Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Love (?) Story

Ordinarily I don't allow myself to get caught up in the private lives of celebrities. It's all I can do to manage my own private life.

But there is something fascinating, to me, about the schism between actor Ryan O'Neal and his daughter, Tatum, which is now being played out on a reality show called "The O'Neals" on Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network.

The two of them each had their chance to state their case on recent, separate episodes of Piers Morgan's show on CNN.

Tatum, who has a new book out, contends that her father is the root of many of her problems, like that of her drug addiction struggle. Ryan, for his part, says that Tatum never fully accepted his relationship with Farrah Fawcett, and that's when father and daughter drifted apart.

"She made my life---and Griffin's---very difficult," Ryan O'Neal told Morgan, also referring to Tatum's brother.

What captivates me about the O'Neals struggles is that they are, to me, genuine---which isn't always the case with reality TV, a genre that often blurs the line between fact and made-for-TV fiction.

But this isn't a made-for-TV estrangement; it's been going on for decades.

Ryan maintains he was a single parent and a damn good one, helping Tatum forge an acting career and exposing her to a world of culture and the arts.

Tatum says he also exposed her to drugs---or, at the very least, he wasn't exactly vigilant in keeping them away from her.

The father-daughter dynamic in this instance seems, on the one hand, to be broken---or at least damaged beyond full repair.

So why care?

Ryan O'Neal told Piers Morgan that if "The O'Neals" can help even one family examine their relationships, then the show is a success.

Ryan got emotional when the subject of his alleged "hitting" on Tatum at Farrah Fawcett's funeral was brought up.

The story goes---and it wasn't exactly denied by Tatum on Morgan's show---that Ryan O'Neal, not recognizing his daughter after many years of alienation, took the opportunity of seeing this blonde at the funeral home to ask her for a drink afterward.

The woman revealed herself to be Tatum.

Ryan O'Neal vehemently denied that version.

First, they had seen each other not long before the funeral. Second, Ryan told Morgan, when Tatum was a youngster, father and daughter would pretend to be a couple at a lavish party. Ryan would ask her, "You want a drink? You want a dance?" as part of the innocent roleplaying.

At Farrah's funeral, Ryan says he saw Tatum and, to break the ice, launched into the "You want a drink? You want a dance?" routine.

His voice quaking, lips trembling, Ryan asked Morgan, "Why throw your dad under the bus like that? Why portray him like that?"

Good questions.

As with any estrangement, both sides are to blame, and there are two sides to every story. Tatum was on Morgan's show first, and after watching Ryan's turn, it was impossible not to look sideways at Tatum's version.

But Ryan could have handled things better. He could have done a better job assuring his daughter that she was not being replaced by Farrah, and that his love for Farrah was a different love than that of his daughter.

Ryan O'Neal's acting career stalled out after films like "What's Up, Doc?" Tatum told Morgan she has her own theories as to why that is. When asked to reveal them, she clammed up.

Ryan, on his acting career: "I was OK. I wasn't great."


I haven't watched "The O'Neals." I likely never will, because the two interviews on Piers Morgan's show were satisfying enough.

I guess I still don't trust reality shows, as much as I think the O'Neals have real issues that long pre-dated their show on OWN.

I wish them well.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Peter Principal

Peter Falk put on a trench coat and burrowed his way into our TV-watching psyche forever.

Falk was TV's "Columbo", but that was hardly the ceiling of his talents. Yet it was undoubtedly his most famous role in a career that wasn't too shabby for a guy with less-than-classic good looks, one good eye, and a raspy voice.

Falk passed away yesterday at age 83, having suffered from Alzheimer's Disease.

His brilliance in the role of police Lt. Columbo was that Falk didn't need the typical weapons other cops were using on television, to solve crimes. Columbo didn't need a gun---in fact, he never even carried one---he only needed his brain.

