Thursday, December 11, 2014

A True Miss America

Today's Miss Americas serve their term and then they're never heard from again. Or so it seems.

There's no prerequisite, of course, that the winner of arguably the most famous beauty contest of all time needs to stay in the limelight when she hands the crown over to her successor.

But there was a time when Miss America was often the springboard to bigger and better (or, at least, more profitable) things.

Mary Ann Mobley was one of those Miss Americas who stuck around in our consciousness long after she sashayed down the runway.

Mobley, 77, passed away the other day after a battle with breast cancer.

She was the first Mississippian to win the legendary contest, and she parlayed that distinction into a pretty decent stage and film career as an actress.

Like so many other women of her era, Mobley was able to star opposite Elvis Presley on screen, and like her brethren, she out-acted him.

Mobley had a smile that went from ear-to-ear and her dark beauty was a stark contrast to the blond, lighter handsomeness of Gary Collins, an actor and game show host (and fellow Mississippian) who she married in 1967.

Mobley captured the Miss America crown in 1959 and six years later she was a winner again---this time with a New Star of the Year Golden Globe.

But despite all her credits on stage and screen (big and small), it was in charitable causes where Mary Ann Mobley was a true Miss America.



She served on several councils and contributed to many charities and her work was exemplified by the naming of a pediatric wing after her, at a hospital in her hometown of Brandon, Mississippi.

Mobley and Collins formed one of television's most well-known couples, particularly in the 1980s. For many years they were both in our living rooms in some way, shape or fashion, with Mobley doing turns on shows like "Falcon's Crest" and Collins chatting up folks on talk shows and helping them win money on game shows.

Mobley was the first woman to be inducted into the University of Mississippi Hall of Fame.

But Mobley's sweet-as-pie good looks and her Mississippian, southern belle demeanor shouldn't have fooled you, because she was also a very competent filmmaker.

You heard me.

For years, Mobley documented the "young victims of war and starvation in places like Cambodia, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan," according to a release from Warner Brothers.

That probably doesn't sound like the Mary Ann Mobley with whom you're familiar.

The Chairman of Miss America, Sam Haskell, sang Mobley's praises after word of her death reached him.

"She challenged me, she loved me, and she made me laugh! I shall miss her!"

Mobley once spoke of her ever active life, when she was knee-deep in acting, fundraisers and volunteer work.
"I'm home about two days a month, and on those I have to pack."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Alco-Haul

My bar-hopping days are long gone, so maybe I know not of what I type.

So call me naive, but do we need bars to be open until 4 a.m.?

A hurried-through bill by the Michigan State Legislature would allow some bars to stay open until 4 in the morning on weekends.

According to the bill's sponsors, it's a matter of competition.

Senator Virgil Smith (D-Detroit), the bill's sponsor, says the measure is needed so Detroit can compete with other big cities, like New York.

Come again?

We are going after the lush crowd? Tourists will decide their destination based on bars being open further into the wee hours?

Another legislator said that the bill merely gives businesses that serve alcohol the option to stay open later.

"Who are we to tell bars how late they can stay open?" was the quote.

OK.

That seems to be a shocking display of being short-sighted. I mean, we are talking about alcohol consumption here. There figures to be some degree of consequence to this bill, one would think.

As you would imagine, the law enforcement folks aren't crazy about this, for multiple reasons. One is that the 4 a.m. thing just happens to coincide with when police staffing is thin. Another is that those stumbling out of bars and taking to the roads will now start to overlap with the people who leave early for work.

Ah, but there is a financial component to the bill. Money talks, as you know. Usually.

The bill lets bars and restaurants that pay a $10,000 annual fee sell alcoholic drinks until 4 a.m. Eighty-five percent of the money would go to local police, 10 percent to the state Liquor Control Commission and 5 percent to the communities where the permit is issued.

But even though the police are the beneficiaries of the extra cash, they are down on the bill.

What does that tell you?

Why stop at 4 a.m., by the way?

Some bars open as early as 7 a.m., which is a whole other blog post. So those establishments could close at at four and re-open three hours later. Seems kind of silly.

The bill passed in the Senate, 22-14. It now moves to the House.

