Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Game That Led Young Ones to 50's Music

(Tonight I have a special treat. It is the first guest post to be published in A Shroud of Thoughts. It is by professional writer Stacey Thompson. I hope you enjoy it!)

 A Game that Led Young Ones to 50s Music
by Stacey Thompson
Many young adults and youths of today barely have a clue, much less a healthy appreciation for the American musical culture from the thirties up until the sixties. A few iconic personalities and their works are still recognizable to the present generations. Luminaries such as Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra are still present in the mindspace. Artists like The Ink Spots, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Jimmy Durante, Billie Holiday, and many others are more or less considered obscure by modern “Justin-Bieber fandom” standards.
One can’t put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the present youngins. It is expected that people of a given time period revel it’s popular culture, albeit including a decade or three from the recent past. It’s just not “cool” to jam to Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters singing Civilization when it’s 2012.
Now, you would probably expect this tirade to come out from an old and bitter codger who predated your parents, the kind that loves to rant about how times long past were so much better than how things are right now. Actually, I’m a woman in my mid-twenties, and I just happen to think the music that was birthed in those aforementioned decades is awesome.
These tunes don’t exactly play in the mainstream airwaves, so why did I acquire an interest in music that’s about as old as my nana? The catalyst was actually a PC video game series that was released back in 1997.


Fallout and Fallout II are tactical role playing games set in various parts of a fictional post-nuclear apocalyptic wasteland that was once the United States of America. It does haveMad Max feel to it, but what makes it characteristically Fallout is theretro-futuristic (basically, what people from the past envisioned a future civilization would be like) culture characterised by the remnants and ruins scattered about (print/radio/TV ads and programs, buildings, technological gadgets, memes, etc.), and of course, the music.

The first two titles didn’t have the luxury of having tons of multimedia content in it (constraints imposed by game budgets and the processing power of personal computers at that time), but they managed to give the players a satisfying role playing experience coupled with tons of tactical combat, mostly funny cultural references, and some dark humor and gore (the nuclear wasteland is a cruel, inhospitable place). These two games effectively created the cult following, anticipation and apprehension was high when a new game development studio, Bethesda Software Works, took over the franchise and released the next two titles.
Fallout III Fallout: New Vegas take the 30s-to-60s cultural influences to an even greater degree as the game was built on a more immersive first-person, 3D world. While the first two Fallout games had the old music embedded into their introductions, the next two games had more of it within the game itself. There were various radio stations that played all manner of entertaining ads, skits, and musical pieces. These were accessible via the Pip-Boy, a retro-futuristic take on the PDA.

It may or may have not been the game developers’ purpose, but the little tidbits of old culture found in all of the Fallout games have sparked interest in the younger gaming generations, granting them the realization that there is actually some truth in the musings (in some cases ravings) of those who have lived long enough to have been there.
Personally, I’m glad I discovered 30s to 60s music. The substance and emotional gravity in some of these old musical masterpieces ring true even half a century later, despite lacking the flashy music videos and auditory crispness. I also found that it makes a great topic when someone of my age tries to strike up a conversation with someone in their sixties, or older.
Interested in Fallout? Here’s a thorough video summary I found on YouTube:

About The Author: Stacey Thompson is a little over a quarter-century-old. She is a professional writer, marketer, entrepreneur, eclectic digital and tabletop gamer, appreciator of mature music and culture, and a lover of weird little animals. Currently, she is working with the Plaza Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Happy Birthday to My Mother's Favourite Actress, Maureen O'Hara

Today is Maureen O'Hara's birthday. Quite naturally, this makes it a very special day for fans of classic film. Miss O'Hara was one of the top stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. She starred in such classic films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Black Swan (1942), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and many others. What is more, she had an extraordinarily long career. Her first role in 1938 in The Playboy. Her final role was in the television movie The Last Dance in 2000. What is more, she is one of our remaining links to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Indeed, in 2011 her hometown of Glengarriff, County Cork, Ireland held the first Maureen O'Hara Film Festival at which Miss O'Hara appeared. 

For myself there is another reason Maureen O'Hara is special to me. Besides being one of my favourite actresses, she was probably my mother's favourite actresses of all time. Oh, my mother also loved Marilyn Monroe and Meg Ryan, but I think Maureen O'Hara was her absolute favourite. She always wanted to watch any film in which Miss O'Hara starred and she always had to comment on how beautiful Miss O'Hara was and how much she liked her. 

