Rain delays, robot rabbits and killer tarps
The ball was grounded to second with the bases loaded. It picked up water as it skidded across the damp St. Louis infield, causing Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro to double-clutch the ball as he pulled it from his glove. That small delay allowed David Freese, the Cardinals’ lead runner, to score. San Francisco was down 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning in game three of the National League Championship Series.
The skies above Busch Stadium in St. Louis opened up in that way that weather services had predicted they would all day. The players came off the field. The grounds crew dragged the tarp over the field, making this an official rain delay.
“Right now Noah would be impressed with what we’re seeing in St. Louis,” former Giants’ pitcher Mike Krukow said, describing the torrent to me as I sat there in my cubicle listening to what was once a ballgame through a set of headphones plugged into an old boombox.
The Giants’ broadcasting team on KNBR 680 San Francisco found itself with a lot of airtime to kill. That’s when things got weird.
Using what the situation had given to him, veteran broadcaster Jon Miller regaled his radio audience with tales of the drainage system at Busch Stadium.
“It’s sort of a sand-based system, but beneath all of that are these subterranean pumps,” he explained, before the discussion turned to the time that this mechanized tarp in the old St. Louis ballpark tried to eat Cards outfielder Vince Coleman before a playoff game in 1985.
Somebody in the broadcasting booth brought up this mechanical bunny that popped out of the infield in Oakland in the 1970s to deliver balls to the home plate umpire. The first base ump could also step on a switch to allow jets of air to blow the dust off of the base. The Giants broadcasting team all quickly agreed that such conveyances were just Frankenstein’s monsters waiting to harm even the best ballplayers. I think they said that Mickey Mantle was injured by some kind of labor saving device, and of course, there was Vince Coleman again.
“He was the fastest man in the league, but he couldn’t escape this tarp,” Miller added.
After lamenting the terror that Coleman must have felt as he was enveloped by that tarp, former Giants’ second-baseman-turned-sportscaster Duane Kuiper joined in with his account of rats running out from under the tarp in Cleveland and attacking the California Angels dugout. Krukow countered with tales of playing for the Amarillo Giants in the Texas League where the ballpark reeked of a nearby slaughterhouse and they sprayed the field for mosquitos twice during each game.
“I think it was Agent Orange they got cheap,” Krukow said.
Kuiper said, “Reno, 1972,” and I just couldn’t process it anymore. Reno, shit, I’m still only in Reno.
This rolling discussion of robot bunnies, rats and killer tarps almost made up for all those stranded Giants baserunners—almost. I wondered why they didn’t have TiVO for radio, and wished that I had a cassette tape handy so I could record this thing the old-fashioned way. The off-brand boom box made from silver plastic could still do that much even 30 years after it was bought at Radio Shack.
It was these weird conversations that cropped up during the slow moments of baseball games that made me think I could make it in sports broadcasting. I majored in Radio and Television at San Francisco State, but never really pursued it beyond announcing for Incredibly Strange Wrestling, a San Francisco mixture of punk rock and lucha libre. That was live entertainment though, and the crowds flung food, cups, beer and even shit at me. I also had to wrestle the Poontangler and Macho Sasquatcho from time-to-time, but at least I was never attacked by rats in Cleveland.
As the rain delay dragged on, the talk inevitably turned to how much better things are now.
“The minor league ballparks of today are nicer than Wrigley Field,” Kuiper said, and he was right. We’ve made everything so comfortable and so state-of-the-art, but there is a shame in that. What will the baseball announcers of the Year 2027 have to talk about? The Wi-Fi going out?
The game resumed several hours. The Giants hung on to lose 3-1. St. Louis leads the NLCS two games to one.
11:54:46 pm, by bobcalhoun
, 1431 words, 5876 views
Being Stan Lee
The real Stan Lee (left) points an accusing finger at his dynamic doppelganger, Fake Stan Lee (right).
In this meta age of ours where Drunk Hulks and Feminist Hulks shun the use of pronouns on their snarky Twitter feeds, it’s only fitting that the Green-skinned Goliath’s creator should also have his imitators. However, Fake Stan Lee isn’t just relegated to 140 characters or less; he’s a living breathing person.
It was Friday just before 2pm. I was in a large conference room on the upper level of the San Diego Convention Center at Comic Con, waiting for the Stan Lee panel to start. I’d lucked out and got a seat only four rows back without having to wait in line for half the day. Seats are hard to come by at Comic Con. Even a Thursday evening panel titled “Geek Girls Exist” had a line winding around the halls for it, and a guy got stabbed in the eye over a chair in the “Resident Evil: Afterlife” panel on Saturday. With a “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” panel (a show I actually watch) beginning right after Stan Lee’s talk, I was camped out in Room 6BCF for the duration of the afternoon, bladder permitting.