Supporters like Smith say that the extended hours would help put illegal "blind pigs," which are open past 2 a.m., out of business.

Not so sure about that. Seems to me that blind pig patrons will stay blind pig patrons, for the most part.

Nico Gatzaros, whose family owns Fishbones and the London Chop House, lauds the bill because it will help certain businesses, like taxis.

That reasoning should be filed under the "if you don't laugh, you'll cry" category.

In other words, with this bill, we hope the taxi business booms, driving home the soused.

Nothing from Gatzaros about how he proposes to get the drunks to call a taxi to begin with. Gobs of alcohol isn't exactly a precursor to common sense and wise decisions.

But hey, who is the state to tell bars how late they can serve booze?

It's not like it's a public safety issue or anything.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cos and Effect

In 1984, Bill Cosby helped save an entire television network.

Thirty years later, he's toxic to an entire industry.

It was in '84 when NBC, lagging far behind brethren CBS and ABC in ratings to the point of being a national joke, brought in Cosby and built a sitcom around him.

Cosby was 46 years old and though he'd been canceled in the past with other television vehicles, his star power on TV was still heavy. Viewers still had "Fat Albert" and Jell-O commercials fresh on their minds.

The sitcom idea was novel. NBC decided to cast Cosby and his TV family as well-to-do African-Americans living in a tony brownstone in upper Manhattan. This was no "Good Times" scenario.

The presentation on TV of blacks living a life that wasn't in poverty wasn't new (witness "The Jeffersons"), but Cosby was a doctor and his wife was a lawyer. With all due respect to dry cleaner moguls, this was different. Plus, Cliff and Clair Huxtable had kids---lots of kids. George and "Weesie" Jefferson's TV lives were pretty much presented sans children, even though they had a son, Lionel---but he wasn't emphasized.

So here came Bill Cosby to save NBC in the fall of 1984.

It worked.

"The Cosby Show" ran for eight seasons (1984-92) and was a phenomenal hit for NBC. The case could be made that Cosby did, indeed, save the network at a time when it was floundering.

I grew up with Bill Cosby, as did tens of millions of Americans. I am old enough to remember his "Bill Cosby Show" of 1969-71, when he was high school gym teacher Chet Kincaid.

I owned a couple of his comedy albums. I saw him perform live at Pine Knob in 1985. I must have watched his video special, "Bill Cosby: Himself" at least a dozen times. I liked that he was into sports, as well as having played football at Temple University.

I have history with Bill Cosby.

It would have seemed unfathomable to me as I grew up with Cosby's comedy, to think that one day he would be toxic.

But he is.

As accusations swirl that Cosby drugged women to have sex with them, dating back to the 1960s, no one on TV wants to have anything to do with him.

A potential new sitcom featuring Cosby, to be aired on NBC, has been scrapped.

TV Land has pulled reruns of "The Cosby Show" indefinitely.

Think about that last one for a moment. TV Land doesn't even want Cosby's likeness on its airwaves from a show produced 30 years ago.

This is O.J. Simpson-like toxicity.

Precious few in the entertainment business have come to Cosby's defense. He and his camp have been mostly silent as one woman after the other comes forward with a "Cosby drugged me and sexually assaulted me" story.

In America you are innocent until proven guilty.

That's in the courtroom. In the court of public opinion, it works the opposite.

Right now it seems that too many women with nothing to gain, really, from fabrication, are coming forward for at least some of this disgusting behavior to not be true.

There often isn't a "smoking gun" when it comes to sexual assault allegations, particularly when the alleged incidents happened many years and even decades ago. It's classic "he said/she said" stuff, except that in this case, it's pretty much all "she said."

Cosby's radio silence is ear piercing.

All we've gotten from the Cosby people is that they're not going to dignify these allegations with a reply.

That may be good enough if it was just one woman calling Cosby out. But there seems to be a whole cadre of women allegedly victimized by Cosby. The sheer number of women coming forward makes it no longer acceptable to just roll your eyes and shake your head, if you're the Cosby camp.

Could there be one crackpot looking for a buck or her 15 minutes? Possibly. But do you really think there is a growing faction of crackpots? Or is it a growing faction of victimized women feeling empowered now that the first domino has been tipped?

