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Invasion of the mindsnatcher: Sun Ra on ‘Saturday Night Live’ 1978
07.24.2013
02:08 pm

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Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Ridiculous! A little-known drag TV role by Charles Ludlam, 1983
07.23.2013
04:07 pm

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Queer
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Charles Ludlam and Black Eyed Susan in Eunuchs of the Forbidden City, 1971. Photo by Leandro Katz

A fine book came out a few years back, 2002 to be exact, about the great American absurdist dramatist, Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam by David Kaufman is certainly one of the best books I’ve read in the past decade and I wanted to tell you about it. I feel it’s a book that deserves a far wider audience than it originally got (and you can buy it for a PENNY on Amazon). Even though it tells the story of a very particular person and of a very particular “scene”—in this case Ludlam and his gender-bending Off Off Broadway troupe of drag queens, druggies and bohos—like a biography of say, Andy Warhol, the canvas is so widescreen and cinematic that it tells the tale of an entire era, not just the story of one man and his orbit. Ludlam’s story—which Kaufman spent a decade researching, interviewing over 150 people who knew the playwright—is simultaneously the history of Off Broadway theater in the late ‘60s to the late ‘80s, it’s also the story of pre and post-Stonewall gay life, the early years of the AIDS crisis, the anecdotal histories of certain types of “only in NY” culture vultures and media mavens and, of course, the life of the complex and exasperating force of nature that was Charles Ludlam, a self-created character if ever there was one.

Charles Ludlam should in many ways be seen as Americas Molière. He was the proprietor, creative genius, task master and (one of) the star attraction(s) of The Ridiculous Theatrical Company, who called a small theater at One Sheridan Square—at Seventh Ave, where a street sign commemorates Ludlam’s memory—their home for many years.  For several years, I lived a block away. I only actually saw two Ludlam shows—The Mystery of Irma Vep (I still have the Showbill) where Ludlam and Everett Quinton played all the characters, male and female, their frenetic costume (and gender) changes part of the play’s berserk charm, and Salammbo, where Ludlam played the high priestess of the Moon, surrounded by muscle men. The play also featured live doves and an extremely obese naked woman—she had to be 400 lbs—with massive breasts and… leprosy. It was absolutely outrageous. Imagine a mutant cross of Shakespeare, early John Waters, Flash Gordon serials and Arsenic and Old Lace and you’ll (kind of) be in the right ballpark.
 

 
A few years later, in 1987, Ludlam was dead of AIDS at 44. When a theatrical company winds down, theater being what it is, there is usually not much left over to remind us that its performances ever existed. It’s an extremely ephemeral art form. You’d think that there might be some videos of Ludlam and the Ridiculous showing up on YouTube, but so far, there ain’t much. I keep hoping against hope that someone made decent videotaped documents of some of his plays, but so far none have turned up, at least that I am aware of. It had to have happened (I insist!)

Which is not to say that Charles Ludlam has been forgotten, far from it: His plays are performed with ever increasing regularity on college campuses and several scholarly works have been written about his 29 plays and influence on American culture (Bette Midler and the original cast of SNL, are two prime examples, according to Kaufman’s book). When Ludlam died, his obituary made it to the front page of the New York Times. Here’s an excerpt from another appreciation of Ludlam from the New York Times:

To be Ridiculous is to be a step beyond the Absurd. Ludlam defined his form of theater as an ensemble synthesis of ‘‘wit, parody, vaudeville farce, melodrama and satire,’’ which, in combination, gives ‘‘reckless immediacy to classical stagecraft.’’ That recklessness led some people to misinterpret his work as anarchic. It was spontaneous, but it was also highly structured - and always to specific comic effect. Though Mr. Ludlam was a titanic Fool, he was not foolish. He knew exactly what he was doing, whether the object of his satire was Dumas, du Maurier, the Brontes, Moliere, Shakespeare, soap opera or grandiose opera - or himself.

I first encountered him in performance 17 years ago when he was playing ‘‘Bluebeard’’ far Off Broadway - with a beard like blue Brillo and a diabolical glare in his eye. This was a distillation of every mad-doctor movie ever made. In his role as Bluebeard, he said, ‘‘When I am good, I am very good. When I am bad. . . ,’’ and he paused to consider his history of turpitude. Then he concluded, ‘‘I’m not bad.’’ As hilarious as ‘‘Bluebeard’’ was, it gave no indication of the body of work that was to follow it. Almost every year, sometimes twice a year, there was another Ludlam lunacy on stage. As a critic who reviewed almost all of his plays, I must say that Ludlam was always fun to watch and fun to write about. His flights of fancy could inspire a kind of critical daredevilry, as one tried to capture in words the ephemeral essence of Ridiculous theater.