"Columbo" wasn't really a whodunnit, because within the first few minutes of every episode, we already knew who the perp was. The rest of the hour was spent watching Falk peck away at the bad guy's alibi until it resembled Swiss cheese.

Columbo did it all in a disarming---literally---fashion. He was a genuinely likeable fellow who came off, at first blush, as dundering and forgetful. But in reality he was whip smart and a crime-solving genius.

Falk's trademark, "Oh, one more thing," (or something similar) as he was about to leave the bad guy's presence, only to ask another question that invariably caused the suspect's knees to buckle, was one of the show's constants. You just never knew when it was going to occur.

But Falk was more than Columbo. He was a gifted actor whose turn in comedies like "The In-Laws" with Alan Arkin showed Falk's flair for comedic timing and sense of irony. Rent "The In-Laws" if you want to laugh out loud for two hours.

Falk was a New Yorker, born and bred. He had a glass eye (his right eye was surgically removed at age three) and it was after a failed screen test at Columbia Pictures that studio boss Harry Cohn told Falk, "for the same price I can get an actor with two eyes."

The turning point for Falk came in 1960, when he was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as a crime boss in "Murder, Inc." Later in the decade, Falk aligned himself with friend John Cassavetes and made some good movies like "Husbands" and "A Woman Under the Influence."

Then came "Columbo" in the early-1970s, and Falk became indelibly marked in the public's consciousness.

Falk was also an artist, a good chess player, and a huge fan of the NBA's New York Knicks.

It was said that Falk had slipped so badly into dementia that he could no longer remember the character of Lt. Columbo.

How ironic, because we'll never forget it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Inefficient Mayor

Dave Bing can't hold the ball, turn to the ref and call timeout. He can't gather his cohorts in a 100-second huddle at courtside, whip out a clipboard and design a play to get himself out of the mess he's in.

Bing hasn't been in the middle of an NBA huddle since 1978, when he retired from the Boston Celtics. But he's still in a business filled with trash talking.

Bing, the mayor of Detroit, holds a job where the primary focus, always, is to battle the enemy from within. There are never any outside forces involved, really, when it comes to what ails Detroit. The city handles that department just fine, thank you.

I stumped for Bing to be Detroit's mayor. I felt he was the city's best shot---no pun intended---among those who would actually consider the job to begin with. There are several folks who would likely be better, but they either have too much sense or too low a threshold for pain.

So that left Bing, and what's happened recently at City Hall surprises me.

His staff is a mess. In Bing's NBA days, turnover was a dirty word, and it's even dirtier now, with people who can't beat it out of the mayor's administration fast enough.

Another strong-willed female mayoral staffer has been at the center of discussion lately---just as one was during Kwame Kilpatrick's tenure.

Karen Dumas, the mayor's close confidante and holder of the title of Communications Director, resigned last week. This after a furor in which she was portrayed in a whistleblower suit as being a power hungry, well---you know. It rhymes with rich.

But Dumas was no Christine Beatty, Kilpatrick's chief of staff. Dumas didn't sleep with her boss, number one. At least, we don't think so.

Bing: Last one out of the administration, turn off the lights!

Beatty was able to exert influence simply by flirting via text and making googly eyes at Kilpatrick. The ex-mayor, no small man, was reduced to pushover---like many men.

Bing was run roughshod over by Dumas, the suit alleges---culminating in a missed meeting with U.S. Senator Carl Levin so Dumas could instead go power shopping.

Dumas was just one of many who have packed their boxes and vacated their offices in recent days, as Bing desperately tries to fix a city without having to also worry about replenishing his staff.

The job of mayor of Detroit is hard enough, when things are going swimmingly among the ranks, without introducing mutiny to the mix.

Bing has been described by some insiders as lacking diplomatic skills and being more hands off than some would prefer. Too often, those people said, Bing would defer to his underlings in matters that he should be handling himself.

I don't know if that's true or not.

What I do know is that Dave Bing is spending too much precious time swatting at flies in his office than hunting for bear in the city proper.