But Stan “The Man” Lee meant a lot more to me than some Brutus Beekfcakes in skirts who eviscerate each other on pay cable. With the amount of Marvel Comics that I consumed since the age of five, it felt like Lee’s imagination had fueled my own. I might not be a writer today without Stan Lee. Every issue “The Incredible Hulk", “The Amazing Spider-Man", and “The Fantastic Four” that I devoured in the 1970s had the words “Stan Lee Presents” on the top of the first page. Stan’s shameless self-promotion let me know that being a writer, editor or publisher was a possibility.
At Comic Con this weekend, Stan was hyping Marvel cartoons geared at kids and his more recent creation, Striperella, for a more adult audience. “She strips at night and fights crime later at night,” we were told moments before Stan’s arrival for his panel.
As I was waiting for Stan to show up, Fake Stan Lee entered the room. He was wearing a sweater vest over a blue dress shirt, had Stan’s same receding hairline with an imitation mustache to match. But Fake Stan’s act went beyond the limits of mere cosplay. He’s a Stan Lee reenactor who never breaks character, not much different than the guys who play the part of Benjamin Franklin at certain historical sites in Philadelphia. Every word that Fake Stan utters is spoken with that same enthusiastic, New York accented patter as the real thing.
There was an empty seat next to me so I waved Fake Stan over. He was glad to take the seat and even agreed to answer a few questions.
“What’s it like being Stan Lee,” I asked.
He replied with loving but pointed mockery of the former publisher of Marvel Comics.
“Well, it’s very interesting being Stan Lee because, as you know, I created 95% of the most popular comic books in the world,” he said, “therefore everybody here should be paying tithe to me. So everyone, please get out your wallets and hand forth some money, either five or ten dollars. I think it’s the smallest thing that you can do for all the enjoyment that I’ve brought you over the years.”
I asked Fake Stan if the universe would explode if shook the real Stan’s hand.
“Prob-a-bly,” he answered spacing out each syllable.
When I asked if he escaped from the Negative Zone with the “Fantastic Four” villain called Blastarr the Living Bomburst, he claimed not to know who Blastarr was.
“But you created him!” I exclaimed.
A crowd gathered around to watch my interview with Fake Stan, asking him silly questions and getting silly answers. One woman was taping the interview with a really nice video camera. I’d really like to see that footage. People sitting around us laughed when I asked Fake Stan if he was ever tempted to earn some extra scratch by impersonating Hal Linden in the role of Barney Miller.
“I see what you’re doing and I like the reference,” he said, “You’re a good man and you’re very smart.”
Sometime during this tete-a-tete, a well-stacked model showed up in a Striperella costume. Somebody had a poster of Stan Lee kissing Striperella and now the crowd wanted Fake Stan to kiss Fake Stiperella. Fake Stan got out of his seat and affected an old man’s gait as he strolled up to Striperella. With the crowd urging them on, the two embraced with maybe a reluctant peck on the cheek resulting as the proceedings started to resemble the last throes of a depressing bachelor party.
The attempt at Dionysian revelry ended before it could ever take off and the Fake Stan returned to his seat right before the real Stan Lee emerged onto the stage.
At 87, Lee still possessed the same level of energy (boundless) that he’d displayed in any TV appearances that I could recall from the 1970s. A chair was set up on the stage for him, but he stood at the podium and gestured frantically through out much of his talk. Lee began with a tale of alter egos worthy of one of his costumed crime fighters.
“I used to have a real name, not something silly like Stan Lee.” Lee said from the stage. “It used Stanley Martin Lieber, a real name!”
Looking at Fake Stan Lee fidgeting in his seat, this was too much to process as I came to the realization that there wasn’t a “real” Stan Lee. Stan Lee was the world-renowned hero, with Stanley Martin Lieber relegated to being the nerdy, Peter Parker like secret identity.
Lee had his reasons, however. He used an alias when he first broke into the comics business in the early 1940s because “people had no respect for comics in those days.”
“They didn’t consider them an art form,” Lee explained. “They thought they were things that were read by dumb rubes or moronic children.”
“Today it’s different,” Lee continued. “Today, somebody says, ‘Hey isn’t that Stan Lee over there?’”
Lee paused for a minute before adding, “Excuse me President Obama, I’ll be back in a minute.” At that moment, the hall erupted with laughter.
Eventually Stanley Martin Lieber had his name legally changed to Stan Lee.
“It got so complicated that finally my wife decided, let’s just change it to Lee so now we’re Joan Lee and Stan Lee,” he explained. “I still like Stanley Martin Leiber but when I sign autographs, this makes it easier.”
But even after the transformation into Stan Lee, circumstances in his pulpy corner still forced him to conceal his identity like Tony Stark putting on his suit of armor to become Iron Man.
“I was probably the top romance writer in the world,” he said. “We had books called ‘My Romance’, Her Romance, ‘Their Romance’, ‘Romantic Romances and on like that. I wrote them all.”
The problem for Lee was that the books were written in a first person, confessional style.
