Today, my grandmother would have celebrated her 97th birthday. Ninety-seven, the number alone sounds impressive, considering how much has changed since she was born in 1916, it’s nearly impossible to grasp. By today’s standards, people lived in the Middle Ages at the height of WWI. Technology and everyday amenities were still in their infancy, at least in comparison to our technified lives. In the past 97 years, progress has been made on the expense of tradition and time. Depending on your preference, those changes have improved our lives or deteriorated them. No matter how you feel about this development, there’s one thing you may not even have noticed: we as humans have changed, too. And while I still grew up with grandfathers in hats and grandmothers with luscious curls, today’s children rarely get in contact with a generation who still dared to grow old with grace. Personally, I loved having grandparents who had clearly aged. Two people who loved spending their time with me without constantly rushing away. A grandma who cooked, a grandpa who took his afternoon nap in his favorite wingback chair. Two people from a different generation who, from time to time, demanded quietude and patience, but made me laugh like no one else. They taught me things my parents couldn’t, spoiled me without forgetting to remind me of their rules and instilled the desire in me to be a better person. As a child I remember seeing many other sets of grandparents like mine in the streets. Old ladies with handbags full of helpful necessities and grandpas who used their umbrellas as canes until it started to rain. Today, I miss seeing that image: old ladies dressed to a tee, their hair as perfect as their demeanor. I can honestly say, I never heard my grandma using foul language or swearing, no matter how bad a day she may have had. I know that’s an ideal memory but also the childhood I was granted to have. It may be a special bond only grandparents share with their grandchildren, dulcified by the touch of an outgoing generation who grew up in a time so different from the world we are now living in. All those gentlemen and ladies, with their attitude, lessons and style, I love them dearly, the few representatives who are still gracing us with their presence. I really wish we would listen to them more closely and wouldn’t allow their children to take claim to all the positive changes we’ve benefited from in the past decades. So, on my grandma’s birthday, here’s my toast to all my much-admired ladies, those who are still with us and those who live on in my memories. Although today it isn’t always easy to see through, you have taught me so much about being a lady – how to present myself to others and myself, and most importantly, how to be modest in bad times and grateful when the sun is shining again. It’s something I value more deeply the older I get, a lesson I hope to be able to pass on to the next generation with the same kind of love, respect and dedication I was given by my grandma, my all-time favorite lady.
We all know them: the Stoneses, the Andersons or the Stephenses. For some, they may be a guilty pleasure, for others a mere necessity to get a story told. For me, they are the cherry on top of any tale: fictional couples and their personal stories. On the fringes of drama, comedy and mayhem, romantic innuendo has always been my favorite treat. From Date with the Angels and Family Ties to Murder She Wrote or Babylon 5, I have a weakness for double entendre paired with a healthy sense of humor, smarts and mutual respect.
1) Perry Mason and Della Street, for example, have been my favorite couple for more years than I care to admit. On paper, radio and screen, the lawyer and his secretary know how to put a smile on my face. Committed to their work as much as to each other, the true nature of their relationship has always remained a mystery. For some fans, they are the best of friends while others suspect some hanky-panky behind closed doors. For me, they have long been married, the epitomized working couple who combines independence with traditional values. And that’s the beauty of those characters and their story. They ignite your imagination and tease you to the point of sizzling frustration with a simple look, remark or smitten smile. It is a tradition Erle Stanley Gardner himself started in The Velvet Claws in 1933 and lasted until 1994 when the last Perry Mason TV movie aired on NBC. Perfected by its signature cast, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale, Perry and Della have since lived on in the hearts of many fans, the flame of their romance burning more and more brightly towards the series’ end.
2) The second couple I have loved for as long as I can remember are Jennifer and Jonathan Hart. Sophisticated, rich and charming, the Harts had everything including a mutually executed interest in solving mysteries. Following in the footsteps of TV’s Mr. and Mrs. North, they dug up trouble where it’s usually hard to find but their love for each other made their cases stand out from others. Together, they were invincible and (much like Della and Perry) have stood the test of time. A mere decade after Hart to Hart was canceled on ABC, the couple returned to television in 1993, matured, refined, and every bit as committed to each other as they had always been. Today, the Harts are still a dream couple for their fans, a twosome who showed their audience the ingredients of true love and how it beautiful life can be even if you are denied to have your desired offspring.
As promised, here’s part II of my musical post. On this beautiful, sun-kissed weekend what else matters but some fresh air, a good smoothie and some swell tunes?! So here we go, lean back. This is Radio Talking Classics for you with a selection of classic songs from Hollywood, Broadway and beyond.
