and wondered what it was like to live there?  And when?  The Great Depression, as one would imagine the falling wooden roof on one of the old highway 58 shacks, where residents east of the Mississippi made their way along Route 66 and then veered off toward rumors of work in oil fields, orange groves or farms, staying with friends or loved ones already arrived in modest woodframe shelters?

Sometimes it just seems the American way to create, build, innovate and abandon, moving on to the next stage, paying no mind to the ruin left behind to aspire to the new horizons.

Graffiti appears on them overnight.

Factories, movie theaters, schools and what were once called insane asylums have been left to deteriorate with nothing but the ghosts of what went on within those walls, and Matthew Christopher has for years been doing a great job chronicling the forgotten halls of Americana at his website Abandoned America, an Autopsy of the American Dream.

There are radio stations, churches, factories and power plants, mills and trolleys where one day the last human walked away.

There are imagined crowds roaring at Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand, now-primitive machines that measure kilohertz and megawatts, forgotten testimonies and dried sparks from welders’ torches.

And there are happy endings in the form of restoration groups, preservation societies and commercial restoration projects, and some of these buildings are coming back to life.

Others continue to sit and mold when the roofs leak or collapse — all the more material for Christopher’s rambling and splendidly-photographed website and book.

That’s one of the great things about ideals like the American Dream — just when they seem to have been abandoned, they gain new life in the minds of the creative, the innovative and those with a sense of history and wonder — and appreciation for what came before.

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The Most Hated Office Memo

 

FM: Fearless Leader

TO: Moose & Squirrel and All Troops

RE: Raise the Bar

 

It has come to my attention that you all are squatting when you should be doing jumping jacks so let’s get on the ball, people!

We’ll start by getting our ducks in a  row with some blue sky thinking about our mission statement, so remember your marching orders: Work work work, push push push.

We’re on a journey and its a game changer, so let’s pick it up and run with it, gang.

If you have doubts about where we’re going, it’s a no-brainer that you kick them into the long grass and think outside the box.

Let’s drill down, peel the onion, dive deep and punch a puppy.  No more boiling the ocean, no more preponing.

It’s all about teamwork, people, so let’s get those thought showers going and increase your bandwidth, and if you’re imagineering ideas don’t take them offline, run them up the flagpole and get them actioned! Make your own Swat team!

This is the timeline and it is now so touch base with me (unless I’m out of pocket); and if you don’t like it get off the bus.

Check it out or you’ll be demised.  Period.

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The Best Guitars

It’s hard to imagine better musical instruments than those that are hand made with loving care and precision, and Bill Collings made some of the best of the best guitars, both electric and acoustic, and mandolins, ukuleles and other stuff at a little factory in Austin, Texas. And not just any handmade guitars, but ones used by great musicians like Jimmy Van Halen, Lou Reed, Keith Richards, Paul Simon and Pete Townshend of  The Who.

As is so often the case he was not celebrated except among musicians for all the years he crafted with loving care some precise and brilliant instruments, so it’s especially pleasing that upon his death he is remembered in The New York Times.

Bill loved his work and loved his instruments and is notable for never cutting corners, staying true to his craft and believing in his products.

That’s a great legacy for anyone, but in Bill’s work it’s extraordinary — he could have chosen to finish medical school or just toiled in the oil fields of Texas, but he gave us something we can touch, admire and play beautiful, raunchy and strong music with — without being a professional musician himself.

He was an engineer but most of all an enthusiast — and sometimes that’s all it takes to build a career doing what you love.

 

Mike Shiloh is an award-winning broadcast journalist who began in radio in 1981 and has since contributed regularly to AP Radio and Television, CNN and ABC News, while also anchoring for network radio on News24-7 and for top local stations including KILT-Houston, WINK Newsradio/TV Ft. Myers/Tampa FL, KRBE-Houston; has also regularly contributed to KTRH-Houston and is an editor at The Texas Energy Report and TheLatest.net.

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