Looking back on our debt to him, one remembers his rhapsodic, hairy-chested ‘‘Camille’‘; the Grand Guignol vaudeville of ‘‘The Ventriloquist’s Wife,’’ in which he spoke both for himself and for his back-talking dummy, Walter Ego; ‘‘The Enchanted Pig,’’ a helium-high hybrid of ‘‘King Lear’’ and ‘‘Cinderella’‘; ‘‘Le Bourgeois Avant-Garde,’’ a Molieresque send-up of minimalism; ‘‘Galas,’’ with Mr. Ludlam as the title diva. The range ran from ‘‘Corn,’’ a hillbilly musical, to ‘Der Ring Gott Farblonjet,’’ a three-Ring Wagner circus. There were also sideshows - a Punch and Judy puppet theater in which he played all 22 characters, and ‘‘Anti-Galaxie Nebulae,’’ a science fiction serialette.

‘‘The Mystery of Irma Vep’’ (in 1984) was a tour de force, a horror-comedy in which he and his comic partner, Everett Quinton, quick-changed roles in a scintillating send-up of ‘‘Wuthering’’ and other Gothic ‘‘Heights.’’ For Ludlam, ‘‘Irma Vep’’ became a breakthrough of a kind. The first of his plays to demonstrate a broader, popular appeal, it has been staged by other companies, in other countries as well as in America’s regional theaters. Not all of Ludlam was equal, but his batting average was extraordinarily high -as author, director and actor.

His acting was, of course, his most noticeable talent. As a performer, he unfailingly enriched his own work, as he charted a chameleonesque course, specializing in satyrs, caliphs and fakirs - as well as playing the occasional damsel. He was also an expert teacher of theater, as I discovered some years ago when, over a period of several months, I took an acting workshop with him. In these intensive sessions, we studied and practiced physical, visual and verbal comedy. He was most informative about what he did on stage. For example, he thought of his body as a puppet; through his imagination, he pulled his own strings.

One extraordinary document that we do have of Charles Ludlam in action—only posted a few days ago—is his wonderful guest appearance on his old college pal Madeline Kahn’s short-lived 1983-84 ABC sitcom, Oh Madeline! In the series, Kahn played a bored housewife married to a man who writes steamy romance novels under a female pen name, so she is obliged to portray that woman in public.

The actress knew the show was about to be cancelled so she asked the producers if she might bring in her college chum from Hostra University to do “something different” for one of the final episodes. That something different was Charles Ludlam, in drag, as “Tiffany Night,” the author of Barbara Cartland-ish fare. True to the mores of the era, Ludlam’s character was “revealed” to be a man all along, ala Tootsie.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Monkees: Complete un-aired TV pilot from 1965
07.22.2013
01:07 pm

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When series creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider shot the un-aired 16mm pilot (something that would now probably be called a “sizzle reel” in show biz lingo) for The Monkees, the Pre-Fab Four weren’t even miming along to their own voices.

It starts off with some charming B&W screen test footage from Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith, then still going by his stage name “Michael Blessing” but credited here as Nesmith. (Micky Dolenz, however was called “Micky Braddock” then, as you can see above)

At 6:14, you can hear Boyce and Hart’s demo version of the show’s theme and a decidedly less colorful opening credit sequence. At 9:23, Boyce and Hart’s demo of “I Wanna Be Free” is heard while the group mime along. At 22:06 you see them and hear Boyce and Hart’s “Let’s Dance On” demo.

It’s (mildly, of course) jarring, to say nothing of the Monkeemobile being a broke-ass old station wagon…
 

 
In terms of the plot, it’s one of their typical, Davy with (literally) stars in his eyes over a girl story-lines. The pilot episode was remade properly for the NBC series (with the same pretty blonde actress for Davy to moon over) the following year as “Here Comes The Monkees,” episode #10. Again they used the B&W screen test footage, but at the end this time, and by then the group was at least miming along to their own voices.
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Pre-Rutles: ‘I Want To Hold Your Handel’
07.22.2013
10:02 am

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EricIdleHandel
 
On Friday, Eric Idle posted a photo on Twitter of what he thinks is “possibly from a very obscure ITV one off show c 1965 featuring some of the Footlights” singing a pre-Rutles Beatles parody, “I Want To Hold Your Handel.”