“I’m used to signing my name to everything I write,” he said, “but it couldn’t say, ‘I Remember When I was 16 and I Fell In Love with the First Boy I Met’ by Stan Lee. I didn’t want to leave my name and I didn’t want to use someone else’s name. I wouldn’t get the credit. I came up with probably the best idea I ever had. On every one of the stories, I had the name of the story that I would write, ‘As told to Stan Lee.’”
As Lee launched into a tale of how the Comics Code Authority ordered him to decrease the size of a puff of smoke coming out of a six-shooter in an issue of ‘Kid Colt Outlaw’ because the puff of smoke was “too violent,” I asked the Fake Stan Lee if everything was true.
“It’s all absolutely true,” Fake Stan said looking awed by his living source material.
Last year at Comic Con, Fake Stan played the dozens with dudes dressed up as Deadpool and Spider-Man. Throughout the panel, I kept expecting Fake Stan to attempt the same with the man who was once Stanley Martin Lieber, but he never did. Soon after I asked Fake Stan my last question, he got up and left before the the legal Stan Lee had finished recalling his numerous name changes. Maybe things had gotten too meta for even Fake Stan Lee.
Comic Con Holy War
Margie Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church protests the San Diego Comic Con.
If Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church had his way, God would be sending Biblical plagues down upon the San Diego Convention Center right about now and turning hundreds of nerds dressed in Batman costumes into pillars of salt.
It’s the first full day of the San Diego Comic Con. I was in front of the Convention Center, trying to cross the street against an unending tide of convention goers carrying oversized bags stuffed with assorted plastic figurines and video games. As I made it to the crosswalk, I saw a man in a checkered shirt on the side of the road holding up a dayglo lime green sign that read, “GOD HATES KITTENS” with a picture of a cat pasted to it. I chuckled and snapped a couple of pictures of him. I’m taking a lot of pics at Comic Con this year. Next to the man with the sign expressing the Lord’s hatred of baby felines was a person dressed like Bender the robot from “Futurama” holding up a sign that read, “KILL ALL HUMANS!” I took some more pictures of the beginnings of a picket line bathed in satire.
I then saw a line of cops behind Bender the robot, and beyond them were the God Hates Fags people. Fred Phelps and his congregation from the Westboro Baptist Church took some time away from protesting the funerals of fallen soldiers to spend a little time waving their hateful placards in the general direction of Comic Con and its annual mega-gathering of movie stars, geeks, nerds, Klingons, stormtroopers and multitudes of gals dressed in Princess Leia slave girl outfits.
I walked past the line of San Diego police officers. “I’m press,” I said, “I want to get some pictures of these people.”
The police let me through but instructed me not to go any further than a concrete barrier that separated the lawn the Westboro Baptists were standing on and the street. The police also told me not to go into the street.
Once I got to the end of the concrete barrier, I snapped a couple of pictures of a woman who turned out to be Margie Phelps, the daughter of Fred Phelps. Her bottom half was wrapped in the American flag and she was holding up four signs at once, two in each hand. This gave her the illusion of more limbs, making her look like a strange pagan goddess of intolerance and hate. One sign said, “Fags doom nations” and another one read, “America is Doomed.” All of their signs have the benefit of really good four color printing. They take pride in these signs.
I asked her if she’d grant an interview and she agreed. Still mindful of the police presence, I inched as closely to her as I could, and held out my digital recorder and started asking questions. The transcript of this conversation is below for those that want to read it, but talking to Ms. Phelps was a little like arguing with a brick. I called her a fame whore, so there’s some satisfaction of that but I do wish that I thought of saying that her cup is filled with the filth of many nations. That would have been a Biblical zinger there, but that wouldn’t have brought a pillar of fire down from the heavens to destroy the Westboro Baptist Church.
As I was conducting my interview with Phelps, more Comic Con attendees had gathered to form a counter protest that started to outnumber the original protest. One guy in a Starfleet uniform held up a cardboard sign that said “God hates Jedi” on one side and “God Needs a Starship” on the other. Other counter protesters held up signs that said, “Support fiction, read the Bible,” and “Odin is God Read ‘The Mighty Thor’ #5″ The comic con goers also rallied themselves for a rousing chorus of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” making the whole thing seem a very serious, or “a very special” episode of “Glee.”
But the best counter-protester was a man dressed like Jesus Christ who was carrying a sign that said, “God Loves Every Body.” Sure, he separated the words every and body, but that’s still a lot closer to what the Bible says about the Almighty’s preferences than anything written on the Phelps family’s signs.
Jesus here has the right idea.
Here is the interview with Margie Phelps. For those of you who got through my interview with Andrew Breitbart, this should be a walk in the park if only because it’s much shorter…
BOB CALHOUN: So why are you out here at Comic Con today?
