Posts Tagged ‘that’s entertainment’

I’ll still be posting a new calendar entry every Monday. But if I get additional interesting info between Mondays, I may add special mid-week posts as well.

Monday’s post about my grandfather and the movie “That’s Entertainment!” drew similar e-mail responses from both of my parents. They agreed that my grandfather would have liked the film. And they agreed that, if he saw it, it was almost certainly on television.

“If ‘That’s Entertainment!’ was on TV, then the grandparents saw it; if it was in a movie house, I personally doubt they went,” my mom wrote. “I don’t ever recall (your grandfather) talking about ‘seeing a movie.’ “

As residents of a city not far from New York, my grandparents watched the New York lineup of channels. My dad reminded me that New York City had several independent TV stations, and even if the movie wasn’t a Sunday-night network feature, some other channel might have shown it.

With that info in my pocket, I checked out the New York Times’ TV listings for Nov. 3, 1974. (You can too, if you want to pay to get behind the firewall that guards the Gray Lady’s archives.)

I was sure I was going to nail down exactly when my grandparents watched this movie. Not a quest of any importance to anyone else in the world, sure. But anything worth writing about is worth writing thoroughly about, yes?

You can guess the results. A New York-area TV watcher on that rainy Sunday could have seen numerous movies on the small screen — everything from Cicely Tyson in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” to Errol Flynn in “Objective Burma,” to King Kong and Godzilla in “King Kong Vs. Godzilla.”

But, no showings of “That’s Entertainment!” anywhere on the dial.

(I probably could have guessed this from an astute observation of my dad’s: “It would be like him to write it on the calendar ahead of time to remember to watch it, although it would also be like him to put the time and channel.” You’ll remember that Monday’s calendar entry includes neither time nor channel.)

On a whim, I scanned the listings for “The Band Wagon,” the 1953 movie musical that introduced the song “That’s Entertainment.” I thought maybe my grandfather had watched that instead, and had come away from it with an earworm so persistent that he’d written it on his calendar. But no — no “The Band Wagon,” either.

My thoughts circled back to the small movie theater mentioned in Monday’s post. I thought maybe it was a second-run theater, with correspondingly lower prices.

And I thought my grandfather might have been enticed to break his routine and go to the movies by a combination of thrift, nostalgia, and maybe even romance — like, taking my grandma to a film, the way they might have done when they were young and courting.

Unfortunately, I have to concede that the men in my family, by and large, are about as romantic as parking meters. So my theory has a hole in it big enough for Gene Kelly to tap-dance through. Still, it’s the best — and sweetest — theory I have left. So I’m sticking to it.

In the end, I don’t really know what my grandfather’s calendar entry of Nov. 3, 1974, referred to, or whether he ever saw the movie “That’s Entertainment!” at all.

But that’s OK. For all my fascination with mundane details, exact reproductions of my grandfather’s life aren’t really what this blog is about.

We know some things; we guess at others; and we let the rest slide.

And that, in its own way, is entertainment.


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Usually, we’ll write about calendar items based on when they originally happened — April items in April; August in August; and so forth. But we’re going to mix it up every once in a while, including today.

One night in 1980, Paul Weller — guitarist and songwriter for British pop-punk band The Jam — came home from the pub a couple of lagers to the looser and wrote himself a song.

The verses consisted of bleak, occasionally violent images summing up the drudgery of everyday English life — things like torn-up phone booths, damp apartments, the racket of pneumatic drills and “wishing you were far away.”

The chorus brought everything together simply and ironically, repeating the phrase, “That’s entertainment / That’s entertainment,” in a sort of bitter mock-celebration of stagnation, decay, and lack of opportunity. (If you’re not familiar with the song, you can hear it here.)

Weller’s disgusted swipe at Thatcher-era England would become one of The Jam’s best-known songs. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked “That’s Entertainment” No. 306 on its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, ahead of such rock warhorses as “Iron Man,” “All You Need Is Love,” “Sweet Jane” and “Baba O’Riley.”

In another sign of the song’s cultural impact, “That’s Entertainment” managed to reach No. 21 on the U.K. charts in 1981, even though it hadn’t been released as a single there. Unusually, the song’s chart placement was driven entirely by Jam fans buying copies of the single imported from other countries.

My grandfather, of course, wouldn’t have known Paul Weller from the Archbishop of Canterbury. And even if he had, this week’s calendar entry predates the song by a full six years.

Still, such is the power of the song that, when I saw the calendar entry, I instantly imagined my grandfather writing it while he was fed up with overcooked dinners, overdrawn bank accounts, overheating radiators, and the thousand other minor irritants of daily life:

November 3, 1974

The film buffs in the crowd are squirming to tell me that I’m barking up the wrong tree; and indeed, they are correct.

In May of 1974, MGM released “That’s Entertainment!,” a two-hour cinema compilation drawn from its musicals of the 1920s to the 1950s. Stars like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Jimmy Stewart reminisced while introducing their classic song-and-dance routines.

The movie was a sizable popular and critical success in an America hungry for cultural comfort food. (’74 was also the year that Rolling Stone named the Beach Boys one of its Bands of the Year, based solely on their energetic stage act and the resurgent popularity of their decade-old hits.)

A compilation of great musical moments from the ’20s through the ’50s would have been right up my grandparents’ generational alley. I’m guessing, then, that the reference to “That’s Entertainment” is a reference to seeing the movie. My grandfather, unlike Paul Weller, was not protesting daily drudgery when he picked up his pencil; he was celebrating, or commemorating, his escape from it.

I even went so far as to try to figure out where he would have seen the movie. A small movie theater operated not terribly far from his house during that time period — you can see it in the background of this photo my grandfather took in 1969. So he might have gone there.

I also thought he could have seen it on TV, since a film like “That’s Entertainment!” would have been tailor-made for conservative networks to show in prime time. But newspaper research indicates that the ABC Sunday Night Movie for Nov. 3, 1974, was not “That’s Entertainment!,” but “Midnight Cowboy” — about as far from “That’s Entertainment!” as you can get and still be in the same genre.

(Apropos de nada, how much would you bet that the 1974 network TV edit of “Midnight Cowboy” ends with Ratso Rizzo recuperating in Miami, opening a successful beachfront Orange Julius stand and proposing to a young stenographer played by Karen Black?)

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