Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016


Judging solely by its plot, Something to Sing About isn't much to sing about. New York bandleader Terry Rooney is promised movie stardom by Galor Pictures. Temporarily leaving his fiance/band singer Rita Wyatt back East, Rooney falls victim to studio machinations and a manipulative press. 

Even when Rita marries him in Hollywood, contractual obligations force her to pretend that she's Rooney's personal secretary. Some men would prefer their wives to at least pretend they can cook.

Further bollixing their marriage is studio diva Stephanie Hajos, who tells a gossip columnist that she and Rooney are engaged. A heartbroken Rita goes back to New York. When Rooney realizes that he's become a patsy in his road to fame, he joins Rita back at the New York bandstand. 

Your average game of Chutes & Ladders probably provides more suspense. That's why it's necessary to go behind the scenes to the making of the picture, and discover just how fascinating the unjustly neglected Something to Sing About really is. 

Cagney jumps for joy when he tells Jack Warner
to shove it.
In 1936, James Cagney, feeling underpaid and misused by home studio Warner Brothers, became a free agent He was quickly signed to Grand National Pictures in a bid by the studio to rise above its poverty row status. Something to Sing About was Cagney's second and final Grand National production before returning to Warners, proving you can go home again if you're offered $150,000 per picture plus script approval and profit sharing.

While offering Cagney plenty of dance numbers, Something to Sing About lacks the familiar, welcoming faces you'd look forward to from a Warners musical -- Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Una Merkel, Hugh Herbert, Ruby Keeler, and about a dozen or two more. 

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think these three
actors would appear in the same scene.

The only recognizable supporting actors Something to Sing About offers are William "Fred Mertz" Frawley as the Galor Pictures press agent, and Dwight Frye (the evil sidekicks in Dracula and Frankenstein) as a snippy make-up artist who, at the time, would have been described as a "swish." (LGBTQS, perhaps?)

Also missing are memorable songs, which is unfortunate if you're making, you know, a musical, along with the overall glitz and polish you'd find in a Warners picture. It's rather strange, in fact, to see an A+ actor like James Cagney in what looks like a PRC movie -- which makes sense since PRC took over the Grand National studio three years later. 

"Oh, my secretary always makes out with me after work."
What Something to Sing About does offer, however, is a brutal takedown of the studio system Cagney wanted to escape. In order to keep his character, Terry Rooney, in line, Galor Pictures does everything it can to make him think he's a no-talent nobody whose movie career will be over before it even begins. Studio peons mock him behind his back. His marriage is kept under wraps so female fans aren't jealous.

Even contract players are eager to see him fail, with one stunt man refusing to pull his punches during a fight scene. Cagney must have found that bit particularly cathartic, since it allowed his character to not only fight back, but literally destroy the set, and throw bricks at the director and tech crew. You've wanted to do that work at least once, right?

The Asian guy speaks better English
than Cagney.
Yet the most interesting scene involves Rooney's Asian servant Ito, played by Philip Ahn. Ito is initially presented as the usual humble, pidgin-English gofer. Only when feeling comfortable around Rooney does he admit, with perfect, non-accented diction, that he wanted to be an actor, but no studio would hire him because of his race. This, too, must have been cathartic for the Korean-American Ahn, who was forced into stereotypical Asian roles for most of his career.
Sweetest of all, however, Rooney continually addresses the studio head, Bennett O. Regan, by his initials, B.O. No wonder Cagney considered Something to Sing About one of his two favorite movies. He got to stick it to Jack Warner and his former studio in front of the world and get away with it. You'd have to wait for The Sweet Smell of Success and The Bad and the Beautiful for such a savage show business expose.

You won't leave Something to Sing About humming the songs. In fact, it's better to skip through the musical numbers where Cagney doesn't appear. Just concentrate on his wonderfully athletic choreography and the take-no-prisoners story he's happily wallowing in. That sound you'll hear from time to time is Jack Warner rolling over in his grave.


The strangest moment in Something to Sing About: the interracial cat boxing scene. I don't think they could get away with this now. (If the video doesn't work, go to It's unforgettable, whether you like it or not.)


Friday, October 14, 2016


After four fruitless years of looking for jobs like typist, mailroom staff and working cash registers, I decided to cut my losses and go for the one occupation left to pursue: television actor.

Guess what. It worked.

Oh, you won’t see my name in the credits, nor will you hear me utter any dialogue. You probably won't even know it’s me, even in high-def.