I suspect aside from the fact that Maureen O'Hara is obviously beautiful, my mother always admired Miss O'Hara and saw things in her that she herself lacked. My mother, gods rest her soul, was always a nervous woman, one who constantly worried over things. I remember her as constantly being anxious. While my father was alive she often had to rely on him for support and after his death on her children. I think she would like to have been like Maureen O'Hara's characters. If ever there was an actress who played strong, self sufficient women, it was Miss O'Hara. Her characters seemed to be made of steel.

Indeed, if there is one word one would use of Maureen O'Hara's characters, I think it would be "feisty." Her characters were women who could hold their own with any man. A perfect example of this is The Quiet Man (1952), in which Mary Kate stands up to both her husband, American born Sean Thornton (John Wayne), and her brother, Will "Red" Danaher (Victor McLaglen). Her character in McLintock! (1963), Katherine, keeps G.W. McLintock (John Wayne) and the other male characters on their toes throughout the movie. In The Parent Trap (1961), her character Maggie is a match for her ex-husband Mitch (Brian Keith) and far more than a match for his none too bright girlfriend, Vicky (Joanna Barnes).  Whether in comedies or dramas, Maureen O'Hara played strong, intelligent women, often with fiery tempers.

Given the sort of characters Maureen O'Hara played and her striking beauty (flame haired and green eyed), it should be little wonder she would star in several swashbucklers. There she was no less a match for the men. In what may be the greatest pirate movie ever made, Maureen O'Hara played Lady Margaret, a woman who remains defiant towards pirate and hero Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power) until she learns the truth about various matters. Such is Maureen O'Hara's ability to play powerful women that in some of her swashbucklers she got to play what can rightfully be considered the prototype for such female adventure characters as Emma Peel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In Against All Flags (1952) she played Prudence Stevens, a lady pirate appropriately named Spitfire and one who is as good with a sword as the men. In At Sword's Point (1952) she played Claire, the daughter of Athos of The Three Musketers, who is as good with a blade as the legendary  D'Artagnan (Cornel Wilde) and The Three Musketeers themselves. Indeed, when she meets D'Artagnan for the first time she engages him in a swordfight!

To a degree Maureen O'Hara's characters reflect her personality in real life. Miss O'Hara once said, "I was tough. I was tall. I was strong. I didn't take any nonsense from anybody," and there is nothing really to contradict that quote. She stood up to John Wayne, a fact which forever endeared her to him. She was known to stand up even to director John Ford, with whom she made several movies, on more than one occasion. She even stood up to Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox, several times. She even stood up to a gossip magazine that few others would have. In 1957 Confidential published a story claiming that Miss O'Hara had made out in a balcony of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Against the advice of her parish priest and with little support from the movie industry, Maueen O'Hara successfully sued Confidential for libel (she had been in Spain on the date they claimed and so could easily prove the story false). Confidential was known to destroy actors' careers, but in tangling with Maureen O'Hara they guaranteed their decline.

Not only does Maureen O'Hara have nerves of steel when it came to dealing with others, but she also did her own stunts, few male actors did in the Golden Age of Hollywood, let alone actresses! In At Sword's Point, Maureen O'Hara did her fencing, having been trained by legendary fencing master Fred Cavens. Over the years Miss O'Hara rode horses, leaped, jumped, and even engaged in fisticuffs on the big screen. When shooting the movie McLintock! the stuntmen were nervous about a scene in which many of the characters had to slide down a hill into a mudhole. John Wayne told the stuntmen he would prove to them it wasn't dangerous and then asked Maureen O'Hara to help him. Miss O'Hara asked Chuck Roberson, who played Sheriff Lord in the film and had worked as a stuntman and stunt coordinator on several films, if it was safe. When Mr. Roberson said it was safe, Miss O'Hara looked to John Wayne and said that was good enough for her. The Duke and Miss O'Hara then slid down the hill. There should be little wonder Maureen O'Hara was John Wayne's favourite actress with whom to work and that the two of them were close friends.

Both on screen and in real life Maureen O'Hara displayed strength and resolve about which many women of her generation could only dream. On screen she played heroines who were not afraid to speak their minds, stand up for themselves, or even face down men with swords. In real life she stood up to everyone from producers to directors to leading men to interviewers (when asked by Larry King in a 2003 interview why John Wayne had never served in the military, she bluntly told him, "That's none of your business."). It is little wonder then that she was my mother's favourite actress. While there were many other actresses who played powerful women in the Golden Age of Hollywood, few did it with the regularity or the flair, for that matter, that Miss O'Hara did. I do believe my mother saw in Maureen O'Hara something she would like to be. Indeed, I think a lot of us, even men, would like to be a lot more like Maureen O'Hara.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ron Palillo, Harry Harrison, and Phyllis Thaxter Pass On

Ron Palillo

Ron Palillo, best known for playing Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter, died on 14 August 2012 at the age of 63. The cause was a heart attack.

