Star Trek History Beams in Nebraska

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The man who created Klingons for Star Trek will find his way home this weekend in the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska. Sadly, while screenwriter/producer/novelist GENE L. COON is no longer with us, his spirit lives on with millions of Star Trek fans from the obsessive ‘Trekkies” to the passing fans. March 2-4th, fans can experience the rare treat of discovering more about the man who inspired generations of fandom and became a globally recognized phenomenon of entertainment and pop culture.

In the first season of this unique science-fiction tv series in 1966, Gene Roddenberry took exploration into space quite seriously. After the first 13 episodes, Coon joined the Star Trek production team and forever changed the navigation of the franchise by adding humor and heart. In addition to giving birth to iconic characters like Klingons and Khan, Coon is credited to the key to Star Trek’s success by injecting levity into interstellar drama such as the occasional good-natured ribbing from McCoy and Spock.

David Gerrold, fellow Star Trek writer from the original series, should know. Gerrold wrote the famous “The Trouble With Tribbles” episode and will be headlining as guest speaker at the Gage County Classic Film Institute this weekend to discuss working with the famed Nebraskan. Recently, I got a chance to chat with fellow classic film buff and local historian Jeanelle Kleveland, an organizer for this 3 day festival, that will showcase guest speakers, historical insights and screenings.

Interview with Jeanelle Kleveland: 

Kellee: “How long have you been a classic film fan? Did anyone in your personal life inspire this passion?”

Jeanelle: “I don’t remember a time that I didn’t like classic films.  Obviously, they are far more available today than when I grew up, but I would watch them on late night tv when they were on.  Then I remember when Turner showed quite a few on TNT before TCM existed.  I was on the TCM chatroom with other classic film lovers shortly after TCM started.  That was a lot of fun.”

Kellee: “When did you become deeply interested in Nebraska/Gage County history, beyond being a resident?” 

Jeanelle: “Gage County has a very interesting history.  The Oregon Trail comes into Gage County.  We have the Homestead National Monument.  We have Clara Colby who published a suffrage newspaper from Beatrice.  She was friends with the best known suffragists.  I’m sure I got more interested as I got a little older—probably in my 30’s.  My mother always enjoyed it and I enjoyed going to things with her.”

Kellee: “How long have you been involved in the Gage County Historical Society?”

Jeanelle: “Probably at least 30 years.  My mother always got me a membership along with the one she got for herself and my dad.  We almost always went to the annual dinners and programs.”

Kellee: “When did the Gage County Classic Film Institute begin? What is its goal and what do you hope for its future?” 

Jeanelle: “We formed under the umbrella of the Gage County Museum in 2014.  We had our first event in 2015 and we have had four events.  Two of them were on Robert Taylor*, a true Hollywood legend, and two were on John P. Fulton, special effects.  He won three Oscars and his father, Fitch Fulton, won one.  A couple of films also included Janet Shaw as a character actor.  She’s also from Beatrice.” 

(*For my report on the Robert Taylor event, read it here: “Hometown Pride Honors Robert Taylor…”)

“Our Institute was formed for the purpose of educating and show casing people in the entertainment business that are from Gage County. Last year we did Fulton and one of his grand daughters brought one of his Oscars and we all got to have our picture with it.  We didn’t know it was coming but it was a real treat to hold a real Oscar.”

Kellee: “What led you to choose Gene Coon for this year? Is there a process for who is chosen for each year?”

Jeanelle: “Gene Coon has been on our radar and Star Trek is very popular and Star Trek Discovery was coming out and we felt the time was right.  He was a prolific writer and worked on dozens of series.  He was kind of a fix it guy.  He wrote on a number of westerns and we will be showing a couple of those as well.”

Kellee: “Would you describe yourself as a trekkie or SciFi fan?”

Jeanelle: “Yes, I suppose I am.  My favorite Star Trek would be The Next Generation.  In fact I have a life size cardboard Riker that friends of mine gave me for my birthday because I was a big fan of Number 1.  He’s my very low maintenance cardboard boyfriend.  He is on display right now at the Beatrice Public Library watching over the Gene Coon exhibit.”

Kellee: “Was there anything that surprised you in researching Gene Coon and David Gerrold?” 

Jeanelle: “Always some interesting things that one learns when planning an event.  Gene Coon and a colleague came up with the idea of the Munsters as a satirical response to Donna Reed Show.”

