Saturday, June 19, 2021

Happy Juneteenth 2021

Juneteenth Flag
I want to wish everyone a happy Juneteenth, which this week officially became a Federal holiday in the United States. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Juneteenth, the holiday is rooted in events following the end of the Civil War. It was on September 22 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Confederacy. As might be expected, enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation relied on the advancement of Union troops. As Texas was the most remote states of the Confederacy and had only a few Union troops there, it was not until June 19 1865, a little over two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomatax, that slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas.

On June 19 1865 Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas. He read General Order No. 3, the order freeing the slaves, first at Union Army Headquarters at the Osterman Building and then at the 1861 Customs House and Courthouse and the Negro Church (now Reedy Chapel-AME Church). While slaves throughout the states that had formed the Confederacy were now free, slavery still existed in the United States in two border states that had not seceded from the Union, Kentucky and Delaware. The slaves in those states would not be freed until December 18 1865 upon the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States.

Regardless, Juneteenth became a holiday almost immediately. One year after the slaves in Galveston were freed, on June 19 1866, freedmen in Texas celebrated was called "Jubilee Day." Over the years its name would vary. In 1874 the The Austin Statesman referred to it as "Emancipation Day." The same newspaper called it an "Emancipation Celebration" in 1875. "Juneteenth" itself is a blend of "June" and "Nineteenth," and was likely in use before it first appeared in print. It first appeared in print in 1890, when the Black newspaper The Beaumont Recorder referred to the holiday as "Juneteenth." The Gavelston Daily News quoted The Beaumont Recorder that year (for more information on how Juneteenth got its name, I recommend you read Ben Zimmer's article in The Wall Street Journal, "How the 'Juneteenth' Name--and Holiday--Spread."

Juneteenth received official recognition rather early. In 1938 then Governor of Texas James V. Allred issued a proclamation proclaiming June 19 as "Emancipation Day." As Blacks from Texas moved elsewhere during the period of the Great Migration, celebration of Juneteenth spread throughout the United States, to places as far away as Los Angeles and San Francisco. It was in the 1970s that the Texas legislature declared Juneteenth a "holiday of significance." Since then it has been recognized by other states. It was in 1996 that legislation to recognize Juneteenth as a Federal holiday was first introduced into the United States House of Representatives.

As Juneteenth spread throughout the United States, so too did its impact on popular culture. Ralph Ellison's novel Juneteenth was published in 1999. In 2016 the TV show Atlanta featured an episode centred on the holiday entitled "Juneteenth." The following year the sitcom Black-ish also aired an episode about the holiday entitled "Juneteenth." Last year, the movie Miss Juneteenth, about an young woman who enters the local "Miss Juneteenth" pageant, was released. Last night, ABC aired a special Juneteenth episode of their documentary series Soul of a Nation.

Much of the credit for Juneteenth becoming a Federal holiday must be given to Opal Lee, often described as "the Grandmother of Juneteenth." An educator in Texas, she began her campaign to have Juneteenth decades ago. Her goal was quite simply to bring Juneteenth to the rest of the nation. She began walking 2 1/2 miles each year on Juneteenth, 2 1/2 miles for the 2 1/2 years between the Emancipation Proclamation and the emancipation of the slaves in Galveston. Eventually she would be invited to Juneteenth celebrations in such diverse cities as Shreveport, Louisiana; Texarkana; Madison, Wisconsin; Milawaukee; Atlanta; and yet others.

For me Juneteenth is a welcome addition to our Federal holidays. When my brother lived in Texas he told me about the history of Juneteenth and the celebrations there. Unlike some of our Federal holidays, Juneteenth has real meaning to it and it celebrates an important event in our history. For me Juneteenth is not just a significant day for the Black community, but for all Americans.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Godspeed Frank Bonner

Frank Bonner, best known for playing Herb Tarlek on the classic sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, died yesterday at the age of 79. The cause was complications from Lewy body dementia. Mr. Bonner also directed several television shows over the years.

Frank Bonner was born Frank Woodrow Boers Jr. on February 28 1942 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He grew up in Malvern, Arkansas. He served in the United States Navy for six years. In 1967 he made his film debut in the film Equinox...A Journey into the Supernatural. In 1970 additional footage was shot for the film and it was re-edited to become the cult film Equinox. Frank Bonner made his television debut in 1970 in an episode of The Young Lawyers. That same year he guest starred on an episode of Nancy.