The answer is probably the latter.

Personally, I feel victimized as well---though not at all to the extent of the women that Cosby allegedly sexually assaulted.

I'm in that other boat of victims---the fans who, like me, have fond memories of Bill Cosby's comedy attached to our childhood hips.

I don't know about you, but I certainly can't look at Cosby the same way again. How can you?

Now, you can stick to your legal guns and urge everyone to wait until the courts have at this brouhaha before we render judgment.

Fine.

You would, technically, be on the right side of the argument if you took that tack.

But emotions and memories and gut feelings don't ride technicalities.

I am sure that many of us have tried and convicted Bill Cosby in our minds. That's our prerogative, frankly. We are all entitled to our opinions.

The challenge now is to put aside our personal disappointment in Cosby, should these allegations prove to be true, and focus our empathy on the women he may have victimized.

If Cosby is proven to have drugged and sexually assaulted even one woman, it's Olly olly oxen free. All bets are off and his image should be sullied forever.

If Cosby did these despicable things, we've all been victimized. We've all been made fools of, for decades. We would have fallen in love with a fraud and a sexual predator.

But we still would not have suffered as his alleged victims have, for lo these many years.

Let's not forget that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Keep on Truckin'

Why does the ice cream man have the market cornered on driving trucks around the neighborhood, selling his wares?

Think about his clientele---six-year-olds, who aren't exactly loaded. How much disposable income does a first grader have?

This may seem like a strange time to bring this up, because we're hardly in ice cream truck season, but I say this is the perfect time to discuss this.

With ice cream no longer a viable purchase option at your curb, why not consider other items that a grown up would run out of his/her house to snatch up?

Liquor, for one.

Can you imagine if there was a liquor truck that cruised the neighborhoods? The driver would make a mint. Adults would be lined up down the street as far as the eye could see.

The possibilities are endless.

How nice would it be if you could purchase an apple pie from a truck in front of your home? Or a dozen doughnuts?

The items for sale wouldn't have to be limited to food stuffs.

I'd have killed at times to be able to buy batteries off a truck. I would have been forever grateful if a Tylenol truck drove by, ringing its bell.

I wonder why ice cream became the item of choice when it came to retail trucks rolling down a neighborhood street.

The ice cream truck was one of the few American creations that never really spawned any offshoots.

Despite the popularity of selling ice cream from a truck, catering to grade school kids who don't have any money, no entrepreneur ever considered marketing toward adults (who actually have cash) with items that don't even need to be frozen.

I think an enterprising person could make a killing driving around residential areas the day before Valentines Day, selling greeting cards, chocolate and flowers. Or even a birthday card truck, because birthdays happen every day, and every day people forget to buy a card.

Following behind could be a postage stamp truck.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wing Cha-Ching!

It takes about 15 seconds to eat one, from start to finish. They cost about 79 cents a pound, raw at the supermarket. They are made up of bone more than meat.

So why are chicken wings at the restaurant so expensive?

I like a chicken wing as much as the next person. You can do a lot with a chicken wing, in terms of preparation. Chicken wings play nice with the various sauces and batter that coat them.

That's all fine and dandy, but does that equate to $9.99 for a dozen?

I use $9.99 as an arbitrary price, but that's in the ballpark.

I think we're being gouged on chicken wings.

The easy answer, of course, as to why the markup is so high, is that we consumers are willing to pay it.

Let's face it. Properly cooked chicken wings are a sight to behold.

They are slathered with sauce, which envelopes the crunchy skin, which is deep fried and/or baked deftly, so the meat inside stays tender and moist.

But when not done right, the chicken wing can be slimy, gummy and thoroughly unappetizing.

In either case, you can expect to pay about $9.99 a dozen.

I have no idea why we think that chicken wings are worth the price, but we pay it.

Heck, there's even entire restaurant chains that devote themselves to the chicken wing.

Buffalo Wild Wings (or B-Dubs, as the cool people say) comes to mind, as it did when a co-worker asked me last week if I wanted to go out to lunch.

We ate at a burger joint, but on the walk back to the office, a B-Dubs loomed.