MARGIE PHELPS: well we’re out here to say that if were to invest one fraction of the resources that you spend and invest in worshiping Batman, and the Ghostbusters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so fourth in reading the Bible and obeying God, this nation would not be (garbled).
BC: You seem to be pretty knowledgeable you threw out Buffy there.
MP: We read the news. It’s not hard to track what’s going on in this country. This kind of convention would draw a lot more people than, for instance, a convention about obeying God.
BC: What about the Promise Keepers though? The Promise Keepers fill arenas several times bigger than this.
MP: Promise Keepers. Promise Keepers, dot com, potato, po-tah-toe – all worshiping false Gods.
BC: So the Promise Keepers are worshiping false gods as well…
MP: Of course they are. They are worshiping themselves, first and foremost. It’s just another false religion.
BC: So who are the real Gods then?
MP: You mean who are the real servants? There’s only one God and you know it and all mankind knows it. It’s in your DNA. The Promise Keepers claim to worship the only true and living God, but instead they worship their works and self righteousness and that’s every bit as wrong as these foolish people worshiping Batman and all.
BC: Okay, Batman I understand, but why picket the soldiers’ funerals.
MP: Because the soldiers are dying for the sins of this nation and the whole world is looking over at those events. They are big, splashy, patriotic pep rallies. We’ve picketed over 500 of them. They’re great, big, giant public events. Why not picket them?
BC: It’s really tacky. These people are grieving. These families lost somebody.
MP: They’re not grieving. They’re angry with God and they’re mugging for the cameras, and they’re mugging for the cameras and they’re bringing all their business outside… Let me finish. They’re bringing all their business outside on Front Street and Main Street for everyone to talk about.
BC: At a cemetery? That’s Main Street?
MP: Number one, we don’t picket cemeteries. We picket on public sidewalks, 30 minutes before the funeral, and we leave when it starts. Have you ever been there picketing? I have. I see what goes on.
BC: But aren’t you people just mugging for the cameras? You’re here at Comic Con. You’re at Ronnie James Dio’s funeral. Aren’t you just being fame whores just like the whores of Babylon you purport are in there (pointing to the San Diego Convention Center)?
MP: We’re using any public forum available to get these words before the eyes and ears of doomed America. (Raising her voice) We are not claiming…
BC: I think you’re just fame whores like the people in there (Note: Sylvester Stallone was in there somewhere).
MP: And I don’t care. Now going back to what sprung you off onto that side trail, we don’t claim that we’re privately mourning for our dead son. They do.
BC: How are you supposed to know that though? How are you supposed to know whether they are mourning privately or not? What made you God? Does God speak to you?
MP: By their public actions. I don’t care or know or care what they do in private. We don’t speak to them in their private quarters. We speak to them when they come out on the public sidewalk. And that’s what all of America is doing, bowing down to those dead bodies saying, “God Bless America” like a bunch of fools.
(NOTE: I’m sure we could have gone on like this all day, but I asked Phelps for her name and ended the interview after that one because the counter-protest was really heating up.)
Gene Barry fought Martians with Science
Gene Barry (with co-star Ann Robinson) crashed a plane to get away from Martian war machines in “War of the Worlds” (1953), not “Invaders from Mars.”
Gene Barry, a towering figure of my UHF TV viewing in the 70s, passed away in a rest home in the Woodland Hills district of Los Angeles today. He was 90 years old. The Associated Press obituary of Barry didn’t even mention that he was in War of the Worlds (1953). That’s like forgetting that Sir Alec Guiness was in Star Wars!
Look, if you just admit that the greatest achievement of American culture was the output of science fiction movies in the 1950s, we’ll all get along a lot better. Sure Hendrix, Steinbeck and Miles Davis were all pretty amazing, but the greatest artistic explosion this country has ever seen started in 1951 with The Thing from Another World and The Day the Earth Stood Still and drew to a close in 1960 with The Time Machine. Some would argue that the 50s sci-fi movement actually ended in 1963 with The Slime People, but that film, where all of the action is obscured by the constant output of one heck of a fog machine, can best be described as an outlier. A case can also be made for 1962’s Day of the Triffids. Triffids definitely has the quality of such 50s staples as War of the Worlds and Forbidden Planet, but it’s British so we don’t care.
Yes, I know that Barry was nominated for a Tony for playing a gay night-club owner in La Cage aux Folles on Broadway in the 1980s, but that pales in comparison to playing a scientist trying to hold society together while Martians blast the living shit out of Los Angeles (and London and San Francisco and Moscow) with crazy looking heat rays that make a cool assed noise. The Associated Press did credit Barry with being in the other Martian invasion movie of 1953, Invaders from Mars. The only problem: Barry wasn’t in Invaders from Mars. Fact check people! Saying that Gene Barry was in Invaders from Mars is like putting Mark Hamill in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Gene Barry was also in the nuclear scare movie The Atomic City (1952) and he did some pretty crazy kung-fu with that cane of his in 108 episodes of Bat Masterson but I’ll always remember him as the suave but earnest Dr. Clayton Forrester in War of the Worlds, even if the Associated Press can’t seem to. At least Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post bothered to get it right and even imbedded this trailer from War of the Worlds in his Gene Barry piece:
Schwarzenegger hears the lamentation of my 8% pay cut
I work for a major California public university. My pay is probably going to be cut by eight percent next month. I’m one of the lucky ones. My fellow state workers at the DMV and other state agencies have been eating an eight per cent pay cut for months already. Now they are told they have to up their sacrifice to 15%. But those of us with jobs, no matter how devalued, are luckier still. At least we’re still working (for the time being).