Today, I am sharing something I just stumbled upon the other day. Blacklisted, a radio piece by Tony Kahn, son of screenwriter Gordon Kahn who was persecuted for fifteen years from the late 1940s to the early 60s. Accused of being a communist, he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee and was thus blacklisted in Hollywood and driven into exile. Decades later, his son felt compelled to tell the story of his father’s fate and ultimately his own. A gripping tale about the beginnings of the Cold War and the effects of Second Red Scare on the lives of many artists, their friends and families.
Click here to listen to the complete radio play. If you’re interested in Hollywood’s Golden Age and it’s most unfathomable chapter, you won’t be disappointed, I’m sure. If you’re generally fond of American history, this will also please you beyond measure. Blacklisted is a personal piece that won’t answer all of your questions, but it offers a glimpse into an era we have learned to either glorify or demonize. It’s high time we listened more closely in order to get a better understanding of our own ambiguous times.
The sun is moody, my household’s a mess (as usual at the end of the week) and I have a long list of chores. And what do I do?! Procrastinate of course. I had a lovely breakfast, practiced my dancing steps and now I love to play some of my favorite songs to sweeten my day.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t stop singing along when a classic song comes up. Especially if it’s a tune I haven’t listened to in a while but have always loved. Once a song has popped up in my mind, another one usually follows and I end up with an entire playlist. So, fellow music lovers, let’s see what I’ve come up with so far. Maybe you’re in the mood to join my lilting.
For anyone who knows me and anyone who has been following this blog it may be quite apparent: I’m fond of television. I refrain from saying good TV because that certainly lies in the eye of the beholder. Let’s just agree that TV classics have a special place in my heart and probably yours. That they have a quality most modern shows are struggling to repeat. That their appeal grows in proportion to their age, out of nostalgia for our youth or the good old days, I do not know. That will have to be a topic of another post. What I want to talk about today is an integral part of any television series. Finales, those long awaited yet dreaded farewells to our favorite shows. Those final episodes we miss when TV series get canceled on short notice.
Personally, I love a great finale when the audience gets a chance to say goodbye to their favorite characters and the writers get to wrap up their storylines. Some of my favorite examples are M*A*S*H, The Golden Girls, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5. All shows that stayed true to their formula and honored their protagonists by creating a melancholy but optimistic end. The West Wing as one of my favorite modern shows on the other hand aimed high but fell strangely flat. Set in a political environment, for me, the last episode was too quixotic to meet my expectations. Although it wasn’t as disappointing as The Wonder Years nor as sobering as The X-Files, it still lacked the critical essence of a program I had thoroughly enjoyed for seven years. It may be a matter of taste, but I like to imagine my favorite shows to continue ad infinitum. “Now it seems to me the place to start is at the beginning” will always be my favorite line to end a show. And who else could have said it but Raymond Burr on Perry Mason, a show that has out-classed many by paying tribute to its crew in the final episode. That’s my preferred way of saying goodbye. To leave the fans with a sense of gratitude, hope and infinity. The characters we’ve come to love over the years continue to exist even if we don’t get to visit them anymore on a weekly basis.
A great exception are finales that offer a conclusion to a finite storyline or explain events that seem to have pushed the boundaries of the original tale. Roseanne is such an example. Although not one of my favorite shows, the explanations the last episode offered to make sense of the exaggerated plot of the final season still resonate with me today. Equally memorable was Six Feet Under, a show I increasingly disliked over the years but always held in high esteem for its stellar cast. The outlook we got on the fate of the main characters met with a sense of closure that pushed the program on an almost ethereal level. The only other comparison that comes to mind is Malcolm in the Middle, a show completely different in style but similar in its ability to complete a given storyline.
With all these good examples, I almost shy away from mentioning the frustrating ones we all know exist. Those let down finales and anticlimactic farewells with the potential to ruin the fun of an entire show in retrospect. Battlestar Galactica is my favorite example. A show that lost its promise in the last season when it was interrupted by the Writer’s Guild strike in 2007. Chopped into two halves, the long awaited revelation failed to address one of the program’s most haunting signature sentences and ultimately revealed that the Cylons (like the writers) never had a plan. Although given the time to bring a complex story to a fruitful end, the final season was dragged out but rushed at the same time. Unlike Battlestar Galactica, ALF and last year’s Alcatraz did not even get a chance to conclude their stories which is probably the most dissatisfying way for a show to say goodbye. With a cliffhanger and many burning questions, fans were denied the satisfaction of a proper conclusion and thus nurtured the reluctance of fans to invest their time in new programs.