Ron Palillo was born on 2 April 1949 in Cheshire, Connecticut. His father died of lung cancer when Ron Palillo was only 10 years old. About the same time he developed a stutter and his mother thought getting him involved in theatre would help with that. As a result, Mr. Palillo found his life's work. He attended the University of Connecticut. 

Prior to Welcome Back, Kotter Ron Paillo appeared on stage, often in Shakespearean productions. He was cast as Arnold Horshack in 1975. It was his first job acting on TV. He would play the role for the entirety of the series' run. He also appeared as Horshack on a 1976 episode of Mr. T and Tina. In the late Seventies and Eighties he guest starred on such shows as $weepstake$, The Love Boat, Alice, The A-Team, CHiPs, Matt Houston, Trapper John M.D., and Cagney & Lacey. He also appeared in the films Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979), Snake Eater (1989), Snake Eater II: The Drug Buster (1989), and Hellgate (1990).

In the Nineties he provided voices for the animated series Midnight Patrol: Adventures in the Dream Zone and Darkwing Duck. He guest starred on the shows Mr. Rhodes and Ellen, and had a recurring role on the series One Life to Live. He appeared in the movie Wind (1992). In the Naughts he appeared in the films Trees 2: The Root of All Evil (2004), The Curse of Micah Rood (2008) , The Guardians (2010), and It's a Dog Gone Tale: Destiny's Stand (2010). 

Mr. Palillo also appeared on stage, in productions such as Amadeus, Guys and DollsThe Diary of Adolf Eichmann, and his own play The Lost Boy. He was also a teacher at G-Star School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida.

If Arnold Horshack is a memorable character, it is because Ron Paillo did such a good job of bringing him to life. Unfortunately, he may have done it too well. For years after Welcome Back, Kotter he was typecast as Horshack--producers either would not hire him or wanted to place him in Horshack-like parts. What producers overlooked is that he could play many different roles. Indeed, on stage he played Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and Mozart. While he did a marvellous job playing Horshack, then, it is sad that he is not remembered for many other roles.

Harry Harrison

Science fiction writer Harry Harrison died on 15 August 2012 at the age of 87. 

Harry Harrison was born Henry Maxwell Dempsey in Stamford, Connecticut on 12 March 1925. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Corps. Following the war he worked as a freelance, commercial artist. Among other things, he contributed to EC Comics' Weird Science and Weird Fantasy. In the Fifties he also served as the primary writer on the Flash Gordon newspaper comic strip. It was in 1957 that he broke into science fiction writing, selling a story to Astounding. Perhaps fittingly the story featured his best known character, Slippery Jim DiGriz AKA The Stainless Steel Rat.

It was in 1960 that his first novel was published, Deathworld. It would be followed by 6 more "Deathworld" novels. In 1961 one of his best known novels was published, The Stainless Steel Rat. At the centre of the novel was con man and thief Slippery Jim DiGriz. The novel would be so popular that it would be followed by eleven more. Over the years Mr. Harrison would publish well over 50 novels, including Planet of the DamnedBill, the Galactic Hero (one of his most popular novels, a parody of Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers), Make Room! Make Room! (the basis for the film Soylent Green), and West of Eden.

Harry Harrison definitely stood out from other science fiction writers of all time. For one thing, his stories were generally filled with humour, something at which Mr. Harrison excelled. For another thing, his stories were often the literary equivalent of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler movie. There was never any shortage of action and adventure, much of it tongue in cheek. That is not to say that Harry Harrison did not have his serious side. Make Room! Make Room! was  a very realistic look at an overpopulated Earth in the 1990's (it was published in 1966). Whether humorous or serious, what set Mr. Harrison's work apart from many other science fiction writers of the time is that it was largely character driven. If people remember The Stainless Steel Rat and Bill the Galactic Hero, it is because they come across as fully realised characters, not caricatures. It is that for which Harry Harrison will be remembered.

Phyllis Thaxter

Actress Phyllis Thaxter, who appeared in such films as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) and The Breaking Point (1950), died on 14 August 2012 at the age of 92.