Arnold Schwarzenegger, our Governator, told the state legislature in May that he sees the pain in our eyes and hears the fear in our voices. He didn’t let on that this was music to his ears. “What is best in life?” a Mongol chieftain asks the young Conan in Arnold’s first summer blockbuster, Conan the Barbarian (1982). “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women,” Arnold as Conan stoicly answers to the applause of his warrior masters. In an interview with the New York Times Magazine that ran earlier this month, Arnold said that he relaxes in a Jacuzzi with a stogie and refuses to let those harsh choices he has had to make get him down. With each pay cut, layoff, benefits decrease, fare hike for public transit, park closure, reduction in services to poor children and the elderly, Arnold most definitely hears the lamentation of their women.
But how did I become one of Arnold’s enemies to be crushed and driven before him? I begged my dad to take me to see Conan when I was 12 years old. Despite its R-rating, my dad relented. I think he wanted to see the movie too. “Lots of boobs, lots of beheadings” was my dad’s glib review to my stepmom after returning from the UA-6 proto multiplex in Redwood City. I guess that was two thumbs way up.
I went to see Predator at the Stanford Theatre, a single screen job that’s now a revival house kept afloat by funds from David Packard. As the end credits rolled, my friends and I swore we could remember each line of dialog from it as if we had seen it ten times. “Stick around… This stuff will make you a god damned sexual Tyrannosaurus… We’re all gonna’ die… Dug in like an Alabama tick… You’re one ugly mother fucker.” Our belief that we could recall each of the film’s lines verbatim in those days before the advent of IMDB made us love the film all the more.
After seeing an Arnold movie, I’d put a little extra effort into the strength training part of my high school PE class. For weight sets, our school utilized these rusty metal bars that had oversized tin cans filled with hardened concrete attached to each end of them. I did extra reps of military presses, behind the head presses and other muscle building exercises. Coach Parks made me do lots of Bear runs (our high school’s mascot was the bear – like my current place of employment). The Bear Run was about a half mile. I did it very slowly but I did it. I then did more reps with those makeshift barbells before taking off for another bear run. I never saw the results that I wanted. Casting agents weren’t going to call me to be part of Schwarzenegger’s next rescue team any time soon. I was still a fat kid. Nobody told me that I had to do steroids to look like Road Warrior Hawk or Hulk Hogan. The weight lifting mags assumed that you knew this already—that you were in on the gag. There’s a saying in pro body building: “Body building without steroids is like NASCAR without gasoline.” Arnold always was full of a lot of gas, it turns out.
Arnold is ruining his legacy. Not the legacy of seizing the governorship of California through the recall election. Not his landslide reelection that looked so uncertain only months before when the entire slate of ballot initiatives backed by him went down in a steaming heap as voters rejected them one by one. No, he is ruining the only legacy of his that matters: the legacy of sometimes classic but mostly crappy action movies. It will be hard to watch them on late night cable TV because, well, if I’m smart, I’ll dump the cable TV. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) fares just went up six per cent and the San Francisco MUNI bus line increased its standard fares to a whopping two bucks, mostly due to cuts in state subsidies. Work pays me less but it costs more to get there. No more on demand 80s action nostalgia for me. Maybe I still have old pan and scan VHS copies of some of those movies in a big Sterlite storage bin under my house. But even if I do, I doubt I’ll want to watch them.
Arnold, if you are reading, they are making a new Conan movie without you. Why can’t you abdicate like your equally fame seeking colleague Sarah Palin and make another Conan flick instead? Here’s the pitch: you are Conan as an older man. You have conquered. You are the bearded guy sitting at the ornate throne at the end of the first movie. The burden of leadership both weighs heavily on your brow and isn’t what you had thought it was going to be. You are held captive in your palace, no longer allowed to lead your armies into victory. You can use this multi-million dollar summer epic to reflect upon your years in politics and maybe even scoop up rare (for you) critical raves in the process. “I want to lead but these bureaucrats won’t let me!!!” You can scream in your thick Austrian accent, while no doubt hurling some heavy object encrusted with precious gems at the end of the film’s first act. As act two draws to a close, you can be about to lead your horde into battle once again, in defiance of your political advisors. During the film’s climax, you will perish in battle from multiple battle axe wounds. It’s the way that Conan should go out after all. People will cry just like they do when King Kong goes tumbling down the Empire State Building or the Wolf Man is finally plugged with that silver bullet, releasing him from his curse. This film writes itself Arnold and you need to be in it. Johnny Milius can direct. It’s too bad that Mako isn’t around to narrate. Maybe Dolby or Lucas can devise some kind of Mako simulator.
