Monday, October 11, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Debut of "Saturday Night Live"

[Of the original members of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, only
George Coe and Michael O'Donoghue left the cast before the fame and
adulation - and photographer Edie Baskin - overtook them,
although O'Donoghue stayed four seasons as a writer.

On this day in 1975 Lorne Michaels debuted a new kind of show, a combination of sketches and musical performance and whatever else seemed like a good idea at the time... The idea was that if everything got thrown at the wall, some of it was bound to stick; it's a policy which has yielded some so-so material and considerable moments of transcendence during the last 35 years.

Originally called NBC's Saturday Night (due to a conflict over the original title Michaels wanted - namely Saturday Night Live - which was then being used by sportscaster Howard Cosell on ABC) the show had been conceived by NBC to replace Saturday night repeats of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Then, as now, the show was shot in and broadcast from from Studio 8H in New York's Rockefeller Center.

The first episode was hosted by George Carlin and featured musical guests Billy Preston and Janis Ian; even though it features many of the elements with which we are familiar today - a cold opening followed by the famous phrase 'Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!', announcer Don Pardo (who flubbed, calling the cast the Not For Ready Prime Time Players), a monologue by the host, sketches, musical numbers, commercial parodies, awkward attitudes toward male homosexuality, and Weekend Update - hosted by Chevy Chase and featuring a 'live remote' by Laraine Newman - at the time only Laugh-In came close to the mix Michaels had envisioned.

Among the oddities featured on the first episode were a sketch by Jim Henson's Muppets (which paved the way for Henson's legendary Muppet Show the following year), standup by Valri Bromfield, and a typically surreal appearance by Andy Kaufman. The first episode, and indeed the First Season, is naturally available on DVD.
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Dawn French as Catherine Zeta-Jones

Sut mae*?

It's birthday girl Dawn French, the pride of Anglesey, spoofing CZJ, the pride of Swansea... It doesn't get any better. In fact, it's Welsh-licious!

*It's Welsh for 'How are you?', ya feck!
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Elmore Leonard: The Dickens of Detroit

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I never met a character in an Elmore Leonard novel I'd want to meet in real life, which is partly what gives his novels their zip. There is in his books an element of voyeurism that more writers ought to strive for; along with the conversational tone of the narrative and strong, honest dialogue, it all makes for a pretty potent combination.

Although he started out writing westerns, his more recent works detail the lives of thugs and goodfellas, most often in and around the Detroit area, where he's from. He's also written a number of screenplays - such as Get Shorty, which he adapted from his novel of the same name - which are notable for both the verve and the saltiness of their dialogue.

Although frequently compared unfavourably to pulp by critics - mainly snobs - Elmore Leonard's writing is both brisk and crisp, mainly due to a couple of rules he sets for himself. He has often said that, when writing, he leaves out the parts that readers skip; mainly, though, he says: 'If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.'
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Cocteau & Piaf: Friends 'Til The End

Real friendship - the kind that can withstand attacks from towering egos and the tempestuous emotions that are the handmaidens of substance abuse - is rare enough; yet Edith Piaf and Jean Cocteau found it in each other despite a bevy of neuroses to which yours truly can only aspire...

Piaf's star was still rising when, in 1940, Cocteau wrote his one-act play Le Bel Indifférent especially for her; Cocteau, by then, was a fixture in the artistic salons of Paris. Her casting brought the former singing urchin into a rarefied atmosphere, propelling her into a kind of stardom no writer (not even a French one) can hope to obtain.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThroughout the next 15 years they often fought but always reconciled, seemingly united by their outcast beginnings as much as by their mutual fame. So close were the Poet (which is what Cocteau always called himself, no matter what media he was expressing himself in) and the Sparrow (which in French is 'Piaf') that when they died on this day in 1955 within hours of each other, few could resist commenting on the poignancy of it.

Piaf died first, following a battle with liver cancer, in the south of France; when Cocteau heard he retired to his bed, and died of a heart attack a few hours later. Ah, but what is a heart attack if not a broken heart, and whose two hearts had been broken so often, so savagely as those two sensitive souls, Piaf and Cocteau?

United in life, reunited in death...

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The Death of Redd Foxx

He died doing what he loved, which, since we all have to do it, is probably the best way to go...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFollowing a successful performing and recording career as a stand-up comic, Redd Foxx became a household name for his role on Sanford and Son.

After that show went off the air in 1977, Foxx continued to live the high life (and I do mean high); it all came crashing down in 1989, when he was virtually liquidated by the IRS.

In 1991, he was on the comeback trail, appearing in a new sitcom called The Royal Family opposite Della Reese. During a rehearsal on this day in 1991, years of crying wolf with chest pains on Sanford and Son - 'I'm coming Elizabeth!' - caught up with him.