Can't blame that on the outsiders.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


At the risk of showing my age, I actually recall when TV's TLC stood for The Learning Channel.

Now it means "The Lewd Channel."

To my horror, I saw a promo for a new TLC show called "Toddlers and Tiaras." Even by the title you can pretty much guess where the show is going, but you'd be wrong---it's much worse than you thought.

T&T aggrandizes the beauty pageants for, well, toddlers---and those children slightly older. But they do it in such an in-your-face, shameless way that it should make proper thinking people squirm.

The promo was filled with little girls ---and I DO mean little girls---with their faces painted like ladies of the night, wearing grown up gowns and that alone was enough for me to shudder.

Then here comes the next worse thing---the moms of these girls. The parental units who are supposed to protect their daughters from this kind of pressure and judgmental eyes are the very ones plunging the kids into this morass.

After viewing the promo, our 18-year-old daughter said, "This show is a pedophile's dream."

No doubt. I imagine T&T is on the DVRs of child molesters everywhere.

I braved a peek at the show's website, which used words like "sassy" to describe one of the pageant's tiny contestants.

These girls should be playing with dolls, not looking like them.

This is a real girl, not a doll, believe it or not (Makenzie of "Toddlers and Tiaras")

From the show's website:

"On any given weekend across the country, toddlers take the stage wearing makeup, spray tans and fake hair to be judged on beauty, personality and costumes.

Toddlers and Tiaras follows families on their quest for sparkly crowns, big titles and lots of cash."

Don't underestimate the power of that last one: "lots of cash."

Apparently the two main competitors are Makenzie and Eden, because the site asks visitors to vote for which "team" they're on---Team Makenzie or Team Eden. I'm not making this up.

Besides, ever since the JonBenet Ramsey killing, I'm haunted by the images of that little girl, who'd be about 20 now, dressed up and made up for her pageant days.

I hope that it's not true that, according to TLC, "on any given weekend" there are pageants like this involving children going on in this country. But they're probably right, which is disconcerting.

But it's the parents that shoulder the blame. Don't tell me that the kids go up to mommy and say, "I want to be in a pageant!"

Any mother that would willingly and knowingly throw her daughter into such a cesspool, where the child is ogled and judged for "beauty," is off her rocker.

The show's website adds, "But once at the pageant, it's all up to the judges and drama ensues when every parent wants to prove that their child is beautiful."

Oh, God.

Every child IS beautiful, you nimrods. TLC may not get that, but the fact that the mothers don't, either, makes me want to barf.

The show will draw millions of viewers, of course, which is another indictment on our society. Who's worse: the mothers of the children in the pageant, or the people watching it?

Reality TV and competition shows have been invading television and absorbing it, like that old horror creature, The Blob. Just when you think it can't get any more ridiculous and salacious, here comes Toddlers and Tiaras to remind us that yes, it can!

TLC used to stand for something. It used to bring us thought-provoking television. It used to be above board.

Not anymore.

This is disgusting.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Jack's in the Box

The people who get us talking about things aren't always those who you'd like to actually talk about those things with.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian was one of those people.

Kevorkian, "Doctor Death," was laid to rest the other day and no matter what you thought about him or his ideas, you're a liar if you say he didn't get you talking and thinking about assisted suicide.

But would you have liked to have lunch with Kevorkian and rap about it? Unlikely. Kevorkian had to be an assisted suicide physician. He just looked the part: a long, drawn face, boney body---he looked like a gothic character from an old book of nursery rhymes.

Kevorkian wasn't just a man's name, it was a word that became part of our lexicon, used by people in all fields to describe a variety of situations.

I remember the NBA coach Don Nelson commenting after his team beat the Pistons in Detroit. Nelson said it wasn't appropriate for Pistons fans to overreact to the loss, which came on opening night.

"This is no time to pull a Kevorkian," Nelson said.

