Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Remembering... Bob Hope

Bob Hope is someone with whom I have always had something of a love-hate relationship... On the one hand, from an early age I've enjoyed his shtick, whether on one of his many TV specials, talk show appearances, on radio or in films; whether being sardonic, self-deprecating, or wry, he only ever was so in the most assured manner, without having to go over the top to get the laugh, and to observe him at work was to witness a master at the top of his game. On the other hand, Hope had a very antediluvian sensibility, whose act (at least when the cameras weren't running) could be homophobic in the extreme; so much so, in fact, that late in life Hope was required by court order to record a series of public service announcements against homophobia.

PhotobucketHe said afterward in an interview that he learned from the experience; even if all he learned was to watch what he said in case any professional homosexuals were listening, it would prove that at least he'd learned something. Then again, everything he'd ever achieved had been because of his ability to read an audience and give them what they wanted, so his aplomb in this instance was very much to be expected.

For all that, no one could ever deny Bob Hope's immense humanitarianism; beginning in May 1941 Hope had a long and fruitful relationship with the USO, and in that capacity visited military bases in wartime and peace around the world. He was one of the few who did what he could to provide comfort to soldiers fighting the Vietnam War; for fifty years of service to that organization - which included sixty tours, often to war zones - President Bill Clinton awarded Hope the title of 'honorary veteran', which he later said was the greatest honour he'd ever been given when, to be quite honest, it was the greatest honour he'd ever earned.

Bob Hope died on this day in 2003, one of the few Hollywood entertainers to have achieved his hundredth birthday. He faced his death with the same comedic sense he used to face life; when his daughter asked him where he'd like to be buried, he said 'Surprise me.'
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Happy Birthday Norman Lear

To someone like me, who adores the sitcom format beyond all reasonable measure, Norman Lear is something of a demi-god; Lear is personally responsible for a string of socially conscious, ground-breaking shows throughout the 1970s, which themselves were responsible for bringing a plethora of social issues into American living rooms which otherwise might not have been discussed there...

PhotobucketBeginning with the January 1971 premiere of All in the Family - which itself was based on the Britcom Til Death Us Do Part - Lear spent most of the next decade on a roll, spinning shows out of shows out of shows: All in the Family begat both Maude and The Jeffersons, while Maude later begat Good Times.

Sanford and Son was another Americanization, this time of the Britcom Steptoe and Son; another original idea was One Day at a Time, which dealt with the daily travails of a single mother - a first for American prime time.

By the time he guest-hosted Saturday Night Live in 1976, though, some of the bloom had come off his rose; in a filmed montage of Lear interacting with his stars which formed the centrepiece of his monologue, those of Good Times are conspicuously absent. For a producer who'd built his name on shows with a redeeming social message, he was by then being accused by John Amos and Esther Rolle of not dealing with the issues faced by a black family living in the projects - in this case Chicago's Cabrini-Green - choosing instead to pander to a younger demographic by focusing on the teenage antics of break-out star Jimmie Walker.

By the 1980s people's tastes had changed - or so we are supposed to believe - and none of Lear's subsequent shows achieved the success of his earlier work, although all* drew otherwise critical raves for their sharp insights on topical issues.

*Especially The Powers That Be.
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Now Showing: "A Wild Hare" starring Bugs Bunny

On this day in 1940 Bugs Bunny made his cartoon debut, starring alongside Elmer Fudd in A Wild Hare; the prototype Bugs who appeared in Porky's Hare Hunt in April 1938 was never named and therefore, to purists like me, can't really be considered the genuine article any more than the little black duck in Porky's Duck Hunt can be considered Daffy Duck.

A Wild Hare
was directed by Tex Avery, and features many of the usual suspects one comes to associate with the Merrie Melodies: Bugs is voiced by Mel Blanc and Elmer by Arthur Q. Bryan, with animation by Virgil Ross (supervising Robert McKimson, Rod Scribner, and Charles McKimson) and music by Carl Stalling.
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POPnews - July 27th

[First authorized in October 1986 under the auspices of the American Battle Monuments Commission, ground was broken at the site of the Korean War Veterans Memorial by President George H. W. Bush on Flag Day in June 1992; it was finally dedicated by US President Bill Clinton and Korean President Kim Young Sam on the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the war.]