“David Gerrold was mentored by Gene Coon.  I can’t wait to hear him speak.  He wrote The Trouble with Tribbles and it was produced by Coon.  We’ll be watching it Friday night.”

Kellee: “There are a variety of classic film festivals that fans can attend across the country, tell us why they should journey to Beatrice.”

Jeanelle: “They should come see the programs and hear the stories about Gene Coon and learn about where he came from.  While here, he was a teenage newscaster on the local radio station—KWBE.  Going to where someone grew up and where his family lived gives you an understanding about what they are like.  Gage County is a relatively small county.  I find it amazing that we have a number of celebs from here.” 

“We are tentatively looking at Harold Lloyd for next year.  That would be fun.”

Kellee: “Anything else you want to add so that interested fans can learn more about attending this fest?” 

Jeanelle: “I think people will enjoy discussing the similarity between the westerns and Star Trek.  Coon was the moral center of Star Trek.  You see that same thing in many of his other stories.”

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For my own research, I was surprised to learn that Coon was also responsible for the controversial episode that featured half-white/half-black faced humanoids that tackled racism, “Let This Be Your Battlefield.” Coon had his own battles- with Stanley Robertson, NBC’s first African American broadcast standards exec- to get this story on air.

According to wired.com, (Andreea) “Kindryd, (his production secretary and) an African-American civil rights activist who had worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, was uneasy about working with an old white guy named Coon—especially after Coon told her that his father had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan—but Coon was passionate about injecting anti-racist messages into Trek.”

Tolerance and enlightenment had a future thanks to Star Trek. And thanks to Gene L Coon, there was a place for more heart and humor, too.

For more information and to purchase tickets to this festival, you can follow their FaceBook page and/or explore their site: Gage County Film Institute Fest 2018.

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Zasu Pitts, Funny Lady with a Funny Name

 

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First things first. Before I can gush on about this distinctively funny lady with the fluttering hands that stole every scene, one must learn how to say her name correctly. Oh sure, many of my ‘old movie weirdo’ friends may know, but it’s a common mistake. To honor her properly, let’s begin with this lesson, provided via Thelma Todd and ZaSu herself:

YouTube: ZaSu Pitts: Learn My Name!

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Now that we all know how say “Say-zoo,” a name which is a combo of her aunts Eliza and Susan, let’s explore the memorable ways this distinctive lady who began life not too far from me in Parsons, Kansas, became one of the most recognized faces in Hollywood.

Her most notable characters were the woeful worrywarts. Physically, her appearance was defined by delicate, thin lines and a frequent focus on her ever- waving, fidgeting fingers. Her tiny mouth was shaped like a kewpie doll with the corners often turned down. Her large, soft eyes were doe-like and she usually looked upward. Her voice had a distinctive mumbling of melancholic concern, often with an “oh dear…” muttering to herself. She gained the reputation of stealing every scene.

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ZaSu’s signature characterizations were such a fan favorite she was parodied in cartoons, a reflection that she was immersed in pop culture. If you’ve seen Olive Oyl from Max Fleischer’s Popeye the Sailor cartoons, you are already familiar with the signature ZaSu Pitts tone and voice. She was also featured in Looney Tunes, in Hollywood-ribbing toons like “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.”

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Pitts often faced the challenge of looking too similar to Lillian Gish. Here, with Mary Pickford, THE LITTLE PRINCESS (1917).

Born Eliza Susan Pitts on January 3rd, 1894 (her 124th birthday is next month), the family moved to Santa Cruz, California seeking sunnier opportunities. Despite her shy demeanor and bird-like qualities, Pitts was a natural performing on stage and moved to LA by age twenty-one. Working a small part with icon Mary Pickford, A LITTLE PRINCESS (1917) was her first break on the big screen.

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Erich von Stroheim’s masterpiece GREED 

Soon, she was starring in one-reelers and feature films, working with greats like directors King Vidor and Eric Von Stroheim (i.e. the silent masterpiece, GREED)- in a range of parts from tragedy to comedy to drama. Her popularity increased in the 1930s, with a demand for her in character roles in comedies. She was partnered in series with Thelma Todd (Hal Roach promoted the two as a female Laurel and Hardy) and with Slim Summerville.

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mastering comedy with Thelma Todd

The 1940s brought her success to radio, vaudeville and Broadway, working with the biggest names in entertainment. She transitioned easily to television in the 1950s, in popular roles like cruise ship beautician Elvira Nugent on “The Gale Storm Show.” But this decade also introduced ill health, with a cancer diagnosis. As a fitting tribute to her own career, her last role would be in the epic ensemble of comic legends, in IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963). Even with health battles, she continued working until her death at the age of sixty-nine on June 7, 1963.

