By Michael Shiloh

How To Say Goodbye To Two Of Your Childhood Heroes Without Crying

 

When, at the age of 12, I was a budding comic book artist, there were six artists I admired, one of whom died in the past few weeks.

When, at the age of 12, I was also a budding science fiction writer, there were four writers I admired, one of whom died in the past few weeks.

It’s always sad when geniuses pass away, and when they happen to have been your heroes its doubly sad, and when in this case two of them go within the same couple of weeks, I can only take solace in the fact that there are millions of others like me who thought these two fellows were perhaps the most unique in their fields. Genius? Well, yes.

 

Steve Ditko could draw anything and it would show imagination, charm and a unique point of view. He was, as Graeme McMillan pointed out at The Hollywood Reporter, ahead of his time in a number of way.s

See Dr. Strange, which he co-created, above? You wonder how a person can get a hand with the fingers precisely that far apart, of how a Spider-Man, which he co-created, above, could twist his body with an arm in that position but a leg jutting out like that. Only Ditko could draw those contortions and make it look like it should be that way. If any of the rest of us drew like that, it would invite criticism of one’s artistic skills in anatomy.

With Ditko, it just added to the atmosphere of his work. He could show awkward by portraying awkwardness, mystery by drawing the mysterious, horror by covering a panel with darkness, human interaction by portraying people who aren’t in sync in one panel of surprise or worry. Anyone who was privileged to go through their own teenage awkwardness at the same time Peter Parker went through his (the mid-1960s) understood Ditko’s gifts in portraying that adolescent/teenage worry and paranoia in panel after panel. See Spider-Man #1-20.

And just as NPR’s Gene Weldon points out, Ditko drew hands like no one else, and he was a master of delineating weirdness, exemplified by the background drawings in any Dr. Strange adventure he drew. The good guys who made the Dr. Strange movie even went to some lengths to pay homage to Ditko in those scenes where Benedict Cumberbatch floated among the stars or the atoms or wherever he was, just floating. They were recreating Ditko with CGI.

He was a follower of Objectivist theory and a private man, but when you wrote to him he answered letters personally.

And it was obvious that he held to the Objectivist philosophy, even in interviews.

Never mind his politics, never mind his sequestered personal life, his work was perhaps the most imaginative of any comic book artist of the 20th Century, a reputation that is certain if narrowed to Marvel Comics artists of the period.  Jack Kirby, the Great One, was big and bold in his work, Don Heck (the man who gave Iron Man depth) was thin-lined and expressive, but Ditko’s imagination soared.

And few stories among the mysterious, science fiction, horror or creepy can match the bizarre joy of Ditko’s Amazing Adult Fantasy-type stories, some for which he could have gotten co-authorship credit, in all their high-atmospheric, surprise-ending joy.

I always wished, after Steve Ditko wrapped up his association with Marvel Comics in the mid-to-late 1960s, that he would team up with an imaginative writer and head back toward those creepy stories with the twist endings that were so unique to Marvel in the early ’60s. Taken as a whole, those stories were the definition of fantastic, to me.

Oh, who were the other artists I admired when I was practicing every day to be a comic book cartoonist? I considered them real artists, too — Kirby, Wally Wood, Al Williamson and Reed Crandall. They’re all gone now, and in some cases their work is largely forgotten and their lives punctuated with tragedy, but I’ll never forget them.

I wish I could say the same for our culture — I wish their work, in their brilliant pen-and-ink sophistication, would be always remembered.

Steve Ditko and family.

 

And then there was Harlan Ellison. If only he could have come up with a series of science fiction weirdness and given them to Ditko to illustrate, that would have been something.

To call Ellison erratic, overbearing and self-concerned would likely have been an understatement, but to call him highly talented, groundbreaking and entertaining would also have been understating.

I’ve been around charismatic people many times, and I was only a kid when he and I were there at a comic book convention but I could feel his presence, even when he wasn’t talking. But he talked a lot.