Phyllis Thaxter was born on 20 November 1919 in Portland, Maine. She studied acting at the Montreal Repertory Theatre. She made her debut on Broadway in There Shall Be No Night. She would go onto appear on Broadway in Sundown Beach (1948) and Take Her, She's Mine (1960). In 1944 she was signed to MGM and made her movie debut the same year, playing the female lead in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. In the late Forties she would go onto appear in such films as Bewitched (1945), Week-End at the Waldorf (1945), The Sign of the Ram (1948), Act of Violence (1948), and The Breaking Point (1950).

In the Fifties Miss Thaxter would appear in such films as Fort Worth (1951), Jim Thorpe--All-American (1951), She's Working Her Way Through College (1952), Springfield Rifle (1952), Women's Prison (1955), and  Man Afraid (1957). After an attack of infantile paralysis Phyllis Thaxter switched primarily to television. She made her television debut on an episode of  Willys Theatre Presenting Ben Hecht's Tales of the City in 1953. In the Fifties she would appear on such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Stage 7, The U.S. Steel HourFireside Theatre, The Loretta Young Show, Lux Video Theatre, Studio 57, Studio One, Climax, Suspicion, Wagon TrainAlfred Hitchcock Presents, and Outlaws.

In the Sixties Phyllis Thaxter appeared on such shows as Thriller, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Defenders, The Fugitive, Coronet  Blue, The Invaders, Bonanza, Medical Centre, and The F.B.I. She appeared in the film The World of Henry Orient (1964). In the Seventies she appeared in such shows as Cannon, Marcus Welby M.D., Barnaby Jones, and Visions. She played Ma Kent in the movie Superman (1978). In the Eighties she appeared on the shows American Playhouse and Murder, She Wrote.

For much of her career Phyllis Thatxter played devoted wives and girlffriends, but she was capable of playing many more sorts of roles. She played a psychotic fiancee in the film noir Bewitched (1945) and one of a homicidal family in the Thriller episode "Last of the Sommervilles." Indeed, while the movie industry seemed content to cast Miss Thaxter as wives and girlfriends, television appeared to realise her full potential as an actress. She played everything from a murderer to a former spy to a newspaper editor (in the Wild West, at that) to a teacher. What is more, she did all of these diverse parts quite well. While Miss Thaxter may have been underutilised in feature films, in television her versatility was there for everyone to see. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Helen Gurley Brown R.I.P.

Author and long time editor of Cosmopolitan Helen Gurley Brown died 13 August 2012 at the age of 90.

Helen Gurley was born on 18 February 1922 in Green Forest, Arkansas. She was still an infant when her father, Ira Gurley, was elected to the Arkansas state legislature and the family moved to Little Rock Sadly, Ira Gurley would die in an elevator accident when Helen Gurley was only ten years old. In 1937, then, Helen Burley's mother moved her family to Los Angeles, California. She attended  John H. Francis Polytechnic High School and graduated valedictorian of her class. Following her graduation, her mother moved the family again, this time to Warm Springs, Georgia. Miss Gurley attended the Texas State College for Women in Denton for one semester, then returned to California to attend  Woodbury Business College in Burbank. She graduated in 1941.

From when she was 18 to when she was 25 she held several secretarial jobs before getting a job at Los Angeles advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding. It was there that she rose from secretary to an advertising copywriter. In 1958 she moved to Kenyon & Eckhardt, an advertising agency based in Hollywood. She would remain with them until 1962. It was in 1959 that she married David Brown, one time editor of Cosmopolitan and then film executive at 20th Century Fox. It was Mr. Brown who encouraged Helen Gurley Brown to write a book on her life as a single woman. The book, Sex and the Single Girl, proved to be a bestseller and a source of controversy. Although relatively tame by today's standards, the book's message that sex was important to women was either welcomed or reviled by reviewers at the time. The book would provide inspiration for the 1964 film of the same name starring Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis.

With the success of Sex and the Single Girl Helen Gurley Brown would go onto write a syndicated newspaper column, “Woman Alone." She followed Sex and the Single Girl up with Sex and the Office in 1964, but it did not prove nearly as successful.

It was in 1965 that David Brown and Helen Gurley Brown proposed a new women's magazine to be called Femme to Hearst Magazines. Hearst Magazines in return asked Mrs. Gurley Brown to revive the ailing magazine Cosmopolitan. Originally started in 1886 as a family magazine, it later became a literary magazine. Helen Gurley Brown remade Cosmopolitan in her own image. Not only did she make it a women's magazine, but one which spoke about sex frankly and advised women that they could have it all, "sex, love, and money." This sometimes put Mrs. Gurley Brown at odds with other feminists. Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique (which was published  year after Sex and the Single Girl) thought that Cosmopolitan "...embraces the idea that a woman is nothing but a sex object.” Gloria Steinem, who co-founded Ms. magazine, respected Helen Gurley Brown for encouraging women to seek equality with men, but said, "...she’s fooling herself if she thinks her message is a feminist one.” Regardless, Cosmopolitan rebounded admirably. With Helen Gurley Brown as its editor, Cosmopolitan rose to a circulation of about three million.