It was in 1978 that Frank Bonner began playing the role of Herb Tarlek on WKRP in Cincinnati. Herb Tarlek was WRKP's long-time sales manager with terrible taste in clothing and who was somewhat inept at his job. During the Seventies Frank Bonner guest starred on the TV shows Mannix; Nichols; The F.B.I.; Hawkins; Emergency!; Love, American Style; Cannon; Police Woman; Most Wanted; and Man from Atlantis. It was while he was still on WKRP in Cincinnati that he began directing television shows, directing an episode of the show in 1980. Mr. Bonner ultimately directed six episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati in total. He appeared in the movies The Hoax (1972), Little Cigars (1973), Las Vegas Lady (1975),  and Hearts of the West (1975).

In the Eighties Frank Bonner played the recurring roles of Henry "Buck" McConnell on Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Det. R.T. Mooney on Sidekicks, and Father Robert Hargis on Just the Ten of Us. He guest starred on the shows Fantasy Island; The Love Boat; Newhart; Legmen; The Duck Factory; Simon & Simon; Matt Houston; Gimme a Break!; Crazy Like a Fox; New Love, American Style; Punky Brewster; Blacke's Magic; Murder, She Wrote; and Night Court. He directed episodes of Family Ties, Frank's Place, The Van Dyke Show, Who's the Boss, Just the Ten of Us, Head of the Class, Evening Shade, You Take the Kids, and The Famous Teddy Z. He appeared in the movies The Longshot (1986) and You Can't Hurry Love (1988).

In 1991 Frank Bonner revisited the role of Herb Tarlek in the TV show revival The New WKRP in Cincinnati. He played Mr. Ed Harrington in Saved by The Bell: The New Class. He guest starred on The Mommies, The Colony, and City Guys. He directed episodes of Harry and the Henderson, The New WKRP in Cincinnati, Fudge, The Mommies, Campus Cops, Saved by the Bell: The New Class, USA High, and City Guys. He appeared in the movies Going Under (1991) and Motel (1998). In the Naughts he directed the TV movie Living Straight and directed an episode of the TV show Desire and Deceit. He appeared in the movies A Light in the Forest (2003), Shut Up and Kiss Me! (2004), and Remembering Phil (2008). In the Teens he appeared in the movie Under the Hollywood Sign (2014).

As Herb Tarlek, Frank Bonner created one of television's most memorable characters. While Herb is the epitome of the unprofessional, incompetent salesman, he also complex enough a character that he showed real concern for his fellow employees at WKRP, even when they didn't always get along. Of course, Frank Bonner played recurring characters on other shows (Scarecrow and Mrs King, Sidekicks, and Just the Ten of Us) and guest starred on many more. Furthermore, he directed several episodes of TV shows, starting with WKRP in Cincinnati. As beloved as he as an actor, Frank Bonner actually preferred his work as a director. Regardless, Mr. Bonner was an extremely talented actor and director who created one of the most memorable characters in television history.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Flip Wilson Show

Recently the second sequel to The Conjuring was released. It was titled The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. What many members of Generation Z may not know is that the phrase "The Devil made me do it" did not originate with the producers of the Conjuring movies or even their screenwriters. Instead, "The Devil made me do it" originated with comedian Flip Wilson. It was one of the catchphrases of his character Geraldine. While only individuals of a certain age remember The Flip Wilson Show today, in the early Seventies it was wildly successful, coming in at no. 2 in the Nielsen ratings for its first two seasons. While other African Americans had hosted variety shows prior to Flip Wilson, arguably his was the first to be successful.

Flip Wilson began his career in the late Fifties, touring what was then known as "the Chitlin' Circuit." His career really began to take off in 1965 after Redd Foxx, when asked by Johnny Carson whom the funniest current comedian was, replied "Flip Wilson." Flip Wilson was booked on The Tonight Show and appeared on the show several more times, as well as appearing on such shows as The Kraft Music Hall, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Laugh-In, and The Carol Burnett Show.

In 1969 Flip Wilson hosted his own special on NBC, The Flip Wilson Special. It was on the special that he introduced his popular character Geraldine Jones. Unlike earlier female characters played by male characters, Flip Wilson did not mean to belittle women with Geraldine, but instead create a character who was strong, proud, and who spoke her own mind. Flip Wilson also had success with comedy records. His 1967 album Cowboys and Colored People proved to be a hit, as did his 1970 album The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress.  The latter album centred on the character of Geraldine.

The success of The Flip Wilson Special in 1969, as well as Flip Wilson's albums, led directly to The Flip Wilson Show. From the beginning The Flip Wilson Show differed from other variety shows with regards to its stage. Its stage was a circular platform around which the audience were seated (with some even behind sets at times), essentially a theatre-in-the-round. As might be expected, The Flip Wilson Show also featured top African American performers on a regular basis, including Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, The Jackson Five, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Pointer Sisters, The Supremes, and The Temptations. Other top singers featured on the show were Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, Roy Clark,  Bobby Darin, Dean Martin, Roger Miller, The Osmonds, and Sha Na Na. Several other top performers were featured on The Flip Wilson Show, including Lucille Ball, George Carlin, Art Carney, Tim Conway, Phyllis Diller, Sandy Duncan, Marty Feldman, Redd Foxx, Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, The Muppets, Carl Reiner, Lily Tomlin, and many others.