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Pitts’ last role in IT’s A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD

ZaSu Pitts was a true wallflower success story. She proved that a shy girl from Kansas, with more matronly than cover-girl looks, could be a huge star as a character actress. She worked from the silents to the sixties, in every entertainment medium (film, radio, vaudeville, television and on Broadway), from dramatic roles to comedy, and she worked with some of the biggest stars and filmmakers in Hollywood’s heydays.

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The more ZaSu films I watch, the more I am thoroughly charmed by her. And to see her range from tragic epic dramatic roles like GREED to super silly shorts with Thelma Todd, I am also in awe of her talent. What a character!

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This article on character acting legend ZaSu Pitts is my contribution to the 6th annual WHAT A CHARACTER Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and yours truly. You can read the other entries on character actors from this blogathon from days one, two and three:

My 80s TV Crushes: David Addison and Remington Steele

 

 

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The Silver Screenings site is conducting the Reel Infatuation Blogathon this week. Bloggers are tasked with reflecting upon their fictional character crushes- from books or the big or small screen.

Truth be told, my first TV crush (and this is according to a discovery I made in my baby book as scribed in my mother’s own handwriting so it must be true) was Donny Osmond. I assume it was a combination of those gloriously large and straight teeth and I was more “a little bit Rock n’ Roll” than “a little bit country.” And then came along the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mystery Hour. I secretly thought of myself to be Nancy Drew, undoubtedly. And at a time when all the other girls were dreaming of Shaun Cassidy or even his half-brother David, not me. I preferred the clean-cut looks of Parker Stevenson, frankly.

Fast forward to my post-puberty days of the 80s. While Duran Duran was my religion and my cult, my television heart throbs fell on the charming shoulders of Bruce Willis as David Addison, Jr. of “Moonlighting” (1985-1989) and Pierce Brosnan as “Remington Steele”(1982-1987).

My love for classic film was already blossoming back in the 80s and Cary Grant was then and always shall remain my biggest silver screen crush. As for the small screen, it now seems obvious why I was drawn to the Remington Steele and David Addison characters. These two had a lot in common with each other but also with my love of classic film leading men.

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REMINGTON STEELE:

The pilot episode highlighted a female licensed investigator, Ms. Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist). She’s educated, sharp, confident, attractive, ambitious, with a keen attention to detail. But she constantly finds resistance from clients because she’s a woman. So she creates a fictional male boss (“Remington Steele” is a name created from a combination of a typewriter and a football team) and suddenly business starts to roll in.

That is, until her next assignment. When a client hires her for an event with multi-million dollars’ worth of jewels, he insists on meeting Mr. Steele in person for his personal oversee. Ms. Holt isn’t worried though. She plans on a shell game to keep her fictional boss always somewhere else while still providing top-notch security. How could anything go wrong?

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Things go awry when a rather dapper man named Ben (Pierce Brosnan) shows up saying he’s in an official capacity as a South African diplomat to ensure the jewels rightful return to their country of smuggled origin. But when Laura’s team, always-suspicious Murphy and eager-to-please Ms. Fox, dig deeper into his true identity, they find he’s not who he seems. They find 5 passports with different names. All are fictional characters from Humphrey Bogart films. Before you know it, he’s been found out to be a jewel thief and con man…a perfect set-up for his even sexier role in THE THOMAS CROWNE AFFAIR remake (1999), taken Remington Steele’s identity, solved a murder and charmed Ms. Holt. By the end of the pilot, he’s decided to take on the Steele identity and the PI gig on a permanent basis. But do we ever discover his real name?

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David Addison in MOONLIGHTING:

In the pilot, we are introduced to Madelyn “Maddie” Hayes (Cybil Shepherd) who is a self-made woman of independent success and distinction as a former model. Still beautiful, intelligent and confident, she wakes up one day broke. Her investment manager ran off with all her liquid assets leaving her with only with a handful of businesses designed to lose money on the books.  The City of Angels detective agency is one of them, with David Addison (Bruce Willis), private eye, at the helm.