I had made friends with Tom Reamy, then a bigwig in science fiction fandom in the Dallas area (his house was in Mesquite, I think), and Reamy was palling around with Ellison while a 16mm movie projector unreeled the 1941 Captain Marvel serial in the convention hall.

Reamy laughed out loud as Harlan spoke a running commentary on the serials’ plot, and Tom was not generally a laugh out loud guy.

When Captain Marvel’s alter ego, Billy Batson, appeared, Harlan exclaimed loud disappointment with the casting, “What? That fat fag isn’t Billy Batson.” Others may have thought it, Harland had to say it.

 

Harlan Ellison with a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase that Billy Batson uttered to turn into Capt. Marvel

 

And that was true of his writing, in which he took necessary pride, as his work was among the most outstanding in contemporary fiction in the ’50s and on through his life. By the time he reached middle age, Harlan had written key episodes of TV series such as classic Star Trek and The Outer Limits (ideas for which were admittedly borrowed to make the notion of the movie The Terminator) a long series of published short stories, novels, cultural critiques and some science fiction that tested the boundaries of that literary genre.

And, like his patron, Ray Bradbury, he wasn’t really a science fiction author, he was into everything, and wrote about it. My favorite was Gentleman Junkie, but there are lots of other imaginative stories he produced over a period of decades that will, as they said in the ’60s, blow your mind.

And he had gone on television for interviews several times, telling stories about how he and his writing had been treated by the no-talent hoards who underpaid him, underrated him, promised him then reneged, dissed him and coerced him as a writer — and he named names, on national television. The travesty!

It probably cost him jobs, and like the rest of us he could be his own enemy, but when his imagination flowed on the page, it was a visit to another land, even if he was describing a New York City corner or a faraway future universe.

He was an irascible curmudgeon, as the L.A. Times’ John Scalzi put it, but he was our irascible curmudgeon, and his fans could be awed and slack-jawed at his outspokenness and clever phrase-turnings, which for his fans led to a certain sense of comfort, after a period of time, when he would say something so over-the-top outrageous that it would offend some people, but longtime fans could revel in it — that’s Harlan, he hasn’t changed!

He was honest. His writing was honest. His assessments of the people who denigrated his writings were honest. It was a hallmark of a great 20th Century writer that he not only pound out the stories, but he live the lifestyle (like Fitzgerald and Mailer, unlike Salinger) too…publicly, loudly, proudly and clearly a proponent of his work.

Other writers may say to themselves, I could do what Ellison did if I’d just have the inspiration, or the breaks, or had been in the right place at the right etc., but no. Like so many groundbreaking artists and engineers and scientists and other professionals, there is only one Harlan Ellison.

I’ll be honest. I wish I could write like he did.

 

Oh, who were the other writers I admired when I was trying to write imaginative fiction starting when I was 12? Bradbury, Ellison, Isaac Asimov and Richard Matheson. Still four of the best. And yes, they’re all gone now that Harlan has departed. These, unlike some of my graphic-panel pencil-and-ink heroes, will not be forgotten any time soon.

 

Ditko and Ellison…these were two unique people, eccentric in the way people used to say, “he was a character.” In fact they both could have been characters in their own work.

And someday I need to get to work on a comic strip called “Steve Ditko In Crypto Nano Land” or something, in which he wanders a universe like the ones he created in his art.

More likely, I should get around to writing a series of odd human-mysteries in which the protagonist is Harlan Ellison.

I can hear him now: “You’ll never do it as well I could do it, Shiloh.”

And he’d be right.

 

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How Republicans and Democrats prevent independent candidates from getting on the ballot

 

It’s an old story, really, but one worth revisiting as often as possible.

 

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Is It Possible That Much Of the News You See Is Part of a Carefully Crafted Propaganda Campaign?

 

Yes it is. As a longtime news reporter I’m always suspicious of “reports” that push an agenda, that attempt to slowly insert new terms into our conversations, that rely on unnamed sources, that place undue emphasis on aspects of a news story that obscure the facts.