Of course, regardless of who the guest star of the week was, much of the attraction of The Flip Wilson Show were the sketches featuring his various characters. Geraldine appeared frequently, and the success of the show led to her catchphrases, "The Devil made me do it," "When you're hot, you're hot," and "What you see is what you get" appearing on t-shirts, pinback buttons, and magnets. Another character on the show was Reverend Leroy, the pastor of the Church of What's Happening Now! It was always strong hinted that Reverend Leroy was a con man. Another character was swinging bachelor Freddie Johnson. Freddie's sketches often saw him on a date with one of the guest stars of that week. Among the women with whom he sought dates were Lola Falana and Denise Nicholas. Other characters were blue collar worker Marvin Lattimer and White House janitor Sonny.

Much of the success of The Flip Wilson Show can be credited to its writers, which included Flip Wilson himself. Stan Burns was a veteran of The Steve Allen Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Hal Goodman has worked on The Red Skelton Show and The Carol Burnett Show. Bill Schiller's credits included I Love Lucy, The Red Skelton Show, and The Lucy Show (which he had developed). Ultimately, there are too many writers who worked on The Flip Wilson Show to be listed briefly, although many of them had worked on some very well-known shows. Flip Wilson himself wrote about a third of the material. He also edited much of the other writers' work.

The Flip Wilson Show proved wildly successful upon its debut on September 17 1970 on NBC. For the 1970-1971 season it ranked no. 2. It also ranked no. 2 for the 1971-1972 season. Unfortunately, in the 1972-1973 season CBS scheduled The Waltons opposite The Flip Wilson Show. Initially The Waltons was low rated, but CBS mounted a promotional campaign that helped the show immensely. Ultimately, The Flip Wilson Show dropped to no. 12 for the year, while The Waltons ranked no. 19. As to their competition on ABC, The Mod Squad was cancelled at the end of the season. Unfortunately for The Flip Wilson Show, the audience for The Waltons continued to grow. For the 1973-1974 season, The Flip Wilson Show dropped to no. 50 for the year, while The Waltons came in at no. 2. Flip Wilson elected to end the show rather than continue.

During the run of The Flip Wilson Show, Flip Wilson also appeared in two animated specials based on himself and his characters. The first was Clewrow Wilson and the Miracle of P.S. 14 (Clerow Wilson was Flip Wilson's given name), which aired on November 12 1972. It featured Geraldine, Reverend Leroy, and Freddie Johnson. The second special was Clerow Wilson's Great Escape, which aired on April 3 1974. It featured Geraldine Jones and Reverend Leroy.

While it only lasted four years, The Flip Wilson Show would have an impact. Its catchphrases have persisted in the English language ever since, long after the show went off the air. Geraldine's catchphrase "What you see is what you get" would be abbreviated as WWSIWYG by computer programmers to refer to any editing software in which what one sees on the screen will be what it will look like when printed. "The Devil made me do it" has been used as the title of TV show episodes, music albums, and now even the subtitle of a movie. An argument can be made that The Flip Wilson Show would have an impact on future sketch comedy shows, from Saturday Night Live (which Flip Wilson would guest host in 1983) to In Living Color. While today's generation may not remember The Flip Wilson Show, it continues to have an influence on popular culture.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Experiencing Technical Difficulties

I  was planning to make a blog post today, but right now I really don't feel like it.  A few days ago my brother contracted a summertime cold and I caught it from him. The past couple of days then I have been blowing my nose and coughing my head off. For those of you who may be concerned it could be COVID-19, I was fully inoculated two months ago, so odds are against that. At any rate, I have been perfectly miserable. Like Miss Kubelik in The Apartment, I almost never catch colds. In fact, the last severe cold I had was in December 2008. Anyway, I hope to be back with a post tomorrow on The Flip Wilson Show.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Late Great Ned Beatty

Ned Beatty, who appeared in such movies as Deliverance (1972), Nashville (1975), and Network (1976), died yesterday, June 13 2021, at the age of 83.

Ned Beatty was born on July 6 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky. As a teenager he sang in barbershop quartets and at Baptist revivals and weddings. He received a scholarship to sing in the choir at the private Christian school Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. He would eventually drop out to pursue his acting career.

He made his stage debut in the play Wilderness Road, an outdoor play presented in Berea, Kentucky in 1956. He joined the Barber Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia where he remained for some time. Afterwards he worked at the Arena Stage Company in Washington, DC for a time.