There’s a homeless guy in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco who panhandles in the median strip on South Van Ness while wearing a dirty Arnold Schwarzenegger t-shirt. It has a pic of Arnold as Conan, flexing his muscles and brandishing a broadsword. “Welcome to Kalee-Forniah” it says underneath our governator’s oiled up mid section. I bet that guy doesn’t get quite the health services that he used to. Maybe we should silk screen a new shirt for him that reads: “Arnold is governor and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”
The Bad Times for Monster Men Continue
I was really shocked to see the obit for former Creature Features producer Bob Shaw on SFGate.com today. This is so soon after Creature Features host Bob Wilkins passed away – way too soon. Shaw was only 56. Bob Shaw was a monster nerd who broke into television by assisting Bob Wilkins on Creature Features. Shaw helped Wilkins (along with future CF host John Stanley and ISW co-founder August Ragone) with the research into classic (and not so classic) horror and sci-fi movies. He also pieced together the crackerjack title montage of movie clips that played under the beloved Creature Features theme song during the show’s opening. “Stylishly done,” were George Takei’s remarks about Shaw’s work when the Trek star was a guest on the show. After Creature Features, Shaw became KTVU’s resident Roger Ebert, but I always liked him better. He went out of his way to give a glowing review to Godzilla 1985 when other lazy critics were content to just let it head up their year’s worst lists. He pointed out that Pearl Harbor contained no Pacific Islanders in it but had lots of scenes of truckloads of white actors yelling “Go! Go! Go!.” He understood the artistic value of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. I just watched Bob in the Creature Features documentary, Watch Horror Films Keep America Strong. He’s really funny in it. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.
Shaw passed away last Friday from liver failure and complications from Crohn’s disease.
He was one of us, one of us (and he’d know the reason for the repeat better than anyone).
The hard times for monster men continue.
Here’s some of Shaw’s handiwork…
10:50:41 am, by bobcalhoun
, 827 words, 2266 views
Steel Chairs and Gold Statues: My One Oscar Prediction
THEY’RE GOING TO DO IT. They’re going to hand the little gold man to Brad Pitt for Benjamin Button at the Academy Awards this Sunday. The Academy voters are programmed to lavish Oscars on any film that reminds them of Forrest Gump. Pitt sounds kinda’ loopy in the movie but he doesn’t go full retard. He’s odd but oh so folksy. Members of the Academy will keep pressing the button for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Many of them won’t even know why.
This will leave Mickey Rourke no choice but to hit Brad Pitt with a steel chair. “You people need to give me the respect that I deserve,” Rourke will yell, giving a time honored (and honed) bad guy wrestler refrain that has existed ever since the invention of the microphone. The Tinsel Town hoi polloi gathered for the event will start to boo Rourke more heavily than they booed Michael Moore when he said that George W. Bush stole an election.
The orchestra will start to play the outro music in a futile attempt to stop the violence. Pitt, floored by the initial blow, will struggle to his knees but Rourke will send him back down to the plush carpeting with another chair shot across the Hollywood hunk’s back. Rourke will then toss the chair to the side and begin to lay his snakeskin boots into the body of the A-lister. “Somebody stop it!” Daniel Day Lewis will say over the Kodak Theatre’s sound system. Lewis was last year’s best Oscar winner for his arresting turn as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. “Security! Security!” he will plead while still maintaining a certain aloof poise. But the security guards will be paralyzed. They have been expressly told never to lay a hand on the talent, even if the talent is conducting itself in the manner of a rabid wolverine or a Texas rattlesnake. Philip Seymour Hoffman, winner of the best actor award in 2006 for his performance in Capote and best supporting actor nominee this year for Doubt, will be moved to tears by the carnage but will do nothing. Sean Penn will start to cheer Pitt’s dismantling but then, realizing what he is doing, will quickly sit down in the hopes that he wasn’t on camera.
The frantic commentary of WWE Smackdown announcer Jim Ross will unexplainably air over the Oscar broadcast. “Brad Pitt is broken in half! Broken in half! Good God Almighty!! Good God Almighty!! That…That…That…near killed him!!! Mickey Rourke is tougher than a two dollar steak. Mickey Rourke is a freak of nature…and I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way.”
Mickey Rourke has what Roddy Piper calls the sickness now. He’s got the fever. Like his portrayal of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, he needs to get back into that ring. At the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes, he even dressed like every pro wrestler trying to look high class that I’ve ever run across. Like The Rock circa 2000, he is wearing those glittery $500 shirts. Don’t you dare rip that shirt Brad Pitt or Sean Penn, otherwise Rourke is liable to layeth the smacketh down on your roody poo candy asses. A can of whoopass will definitely be opened.