As I’ve made clear on this blog, I don’t have skin in this political game. The 2016 election was the most agonizing of any that I’ve covered, going back to the years of Ronald Reagan.

I couldn’t get on board with either major candidate and that’s how it should be for a news reporter.

So that’s my point of view. In the view of many others in the news business, it’s obvious that President Trump is a villain who must be mocked, misinterpreted and rebuked at every turn. Never mind that he’s president, duly elected and worthy of the respect we’ve given others who were perhaps not qualified for the job (Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Gerald Ford come to mind, both good people who had held elective office — unlike Trump — but were still largely ineffectual leaders, still were given daily respect by newspapers and broadcasters — Because He’s The President!, editors said).

I’m only concerned about this because it’s not what the business I’ve worked in all these years is really about. Facts.

No need to go into detail here; you can read earlier posts on this page if you care about the extreme changes that have occurred in the news business over the past few years: Print journalism is dying and broadcast journalism is slowly reaching points of desperation.

Trump sells. He’s what they used to call “good copy,” no matter what you say about him. Like Charles Foster Kane, he’s always good for some headlines.

But my point is simply this: When do news reports cross the line into propaganda? Not just “fake news.”

Propaganda. “Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

I believe it is, in many cases today, when news reports make assumptions to be true that are not proven and repeatedly attempt to verify notions that can be traced to political origins.

And that’s just crossing the line. There are times when you can find major news sources skipping deeper into propaganda than just assuming truths that are not self-evident.

What if, for instance, a daily poll were taken to find the top ten most troubling or important issues facing people and you found that most news organizations were not writing about those issues. Would you be angry, worried or unconcerned?

Could it be considered news-propaganda if unproven or salacious claims about politicians were covered daily by reporters when such topics are not even in the top twenty among issues people care about?

And could it be considered propaganda if politicians introduce an idea or concept that doesn’t even appear in, say, the top thirty among things people care about in their daily lives, yet reporters jump on the concept or idea and keep reporting on it for days, weeks, perhaps months?

“It doesn’t affect me,” you could say, “so why do they keep reporting on it all the time in the news?”

Editors and reporters will tell it’s because they’re high-minded, that they’re telling you not only what you want to know but what you need to know.

World events, discoveries in science and medicine, stories of heroism and intrigue, social trends: These are among the things you probably need to know but may not at first care about. It’s the news organizations that should entice you to pay attention to these things outside your world. But political notions and ideas? Lather, rinse, repeat? Day after day? Really?

We here at TheLatest.Net and TheLatest1.Com respect the objective reporting of onetime CBS correspondent Sheryl Attkisson. Her reporting may be a little dangerous to some people. Example: She still isn’t sure, despite her continuing legal battle, which US government agency hacked her work computer at CBS.

Please hear her analysis:

 

 

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Please Don’t Forget: There Are Many, Many Reasons Why Life On Earth Is Better Than Ever

 

Fake news, bad news, disease, increasing political divisions, violence in schools and on the streets, financial market chaos, rumors of wars, loss of loved ones, cultural divisions and suicides: There are and will always be painful reminders that life can be extremely tough and the world may therefore be seen as a terrible place.

Which is why I’m personally thankful for the occasional smart reminder that mankind is progressing toward making the world more humane, more just, more literate, more caring about people’s needs — and lives are being saved in the process.

If you look around, there are signs each day that It’s Getting Better.

That’s why I direct you toward Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times assessment of life on earth.

It reminds us that “every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data.

“Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water.”

Disagree that there are great signs of hope in the world?

Understanding our place in that world is essential, and that understanding depends on literacy.

And as Kristof points out, literacy has been increasing exponentially even as most people just go about their everyday chores.

“As recently as the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty.

“Now fewer than 15 percent are illiterate, and fewer than 10 percent live in extreme poverty.

“In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone.

“After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.”

If true, we have much to be happy about and much to hope for: a better world is emerging, even as we ignore it and deal with our own concerns.