Unfortunately by the Nineties Cosmopolitan had declined in circulation. As a result Mrs.Gurley Brown was replaced as its editor by Bonnie Fuller in 1997. Despite losing her position as editor of Cosmpolitan, Helen Gurley Brown stayed with Hearst and remained the international editor for all 59 international editions of Cosmopolitan until her death.

In addition to editing Cosmopolitan for literally years, Helen Gurley Brown would also write several more books, including Outrageous Opinions of Helen Gurley Brown (1967), Helen Gurley Brown's Single Girl's Cookbook (1969), Sex and the New Single Girl (1970), Having It All (1982), The Late Show: A Semi Wild but Practical Guide for Women Over 50 (1993), The Writer's Rules: The Power of Positive Prose—How to Create It and Get It Published (1998), and I'm Wild Again: Snippets from My Life and a Few Brazen Thoughts (2000).

She remained married to her husband, David Brown, until his death in 2010. They were married for 51 years.

There can be no doubt that Helen Gurley Brown changed American society as it was in the early Sixties. She was very much a part of the Sexual Revolution, arguing for sexual freedom for women. At the same time she also argued for equality of women with men. Much of what we take for granted in today's society (the ability to talk about sex frankly, the assumption that women--single and married--enjoy sex and should not be ashamed to do so, the idea that women can compete with men in the workplace) were put forth by Helen Gurley Brown, first in her book Sex and the Single Girl and later in the pages of Cosmopolitan. She was a pioneer, even if she was one often at odds with other feminists. In the end, it can be said that Helen Gurley Brown was her own woman and one who encouraged others to be the same.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Late Great Joe Kubert

Legendary comic book artist Joe Kubert died on 12 August 2012 at the age of 85.  The cause was multiple myeloma. Mr. Kubert was the creator of Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, and The Viking Prince with writer Robert Kanigher, and Tor, a prehistoric caveman, with writer Norman Maurer.

Joe Kubert was born on 18 September 1926 in Jezierzany, Poland (now part of Ukraine). When he was an infant his family moved to Brooklyn, New York. He loved to draw when he was very young, making chalk drawings on the New York sidewalks when he was as young as 3 or 4. Such was young Joe Kubert's love for art that his father bought him a drawing table for $10, a rather costly item in the days of the Great Depression. Mr. Kubert was only 12 years old when he went to work as an apprentice, apparently at the comics shop ran by  Harry "A" Chesler (other versions of the story have it as MLJ Magazines, but they would not open until November 1939, when Mr. Kubert was 13).  Joe Kubert attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. His first known job was pencilling and inking the story "Black-Out," starring the obscure character Volton, in Catman Comics, March 1942. He worked on the "Volton" feature for the next three months, while also working on The Blue Beetle. Eventually he began colouring black and white reprints of Will Eisner's newspaper comic strip The Spirit for Quality Comics.

Joe Kubert would first work for the company with whom he spent most of his career, DC Comics, in 1943. He would first work for National Comics (one of the companies that became DC Comics) on "The Seven Soldiers of Victory" feature in Leading Comics #8, Fall 1943. His first work on Hawkman, a character with whom he would become closely associated, would be in  Flash Comics #62, February 1945, published by All-American Comics (another one of the companies that became DC Comics). Joe Kubert would work for other publishers during the Forties, including Avon, Fiction House, and Harvey Comics.

It was in the early Fifties that Joe Kubert became the managing editor at St. John Publications. It was while he was there that he, writer Norman Maurer, and  Leonard Maurer developed techniques for creating 3-D comic books. The first 3-D comic books was  Three Dimension Comics  #1, September 1953, featuring Mighty Mouse. It was also while at St. John that he and writer Norman Maurer created Tor. The caveman hero made his debut in 1,000,000 Years Ago, September 1953 and went onto appear in his own series. Since the Fifties Tor has appeared in a title published by DC Comics (Tor, which lasted 6 issues from 1974 to 1975), Eclipse Comics, the magazine Sojourn, Marvel Comics' Epic, and hardcover reprints published by DC Comics.