"Do you like Buffalo Wild Wings?" I was asked.

That's when I launched into my chicken wing rant, to which you are now being exposed.

As far as B-Dubs goes, the family and I ate there a few years ago and I was underwhelmed. Again, the prices got to me---but frankly, I didn't think the wings were all that.

B-Dubs boasts that it offers lots of different flavors of wings, which is true. There are lots.

But they're still chicken wings, and they still take just 15 seconds each to consume. And they're still more bone than meat.

Let's face it: have you ever looked at the wing of any bird and licked your lips because they look so meaty?

Even a large Thanksgiving turkey doesn't have a wing that has enough meat to impress, much less a dinky chicken.

Yet restaurants boldly price their wings at obscene markup and we devour them by the basket-full.



OK, so they offer some celery sticks and blue cheese on the side. Whoop-de-doo.

We actually like to cook our own chicken wings at home, though it is some work to do it right. But we can also buy a huge bag of the frozen things at a dirt cheap price, relatively speaking.

Hint: most butchers will chop your wings up for you, for free, while you wait. That way, you can take them home in the same sizes and shapes as the ones you pay $9.99 for at the restaurant.

Some restaurateur hit the jackpot when he or she discovered that the cheap wing of a chicken could be baked, deep-fried and slathered with sauce and sold at a 500 percent markup. And that's as an appetizer.

Let's see. At $9.99 a dozen, and with chicken wings taking 15 seconds each to eat, that equates to three minutes' worth of eating time per dozen.

That means restaurants are charging us the equivalent of $200 an hour to enjoy their chicken wings! And we have to use our hands to eat them; we don't even get to use silverware.

At $200 an hour, what are chicken wings? The lawyers of food items?

Not to mention all the dry cleaning bills, thanks to the messy fingers and sauce dripping all over the place.

We're getting rooked but what else is new, right?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Smile! (Or not)

Allen Funt created television's Candid Camera. But he was not the star.

If Funt were alive today, he would concur.

Funt, who took the idea of a roving microphone capturing unguarded moments from the days of radio and turned it into a TV phenomenon, also never liked the notion that his show made fools out of unsuspecting people.

Funt preferred to think that Candid Camera was more of a series of case studies on human behavior, rather than a gag-filled half-hour.

Regardless, the star wasn't Funt, though he hosted the in-studio segments and often appeared during the hidden camera "case studies."

The stars of Candid Camera were always the people---the folks whose behavior was being chronicled in a very unfiltered and unscripted way.

Therefore, the laughs that resulted were always from the audience's glee at the reactions of the unwitting, caught by Funt's hidden camera.

But that was then.

TV Land has trotted out a new version of Candid Camera, hosted by Funt's son, Peter, and actor Mayim Bialik.

As in Allen Funt's original version, the hosts in the studio don't matter. Not that the younger Funt and Bialik do a poor job (they don't), but they aren't the stars.

The new version, however, falls flat.

It's not the fault of Funt and Bialik. It's the fault of the people. And that's not even fair, really.

The charm of the original Candid Camera was not only watching normal people in abnormal situations, it was in the reveal---that moment when Funt, et al would finally let the unsuspecting in on the joke.

"You're on Candid Camera!"

But back in the original show's days, there weren't cameras all over the place. There weren't cell phones and tablets and the like, all equipped with cameras that could be whipped out at a moment's notice, ready to capture just about anything the possessor wished to capture, newsworthy or not.

Today, people aren't stunned or shocked by the presence of a camera, even if they didn't know one was trained on them for a case study.

So the reaction to the reveal in the new version is, well, muted.

And a muted reaction isn't very entertaining to the TV viewers.

Now, that might not be so bad if the situations the people are placed in made up for the less-than-spectacular reveal reactions.

But they don't.

Candid Camera debuted in 1948 and there have been a few relaunches along the way. So we're talking 66 years, essentially, of the show's existence. That's a long time and it's hard to come up with fresh new stuff.


Allen Funt, back when this notion still had the power to amaze


But again, the society in which we live makes it awfully difficult for us to be flabbergasted anymore by what we see going on in front of our eyes.