 

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A Little Christmas Story

 

One of our favorite bloggers, Mark Evanier, annually posts a wonderful little anecdote about meeting the man who wrote “The Christmas Song,” AKA “Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire” one day in LA’s Farmers Market. In the oft chance that you’re a fan of the song and have maybe even heard of singer/songwriter Mel Torme, I thought you might enjoy the story. Well, he didn’t actually meet Torme, but I’ll let him tell it.

News From ME: My Xmas Story

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A Strip Holiday

 

Anyone who’s ever seen Albert Brooks’ classic comedy Lost In America knows that the headline for the news flash in the Monday December 11th Dallas Morning News, “From Ice Rinks to Special Shows, Vegas Offers Plenty of Holiday Cheer” should actually have been “Las Vegas, a Christmas Place To Be.”

 

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La La Land

 

It’s an old movie by now, at least if you ask my 17-year-old daughter, and if you hated musicals in the past you may hate this one, but some of the best movies ever made were musicals (Top Hat, South Pacific, Pal Joey, each had a different groundbreaking style) and while La La Land isn’t in that category, director Damien Chazelle puts a bright spin on the old Hollywood-Los Angeles musical style, thankfully without the stilted dialogue and background-music cue notes that tell us they’re going into a song any minute, which became a chore to watch in some older “tuners,” as Variety once called them.  Otherwise, its a thoughtful romantic comedy with a unique and touching What If? ending and strong performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Recommended but only if you can tolerate people breaking into song every now and then. 14 Oscar nominations, tying it with All About Eve and Titanic as the most ever.  John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt. 128 minutes. 2016.

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Theater is Much Better for You Than Social Media

 

That headline may actually be an understatement, as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Lauren Gunderson points out: We get bits and pieces of information from social media and even from TV and radio news and newspapers, but a story can be and most often is of much bigger scope and relevance than isolated information.

Context is hard to find in the age of information overload, and that’s where we are today.  Theater classics such as those written by Shakespeare are still important because we can see the arc of history and how little mankind really changes; just ask the guys who did “Hamlet” in New York. It may not have worked as intended, but their motives were to create good theater.

Unlike the ways that our theatrical traditions have been twisted by movies and television, pure theater remains relatively simple in design and motivation: you’ve got to tell a good story and present it with truth and some wisdom and depth for people to pay to see it.

Perspective is especially hard to find in politics, and giving perspective is among the jobs the American news media is worst at. We have a bit of info from social media and that same information may be wrapped in more detail and accompanied by a little background in news stories, but What Does It Mean In the Big Picture of Human Events?  I find that, increasingly, editorial writers — the people who actually have the best chance at bringing broad context — are giving little of that, concentrating as they do on the immediacy of events and how those events fit into the already constructed, but shallow, narrative of our year 2017.

That’s not perspective. Casting the president of the United States as a Shakespearean character can give perspective if you’ve done the approach correctly and you can still make political statements using Shakespeare as was done in June at New York’s Shakespeare In the Park, but the American perspective is most important at this crucial time in our history, and we’re not getting it.

How has the United States treated situations such as the threats from North Korea in the past? If Russia interfered with the 2016 US election, how have all nations intervened covertly with others throughout history? How has an apparent hard-line taskmaster such as President Trump fared in the administrations of our past? He’s not the first, you know, nor probably the last. We’re not getting it from the editorial and op-ed writers, who are busy writing to the established narrative, indicated by the political agenda of the writers.

Just because you have a point of view or an agenda doesn’t mean you’re imparting information.

But then pandering to one political side or another is an old tradition in America and it’s flowering again with the divisive actions of politicians — a divisiveness that’s been going on for a long time; it didn’t arrive with Mr. Trump.

Late night TV comedy is finding its niche in anti-Trump humor. That’s to be expected because he’s a huge target, his motivations are not widely understood and he has a personal and political style that is so rigid it begs satire and parody.