I would have killed to be an extra here.
But if you’re a fan of, say, Law & Order: SVU, Homeland or Billions, look for the photographer snapping pictures outside a courthouse. Or the guy in the fedora carrying a Styrofoam tray with three cups of coffee. Or a millionaire carrying a glass of scotch at an old-school private club.

Welcome to the world of background talent, better known as extras. You’ve heard the phrase “Straight out of Central Casting”? That’s me, literally.

Despite the charges of ageism aimed at show business, it doesn't seem to exist in regard to extras. Every day, my inbox is filled with New York casting directors looking for people ages up to 55, 60, 75, 99, and, astonishingly, 199. Either the latter is a typo, or background work is the most age-friendly occupation in the world.

And while many in the field are looking to become professional actors, I'm perfectly happy being part of the crowd. Not only do I not desire to be an actor, the idea of memorizing dialogue terrifies me. I mean, I need a shopping list to pick up a quart of milk.

"Now, children, just do as your're told, or I'll
wring your beautiful little necks."
Background work is probably the only occupation where not being noticed means you did a good job. You're there to support the stars, not outshine them. Next time you watch a primetime network drama, notice how extras tend to wear clothes in shades of brown, tan or dark green. It's like an autumn L.L Bean catalog. If you're watching a show shot on location where someone other than the stars are dressed in bright colors, they're probably tourists.

Speaking of tourists, they actually provided me with some insight during the Law & Order shoot, where I played a newspaper photographer. I started the scene with an actress, also playing a shutterbug, on the steps of a downtown courthouse before running down to the sidewalk to take pictures of the detectives and the defendant exiting a car. 

As we waited between takes, tourists were hanging around taking pictures of us, the no-names. "This isn't very interesting," the actress remarked. "Why are they doing that?" 

"So they can show their friends back home they were up close to a couple of real live TV actors in New York," I replied. It sounds pompous, but she knew, to people in small-town America, we were real live TV actors. We returned the favor by taking pictures of them. 

What an extra isn't supposed to do -- plug their ears
before a gunshot that nobody is supposed to anticipate.
Extras are usually required to bring their own clothes -- the production staff tells you what they want -- although last week I was lucky enough to book the pilot episode of an upcoming Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which takes place in the 1950s. Everyone was fitted in authentic vintage clothing provided by the show. Even cooler was walking to the set on the Lower East Side, where cars like Studebakers and Nashes were parked. Those episodes of The Twilight Zone where the lead character regrets going back in time? Not me, baby. I wanted to stay there.

As with the stars, being an extra means a lot of hanging around. Anyone with a low patience threshold need not apply. Reading material, crossword puzzles, iPads, and conversational skills are necessary to pass the time. On the other hand, most of the productions provide a great lunch -- at least four different entrees, several different salads, vegetables and other side dishes, and lots of dessert. If it's a morning shoot, they provide breakfast, too. I don't leave hungry at the end of the day, that's for sure.

Oh, I get paid, too. Not enough to live on, but enough to give me back some of my pride. But I recently met an extra who works enough -- 4-5 times a week -- so that it is her job. So I suppose it can be done, even if it means getting home at 2:00 AM from a night shoot, and getting up at 4:30 AM to take a van to Atlantic City for another shoot (which she had just done -- without being able to sleep in between).

But what of the finished product? Well, I made my TV debut this week on Law & Order. As I mentioned earlier, I was to stand on the courthouse steps, then run down to the sidewalk to photographically hunt my prey. There were countless takes, so I figured I'd be prominent for a moment.

My wife and I jumped to attention as the scene began. Less than 30 seconds later, she asked, "Where were you?" We had to rewind, slow down, and freeze frame to make sure they didn't do a retake after I wrapped.

Well, there I was in the middle of the shot alright, only way in the background, directly over the shoulder of the woman in blue. You can see my photographer colleague over the shoulder of the guy in the blue striped tie. If you didn't know it was me -- oh hell, for all you know, it really is someone else.

But what about the sidewalk shot? Another freeze frame was necessary a few seconds later.

The guy on the right with the blue press pass draped around his neck, holding the camera in front of his face? You have to take my word for it, that's me -- dressed, naturally, in brown and khaki.

Almost two hours of shooting for a scene lasting mere seconds, and nobody saw me. Another job well done! Now when's lunch?


Tuesday, October 11, 2016


A convention of my readers.
I have no illusions about the general size of my audience. Occasionally, one of the usual readers will forward to friends a piece they find particularly illuminating or appalling. 

There are times, too, when a new reader accidentally stumbles upon the blog (Hi, John!). They then return on a regular basis, as my opinion acts as an official gateway to the world of B-movies, political fatuity, and the end of the world, which can't come soon enough.