Ned Beatty made his Broadway debut in The Great White Hope in the late Sixties. He made his film debut in 1972 as the ill-fated Bobby in Deliverance. In the Seventies he played such notable roles as Judge Bean's saloon keeper Tector Crites in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), lawyer Del Reese in Nashville (1975), CAA Chairman (hence the head of UBS) Arthur Jensen in Network (1976), and Lex Luthor's henchman Otis in Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980). He also appeared in the movies The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973), The Last American Hero (1973), White Lightning (1973), W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), All the President's Men (1976), The Big Bus (1976), Gator (1976), Silver Streak (1976), Mikey and Nicky (1976), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), The Great Bank Hoax (1977), Alambrista! (1978), Gray Lady Down (1978), Wise Blood (1978), Promises in the Dark (1979), 1941 (1979), The American Success Company (1980), and Hopscotch (1980). Mr. Beatty made his television debut in the TV movie Footsteps in 1972. During the Seventies he was the title character of the TV series Szysznyk. He guest starred on The Waltons, Gunsmoke, Lucas Tanner, Petrocelli, M*A*S*H, Hunter, Hawaii Five-O, The Rockford Files, Tales of the Unexpected, The Streets of San Francisco, Delvecchio, Nashville '99, Lucan, and Visions. He also appeared in several TV movies, including The Marcus-Nelson Murders and Friendly Fire (for which he received an Emmy nomination).

In the Eighties he appeared in the movies The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), The Toy (1982), The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982), Touched (1983), Stroker Ace (1983), Restless Native (1985), Back to School (1986), The Big Easy (1986), The Fourth Protocol (1987), Rolling Vengeance (1987), The Trouble with Spies (1987), Switching Channels (1988), The Unholy (1988), Midnight Crossing (1988), Shadows in the Storm (1988), Purple People Eater (1988), Physical Evidence (1989), Time Trackers (1989), Tennessee Nights (1989), Chattahochee (1989), Ministry of Vengeance (1989), Big Bad John (1990), A Cry in the Wild (1990), Repossessed (1990), Angel Square (1990), and Captain America (1990). On television he appeared in the mini-series Celebrity,The Last Days of Pompeii, and Robert Kennedy and His Days. He guest starred on the shows Faerie Tale Theatre; Murder, She Wrote; American Playhouse, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Highway to Heaven, Dolly, and Saturday Night with Connie Chung. He appeared in several TV movies.

In the Nineties he was a regular on the TV shows The Boys and Homicide: Life on the Street. He had a recurring role on Roseanne. He guest starred on American Masters, Road to Avonlea, and The Golden Palace. He appeared in the mini-series Streets of Laredo, Gulliver's Travels, and I Was a Rat. He appeared in several TV movies, including Illusions and Crazy Horse. He appeared in the movies Going Under (1991), Hear My Song (1991), Blind Vision (1992), Preclude to Kiss (1992), Rudy (1993), Ed and His Dead Mother (1993), Radioland Murders (1994), Replikator (1994), Outlaws: The Legend of O.B. Taggart, Just Cause (1995), The Curse of Inferno (1997), He Got Game (1998), Cookie's Fortune (1999), Life (1999), and Spring Forward (1999).

In the Naughts Mr. Beatty appeared on Broadway in a revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He appeared in the movies Thunderpants (2002), Where the Red Fern Grows (2003), Sweet Land (2005), The Walker (2007), Shooter (2007), Charlie Wilson's War (2007), In the Electric Mist (2009), and The Killer Inside Me (2010).  He was the voice of Lotso in Toy Story 3 (2010). On television he appeared in the TV movies Roughing It and The Wool Cap. He guest starred on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation  and Law & Order. In the Teens he appeared in the movies Rampart (2011), Teddy Bears (2013), and Baggage Claim (2013). He was the voice of the Mayor in Rango (2011).

Ned Beatty was an incredible actor who leaves behind a legacy of great performances. His speech as die-hard capitalist and chairman of CAA, Arthur Jensen, in Network, remains one of the most remarkable speeches in movie history. There should be little wonder why he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the role. While the real life Martin Dardis disliked how he was played in the movie, Ned Beatty's performance as Mr. Dardis in All the President's Men remains impressive. Ned Beatty could easily play a buffoon, such as Otis in Superman  and Superman II, but he was also capable of much more serious roles. As Sheriff Connors in White Lightning he was the heavy and about as far from comic relief as one could get.

While he may be best known for his work in movies, Ned Beatty was also impressive on television. As Detective Stanley Bolander on Homicide: Life on the Street, he played a character who could be gruff, but also capable of being gentle and kind as well. He did an impressive job of playing Judge Roy Bean in the mini-series Streets of Laredo. Ned Beatty was an incredible actor and he always gave great performances.