During the Fifties Joe Kubert also did work for Avon (primarily on Strange Worlds) and for E. C. Comics (primarily on Two-Fisted Tales), as well as Lev Gleason Publications and what would become Marvel Comics. It was in the mid-Fifties that Joe Kubert began to work freelance for National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics) on Our Army at War (starting with #32, March 1955). It was within a year that he was working exclusively for National Periodical Publications. He created The Viking Prince with writer Robert Kanigher. The character first appeared in  The Brave and the Bold #1, August 1955, and was a regular feature in the magazine until  #26, July 1959. He also co-created Sgt. Rock with writer Robert Kanigher. Sgt. Rock was an  infantry sergeant known for his marksmanship. He proved to be the most successful war comics character of all time. He first appeared in Our Army at War #83, June 1959. In February 1977 Our Army at War was retitled Sgt. Rock. It continued under that title, with "Sgt. Rock" as its primary feature, until Sgt. Rock #422, July 1988. Sgt. Rock stories have appeared on and off in the pages of various DC Comics titles since that time. With writer Gardner Fox, Joe Kubert would also take part in the creation of a new version of the Golden Age, All-American Comics character Hawkman. This Silver Age version of Hawkman first appeared in The Brave and the Bold # 34, February-March 1961 and has been a part of DC Comics ever since.

In the Sixties Joe Kubert would continue to work on both "Sgt. Rock" and "Hawkman." He would also co-create Enemy Ace with writer Robert Kanigher. The Enemy Ace was  Hans von Hammer, a WWI German flying ace with a code of honour who was often disturbed by his war time duties. Enemy Ace first appeared in Our Army at War # 151, February 1965 and has since appeared in other DC titles and graphic novels. In the Sixties Mr. Kubert also worked with writer Robin Moore on the syndicated newspaper comic strip Tales of the Green Beret . From 1967 to 1975 Joe Kubert served as DC Comics' director of publications.

In the Seventies Joe Kubert worked on various Edgar Rice Burroughs properties licensed by DC Comics, including Tarzan (starting in 1972), Korak, and Weird Worlds (featuring the "John Carter of Mars" and "Pellucidar" features). With Robert Kanigher he created Ragman and illustrated that character's short lived title. In 1976 Mr. Kubert and his wife Muriel founded The Kubert School, the only accredited school for comic book illustrators. Over the years its alumni has included Stephen R. Bissette, Shane Davis, and Rick Veitch.

In the Eighties Joe Kubert illustrated a collection of comic strips for the Jewish children's organisation Tzivos Hashem. In 1991 he wrote and drew the graphic novel Country Mouse featuring the character Abraham Stone. He would do two more Abraham stories, Radix Malorum and The Revolution, in 1995. In the Nineties he would also do a Tor miniseries for Epic Comics and the non-fiction book Fax from Sarajevo. In the Naughts Mr. Kubert illustrated the graphic novel Yossel: April 19, 1943, the six issue mini-series Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and a Hard Place, and the six issue mini-series Tor: A prehistoric Odyssey. His last work was on the mini-series Before Watchmen: Nite Owl, published this year.

To say that Joe Kubert was one of the greatest comic book artists of all time would be an understatement. His style perfectly suited both war comics and the various Edgar Rice Burroughs titles he illustrated. It was a realistic style with a good deal of detail, but at the same time possessed of an emotional immediacy and power rarely conveyed by most comic book illustrators. The very rawness of his style was perfectly suited to portraying the brutality of war, to the point that Mr. Kubert considered himself "an anti-war artist" rather than "a war artist." Joe Kubert portrayed war as brutally and realistically as possible, with none of the romanticism found in other war comics.

Beyond his sheer talent as an artist, Joe Kubert was also important as a creator in comic book history. Among the characters he co-created were Sgt. Rock (arguably the most successful war comics character of all time), Enemy Ace, Tor, The Viking Prince, and the Silver Age version of Hawkman. And while they would only be popular for a few years, Joe Kubert was one of the men who invented 3-D comic books. Joe Kubert also worked in the comic book industry far longer than many of his contemporaries, a full 70 years. He was the last of the greats from the Golden Age to still be working. Beyond his talent as an artist, then, Joe Kubert played an important role in comic book history throughout an exceedingly long career.

