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Archive for the ‘comedy’ Category

I don’t know that much about the sibling relationship between my dad and my aunt when they were growing up.

I have never heard reference to any great tension; and in any event, the Blumenau household on Hope Street seemed like a pretty low-drama place. So I imagine my dad and his little sister got along well enough.

Except maybe for the occasional dig at each other — like on this week’s calendar entry.

"March 32, 1964."

“March 32, 1964.”

The addition of an extra day to the calendar proves that my grandfather’s puckish sense of humor was passed on to his son. The carefully drawn numbers suggest that my dad also inherited his attention to detail.

As for the wisecrack about the wig-fitter, I have no idea whether that was inspired by a real-life haircut, or was just a big-brotherly twack on the nose. Perhaps my father and aunt remember; perhaps they don’t.

I see Aunt Elaine got a little of her own back the next “day,” underneath the comment about buying presents for Rod’s birthday (roughly two months in the future at that point).  Serves my dad right for getting in a second jab.

I was going to say that this is a rare entry because it shows my dad and aunt seizing total control of the family calendar — generally the terrain of my grandfather.

But my grandpa’s presence makes itself known through the “recess” marking (presumably my dad’s college recess — I bet Aunt Elaine was glad when he went back to school) and a reminder to himself to get a new tailpipe put on my dad’s crungy old Plymouth.

He seems to have taken no notice of his kids’ sniping. Maybe he let it pass by unreproached because it wasn’t interfering with a real calendar day.

Dad and Aunt Elaine, if you want to share any memories of this entry in the comments, please do.

But keep it civil, won’t you?

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One thing I might ask my grandfather, were he still around, is the evergreen question asked by late-20th-century kids everywhere: “What did you *do* before there was television, Grandpa?”

The answer is no big mystery: I have some pretty decent ideas of what he did to pass his leisure time back then. It would just be fun to hear him describe the recreational options of the 1920s and ’30s in his own words, and to see his eyes light up as he described the shows, or the movies, or the ballgames, or whatever else.

This week’s calendar entry finds my grandfather revisiting a form of entertainment that would have been quite popular in his boyhood, but was deader than the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the time he hit middle age.

Jan. 18, 1975.

I would have enjoyed the chance to watch this TV show in my grandfather’s company, just for the educational possibilities.

I know so little about vaudeville (or “vaudville,” in my grandpa’s jaunty spelling) that I tend to confuse it with burlesque, its racier cousin. As a child of the MTV age, the only “vaudville show” I’ve ever directly seen is the one that two of pop music’s biggest stars randomly, if charmingly, decided to insert as a plot point in one of their videos.

This video will be 30 years old next year, and two of the three people in this screenshot are dead. I feel distinctly old.

Vaudeville — which, unlike burlesque, was family-friendly — is best explained as the spiritual ancestor of the television variety shows that thrived from the 1950s to the 1970s.

When vaudeville audiences crowded into their local theaters, they could look forward to an evening of just about anything. Singers, sword swallowers, dialect comedians, dancers, animal acts, family performing troupes, magicians, one-act plays — all of those, and more, were fair game.

Before there was a Casey Kasem, vaudeville did a fair share to spread new musical compositions to nationwide audiences.

A good vaudeville show would send its audience tumbling out of the theater in a lather, off to recap the most engrossing bits to friends and family for days to come. (God only knows how many well-known stars got their first taste of performing this way, reprising their favorite skits and sketches to anyone who would listen.)

Of course, the bigger your city and the nicer your theater, the higher-quality vaudeville shows you got. The mind reels to think of how amateurish vaudeville shows probably were in really third-rate rural areas.

I imagine that my grandfather might have seen some decent-quality shows in his hometown of Springfield, Mass. — shows that perhaps helped shape his opinion of what a good evening’s entertainment should be.

Remember the post last fall about him watching the Bob Hope TV show? That combined singing, dancing and comedy. And, like most Americans between the late ’40s and the early ’70s, I am sure my grandfather watched his share of Ed Sullivan, the king of TV variety shows.

My grandfather probably didn’t get to see a lot of vaudeville, though. As early as the 1910s, the growth of movies was already crowding vaudeville aside for the American entertainment dollar. As movies became more popular, top vaudeville stars and promising up-and-comers shifted their talents more and more to film.

According to Wikipedia, it’s often said that vaudeville died in November 1932, when New York City’s Palace Theater — the country’s most prestigious vaudeville venue — converted to all movies. My grandpa would have been 22 at the time.