Plus the number of people watching late night, just like cable TV, is relatively small when compared to the population. Gone are the days when Johnny Carson could lure 10 or 15 million viewers; late night talk is happy when the audience for any one show reaches 4 million.

Comedy can bring some perspective, but who’s going to laugh at jokes about Woodrow Wilson, James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant or Thomas Jefferson, yet their presidencies can be seen as relevant to American 2017 because of their handling of the office. Such an approach could bring perspective, but Americans are well known for considering history to be boring.

So we’re left with Trump jokes on late night, somewhat misinformed political conversation on daytime TV, out-of-context news from networks and in-depth but increasingly unread stories in newspapers. The concern by some in Washington and New York that Americans are increasingly out of touch with foreign events and truth about politics is well placed.

And we’re left with clickbait headlines and a rush to judgment day after day without waiting for all the facts to come in.  There is a suspicion that all politicians on every level are corrupt, yet if you go to the trouble you can meet a large number of them who really are working hard and believe they can make the world a better place, if you’ll excuse the cliche — and they’re not propositioning their subordinates or acquaintances.

It’s a natural part of the news cycle to start believing that the world is a good place for cynics because news by definition comes from the unusual; normal events are not news.  But the constant barrage of unusual sexual, ethical and moral actions by figures of authority lead to belief in a widespread corruption that may not be true given the perspective of human nature and hundreds if not thousands of years of history.

For instance, are the vast majority of politicians now “embattled?” Or is the consistent use of the term this year in news stories really just a way for lazy journalists to add a political spin and hype up the importance of a news story? Well, both. (“Emboldened” is another term being increasingly used by journalists, though you can never really prove that someone is emboldened, can you? So the term reflects hyperbole, just as does use of “firestorm.” This news story is important because, well, just look at the firestorm these emboldened people are causing! “The journalist as carnival barker.”)

Would anyone watch a TV or Youtube report called Presidents Who Have Acted In Office a Lot Like Trump? Or High-Powered to High Office: Do Trump’s Actions Really Just Reflect an Experienced CEO Who’s Inexperienced In Politics?

Perspective is boring.  Put it in a personal story about a hero you can identify with and root for as he or she struggles against opposition, win or lose, add some timeless truth and a some broad background and you have great perspective, and great theater.

Maybe Donald Trump as a person, someone a number of Americans would aspire to be like (that is, rich and powerful), is not someone we find easy to identify with. His story in office has the makings of intrigue, comedy, melodrama, tragedy and perhaps even Shakespearean spectacle.

But he makes great theater. And will. Too bad, reduced as it is to shallow laughs and info without context, we don’t have the perspective to see it correctly.

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A Bob Dylan Note

In his wistful ballad “Sugar Baby,” Nobel Prize laureate Bob Dylan tries to make sense of failed love — of how fast happiness can vanish and sadness take its place, and how by trying “to make things better for someone, sometimes, you just end up making it a thousand times worse.”

He shifts from you to I and then to we, seeking some perspective, giving and taking advice at the same time. He sings a truth life teaches all of us if we live long enough: “You can’t turn back you can’t come back, sometimes we push too far / One day you’ll open up your eyes and you’ll see where we are.” — noted by University of Texas professor Tom Palaima in the Austin American Statesman

House of Dracula

For Halloween I caught up with the last of the serious “great” original Universal horror films from the era of the 1930s and ’40s, House of Dracula, a treat if you like the Frankenstein and Dracula classics of that day. But it was also the weakest of the entire series that I remember.

John Carradine displays only a portion of the charm brought to the Dracula role by Bela Lugosi in 1931 (it must have been tormenting to have your first starring role in a movie become the best role you ever played — for Lugosi’s career it was more or less downhill from there).

This is a Wolf Man movie, not much Dracula and very little Frankie.

As Dallas movie fan Tom Reamy once put it, Frankenstein has little to do with the movie; seems to have been added by screenwriter Edmond Lowe, or someone, as an afterthought and somehow remained “oddly inactive.”