By the time anyone could get him help he was already gone...
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In Memoriam: Eleanor Roosevelt

There have always been First Ladies famed as hostesses; until she came along, though, no one could have imagined a First Lady as activist. By imbuing her role (which has no official status) with a level of importance unimagined by the previous holders of the post, Eleanor Roosevelt earned the title 'First Lady of the World' from President Harry S. Truman and her actions have caused reverberations which are still being felt - for instance, as recently as the current Presidential campaign.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1884, into New York society, Eleanor was orphaned by the age of ten, following which she was raised by relatives. At nineteen she was engaged to her distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom she married on St. Patrick's Day 1905. In lieu of her dead father, she was escorted down the aisle by her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt.

Her early marriage was stressful: a domineering mother-in-law, coupled with her husband's demanding relatives and his open philandering, must have left the shy, insecure Eleanor feeling terribly marginalized.

Following FDR's illness in 1921 (which left him all-but paralyzed from the waist down - unable to walk, but still able to philander) Eleanor emerged into public life, often making appearances in her husband's stead. Allowed to flourish on her own terms, Eleanor Roosevelt quickly became the smart, compassionate force of nature for which she is still so rightly renowned.

The election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the presidency of the United States at a pivotal time in US history finally brought Eleanor entirely into her own. Her advocacy on behalf of women's and children's issues, poverty, literacy, civil defense, and human rights, though, was so much more than noblesse oblige - it was a duty which she took very seriously. In a very real way she completed him, and the President never failed to honour her for the good works she did.

Following FDR's death in 1945, Eleanor's activism became more strident; she famously battled with New York's Francis Cardinal Spellman, and was pivotal in the founding of the United Nations. She was struck by a car in New York City in 1960, and died from complications related to that accident two years later. She is buried next to her husband at their Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York.

In death - as will happen - she's become even greater than she was in life. Her spirit presides over both the office of the First Lady and the United Nations still. She's even been given pride of place at the FDR Memorial in Washington, the first First Lady to be so honoured. From the introverted orphan whose aunts called her 'ugly' to a paragon of tolerance and understanding in one short lifetime, Eleanor Roosevelt's life lit a light that will never go out.
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POPnews - October 11th

[Although by the time he made his historic flight he was a former President (having handed the reins of power to William Howard Taft in March 1909) Theodore Roosevelt made the most of his post-Presidency - including undertaking a famous safari on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution and American Museum of Natural History.]

- Huldrych Zwingli was killed in battle with the Roman Catholic cantons of Switzerland.

1727 - George II and Caroline of Ansbach were crowned King and Queen of Great Britain at Westminster Abbey.

1809 - Along the Natchez Trace in Tennessee, explorer Meriwether Lewis died under mysterious circumstances at an inn called Grinder's Stand.

1852 - The University of Sydney - Australia's first - was inaugurated.

1865 - Paul Bogle led the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica; because he was eventually captured and executed by the British, his image appears today on the Jamaican ten-cent piece.

1890 - The Daughters of the American Revolution was founded; famous living members include North Carolina's senior Senator Elizabeth Dole and First Lady Laura Bush.

1899 - The Second Boer War - between the United Kingdom and the Boers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State - erupted in South Africa.

1910 - After a respectful bit of arm-twisting Theodore Roosevelt became the first American president to fly in an airplane when he took a four minute flight above St. Louis, Missouri, with Arch Hoxsey.

1941 - The National Liberation War of Macedonia began; it would last until 1944, at which point Yugoslavia was reformed.

1958 - NASA launched the lunar probe Pioneer 1 as part of the Pioneer program; the probe later fell back to Earth and burnt up.

1962 - Pope John XXIII convened the first ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church in 92 years; known as the Second Vatican Council, it sought to bring the Vatican into line with modern times - and might have succeeded too, if only John Paul II and Benedict XVI (both of whom were present) hadn't done their utmost during their subsequent reigns to undo whatever progress was made.

1975 - Saturday Night Live made its television debut; the first host was George Carlin, with musical guests Janis Ian and Billy Preston.

1976 - George Washington's posthumous appointment to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States by congressional joint resolution Public Law 94-479 was approved by President Gerald R. Ford.

1982 -The Tudor-era gunship Mary Rose - which sank in July 1545 during the Battle of the Solent - was raised from the seabed off Portsmouth.

1986 - US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met in Reykjavík in an effort to continue discussions about scaling back their intermediate missile arsenals in Europe.

1987 - The 2nd Gay & Lesbian March on Washington attracted 500,000 participants, included the first public showing of the entire NAMES Project/AIDS Quilt along The Mall, and was the impetus for National Coming Out Day.

2000 - The 100th Space Shuttle mission (STS-92) was flown, in order to deliver crucial components to the International Space Station.

2002 - A bomb attack at the Myyrmanni shopping mall in the Helsinki suburb of Vantaa killed seven (including the bomber, Petri Erkki Tapio Gerdt) and injured 66.

2007 - The record high of the Dow Jones Industrial Average occurred at 14,198.10 points.
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