Agents and managers may try to stop him but Rourke is going to do WrestleMania 25 on April 5th. The WWE is unabashedly building up to this. Heel Chris Jericho has called Rourke out on Larry King and has continued to do so every week on Monday Night RAW ever since. Rourke dare not show his face on a weekly wrestling show for fear that the Academy will deem this undignified (as if anything in Hollywood is actually possessing of dignity). Retired wrestlers have been used to stand in for Rourke in his agent imposed absence. This week it was “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Last week it was “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. During these segments that usually end with the old pro laying out the upstart with one blow as the fans cheer wildly, the meaning of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is publicly debated. Jericho says that all of the wrestling legends, like the film’s main character, are nothing more than broken down old men willing to dance on strings for the amusement of slovenly fans that don’t really care about them. Flair and Piper have said that the movie hits upon the dignity of the men who get in the ring night after night. In a world where “all of it are shades of grey (sic),” as Vince McMahon himself said on a late 1990s A&E special on the phenomenon of pro wrestling, both interpretations are right.
But Mickey has the fever now. Mickey won’t get the respect that he deserves so he will hit Brad Pitt with that steel chair, making this the best Academy Awards ever.
And Your Host Bob Wilkins...
Bob Wilkins interviews an actual cyclops on “Creature Features” in the 1970s.
I JUST GOT AN EMAIL FROM JOHN STANLEY telling me that Bob Wilkins passed away in Reno yesterday. First Forry Ackerman and now Bob Wilkins; it’s been a bad time for monster men.
Wilkins was the host of Creature Features on Oakland’s KTVU Channel 2 when I was a kid in the 1970s. Wilkins never wore a cape or put on any ghoulish make-up. He looked more like a swingin’ 70s insurance salesman than the horror hosts that haunted the airwaves of other American cities. He had horn-rimmed glasses and always smoked a stogie. His set did have the pre-requisite cobwebs and cardboard dungeon walls, however, but there were plenty of post modern touches like a sign on the back wall that read: “Watch Horror Films. Keep America Strong.” The placard looked like it should be staked into some Republican’s lawn somewhere in Concord or San Mateo.
Bob’s sense of humor about films like Monster from the Ocean Floor (he claimed that the film was delivered to the station in a brown paper bag) or Attack of the Mushroom People (the first film he showed) was filled with the kind of wry sarcasm that would become more mainstream in later years with such late-night talk show hosts at Letterman or Conan O’Brien or even John Stewart. In the 1970s, the Bay Area was maybe the only place that got this sort of thing. But Wilkins did not poke fun at every film he showed like other horror hosts. Bob knew the classics from utter crap and treated the 30s Universal Monster movies or Night of the Living Dead with a kind of respect.
Wilkins, a former weather man, came from the news department of KTVU and his monster movie show was filled with strange news segments. He interviewed local weirdoes like the hippy who built a robot (pronounced “robit” by Wilkins) and people who claimed to be vampires or psychics. Wilkins also interviewed such big stars as Christopher Lee, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei. When I laid my hands on some video tapes of Creature Features interviews, me and my friends played the Takei interview over and over again. It was about 15 minutes long and it was amazing. Takei was the head of LA’s mass transit authority at the time and Wilkins actually asked him about this. “Don’t talk to me about BART,” the man who played Mr. Sulu said waving his hands, “That’s a real hot seat. It’s very contentious issue.” It still is George, it still is.
When I got those tapes of Creature Features, I actually ordered them directly from Wilkins in Reno. He accidentally sent me two tapes of volume two but no copy of volume three. I sent him a letter explaining the situation with SASE so he could send me the right tape. He actually called my house to make sure he got my story straight. My girlfriend at the time answered the phone. Me and my Bay Area nostalgia addled friends were driving her nuts by repeatedly watching those Creature Features tapes. Wilkins voice was constantly coming from our TV and now she was hearing it on the phone. She nearly passed out. But getting a phone call from Wilkins, that really meant something.
By having all of those interviews on his show and making a big deal about re-running 30s Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe* Wilkins made me realize that the offbeat was important or even desirable. I think that I have done things like wrestling guys in Sasquatch suits and writing two books with the subconscious desire to be one of those local weirdoes interviewed by Wilkins as he puffed on that cigar and sat in his trademark yellow rocking chair.
Bob, you’ll be missed. There will never be another one like you.
* Wilkins interviewed Crabbe on the show as well and the former matinee idol pushed his new workout method called “Energistics”).
Condolences can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and he will pass them along to the Wilkins family.
For more info, please go to August Ragone’s blog
03:00:26 pm, by bobcalhoun
, 685 words, 8941 views
Forry Ackerman, RIP
IT’S HARD to come up with words right now. The AP just reported that Forry Ackerman, editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and pretty much the father of all science fiction fandom, died yesterday of heart failure at the age of 92.