The most appealing alternative for anyone who has been left hanging in mid-air more than once may be the great array of mini series TV has spoiled us with over the years. These programs are, after all, thought through from beginning to end and offer a guaranteed conclusion (although not necessarily a happy end). Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House or Angels in America were all equipped with unforgettable finales that live up to the series’ initial promise of quality and entertainment. Each one of them a great treat for TV enthusiasts and a milestone in television history.
In college, I wasn’t particularly fond of linguistics. Although I gladly admit, sociolinguistics was an exception. I really loved comparing cultural influences on language and vice versa. Politeness was my favorite topic and it still amazes me how perceptions differ even in the same language area. My second favorite topic has always been American slang. Today, I’m not particularly up-to-date and an excessive usage of words such as epic and awesome tickles my risble muscles. Like as a filler word on the other hand drives me up the walls. What I prefer is slang from bygone eras, from the 1930s through 50s to be exact. Words, abbreviations, euphemisms – they are my secret vice. Here’s a list of my favorite expressions and their meaning. You may be surprised how many words date back to the era of Jazz, screwball and noir.
- Blow your wig – become very excited
- Blinkers, peepers – eyes
- smooth, sweet, swell – very good
- Cats or alligators – fans of swing music
- Curve – disappointment
- Cute as a bug’s ear – very cute
- Dead hoofer or cement mixer – bad dancer
- Dick, shamus, gumshoe, flatfoot – detective
- Dig – think hard or understand
- Dollface – name for a woman when a man is pleading his case or apologizing
- Hard boiled – tough
- Honey cooler – a kiss
- Hop, rag, jolly up, romp, wingding – dance or party
- Pill – disagreeable person
- Scrub – poor student
- Shake a leg – hurry up
- Whacky – crazy
- What’s your story, morning glory? – What do you mean by that?
- You and me both – I agree
Every once in a while it’s important to treat yourself. Good food, some shoe shopping or listening to records in a local store. It’s recommendation time again on Talking Classics. So let’s see what we have:
1) Do you know Caro Emerald?! She’s a Dutch singer whose second album is about to be released in the US on May 14. Mark your calendars, fellow lovers of new vintage, The Shocking Miss Emerald is a real treat.
2) For Perry Mason fans it’s a joy to hear that season 9.1 will soon be available on DVD – on June 11 to be exact. That leaves us with only one half season to complete our collections. Fingers crossed for the TV movies to follow soon.
3) Scarecrow and Mrs. King’s fourth and final season was recently leased on DVD for anyone who has fond memories of a lovely show that sadly lost its heart when its female protagonist, Kate Jackson, fell severely ill.
4) Book-wise, I finally finished reading Eve Arden’s wonderful autobiography. In Three Phases of Eve, the actress takes us on a journey through her life on stage, in movies and beyond. Filled with funny anecdotes, the book is every bit as witty and charming as the woman herself used to be on radio and screen.
5) And last but not least, a new shopping discovery of mine is Unique Vintage. For all you ladies out there who can’t get enough of classy patterns and styles, this site may be a great addition to your favorite retailers. I know it is to mine. ♥
I don’t know about you, but there are a couple of things that make me deliriously happy. Dancing is one of them. Ballet did when I was little. Today, I prefer Solo Charleston and Authentic Jazz. Swing in general owns my heart, in all shapes and styles. I love the music, the moves and steps. The 1930s and 40s, what a lovely era (at least for movies, fashion and Jazz).
For all you non-hoofers, this is Balboa, for example.
It’s more elegant than Lindy Hop and a lot less “acrobatic”.
Today, one of my favorite Golden Hollywood Girls is celebrating her 91st birthday. Or her 92nd, depending on the source you believe in. I stick with the younger option because the birth date April 18, 1922 has such a nice ring to it. Besides, which woman doesn’t like to be younger rather than older?!
In general, 90-something is quite a milestone and (in my humble opinion) deserves a proper celebration – especially if the smile that comes with it is as bubbly and contagious as it always has been. So here’s your party hat, dear Barbara Hale, a big birthday hug and a smooch on your rosy cheeks. I hope you’re having a ball today, are blessed with good health (for many more years to come) and are surrounded by love and cheerful laughter.
Thanks so much for all the joy you have brought to my life as Della Street, on the silver screen and in interviews. Apart from my big love for Perry Mason, I’ve also always relished your on-screen collaborations with your charmingly handsome husband, Bill Williams. So for those of you who haven’t had the chance to see any of those “family projects”, here’s one of my favorite examples, The Clay Pigeon. A classic gem for a joyous day. Enjoy!