Bruce Willis American actor as 'David Addison' Cybill Shepherd American Actress as 'Maddie Hayes' Stars of the award-winning television series "Moonlighting"

Addison is energetic, fast-talking, witty, playful, and completely persistent. Maddie attempts to fire him and shut down the business but with David’s pushy persuasions and with a murder case that literally falls into their laps, Maddie ultimately changes her mind. As an homage to the ‘Blue Moon Shampoo girl’ of Maddie’s cover girl days, Addison decides to change their business name to the Blue Moon Detective Agency. Before then, the two bicker and screwball their way through an investigation. When a man falls dead in front of Maddie and onto the floor, revealing a knife in his back, David dryly jokes, “that’s gotta hurt falling on your nose like that.” The wit and onscreen chemistry sizzles, even if it didn’t exist behind the scenes.

What these two shows also shared was the insertion of quirky characters like Doris Roberts as Mildred Krebs in “Remington Steele” and Allyce Beasley as the speedy-rhyming Agnes DiPesto in “Moonlighting”. Plus, an impressive list of actors that star and/or cameo. Do you recall Eva Marie Saint, Imogene Coca, James Karen, John Goodman, Sterling Holloway (as a narrator) and Ray Charles have all appeared in “Moonlighting”?

Then there’s the writing. After a few seasons, head writer Glenn Gordon Caron left “Remington Steele” to begin writing for “Moonlighting.” No wonder the similarities are obvious.

“Moonlighting” offered higher production value and was the most expensive show aired at that time at $1.6 million per episode. Replete with all the glossy style of 80s fashions, nods to classic film was also worked into every scene with David and Maddie. In attempt to copy the rapid-fire exchanges of over-talking like Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), cast members and producers were asked to watch that film in addition to BRINGING UP BABY (1938) to capture the tone and dynamics of those hilarious screwball couples. Cybil Shepherd was often shot in diffused camera lens to repeat the soft, glowing look of the leading ladies of the 1940s. Not to mention it was just a flattering aesthetic.

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Besides both series being centered on detective duos, the leading men borderline as con men and cads in their charming and frequently mischievous ways. The women are bright, assertive and more fearless than what a majority of women were/are portrayed as in film. That’s what makes these couples so intriguing and the tension more delectable.

Remington and David would not be near as irresistible if it wasn’t for Laura and Maddie to challenge them. In the pilot episode of Remington Steele, Brosnan’s character Steele says, “I’m a man who enjoys impossible challenges,” as he smiles flirtatiously at Laura. Later as they chase the bad guy in an airport cart, Steele is driving as Holt is grabbing the wheel from behind, steering simultaneously. “I take it you wanted to drive,” he coyly smiles.

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And that’s why David and Maddie, and Remington and Laura, just like Walter and Hildy in HIS GIRL FRIDAY along with several other classic examples work. The power struggles for these couples are so appealing because the women are not yielding, subservient, dizzy dames. These ladies are equally strong, attractive, intelligent women who challenge these deliciously charming men. And when you turn up that heat with such fiery exchanges… well, no wonder my younger self was hooked.

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Both Pierce Brosnan and Bruce Willis went on to even more successful careers. But it was these roles and the portrayal of these characters that led them there. Brosnan was courted to be the next James Bond back in 85/86 but a surprise resurgence in the show (thanks to the Bond buzz) created a renewal of one more season and caused him to lose out to Timothy Dalton. Years later, Chris Columbus who worked with him on MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993) urged Brosnan to give it a go again, which eventually landed him the part as 007.

Bruce Willis received great success as John McClane in DIE HARD (1988) while still filming “Moonlighting,” which kicked off a long career of iconic action and sci-fi films. His success, the behind-the-scenes conflicts, including huge challenges by continuous filming delays all added up to kill the show.

Looking back, the sets seem hokey by today’s standards and these shows certainly do not have the same staying power as the classic films they aspired. But these memorable characters of Remington Steele and David Addison, Jr. permanently etched these actors forever on the American cinematic map and will always have a warm, fuzzy spot in my heart, too.


This was my contribution to the Reel Infatuation Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and Font & Frock, taking place June 13-17th. Explore all the reel crushes from each day!

 

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Goodbye Mad Men

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Social media and water coolers alike have been a buzz since the series final episode of “MAD MEN” aired. Some have wondered just why the series became such an intensely popular phenomenon. Was it the nostalgia and quirky fun of Janie Bryant’s wardrobes spanning mainly across the 60s, right up to 1970? Was it the character development of these Madison Avenue ad men and women? Yes. Plus so much more.