Music arranger John Cameron, who later worked with Donovan and producer Mickie Most at RAK Records, started out at Cambridge University with Idle. During Idle’s time as president of the Cambridge Footlights Revue, Cameron was vice president and musical director.

Cameron described “I Want To Hold Your Handel” in the liner notes to the reissue of Donovan’s Sunshine Superman:

“[Eric Idle] and I wrote a lot of pastiches of Beatles tunes… we actually wrote a thing called ‘I Want to Hold Your Handel,’ which was the Hallelujah Chorus for The Beatles. Unfortunately Messrs. Lennon and McCartney weren’t very happy about their songs being pastiched in this way and wouldn’t allow us to do it on English territory, which was a drag, but it did go on to Broadway. Eric and I used to receive royalty cheques at the Footlights in our third year at university, which put us in a rather different spending league to anybody else!”

Idle’s penchant for affectionately spoofing the Beatles developed into The Rutles on his post-Python series Rutland Weekend Television with Neil Innes, Ricky Fataar, John Halsey, Ollie Halsall, and David Battley.

The Birth of ‘The Rutles’ on Rutland Weekend Television, below:
 

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Freaky cosplay, dood: The Dude as a ‘Doctor Who’ Ood
07.18.2013
11:19 am

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Holy hell, while twisted and marvelous, The Dude as an Ood is something to… behold!

This remarkable costume was spotted at the annual Doctor Who convention, Gallifrey One, in Los Angeles.

Via Neatorama

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Katherine Hepburn on death, the afterlife and religion on ‘The Dick Cavett Show,’ 1973
07.17.2013
04:54 pm

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For most of her career, Katharine Hepburn refused to give television interviews. For years Dick Cavett tried to get her on his show, to no avail. Then suddenly, one day in 1973, Hepburn happened to be in the building where his studio was, and decided to check out the set.

Apparently the fiesty 66-year-old actress was feeling chatty that afternoon, because she decided right then and there that she would give Cavett his interview. The host was summoned and without any prep time—or his audience—engaged with Hepburn in the most captivating chat you could ever hope to witness. They spoke for three hours, which was edited down to two shows.

Before things began, Hepburn demanded the set furniture be rearranged, something she was apparently notorious for doing. (“I’ve been in the business so long, I don’t want any complaints from the unions!” she is heard to say).

I was lucky enough to have gotten to see Katherine Hepburn on Broadway in West Side Waltz in 1981. Here’s a particularly good anecdote about her from Playbill’s Judy Samelson:

Let me take you back to 1969. Katharine Hepburn is starring as Chanel in her first and only musical, Coco. Act One ends just as the great designer is about to present her comeback collection to the public. The curtain comes down with a flurry of anticipation. When it rises again for Act Two, the stage is a tumult of overturned chairs, and various accessories on the floor—in short, it looks like a war zone in the aftermath of the show. But the audience is still in the dark. How did it go? Was it a success? Hepburn as Coco rises from where she has been sitting watching the show and walks through the room, surveying the mess. When she reaches the front of the stage, she stops and with great feeling says: SHIT!

As I sat in the darkness of the mezzanine at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, eyes glued to the commanding figure onstage, my ears perked up at the sound of a voice that certainly sounded like hers emanating from below. I thought to myself, “Did she just say what I think she said?” For a moment, time seemed to stop and after an endless split second of silence, my answer arrived in the form of an explosion of laughter, like an enormous tidal wave, starting at the front of the house and crashing past me way up to the balcony.

In his book Tracy and Hepburn, Garson Kanin wrote that he asked Coco’s lyricist and book writer Alan Jay Lerner how he got Hepburn to agree to say the word. Lerner replied: “Easy. She wrote it.”

Kanin then questioned his friend Kate about it and she explained her reasoning. In previous versions of the scene, she said, there had been a lot of expository material explaining that Coco’s fashion how had been a failure. And in a true demonstration of the theory of less is more, Hepburn thought that one very well-placed cuss word would say it all. As she told Kanin, “I needed to start Act Two with a bang.” Mission accomplished.

