Saturday, January 15, 2011

Andrea Martin and Oscar the Grouch Demonstrate Anger

A couple of years ago now on Andrea Martin's birthday I posted a long-gone clip from SCTV of her impeccable Barbra Streisand impersonation*; the past couple of years I've decided to show my readers an equally skillful act she puts on, in this case anger.

Opposite Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, Martin lends her own considerable charm to that of puppeteer Carroll Spinney, much to the chagrin of Maria (Sonia Manzano). In under two minutes, you will witness everything that makes everyone involved so special...

*Alongside an uncanny rendering of Ruth Gordon by Valri Bromfield.
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Happy Birthday Andrea Martin

Although she first attained prominence as part of the dream team - John Candy, Dave Thomas, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Harold Ramis and Joe Flaherty - that would make SCTV a television legend, Andrea Martin is plenty funny all by herself, whether portraying a character of her own creation or impersonating a veritable who's who of 70s and 80s celebrity*.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1947, an American of Armenian descent, by 1973 the grocer's daughter from Oregon was comfortably ensconced in Toronto and starring in Ivan Reitman's third film, the Canadian epic Cannibal Girls; she followed that up with an appearance in another cinematic masterpiece, Black Christmas, alongside such Canadian film die-hards as Margot Kidder and Keir Dullea. Such is the degree of her ubiquity - even in the 70s - that she also turns up in an early episode of King of Kensington!

Whether it's her work ethic or her agent**, Andrea Martin has a habit of turning up in unexpected places, which delightful surprises can always be counted on to make my day. As Wanda the Word Fairy on Sesame Street or Ishka on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, from television tubes to movie screens to theatre stages, if you enjoy being entertained (and let's face it, who doesn't?) you couldn't do better than whiling away a spare hour or two in watching this dynamic and versatile lady work her particular brand of magic...

She's so talented she can even liven up dire failures***!

*Including Barbra Streisand, Ethel Merman, Arlene Francis, Sally Field, Sophia Loren, Beverly Sills, Lynn Redgrave, Linda Lavin, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli, Connie Francis, Mother Teresa, Alice B. Toklas and Indira Gandhi!
**Or, less likely, her agent's work ethic.
***This means you, Young Triffie!

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Remembering... Ivor Novello

It's highly unlikely that when Ivor Novello was born - on this day in 1893 - he was the only gay in the village; even though the village in question was Cardiff and not Llanddewi Brefi, someone was always drilling a new shaft down the valleys in those days, so it's quite likely that by the time he got to Oxford's Magdalen College the handsome Welshman had likely already been well-fagged...

PhotobucketNovello attained his initial prominence during the First World War, when his song Keep The Home Fires Burning warmed many a parlour throughout the Empire. Then, even more than now, patriotism was the best defense against scandal; Novello's affair with Siegfried Sassoon had tongues wagging - occasionally even with gossip - and for 35 years Novello maintained a relationship with Bobbie Andrews both at home and at work.

Shortly after the end of hostilities, Novello embarked upon a movie career, appearing in two early films by Alfred Hitchcock, The Lodger (1927) and Downhill (1927). In the great British tradition, he thereafter alternated between movie and stage roles.

During World War II, when scandal finally caught up with him, it wasn't a rendezvous with a guardsman in Green Park that brought him low but an abuse of petrol coupons, for which he served four weeks in jail alongside the violent gangster Frankie Fraser. Accustomed to a life of luxury, after his release friends said Novello was never the same. He died of a coronary thrombosis in March 1951.

Novello's memory lives on; the annual Ivor Novello Awards honour songwriting in Britain, and as recently as Robert Altman's 2001 film Gosford Park Novello was portrayed by Jeremy Northam.
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"Ice Cream For Crow" by Captain Beefheart

Originally rejected as being too weird for MTV - although, having watched it twice all the way through I can't think why - birthday boy* Captain Beefheart's video for Ice Cream For Crow (the title track to his 12th and final album, released in 1982) has since been enshrined in the Permanent Film and Video Collection of New York City's Museum of Modern Art. Which just goes to show you that one man's freak show is another man's work of art - which could not only serve as the motto of the Pop Culture Institute but as a mantra for Captain Beefheart himself.

Shortly after releasing this, Captain Beefheart disbanded The Magic Band**, reverted to his birth name, Don Van Vliet, and took up a career as a neo-primitive abstract-expressionist painter; despite a notable lack of commercial success as a musician, however, Captain Beefheart's influence on contemporary music has been described as 'incalculable' - echoing in everyone from Sex Pistols to Frank Zappa to post-Asylum Tom Waits to The White Stripes and in many more besides.