- At the Battle of Bouvines King Philip II of France made the most of his home court advantage by defeating England's King John; it was as much his lack of military prowess (on abundant display here) as his dictatorial style that would lead to King John's being forced to sign Magna Carta within a year.

1549 - A ship bearing Jesuit priest and missionary Francis Xavier reached Japan.

1689 - The Battle of Killiecrankie - itself part of England's so-called Glorious Revolution, which sought to replace England's Catholic King James II with the husband-and-wife Protestants William of Orange and James II's daughter Mary II - ended; despite being a Jacobite victory over the forces of Hugh Mackay, the Jacobite commander Viscount Dundee died in battle, which basically ensured the triumph of the Orangemen the following year.

- A Royal Charter was granted to the Bank of England.

1789 - The first US federal government agency, the Department of Foreign Affairs, was established; it would later be renamed the Department of State.

- Maximilien Robespierre - the pre-eminent villain of the French Revolution - was arrested as part of the so-called Thermidorian Reaction to the Reign of Terror.

1914 - Felix Manalo registered the Iglesia ni Cristo with the Filipino government.

1921 - A team of researchers at the University of Toronto led by Dr. Frederick Banting announced its discovery of insulin, a hormone whose practical application greatly improved both the quality and span of diabetics' lives.

1940 - Bugs Bunny's debut cartoon - A Wild Hare - was released by Warner Brothers.

1949 - The first jet-powered airliner, the deHavilland Comet, made its initial flight.

1953 - The Korean War ended when representatives of the United States, the People's Republic of China, and North Korea signed an armistice agreement; Syngman Rhee, president of South Korea, refused to sign but pledged to observe the armistice.

1965 - Edward Heath was chosen to lead Britain's Conservative Party, thwarting Reginald Maudling and Enoch Powell in their efforts to replace Alec Douglas-Home.

1976 - Former Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka was arrested on suspicion of violating foreign exchange and foreign trade laws in connection with the Lockheed bribery scandals.

1977 - Boris Yeltsin - party boss in the Sverdlovsk region and acting on orders from Moscow he later claimed to have disagreed with - had Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg bulldozed; regular readers of the Pop Culture Institute will remember Ipatiev House as the place where Tsar Nicholas II, his family and servants were executed. After the fall of communism the Church of All Saints was built on the site to honour the martyred Romanov royals.

1981 - Ken Barlow married Deirdre Langton on Coronation Street, which sparked a nationwide mania and had 24 million viewers rapt in front of telly, like.

1990 - The Jamaat al Muslimeen staged a coup d'├ętat attempt in Trinidad and Tobago, occupying the country's Parliament and the studios of Trinidad and Tobago Television - besides holding Prime Minister A. N. R. Robinson and most of his cabinet, as well as the staff at the television station - hostage for 6 days.

1995 - Washington DC's Korean War Veterans Memorial was dedicated.

1996 - A pipe bomb exploded at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, killing Alice Hawthorne and injuring 111 in addition to causing a Turkish cameraman named Melih Uzunyol to suffer a fatal heart attack while fleeing the scene; initially the hero of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, security guard Richard Jewell later became the prime suspect, before former US Army munitions expert Eric Robert Rudolph was captured and confessed to the bombing (in addition to three others).

2007 - News helicopters from television stations KNXV and KTVK collided in mid-air above Steele Indian School Park in central Phoenix while covering a police chase; there were no survivors among the four men in the air - KTVK pilot Scott Bowerbank and photographer Jim Cox and pilot Craig Smith and photographer Rick Krolak of KNXV - but thankfully no one on the ground was hurt. Not only was this was the first known such incident, it remains the worst civil aviation incident in the history of that Arizona city.

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