A few months ago, when it was announced that Miss Hepburn’s theatrical papers had been donated to the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, one of the interesting letters that was quoted in the press coverage concerned this one little four-letter word. Apparently, when Coco was headed to Los Angeles, Hepburn was contractually forbidden to use the profanity. Believing that the loss would ruin the integrity of the scene, she fought for it via a letter to Edwin Lester of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Association, in which she wrote:

First, we have tried everything that anyone can think of to use instead. Nothing works—the sadness—the finality—the clarity and the brevity of this expression coming from the lips of a highly respectable old lady—who is alone—and who is in tears over the total failure of her show—strikes the audience as funny then as she runs up the stairway—curiously gallant.

Who could not be charmed after receiving such a thoughtful plea from the star? Certainly not Lester. He responded that her letter “was sufficient for us to acquiesce, particularly if acquiescence would make you happy.” And he added, “let me tell you how much we are looking forward to your visit with us, even though you bring that naughty word along with you.”

In this snippet from the Cavett interview, Hepburn discusses her attitude on death, the afterlife and religion.
 

 
More Katherine Hepburn and Dick Cavett after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
A Lad Insane: Ricky Gervais gets his Bowie on in little-known ‘Golden Years’ TV pilot, 1999
07.17.2013
02:02 pm

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You would think that someone with the worldwide mega-celebrity that Ricky Gervais has (and deservedly so, I think) would not have any obscurities still left to discover on his IMDB page, but I get the feeling that except for the most devoted Gervais fanboys (obviously I am outing myself here) few people have heard of, or seem to recall, his 1999 one-off for Channel 4’s Comedy Lab series of pilots, “Golden Years.”

In a role, and in a shooting style, that presages both “David Brent” and The Office, Gervais and Stephen Merchant tell the story of Clive Meadows, a middle-aged David Bowie-obsessed video rental chain owner in Reading who wants to impersonate Bowie on a national television show.

Ultimately Clive is a less sympathetic idiot than Brent (who treated women better). It’s probably for the best that Gervais and Merchant’s pilot wasn’t picked up by Channel 4, because obviously once they got sent back to the drawing board, they were able to fully perfect their unique brand of pathetica resulting in one of the crown jewels of BBC comedy, The Office.

Which is not to say that “Golden Years” isn’t hilarious, because it’s absolutely bust-a-gut funny. A gem.

My favorite line is “Do it like Freddie” but that’s not giving anything away.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Einstein on The Street: Philip Glass and ‘Sesame Street’ introduce kids to geometry and Minimalism!
07.17.2013
12:30 pm

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“Geometry of Circles” is a series of animated shorts created for Sesame Street in 1979 with music by Philip Glass.

From the Muppet Wiki:

The shorts consist of the movement of six circles (each with a different color of the rainbow) that are formed by and split up into various geometric patterns. Glass’s music underscores the animation in a style that closely resembles the “Dance” numbers and the North Star vignettes written during the same time period as his Einstein on the Beach opera.

Below, all four of the “Geometry of Circles” animations produced by Glass and The Children’s Television Workshop:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Adam Ant on last night’s Jimmy Fallon Show
07.16.2013
01:48 am

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I remember seeing Adam Ant for the first time in the early 80s at New York’s Palladium Theater and being blown away by just how fucking great he was. Over 30 years later he still has some buckle in his swash. Here he is on last night’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon doing “Goody Two Shoes.” Please no Johnny Depp jokes and be kind… Adam’s had a rough time of it in the past couple decades.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Loudmouth Morton Downey Jr. yacks about punk rock with Joey Ramone and Ace Frehley
07.16.2013
12:01 am

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I watched the Morton Downey, Jr. documentary, Evocateur, the other night (it’s streaming on Amazon) and was reminded of how much fun that loudmouth could be back when his TV show ran on WWOR in New York City in the late 80s. Drawing from local talent, Downey often featured some very cool guests. In this particular episode from February 1989 on punk and metal, Downey, wearing a goofy earring in his ear, is uncharacteristically even-tempered and and downright civil to his guests Joey Ramone, Ace Frehley, members of The Cycle Sluts and my label-mates Circus Of Power. It all makes for some great television, short on facts or insight, but full of the anarchic energy and mayhem triggered by Downey’s unpredictable and explosive gasbagotry.

When Downey does come on strong, it’s fun to watch these rockers cower like kids being lectured by an overbearing slightly psychotic teacher.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Loudmouth: Before there was Glenn Beck, Breitbart or Sean Hannity there was Morton Downey Jr.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
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