Whether it's a soap dispenser at a market that doesn't stop dispensing or a retail outlet that charges a $10 fee to shop in the store as opposed to online (both used in the new version), does anything really surprise us anymore?

The charm of Candid Camera was rooted in two certainties that existed decades ago that simply don't anymore---a much more impressionable public and a genuine amazement that a hidden camera could be set up. The people were video virgins, so to speak.

Today's society is far less impressionable and there are cameras everywhere anymore. In fact, it seems like we are all on camera more than we aren't, when you add security cameras and the like into the mix.

I think it would be more of a surprise if the revealing person shouted, "You're NOT on camera now!"

Still, I give TV Land credit for trying to appeal to those of us who remember when an evening with Allen Funt and company was truly a special event. The situations were comical, the reactions were priceless and the reveals were the cherry on top.

However---and it's not TV Land's fault---today's society is just so damned hard to amaze and impress. And we are certainly not aghast at the notion of a camera lens shooting us through a hole in a wall.

The result is that watching the new Candid Camera is like dusting off an old Jack-in-the-Box and failing to be stunned by the clown popping out---while being wistful of the days when it did.

*********************************************
Editor's note: The following e-mail arrived from none other than Peter Funt himself, who saw this post, on October 1, 2014:

Funny thing about the "original." There's no bigger fan of my Dad's work than me, and I never suggest that my stuff is as good as his was at his prime. However, I find that our memories have a way of distorting and condensing and selecting from the past. I think what you and some other viewers are, in effect, saying is: When I recall the handful of fabulous reveals that Allen got over decades – perhaps seen in highlights or "best of" packages – they're better than what Peter gets week in and week out. How true! 

It's hard to compete with a legend. Fortunately that's not my objective. Good luck with your site.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Getting Festive, PC or Not

I wonder if you could get away with calling them "Ethnic Festivals" these days.

I've kind of lost track of political correctness. I don't know what is acceptable terminology anymore.

But what I do know is that, as a high schooler and into my college years, my buddies and I would descend on Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit and partake in "ethnic" food, people watch, and maybe have a nip or two.

Yes, it was before we were of legal drinking age. Amazing how enterprising teenagers can be.

Anyhow, they called them Ethnic Festivals and they would rotate throughout the summer, on the weekends.

You know---Greek, Italian, Arab-American, etc.

The Plaza would be host to live music, vendor stands/kiosks and underneath, in the below-ground portion of the Plaza, were loads of food nooks. Imagine an underground food court, like they have at the malls.

All you needed to do to find the food vendors below was to follow your nose. The food was yummy. There was also a marvelous view of Windsor, including the iconic Canadian Club sign east of the Plaza, with its gargantuan, lighted-up letters.

But what I remember most was the people watching.

For whatever reason, the Festivals used to attract some of the most bizarre people that Detroit had to offer.

My friends and I would call these folks "characters" and to be approached by them---which happened more often than you might think---was to be "characterized."

They were mostly street bums---probably homeless. But there were also individuals who were just plain eccentric and strange looking, wandering around aimlessly. Sometimes they would stop us and ask for money or booze or just start talking gibberish.

We likely did some of that aimless wandering around too, come to think of it. Maybe even the gibberish, depending on what time of night you're talking.

But it was a fine way for teenage boys to spend a summer's evening. We didn't go there looking for girls, per se, but if there was ever communication with the fairer sex, it certainly wasn't dismissed out of hand.

Because, as I recall, there were lots of cutie pies flitting around the Plaza during those festivals as well.

I think about those Festivals now and again, because working downtown now as I do, I have the occasion to drive by Hart Plaza from time to time.

I know that the Plaza is still home to festivals and celebrations and the like---including the occasional protest---but I don't think they're called "Ethnic Festivals" anymore. In fact, I don't even think they have weekly events such as the ones I am recalling, anymore.

The newspapers, in their Friday entertainment sections, would list what the Festival was that particular weekend at Hart Plaza. Not that it mattered to us; we pretty much went down there no matter what nationality was being represented.

Ethnic Festivals---politically correct terminology or not, they were a part of my youth.

They had their time, which is all you can really ask I suppose.