*Sadly, Don Van Vliet died in December 2010, just a month before this, which would have been his 70th birthday.
**The magic dis-band?

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In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.

1955's Montgomery Bus Boycott was a pivotal moment for civil rights in the United States not just because it began the long, slow process of breaking the back of racism in America, but because it propelled to prominence a Baptist minister by the name of Martin Luther King Jr.; only 26 years old at the time, King went on to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference predicated on the belief that intolerance and bigotry are antithetical to religious practice.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1929 in Atlanta, Mr. King became Dr. King just six months before his calling became a crusade; by then he'd already been pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, for two years.

As an activist, Dr. King's methods were modeled on those of India's Mohandas K. 'Mahatma' Gandhi, namely civil disobedience and peaceful protest to achieve stated goals. Gradually the violence with which these peaceful protests were met began to win more and more people to the cause of civil rights; among the earliest white supporters, the Quakers, threw the resources of their American Friends Service Committee behind the cause. The Quakers, it should be noted, had also been instrumental in abolitionism, which movement reached its zenith with the Underground Railroad of a century earlier.

From the early days of the movement, Dr. King's right hand man was the more overtly militant Bayard Rustin, who had campaigned to end discrimination in the US Armed Forces during World War II and later helped to organize the Freedom Rides of the late 1940s.

In the dozen years of his national prominence Dr. King achieved much, much of it as due to Rustin's persistence as his own; the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was attended by a quarter million people, who heard King announce 'I Have a Dream' and soon enough his dream was theirs. Despite attempts by Senator Strom Thurmond to slander King's relationship with Rustin - and by extension the entire movement - and the NAACP's chairman Roy Wilkins ironically bigoted refusal to give Rustin his due, King remained stalwart in his support of Rustin.

King, of course, never lived to see his dream realized; the cynical might say he never would, since such a high-flown ideal might seem well-nigh impossible. Despite the prickly issue that race remains in America today, though, one would have to be thoroughly blindered to say that African-Americans aren't better off today than they were in April 1968 on the day King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Not only is King's birthday a national holiday (observed in all 50 states since 2000) it seems every item he touched is treated as a holy relic and every place with any connection to him is a National Monument, which is as it should be. While King had his faults - for which of us doesn't - his qualities far outshone his frailties, and the progress he set in motion wouldn't be halted by James Earl Ray's bullet but accelerated instead.
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Pop History Moment: The Coronation of Elizabeth I


Given the years of uncertainty that had preceded it, by the time the 25-year-old Elizabeth attained the throne following the death of her half-sister Mary she must have felt like the most vindicated person in the entire kingdom. From the sumptuously appointed Royal Apartments at the Tower of London - where her mother Anne Boleyn had slept the night before her execution and where Elizabeth herself had spent time as a prisoner - she rode out along the Strand to Westminster to show herself to her people, by tradition, on the day before her coronation.

Pausing beside the royal menagerie as she departed Tower Hill, for the crowd's benefit she compared herself to Daniel in the Lion's Den, a fitting metaphor for her life thus far, and (as it turned out) equally apt for the life she was about to undertake. Five pageants were performed for her benefit along the way - at Gracechurch Street, Cornhill, Soper's Lane, Little Conduit in Cheapside, and Fleet Street - and at each one she stopped the procession to watch; when each was done she offered her thanks and praise, which was inevitably met with cheers by the mighty crowds.

At the suggestion of Lord Robert Dudley (Elizabeth's newly appointed Master of the Horse and one of her favourites at court) the date of her coronation - January 15th - had been carefully chosen by the noted astrologer Dr. John Dee as the most propitious; given the way history played out (Elizabeth's reign would stretch to 45 years, one of the longest) it was one of the rare times Dee had been right. As for the coronation itself, the rite was laid out in the Liber Regalis, which didn't stop the Queen from adding her own reforming touches.

Owing to a sudden dearth of clergymen - some too old, some too Catholic, some too dead - the service would be conducted by Owen Oglethorpe, the Bishop of Carlisle, and one of the most junior clerics in the realm. There was tension between them; she had stormed out of a service he officiated three weeks earlier on Christmas morning because it had been too Papist. Suitably chastised, he behaved himself thereafter.

When her procession departed from Westminster Hall on this day in 1559 she was lavishly outfitted in her 'Parliament robes' of crimson; by the time she arrived at Westminster Abbey a short time later she was in tatters, her robes having been cut to ribbons by well-wishers seeking a good luck token. Once there she changed into golden robes for the coronation itself...

A coronation is a solemn enough religious ritual in itself, but there is every indication that Elizabeth regarded it as nothing short of a wedding to her people; having recently lived through her predecessor's disastrous (and disastrously unpopular) marriage to Philip II of Spain, not to mention her own recent entanglements with Thomas Seymour (the husband of her stepmother Catherine Parr) Elizabeth's resolve to remain unmarried in the traditional sense seems to have hardened early.