Monday, August 13, 2012

NBC and Its Olympics Closing Ceremony Sins of Omission

Last night I did not watch the closing ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics. Leverage, the second season debut of Hell on Wheels, and the final first season episode of Longmire were airing last night, so I decided to simply DVR the closing ceremonies. As the night passed, however, I heard some very disturbing news regarding NBC's closing ceremonies on both Twitter and Google+. First I heard that NBC had cut Muse's performance of the London 2012 Olympics theme song "Survival." Second, I heard that NBC had cut a performance of "Waterloo Sunset" by legendary leader of The Kinks Ray Davies. Third, I heard that NBC had cut Kate Bush performing "Running Up That Hill." At last I heard the unthinkable--NBC had cut what I consider to be the second greatest rock group of all time, The Who.

As it turned out NBC did not cut The Who. Instead, they cut away from the Olympics closing ceremonies to air a commercial free, preview episode of Animal Practice. They returned to the Olympics closing ceremonies and The Who after the late local news on their affiliates. While many viewers were relieved that NBC did air The Who's performance at the end of the closing ceremonies, they were not happy with the fact that they cut away from the closing ceremonies to air a sitcom. Indeed, initially it appeared NBC had planned to air Animal Practice following the closing ceremonies, but for reasons known only to the network they changed their plans.

To say viewers were furious with the Peacock Network would be an understatement. The hashtag #NBCFail trended on both Twitter and Google+. Twitter and Google+ were filled with tweets and posts by viewers expressing their outrage that NBC had cut Muse, Ray Davies, and Kate Bush. That outrage only grew greater when NBC pre-empted The Who for a preview episode of Animal Practice. The tweets and posts varied from the more sedate "NBC fails again sort" to those expressing outrage that NBC dare cut legends such as Ray Davies, Kate Bush, and The Who to those, well, those that used language NBC probably would not want their children to read.

I must say that I was and I am still angry that NBC cut Ray Davies, Kate Bush, and Muse, and delayed The Who. Indeed, as I DVRed the closing ceremonies I was lucky that I kept the telly on after the late local news or I would have missed The Who entirely. And I must say I fail to understand NBC's reasoning in any of these choices. Did they honestly think that Americans did not want to see Ray Davies, Kate Bush, or Muse? I cannot believe that they did. Ray Davies is a rock legend, a founding member and the leader of The Kinks, possibly one of the four greatest British bands of all time (along with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who) and one that still has a large following in the United States. What is more Mr. Davies was performing one of The Kinks' best known and beloved songs, "Waterloo Sunset." In my opinion, only someone totally ignorant of rock history and American tastes could decide to cut Ray Davies.

While Kate Bush is lesser known that Ray Davies, she is also a legend in her own right. Starting in the late Seventies Miss Bush would have a string of hits in the United Kingdom that would last in the Nineties. She never did quite as well here in the United States, but she did develop a very large following (myself among them) and starting with 1985's Hounds of Love her albums have generally ranked in the top 100 of the Billboard albums chart. I rather suspect far, far more Americans have heard of Kate Bush than Take That, an act without a single hit song or album in the U.S. that NBC included in their broadcast. Again, I think only someone ignorant of rock history and American tastes could decide to cut Kate Bush.

While Ray Davies and Kate Bush are legends, Muse could perhaps be best described as a British band that is wildly popular in the United States. They first came to attention here in the United States with their single "Muscle Museum" in 1999, which did not hit the charts, but did receive a good deal of FM radio play. With 2003's "Stockholm Syndrome" they began to regularly hit Billboard's Alternative chart. In 2009 they actually hit the top forty of Billboard's Hot 100, which went to #37. Since their 2006 album Blackholes and Revelations, Muse have regularly hit the top ten of the Billboard albums chart. This marks Muse as one of the biggest British bands in the United States and one that is certainly better known than acts that NBC did air. To put things in perspective, NBC cutting Muse from a programme in 2012 would be something like NBC cutting Small Faces from a programme in 1968. I think whoever made the decision to cut Muse must be ignorant of American tastes and both British and American popular music.

While there we may never know why NBC decided to cut Ray Davies, Kate Bush, and Muse, one can guess the reason that they decided to cut away from the closing ceremonies and The Who to air a preview episode of Animal Practice. The simple fact is that NBC is the fourth rated, major network and they are desperate for viewers. The programmers at NBC probably figured that with the Olympics closing ceremonies they would have a captive audience who would stay tuned to Animal Practice and would not mind waiting for The Who after their late local news. What NBC failed to take into account is that the viewers had tuned in to see the London 2012 Olympics closing ceremonies and many of them had tuned into specifically see The Who , not the preview of a new sitcom. Indeed, my primary reason for DVRing the closing ceremonies was to see The Who perform (as an aside, I might add that the only Super Bowl I've watched since 2002 was in 2010 when The Who played the halftime show). Viewers who wanted to see The Who probably would not be happy to wait and I rather suspect many changed the channel, switching back to NBC only after their late local news. Indeed, it's quite possible that many, perhaps those particularly angry after NBC cut Ray Davies, Kate Bush, and Muse, might not have returned to NBC at all, electing to watch The Who on YouTube.