That left Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, to carry the film and he did. Onslow Stevens turns in a good performance as the harried doctor to whom Talbot and Dracula plead for help, only to turn mad when transfused with the blood of Dracula!

Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster only appears as the movie moves toward its climax and has little to do before left once again in a burning building, as he was in an earlier movie. Strange had more fun in the later Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Martha O’Driscoll plays the doctor’s nurse who falls for Talbot, and in the happy ending they walk off together; though only in her 20s by then, O’Driscoll was a veteran of movies and quit acting just three or four years later to live the good life on her savings and with well-to-do husbands.

Jane “Poni” Adams (from San Antonio, Texas) is adorable as the soft spoken doctor’s assistant who has a hunchback and a crush on the doctor; she later played Vicki Vale in the movie serial, Batman and Robin; in real life, she was a WW II widow who later settled down as the wife of an Army major general.

Quite a mishmash that ends quickly. No match for the previous movie in the series, House of Frankenstein, which was bolstered by the presence of character actor J. Carrol Naish.

1945, 67 minutes, directed by Erle Kenton (see “House of Pain,” below) in a nicely commercial fashion, though with Blu-Ray it’s easy to see the out-of-focus shots and the strings on the hovering bats.

For a good overview of the whole Universal monster series and how it pre-dates comic book movies as the first to create its own universe, see David Crow’s essay at Den of Geek!

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House of Pain

At one of the original comic book / sci fi conventions a long time ago, boys and girls, those gathered along with me and some friends were treated to the classic horror film Island of Lost Souls (1932), an island on which beast-creatures roamed under the whip of the island’s owner played by the great Charles Laughton, creatures who feared being whipped by the madman in his “house of pain.”

By today’s standards, the acting is pretty cringeworthy but the sets were often atmospheric and creepy and H. G. Wells’ classic story (“The Island of Dr. Moreau,” remade as movies twice) was horrific; the vivisection of animals in the movie caused it to be banned in some places or the cruel-to-animals scenes removed — and all the controversy surrounding it made it a movie classic. (Wells, incidentally, thought the movie was too much horror and not enough philosophical observations about the human condition, with which his novel was filled.)

The “house of pain” line was delivered in a melodramatic way such that my friends Rudy Rankins and Eddie Eddings made fun of it for years after seeing the movie at the comicon. When it was time to visit people he didn’t particularly like, he would turn to me or Eddie and say, “Oh no — House of Paaaaain!”

I was able to revisit the movie again recently and yes, it still is a corny classic, taking itself very seriously while delivering shock-horrors, one after another, with Kathleen Burke as the pretty, scantily-clad Leopard Woman included for obvious pre-Code sex appeal and Bela Lugosi pitifully screaming his lines; but the movie moves fairly quickly and the climax unleashes the obvious reaction to mistreatment by a ruler who whips those who don’t obey: Rebellion. “Law is no more!”

Still a campy classic, still fun especially because of its obvious exploitation of the subject matter. 71 minutes, 1932, directed by Erle C. Kenton; screenplay by pulp and sci-fi fiction writer Philip Wylie and Waldemar Young.

Happy Halloween.

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Vintage Stage Plays

 

For those who’ve always wanted to be actors, please note that it’s a lot harder to act onstage night after night than it is to make movies. It’s not just remembering the lines, its recreating the same freshness and emotion night after night and sometimes twice a day, each for different audiences that can be highly variable. You can do the exact same thing in two performances and one audience might seem to love what you’re doing, the next might seem to hate it.

That’s one reason it’s so hard to film a stage play and especially hard to do so with a live audience.  Hard to do because placement of the cameras is almost always a factor in whether that audience enjoys the show or not. Intrusive cameras are okay filming a TV comedy in Hollywood but take that arrangement to Broadway and you’ve got trouble.  So that’s one reason there is very little filmed record of the great Broadway productions that made history — or even the ones that didn’t.