No one is a hero. Creator Matthew Weiner took great care to create this show like none other. In world filled with characters at their very best and their very worst… of strong heroes, saintly women, villainous women, and evil antagonists. Here instead was a rare world where characters were not such typical standards. They felt more authentic and more oft to show us their warts and jaded outlooks than their best pose. And he took the time to show them in their quiet moments, and everyday activities of life- not just soapy ‘cliff-hangers’ to stir us into the next episode. Basically, they were us.

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A full cast of flawed characters. We’re drawn into each of these main characters for various reasons. Do we admire the socially awkward pluck yet tenacity of Peggy? Do we wish for the calm empowerment and independence of Joan? Are we curious about what makes Betty so confident in her strength of identity?  Are we entertained by the hilarious lines of Roger? Is Pete fated to say and do the slightly wrong things? Is Sally doomed to repeat her parents’ follies? These are the types of questions that consume our thoughts and seem to be the undercurrent of every show. In every little moment, frequently the most mundane- we get tiny little morsels to feed our curiosity of just who ARE these folks? And we’re left still a tad peckish, never quite satisfied. This is ‘thinking people television’.

And then there’s the mystery of Don Draper. It’s the crux of the show. He is neither hero or anti-hero. He is considerably flawed. And proves that he is, every single time when we think he’s magically evolved into a reformed good guy. So is he a monster? Noooo. Like the rest of us, this man has ‘his moments.’ Don’s mysteries are deep and complex and we’re never shown the full extent of his eternal question mark.

Parting scenes. (Spoilers ahead for those who somehow haven’t cued up your DVRs to this buzz-worthy finale.)

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Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris and Bruce Greenwood as Richard – has she finally met the right one?

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Ultimately after being forced to choose, Joan wisely chooses herself.  7th Season, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Joan shines by being true to herself- independent and empowered. At first I was torn and felt sad that it she was forced to choose between having a career and having a devoted man in her life. Then we see her happy in her choice. And that’s the genuis of this show. Transitioning into the 70s, this theme of whether women can have it all was truly coming into the forefront. The 1980 Enjoli perfume ad “I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan” reflects that this issue was hardly resolved by the rise of feminism in the 70s and still not to this day. This show knows how to weave in a storyline that is not only true to its character but reflects the themes of that particular year/time- uniquely well.

Jay R. Ferguson as Stan Rizzo and Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson- sometimes the right one was there all along.

Jay R. Ferguson as Stan Rizzo and Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson- sometimes the right one was there all along.

Peggy and Stan fall in love. This was unexpected. Not because it doesn’t make sense. It actually does. It just seemed so ‘non Mad Men’ to have such a sweet story line that wasn’t laced with some bitter edge or cynicism. Yet it didn’t feel out of sorts because we had watched these two develop and interact over time, watch them have each others’ backs and be brutally honest too many times to mention. Who else to make up the perfect pair than the friend who lets you be completely yourself and who has seen you in all your good times and bad, right?

CHEERS to Julia Ormond as Marie Calvet and John Slattery as Roger Sterling - 7th Season, Episode 14 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

CHEERS to Julia Ormond as Marie Calvet and John Slattery as Roger Sterling – 7th Season, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Roger and Megan’s mom make it permanent. I guess time will tell (in our imaginations.) But I have solid hopes for these two. I think Marie may be the only one who challenges him enough (and I’m thrilled she’s actually within his age) to keep him interested and they seem like they’d have a lifetime of fun.

Pete Campbell finally makes the right move. Pete ushers in the new decade with a promising job offer that would relocate him to Wichita. They prefer a family man to match their midwest values and as though a light bulb came on, Pete happily agrees to become a new and improved man for Trudy. It’s actually a very sincere and convincingly passionate pitch. We see the Campbell family board their jet, as Trudy radiantly beams in her fur lined coat and matching hat with a “That Girl” look as she spins around to board their future life.

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson gets an intense call from Don - 7th Season, Episode 14 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson gets an intense call from Don – 7th Season, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Don and Peggy say goodbye. Don shows surprisingly more raw emotion and vulnerable transparency in this final episode than we’ve ever seen before. And not just in one scene, but several. We see him break down after being abandoned at a ‘hippie self-help retreat’ in California. With all the flashbacks to his childhood, this act of abandonment (motherly abandonment was also the heated topic at hand for their group therapy) was the final straw to bring Don to his most vulnerable low. It’s Peggy he calls in this moment. Is he calling for a ride or to reach out as a verbal suicide note? He says he just wanted to hear her voice before he says goodbye. Not surprisingly, she is alarmed and goes from scolding him for worrying them to realizing his dire state of mind, with a tearful “just come home, Don.” Despite their past roles of boss/employee/co-worker/mentor and friends, she’s actually the closest thing to a mom he’s ever had.

