Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Love Is All Around" by Sonny Curtis

The theme tune for The Mary Tyler Moore Show - entitled Love Is All Around - is probably the most famous song Sonny Curtis ever wrote; I say probably not merely out of my predisposition for using weasel words but because armed only with my puny human brain I can't possibly gauge the fame such songs as Walk Right Back (made famous by the Everly Brothers) let alone I Fought the Law (covered by everyone from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to The Clash) might have attained.

Anyway, I've posted it here in honour of the woman it was written to celebrate, namely Mary Tyler Moore, whose portrayal of Mary Richards made her the first feminist sitcomedienne, and who today turns 74.

If you're up to it, may we suggest tossing a woolen hat in the air to celebrate.
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Happy Birthday Mary Tyler Moore

She can turn the world on with her smile, something that's been in evidence since well before Sonny Curtis wrote the words to Love Is All Around, which was used to introduce Mary Tyler Moore to TV audiences most Saturday nights from 1970 to 1977...

PhotobucketInitially a dancer, in 1961 she was cast (from a field of 60) as Laurie Petrie in the classic sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, where her pert personality (and even perkier ass) set a new standard for TV wives; playing a young married couple, she and Dick Van Dyke had some serious carnality in their chemistry.

When that show went off the air in 1966, Moore made a few movies and did some theatre - including a turn as Holly Golightly in a notorious 1966 flop musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany's on Broadway, and the truly bizarre film Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) - while waiting for the perfect vehicle to bring her back to television; she found it in 1970.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show
touched a nerve in American life, giving the nascent Women's Movement a telegenic and well-loved proponent, as well as blending the two halves of the sitcom (domestic and workplace) even more handily than had her previous gig. It also spawned a number of spin-offs, such as Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant, as well as featuring the abundant comedic talents of Edward Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Betty White, and Georgia Engel.

Since that show ended in 1977, Moore has made an Oscar-nominated appearance in Ordinary People (1980) and was memorable in David O. Russell's 1996 film Flirting with Disaster, a movie so good even Patricia Arquette and her dead eyes couldn't ruin it.

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Paul Rudnick: When It's Laughter You're After...

PhotobucketAlthough I didn't know it at the time, I was a fan of Paul Rudnick's long before I'd ever heard his name...

As Libby Gelman-Waxner, Rudnick has been reviewing movies for Premiere magazine since God was in short pants, or so it seems anyway. Rudnick/Waxner's take on the modern cinema is so incisive, I have no idea why all the other critics haven't long ago packed it all in; 61 of their finest collaborations are collected in If You Ask Me: The Collected Columns of America's Most Beloved and Irresponsible Critic.

Born in Piscataway Township, New Jersey, this multi-talented writer and humourist is responsible for the novels Social Disease (1986) and I'll Take It (1989), as well as the plays I Hate Hamlet (1991) and Jeffrey (1993); he's also written the screenplays for Addams Family Values (1993), Jeffrey (1995), In & Out (1997), Isn't She Great? (2000), Marci X (2003), and The Stepford Wives (2004).

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"Rasputin" by Boney M

From their 1978 album Nightflight to Venus, it's Boney M's classic song Rasputin.

Because how could I not post this today?
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The Death of Rasputin

If all you knew about the life of Grigori Rasputin was that he had spooky eyes and held the Russian Royal Family in a kind of a thrall - and even that you learned from the 1978 song about him by Boney M - that would be all you needed to know. The details of his life, influence, and especially death have all been muddied to the extent that sorting the truth out of the lies may well be impossible at this late date...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhile initially engaged by the Tsaritsa Alexandra to heal her ailing, hemophiliac son, the Tsarevich Alexei, he soon came under the scrutiny of the court for his profligate ways, some or even all of which rumours may have been slanderous. After a dozen years as confidante to Tsar Nicholas II and his family, other nobles at court had had enough, especially one Prince Felix Yusupov (who presumably was jealous that the Romanovs were lavishing so much attention on a peasant).

Luring Rasputin to Yusupov's Moika Palace near Saint Petersburg on this day in 1916, they plied him with wine and cakes laced with 'enough cyanide to kill five men' by Vasily Maklakov, to no effect. Yusupov then got a gun and shot Rasputin in the back; when even this didn't kill the monk he got his friend (and, some say, lover) Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich to handcuff Rasputin and throw him into the icy Neva River, which seems to have done the trick.

Of course, Yusupov's subsequent versions of these events varied to the extent that no two accounts match, which makes him an unreliable source at worst, and a talented fabulist at best; a 2004 autopsy of Rasputin located no active poison in his stomach, nor any water in his lungs. He'd obviously been stabbed, shot, and assaulted, but even this evidence contradicts reports given by Yusupov in 1916, 1917, 1927, 1934, and 1965.

All in all it was the perfect crime; despite numerous admissions that he had shot and killed Rasputin, Prince Felix Yusupov was never charged with any wrongdoing in connection with his death.
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Pop History Moment: Murder In The Cathedral


Kings, as people, are used to getting what they want, especially the medieval ones; feeling themselves imbued with the blood royal, stalking the Earth as God's representative, it's easy to see how someone could develop a really severe entitlement complex. Provided the King in question was reasonably diplomatic, and his courtiers suitably acquiescent, everybody could get what they want and no one would get hurt. Alas, this sort of thing almost never happened.

Would that Henry II were one particle as diplomatic as his Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket; not that for all his reputation as a holy man, Becket wasn't as capable of towering arrogance and even bluff cruelty as his Lord and Master. It's just that Henry was a general first, and was used to either getting what he wanted or else killing whomever he had to to get it, and then taking it.

One day the King had had enough of Becket's intransigence and, raising his feverish head, from his sickbed called out: 'Will nobody rid me of this troublesome priest?' Not specifically an order, but for four of his knights - Reginald Fitzurse, Hugh de Moreville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton - already attuned to doing the King's will, it was enough.

Away they went to Canterbury, where they found the priest at prayer amid some monks, and brutally slew him, on this day in 1170; by all accounts, Becket faced his murderers calmly. A clerk named Edward Grim was visiting Canterbury Cathedral at the time, and was slightly wounded in trying to save Becket's life; he later wrote a biography of the slain cleric, including a firsthand account of his murder.

The site of Becket's murder quickly became a shrine for pilgrims; Henry II himself was one of the earliest penitents, which may have set the trend, visiting first as he did in the midst of the Revolt of 1173–1174. Over the next two centuries untold numbers followed in his footsteps; Geoffrey Chaucer's book The Canterbury Tales was the earliest account of this activity, written two centuries hence. Becket's quickly became the richest shrine in England, until it was broken up in 1538 and seized for the treasury of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

In fact the later Henry's struggles with the Pope over matters of spiritual and temporal authority, which bore fruit upon the creation of the Church of England, may have done so from seeds sown by his ancestor on this day.

Becket's life and death have also been adapted for the stage by T. S. Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral, Jean Anouilh's play Becket (both later made into films) and in print by Ken Follett's historical novel The Pillars of the Earth.

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"Broken English" by Marianne Faithfull

Birthday wishes go out to the grandmother of all show business survivors, Marianne Faithfull...

Her relationship with Mick Jagger in the Sixties, when they were the golden couple, should have done her in; it didn't, and she went on to record this, without question her biggest single. From her 1979 album Broken English, it's the title track.

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