So you can imagine my surprise about a month ago when, overnight, my readership shot up to around 300 a day. For many blogs, that would be a pathetic showing indeed. For my scribblings, however, it was not only Brobdingnagian, it was highly dubious. 

My "overview stats" page features a global map which highlighted where those hits were coming from. By a wide margin, they were located in Russia. By happenstance or not, this coincided with growing news coverage regarding Russia's alleged hacking into American sites and servers. 

But unlike Hillary Clinton's emails, I had nothing of importance to offer the Kremlin outside of nasty wisecracks about American politics and recommendations for Richard Dix movies. Many of the Russian hits came via, described in Wikipedia as "a Russian multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services and products. Yandex operates the largest search engine in Russia with about 60% market share in that country." 

"Don't tell him nobody in Moscow is
looking at his blog!"
OK, a Russian Google sounds harmless, but so did "collective farming." Yandex was quickly followed by other hinky sites with domains from Russia and its confederates. Nobody there was actually reading the blog; it's just cyberbots trying to get me to click on to their sites, either to gain readership or, more likely, infect my blog and possibly computer with malware. My laptop being as old as it is, I probably wouldn't notice the difference anyway.

Still, I didn't like how these Russkie gunsels were skewing my "10 Most Read Pieces This Week" groupings on the side of the page. Every day, every week, it was the same 10 over and over again. Even after removing them from the page, they still were the "most read"-- and strangely, even after the Russian bots gave way to those in America and elsewhere. Did my fellow Americans buy the information from the Motherland?

I don't know enough about the cyberworld to hazard a guess. All I can tell you is that every day, I get what's known as "referrals" from bizarre-sounding sites. I could tell without clicking on many them that they were porn. Others, I believe, disguise their true identity under allegedly harmless names.  

"", for instance, sounds like a sexual position I've not tried, even if a Google search describes it as a tribute site for, uh, Filipino veterans buried in Arlington cemetery. Then there's "", which could very well be a sex site for Dashboard Confessional fans. And I have no interest in clicking on "" any time soon. (Any word where a letter other than "u" follows "q" is not to be trusted.)

On the other hand, it would be so cool skimming along
the East River in this baby.
Another unpronounceable referral, "", is the self-proclaimed leading distributor of boats and yachts in Russia and Ukraine. Living in New York, I have no absolutely no need for its catalog. Peddle your yawl somewhere else, comrade.

As of this moment, my stats tell me I've had 174 readers visit this blog so far this morning, a whopper rivaled only by John Podesta claiming that his emails released by Wikileaks were forged. 

One of today's referrals is from "", Great Britain's largest local pension organization. Sorry, mate. Unless you can do better than my current IRA, you're just wasting your time. But start investing some of the pensioners' money in manufacturers of mascara and purple hair dye, and you'll have an entire generation of emo girls joining up.


Monday, October 10, 2016


Steven Spielberg and Chinese billionaire Jack Ma are teaming up in order to market and distribute American movies in the world's most populous country.

Spielberg told reporters, "We are proud to open Hollywood's movie industry to a whole new world of slave labor."

On 60 Minutes last night, host Charlie Rose interviewed a robot.

Afterwards, Mrs. Clinton said she thought it went well.

Donald Trump continues to feel the fallout from the release of a 2005 audio tape featuring him making vulgar remarks about women.

Asked for a comment, daughter Ivanka said, "I always thought it was romantic when he said those things to me."

"We were horrified upon hearing the news," said a spokesman for the diocese. "We've told all our priests, 'Remember, little boys don't sue.'"

A new biography of Paul Simon claims that the famed songwriter has been accused by fellow musicians of plagiarizing their work.

The author adds, however, that Simon has also showed his charitable side by hiring a blind man to cut his hair.


Friday, October 7, 2016


Several "creepy" clown sightings have been reported throughout the U.S. in recent weeks, ranging from schools in Detroit to the New Jersey woods to a near-stabbing on a New York subway.

Now, several residents in St. Louis, Missouri have reported catching glimpses of two clowns in their area. Computer programmer Lucille LeSeur, 27, told local media that, unlike other sightings, one clown was a man while the other was a woman. 

"I know it sounds crazy," LeSeur said, "but I heard that they were preparing for a debate on Sunday night at Washington University. One of them had really weird yellow hair and an orange face and a big floppy red necktie. He kept bellowing about 'building a huge wall', only he pronounced it 'huuuuuge' like it was a catchphrase or something. And he kept saying something about being a billionaire, which was really funny actually, because it looked like he got his suit off the rack at a Robert Hall fire sale."