Betty gets honest and faces fears with Don- January Jones as Betty Draper

Betty gets honest and faces fears with Don- January Jones as Betty Draper

Don and Betty say goodbye.  The way in which Betty departs and says goodbye to Don were especially tough and moving scenes to watch.

You see, my mom was diagnosed with cancer (breast not lung) in the prime youth of her life as a single mom in the late 70s. Our dad was also mostly out of the picture (actually even less so than Don). The part that really got to me was watching Sally after breaking her secrecy by telling Don the shocking news and that they (Sally and her two brothers) would be going to live with Betty’s sister and brother-in-law. I had an eerily similar conversation with my father, explaining to him why it was in our best interest to go live with a stable, nuclear family. As I watched Betty have that tough chat with Don, reiterating that he must respect her wishes and why; I pondered how parallel this conversation may have been to my own parents’. Then I wondered how this affected Sally later in life.

Kiernan Shipka as Sally grew up quickly. This final episode was a defining moment for her.

Was Matthew Weiner in my head? Perhaps that’s the key to the success of this show. It gets in our heads. We feel we connect to these fictional characters somehow in a real way.

The wall finally comes down for Don

The wall finally comes down for Don

Don says goodbye. Don breaks down and finally shows all his emotional cards, thanks to a little nudging from Supergirl Helen Slater. Ultimately, we can only guess what was to follow for Don. Speculations have run amuck from Don converting to a hippie zen lifestyle permanently to him going back to the ad world after his therapeutic retreat, just in time to write the most famous and successful ad of his career. Many have argued the famous “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” inspiration came from his stay in California from the parallels offered. (The true story behind how that famed ad came to be is fascinating in itself.) I can only hope for Don that he simply found true happiness, as the final scene alludes- and that’s good enough for me.

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The Coke ad foreshadowing has been served to us in many gulps over the seasons, in hindsight- ever since Betty modeled for a Coke ad in season 1.

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Here we see another of many hints…

Jon Hamm as Don Draper finds long overdue inner peace and love... in California. 7th Season, Episode 14 - Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

Jon Hamm as Don Draper finds long overdue inner peace and love… in California. 7th Season, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

FUN TAKEAWAYS:

Merely for entertainment, you can take a Mad Men quiz on the Sundance site to see which character you most resemble. It’s interesting but not completely surprising that Don Draper was my result. No worries hubby, I’m not an adulterer, nor a heavy drinker and smoker; but do I escape when pressure get tough? Oh yeah. (Thankfully my escapes generally come via TCM or a movie theater.)

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My favorite scene– other than every single delicious second in this entire final episode, I’d have to say it’s when Bert Cooper’s ghost says goodbye to Don via a musical dance number “The Best Things In Life Are Free.” It’s magical for several reasons- for one, it’s a lovely nod to Robert Morse’s earlier career as the lead actor in HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (1967), which has been argued was a major influence for this show. But it’s also a precursor in seeing Draper’s wall starting to crumble. Watch that scene again and look closely at Don’s face as he tries to hold back his emotions. Yet another example of Don Draper’s issues with goodbyes.

What is your favorite Mad Men moment? How about your favorite closing title song? Farewell, Mad Men… yes, you will be missed.

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Classic and Colorful ‘Momisms’

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Kathee- aka my mother

As we close on another Mother’s Day weekend, it’s not hard-pressed to think of Mom. My mother died of breast cancer thirty four years ago. Interestingly, it will be thirty four years ago exactly today- and she was thirty-four years old. But when it comes to how we ‘honor’ our moms, it’s frequent to hear how many ponder wisdoms our mothers taught us. Whether our moms have passed or are still with us and we consider memories from our childhood, I often hear the advice or expressions folks frequently and fondly recall.

For some, it’s as practical as “eat your vegetables” or “don’t talk to strangers” or “money doesn’t grow on trees.” Every mother seems to have an instinctive need to either scold or pass on lessons of life to their children in a way that was somewhat annoying or incredibly redundant to hear at the time and yet we find ourselves repeating and paying heed to these momisms later in life.