"Call Kevorkian!" people would playfully and kiddingly tell their pals when something would go awry. Stand-up comedians had a field day with Doctor Death.

But it was all very serious, of course---Kevorkian's little machine and what it could do and why it was doing it.

I think Kevorkian had a good idea that he took in a wrong direction.

Dr. Kevorkian, dressed like Mr. Rogers, with his "death machine"

How dare any of us tell someone who is suffering from excruciating pain as a result of a terminal or otherwise debilitating illness, that they ought to keep living?

This is one of those issues, like capital punishment, that's easy to take an unfavorable view of, until it hits close to home.

You can be anti-capital punishment, but what happens when a loved one is killed by a scumbag?

You can preach pro-life to Kevorkian's "patients", until you see a spouse wither away, out of their mind with pain and with the quality of life of a gnat.

But Kevorkian went wrong when he began to openly mock those who dared question him, and even though he spoke of "dying with dignity," he began leaving bodies in vans in parking lots, like a serial killer.

Where's the dignity in that?

The other troubling thing about Kevorkian's mission was that it was highly questionable as to whether his goal was to save life or to fuel the decision to end it. In other words, were Kevorkian's assisted suicides always performed as a last resort, or did anyone with an inkling to end it all get strapped into the former pathologist's machine, no questions asked?

All told, Kevorkian supposedly assisted in about 130 deaths.

It's too bad that Kevorkian was the symbol for assisted suicide. I can't help but wonder if another doctor would have handled it differently. I wonder how different the assisted suicide movement would have looked had Kevorkian not taken it in such a defiant, creepy direction.

But Kevorkian got us talking, that's for sure. And that's rarely a bad thing.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Don't Touch That Dial!

I've been stuck in a time warp, yet again.

Those who've dared to view this space to see what I'm blathering about now, know that I tend to enjoy living in the past.

Well, is the present so nifty?

My latest jag is to point my browser to YouTube and start searching for old commercials---beer, food, even cigarettes.

I'm talking REALLY old commercials, circa the 1950s and '60s, mostly in black-and-white.

The commercials of those days were typically no less than 60 seconds, and sometimes longer. They weren't filled with eye-popping special effects or talking babies or scores of beautiful young people breaking into an impromptu party just because one of them popped open a cooler of light beer.

The commercials that I've been fixed on show a simpler time, when a cold beer was something enjoyed by well-dressed couples inside a spiffy tavern, served by well-dressed waiters and drawn by well-dressed bartenders.

It was a time when little kids ran home to partake in Beefaroni or Spaghetti-O's or a new thing called Pop-Tarts.

"Mabel!! Another Black Label!"

But mainly the commercials portrayed what had to have been a much less stressful world, because when I view them now it's almost like comfort food for the soul.

And there were the jingles. Oh, the jingles. Some weren't just jingles; they were entire songs, practically.

Remember the Oscar Meyer theme? The "Have it Your Way" diddy for Burger King?

Or how about the ads for Cracker Jack, featuring grandfatherly Jack Gilford and various young children, enjoying some of the caramel corn/peanut mix together---and marveling at the prize inside the box?

Always 60 seconds, and always selling a story in addition to selling a product.

The ones I particularly get a kick out of are the ads that ran during the intermissions at the drive-in theater decades ago. The visuals are priceless---the way they make popcorn, hot dogs and a fudge bar look absolutely delectable and a must-have, right NOW!

The narration back then was beautifully succinct and almost newsreel-like, voiced over by unknown studio announcers, not the actors we hear today hawking everything from cars to the do-it-yourself stores.

Sometimes it was tough to tell the difference between a TV commercial voice-over and the start of the evening news.

But I like that, for whatever reason.

We use the word "cozy" a lot around our house. We're big fans of cozy things. I find the old-time TV ads wonderfully cozy. They make me feel better, in a world where it's tough to feel good for too long a time, it seems.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.