LeSeur shrugged her shoulders when a reporter asked if the clown had any point to make. "I really couldn't understand much of anything he had to say; it sounded like he didn't know what he was talking about, but kept babbling and babbling about wanting to be president, which was funny but frightening, you know?"

Asked about her impressions of the woman clown, LeSeur shrugged her shoulders, "It's kind of hard to say. I mean, I couldn't get a real bead on her. She didn't look as scary as the man -- she was wearing a bright red pants suit. I kind of got used to her looking like an giant inflatable sausage. But she was still strange." 

When reporters wanted an elaboration, LeSeur thought a moment before replying. "Her eyes. She'd move one, then the other would take half a second to join the other. And like the other clown, she always looked mad and was yelling. But it sounded rehearsed, you know? Like she was reading off a script for the first time. In fact, I'm pretty sure I heard her say one thing in the morning then another a couple of hours later, then something else after that. That was something else she had in common with the other clown -- she was talking about being president. Weird."

LeSeur added, "At least the male clown kind of bounced around like he was healthier than he looked. But people had to hold on to the woman clown, as if to keep her from falling down. In fact, somebody said they saw her fall on her face as she was getting into her clown car. Maybe that's part of her act. Whatever it was, I wished those two clowns would leave. They're scaring everybody in town."


Friday, September 30, 2016


In response, Donald Trump tweeted, "Over 100 people hurt and one killed because conductor obviously too fat to step on the brakes. Sad!"

Informed of the report, Hillary Clinton tweeted, "These are the same life lessons I've tried to impart on Chelsea."

Asked for a comment on the legacy of Peres, Gary Johnson replied, "Who?"

Lohan said her advice to the children was to "lift themselves out of poverty by cashing in on an international tragedy, then celebrating by knocking back a case of Champagne in no time flat."

Huma Abedin emailed Al-Jumaily asking if the cooking time for just one head was shorter.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016


I think it can be safely said that the real winner of the Clinton-Trump set-to at Hofstra University was Howard Stern. There was a time that he was considered a pariah outside of his radio audience. Now his name was spoken in a presidential debate. All Lester Holt had to do was shout "Baba Booey!" and the evening would have been complete.

Trump wonders how much stupider he can look.
Among the pundits, however, Clinton was the champ of round one, while Trump was strictly from Palookaville. Oh, he did OK for the first half hour, some conceded, with a few even mentioning the word "presidential." Yes, the President of the Toledo chapter of the Kiwanis Club after a few rounds of Labatt's. 

"Take me to your leader...
so I can smash him into
atoms and take over your
And Clinton? You know, she's probably pretty smart. I know this because I've had that meme shoved down my throat for longer than I've been married. From the moment her husband finished his first swearing-in, America has been told that Hillary Clinton is going to be president some day, goddammit, so you might as well get freaking used to it, because if you're not, you're a right-wing sexist fascist (and whatever other "-ist" fits the bill). 

I know how you feel, Gary.
Unfortunately, I can't properly operate a voting machine when my arm is twisted, so I'm afraid Gary "I Only Sound Stoned" Johnson is my go-to choice. Those above-mentioned pundits warn outliers like me that I'm throwing my vote away, that third-party candidates never have a chance of winning. 

These are the same people who said Donald Trump had no chance of getting the Republican nomination. Did it ever occur to them that third-parties never have a chance because newsfolks are always telling voters the same thing? That's known as "discouraging the turnout," a phrase I just made up but sounds official. 

But if you're still among the undecideds sticking with the two major candidates, here's a handy comparison chart to help you choose.

                                      CLINTON                        TRUMP
                                Sinus Headache               Migraine
                                Chlamydia                      Syphilis
                                Diarrhea                         Projectile Vomiting
                                Liver Disease                   Lung cancer
                                Undercooked Chicken       Bad Shellfish

If the idea of the two most loathed candidates in the history of presidential politics isn't enough to make you recoil in horror, there was a so-called "trigger warning" placed at an MTV-sponsored political event at Hofstra the day of the debate:

This is the state of America in 2016. To me, "trigger warning" is to prevent me from blowing my brains out.                       

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Look carefully at this faded, damaged photo and you can
see one of the cats on the left holding me hostage.
I love my wife, but never felt the same toward her two cats. I use the past tense not because of a change of heart, but a change of life -- theirs. They clawed their way to the Eternal Litterbox within a few months of each other at least a decade ago. 

My negative feelings toward them wasn't personal. I just don't like cats. They're ungrateful, needy, and snobbish. And I don't want to hear anything about "projection", OK?