Indeed, NBC had to know there was a large audience who wanted to see The Who and I cannot see how they could have possibly thought they would be happy to wait to see them. Of the performers at the closing ceremonies, The Who were the biggest act, the most legendary band there. Quite simply, short of The Beatles and maybe The Rolling Stones, The Who are one of the greatest rock bands of all time. They have a string of hit singles and albums going back to the Sixties. They wrote some of the greatest songs in rock history. While they did not invent the rock opera, they certainly were pioneers in the form. Short of Sir Paul McCartney or The Rolling Stones, one cannot get a bigger rock act than The Who. If NBC had wanted to keep the goodwill of their viewers, then, they should have aired Animal Practice after The Who.

Now in NBC's defence I must point out that they did have an option to watch the closing ceremonies live online. And I must also point out that, unlike the opening ceremonies, the presenters kept their talk to an absolute minimum. That having been said, I was only aware that NBC had made a streaming, live broadcast online available after the fact. I rather suspect they announced it during their Olympics coverage and perhaps on their website and Twitter as well, but that they did not otherwise publicise it. While it was nice, then, that NBC did have a live stream available this time around, I would have appreciated knowing about it. And while I also appreciate their presenters being quiet for much of the ceremonies, that does little to ease my anger at the network for cutting acts I really wanted to see.

Here I feel I must apologise if I sound overly angry, however, the plain truth is that I was looking forward to the London 2012 closing ceremonies. I have been an Anglophile all my life and most of my favourite bands are from the United Kingdom. I wanted to watch the closing ceremonies to see Madness, Kate Bush, Ray Davies, Queen, Kaiser Chiefs, Annie Lennox, Beady Eye, Muse, and The Who. And then yesterday I learn that I won't be seeing Kate Bush, Ray Davies, or Muse. Kate Bush is one of my favourite solo artists of all time and possibly my favourite female singer. She recorded one of my favourite songs of all time, "Wuthering Heights." Ray Davies is the founder and leader of my third favourite British rock band of all time, The Kinks, and "Waterloo Sunset" is one of my favourite songs. Muse is my favourite current British band, along with Kaiser Chiefs. NBC was willing to let me see acts I did not like (and which I fast forwarded through on my DVR) such as One Direction and Fatboy Slim, but I could not see some of the acts that I (and I am sure many other Americans) love the most.

Regardless, from Twitter and Google+ I was obviously not alone in my anger at NBC for cutting Ray Davies, Kate Bush, and Muse, and delaying The Who. And this was not the first time during the London 2012 Olympics that they angered viewers. NBC angered viewers with their handling of the opening ceremonies, which they aired as a delayed broadcast, one that was edited at that, and through which the presenters insisted on talking (even over The Arctic Monkeys). Those who watched the Olympics themselves were unhappy that events were not aired live and, in fact, NBC spoiled Missy Franklin's victory in the 100-metre backstroke with a promo for Today that aired before they even broadcast the Olympic event! For many viewers I suspect NBC's handling of the closing ceremonies may well be the final straw. I myself tweeted last night, "As they fired Ann Curry, talked over The Arctic Monkeys, cut Muse from the closing ceremonies, I'm wondering why I should watch @nbc at all." I was not alone in my sentiments. I saw one tweet where the individual pledged never to watch Animal Practice because they say The Who. I saw other tweets in which individuals said they would never watch NBC again.

Sadly, I do not know if NBC can repair the damage done by their mishandling of the London 2012 closing ceremonies. I suppose if they apologised profusely and aired a special featuring the performances of Ray Davies, Kate Bush, Muse, and The Who, viewers might be willing to forgive them, but I rather doubt it. As it is I really feel sorry for the cast and crew of Animal Practice. The poor show was the target of many people's wrath and I suspect hard feelings for the show pre-empting The Who will guarantee low ratings and an early death for it this autumn. Indeed, I am thinking NBC's handling of the Olympics could affect their coming fall season. I know I plan to watch only Community, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation and nothing else on NBC (here I should note I will still watch my local news--it's not their fault NBC dropped the ball). I have to wonder that other viewers won't watch NBC at all. As much as NBC may have hoped the Olympics would help them in the next television season's ratings, I suspect their mishandling of it will guarantee that they will gain be the fourth rated major broadcast network.