That makes it a little more special that a small play like Lullaby is available on DVD: a good representation of the state of hit comedies as Broadway transitioned from the 1950s to the ’60s, with acting giants Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson (married in real life) captured without an audience but with all the stage amenities intact and a little “opening up,” meaning the action leaves the stage at least once.

A truck driver (the character’s name is Johnny Horton) gets married and then is torn between loyalty to his overbearing mother (Ruth White) and his new wife. White gets to chew up the scenery and would steal the show were she not up against two of the strongest character actors of the period, who hold their own. It all looks dated, but the acting is great. 1960. 110 minutes. Black and white. Kultur Video.

There are a number of gems among the DVDs available of taped and filmed stage productions from that era, with many still-recognizable stars like Sigourney Weaver, Bernadette Peters, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep and John Lithgow in works by great writers like George S. Kaufman, Thornton Wilder and Eugene O’Neill. You can find them on Amazon here.  I would recommend The Typists, also with Wallach and Jackson to see some good acting with some good comedy lines (good ol’ Murray Schisgal wrote it) and the 1980 production of Tintypes is a wonderful musical representation of the songs of the early 20th Century by my old friend Mary Kyte.

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The State of America’s Religions

Just FYI: The percentage of age groups as they are represented among the major religious organizations in the United States:

Source: @pewresearch, @josephncohen; Read full article

 

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The Old Dark House Revisited

 

I used to look at the month of October as a great time to screen horror and science fiction movies if only because of the presence of Halloween at the end of the month., but that was back in the days before I had two or more jobs at one time. Now there’s little time for such things, but I try every now and then to recapture the magic of classic screen horror back before it became an exercise in blood-and-gore: Bride of Frankenstein, The Black Cat, The Wolf Man and even House of Frankenstein come to mind.

The Old Dark House fits the bill very well: The creepy presence of Boris Karloff, the King of Horror as some called him, is essential to an otherwise amusing exercise in the unexpected. At least that’s how it’s been for most of the years since the movie’s 1932 release.

But it still is fun to see again, if only for the campy acting, the moody ambiance and some of director James Whale’s cinema tricks — and for those who have already seen it, a second viewing is recommended, as mentioned in this recent New York Times review to accompany the film’s 2017 Halloween rerelease.

 

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So Long To a Man Who Gave Beauty to Monsters

As a young artist I used to be fascinated by Basil Gogos and his paintings of movie monsters, and of that he was a master.

His work graced the cover of that most venerable of all monster movie magazines, Famous Monsters of Filmland, which so many of us (including Steven Spielberg) enjoyed as kids in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

It was the detail he obtained with his brushes that always caught my eye, so many minute, loving brush strokes, the likes of which I  — as a beginning painter — hadn’t known were possible.

And yet he was lovingly rendering the coarse faces of monsters, a wonderful contradiction not lost on us movie fans; each showed not only his love of painting but his love of the movies and even the creatures themselves.

Gogos died in a New York City hospital (click for the New York Times obit that features some of Gogos’ best) September 13th at the age of 88.

His use of color was a transformation of character and light, and what colors he used!

Faces were standing in green and purple shadows, red light bathed his subjects in distress and fear; few had ever seen a color rendering of Boris Karloff as the Universal studios’ Frankenstein monster until Gogos painted his now classic, touchingly sympathetic canvas.  But Gogos went on to paint many other covers for the magazine, many of which are now quite valuable.

As a magazine, Famous Monsters was memorable for so many still photos packed into each issue; for the fan letters from people like Spielberg and a number of others who went on to monster fame; for the back-page ads where we dreamed of owning our own 8mm film versions of our favorite movies, even if they were cut down to three-or-four-minute versions; and of course editor Forrest (“The Ackermonster!”) Ackerman’s silly puns and occasional insight into those most horrific of flicks.

But the image we took away with us into adulthood was so very often the intricate, groundbreaking work of Basil Gogos.

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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 Newspaper

 

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. And they published their final issue with a cover salute from a young Bob Dylan (above), who to some people has been the foremost face of Greenwich Village for at least two generations.

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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