For me, I recall mom saying “your plate should be colorful.” It was her way of pointing our that a meal of all biege or white or artificially colored in orange was likely a very unhealthy diet. She taught us that a colorful plate of green veggies and other healthy foods are not just beautiful, but a delicious way to live a good life.

Another phrase that stuck with me was not one she repeated again but it truly stayed with me. She proclaimed it as she was at a juncture of major change. It was our country’s bicentennial. She was a divorced single mom of two young daughters, struggling to make ends meet in the city- sometimes juggling two jobs. After announcing that we would would be moving to a little town called Taos, New Mexico, and we likely responded in shock; she said “if we’re going to be poor, let’s at least live someplace pretty.”

My little sister, my mom, and me circa summer of 1976

My little sister, my mom, and me circa summer of 1976

We celebrated our grandmother’s birthday on July 4th, 1976, we packed up our belongings in a VW beetle, and off we went to live a very different- and a very colorful- life than we had known before. Later as an adult I experienced similar challenges and joys as my own mother did, her words made a great deal more sense. I realized her words meant that life would likely be straddled with struggles, but how we choose to take in the view was up to us.

Because my mother died when I was only fourteen and there were indeed times of adversity, I was lucky to have other strong women in my life that made a positive influence- such as my many aunts, my grandmothers, and my father’s second wife Kathleen who were all there during pivotal and significant events of my life. No doubt they all played some part in why I love being a mom to my kids/stepkids today.

So what are the little nuggets of advice or wisdoms of life that your mother or mom-like figure bestowed upon you?  Was it countless “Because I’m your mother that’s why!” or something more original? And how did it affect you later in life? Please let me know~ I would love to hear!

I’ll leave you with images of classic film and TV moms on this Mother’s Day, some of which may have shaped a subtle influence in my life. Whether based on fantasy or a close proximity to reality, they were fun to idolize or entertain in my own way of filling in that vacant void. As my childhood transitioned from the late 60s to the 70s and into the early 80s, the typical family was portrayed as anything but traditional, just like my own family and many families at that time.

For all you amazing, hard-working, devoted and ‘colorful’ moms out there, hope you all enjoyed a relaxing and happy Mother’s Day!

I Remember Mama (1948)

I Remember Mama (1948)

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Stella Dallas (1937)

Stella Dallas (1937)

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Terms Of Endearment (1983)

Terms Of Endearment (1983)

Laura Petrie, The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)

The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)

moms_ I Love Lucy

I Love Lucy (1951-1957)

moms_ Julia

Julia (1968-1971)

moms_ bambi

Bambi (1942)

Leave It To Beaver (1957-1963)

Leave It To Beaver (1957-1963)

One Day At A Time (1975-1984)

One Day At A Time (1975-1984)

Little House On The Prairie (1974-1983)

Little House On The Prairie (1974-1983)

The Partridge Family (1970-1974)

The Partridge Family (1970-1974)

The Munsters (1964-1966)

The Munsters (1964-1966)

The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1971-1974)

The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1971-1974)

moms_All In The Family

All In The Family (1971-1979)

moms_Bewitched

Bewitched (1964-1972)

moms_Happy Days

Happy Days (1974-1984)

THE BRADY BUNCH (1969-1974), photo credit: Getty

THE BRADY BUNCH (1969-1974), photo credit: Getty

FAMILY TIES (1982-1989) — Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

moms_Lost In Space

Lost In Space (1965-1968)

 

James Garner as "Maverick" (1957-1960)

James Garner is one of those rare Hollywood actors who has made such an incredible impression on the silver screen with an illustrious career spanning decades, that he is easily recognized to this day by multiples of generations and by millions across the world. You can count me in as one of his biggest fans. In addition to an active filmography of over fifty films beginning in the mid-1950’s, Garner was equally popular in a very active career in television. He is one of the first to skillfully master both the big and small screen mediums so successfully. One of my favorite television roles for Garner is the charming western comedy, “Maverick”(1957-1960).

Born in Norman, Oklahoma as James Scott Bumgarner, in 1928, his childhood had a hefty share of challenges. As the youngest of three boys, James lost his mother Mildred (who was said to be part Cherokee) at the very early age of five years old. The boys lived with family until their father remarried. This stepmother was physically abusive for years to the point that young 14 year old James finally stood up to this deplorable woman with a violent altercation that ended the marriage. His father left the boys behind and moved to LA. By sixteen, James joined the Merchant Marines. He enjoyed the physical activity and camaraderie but rejoined his father in LA to enroll as a popular student at Hollywood High. This reunion did not last long as he returned to Norman less than a year later. There he excelled in sports, not academics at the local school but never graduated (he did earn his GED later). Instead, he returned to the army where he felt more at home.

