No. 235 | May 2, 2011
In my five decades and counting I’ve had the chance to witness quite a bit of history, but tonight I can say that I don’t remember a moment like this. So often the most memorable events are the most tragic—the assassinations of the ’60s, the Oklahoma City bombing, and of course, 9/11. There have been jubilant occasions, too—the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall—but as an occasion of justice and victory, today’s news, though on a smaller scale, feels like something we may not have experienced in the United States since the end of World War II.
Osama bin Laden is dead. The news was shocking when it came—not because we’d given up the effort, but because we’d given up the thought that it would actually happen. Yet now we get to think about it differently. The effort to get bin Laden (not to be mistaken for our multiple missteps along the way) was not a lost cause, after all. Suddenly, so it seems, we got it right.
The past decade has been painful and troubling, filled with more futility and self-doubt than we ever would want to admit. The demise of bin Laden puts an end to one chapter of our recent history. Though time will tell what it means, for the moment it is reason to celebrate.
As I watched the news with my wife, who I met in the weeks following 9/11, and my son, who’s approximately the age that I was watching the events of November 1963, I felt a glimmer of hope that I have not felt in a long, long while. Maybe we can move on now. It’s about time.
Ding Dong! The witch is dead.
Which old witch?
The Wicked Witch!
Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.
Wake up, sleepy head,
Rub your eyes, get out of bed.
Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead.
She’s gone where the goblins go,
Below, below, below.
Yo-ho, let’s open up and sing and ring the bells out.
Ding Dong the merry-oh,
Sing it high, sing it low.
Let them know
The Wicked Witch is dead!
The most fitting movie for the occasion, it seems to me, is the most American of movies, The Wizard of Oz. The witch is dead! The nightmare is over. The time to leave the storm cellar has come.
No. 97 | May 17, 2010
Summer’s on the way, the temperature’s rising, and MAD About Movies is here to help. This week a theme I think we can all enjoy—beer! We’ll be serving up some ice cold cinematic brewskis so you can beat the heat and—
The theme of the week is not beer.
You see that title up there. It says Six Packs, right?
Yeah, but not that kind of six pack.
Oh, really. Well, okay then, bear with me, folks. It’s no problem—yes, you can still get “ripped,” if you know what I mean. This week we’ll be featuring a theme about muscles, those well-defined features you might not see when you look in the mirror but you can surely find at the local gym. Also known as washboard abs—
No, no, not that kind of six pack either.
No? Well, then what—oh, I got it! Here you go, everyone. This week’s theme is all about Joe Six Pack, that all-American guy, the subject of countless movies over the years—or one or two, anyway—and that wonderful family of his.
Hmm…then…then…then I give up! You’re so smart, why don’t you do it?
Our theme this week
Rat Packs, and other “Packs” that made movies [Really!]
We probably should start at the beginning, with the original Rat Pack. I know what you’re thinking, but those guys can wait till tomorrow.
Humphrey Bogart was in his forties. Lauren Bacall was nineteen. In 1944 they co-starred in the Howard Hawks film To Have and Have Not, they fell in love, and they were married a year later. For the next decade, until Bogart’s death in 1957, they were the reigning couple in all of filmdom.
Bogie and Bacall preferred entertaining at home over the Hollywood party circuit. Their circle of close friends included some of the biggest names of the day: Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, David Niven, Cary Grant, and notably, Frank Sinatra. Other regulars included Garland’s husband, Sid Luft, director George Cukor, agent Swifty Lazar, humorist Nathaniel Benchley, composer Jimmy Van Heusen, and Mike and Gloria Romanoff, owners of Romanoff’s resaurant.
In her 1978 autobiography, By Myself, Bacall explained how one qualified for membership:
One had to be addicted to nonconformity, staying up late, drinking, laughing, and not caring what anyone thought or said about us…. We held a dinner in a private room at Romanoff’s to elect officials and draw up rules…. I was voted Den Mother, Bogie was in charge of public relations. No one could join without unanimous approval of the charter members…. What fun we had with it all!
Holmby Hills is the exclusive neighborhood on the Westside of Los Angeles where several members of the original Rat Pack lived. When it came to evenings at the Bogart’s, here’s how Bacall described it: “If the light over the front door was on, we were home and awake; a chosen very few could ring the bell; if not, we were not receiving.”
Bacall coined the nickname for the group. Once, when Bogart and a few of his drinking buddies returned from a trip to Las Vegas, she told them: “You look like a goddamn rat pack.” The name stuck.
Bogart’s death was the end of an era, and the end of the Holmby Hills Rat Pack. Sinatra and Bacall began to see a lot of each other (“Frank was the only unattached man I knew,” she said). They had an affair and were briefly engaged, but when news of their relationship hit the papers, Sinatra called it off.
Soon, a new Rat Pack was launched, with Sinatra at the helm.
Long Beach, Calif., Concert (1955)
Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Judy Garland
No. 76 | April 16, 2010
Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday — “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952)
Tuesday — “The Rain in Spain” (1964)
Wednesday — “Purple Rain” (1984)
Thursday — “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (1969)
Our theme this week
“Rain”-y day songs from the movies
Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.
Dorothy Gale sings the song in the sepia tones of Kansas, but after the tornado hits, she discovers a rainbow of colors in the land of Oz, a place where “the dreams that you dare to dream / Really do come true.” That lyric is the key to the story of a girl and her dog, but it’s also as good an explanation as any of the appeal that movies held for audiences, especially in Hollywood’s golden age. Few films, if any, were as appealing, as magical, as The Wizard of Oz.
“Over the Rainbow” is a timeless classic, the #1 pick on the AFI’s list of top hundred songs from American movies, and the #1 “Song of the Century” chosen in an education project by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the National Endowment for the Arts, and Scholastic Inc. Over the years it’s been covered many times, a favorite for generations of singers.
None matches the young Judy Garland. Still in her teens, she was already a seasoned pro, as talented as any singer who ever stepped before the camera. She could act, dance, and do comedy too, and her career was one of the great careers of anyone in movies.
You may think “Over the Rainbow” was a sure thing. After the first preview though, Louis B. Mayer had the song cut from the film. He apparently thought it slowed down the picture. Harold Arlen lobbied to get the song back in, and the rest is history. As William Goldman was saying just yesterday: nobody knows anything.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Victor Fleming, director
“Over the Rainbow”
E.Y. (Yip) Harburg, lyrics, Harold Arlen, music