Ackerman was a big influence on me as a writer. Although I never adopted his use of bad puns, I cannot escape the flair for alliteration that I gleaned from him and Stan Lee (to the chagrin of lit snobs everywhere). But Forry’s impact on me wasn’t one so much of style. By being so visible in the pages of the issues of Famous Monsters that I read as a kid, he showed me that you could be a writer and have a hell of time doing it. Forry’s example led me to want to be a writer or editor from the age of seven onward. He also encouraged me to read H. G. Wells, Poe and Bradbury. That didn’t hurt either. Forry had an eight year old version of myself struggling to read War of the Worlds and the dreamlike prose of The Pit and the Pendulum.
I had a couple of opportunities to meet Forry. In the early 1990s, I visited him at his home in the Hollywood Hills, which he opened to the public as a veritable sci-fi (a term Ackerman coined) and monster movie museum that he called The Ackermansion. Almost every wall in his home was lined with bookshelves crammed with books. He had files filled with old movie stills in the basement. The actual armatures of the vicious stegosaurus, brontosaurus and pterodactyl from the original King Kong were displayed among other less notable pieces of memorabilia. When I was there, he still had a fair amount of models built and used by Harryhausen to bring mythical creatures to life in such films Jason and the Argonauts, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Among the items from Harryhausen’s collection were the miniatures of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco ferry building that the radioactive octopus attacks in It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). Those pieces, although more plain than so many spaceships, monsters and Spock ears, had a special resonance for me. There was an armoire stocked full of costumes from classic horror films. Forry often wore one of Bela Lugosi’s black capes with a Hawaiian shirt.
In the later 1990s, I had an opportunity to grab a bite to eat with him at the Fisherman’s Wharf Denny’s when he was in San Francisco for a book signing. The last time I saw Forry was after he had sold the Ackermansion. I was visiting my friend Pat Burger down in LA and we went to the House of Pies. “This is the place that Forry Ackerman always goes to,” I told Pat. We parked the car and then strolled through the glass doors. Forry was standing right there in front of the counter, facing us as if he were the diner’s maitre d’. It felt like it was a scene from a movie, which is a fitting final memory to have of someone like Forry.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, Ackerman is responsible for so much of the pop culture we take for granted today. I doubt we’d have Comic Con without him championing science fiction fandom and an appreciation for the offbeat or otherworldly. We might not even have Star Wars or Quentin Tarantino without him imbuing at least two generations with an appreciation of films and serials of the past through Famous Monsters. Forry is also credited with discovering Ray Bradbury, and he was L. Ron Hubbard’s literary agent back in the Scientology founder’s pre-religious figure days as a pulp sci-fi writer.
But most importantly (at least to me), Forrest J. Ackerman is responsible for me. I doubt that I would have written two books if it weren’t for his example. All I can say is thank you 4-E. You’re going to be missed.
12:53:56 am, by bobcalhoun
, 337 words, 16537 views
The Reanimated Corpse of Cody's Books
Nothing quite says the death of capitalism like the arrival of the Spirit Halloween Superstores. Every Fall, when things are dying, the seasonal retailer possesses the space of the recently deceased, giving them a temporary yet tortured afterlife. Not really alive but not quite dead, the Spirit Halloween Superstore is the George Romero flesh-eating zombie of the retail world. Or maybe it’s like that big human cicada monster from the 1982 dimly lit gore flick The Beast Within. I’m not quite sure but it is fitting that they trade in so much ghoulish paraphernalia. Yesterday I was stunned but not really surprised when I noticed that the last location of Cody’s Books had some Day-Glo orange vinyl Spirit banners tackily (but oh so adequately) covering up the Cody’s Books sign. The once beloved independent bookseller that originally opened in 1956 was now nothing more than a host body being used to push Barack Obama masks, really creepy Heath Ledger as the Joker outfits and slutty nurse costumes.
The Spirit Halloween Superstore is indiscriminating. It could have chosen the recently defunct Ross Dress For Less across the street from Cody’s but it didn’t care. If you’re a shopkeeper, the Spirit is your boogeyman. While it may only appear for a month or two out of the year, it’s always nipping at your heels – reminding you of the price of failure.
And there’s plenty of failure to go around these days. With the current financial meltdown, Spirit certainly doesn’t have a shortage of locations to choose from. In fact, they probably have their pick of some pretty posh properties….
The Lehman Brothers Halloween Superstore!
Cody’s Books closed on June 20, 2008. I had a reading booked there on June 30th. I went ahead with the reading anyway and read on the sidewalk in front of the place. You can read my original blog about it here. And for those that didn’t see it, Fora.TV shot video of it….
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Beer, Blood and Piecemeal.
The rock and reading odyssey of a 300-pound hulk.