In the National Guard he served 7 months stateside then he served in combat in the midst of the Korean War for another 14 months in the standard army. He even earned 2 different Purple Heart medals for his injuries during the war. Thereafter, a friend convinced him to take on a non-speaking role in the Broadway production of “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” (1954) where he carefully studied the acting methods of co-star Henry Fonda. This led to a series of small television spots and a contract with Warner Brothers (in 1956), which followed with some film work. Without any notification or permission, Warner Brothers took the liberty of changing his name from Bumgarner to Garner.

His big Hollywood break came along when he was offered the part of  Bret Maverick on the television series, “Maverick” in 1957. Created by Roy Huggins, this television series took the popular and frequent TV genre at that time of the western, yet gave it a whole new twist. Instead of taking a straight-forward good guy (typically a law man of some sort) who takes an unswerving interest to run the bad guys out of town, “Maverick” took a fresh approach that was instantly popular thanks to the charm of its leading man, James Garner. The role of Bret Maverick was a lovable cad… a gambler traveling town to town in search of profit via a deck of cards. And while he was often the source of the bad guys’ undoing, it was never his primary objective. Maverick is actually a rather lazy character, never seeking out conflict. He’d rather sneak out of town to seek his next fortune than have a ‘shoot out at the OK Corral.’ But ultimately he always revealed that he’s a good guy after all; even if grudgingly, in the end.

James Garner, on his role as ‘Bret Maverick’: “I’m playing me. Bret Maverick is lazy: I’m lazy. And I like being lazy.”

The show also featured Bret’s brother Bart (portrayed by Jack Kelly, 1957-1962) and later a British-accented cousin, Beau (portrayed by Roger Moore, 1959-1961). While Bret and Bart were supposed to be a brother team on equal star billing, audiences were so taken by Garner’s handsome looks, charisma and dry-wit charm that Bret quickly became the clear favorite. As popular as James Garner was in this role, his contract with Warner Brothers ended abruptly in 1960. Warner Brothers suspended Garner without pay in the midst of a writer’s strike. But he sued and won; thereby freeing him to pursue higher-paying film roles, just as he was rapidly becoming a household name.

While his part on the “Maverick” series ended in 1960, this was not his last nor only time to play this character. He also portrayed Bret Maverick in 1957 in one episode of “Sugarfoot” (1957-1961), in 1979 in one episode of “Young Maverick” (1979-1980), and again in 18 episodes of “Bret Maverick” (1981-1982). When the Bret Maverick role was reprised as a major film in 1994 starring Mel Gibson as the lead, it was James Garner who co-starred as ‘partner’ Marshal Zane Cooper with equal charm and appeal.

Over the following five decades, James Garner went on to star in memorable film and television roles such as THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964), MURPHY’S ROMANCE (1985) (for which he was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe), THE NOTEBOOK (2004) and TV series “The Rockford Files” (1974-1980). Some of my favorite Garner films are his fun comedies from the 60’s like THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963), MOVE OVER, DARLING (1963), HOW SWEET IT IS! (1968) and SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969). While James Garner has been an active and very hard-working (despite his joke quoted above regarding laziness) actor for decades, he is most widely recognized for the early role that launched his career into super stardom, “Maverick.”

On a personal note, I must add that I highly respect this man not only for his acting talents but also for his integrity as an individual. He has been a long-time supporter of civil rights and humanitarian causes, and active in politics. On August 28, 1963 he joined over 200,000 Americans for the infamous ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ to get an up-close view of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspire the crowds with his “I Have A Dream” speech. He was joined by fellow civil rights supporters like Sammy Davis Jr., Marlon Brando, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. In one of the longest real-life romances in Hollywood, he met his wife Lois Clarke at an Adlai Stephenson campaign rally in 1956 and they married just 2 weeks later. I truly enjoy following their daughter Gigi on twitter (@MavrocksGirl) and I recommend following her engaging and compassionate (gee, I wonder where she gets those lovely qualities) timeline, especially for you James Garner fans like me!
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This tribute to James Garner’s role as “Maverick” is my humble entry to the delightful blogathon, BIG STARS ON THE SMALL SCREEN as hosted by the fabulous How Sweet It Was site. Please read all the other entertaining and informative blogger entries in this wonderful gem of a blogathon!

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