In fact, the federal government just backed me up. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study on the rise of Cat Scratch Disease in the U.S. The takeaway:

My spellcheck went bananas when I pasted that paragraph. I can't even pronounce half those words. And even if you don't understand it, it just looks frightening. The staff of USA Today thoughtfully provides a handy translation:

To put this in perspective, an average of only 19 shark attacks happen every year in the U.S. That means you have only a 1 in 3,700,000 chance in becoming selachimorpha prandium (that's "shark lunch" for you non-scientists) in your lifetime. 

In comparison, it seems like there's an excellent chance of coming down with some kind of brain disease from the stray kitten you see today. If the odds for getting attacked by a shark were the same, every damn beach would be shut down in perpetuity.

Not that cats are entirely without use. Claire Hobbes of New Zealand kept a cat in her freezer for three months after finding it dead on a road. That in itself might seem strange, until you learn that Ms. Honnes is a taxidermist by trade. When a search for its owner proved fruitless, she went the fashionista route and turned it into a handbag. Or is it a pawbag?

The only accessory that wants to make you feel guilty.
Plenty of sensitive people find this thing repellent, even if Ms. Hobbes assures us, "I don't kill animals for my work, it's not as though I go around snuffing out animals thinking this'll make a nice handbag." She might change her mind if she gets enough money for it; the opening bid at the auction site Trade Me is $1400 NZD. 

Isn't your little lady worth the investment? Not only is it (for now) a unique item, you'll still be able to enter any "No Pets Allowed" establishment -- the late Mr. Mittens won't pass along any brain disease, or even piss in the corner of the room. 

As for the rest of you who shudder at the kitty clutch, remember: if it's good enough for the alligator, it's good enough for the feline. If nothing else, we now have a new slang to replace "the cat's pajamas." 


Monday, September 19, 2016


Let's not jump to conclusions here, folks.
Contrary to popular belief, sometimes rushing to judgement is a good thing -- or at least not a bad thing. Let's take, for example... oh, I don't know, a bomb. A homemade pressure cooker bomb wired with a flip phone that blows up in a Dumpster.

And let's say, just for laughs, a second unexploded bomb of similar make is found a few blocks away. And then, taking this absurd scenario to another level, that this happens in a happenin' section of New York, which just happens to be ISIS' عدد هدف واحد (that's "number one target" to you non-Arabic readers) on a Saturday night.

I, for one, wouldn't hold it against you if you thought, Huh. I might be off base, but that sorta, kinda sounds like terrorism. Not necessarily of the ISIS variety -- I read one internet commenter who opined that it was the work of a Trump supporter trying to stir up Islamophobia -- but terrorism nonetheless.

James O'Neill and Bill de Blasio
Ah, but you're not New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio or Police Commissioner James O'Neill, who initially refused to call two pressure cooker bombs an act of terror. Nor did they speculate that the two incidents might, just might, be connected. 

Oh, and the bomb found in Elizabeth, New Jersey on the same weekend? Eh, who knows? A bomb's a bomb.

Let us be grateful that de Blasio and O'Neill weren't running things during other historic moments.

WASHINGTON, DC -- APRIL 14, 1865: Bill de Blasio and James O'Neill aren't calling the shooting of President Abraham Lincoln an assassination attempt, nor are they saying if the stabbing of Secretary of State William Steward is connected to it in any way.

DALLAS, TX -- NOVEMBER 22, 1963: Bill de Blasio and James O'Neill aren't calling the shooting of President John F. Kennedy an assassination attempt, nor are they saying if the shooting of Texas Governor John Connally, who was riding in the same car as Kennedy, is connected to it any way.

NEW YORK, NY -- SEPTEMBER 11, 2001: Bill de Blasio and James O'Neill aren't calling the destruction of the World Trade Center by two hijacked passenger planes an act of terror, nor are they saying if similar attacks at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania are connected to it in any way.

But hey, de Blasio has a cool family, though. Let's re-elect him next year! 

Oh, and someone show this to His Honor and the Commissioner. They still might be out of the loop:


Thursday, September 15, 2016


The survey was taken shortly after the presidential conventions.

As he stepped to the podium, Kristal said, "Today, I am a man... in need of a nap."

Upon hearing the news, husbands across America yelled, "I told you my wife was crazy!"

However, The Flinstones remains forbidden for "glorifying the curse of the proletariat who can only afford to live in caves."

As the internet service was shut off at one kiosk, an unidentified man was overheard muttering, "Well, at least Huma will be out of the house soon."