In due time she was anointed, then finally ornamented, appearing much as she does in the portrait above; once she was crowned she again exchanged her robes (this time for purple ones) and returned to Westminster Hall for the obligatory sumptuous banquet. Following the sombre occasion of the coronation, throughout the remainder of the evening she was laughing and joyous - which while it offended the older members of the nobility, gave her people immense pleasure, and they loved her for it.

Though it was her determination to rule by wise counsel, she knew well enough that it was the people for whom she reigned, and she always made sure they knew it as well.
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"Ghost" by Howie Day

Whatever ghosts have haunted Howie Day in the past, it's the sincere hope of the Pop Culture Institute that this year for his birthday - today, natch! - he exorcises the crap out of it and finally gets some peace of mind. Although, for a sensitive singer-songwriter* like him, the kind of troubles he's had aren't so much problems as solutions to the age-old dilemna of what to write about...

The song Ghost originally appeared on Day's self-released 2000 album Australia, which was re-released in 2002 after Day signed a contract with Epic Records; he's seen here performing it on The Late Late Show during the tenure of its second host, Craig Kilborn.

*Albeit a sensitive singer-songwriter with a propensity for some serious douchebaggery, given the nature of said troubles...
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POPnews - January 15th

[From its cramped if elegant riverside headquarters in Bloomsbury's Montagu House, the British Museum moved to South Kensington, where Sir Robert Smirke designed a vast neo-classical complex to house the nation's treasures; between 1825 and 1850 it would be the largest building site in Europe.]

69 CE - Otho seized power in Rome, making him the second in the so-called Year of the Four Emperors; he ruled for only three months before committing suicide.

1559 - Elizabeth I was crowned queen of England at Westminster Abbey in London.

1759 - The British Museum was opened to the public at Montagu House in the tony Bloomsbury section of London at the behest (and due to the bequest) of Sir Hans Sloane.

1777 - New Connecticut - better known these days as Vermont - declared its independence from the United Kingdom; it would not join the United States until March 1791, at which time it became the 14th state.

1822 - During the Greek War of Independence, Demetrius Ypsilantis was elected president of the legislative assembly.

1844 - The University of Notre Dame received its charter from the state of Indiana.

1885 - Wilson Bentley took his first photograph of a snowflake, which was the first one ever taken.

1919 - The Boston Molasses Disaster killed 21 people; meanwhile, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, two of Germany's most prominent socialists, were tortured and murdered by the Freikorps in Berlin.

1943 - The world's largest office building, The Pentagon, was dedicated in Arlington, Virginia.

1947 - The brutalized corpse of Elizabeth Short was found in Los Angeles' Leimert Park; her story has been told in James Ellroy's 1987 book The Black Dahlia as well as Brian De Palma's 2006 movie of the same name, which was based on it.

1951 - Ilse Koch, the Bitch of Buchenwald or Buchenwälder Schlampe, was sentenced to life in prison for her role as wife of Karl Otto Koch, commandant of the concentration camps Buchenwald (1937-41) and Majdanek (1941-3); having met and married in 1936 while she was working as a secretary at Sachsenhausen, near Berlin, they were soon embezzling from and murdering prisoners at their own whim.

1966 - The government of Nigeria's Abubakar Tafawa Balewa is overthrown in a military coup d’état.

1967 - The first Super Bowl was played - in Los Angeles, California - during which the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.

1969 - The Soviet Union launched Soyuz 5.

1974 - Dennis Rader (better known as the BTK Killer) claimed his first victims by binding, torturing and killing four members of the Otero family - Joseph, Joseph II, Josephine and Julie - in their Sedgwick County home, near Wichita.

1982 - Mark Thatcher, the son of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was found safe after going missing in the Sahara Desert during his inaugural Paris-Dakar Rally with co-driver Charlotte Verney and their mechanic, known only as Jackie.

1986 - The Living Seas exhibit opened at EPCOT Center in Florida's Walt Disney World.

1997 - Princess Diana caused a political firestorm - in the UK and throughout the world - by advocating against the use of anti-personnel ordnance, or land mines, during a visit to Angola; her actions are said to have shamed many nations into signing the Ottawa Treaty. Despite her efforts, though, the People's Republic of China, India, the United States and Russia have yet to sign the treaty, despite being amongst the foremost users of these devices.

2001 - Wikipedia, the free Wiki content encyclopedia, went online; despite numerous and often frustrating inconsistencies, the Pop Culture Institute is nevertheless grateful for its innovation.
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