My father would not have seen a vaudeville show firsthand. Nor would the stars of Mac and Jack’s Vaudville Show, for that matter.

(Indeed, “Jack” would have been more likely to perform on a segregated vaudeville circuit, like the legendary “Tough On Black Asses” circuit, than to co-headline with a honky from Liverpool. But I’ve already given that video more thought than it deserves.)

Being detail-oriented as always, I checked TV listings, the Internet Movie Database, and Google to try to find out more about the vaudeville TV show my grandfather watched in 1975. Unfortunately, I was unable to turn up any details.

(I did turn up a listing for a PBS special on vaudeville from the 1990s, which is advertised on Amazon as the first TV show about vaudeville. Those who repeat the past are condemned to forget it.)

Just as Americans seem to be getting slowly fed up with the two-party political system, it would be fun to see them reach the end of their tether with $200 million blockbuster movies and endlessly vacuous “reality” TV programming.

And when that happens, what would be a better replacement for our communal entertainment than traveling companies of comedians, buck-and-wing dancers, rapid-fire banjo pickers, trapeze artists and tattooed ladies who sing selections from La boheme — all in the intimate, affordably priced comfort of a theater near you?

Say, say, say what you want … but I think I’m onto something here.

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For whatever reason, my grandfather’s consumption of mass media fascinates me.

Regular readers will remember my extended meditation, at the start of this blog’s existence, on the movie “That’s Entertainment!” I’ve also mused on my grandfather’s newspaper readership, and on what he might have watched the day he got a new TV aerial installed.

So when I noticed a passing reference in yesterday’s blog entry to my grandfather watching a “BOB HOPE SHOW” on Oct. 24, 1975, of course I had to go find out what he saw.

(If you missed the mention, go back to yesterday’s post and look at the illustration of the witch flying east. Then, go north.)

Ol’ Ski Nose had a busy 1975 on the small screen. He co-hosted the Academy Awards telecast; appeared in a documentary about Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire; cracked wise about Lucille Ball on a Dean Martin celebrity roast; showed up on Tony Orlando and Dawn’s variety show; and hosted an improbable confection called “Bob Hope on Campus,” which included appearances by Aretha Franklin, John Wayne, America and Flip Wilson.

But the Oct. 24 show was one to trump them all, as Hope marked 25 years on television with special guests Wayne, Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Clips from previous shows featured the most popular mass-market entertainers of the post-World War II era.

A few parts of the show I might enjoy watching today, such as Sinatra singing “The Lady Is A Tramp.”

Other parts of it I would probably find groanworthy. (Bob and Steve McQueen play Japanese soldiers in a comedy sketch from 1960? Time to go wind the clock and make the popcorn, and maybe even steam-clean the rug.)

Still, while I wouldn’t necessarily like to watch this special, the idea of it gives me a mental snapshot — not just of my grandparents in their little house, but of an entire generation continuing to find humor and relaxation in its preferred brand of comedic comfort food.

Not many new laffs in a clip show full of familiar faces. But when you’re 65, as my grandpa was at the time, you’re not looking to be shaken up. You just want to sit for a while with old friends who entertain you.

The equivalent for my dad’s generation — and to some extent mine — would be a “Saturday Night Live” anniversary show.

Of course, I like to think of SNL as hipper and less middlebrow than Bob Hope — and at various points, it has been. But at this point, it’s a familiar cultural institution with its own well-worn riffs, just like Bob Hope was in ’75. The Bass-O-Matic? Gumby? The Church Lady? Sure, roll ’em out again.

(Bob might fare better than I care to admit in a clip-show cutting contest with SNL. The drug jokes of the Seventies seem just about as faded now as Bob’s brand of humor probably would. And which would you rather see — Sinatra bringing down the house on Hope’s show, or Leo Sayer doing “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” from the SNL archives?)

In subsequent years, Bob Hope would appear in a dizzying number of TV specials with titles like “James Bond: The First 21 Years,” “All-Star Look at TV’s Prime Time Wars” and “All-Star Celebration Opening the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.” I have no indication that my grandparents watched any of those — and actually, I rather hope they didn’t.

I’m being careful not to sneer, though. I know TV programmers, by and large, are no more intelligent and creative than they ever have been.

I wonder if, when I’m 65, I’ll check the TV listings and see “Adam Sandler’s All-Star Salute to The National Football League,” or “Will Ferrell With His Beautiful Easter Bunnies and Other Friends.”

If so, Bob Hope and Steve McQueen as Japanese soldiers might seem very funny indeed.

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